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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Question on salvation

by Catherine Frakas 18 Feb 2001

Question on salvation QUESTION from Kelvin on February 3, 2003 Hello Bro John-Paul,
Recently, I was reading a book by a Benedictine monk which expounds the immense love of God through the Incarnation and Resurrection, and how the Resurrection has won for us eternal life with the Father. Hence salvation is obtained not by us being good and earning it, but by the perfect sacrifice on the cross. We are unable to work for our salvation.
Lately I had a discussion about the issue of salvation with some friends. Some are atheists and one is Protestant, and the discussion revealed the differences in our views about it. There is especially a large disparity in the Catholic and Protestant understanding of salvation.
For the Protestant, salvation is by faith. If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved. For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved. (Romans 10: 9-10)
However I understand that our Catholic teaching teaches that people of other faiths, who through their actions, display the fruits of God's love, i.e. charity and compassion etc, will too enter heaven. Even atheists possess the voice of God (conscience) to direct them in the right path. Because of this 'liberal' view, Protestants have often accused Catholics of working for their salvation; that is Catholics believe in salvation by works.
The Catholic teaching then seems an outright contradiction of Romans 10: 9-10, since clearly, we do not expect these good Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and even Jews to confess that Jesus is Lord verbally, or even intellectually, or else they wouldn't be what they are! To say that heaven is due to them by virtue of their good lives is to say that they have merited heaven by being good, i.e. by their works. Since salvation cannot be worked for as what the monk taught (which I presume is the orthodox teaching of the Catholic Church), then by what are these Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and many others saved? Can we say that their confession of Jesus is Lord is through the way they lived their lives, that they have been begotten by God even when they do not know about it?
If we are not able to work for our own salvation, what does it mean when one of the aims of the Dominican order is for the salvation of souls?
If our salvation is not dependent on our works, then what is the point of the Final Judgement?
Thank you for answering these three questions, they are all getting too confusing, especially when trying to get it across to a Protestant!
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on February 10, 2003 Dear Kevin:
The question about Salvation is indeed a point of controversy between Protestants and Catholics. But the Catholic position is not really different from the Protestant in basic essence.
The problem is that Protestants have an incomplete notion of justification and salvation that stems from the misinterpretations of primarily Luther and especially Calvin.
The Protestant notion in its full context is, in fact, a material heresy -- a man-made doctrine. The Catholic Church's teaching, on the other hand, is throughly Biblical.
The Catholic Church has always taught that we are saved by grace through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. -- Eph 2:8-9
Martin Luther has a motivation to deny the authority of the Church and the dependence upon her Sacraments and thus he contrived a purely man-made doctrine that would circumvent God's appointed and established Church.
It is the heretics of Luther and Calvin that developed the idea of faith alone and once-saved-always-saved.
Romans 3:28 states: For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.
Martin Luther in his German translation inserted the word alone after the word faith to read: For we hold that a man is justified by faith ALONE apart from works of law.
It is rather amazing when anti-Catholics accuse the Catholic Church of adding to the Bible. This could not be further from the truth. The Catholic Church preserved the WHOLE of Scripture. It was Luther, et al who raped the Bible tearing it apart taking seven books out of the Old Testament (seven books that Jesus considered to be the Bible, I might add) and then Luther adding words to the Scripture that are not there. Luther also wanted to remove the book of James, which he called an epistle of straw, the book of Revelations and Hebrews I believe. He did not succeed in tearing apart the New Testament, but he did add words to Romans 3:28 and remove seven books from the Old Testament.
Given that anti-Catholics invoke the penalty of Rev 22:18-19 because they think we added to the Bible, historical facts show that the only ones to add or subtract from the Bible are the Protestants. Thus if the penalty of Rev 22:18-19 belongs to anyone it belongs to the Protestants for their arrogance and rebellion to ripe the Bible apart.
Rev 22:18-19 states:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

The seriousness of adding to Scripture puzzled some of the contemporaries of Luther. Luther was confronted on why he had added the word alone to Romans 3:28. His response is VERY revealing and in one way or another, to one degree or another, represents the nature of all of Protestantism. To the criticism of adding the word alone to Romans 3:28 Martin Luther replied:

You tell me what a great fuss the Papists are making because the word 'alone' is not in the text of Paul. If your Papist makes such an unnecessary row about the word 'alone,' say right out to him: 'Dr. Martin Luther will have it so,' and say: 'Papist and asses are one and the same thing.' I will have it so, and I order it to be so, and my will is reason enough. I know very well that the word 'alone' is not in the Latin or the Greek text, and it was not necessary for the Papists to teach me that. It is true those letters are not in it, which letters the jackasses look at, as a cow stares at a new gate...It shall remain in my New Testament, and if all the Popish donkeys were to get mad and beside themselves, they will not get it out.
Thus sayeth the humble Martin Luther.
In fact the ONLY place in the REAL Bible where the words faith alone appear is in James 2:24 (RSV) where is says: You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. The King James Version says not by faith only which is the same point.
The Catholics have a mature and humble understanding of Salvation that squares EXACTLY with Scripture.
Salvation is a free gift of God, a free grace, that cannot be earned by the works of the law (Rom 3:28), but is a gift of grace through faith.
St. James clarifies that is meant by faith. He says that Faith without works is DEAD. He says that man is justified by works and not by faith alone. But the works that James is referring to is NOT the works of the Law that St. Paul mentions. St. James is referring to the works of LOVE.
IF we have faith we WILL show that faith in works of love. If we do not have works of love, then our faith is dead. Dead faith is non-existant faith, and if we have no faith then we have no salvation.
No amount of good works will bring someone to heaven. Salvation is by the grace of God given free to whom He chooses upon the faith of the person. Catholics have ALWAYS taught that. In fact, the Protestants borrowed that teaching from the Catholics.
As for the salvation of non-Catholics we must affirm that Salvation is ONLY through the Catholic Church because Jesus says so. He is the way the truth and the Light and NO ONE comes to the Father except through Him. And Jesus established His Bride, His Church (Matt 16, Isa 22:21-23) to be the vehicle that bring people to Him so He can then present them to His Father.
But, does that mean that anyone who is not Catholic (Protestants, Orthodox, Anglicans, Jews, Hundu, Buddhists, etc) cannot find salvation? No.
No Father is going deny entrance into His House to someone who sincerely desires to find Him merely because that person has not heard of Christ or has not been given the enlightenment to know that God desires us to be in the Catholic Church.
The Church officially teaches, as listed in the Catechism:

The Church and non-Christians 839 Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.
842 The Church's bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race:

All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .
843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.
844 In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them:

Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair.
845 To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is the world reconciled. She is that bark which in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world. According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood.
Outside the Church there is no salvation
846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? 335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.

As for the mandate to save souls, to do missions and evangelism, the Church states:

848 Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men. Mission - a requirement of the Church's catholicity
849 The missionary mandate. Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be 'the universal sacrament of salvation,' the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel to all men: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and Lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age.
850 The origin and purpose of mission. The Lord's missionary mandate is ultimately grounded in the eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity: The Church on earth is by her nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, she has as her origin the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love.
851 Missionary motivation. It is from God's love for all men that the Church in every age receives both the obligation and the vigor of her missionary dynamism, for the love of Christ urges us on. Indeed, God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth; that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth.
Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the prompting of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God's universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary.
852 Missionary paths. The Holy Spirit is the protagonist, the principal agent of the whole of the Church's mission. It is he who leads the Church on her missionary paths. This mission continues and, in the course of history, unfolds the mission of Christ, who was sent to evangelize the poor; so the Church, urged on by the Spirit of Christ, must walk the road Christ himself walked, a way of poverty and obedience, of service and self-sacrifice even to death, a death from which he emerged victorious by his resurrection. So it is that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.
853 On her pilgrimage, the Church has also experienced the discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted. Only by taking the way of penance and renewal, the narrow way of the cross, can the People of God extend Christ's reign. For just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men.
854 By her very mission, the Church . . . travels the same journey as all humanity and shares the same earthly lot with the world: she is to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God. Missionary endeavor requires patience. It begins with the proclamation of the Gospel to peoples and groups who do not yet believe in Christ, continues with the establishment of Christian communities that are a sign of God's presence in the world, and leads to the foundation of local churches. It must involve a process of inculturation if the Gospel is to take flesh in each people's culture. There will be times of defeat. With regard to individuals, groups, and peoples it is only by degrees that [the Church] touches and penetrates them and so receives them into a fullness which is Catholic.
855 The Church's mission stimulates efforts towards Christian unity. Indeed, divisions among Christians prevent the Church from realizing in practice the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her sons who, though joined to her by Baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her. Furthermore, the Church herself finds it more difficult to express in actual life her full catholicity in all its aspects.
856 The missionary task implies a respectful dialogue with those who do not yet accept the Gospel. Believers can profit from this dialogue by learning to appreciate better those elements of truth and grace which are found among peoples, and which are, as it were, a secret presence of God. They proclaim the Good News to those who do not know it, in order to consolidate, complete, and raise up the truth and the goodness that God has distributed among men and nations, and to purify them from error and evil for the glory of God, the confusion of the demon, and the happiness of man.

While it is possible for a non-Catholics or non-Christians to find salvation through God's grace, when they, through no fault of their own do not know Christ or His Church, it is not the normitive way, or the surest way. That is why we must evangelize. God wants all His children to experience the FULLNESS of the Faith He has given us and the FULLNESS of His revelation to us and His self-sacrifice for us. That FULLNESS is only found in the Catholic Church.
I hope this helps a little.

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