Orthodox vs. Catholic understandings of salvation

The following link leads to an orthodox explanation of their view on the doctrine of salvation. The first chapter lays out their view while the second critiques Catholicism and Protestantism.


I overall thought the first chapter was an accurate description of how salvation is brought about. My problem was with the second chapter. The author seems to lay out clear disagreements between the ideas of the first chapter and the doctrines of the Catholic Church. What about the essay is flawed. Is it the ideas laid out in the first chapter? Or is the critique of Catholicism in the second chapter erroneous? How would some of the more theologically astute forum members reply to objections such as those in the second chapter?

Hopefully you will get replies, but I think the amount of reading requested might deter responses.

There are a lot of different views in the Catholic Church. Many Eastern Catholics hold the same view as Eastern Orthodox. I personally like the Eastern view of salvation the best.

Hello FireFromHeaven.

I read some of Klimenko’s thoughts (admittedly I just don’t have the time to go over it all right now).

I think he mis-characterized Catholicism AND Protestantism. I did not do much on his Eastern Orthodoxy.

Klimenko did not seem to have a good grasp of St. Augustine and grace.

He said:

First of all, St. Augustine was “setting forth the idea that in fallen man any dependent freedom to do good has been completely annihilated, unless grace comes to his aid.”

I think this is wrong on St. Augustine.

After Original sin, there can still be NATURAL virtues remaining in man. (We are fallen. Not totally depraved.)

The Church even sees this with atheists. We don’t deny they have NATURAL virtue.

But SUPERNATURAL virtue cannot occur without the life of God IN YOU.

Klimenko seems to be contradicting himself when he says . . .

in fallen man any dependent freedom to do good has been completely annihilated

Then he goes on to say . . . .

unless grace comes to his aid

Klimenko seems to be confusing natural virtue with supernatural virtue. Then he ends up conflating them or mixing them together.

What he winds up with is only partial truths.

Klimenko also seemed confused about Pelagius saying . . . .

Pelagius countered this “fatalist” view of salvation with an “optimist” one – emphasizing his belief that, while God did give grace to humans, “his primary grace was the freedom to choose and respond.

Pelagius had MORE than an “optimist” view of salvation.

Pelagius had a view that did NOT think God’s supernatural grace was necessary to attain salvation . . . . unless you RE-DEFINE “supernatural grace” as mere “doctrine” and “example”.

Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia:

fundamental ideas which the Church afterwards condemned as “Pelagian heresy”. In it Pelagius denied the primitive state in paradise and original sin (cf. P.L., XXX, 678, “Insaniunt, qui de Adam per traducem asserunt ad nos venire peccatum”)

Pelagius denied grace as being needed and necessary for salvation.

Again the Catholic Encyclopedia . . .

The value of Christ’s redemption was, in his opinion, limited mainly to instruction (doctrina) and example (exemplum), which the Saviour threw into the balance as a counterweight against Adam’s wicked example, so that nature retains the ability to conquer sin and to gain eternal life even without the aid of grace.

I think you can find better contrasts between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

I would try James Likoudis (here credo.stormloader.com/articles.htm#1)

I’ll try to come back here and see if you have some other more specific question on this too (and TRY to answer that if you do).

I hope this was helpful for you.

God bless.


I’d agree. The Eastern view seems to fit very nicely with Scripture and Church History.

Thank you for that excellent post. I did think his characterization of Augustine was a tad off.

I suppose one question I have would be Catholic theology’s seeming focus on satisfaction as opposed to Orthodox focus on theosis. Klimenko very briefly touched on this in the 2nd chapter. Why is there this focus? Is there a patristic and scriptural basis for this view?

It did take me a long time to get through these chapters. Your query reminds me of what my professor used to give us in graduate theology classes! “Write an essay comparing and contrasting…”

I only found one phrase in Chapter One that gave me pause, but chapter 2 is full of problems. I agree with Cathoholic that he does not represent either Augustine or Pelagius properly.

I have never seen the concept of “wrath and satisfaction” in Catholic theology. So far as I know, this is a uniquely Calvanistic concept. And it did not come from reading latin orators, it came from the fact that Calvin was a lawyer, and understood things from a judicial point of view. This attitude contaminated all of his theology. I am not aware of Augustine having this point of view either.

The CC does NOT teach that we inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin, but rather, the consequece of it, which is concpiscence. In fact, the Catechism (which the author apparently did not read) says the opposite.

His premise:

2.2 Roman law and secular customs as the foundation of the Western non-Orthodox theology of personal salvation.

Is a false premise, which results in a false conclusion. The foundation of our soteriology is the teaching of the Apostles, primarily Peter and Paul, who labored together in Rome. The theology of this church was so solid, as a result, that all other churches were expected to be in communion with her (as the standard).

“…[we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.”
Irenaeus Against Heresies (Book III, Chapter 3)

Most of the early Christians were not even literate, they were farmers, laborers, slaves etc. The idea that they studied Latin is absurd. The New Testament was written in Greek because that was the common language!

There are a number of other problems with chapter two, but this is a start.

Here is another false line of reasoning:

"From Apostolic times, the Christian Church in the West was developing in the highly legalistic Roman society and undoubtedly bore its imprint. Law was “the main element” of the Roman culture and “defined all its familial, social and state relations. Religion was not an exception – it was one of the applications of law. When becoming a Christian, it was from this side that a Roman citizen would try to understand Christianity: in it he was seeking first of all, juridical consistency.”

We see what occurred in “apostolic times” in the New Testament. There is no evidence of anyone becoming a Christian approaching it from a legal point of view. This is just patently false.

In addition, we see 300 years of persecution of Christians specifically because they were a counterculture, and** did not adhere to Roman culture**, or allow it to define their lives and worship.

This is baseless speculation. And here is more:

“A typical young person in the medieval West would learn Latin first, before anything else.”

Codswallop! A typical young person in the medieval West was a peasant, laborer, and uneducated. They were illiterate, as literacy had little to do with survival. Prior to the printing press, all written documents had to be hand copied, so could only be afforded by the affluent. Most families could not afford to send their children to school. Literacy levels are estimated as low as 6%.

So no, this whole fantasy about how Western/Latin Christians understand salvation has no basis.

His source appears to have made inaccurate assumptions as well, from which he is drawing support:

"This simplistic but convincing (on the human level) picture would also fit very well with the customs existing in medieval Western society. “The Latin-Protestant concept of the Redemption as the revenge of the Divine Majesty, once offended by Adam, on Jesus Christ… grew out of the feudal notion of knightly honor, restorable by shedding the blood of the offender.”[13]

It is true that the Reformation did spawn a collection of heresies about this, penal substitution not the least. But this has never been part of Catholic soteriology.

Deacon Klimenko seems to be basing his notions about Latin soteriology on “medieval Europe”, which is a mistake. The soteriology was formed in the early centuries before Europe was evangelized. The heresies of the reformation corrupted it.

[quote=Deacon Klimenko] "In other words, the sin of Adam was seen by medieval Roman Catholicism as an infinitely grave offense against God which caused His wrath – which, in turn, manifested itself in the removal from man of the supernatural gift of God’s grace.

I would like to see some evidence (from Roman Catholic sources, rather than another Orthodox speculation) that Adam’s sin was conceived in this way. In fact, Catholics and Orthodox are in agreement that the Fall removed mankind from the relationship with God for which we were created.

[quote=Deacon Klimenko] Man found himself in his original “natural” condition – that is, with his nature not harmed as a result of his fall but brought into disorder: the flesh would now dominate over the spirit, dragging man deeper into sin and eventual death.

This is just more erroneous representation of what the CC believes and teaches. The Catechism states the opposite. The aforementioned Augustinian teaching on the spreading of Adam’s sin to the whole human race grew to mean the passing of Adam and Eve’s infinite guilt before God to every human.

405 Although it is proper to each individual,295 original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

Catholic and Orthodox both believe that human nature was wounded, and removed from original holiness and justice. This state of right relationship with God is our “original natural state”.

To say that our state has not been wounded, but is in “disorder” is a contradiction in terms. He acknowleges that we are in a state of sin, separated from God, that will end in death. How is that our “natural original state”??!!

[quote=Deacon Klimenko] For the sins committed by a Christian after his baptism – that is, the additional guilt which was not paid for by Christ – God also needs satisfaction.

There are two errors here. One is that “God needs satisfaction”. This goes back to the “wrath of God” idea that requires some sort of royal retribution or penalty.

On the contrary, Christ has paid for all of our sins. The only sins that will not be paid for by Christ are those that remain unconfessed. He did not reference this, so it is not clear where the idea came from…it certainly will not be found in any Catholic documents.

Which brings me to another glaring error. He has only one Catholic reference, the documents of Trent, which it does not appear that he has read and understood. He has made all these assertions without consulting the catechism at all!

Let this be a lesson to those who wish to publish such a polemic. If you wish to represent the position of your adversary accurately, start with reading what they wrote!

I better stop, I am starting to rant.

I find this thread particularly interesting as well as the deacon’s article. I am still in the midst of reading it, but I do intend to reply. I’ll go ahead and give some preliminary objections to what has been said in the replies thus far:

First, the current Catholic teaching regarding Original Sin is quite different in crucial ways from Augustine’s formulation of it. If you read Augustine on his own terms, he quite blatantly believed in some form of total depravity and strict predestination.

Second, Pelagius was not himself what we would call a Pelagian. We didn’t get a hold of Pelagius’ actual writings until the 19th or early 20th century. And they have since been studied in depth. And what has been found is that Pelagius was more or less orthodox in his views on grace and free will. What Pelagius’ followers believed is somewhat of a historical debate. However, what is clear is that Pelagius was no Pelagian, as strange as that might sound.

I realize I haven’t really substantiated any of these claims at all, and it was not my intention in this post to do so since I will do so in a follow-up post. However, I wished to just make these few comments immediately so that the conversation did not get away with me while I read this rather long article. I hope to provide my evidence in future posts.

Part 1

I’m not particularly interested in what he says about scholasticism, mainly because I find very little use for scholasticism and have a slight disdain for it myself. All that being said, I will address some of his points in chapter 2.

First, he correctly interprets Augustine. Augustine did believe in the total depravity of humanity after the Fall, and that even went so far as to believe that free will itself is a form of grace.

In terms of a good article about these matters, which is rather short, I suggest the following:

Gerald Bonner, “Augustine and Pelagianism,” in Church and Faith in the Patristic Tradition: Augustine, Pelagianism, and Early Christian Northumbria (Brookfield, VT: Variorum, 1996), 27-47.

Part 2

This understanding of human nature and Original Sin (known as strict Augustinianism) stands at odds with what the Catholic Church believes today. And in fact, strict Augustinianism has gone through cycles throughout the Latin West. Until the 9th century, most Latin Christians who knew theology believed in Augustine’s understanding. However, due to the efforts of resistant Massilians (Semi-Pelagians), a lot of semi-Pelagian works were copied and then labelled as Augustine’s. The effects took time. Even though by the end of the 9th century, the Latin West upheld strict Augustinianism in the aftermath of the Gottschalk Controversy, the dogmatic debates then did sow the seeds of moderation, which are largely due to the efforts of rebellious Massilian monks from Southern France. Some vindication for free will and not the total depravity of humanity was expressed during the Gottschalk Controversy, but was either ignored or condemned. It wouldn’t be until the eleventh and twelfth centuries that the scholastics took up the question of grace and predestination and made the most public moderations to Augustine’s excesses.

Timothy Ware in The Orthodox Church gives a much more fair and better assessment of strict Augustinianism and Predestinarianism in the Latin West and its historical cycles than the author of this article.

Part 3

Now for the issue of Pelagius. Pelagius did indeed believe in the function of grace in human salvation. However, he had his own understanding of grace. For Pelagius humans were naturally endowed with their grace as part of their nature. Therefore, they had the grace of God all along. What remained for them to do was to exercise their free will in order to pursue God and thus reattach themselves to the fountain of life, Christ.

Now to what extent he believed human nature to be damaged, I cannot tell probably because I didn’t read the work in its entirety, but I made good progress. I’m under the impression that he did believe in a damaged human nature himself, but I cannot recall clearly. Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that Augustine’s understanding of Pelagius’ writings and even the ecumenical councils’ understandings of Pelagius’ writings were based upon profound misinterpretations.

Source: Torgny Bohlin, Die Theologie des Pelagius und ihre Genesis (Uppsala, Denmark: Universitets Årsskrift 1957).

Part 4

What I find most egregious in this article, however, is the idea that theosis is and was totally foreign to Latin Theology due to the high influence of Augustine. This simply was not the case. Augustine and those who followed him clearly had a concept of theosis which rested on the exercise of their free will (a gift of grace according to this understanding) in order to do good works (which thereby the individual acquired more grace). This concept and understanding was framed probably best by Boethius his Consolation of Philosophy, where he explicitly calls such a process a form of deification.

I think that is about all I have to say for now. I split this all up in four posts due to word limits, although in retrospect I probably could have done it in two posts instead of four. My apologies to the moderators for not being tidy.

Yes, I agree.

Thank you. It was worth the wait.

Calvinists continuously quote Augustine in support of their views regarding free will and grace. And while I don’t care all that much whether or not Augustine had it right, what about his famous sermon 169, which included the quotes below?

**"How could you have consented, when you did not exist? But he who made you without your consent does not justify you without your consent. He made you without your knowledge, but He does not justify you without you willing it.” **

Did Augustine believe grace is resistible?

I’m afraid that I cannot comment much on Sermon 169, since I am not incredibly familiar with it. As Bonner recognized, there was a period where Augustine did leave some room for free will as we understand it today. However, by mid or late career he totally ditched it. His 20th Book from City of God and On the Predestination of Saints attest best to this shift.

As for what he ended his life teaching, the simple answer is yes, Augustine did believe in irresistible grace. In fact, the doctrine became more pronounced throughout the early Middle Ages in a lot of exegetical work. From the text I provided, this can easily be seen at the end of the excerpt where he says, “Therefore, perish the thought that anyone does not come who has heard from the Father and has learned.”

The Catechism actually quotes part of 169, in para 1847, as support for the necessity of man doing his part:

1847 "God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us."116 To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."117

I don’t know much more either about the sermon though.

Thank you Rohzek for this most erudite series of posts.

Rohzek. You said:

Now for the issue of Pelagius. Pelagius did indeed believe in the function of grace in human salvation.

I don’t know if you are referring to my comments or not Rohzek (?).

But in case some readers of this thread do think this has to do with my comments, I will address it as if you were (just for clarity sake).

Remember. I didn’t say Pelagius didn’t “believe” in grace.

I said Pelagius didn’t believe that special supernatural grace was necessary for salvation.

Then I specifically added . . . . UNLESS you change the definition of grace to be natural virtue.

Pelagius had a view that did NOT think God’s supernatural grace was necessary to attain salvation . . . . unless you RE-DEFINE “supernatural grace” as mere “doctrine” and “example”.

Rohzek. You also said:

However, he had his own understanding of grace.

Which of course is WHY Pelagius and his teachings were called out by the Church.

Also Pelagianism is part of the reason WHY some bishops and clerics (priests) were threatened with excommunication (and some were excommunicated).

  • . . . if any metropolitan of a province dissents from the holy and ecumenical synod and attaches himself to . . . the opinions of Celestius, . . . He is thereby cast out by the synod from all ecclesiastical communion and is deprived of all ecclesiastical authority . . . even to the extent of being completely deposed from the rank of bishop. . . .

. . . . If any clerics should apostatise and in private or in public dare to hold the views of . . . Celestius, it is thought right that **such should stand deposed **by the holy synod. *

Pelagius had a cohort named Celestius (Caelestius).

The Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. (The Third Ecumenical Council) condemned Pelagianism (using Celestius’s name) . . .

(bold below mine and for clarity)

COUNCIL OF EPHESUS . . . Their support of the views of Nestorius and Celestius was clearly shown by their refusal to condemn Nestorius together with us. By a common decree the sacred synod has expelled them from ecclesiastical communion and deprived them of the exercise of their priestly office, through which they have been able to harm some and help others.

Since it is necessary . . . , we make it known to your holinesses that if any metropolitan of a province dissents from the holy and ecumenical synod and attaches himself to the assembly of the revolters, or should do so later, or should he have adopted the opinions of Celestius, or do so in the future, such a one is deprived of all power to take steps against the bishops of his province. He is thereby cast out by the synod from all ecclesiastical communion and is deprived of all ecclesiastical authority. Instead he is to be subjected to the bishops of his own province and the surrounding metropolitans, provided they be orthodox, even to the extent of being completely deposed from the rank of bishop. . . .

. . . If any clerics should apostatise and in private or in public dare to hold the views of Nestorius or Celestius, it is thought right that **such should stand deposed **by the holy synod.

– from Synodical letter about the expulsion of the eastern bishops. Council of Ephesus 431 A.D.

I think even the Eastern Orthodox writers see Pelagius’ teachings as erroneous and condemned by Ephesus.

This from OrthodoxChurchFathers (Rohzek please correct me here if I am wrong but I think OrthodoxChurchFathers is an Eastern Orthodox website is it not? I can’t verify this now as their site’s main pages just happens to be down presumably temporarily). . . .

(With paragraphs added by me)

The only point which is material to the main object of this volume is that Pelagius and his fellow heretic Celestius were condemned by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus for their heresy.

On this point there can be no possible doubt.

And further than this the Seventh Council by ratifying the Canons of Trullo received the Canons of the African Code which include those of the Carthaginian conciliar condemnations of the Pelagian heresy to which the attention of the reader is particularly drawn.

The condemnation of these heretics at Ephesus is said to have been due chiefly to the energy of St. Augustine, assisted very materially by a layman living in Constantinople by the name of Marius Mercator.

Pelagius . . . . was a monk and preached at Rome with great applause in the early years of the fifth century.

But in his extreme horror of Manichaeism and Gnosticism he fell into the opposite extreme; and from the hatred of the doctrine of the inherent evilness of humanity he fell into the error of denying the necessity of grace.

Pelagius’s doctrines may be briefly stated thus.

Adam’s sin injured only himself, so that there is no such thing as original sin.

Infants therefore are not born in sin and the children of wrath, but are born innocent, and only need baptism so as to be knit into Christ, not “for the remission of sins” as is declared in the creed.

Further he taught that man could live without committing any sin at all. And for this there was no need of grace; indeed grace was not possible, according to his teaching.

The only “grace,” which he would admit the existence of, was what we may call external grace, e.g. the example of Christ, the teaching of his ministers, and the like.

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