Expert Answer Forum
Saints & Assurance of Salvation QUESTION from Andrew D. Kennedy July 20, 2000 Thank you for answering my question regarding Confirmation & Communion. I was talking with a Protestant about assurance of salvation--my understanding is that in Catholicism, the only judge of who is saved is God... thus there is no mortal assurance of salvation. This prompted me to think about saints.
The Communion of Saints and no assurance of salvation appear to be contradictory doctrines. How can we offer prayers to a saint, without knowing that they are truly in Heaven? Being a saint is supposed to mean one is in heaven (right?)... but wouldn't that mean that the Church has declared that the salvation of an individual has been assured?
It would seem that either the salvation of saints is assured (and thus man can judge another man's salvation), or that it is improper to offer prayers to any given saint without having assurance that they are actually in Heaven.
There must be some way that these two doctrines can be reconciled, or (more likely) my understanding of these docrtines is incorrect. Thanks for your help.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on October 15, 2000 Dear Mr. Kennedy:
A very good question.
First a little about assurance of salvation.
No where in the Bible are we assured of salvation if we mean by assurance a 100% guarantee. Fundamentalist like to quote Romans 8:35-39 which says in part:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Beautiful words! In fact this passage is one of the most beautiful of the Bible and one of the GREATEST promises of God.
But what is being promised? God is promising that nothing can take us away from Him. But this is presuming that we have CHOSEN HIM.
All Scripture MUST be interpreted in light of ALL Scripture. Neither this passage or any other passage may be taken out of context if we hope to be correct in our interpretation.
We know from MANY other teachings in the Bible, and from nearly every single parable of Jesus that deals with the salvation image that while no one separate God's love from us, we can turn our back on that love.
Even those in hell are not separated from God's love. God's love is all around them. God still loves them. But they have shut THEMSELVES off to that light and love. While there is light all around them, they see only darkness by CHOICE.
Excerpts from the Haydock Commentary Notes in the 1899 edition of the Douay Rheims Bible (this commentary is arguably among the top three best commentaries available for Catholics.):
Beginning with Romans 8:28: VER. 28. To them that love God, all things work together unto good. All trials, temptations, afflictions, must be taken as coming from the hand of God, who ordains or permits them for the greater good of his elect--For the good of those, who, according to his purposes (God's good will) are called the saints.
VER. 31. What shall we then say to these things? That is, though we live amidst temptations and afflictions in this life, we need not fear as long as we are faithful in the service of God, under his protection.--If God be for us, who is against us, or who shall hinder us from being saved.
VER. 35. &c.; Who then, or what shall separate us from the love of Christ? Neither devils, nor men, nor any thing in nature, unless it be by our own fault, and unless we wilfully and sinfully leave God.--I am sure. In the Greek, I am fully persuaded; that nothing can separate us, &c.; In fine, another argument to prove we ought to have a firm hope in God...
VER. 39. So powerful and efficacious, so certain and unchangeable is the love of God, which conducts us to the kingdom of bliss, that no creature can separate us from it, either by making us cease to love him, or by frustrating our love of its effect, viz, life everlasting. Estius.
But, by virtue of free will be CAN deny ourselves His love.
The Scripture shows us three levels of salvation:
Past Event --Romans 8:24, Ephesians 2:5,8; 2 Tim 1:9; Titus 3:5 --these involve the salvation that has already come into our lives, but it speaks not to the present or future.
Present Process --Philippians 2:12 and 1 Peter 1:9 both indicate that we are working out our salvation presently. Thus salvation is not merely a past event. That past event can be changed in current circumstances. But what of the future?
Future Event --Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Mark 8:3-5; Acts 15:11, Romans 5:9-10; 13:11; 1 Corinthians 3:15; 5:5; Hebrews 9:28 --These passages all indicate that salvation ultimately depends upon perseverance to the end. The passages in Matthew outright say this. It is hard to belief I passed those verses over when I was a Baptist. Acts and Roman use future tense (shall be saved) although the text is speaking to Christians.
The parables of Jesus also recognize the final perseverance theory.
The Prodigal Son was not just in a far away country. He was DEAD to the Father. This is an image of spiritual death. When the Prodigal came home, the son was resurrected to the Father. The Father says, my son was dead and now he lives. This clearly shows how salvation can be lost and regained.
The parable of the ten maidens is another of MANY examples. The maidens ALL knew and believed in the Bridegroom, yet ten maidens prepared for the arrival of the Bridegroom and ten did not. When the Bridegroom came unannounced the ten who were prepared were accepted into the wedding banquet. But the ten who were unprepared came late and were locked out -- into hell.
All the maidens were Christians in this parable. But the ten unprepared Christians went to hell because they did not do what they should have done to prepare.
All the other parables dealing with salvation give this same message.
Scripture goes on to give many verses that state or imply an uncertain assurance of salvation:
Here are a few: Matthew 7:21; 24:13; Romans 11:23; Philippians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 10:11-12; Galatians 5:4; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-27
We have the assurance of hope.
We have the assurance of the hope that God keeps His promises.
God kept His promised and gave his Son for the redemption of mankind. That redemption allows us to become sons and daughters of God through baptism and confirmation. We are assured of our hope in salvation by these historical events.
We are assured by the our devotion, love, and faith today, for today. If I was to die while writing this answer to you, I am mostly assured that I will go to heaven (after purgatory I imagine). Why? Because of the assurance of those past events coupled with knowing that I am trying to live s good and Godly life following the commandments of Christ as best I can, and that I am free of mortal sin (for the moment) and thus could die (at this moment anyway) in a state of grace. But what of tomorrow?
I cannot know what tomorrow will bring. I could reject God in 20 years. I don't know, you don't know, no one knows. But we have the assurance of the HOPE of salvation that we will persevere until the end and reap our final reward.
Now as to the Communion of Saints and the Church declaring people Saints.....
We cannot know a person is a saint until AFTER his death. Thus the issue of falling out of grace in the future is moot.
The Church investigates the person's life and his death to determine if he did indeed persevere unto the end. If this can be proven in a variety of ways, if the person can meet the muster of high standards of Sainthood, then with the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Church declares the person a Saint.
This means that we KNOW he or she is in heaven. Thus there is no contradiction. We KNOW the canonized Saints are in heaven because God has revealed that fact to the Church.
Now, this does NOT mean that those not canonized are not saints. ALL who go to heaven MUST be saints. ONLY saints go to heaven. But most saints are ordinary saints that will never be recognized by the Church as Canonized Saints.
God does not pick everyone to be a Canonized Saint, he picks only a few to act as models and examples for us. It is God who picks the Saints, the Church only affirms it.
On this note we must be careful in presuming somebody a saint. Right now most people consider Mother Teresa a saint, but WE DO NOT KNOW THAT. The Church must investigate and then make a decision.
In history there has been people who were loved as saints like Mother Teresa but who were denied Canonized Sainthood. We can never know until the Church investigates, prays, and reveals to the world what the Holy Spirit has confirmed to the Pope. But when the Pope does make the declaration of Sainthood, it is an infallible one. The Holy Spirit does not allow mistakes on this score.
I answered your question the long way around, but hopefully this was helpful.
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