The Differences Between Augustine And Luther On 'Simul Justus Et Peccator'

Excerpt from: Regin Prenter, Spiritus Creator, tr. John Jensen (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1953), 39-41.

The Augustinian and scholastic teaching of justification which Luther opposes in the writing against Latomus [LW 32] permits grace to be a new nature in man, so that man is gradually changed to a new man or lifted up from the natural level to the supernatural. Righteousness in this manner becomes a “formal justice.” Perhaps it can be stated crudely that in the scholastic teaching grace results in a gradual improvement of the old man until he insensibly has become a new man. Luther’s teaching of justification is characterized by a radical self-condemnation that brutally destroys all thoughts about a gradual transition from the natural up into the supernatural level or a slow process of becoming perfect. but this is a foreign thought to scholasticism. This does not mean that there is no room for a consciousness of sin in the scholastic system. The whole system of the sacraments, for example, is orientated on the basis of the problem of sin. But since for the scholastic the difference between the sinner and God actually is identified with the metaphysical difference between nature and supernature, the consciousness of sin is not, as for Luther, a radical self-condemnation. therefore it is possible to understand victory over sin and sanctification as elements in the same smoothly transitory process which gradually lifts man from the level of the natural to the level of the supernatural. Man thus gradually becomes more and more righteous. Grace gradually substitutes the new nature more and more for the old sinful self. It is impossible in this sense to talk about something like simul justus et peccator.

The Augustinian and scholastic teaching about grace presupposes a Neoplatonizing understanding of sin, according to which sin comes from the lower sensual nature which is gradually pushed aside by the higher, supernatural, and purely spiritual nature infused by grace. This idea of sin in connection with the corresponding idea of grace permits, even demands, a quantitative understanding of the struggle of sin and grace during a progressive process of justification. On the other hand, Luther’s concept of sin places the nature of sin in the self-will, which very often is most deeply embedded right in this “higher” and spiritual nature. With such a concept of sin, it was impossible to retain the physical* concept of grace. In the monastery, Luther time and again experienced that grace did not mingle with his own nature, that although the sensual desire could be subdued, his self-will so much the more stubbornly encased itself in a pious suppression of the “lower” nature. The problem peccatum manens [abiding sin] (in the sense of the ineradicable self-will that dwells especially in one’s own piety) was constantly the stumbling block for him in his relation to the scholastic doctrine of grace. He was not helped until he learned to understand the righteousness of God as Christ himself, given us by God as a gift. This means that our righteousness is Christ, given us by God as a gift, in other words, something entirely outside ourselves, not only at first but always. By this, the judgment is pronounced upon our whole real self. Only that which is entirely outside of us, that is, in Christ, is righteous. Everything in ourselves, the highest as well as the lowest, is judged to the same extent. Simul justus et peccator.

Peccatum manens, therefore, was not a sign that grace was lost, but quite the opposite. The fact that the remaining sin is recognized as sin shows that righteousness is in us and has declared war upon our selfishness. For sin can be acknowledged as such only on the basis of faith; only where Christ is our only and alien righteousness does our total selfishness become visible. The acknowledgment of sin, penitence, is the first reaction of righteousness by faith.

But this faith which clings to the alien righteousness of Christ is in man. It is there, not passively, but manifested in penitence. And just as we know it from the writing about good works, faith is constantly active in good works toward the neighbor. Faith is a completely new life, not just in theory, but a real, concrete new life with praise and prayer and the work in our calling here on earth.

*The word “physical” does not mean a “materialistic” or “magic” concept of grace, though the Catholic doctrine of grace is sometimes so presented by Protestants. The word is used in its scholastic sense, and it has nothing to do with physics or materialism. The “nature” which is infused is, according to the Roman Catholic view, really a spiritual nature. The whole point in the scholastic physical doctrine of grace is based on the teaching that the supernatural grace which is infused is of a higher kind than the lower and sensual nature. It is therefore not only a bad distortion, but a complete lack of understanding of the inner intent of the scholastic doctrine of grace, when it is presented as an impersonal and magic form of religion compared to the personal religion of Protestantism. The infused grace has nothing to do with the dynamic substance which often is described in Protestant expositions of the history of dogma. It is truly very spiritual, for it is supernatural. But it is physical because it is viewed as a higher nature than that of man, a supernatural nature, which nevertheless by the infusion of grace makes a connection with man’s natural nature and lifts it up into the level of the supernatural.

To read more on this subject:
- Beware, There Exists A Deep Gulf Between The Teachings of Augustine And Luther On Justification
- Think Twice, Martin Luther Never Reverted Back To Augustine's Theology of Justification
- Augustinian Influenced Sanctification Versus Lutheran Sanctification

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