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David Taylor wrote:

Hi, Everyone —

Thanks again for all of your previous help!

Since I have so many questions, I thought maybe we can discuss them one at a time. Let's start with salvation.

  • Is it accurate to say this about the Catholic faith?

Catholics believe that we are saved by faith alone, but don't use that language very often because of Bible passages like James 2:14-17

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”

James 2:14-17

and James 2:24

24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

James 2:24

  • I know that generalizations and stereotypes are usually bad and I completely understand that different Catholics believe different things and different Catholic churches teach different things, but do Catholics, as a general rule, believe that people can lose their salvation?
  1. If yes, then there seems to be a good works component to salvation.
  2. If no, then how do you get forgiveness after committing a sin?

I have no problem whatsoever with doing good works as long as we don't get so caught up in doing them, that we forget our reason for doing them in the first place, which is our relationship with God.

Doing good works should spring from a personal desire to spread God's love to others, not out of a feeling of obligation.

Thanks again,

David

  { Do Catholics believe people can lose their salvation and how does faith and good works fit in? }

John replied:

Hi, David —

Good to hear from you again. Let's straighten out something from the get go.

The Catholic Church has one teaching on Salvation. That is, we are saved by Grace Alone!
No individual priest, parish, or individual is free to teach or believe otherwise. That doesn't mean that they aren't heretics in our midst. Nevertheless, the teaching of the Church is clear.

Here is where we differ from classical Protestantism.

  • Protestants believe Justification and Salvation are static and forensic.
  • Catholics (and all other Christians who have maintained Apostolic Succession) understand that Justification and Salvation are dynamic and intrinsic.

While Luther argued that we are simply declared righteous, the Church has always maintained that God not only declares us righteous, He makes us so. He doesn't simply impute righteousness,
He infuses His righteousness. We therefore, must cooperate with this grace in order to finish
the race
(2 Timothy 4:7) as Paul would say, but even our cooperation is only possible by grace. Hence, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who works His way in us. So we have a Paradox. We understand that it is all grace, yet at the same time, we can't deny the free will God gave us.

You see, Protestantism looks at Scripture and therefore salvation, strictly in a juridical prism.
It's all a very legal thing. It takes place in the courtroom. According to Luther and Calvin, we are acquitted based on Christ's paying our penalty.

Now, there is something very true about all that, but it's not a sufficient explanation of Salvation. If all Jesus did was save me from Hell, then He's just My Lord and Bailiff. Salvation is much more than that. St. Paul, gives us several models. He talks about being "in Christ", he talks about receiving an inheritance, being the Bride of Christ. In other words, it is more than a legal exchange . . . it is an exchange of persons. Yes, Christ gave Himself for us. Amen brother.
We agree but He gave Himself for us, in order to give Himself to us. That is the very nature
of a covenant.

Protestantism is born of the question:

  • What must I do to be saved?

This is the question the Philippian Jailer asked Paul in the book of Acts. (Acts 16:25-31)

Catholicism is born of the question Christ asked Peter in Matthew 16:

For 2,000 years the Church has always started with that question. What we believe about salvation flows from how we answer the question:

  • Who is Jesus Christ?

What we believe about:

  • Mary
  • the Sacraments
  • the Saints
  • the use of Statues and Icons, and
  • every Catholic doctrine

is rooted in our understanding of the Incarnation. Moreover, some doctrines, such as atonement, have not been dogmatically defined. We have several paradigms and theories which attempt to explain the Mystery but, in terms of a soteriological formula, we have no dogma, other than to say, we know God saves men by grace and therefore, we entrust ourselves and the souls of our loved ones to His great Love and Mercy; knowing that He desires all men to be saved. Regardless, as a rule, we don't go around saying: this one is saved, or so-and-so isn't.

Yes, as a Catholic, I have a moral assurance of my Salvation. That is: I know that God has done all that is necessary for my salvation to be accomplished. Nevertheless, I can't guarantee that I will continue in the faith and it would be heresy for me to deny free will. I have what the Bible calls hope. That is a joyful expectation, that He who began a good work in me, shall be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

John

David replied:

Hi, John —

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

You have no idea how much you have helped me. I really appreciate your kindness and willingness to take the time to answer my questions. I'll read this over and write more later.

Have a great day!

David

John replied:

John replied:

Hi Dave,

Happy to be of assistance.

Please find attached a MS Word file that gives a brief explanation about the Communion of Saints and Mary. This is only a partial explanation — especially as it relates to Mary.

The notes are from a teaching I give RCIA students and they (the notes) pre-suppose other material that has already been covered. Nevertheless, I believe you'll be able to digest most of it.

If you're about to choke on any of it, just shoot me a line with your questions and I'll be happy to work with you on it.

Merry Christmas,
In the Love of our Savior,

John

Eric replied:

Hi, Dave —

As Jimmy Akin has explained and Pope Benedict has discussed it is possible to understand the phrase justification by faith alone in an orthodox Catholic manner if one understands faith as formed faith, that is, faith working through love (Galatians 5:6). This has been well established since the time of the Reformation.

This, of necessity, is a faith that bears fruit in good deeds, and is contrasted with intellectual faith. Whether this is compatible with what you believe, I do not know, that is for you to judge.

You said:
I know that generalizations and stereotypes are usually bad, and I completely understand that different Catholics believe different things and different Catholic churches teach different things.

There is mostly uniformity in Catholic belief, as formally defined — more uniformity than in any denomination, though I suppose there may be some individual churches that have greater uniformity within themselves. As in any church, there are those who are ignorant, and those who dissent. What matters is what the Pope and the bishops in union with him teach.

You said:
. . . but do Catholics, as a general rule, believe that people can lose their salvation?

Absolutely, as Scripture makes abundantly clear (ask me for citations if you want, this would make a great discussion).

You said:

  1. If yes, then there seems to be a good works component to salvation.

Not really. If by my grace, I give you the gift of a place to stay in my home, and you do not abandon my home to go live in squalor, you have not thereby earned the gift of a place to stay in my home. Not abandoning my home is not a good work you did to earn my generosity. Likewise, the idea that we can forsake our salvation, but don't, is not contradictory to the gratuitous nature of salvation, nor to the fact that we are justified by faith.

You said:

  1. If no, then how do you get forgiveness after committing a sin?

Well, that would be the sacrament of Confession, although this is not necessary for sins that don't separate us from God.

You said:
I have no problem whatsoever with doing good works as long as we don't get so caught up in doing them that we forget our reason for doing them, in the first place, which is our relationship with God.

Catholic teaching says that deeds (I avoid using the term 'works' because, as I explained to you, when St. Paul uses the term, he usually means Jewish ceremonial rituals) are good only insofar as they are motivated by love for God. The fact that you feed the poor is, in and of itself, immaterial; you had to do it out of love for God in order for the deed to be recognized as deserving reward in God's eyes.

You said:
Doing good works should spring from a personal desire to spread God's love to others, not out of a feeling of obligation.

Again, I would say that good deeds should flow from our love for God, from our desire to be like Him, to have His heart, and so forth. To speak of a personal desire to spread God's love to others is, in my mind, to reduce the question to one of evangelism, unless by spreading God's love to others you mean pouring out the love you receive from God to others, not merely proclaiming to others that God loves them. (See James 2.)

Certainly, spreading God's love to others is good and high priority (when it is motivated by love for God), but we do good deeds not merely to gain a convert but out of pure love for them (and God). It's a subtle distinction.

For example, Mother Teresa's community in Calcutta often encounters people on the verge of death. They provide them with love in their final moments by taking care of their needs, perhaps just holding them or touching them, giving them dignity and showing them someone cares. There is no chance of converting these people, it's just a matter of showing them love when they die.

Eric

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