A Distinction for Justification by Faith Alone in Maximus the Confessor

The Byzantine saint Maximus the Confessor teaches, in Ad Thalassium 6, ‘On the Grace of Holy Baptism’,

The manner of birth from God within us is two-fold: the one bestows the grace of adoption, which is entirely present in potency in those who are born of God; the other introduces, wholly by active exertion, that grace which deliberately reorients the entire free choice of the one being born of God toward the God who gives birth. The first bears the grace, present in potency, through faith alone; but the second, beyond faith, also engenders in the knower the sublimely divine likeness of the One known, that likeness being effected precisely through knowledge.

Compare Richard Hooker in his ‘Learned Discourse on Justification’:

The righteousnes wherewith we shalbe clothed in the world to come, is both perfecte and inherente: that whereby here we are justified is perfecte but not inherente: that whereby we are sanctified, inherent but not perfect.

Like Maximus, Hooker speaks of a grace that is perfect, or entirely present, by faith alone; like Maximus, he also distinguishes it from another grace that involves active exertion, which he calls the righteousness of sanctification.


2 responses to “A Distinction for Justification by Faith Alone in Maximus the Confessor

  1. This is good. Potency is a long way from imputation, though. It sounds like inherent, whereas Hooker says one is not inherent. Still, there is wrestling with the Biblical notion of a righteousness we possesses already by faith alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s certainly a different perspective on the grace of justification and does not speak of the forensic aspect. Nevertheless, the language of ‘the grace of adoption, which is entirely present in potency’ speaks clearly of a grace already perfect (‘entirely present’). Contrasting this grace we enjoy ‘through faith alone’ with a grace that comes in ‘active exertion’, Maximus clearly sees the same kind of distinction. I think his analysis, which draws out the nonforensic aspects of justification (and adoption), can help us better understand how the graces of justification and sanctification are related eschatologically.


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