I’m Catholic, and I feel I know my faith pretty well. But in trying to explain to a non-Catholic how we Catholics believe salvation works, I discovered that I myself do not really understand or know the Church’s teaching on salvation. With evangelicals, it’s simple: you accept Jesus, and boom! You’re saved!
Yes, and this is as different from the Catholic Faith as a stick figure drawing is from a real portrait. It is an extreme oversimplification that leaves so much out as to make one want to cry! As any adult knows, the simple and the complex are complementary and go together; but the simplistic and the complicated are contradictories and opposite extremes that are counterfeits. Thus a human being is simple in the unity of the person and bodily nature which at the same time is greatly complex on both sides. The higher one goes in creation the more one sees of that; and the Apostolic Faith the Church has received is even more so, because the Reality of the Christ Mystery is more so.
What is salvation? Negatively it is simply the application of Redemption to the individual in a way that he is not lost and the full Vision of God (positively) – which is after all choice is gone.
The Son of God became one of us and redeemed us on the Cross. This objective Redemption was accomplished for the race in the actual personal human nature of Jesus Who, raised from the dead, has the Holy Spirit in His human soul illuminating His entire personal body and is able to manifest and communicate that same Holy Spirit to others in a full way.
In their experience of the Resurrected Lord that communication began for the Twelve (it was their Baptism, for He breathed the Spirit on them on Easter evening). The Redemption which is none other than Divine Life, personal, i.e, Trinitarian life was begun. But it is at Pentecost that this Trinitarian Personal Divine Life was thoroughly given to the Twelve gathered around the Virgin Mary, and the disciples around them. (That was their Confirmation night.)
This application to them of what Our Lord had gained for His own humanity removed all guilt of sin, Original and personal, and all punishment due as a result, but it did not remove all traces of Original Sin in them – Mary never had such traces because she never had the Sin – though it did so to a very great degree in their particular cases. But to others who were not in the Event of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, like the 3,000 Jews from all parts of the known world who heard St. Peter preach to them, this communication of the Redemption that is in Christ involved accepting the grace to believe Peter’s preaching, a direct Word from God, accepting the added grace to repent of their sins, and Baptism (with Confirmation by the laying on of hands) and repenting, and therefore union with the newborn Church in Faith, Hope, Charity and the spiritual discipline the Twelve had over all.
Communion with that Apostolic Communion of the Church meant communion with the Holy Trinity; and like a human body, it was both simple and complex, i.e., having many qualitatively distinct elements and persons in one supernatural unity of Invisible Head and visible Body with a visible head in St. Peter and the Eleven. They celebrated the Eucharist that Day of the Lord, and so has the same Church every Sunday since.
Redemption was applied to them, or rather entered into them in this sacramental experience of real communion of Faith. Acts shows this. This did not mean that salvation was already perfectly attained never able to be lost. Salvation was begun. And this was a real sanctification that involved their real acceptance and participation. The recipients of this applied redemption were not passive inert things that are moved like pawns or lifeless tools, but real persons with minds and wills and personalities whom God had made such. As a consequence when God’s graces to believe, repent and accept Baptism were given, they actively believed, actively repented, actively accepted and cooperated in being baptized (which means, remember, having to arrange to go to where water was, removed some of their clothes and get wet!, having hands laid on them and anointed. It not only took time, it required their active free will cooperation – they were not dead corpses immersed without their say-so or without conscious cooperation!).
continued. . .