simui justus et peecator

simui justus et peecator

Ordo salutis verses


Perhaps the formula that Luther used that is most famous and most telling at this point is his formula simul justus et peccator. And if any formula summarizes and captures the essence of the Reformation view, it is this little formula. Simul is the word from which we get the English word simultaneously. Or, it means ‘at the same time.’ Justus is the Latin word for just or righteous. And you all know what et is. Et the past tense of the verb ‘to eat.’ Have you et your dinner? No, you know that’s not what that means. You remember in the death scene of Caesar after he’s been stabbed by Brutus he says, “Et tu, Brute?” Then fall Caesar. And you too Brutus? It simply means and. Peccator means sinner.

And so with this formula Luther was saying, in our justification we are one and the same time righteous or just, and sinners. Now if he would say that we are at the same time and in the same relationship just and sinners that would be a contradiction in terms. But that’s not what he was saying. He was saying from one perspective, in one sense, we are just. In another sense, from a different perspective, we are sinners; and how he defines that is simple. In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God’s scrutiny, we still have sin; we’re still sinners. But, by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous. This is the very heart of the gospel.

Will I be judged in order to get into heaven by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ? If I had to trust in my righteousness to get into heaven, I would completely and utterly despair of any possibility of ever being redeemed. But when we see that the righteousness that is ours by faith is the perfect righteousness of Christ, then we see how glorious is the good news of the gospel. The good news is simply this, I can be reconciled to God, I can be justified by God not on the basis of what I did, but on the basis of what’s been accomplished for me by Christ.

But at the heart of the gospel is a double-imputation. My sin is imputed to Jesus. His righteousness is imputed to me. And in this two-fold transaction we see that God, Who does not negotiate sin, Who doesn’t compromise His own integrity with our salvation, but rather punishes sin fully and really after it has been imputed to Jesus, retains His own righteousness, and so He is both just and the justifier, as the apostle tells us here. So my sin goes to Jesus, His righteousness comes to me in the sight of God.


According to the Index to the American Edition of Luther’s Works (AE 55:297), the basic concept underlying the “the simul” (i.e., simul justus et peccator) is exposited or alluded to in all of the following locations (see after my comments).

Luther used the exact phrase “simul iustus et peccator” only once: in his 1535 Lectures on Galatians (ch.3 v.6): “Thus a Christian man is righteous and a sinner at the same time (simul iustus et peccator), holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God. None of the sophists will admit this paradox, because they do not understand the true meaning of justification.” There is a note in the AE referring the reader also to 27:231, Luther’s 1519 Lectures on Galatians (ch.2, v.18):

A similar contradiction may be seen in Job, whom God, who cannot lie, pronounces a righteous and innocent man in the first chapter (Job 1:8). Yet later on Job confesses in various passages that he is a sinner, especially in the ninth and seventh chapters: ‘”Why dost Thou not take away my iniquity?” (9:20; 7:21.) But Job must be speaking the truth, because if he were lying in the presence of God, then God would not pronounce him righteous. Accordingly, Job is both righteous and a sinner (simul iustus, simul peccator). Who will resolve these contradictory aspects? Or where are they in agreement? Obviously at the mercy seat, where the faces of the cherubim, which otherwise are opposed to one another, are in agreement.’

Other syntactically similar constructions appear earlier, in his 1515 Lectures on Romans, starting with his scholia on ch.4, v.7:

“God is wonderful in His saints (Psalm 68:35). To Him they are at the same time both righteous and unrighteous.

And God is wonderful in the hypocrites. To Him they are at the same time both unrighteous and righteous.

(“Mirabilis Deus in sanctis suis”, Cui simul sunt Iusti et Iniusti.

Et Mirabilis in hipocritis Deus, Cui simul sunt Iniusti et Iusti.)

For inasmuch as the saints are always aware of their sin and seek righteousness from God in accord with His mercy, for this very reason they are always also regarded as righteous by God. Thus in their own sight and in truth they are unrighteous, but before God they are righteous because He reckons them so because of their confession of sin. They are actually sinners, but they are righteous by the imputation of a merciful God. They are unknowingly righteous and knowingly unrighteous; they are sinners in fact but righteous in hope… Therefore, wonderful and sweet is the mercy of God, who at the same time considers us both as sinners and nonsinners. (Igitur Mirabilis et dulcissima misericordia Dei, Qui nos simul peccatores et non-peccatores habet.) Sin remains and at the same time it does not remain. Therefore, this psalm must be understood according to its title. On the other hand, His wrath is also wonderful and severe, for at the same time He regards the ungodly as both righteous and unrighteous. And at the same time He both takes away their sin and does not take it away.” (AE 25:259-260; Lectures on Romans, 1515: ch.4, v. 7)

Later, in his gloss of ch.7, v.16-18: v.16: Now if I do, with my flesh, what I do not want, in the spirit, namely, to lust, I agree that the Law is good. For I want the good in the same way as that which says, “You shall not covet” (Ex. 20:17). Therefore I am at the same time a sinner and a righteous man, for I do evil and I hate the evil which I do. (“Ideo simul sum peccator et Iustus, Quia facio malum et odio malum, quod facio.” (WA 56:70)] v.17: So then it is no longer I, as a spiritual man in the Spirit, that do it, that is, lust, but sin, both the tinder of sin and concupiscence, which dwells within me, through my whole life. Blessed Ambrose, in his De sacramento regenerationis, says, “Sin works many things in us. Very often pleasures revive and rise again as from the grave, even when we are unwilling.” v18. For I know, through the spirit and the experience of contending against sin, that nothing good, that is, purity or lack of concupiscence, dwells within me, as a carnal man, from which it follows, that is, in my flesh, in my outer man. (AE 25:63-65)

And in his scholia on ch.7, v.18:

The sixth expression: For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. (v. 18). See how he attributes to himself flesh which is a part of him as if he himself were flesh. Thus he has said above: “I am carnal” (v. 14); and therefore he now confesses that he is not good but evil, because he does evil things. Because of his flesh he is carnal and wicked, for there is no good in him, and he does evil; because of the spirit he is spiritual and good, because he does good. Therefore we must note that the words “I want” and “I hate” refer to the spiritual man or to the spirit, but “I do” and “I work” refer to the carnal man or to the flesh. But because the same one complete man consists of flesh and spirit, therefore he attributes to the whole man both of these opposing qualities which come from the opposing parts of him. For in this way there comes about a communication of attributes, for one and the same man is spiritual and carnal, righteous and a sinner, good and evil. (Sic enim fit communio Ideomatum, Quod idem homo est spiritualis et carnalis, Iustus et peccator, Bonus et malus.) (AE 25:332-333)

These are the strongest references to “the simul” that I am aware of. As you can see, it’s a lot more complex than its haphazard use as a slogan and hashtag would suggest. Oh, well— as my college mentor always used to say, “Why read something when you can quote it?”





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