In the last couple of days I have been reading about the reformation debate between Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto (Bishop of Carpentras in southern France) and John Calvin. Following Calvin’s banishment from Geneva in April of 1538, Cardinal Sadoleto wrote a letter (March, 1539) to the Genevans with the intent of restoring them back to the Catholic Church. The following August Calvin replied to Sadoleto in a letter that reveals the keys issues in the reformation debate, including the doctrine of justification.
The following is some of what Calvin wrote in his letter about justification:
First, we bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to cite his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convicted of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by His obedience, He has wiped off our transgressions; by His sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by His blood, washed away our sins; by His cross, borne our curse; and by His death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with Him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.