IUSTITIA DEI. A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION

Written by Alister E. McGrath Reviewed By Tony Lane

This work was first published in 1986 and rapidly established itself as the standard work on the history of the doctrine of justification. In 1998 there was a second edition, the main change being the addition of an extra section on modern developments. This, the third edition, is much more thoroughly revised.

As I wrote a review of the first edition (Evangelical Quarterly 63 (1991) 281–85, for any who are interested) I will here confine myself to considering the changes in the latest edition. The main changes are as follows.

  • There are minor adjustments to the structure of the work, with a rearrangement of the order of some chapters and some other minor adjustments. The nine chapters of the first edition have (more logically) become five and instead of numbering subsections continuously from 1 to 38 these are now (more helpfully) subsections of chapters. Thus §37 has now become chapter 5:5. Most significant, perhaps, is the change in the final section from ‘Justification as a hermeneutical principal’ to the longer and more provocatively entitled ‘The eclipse of justification, 1950–2000’.
  • The end notes of the first edition have become footnotes. This is a huge improvement and saves the diligent reader from constantly needing to switch from one end of the book to the other.
  • Quotations from primary sources (mostly Latin) have now been translated. This is an important change as so few people these days can read Latin. However, while quotations may have been translated there still remains a considerable amount of untranslated Latin terms and phrases. This is a great shame as it will lessen the usefulness of the work for the average undergraduate. There is a glossary of seventeen medieval soteriological terms, but that represents only a very small proportion of the Latin cited. For someone who has never studied any Latin even the use of single words can be a real obstacle. Much more a sentence like the following: ‘In his Commentary on the Sentences (1254–57). Thomas considers the question utrum homo possit se praeparare ad gratiam sine aliqua gratia (105).
  • The literature surveyed has been updated and the bibliography sports nearly forty new works of secondary literature published since 1986.
  • In the preface the author notes that this has caused him to retain ‘what was clearly sound and reliable’ and correct or modify ‘whatever was open to justified criticism’ (x). In the places where I checked I found no more than changes of nuance, though no doubt more substantial revisions could be found.

The new edition of this classic work is to be warmly welcomed.


Tony Lane

London School of Theology