1. There is something in the forgiveness of sin which implies an element of positive good, and this is called justification. It means that the attitude of God towards forgiven sin is believed by the Catholic Church to be no mere neglect or forgetfulness of its evil, but an actual and complete forgiveness. At the time of the Protestant Reformation a long controversy was waged over this very point, in which the Reformers took up the curious position that forgiveness implied nothing more than that God did not impute sin. He covered up the iniquities of the soul with the Blood of His Son, and no longer peered beneath the depths of that sacred and saving sign. The problem has probably hardly any meaning now, since the original doctrinal principles of Protestantism, the ostensible reasons for the sixteenth century revolt, have been abandoned long since as hopeless of defence. In fact all that was really positive in Protestantism has been ruined by its basic negative principle of private judgment. Against such a battering ram Christianity itself is powerless. But that long-forgotten discussion had this much of value, that it brought out in clear perspective the fullness of the Catholic teaching on the central doctrine of justification and showed its depth and meaning.
2. Briefly, then, it may be stated that it is not simply that God does not impute evil, but that He forgives it. It is as though a rebellion had taken place and its leader had been captured and brought before his offended sovereign. Now the king might do either of two things, if he wished not to punish the culprit. He might simply bid him go off and never appear again, or he might go even further by actually forgiving the rebellion and receiving back into favour the rebel. It is one thing to say that no punishment will be awarded, it is another to say that the crime is forgiven, and that everything is to go on as though nothing had happened. In the first case we might say that the king chose not to impute the sin, in the other that he forgave and justified the sinner. It is just this, then, that the Catholic Church means when she teaches justification as implied in the idea of forgiveness. It is just this, too, that Our Lord meant when He detailed His beautiful parable about the prodigal son. The boy’s return home does not mean merely that the father refrains from punishment, but rather that there is a welcome so hearty and so complete that the serious-minded elder brother, coming in from his long labour in the fields, is rather scandalized by its suddenness and its intensity. Such is indeed God’s treatment of the soul. He is so generous, so determined not to be outdone by any sorrow on the part of the sinner, that He overwhelms with the most splendid favours the recently converted soul.
3. But in this connection we must see in justification a process by which the Presence of God is again achieved by man. By sin grace was lost, and with grace went out the Divine Three in One, the temple was desecrated, the veil of the Holy of Holies was utterly rent. Then sin is forgiven and, once more, the Sacred home is occupied by God. Moreover, when God comes to the soul He comes with His full strength of love, and thereby gives a new energy and life to man. We love because of some beauty, goodness, excellence, that we see in others. We love, then, because of what is in them. It is their gifts that cause or ignite our love. But God, Who is the only cause Himself, creates excellences by love. We are not loved because we are good; we are good because we are loved, so that this indwelling itself fashions us after God’s own heart. “It is the love of God,” says St. Thomas (Summa theologica, i, 20.2), “that produces and creates goodness in things.” The divine presence, then, of God in the soul, effected by sanctifying grace, makes the soul more worthy a temple, more fit a home. God does not come to us because we are fit, but we are fit because God comes to us.