Essentials of Catholic Theology - Lesson 6

The Roman Catholic View of Salvation

In Roman Catholic theology, what is required for salvation and how do you accomplish it? Part of the answer lies in understanding the interface of law, grace, justification and merit. Also law, remission of sins, regeneration and sanctification are involved, all within the context of the Roman Catholic Churchas both mother and teacher. Listen further to understand how these parts are connected and intertwined. Then compare Protestant theology? Which position is Biblical? 

Gregg Allison
Essentials of Catholic Theology
Lesson 6
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The Roman Catholic View of Salvation



A. Law

B. Grace and justification

C. Roman Catholic eschatology

D. Merit

E. The Church, Mother and Teacher


A. Monergism vs. synergism

B. Law

C. Grace and justification

D. Purgatory/p>

E. Merit

F. The Church as Mother and Teacher/p>

  • Have you stopped to consider what Protestants and Roman Catholics have in common theologically and in practice? Thre are quite a few areas of agreement that can create opportunities for dialogue and fellowship. There are also significant differences in core principles and even differences in the way theological terms are defined. Key theological terms like grace, mercy, justification and sacraments have different meanings for each group. Listening to this lecture is a great opportunity for you to see the main similarities and differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics. It will also provide context for the other lectures in this course. 

  • The relationship between nature and grace, and also the interconnection of Christ and the church are the two foundational axioms on which everything in the Roman Catholic Church is structured. Everything from the nature of God to how creation works to salvation to church services to what happens after you die depends on these two ideas. Everything in Roman Catholic theology and practice is consistent with and determined by these two principles. 

  • On what authority does the Roman Catholic Church base their teachings and beliefs? What do they mean by general revelation and divine revelation? How and by whom is revelation transmitted and interpreted? What role does the Bible play in this process? Who makes up the Magisterium and what is their role? Why is the Catholic Bible different from the Protestant Bible? Understanding what the sources of revelation for the Roman Catholic Church are and how they transmit and interpret them will give you insight into their theology and practice. 

  • What is a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church? How are they celebrated? Why are there seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church? What is their significance? What does, "Christ's Pascal mystery" refer to? This course gives you the opportunity to understand more about what the sacraments are, how you celebrate them and why they are a central element of Roman Catholic theology.

  • In Roman Catholic doctrine and practice, the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Why is this true? What are the elements of the Eucharist and what takes place with the elements when the Eucharist is celebrated? What effect does it have on the people that participate? How is the Protestant view of the Eucharist different? What difference does it make? Take some time to consider the meaning of the Lord's Supper and why it is important to you.

  • In Roman Catholic theology, what is required for salvation and how do you accomplish it? Part of the answer lies in understanding the interface of law, grace, justification and merit. Also law, remission of sins, regeneration and sanctification are involved, all within the context of the Roman Catholic Churchas both mother and teacher. Listen further to understand how these parts are connected and intertwined. Then compare Protestant theology? Which position is Biblical? 

  • Why is Mary mentioned throughout Roman Catholic liturgy and theology? What is Dr. Allison referring to when he says that Mary is not just a tangent of Roman Catholic faith, but that Mariology epitomizes the core of their theological system? Why is this the case? How does this affect how people worship God and practice their faith? How does this compare with a Protestant view of Mary? As you listen, consider why Mary was important and what her role was in the life and ministry of Jesus. 

This course takes a systemic approach to explain the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and gives a comparative assessment to evangelical theology in the areas of salvation, Jesus, the church, eucharist, baptism, and Mariology.

The quotes that Dr. Allison is reading are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an official catechism approved by the Roman Catholic Church.

Recommended Books

Essentials of Catholic Theology - Student Guide

Essentials of Catholic Theology - Student Guide

This course takes a systemic approach to explain the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and gives a comparative assessment to evangelical theology in the areas of...

Essentials of Catholic Theology - Student Guide

Essentials of Catholic Theology

Dr. Gregg Allison


The Roman Catholic View of Salvation

Lesson Transcript


The Roman Catholic view of salvation. This topic explores the interface of law, grace, justification, merit and the Church in the Catholic way of salvation and compares it with the Protestant gospel. Specific attention will be given to the Catholic presentation of the redemptive health that God gives in Jesus Christ, and that one comes through the moral law as expressed in the eternal law. Natural law revealed law and civil and ecclesiastical laws that guides people to infuses grace that sustains the faithful, and three justifies them in terms of the remission of sins, regeneration and sanctification. Four enables the faithful to merit eternal life, and five is set in the context of the church as both mother and teacher. The Roman Catholic view of divine salvation. We begin with the discussion of law. The law has two functions. First, it prescribes the way to beatitude or blessing. And two, it proscribed the way of evil. Importantly, law, which is manifested in various ways, is given to people for their salvation. So first there is eternal law, which is God's own eternal character of righteousness, which of course then is the source for all other laws. Two there is natural law, the original moral sense that enables discernment by reason, discernment of right and wrong. This natural law is universal. It's engraved on human hearts. It's expressed in the Ten Commandments. It's established by reason. It's supra cultural. It's not bound to any one context or group of people. And it is the foundation for the human construction of moral laws. The effect of sin on natural law is that its precepts, its principles are not clearly and immediately perceived. Then third, there is revealed law. The old law or the law of Moses expresses that natural law of reason.


It is summed up in the Ten Commandments, yet it is offered as light to the conscience of all people. It functions as a tutor but lacks power to produce the right effect. This old law or mosaic law denounces sin in the heart and acts as the first stage in leading to the Kingdom of God. It predisposes people for conversion and faith. Therefore, it is preparatory to the gospel. Also, part of this is the new law or the law of the Gospel or the law of love, also called the Law of Freedom, which is expressed especially in the Sermon on the Mount. It teaches us our duty and makes use of the sacraments for grace to obey it. The new law also called the Law of the Gospel or the Law of Love. The Law of Freedom. The Law of Grace is expressed, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. It teaches us our duty, and it makes use of the sacraments for grace to obey. It fulfills the old law and releases its hidden potential. Its emphasis is on almsgiving prayer and fasting. It demands a choice between two ways. And requires obedience to the Golden rule. It is summarized in the expression Love one another. It includes the apostolic teachings. It highlights chastity, poverty and obedience. A fourth category of laws, which we don't have time to delve into are civil and ecclesiastical laws. This then, is the view of the importance of law in the Roman Catholic process of salvation. We now treat grace and justification, and let's think first of all about divine action in salvation. So Augustine said this God created us without us or apart from us. But He did not willed to save us without us or apart from us.


Thus, creation was a minor mystic act. God and God alone acted to create the world. But salvation is a synergistic act. It is the act of God. Along with the Catholic faithful. Monotheism. Mano Aragon, one who works God and God alone creates the world. Synergism soon with Aragon work working together. God and the Catholic faithful work together to bring about salvation. The grace of the Holy Spirit powerfully works. Importantly, and perhaps surprisingly for Protestants, Catholic theology emphasizes the initiating role of grace, underscoring no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification. So this notion that Catholic salvation is by works only is a false notion. Divine action in salvation includes justification. It includes cleansing from sin, and it includes communicating the righteousness of God through the sacrament of baptism and faith. Most importantly, it involves participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, along with regeneration. How about conversion and justification in the auto solutes that is in the order of the mighty acts of God to bring about salvation? First, we have the work of the grace of the Holy Spirit in conversion, which in turn effects justification. The biblical basis for this is Matthew 417 the call to repentance, the call to conversion in order to enter the Kingdom of God. So conversion precedes and leads to justification. According to Catholic theology moved by grace, man turns from sin and turns toward God, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high, then prompted by grace. Sinful people give their free response. They turn from sin. And they turn toward God. Thus, conversion brings about their justification. This, then, is part of what the Catholic theology would call prep oratory grace. Many evangelicals know this kind of grace with the expression privilege and grace prep oratory.


Grace in the Catholic system goes before sinful people and prepares them to receive divine grace for conversion. Let's talk about justification, its definition, its fruit, its ground, how it's appropriated and its purpose, according to the Roman Catholic system. Then justification follows conversion. Justification is effected. It's brought about by conversion. According to the Council of Trent in the middle of the 16th century, justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and the renewal of the inner person. This justification establishes a relationship of cooperation between divine grace and human freedom. This is what we've been describing as synergism. God and the Catholic faith will work together. Justification then entails the sanctification of one's entire being, and thus is a lifelong process. With regard to justification, Catholics and Protestants agree on two points. First, we agree on the ground of justification. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the ground. It's the foundation of justification. We also agree on the purpose of justification. The purpose of justification is God's glory and the gift of eternal life for fallen, sinful human beings. But Roman Catholic theology and evangelical theology diverge in terms of how people receive justification, whether justification is synergistic, a cooperative effort or monotheistic God, and God alone affects it. And we disagree on the effects of justification. Let's look at each one of these first appropriation, How it's received for Catholic theology. The appropriation or the reception of justification is through faith. Along with the sacrament of baptism, according to Catholic theology, justification is conferred in baptism, which is the sacrament of faith. In contrast, the Protestant material principle, we could say the major doctrinal point of Protestantism emphasizes sola fee de that is justification is by faith alone. It's not by faith plus works.


It's not by faith plus the sacrament of baptism. It's not by faith plus anything else. Catholicism and Protestantism diverge significantly over the way of receiving justification. How it is appropriated by faith plus baptism or by faith alone is justification, synergistic or monotheistic. These two technical terms distinguish the two views. Again, monotheism. Mano Aragon mano. One Aragon work. Only one person works. Only God works to bring about justification. Synergism soon Aragon soon with Aragon work working together. God and the Catholic faith will join in a collaborative effort to bring about justification. Protestantism holds to monotheism. Catholicism holds to synergism. The Catholic view of justification emphasizes a cooperative work between God and the Catholic faithful. The Spirit initiates. There's the divine aspect and calls people to conversion that is turning away from sin and turning to God. They respond, Here's the human aspect. They respond by assenting to the divine word. This conversion then turning from sin and turning to God. This conversion effects brings about their justification. Moreover, according to Roman Catholic theology, this spirit conserves the response of faith and prompts them to act in love. Clearly, then, according to Roman Catholic theology, justification engages both God and the Catholic faithful. It is synergistic. It is a divine human collaborative effort. The Protestant perspective is monotheism expressed in one of its key markers. Grace alone justification is by grace alone. It is all of God and has no place whatsoever for human cooperation. Third, a third area of disagreement has to do with the fruit or the effect of justification for Roman Catholicism. Justification detaches the Catholic faithful from sin. It purifies their heart of sin. It brings about reconciliation. It frees them from the enslavement to send. It pours out faith, hope and love into the Catholic faithful's heart and makes people inwardly just for Protestant theology.


Justification is very different. It is a divine declaration of the forgiveness of sins. God pronounces us not guilty and a perfect standing before God. God pronounces us righteous. Instead, because the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ, is attributed to our account. Grace does have a role within Catholic theology of salvation. Let's make sure we understand this. And I'm going to talk about various kinds of grace according to the Roman Catholic system. First, let's remind ourselves what grace is according to Catholic theology. It 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. Furthermore, according to Catholic theology, grace is favor the free and undeserved help that God gives to us to respond to His call to become children of God, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. Importantly, though, grace is indeed must be communicated through the sacraments. And this goes back to our point of the nature grace, interdependence, this grace that God gives us this benefit, this unmerited favor, according to Catholic theology, must be communicated through the elements of nature that is, through the sacraments. So there are various types of grace according to the Roman Catholic system. There's sanctifying grace that is received in baptism. There's habitual state, which is a stable and supernatural perfecting of the soul. There's actual grace. So that's when the Catholic faithful would engage in actual good works, actual acts. There's preparatory grace or privilege and grace that begins the whole process of salvation. There is sacramental grace. Each of the seven sacraments communicates grace for a particular purpose, and there's also final grace, the power to endure to the very end. Final grace leads to a recompense for good works.


But in contrast with the Protestant system, this final grace is not accompanied by the assurance of salvation. Catholics believe that the Catholic faithful can commit mortal sin and lose their salvation. Thus, there cannot be assurance of salvation, even though final grace is provided for all the Catholic faithful. Let's think for a moment, too, about Roman Catholic eschatology or its view of some aspects of the last things. And I want to talk just briefly about heaven, hell and purgatory. The Catholic Church acknowledges that each and every person will be rewarded immediately at death in accordance with his works of faith in terms of the divine judgment. The two eternal destinies are either entrance into the blessedness of heaven through a purification or immediately or immediate and everlasting damnation to eternal destinies. Let's think first about heaven. The Catholic faithful who die in God's grace, in friendship and are perfectly purified, enter immediately into heaven. In that state they see the divine essence with an intuitive vision and even face to face without the mediation of any creature. This is the beatific vision the Catholic faithful in heaven. See God face to face. Seeing God through this beatific vision brings them ultimate fulfillment, supreme happiness. This is the first of the two possible eternal destinies. Hell is the second possible eternal destiny. People who freely choose to die in mortal sin without repenting, without accepting God's merciful love enter immediately into hell. This is the state of definitive self exclusion from communion with God and the blessed the faithful in heaven to which the damned descend where they suffer the punishment of hell or eternal fire. This is the second of the two possible eternal destinies. Purgatory. Let's go back to the first destiny that noted that entrance into heaven comes about in two ways.


Through a purification or immediately we focused on the latter aspect. Immediate entrance into heaven. The other way is through a purification. This process of purification is the temporal destiny known as purgatory. Purgatory is not an eternal state. Only heaven and hell are. Rather, it is a temporal state for the souls of all those who will eventually go to heaven, which is the first of the two eternal destinies. They will not go to hell. The second of the two eternal destinies, specifically purgatory, is for the Catholic faithful, for whom an extended purification is needed. Again, Roman Catholic theology states all who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation. But after death, they undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. Purgatory is this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned, which is eternal. Primary support for purgatory comes from the non canonical, apocryphal book of second Maccabees and from two New Testament passages. First Corinthians 310 to 15, Matthew 1231 to 32 Protestants. Evangelicals would maintain that those passages are not correctly interpreted. Thus, we have Catholic eschatology to eternal destinies, heaven and hell, one temporal destiny, which is purgatory. Our next topic in the process of salvation is merit. Merit is the recompense that God owes to the Catholic faithful in terms of a reward for their cooperation with His grace. As this notion sounds strange to Protestants. Catholic theology emphasizes that God has freely chosen to associate man with His work of grace. Thus, according to Roman Catholic theology synergy, this collaborative effort between God and the Catholic faithful is God's own design for salvation. A couple of points under merit.


First, merit is earned through grace by doing good works. This cooperation between God and people enables them to merit eternal life through their ongoing dependance on the sacraments, prayer, love and good deeds. Importantly, Catholic theology emphasizes the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place, to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Such merit, according to Catholic theology, is not involved at the beginning of salvation. God alone in this initiates grace for salvation, according to Catholic theology. No one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification at the beginning of conversion. The Catholic Church also distinguishes between condescend and congruous merits. Condi merits are real merits of worthiness, and they are always accomplished by divine grace. God is morally obligated to reward such merits. Congruous. Merits are merits of fitness. So they're not strictly merits. Human works are reckoned or credited as merits because people featured a quote in say EST they do what is in them to do. As long as the Catholic faithful engage in good works through the grace of God. They are enabled to merit eternal life, doing what is within them. In this collaborative effort with God, what is in them to do? Another aspect of the process of salvation in the Catholic Church is its view of itself as both mother and teacher. Salvation in the Roman Catholic system is always set in the context of the Roman Catholic Church, which gives the word of God, especially the Ten Commandments and the new Law of Christ, the Church, which gives grace to the sacraments, the church which gives the examples of Mary and the Saints. The church includes the Magisterium, which is the authentic and authoritative teacher of the faith. The Magisterium enjoys the gift of infallibility when it is a matter of Scripture, tradition, other doctrines and morals.


The view is that the Holy Spirit protects the Pope when he makes a statement about doctrine, about morals. He is protected from error and thus whatever he proclaims is binding on the conscience of all Catholic faithful. The church, also, as mother and teacher, offers certain precepts, some very specific concrete precepts for the Catholic faithful. I'll just talk about six of them first. The Catholic faithful are to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Second, the Catholic faithful are to confess their sins through the sacrament of penance at least once a year. Third, the Catholic faithful should participate in the sacrament of the Eucharist at least once a year. Fourth, they are to observe the holy days of obligation. Fifth, the Catholic faithful are to participate in the days of fasting and abstinence. And finally, the faithful act to provide financial support for the church. So we have here a pretty complex, life long process then of obtaining salvation, a synergistic work between God and the Catholic faithful. How do evangelicals assess this Roman Catholic view of divine salvation? First of all, we have this distinction already discussed between monotheism and synergism. Roman Catholic theology, which emphasizes salvation is synergistic, is completely different from Protestant evangelical theology, which insists that salvation is monotheistic. So the two traditions are worlds apart just in terms of the approach to salvation. Secondly, in terms of law, Roman Catholic theology talks about the preparatory work of the law leading to salvation. Protestant theology. Evangelical theology has really no place whatsoever for law as as as being a preparatory for grace. It best it exposes our sin and points out our guilt, but it doesn't move us toward salvation in a positive sense. What about grace and justification? Protestantism considers human effort toward the meriting of eternal life to be superfluous.


The Protestant view of justification leaves no room, nor no need for merit, as God declares the ungodly not guilty but righteous. Instead, their eternal life is based not on this gracious act of God, plus their own effort, even effort prompted and steadied by divine grace. But it depends on God's declaration alone, received by faith. Alone. So Protestants are reckoned completely righteous because God has imputed the perfect righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ to them. What could they possibly add to this salvation? Answer Nothing at all. How could they possibly merit eternal life? They cannot. At the core of this difference is the contrast between the Catholic view of the infusion of grace and the Protestant view of God's gracious imputation of Christ's righteousness. What about purgatory? In a very similar way, the evangelical doctrine of justification makes purgatory superfluous, declared not guilty, but righteous instead. We have no need for further purification in order to enter into eternal life. What about merit? Out of thankfulness for their standing before God through justification and as a fruit of their new nature through regeneration and sanctification. According to Protestant theology, Christians engage in good works, which God will richly reward grace upon grace. Such rewards, however, have nothing to do with merit. As Catholic theology understands this idea of merit, God alone has accomplished salvation for sinful people through Christ's sacrificial death and resurrection. They have been declared completely righteous through the divine act of justification. They cannot contribute to their salvation. They cannot increase their justification. So they engage in good works out of a heart of thankfulness for God's grace. Finally, what of the Catholic view of the church as mother and teacher? According to the early church, as mother, the church conceives those who flee to the word.


That is, it gives birth to children. Moreover, as mother, she draws the children to herself. And we seek out our mother the church. Furthermore, as mother, she nourishes them. Withholding milk, that is, she nourishes them from infancy to adulthood. Finally, the church, as mother becomes necessary, as there is no salvation outside of the church. Some Protestants, for example, John Calvin, agree with this concept of the church as mother, but in a very restricted way. Not according to Roman Catholic theology. But according to a Protestant view that in the same act that God places us in Christ, He also places us into the church where we do indeed find our nourishment, find our sanctification, find our maturation. Thus we've looked at the complex and life long process of Roman Catholic salvation, and we've contrasted it with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as formulated by Protestant theology. Any questions. I want to go back to your discussion on justification. You had two different lines. You said the justification is conferred in baptism. Yes. And the right and wrong. Later on, it says a conversion is conversion that affects the justification. So does justification come at baptism or conversion, or do they see baptism conversion as the same thing? So in the case of an adult, conversion precedes justification. Right. So receiving a preparatory grace, a woman. Turns away from sin. Turns toward God. And that then leads to her justification. In terms of an infant, there can be no conversion, right? There's not going to be repentance and turning toward God. So justification would occur through the sacrament of baptism. So a three month old infant girl baptized in the Catholic Church, she's cleansed of her original sin. She's regenerated. She's incorporated into Christ in his church.


So she is now saved, justified, right, At least at the beginning of this lifelong process. But there can't be conversion leading to justification. She's just she's just saved through the sacrament of baptism. In the case of the adult, first comes conversion. Then that effects justification. But all of that ultimately takes place at baptism. So you can't be converted and justified apart from the sacrament of baptism. Those those events, if you will, definitively and must lead to the sacrament of baptism. Otherwise, there can't be salvation. So if if an adult goes through a conversion experience and on his way to be baptized is killed in a car accident. He's not said he is saved because the idea is he intended to be baptized but was prevented from being baptized. His intent to be baptized counts as his baptism. What about the martyr? Right. Who becomes a believer before she's baptized dies for Christ? Her blood. The blood of martyrdom counts as her baptism. Oh, there's. There's three or four of these different experiences. Okay. And, I mean, I'm used to seeing. Like justification. Protestant thought being pictured as a dot. And justification of Catholic theology being pictured as a line. Is that is that fair Justification is not only the dat, the forgiveness of sins, but also regeneration and sanctification. So the transformation process is a transformation process. Justification is the dot. It's the divine Declaration. Not guilty but righteous instead. That's our standing before God. Okay. There are other works that are ongoing then sanctification, for example. But the justification is the that it's exactly the right way. One last question. It's common to see graphs of the Catholic doctrine of justification as justification is equal to faith plus works. I'm suspecting it's not quite that simple.


But could you explain that chart? Yeah, it's. It's good faith plus works. It's not that simple, because we have to introduce the whole notion of grace. So according to Roman Catholic theology, grace transformed grace that's communicated through the sacraments, transforms the Catholic faithful's very nature, the very essence, which then enables them to engage in good works. So it is faith brought in by receiving the grace of the sacraments, which then promote good works. So it's really it's grace, faith and works. But I think we also have to then go back to the whole notion of the synergistic system. This is the way, according to Roman Catholic theology, this is the way that God has set it up. So it is faith plus works in the context of grace, and then the Catholic faithful are able to merit eternal life through the grace of God, transforming their character to enable them to engage in good works. And so it is it's more complicated than that. But the whole thing is set over against the Protestant monotheistic system. So whether it's faith plus baptism, faith plus works or whatever it is, it's a different system than what the Protestant system is. So in Catholic theology, works is not just doing the sacraments or I guess receiving the sacraments or going out and doing good things in the neighborhood. But it's it's it's grace and changing and enabling you to do these things. So we could say the Catholic system is a grace based system. It's just grace based in a different way than what Protestants would hold.