Catholic Doctrine of Justification: Is It Really Legal or Just a Metaphor?

In our previous post titled “Is Our Salvation Based on the Concepts of Debt and Law?” we asked the question about whether the Catholic doctrine of salvation (soteriology) is ontological (based on a transformation of being or human nature) or is it also legal and based on the notion of debt.

Following up from that post, a reader named Jacob asks a great question:

The analysis made sense to me until the claim that it’s not either/or; it’s both/and (I have a passing familiarity with this rule of thumb in Catholic theology).

My understanding until that point was: because salvation is ontological, it truly consists of a real change in my (hopefully!) humanity, and the
legal/financial terminology is strictly metaphorical.

However, the claim about both/and in this context made me think my understand was flawed, and there is a legal/financial reality, not simply a metaphor.

Can you clarify? Thank you so much!

Indeed. For the Catholic Christian, the legal/financial is not metaphorical. It is real. Just as Christ established a real/legal covenant (New Covenant), there are real/legal laws and sacraments associated with it. Eg, If you are ontologically changed (baptized and hopefully partaking in divine grace), you are legally obliged to attend Mass on Sunday unless prohibited in some way. There is nothing metaphorical about the gifts of the New Covenants or its moral obligations on the recipients.

Also, when you have sanctifying grace within you (ontological), you are truly justified (made legally righteous with respect to God’s moral law). You’re status as justified is not metaphorical. It is real. Why? Because it is really and truly based on your ontological status as a child of God in union with Christ. 

Dr. Taylor Marshall

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