In Catholic theology, can one fall from the state of justification? If so, how?

In Catholic theology, justification is understood to mean divine sonship. If this is the case, how can one fall from the state of justification? Wouldn’t “falling” mean not being a son any more?

Well, I know in Protestant [Baptist] Theology, they say, “Once saved, always saved.” Personally, I dont know why they say that. I [think] Catholics believe you can fall from justification but im not really sure. I know Catholics believe if you die in a state of mortal sin, there is a higher chance of damnation. So thats one way. But, let an expert tell you. Just thought I would share what I thought. :wink:

Greetings WesleyF,

When we are in a state of justification, we are in a state of Grace, and we are sons and daughters of God. However, when we sin by committing mortal sin, we are no longer in the fullest sense sons and daughters of God, because that state of grace is ruptured. That state of grace can be regained by going to the Sacrament of Confession.

God Bless.
Anathama Sit

Within Christianity, the topic of justification can have a range of meaning and implication. On one hand, as you correctly noted, it involves the concept of divine sonship:

Justification is the most excellent work of God’s love made manifest in Christ Jesus and granted by the Holy Spirit. (CCC #1994)

So it is manifested in the eternal divine sonship of Jesus.

Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy. (CCC #2020)

So it has been passed on to us so that we “conform to the righteousness of God”. All of this brings to mind the Christian concept of divine filiation (a.k.a. supernatural adoption). So, in this sense, it seems like something that cannot be lost. After all, we are conformed to God abd become his adopted children through the grace and merits of Christ (and his non-adopted sonship is eternal).

However, we must also keep in mind that justification is a gift which we are free to accept and then later reject. “Justification” is a legal term used in the ancient courts when a judge passed his sentence. If a judge deemed a person to be innocent, he declared him to be “just” (as opposed to unjust) and therefore the person was “justified.” In Christian theology, we are sinners and therefore in order to be justified we have to accept the saving grace of Christ. But once again, this is a gift and because it is a gift it can be lost if we later choose to reject God’s grace.

Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or “justice”) here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us. (C.C.C. #1991)

If a person (adult) calls out to God for salvation, repents, is baptized and enters the Church they are clean and heir to the kingdom. If later this same person despairs of God’s mercy, curses God, Rejects God’s Lordship over his life, removes himself from the graces of the Church etc, he is voluntarily giving up - rejecting - all claims to his inheritance.

Regardless of what earthly, human terms we might use (saved, divine sonship etc.), this is the fact. One can be heir and then later reject his inheritance.



The parable of the prodigal son answers your question and issues. The son left the household on his own accord. Upon coming to his senses he returns to his father’s household and confesses that he has sinned. Scripture then gives us the clear message about what has taken place. In Luke 15:22-24 it says:

“the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.”

Jesus is telling this parable about salvation. The son was a member of the household but “squandered his inheritance.” The son was “dead.” Upon returning in repentance to the household, the son is “alive again.”

This truth of wandering off in sin and then being restored is spoken of elsewhere in scripture as well. For instance in James 5:19-20 it says,

“My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

If one leaves the household and refuses to return in repentence their soul is lost. People reject God for many reasons. Although the reasons vary they are rooted in selfishness. God let’s us have what we really want. If we prefer ourselves over God and refuse to repent, then that is exactly what we will get.

I hope this helps and God bless.

The best explanation comes directly from the Council of Trent, which answered the question directly. From

On the fallen, and their restoration.
*As regards those who, by sin, have fallen from the received grace of Justification, they may be again justified, when, God exciting them, through the sacrament of Penance they shall have attained to the recovery, by the merit of Christ, of the grace lost: for this manner of Justification is of the fallen the reparation: which the holy Fathers have aptly called a second plank after the shipwreck of grace lost. For, on behalf of those who fall into sins after baptism, Christ Jesus instituted the sacrament of Penance, when He said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. Whence it is to be taught, that the penitence of a Christian, after his fall, is very different from that at (his) baptism; and that therein are included not only a cessation from sins, and a detestation thereof, or, a contrite and humble heart, but also the sacramental confession of the said sins,-at least in desire, and to be made in its season,-and sacerdotal absolution; and likewise satisfaction by fasts, alms, prayers, and the other pious exercises of a spiritual life; not indeed for the eternal punishment,-which is, together with the guilt, remitted, either by the sacrament, or by the desire of the sacrament,-but for the temporal punishment, which, as the sacred writings teach, is not always wholly remitted, as is done in baptism, to those who, ungrateful to the grace of God which they have received, have grieved the Holy Spirit, and have not feared to violate the temple of God. Concerning which penitence it is written; Be mindful whence thou art fallen; do penance, and do the first works. And again; The sorrow that is according to God worketh penance steadfast unto salvation. And again; Do penance, and bring forth fruits worthy of penance.

    That, by every mortal sin, grace is lost, but not faith. *
    In opposition also to the subtle wits of certain men, who, by pleasing speeches and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent, it is to be maintained, that the received grace of Justification is lost, not only by infidelity whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin whatever, though faith be not lost; thus defending the doctrine of the divine law, which excludes from the kingdom of God not only the unbelieving, but the faithful also (who are) fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, liers with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, railers, extortioners, and all others who commit deadly sins; from which, with the help of divine grace, they can refrain, and on account of which they are separated from the grace of Christ.

So in short, you don’t lose your status as son, just as in the Prodigal Son the son didn’t lose his status, just lost his benefits, and among those benefits is heaven, so it is still possible to be “saved” yet end up in hell. Sonship establishes your entitlement to heaven, but like nearly all “rights”, is “alienable” (compare the opening lines of the US Declaration of Independence).

Yes, it does! Thanks.


As I was considering the answers to this, the thought occurred to me…

You ask if falling means not being a son any more…

But think of it differently…What if the son denies the father saying, “You are no longer my Father.”

An interesting perspective…


Our justice can increase. Until we love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves, we’re not fully just. Any sin we commit, but especially mortal sin, attests to and confirms this fact. According to the Parable of the Talents, and keeping in mind Luke 12:48, we must utilize the talents (grace) we’re given in the time we’re allowed to grow towards that end. Now if full justice is actually attainable here, there’d be absolutely no need for a place of final purification such as purgatory. The idea that God is satisfied solely by the work of Jesus, so that God no longer cares about mans’ authentic justice and instead only imputes Jesus’ righteousness to man, is stupid.

**7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. **Gal 6:7-9

More good points. I think the example of the prodigal son explained it best. Also, increase of justice means that we have to “grow” as sons of God and not remain “babes in Christ”.



The problem comes in when defining “salvation” or what it means to “be saved”. Protestant theology on salvation would be alien and confusing to first century Christians, who saw a difference between salvation and redemption.

You are redeemed by the Blood of Christ, but you are not saved until you are in heaven. During the time of Jesus there were debtors prisons, and if you were put into debtors prison you could not get out until the debt was paid. Even if you came into money while in prison, you could not pay the debt. A family member, a friend, or someone that wanted to buy your debt and make you their slave would have to pay the debt for you. So not only were you put in prison, you were also humiliated when your family member or friend came to pay your debt for you and get you out of prison.

Early Christians understood the process of redemption and salvation to be similar to how debtors prisons worked.

Jesus is the family member who paid our debt of sin, and that is where the redemption part comes in. It is as if he came in, took us by the hand and leads us out of prison so that we could be free, paying the debt we owed. Now, it is possible that we can create more debt for ourselves and end up right back in prison and have to go to him again to get us out (confession). We are not saved until we are free of sin once and for all (free of debt), and are unable to sin (incur more debt), which is when we are in heaven.

Hopefully, taken this with the other answers about how we cannot lose our familial status with Christ, just the benefits, and you should have a clear answer to your question.

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