By Grace Through Faith: What is Salvation?
The Protestant belief: The specific belief is that we're saved by grace through our faith in Christ (Eph 2:8). What it means in terms of our spiritual walk is recognition that any works we do are inspired by the Spirit, led by the will of God, empowered by the grace of our Lord Jesus, and they're none of our doing (Eph 2:9-10). It means that by repentance we're free from the penalty of sin, no residual debt to be paid (Rom 6:23). It means that rather than the world having control, the Holy Spirit has control and He will not abandon us to the world (John 14:18ff; Matt 28:20). Now experientially, it means we cease to focus on our failing Him, on all the ways we sin and that continual sense of not being "good enough," and begin to focus on His power to keep us safe as we're being transformed by His Holy Spirit. That's freedom which allows us to experience His peace and joy without conditions.
This is a good statement of Protestant belief and is as different from the Catholic Faith as a stick figure drawing is from a real portrait. It is an extreme oversimplification that leaves so much out as to make one want to cry! As any adult knows, the simple and the complex are complementary and go together; but the simplistic and the complicated are contradictories and opposite extremes that are counterfeits. Thus a human being is simple in the unity of the person and bodily nature which at the same time is greatly complex on both sides. The higher one goes in creation the more one sees of that; and the Apostolic Faith the Church has received is even more so, because the Reality of the Christ Mystery is more so.
What is salvation? Negatively it is simply the application of Redemption to the individual in a way that he is not lost and the full Vision of God (positively) -- which is after all choice is gone.
The Son of God became one of us and redeemed us on the Cross. This objective Redemption was accomplished for the race in the actual personal human nature of Jesus Who, raised from the dead, has the Holy Spirit in His human soul illuminating His entire personal body and is able to manifest and communicate that same Holy Spirit to others in a full way. In their experience of the Resurrected Lord that communication began for the Twelve (it was their Baptism, for He breathed the Spirit on them on Easter evening). The Redemption which is none other than Divine Life, PERSONAL, i.e., Trinitarian life was begun. But it is at Pentecost that this Trinitarian Personal Divine Life was thoroughly given to the Twelve gathered around the Virgin Mary, and the disciples around them. (That was their Confirmation night.)
This application to them of what Our Lord had gained for His own humanity removed all guilt of sin, Original and personal, and all punishment due as a result, but it did not remove ALL traces of Original Sin in them -- Mary never had such traces because she never had the Sin -- though it did so to a very great degree in their particular cases. But to others who were not in the Event of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, like the 3,000 Jews from all parts of the known world who heard St. Peter preach to them, this communication of the Redemption that is in Christ involved accepting the grace to believe Peter's preaching, a direct Word from God, accepting the added grace to repent of their sins, and Baptism (with Confirmation by the laying on of hands) and repenting, and therefore union with the newborn Church in Faith, Hope, Charity AND the spiritual discipline the Twelve had over all.
Communion with that Apostolic Communion of the Church meant communion with the Holy Trinity; and like a human body, it was both simple and complex, i.e., having MANY qualitatively distinct elements and persons in one supernatural unity of Invisible Head and visible Body with a visible head in St. Peter and the Eleven. They celebrated the Eucharist that Day of the Lord, and so has the same Church every Sunday since.
Redemption was applied to them, or rather entered into them in this SACRAMENTAL experience of real communion of Faith. Acts shows this. This did not mean that salvation was already perfectly attained never able to be lost. Salvation was BEGUN. And this was a real sanctification that involved their real acceptance and participation. The recipients of this applied redemption were not passive inert things that are moved like pawns or lifeless tools, but real persons with minds and wills and personalities whom God had made such. As a consequence when God's graces to believe, repent and accept Baptism were given, they actively believed, actively repented, actively accepted and cooperated in being baptized -- which means, remember, having to arrange to go to where water was, removed some of their clothes and get wet!, having hands laid on them and anointed. It not only took time, it REQUIRED their ACTIVE free will cooperation -- they were not dead corpses immersed without their say-so or without conscious cooperation!
God as the FIRST and COMPLETE cause of their salvation having been started, or Redemption having been applied historically to each entering into the Church, but they with their OWN personal cooperation with ALL that God did were the second cause. God did ALL first as cause of all; they simultaneously actively received ALL and were second causes of all. Two were dancing together, God and the individual, not God dancing and pushing around a dead body inert with no cognition; God acting sacramentally by the visible members of the Body of the Church in a way He once did by using His personal Body in preaching and Baptizing (He did this, too, remember, in His early public life!).
Of course, the result was complete joy in the Divine life, confidence in God's love; but it was ALSO a perseverance to the end! Salvation has been begun, but one must persevere to the end for it to be complete and FINAL (Matt 10:22; 24:13; Phil 2:12-13; 2 Peter 1:10; etc). Now GOD knows (by His choice) if each will freely persevere so as to be eternally saved; HE will not withdraw His choice. But AFTER BAPTISM, one does not LOSE free will; one does not LOSE the possibility of sinning. Indeed, we STILL have those tendencies resulting from Original Sin of a wounded nature that inclines to sin, yet God does not tell us if we will be finally saved because He wants us to trust Him and not slack.
Repentance and Penance
The repentance needed for an adult to be baptized is the decision not ever to sin seriously again (first conversion) with a sin that would KILL the personal relationship with God by breaking freely a known command of His in some matter He says is serious. But that does not mean that slight sins, or habits of them, which do NOT break a serious command of God but do go against His will do not occur. One's guilt about that and subsequent punishment due can exist for which repentance and an expiation under grace are needed -- a SECOND degree of conversion after Baptism determined to eradicate all venial sin! Knowledge of human beings shows that the possibility of falling into deadly sin that removes the "salvation-that-was-begun", i.e., breaks the friendship with God,DOES occur.
In fact, in our times, it is probably the USUAL experience due to stopping prayer during their adolescence or college-age years for Christians baptized as infants and brought up in the Faith. But for that God has given us the SECOND "baptism" of the Sacrament of Penance for this purpose (which ALSO is extremely powerful for the second degree of conversion of eliminating all venial sin and its punishment due: it is PART of the Sacrament of Penance to expiate and repair what one has admitted, confessed, and determined not to repeat. There is a THIRD degree of conversion of detachment from self that is associated with the unitive way of infused sanctity. This is the way of the Saints, beyond that of the spiritual or proficient.
Catholic and Protestant Differences
But contrasting now this Catholic (thus FULLER) portrait of the salvation process to the stick figure of Protestant belief, one can rather easily detect an infantile, simplistic, pollyanna reaction to self-centered fear of punishment and feeling of guilt in the latter. When the Catholic child who does not receive the love of God mediated by the family comes across the teaching of the catechism which presumes it, about the conditions for persevering in salvation-begun and not losing it, he will MISINTERPRET Catholicism and miss seeing the whole. He will be VERY prone to oversimplifying and thus take the stick figure alternative of Protestant belief as truth and think he's not only better off, but superior in understanding Revelation. He'll come out with platitudes naively asserted about "no conditions." It is childish, but it calms the exaggerated fears of the past which distorted seeing things right in the first place. It is a PREMATURE "peace," really a psychological-emotional overcoming of morbid fear about salvation. But it is also an unaware presumption of being right about Revelation because of the SUBJECTIVE role such over-simplification brings in eliminating self-centered worry.
He will have little awareness that the solution he comes up with is still highly self-centered, because he has swung from thinking EVERYTHING depended on himself to please God and avert condemnation (hopelessness) to EVERYTHING depends on God alone (guaranteed!) and relieves him of having any responsibility for his own eventual salvation and PRESUMES God has chosen him. As a result, he confuses his OWN judgments about Scripture and Revelation with the Holy Spirit (since HE doesn't do ANYTHING in attaining salvation, except believe, of course, which is the illogical exception), so it must be the Holy Spirit, not him. Also he will swing from the excessive fear of punishment for wrongdoing to NOT punishment AT ALL for future sins for those who believe (because Christ took all that on Himself IN PLACE of our going through it, ignoring the glaring reality that we STILL DIE and suffer before death!).
This self-satisfied "peace" makes it easy for him to judge the Church -- which is blamed for error that caused him painful fear before, conveniently avoiding any consideration that he had defects of psyche and/or upbringing by his parents, e.g., such a simple one of non-communication about important things like how you understand God. Oversimplification about salvation carried over to Scripture "alone" is understood by the individual, but seen as God the Holy Spirit telling on the Truth, against which every other belief, be it of the Universal Church even, is judged and rejected if contrary.
Called to be Saints
Such people NEVER rise to sanctity; indeed, they never even become proficients in the spiritual life, and their use of the sacraments, if they remain in the Church is really NOT AS CATHOLICS, but Protestants with distorted interpretation, and thus profit them little. Their lack of self-knowledge is astounding. They consider themselves equal to the Saints, or rather, more often just don't look at the Saints lest those examples of heroic love of God show them up as infantile and simplistic. How comfortable is their ignorance and how pitiful. It strengthens their presumption of being right, increases their pride without their even noticing it.
In contrasting summary, we are saved by the grace (God's choice) through faith leading to Baptism within the Church and moved by the charity of the Holy Spirit putting into practice the life of the virtues, with the aid of the Sacraments, gradually deepening into a holiness which if not attained in this life will be in the next by purification of post-baptismal sin of commission or omission, confident that God will bring to completion what He has begun in us, not presuming it is done already without our cooperation. A humble trust in God and distrust in self, combined with active participation, is the simple-complex reality of the Catholic Gospel.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1996-1999 on grace, salvation, justification and sanctification:
Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life (John 1:12-18; 17:3; Rom 8:14-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4).
Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.
This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God's gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature (1 Cor 2:7-9).
The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification (John 3:3-5; 4:14; 7:38-39) :
"Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself" (2 Cor 5:17-18).