The early reformers taught that the sinner is justified, or declared righteous, by the imputation of the justice, or righteousness, of Jesus Christ. Even though the justified man's sins are forgiven, they remain in him; but God does not reckon them to him because of the merits of the Savior. In Catholic doctrine, on the other hand, justification is an internal sanctification of the sinner, who voluntarily receives from God an infusion of grace and the virtues. The one and only formal cause of justification is inherent, or inhering, justice, also called "sanctifying grace." By this inherent justice sins are forgiven and blotted out, even though concupiscence, which is not punishable, remains.
In the discussions of the sixth session of the Council of Trent on the justification of the sinner, a compromise theory, that of double justice, was proposed by Girolamo seripando, superior general of the Augustinians and afterward cardinal. A primitive form of this opinion had been defended prior to Trent by a few Protestant and some Catholic theologians. Chief among the latter were John Gropper of Cologne and Gasparo Contarini, a Venetian, created cardinal in 1535.
The doctrine of double justice was so named because it taught two formal causes of justification, both the inherent justice held by Catholics and the imputed righteousness held by Protestants. The proponents of this opinion argued that inherent justice is imperfect and that the works of the just man, marred with faults and imperfections, are not worthy of heaven. To become completely righteous before God and to be able to appear at the tribunal of the divine judge clothed in righteousness and with sufficient merit of eternal life, a person needs more than internal sanctification. The justified sinner needs also a special application of the merits of Christ by way of imputation. The application or imputation is not, however, purely forensic or external but includes a formal effect, namely, the insertion of the just man into the Body of Christ as one of its members.
The fathers of the Council of Trent, in approving the decree on justification, decisively rejected the doctrine of double justice in chapter seven: "Finally the only formal cause [of justification] is the 'justice of God, not the justice by which He is Himself just but the justice by which He makes us just"' (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer, 1529). Furthermore, the necessity of a special imputation of Christ's merits for the fullness of the merits of the just is excluded in chapter 16: "It must be believed that nothing else is wanting to the justified [besides the constant influx of Christ in His members] for them to be considered as having fully satisfied the divine law by their works … and as having truly merited the eternal life which they will attain in due time… for the justice that is said to be ours because it inheres in us and justifies us is likewise God's justice because He has put it in us through the merit of Christ" (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 1546–47). The condemnation in canon ten shows both that Christ's righteousness is the meritorious cause of justification and that Christ's righteousness is neither its single formal cause nor one of two formal causes.
Bibliography: h. jedin, Papal Legate at the Council of Trent: Cardinal Seripando, tr. f. c. eckhoff (St. Louis 1947). a. briva, "El problema de la doble justificación en la escuela de Colonia," in Semana española de teología 18, 1958 (Madrid 1961) 19–44. p. pas, "La Doctrine de la double justice au concile de Trente," Ephemerides theologicae Lovanienses 30 (1954) 5–53. c. e. maxcey, "Double Justice, Diego Laynez, and the Council of Trent," Church History 48 (1979) 269–78. p. schÄfer, "Hoffnungsgestalt und Geganwart des Heiles: Für Disjussion um die doppelte Gerechtigkeit auf dem Konzil von Trent," Theologie und Philosophie 55 (1980) 204–29. e. arnold, "'Triplex iustitia ': The Sixteenth Century and the Twentieth," in Christian Authority: Essays in Honor of Henry Chadwick, ed. g. r. evans (Oxford 1988) 204–23. a. e. mcgrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Doctrine of Justification (Cambridge 1998).
[t. j. motherway/