Friday, March 18, 2011

Catholic Teaching: Salvation by God's Grace Alone

Here is a passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that may be surprising to my non-Catholic friends. 
The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.  
'After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2011 citing St. Therese of Lisieux).
As a Catholic who earned his Ph.D. at Fuller Theological Seminary, I can say that I have found that there is quite a bit of misinformation out there--even at top-notch academic institutions like Fuller--about what Catholic teaching on salvation, justification, grace and merit really is. (There's also a lot of misinformation in Catholic circles about what non-Catholic Christians believe, but that's another post.)
If you did not expect to find this kind of statement in the Catechism of the Catholic Church then you really should start to consider the possibility that perhaps you have been misinformed on the topic. 
For further reading, see Richard White, "Sola Gratia, Solo Christo: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification." White wrote this paper at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School under Dr. Harold O.J. Brown. At the time White was not a Catholic. That has changed. 


Stuart eChurch said...

...I can say that I have found that there is quite a bit of misinformation out there...

That's quite an understatement.

From what I've seen, it seems to me that most criticisms of the Catholic Church - by Christians - are in fact criticisms of a inaccurate caricature of the Catholic Church.

MichaelP said...

It is my understanding that the only way to be saved is by God's grace, but that does not mean that we can turn away from that grace and still be saved. The Church is firm in this teaching. So in essence, "Grace Alone" is how we are saved but it is not the ONLY thing needed to be saved. Our disposition/submission to that grace is a necessity. Am I incorrect in my understanding?


Rebecca said...

Amen, Dr. Barber!

Saint Augustine:

“For through the sin of the first man, which came from his free will, our nature became corrupted and ruined; and nothing but God’s grace alone, through Him who is the Mediator between God and men, and our Almighty Physician, succours it” (On the Grace of Christ, Ch. 50:55).

“[M]an is delivered from the wounds of that murder by the grace of the Saviour alone, and those sold into sin are delivered from the bonds of captivity by the grace of the Redeemer alone. For this reason, a most just punishment falls on those who try to make excuses for their sins and wickedness, whereas grace alone delivers those who are delivered” (Letter 194).

“It is grace alone that separates the redeemed from the lost” (The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love, Ch. 99).

With love in Christ,
Pete Holter

Rebecca said...

Two more thoughts from our Doctor of Grace:

“[W]ho causes that men should be good save Him who said, ‘And I will visit them to make them good?’ And who said ‘I will put my Spirit within you, and will cause you to walk in my righteousness, and to observe my judgments, and do them?’ Are ye thus not yet awake? Do ye not yet hear, ‘I will cause you to walk’, ‘I will make you to observe’, lastly, ‘I will make you to do’? What! Are you still puffing yourselves up? We indeed walk, it is true; we observe; we do; but He makes us to walk, to observe, to do. This is the grace of God making us good; this is His mercy preventing us” (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Bk. 4, Ch. 6:15).

“It follows, then, dearly beloved, beyond all doubt, that as your good life is nothing else than God’s grace, so also the eternal life which is the recompense of a good life is the grace of God; moreover it is given gratuitously, even as that is given gratuitously to which it is given. But that to which it is given is solely and simply grace; this therefore is also that which is given to it, because it is its reward—grace is for grace” (On Grace and Free Will, Ch. 8:20).

Thanks be to God!

In Christ,
Pete Holter

Rebecca said...

One last thought… this is my favorite “Pope Quote.” It comes from Pius XI in his encyclical on Saint Augustine:

“If only we encase ourselves in the armor of salvation against such a conflict, once we begin to refrain from sinning, we shall little by little blunt the edge of the enemy’s attack and sap his strength; until at length we shall wing our flight to that place of repose, where triumph and boundless joy will be ours. The credit of the victory is to be ascribed solely to the grace of God, which within us gives light to the mind and strength to the will, when we rise superior to so many hindrances and contests. It is the grace of God, We say. For as He created us, so is He able, through the treasures of His wisdom and power, to set aflame and fill our hearts wholly with His love” (Ad Salutem Humani).

I love the work you guys do! I’m grateful to God for you.

In Christ,
Pete Holter

Jeremy said...

I too am amazed at just how many people miss this. It's like the only parts of the Catechism they know are cut and pasted from an anti-Catholic apologetics website.

atara said...

I kind of don't get it. So we are saved by grace, but our works/actions mean nothing? Or are you saying that it is by grace FIRST and actions second?

De Maria said...

Sola Gratia, as I understand it, is one of the doctrines that Protestants used to deny the need for the Church, for the Priesthood, for the Saints, essntially for the Catholic Faith.

This is the way in which Protestants today define the term. To them, Sola Gratia means there is nothing and no one between them and God. So, although St. Augustine used the same term, he meant something totally different than what Protestants mean when they say it. And I think it just causes confusion if we adopt that term today, since it is one of the Pillars of the Protestant Revolution.


De Maria

Anonymous said...

How much does God do and how much do I do in salvation? Is salvation both divine and human - the divine grace being prior to human faith and works?
Can man achieve salvation through grace alone? What is a bible quote to support grace alone, or the need for grace and works?