Bucer’s teaching on justification is sometimes characterized as a doctrine of “double justification.” Brian Lugioyo thinks this is a misidentification ( Martin Bucer’s Doctrine of Justification: Reformation Theology and Early Modern Irenicism ): Double justification posits that “there are two formal causes in justification, that is, two types of righteousness, imputed and inherent” (43). While Bucer does join imputation with impartation in his doctrine, his is not a doctrine of double justification in this sense.

Strikingly, Bucer understands iustitia Dei not as imputed righteousness but as God’s own righteousness, manifested in His love toward sinners:

“we generally see the righteousness of God applied to thatby which he himself is justthat is, good, and worthy in himself. Inother words, he presents himself as a benefactor, and especially inthe fact that he bestows the Spirit, who sets us aflame with a zeal forrighteousness” (48). Justificatio displays the iustitia Dei because it manifests God’s goodness in providing rescue for sinners. Contemplating the justice and goodness of God in the life and death of Jesus, sinners are awakened to faith in this just God.

Faith in the righteous God sets us aflame with zeal for righteousness: As Bucer’s put it, “by faith we embrace this righteousness and benevolence ofGod, it shines in us, and thus he imparts himself, so that also we,too, are driven by some zeal for righteousness. Therefore thisrighteousness of God, by which some sort of righteousness alsocomes into being in us, is connected with the other” (49).

With regard to imputation, Bucer emphasizes the non-imputation of sin, but he does have a doctrine of a positive imputation of righteousness. He defines iustifacari as “to have judgment in one’s favor, to be declared to be in the right” (51). His definition of justification sounds like Melancthon: “our justifi cation is our free acceptance [acceptationem] beforeGod, whereby he pardons our sins, imputes righteousness to us, and bestows onus eternal life; this life is begun here and now and daily increased in us by theSpirit, who is the implanter and cultivator of righteousness and good works” (51).

Even in this he immediately moves to speak of the gift of the Spirit that produces actual righteousness: “when Paul asserts that we are justified by faith, the faithwhereby we assuredly believe that Christ is our Saviour and our solepeacemaker with the Father, he means that by this faith we are first ofall delivered from all doubt that God, on account of the death ofChrist undergone on our behalf, forgives us all our sins, absolves usfrom all guilt, and passes judgment in our favour against Satan andall the ill we may have deserved. Furthermore, God breathes thepower of his Spirit into those acquitted and declared righteous beforehim, to make immediate assault upon their corrupt ambitions and tourge on their suppression and extinction, and on the other hand, tofashion upright attitudes to every aspect of life, to arouse and fosterholy desires, conforming us speedily to the likeness of Christ” (50).

Hence, for Bucer, iustificatio does not merely designate a forensic declaration. Bucer incorporates an Augustinian notion of “making-just” into his doctrine: “Paul is accustomed to speaking in this way,denoting by the word ‘justification’ first of course the remission ofsins, yet at the same time always indicating in addition that impartingof righteousness which God proceeds to work in us by theSpirit, the same Spirit by whom he grants us assurance of thepardon of our sins and of his goodwill towards us, and whom hehas established as the seal” (52).

Lugioyo summarizes: “In expounding Bucers nuanced doctrine of justification, we can see thatjustification is composed of a synthetic judgment in election based in themysterious goodwill of God. To the elect this is the evangelical message . . . .His Catholic brothers grievance that the evangelicalsdenied works of love were untrue, and that is what Bucer passionatelywould try to explain in the dialogues of the 1530s and 1540s. Bucer heldthat true faith is not dead; it necessarily results in good works.The dualities of faith and works and imputation and impartation, inBucers doctrine, are combined with a coherent integrity that is consistent withthe teaching of sola fide ” (102).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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