The Diffident Reginald Pole: Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts on Reginald Pole, Cardinal in the Catholic Church during the Reformations in Europe. His initial sympathies with the spirituali and their views of justification by faith were eclipsed by his allegiance to Rome and his duty to submit to the Tridentine decrees on justification. The Treatie of Justification was found among some of his writings after his death and has been attribute to him with various levels of skepticism. This post begins an analysis of this document.

Read Part 1 here.


Method and Influences in The Treatie of Justification

That the Treatie of Justification is scholastic in its orientation is of no particular concern, other than for those of authorship. The work is meticulously organized, as would be expected from a theological treatise of the day, appeals heavily to historical precedent, but also appeals to Scripture. The preface includes the overtly indicative need for the whole of the ensuing argument to be grounded in Scripture, or at least for it to be grounded in the traditional interpretation of the Scripture under the authority of the Church fathers, namely Augustine.(4) In fact, the author words the preface in such a way as to leave no doubt that he is prepared to offer the reader a theology of justification wholly within the traditional Roman Catholic view. If Pole did indeed author the work, this may indicate his adoption of Tridentine theology and is here attempting to distance himself from his former views.

The author seeks to provide a Via Regia as a third alternative to two dangerous interpretations of the Scriptural doctrine of justification. The first of these dangers is a Pelagian over-reliance on works, an attempt at justification without the help and grace of God. The second danger is a Lutheran over-reliance on the grace of God, an attempt at justification without the aid of good works. The proposed Via Regia, the “true and high way,” is subsequently expounded in three aspects: how the believer is made just and righteous; how the believer is restored to justice upon falling; and how the believer may finally attain to salvation and glory.

The Influence of Augustine

Given the heavy reliance on Augustinian precedent exhibited by A Treatie of Justification, some consideration of the Augustinian view is warranted. Let it first be noted that Augustine should not be read anachronistically as attempting to settle issues debated centuries after his death. However, his posthumous support can be, and is, claimed by Protestants and Catholics alike. He can certainly be credited with bringing the doctrine of justification into the fore of medieval theological dialogue and in many ways framed the boundaries of the discussion for such
of his theological posterity. His arguments can therefore be cited by both sides of the Sixteenth Century debate for support since so much can be read into and out of his words. Consider the following:

And so extreme gilt compelling them, they fled to faith. Whereby, they might deserve the mercie of pardone, and helpe of our Lorde, which made heaven and earth, that charitie being, through the holy Ghost powred in their hartes, they might doo with love those things, which were commanded against the concupiscenses and lustes of this world.(5)

An argument can be made for either the Roman Catholic or the various Protestant views from these words. The reason being that Augustine never intended for his words to be proof for a centuries later debate. Again, in a separate work, Augustine writes that the word “justify”(6) in Romans 2:13 (“the doers of the law shall be justified”) might mean “hold just” or “account just” in the sense of forensic imputation.(7) As a whole, Augustine’s theology of justification is largely understood to have included the idea of being made righteous rather than a solely forensic declaration.(8) For the Catholic tradition subsequent to Augustine, therefore, to be justified was to become a righteous person. It is upon this conclusion that the author of A Treatie of Justification seizes and builds his argument.

This is especially evident in the author’s argumentation “that faith excludeth not Charity in
our justification, that is to saie, Faith alone justifieth no man, without the help and woorking of
Charitie.”(9) Augustine similarly wrote that “no faith profiteth, but only that which the Apostle defineth: to wit, that, which woorketh through loove and Charitie: and that the same faith without woorkes, can save no man, either without fier, or by fier.”(10) Though neither were advocating a justification by charity alone, both were advocating a theology of justification (if indeed such nomenclature can be applied anachronistically to Augustine) in which justification includes the restoration of what was lost in Adam: love, faith, hope and all the ethical implications contained therein. Clearly, the modern and largely Protestant bifurcation of justification and sanctification was an alien concept to Augustine, and one rejected by Trent and therefore by the author of the Treatie of Justification.


4 A Treatie of Justification goes to often extraordinary lengths to link its argument with historical precedent, and especially with that of Augustine. Indeed, Augustine’s Of Faith and Workes is published together with the Treatie, along with the sections of Trent on justification. Augustine continues to play a large role in the discussion of justification and Roman Catholic and Protestant dialogue. For example, a Joint Ecumenical Commission on the Examination of the Sixteenth-Century Condemnations comprised of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and even a few Reformed theologians produced The Condemnations of the Reformation Era (1986). The last of four principles of interpretation employed by the Commission in its discussions was, “When interpreting Trent, ‘in case of doubt, the view closest to Augustine must be preferred.’” Cited in Anthony N. S. Lane, Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue (London: T&T Clark, 2002), 104.
5 Augustine, Of Faith and Workes (Farnborough, Hants., England: Gregg Press Limited, 1967 [1569 reprint]), 22. All quotations from this particular work by Augustine are from the version available to the author of this Treatie, which was also published together with it as an appendix.
6 At this point Augustine is infamously charged with ignorance of the Greek text. His understanding of the term was apparently based on the Latin iustificatio, rather than the Greek original dikaios.
7 Augustine, The Spirit and the Letter, 26:45; J. Burnaby (ed.), Augustine: Later Works. The Library of Christian Classics, vol. 8 (London: SCM Press, 1955) 228f.
8 Augustine’s The Spirit and the Letter appears to proclaim a doctrine of justification by faith, but in later Protestant terminology is more accurately a doctrine of sanctification by faith. See Lane, op. cit., 46.
9 Reginald Pole, A Treatie of Justification (Farnborough, Hants., England: Gregg Press Limited, 1967 [1569 reprint]), 36.
10 Augustine, op. cit., 24.

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