Kendall Harmon has posted a wonderful rejoinder by Bishop Allison regarding various critiques of his book The Rise of Moralism. The primary theological sticking point is around the issue of imputed vs. infused righteousness. Traditionally, protestants have held to a view of imputed righteousness while Roman Catholics have defended an understanding of infused righteousness. Here’s what The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church has to say about them:
(from Lat. imputare, GK logidzomai). A central aspect of classical Protestant theologies of justification, according to which the righteousness of Christ is imputed or reckoned to the believer, despite being extrensic to his person, in order that he may be justified on its basis. This is contrasted with the teaching of the Council of Trent, that the believer is justified on the basis of imparted or infused righteousness, intrinsic to his person. Acc. to classical Protestant theology, the justification of the believer on account of the ‘alien righteousness of Christ’ is followed immediately by a process of renewal and growth in personal righteousness. Support for this doctrine is found in certain passages of St Paul (notably Rom. 4; Gal 3:21 f).
For the concept in Anglican theology, see C.F. Allison, The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter (1966), passim.
Here’s a selection from what Bishop Allison said in response to his critics:
Lord Moulton, a 19th century Anglican jurist, made the wise observation that the measure of a civilization is its degree of obedience to the unenforceable. This quality of citizenship responsibility is the capacity for complicity and guilt. The Reformation was able to impose this corporate responsibility because a state of grace did not invariably preclude being a sinner and accepting responsibility for the corruption or failings of ones society. The failure to do so is one of the great failings of Latin societies nurtured in post-Tridentine Catholicism. (Certainly Protestant societys biblical grasp of this gracious but complicit responsibility is being eroded by our common foe, secularism, which is losing even the very concept of sin.)
I’ve enjoyed reading the whole thread, but I particularly enjoyed William Witt’s comments. For example:
Neither Luther nor the other Reformers believed that Christs righteousness remained alien. The point of sanctification is that Christs righteousness becomes effective through the presence of the Holy Spirit, which unites me to the humanity of the risen Christ. The question of infusion is, then, a red herring. The Reformers were more than willing to affirm that sanctification is infused righteousness. They denied strongly, howeer, that such infused righteousness was the ground of my standing before Godmy justification. For to insist that my inner righteousness (even infused righteousness) was the ground of my standing before God was to turn my attention inward, away from Christs effective work, and toward my own ability to appropriate that work, a dubious proposition.
That is why, for the Reformers, justification has to be by faith alone, for faith by definition, looks away from itself to its object. Of course, later Protestant Christianity was able to turn even the doctrine of justification by faith into a form of works-righteousness by saying that the ground of my standing before God is the sincerity of my faith. But, this, of course, is a denial of the very nature of faith, which, by definition, turns away from itself.
You can read the whole essay and all the responses here. Also, take a look at Bishop Allison’s book on Amazon.