Whose Justification? [Commentary on Browne: Article XI (1)]

Article XI tells us “we are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings.” To say we are “accounted” righteous indicates that the Article treats justification as forensic, meaning that in justification we are legally declared righteous as if in a court of law, which declaration does not touch on our actual righteousness. What makes us righteous in the eyes of God is the merit (i.e., righteousness) of Christ imputed to us through faith, or to put it in traditional language, Christ’s righteousness imputed to us is the formal cause of justification, that which makes it what it is.[1]

This account of justification contrasts with that which has been associated with the Roman Church since the Council of Trent, wherein the formal cause of justification is said to be God’s making us righteous rather than merely declaring us righteous:

The alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation…. Whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity.[2]

More than this, however, Trent holds that those who have been made righteous in justification can justify themselves further still:

Having, therefore, been thus justified, and made the friends and domestics of God, advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day; that is, by mortifying the members of their own flesh, and by presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified.[3]

In the same vein, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that after justification, “moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.”[4] This treatment of justification as a means to working our own merits brings into sharp relief the implications for adopting the Roman account instead of that found in the Article. Furthermore, it becomes evident why the doctrine of justification has been so controversial, not only throughout Christian history at large but within the Anglican tradition in particular, to which we now turn.

The Article’s language of being “accounted” righteous would seem unmistakable, yet Browne observes that the doctrine has been much disputed:

Owing to the unhappy divisions of later times in the Church of England, there has been no small difference among her divines on this head of justification; a difference, however, which there is good reason to hope is rather apparent in scholastic and logical definitions, than in its bearing on vital truth or practical godliness.

Although Browne maintains that there has been substantial agreement on the subject throughout the Anglican tradition, more recent commentators have not been so sanguine. In his historical examination of the doctrine, Alister McGrath points out that in the early years of the English Reformation the notion of justification as “making righteous” held sway. Figures such as Thomas Bilney and John Tyndale upheld it, and McGrath argues that in the Homily of Salvation—to which Article XI directs those who desire a fuller understanding of justification—“Cranmer interprets justification to mean ‘making righteous.’”[5] By 1563, however, the Thirty-nine Articles “contain an important addition” to the Forty-two Articles: “The reader is referred to the Homily merely for the details of the manner in which faith justifies; justification itself is defined in terms of ‘being reputed as righteous before God’ (iusti coram Deo reputamur).”[6] This conception of justification took hold to the point that “the early Caroline Divines appear to have been unanimous in their rejection of any doctrine of justification by inherent righteousness, clearly indicating their preference for the mainstream Protestant view of justification through the imputation of righteousness.”[7] Among these were Bishop Davenant, Bishop Downame, Bishop Hall, Archbishop Ussher, Bishop Andrewes, and John Donne.[8] The story does not end here, though:

By 1640 there were signs of dissent. Henry Hammond, for example, reverted to the more Augustinian definition of justification associated with the earlier period of the English Reformation, which included among its elements the non-imputation of sin but not the imputation of righteousness.

A similar understanding of justification is found in the works of William Forbes, particularly his posthumously published Considerationes. In this work, Forbes reverts to the Augustinian understanding of justification as ‘an entity, one by aggregation, and compounded of two, which by necessary conjunction and co-ordination are one only’ – in other words, justification subsumes both the forgiveness of sins and the regeneration of humans through inherent righteousness.[9]

Thus we find that the earlier rejection of justification as making righteous gave way to a renewed acceptance (by some, at least) of this same notion:

Whereas the Anglican tradition had been virtually unanimous upon this and related questions until about 1640 (the earlier Caroline divines following Hooker himself in insisting that justifying righteousness was imputed to humanity; that faith was not a work of humans; and that justification and sanctification were to be distinguished), the later period of Caroline divinity came to be dominated by the theology of ‘holy living’, with a quite distinct – indeed, some would suggest totally different – understanding of justification: justifying righteousness is inherent to humans; faith is a work of humans; justification subsumes sanctification.[10]

Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison has written an extended study of this development, in which he argues that “the later Carolines—with powerful assistance from certain non-Anglicans—radically abridged the Anglican synthesis and prepared the way for a moralism that has afflicted English theology ever since and still afflicts it to-day.”[11] Like McGrath, Allison identifies this later approach to justification as a serious break from what came before, “a moralism which is less than the full gospel.”[12] He also says this moralism was just as “incompatible with the doctrine of Trent” as the older Anglican synthesis was, for whereas these two accounts identified the formal cause of justification as the infusion of inherent righteousness and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, respectively, the new moralism named “imputation of faith” as the formal cause of justification.[13]

Browne’s attempt to minimize the disagreements on justification that have arisen within the Anglican tradition is likely motivated in part by a desire not to criticize or disagree with his predecessors. That said, he makes clear that justification ought to be understood “as our Article uses it, for ‘to account righteous.’” The views held by Hammond, Forbes, and others are often associated with high-church “Arminianism,” but it must not be supposed that the Article’s view of justification is exclusively “low-church,” “Calvinist,” or “evangelical.” While the Tractarians (along with many old high churchmen) were more likely to agree with the likes of Bishops Bull and Taylor in denying “the theory of imputed righteousness,”[14] a number of later Anglo-Catholics upheld it. Darwell Stone, for example, writes:

Justification denotes the condition of the soul whereby, being repentant, actuated by faith, converted and regenerate, it is under the approval of God, who accounts it as righteous. The objective cause of justification is everywhere represented in Holy Scripture as the death of Christ, the merits of which, together with the power of His life, are communicated to Christians through the mystery of His risen life.[15]

Francis J. Hall also makes a point of affirming the forensic nature of justification as the imputation of Christ’s righteousness: “We are justified—accounted righteous—before we are actually so, and through an imputation to us of the righteousness of Christ.”[16]

Incomplete as it is, the preceding survey should make apparent that there has never been only one Anglican doctrine of justification. Despite the apparent clarity of the Article, markedly different accounts of it have been formulated within various corners of the Anglican tradition. Even so, we can appreciate with Browne that there still exists a good amount of common ground:

Whatever speculative differences may have existed of late or in times gone by, it is no small comfort to know, that it has been allowed by all that fallen man cannot of himself become worthy of eternal salvation, that he stands in need both of pardoning mercy and sanctifying grace, that this mercy and this grace have been procured for him by the all-prevailing merits of the Redeemer, and that these blessings, offered to all, may be appropriated to the individual believer by that faith which the Holy Spirit will implant, and which must produce love and holiness and all good fruits. The divines of Trent and their most extreme antagonists have denied none of these propositions.

If this olive branch can be extended to the Romanists, then surely it is extended to those within our own communion as well.


  1. For the definition of formal cause, see Michael J. Dodds, The One Creator God in Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary Theology (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2020), 182.
  2. J. Waterworth, ed. and trans., The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Œcumenical Council of Trent (London: C. Dolman, 1848), Sixth Session, Chapter VII, 35, https://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct06.html. Compare Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican: Liberia Editrice Vaticana, 2012), par. 1989, 1991‒92, https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P6Y.HTM.
  3. Waterworth, Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter X, 37, https://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct06.html.
  4. Catholic Church, Catechism, par. 2010, https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P70.HTM.
  5. Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 4th ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 233. Compare Peter Toon, Justification and Sanctification (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1983), 93.
  6. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 234, italics original. See also Toon, Justification and Sanctification, 91.
  7. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 255.
  8. C. F. Allison, The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2003), 5‒30.
  9. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 255‒56, italics original.
  10. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 257.
  11. Allison, The Rise of Moralism, x. See also Toon, Justification and Sanctification, 89‒101.
  12. Allison, The Rise of Moralism, x.
  13. Allison, The Rise of Moralism, 178. See also Toon, Justification and Sanctification, 98.
  14. Peter B. Nockles, The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship, 1760‒1857 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 257.
  15. Darwell Stone, Outlines of Christian Dogma, 3rd ed. (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1903), 225.
  16. Francis J. Hall, Anglican Dogmatics: Francis J. Hall’s Dogmatic Theology, ed. John A. Porter, vol. 1, Bk. V, Creation & Man (Nashotah, WI: Nashotah House Press, 2021), 655‒56, italics original.


James Clark

James Clark is the Book Review Editor at The North American Anglican. His writing has appeared in Cranmer Theological Journal, Journal of Classical Theology, and American Reformer, as well as other publications.

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