Simple Catholic Snapshots
- Catholic theology recognizes that salvation is an unearned, undeserved gift from God.
- Catholic theology also includes the fact that we must “participate” in our own salvation.
- Non-Catholics theology emphasizes that salvation is the work of God only .
- Non-Catholics deny a role of mankind in his/her salvation.
- Babies, those divine miracles of life, is an example useful in resolving tensions between these Catholic and non-Catholic positions.
Simple Catholic Truth
Yes, It’s all God – all the time:
The Catholic Church has taught, without wavering and without exception, that our salvation is a free gift from God. Salvation is a grace (grace simply means a ‘gift’, from God). Salvation comes from God’s grace alone and with that understanding, Catholics should agree with one of the primary tenants of the Protestant Reformation, that is, Sola Gratia – Salvation by Grace alone. Okay, so far so good.
The Church also teaches that our salvation, rather than being a one-time event of declared righteousness, is a lifetime process whereby the faithful are literally transformed by that free gift of grace from God. This process of change, also accomplished only by the power of God’s grace, and not by man’s own initiative, transforms us back into the image of God. It is this image into which we were created and into which we must return if we are to become worthy of standing face to face with our Creator for eternity.
Salvation is not a zero sum game.
Many of our non-Catholic friends disagree with the above points about salvation being a process or that the salvation involves an actual transformation rather than a declared change. There’s good discussion to be had on both sides of those issues but that is not the point of this blog post. Instead, I want to concentrate on the one component of the process (or event if you must) and that is mankind’s involvement in salvation.
We Catholics must try to understand why our Protestant brothers and sisters recoil at the suggestion that mankind’s own actions have anything to do with salvation. To them, any action by mankind towards his/her salvation in some way must subtract from God’s power, providence and role in salvation. To those people, salvation is a zero sum game.
Conversely, non-Catholics must try to understand why Catholics don’t see that mankind having a role in salvation diminishes in any way the absolute power of God in that regard. For Catholics, salvation is not a zero sum game.
[Note: A “zero-sum game” is some activity that takes place in which each participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participants. By definition, if one person gains, then another loses. One example might be the sharing of a gallon of ice cream. There is only one gallon to share and and if one person gets more, then of course the others wanting ice cream will have to be satisfied by a smaller quantity. Zero sum games are very competitive due to the finite amount of resources, in this case ice cream.
One problem with considering Salvation as a zero sum game is that, ironically, it implies limitations on God’s power! It forces God to act not as an omnipotent loving redeemer but rather a man-like being that is constrained by the physical limitations of space and time. That sounded pretty deep but let me give you another example to clear things up. Non-Catholics often describe salvation as a glass that God fills to the brim with His saving graces. I kind of like that if the analogy if not taken too far. They complain that if Catholics are right and mankind must “participate” by adding something to the glass, then God must necessarily have to remove something.
See what is happening with this faulty analogy? The non-Catholics are considering the glass to have a limited volume. They are measuring God’s contribution and man’s participation and placing them in competition. They are forcing God to act as though His powers were constrained by the volume of a glass. This is preposterous since God has no limitations. According to the Bible, it is God’s plan to have his children participate in their salvation by taking His graces and using them according to His commands. Our salvation depends on our using the God-given graces of Charity and Love and adding them to the many other graces that God gives us that eventually transform us. In this transformation, we “share in the divine nature” of God (2 Pet 1:4).
Even if man were to participate to the fullest possible measure, choosing to use all of the graces given him and adding them to the glass (much like the saints must have done), then God in His infinite power will fill the glass beyond overflowing. The infinity of God, added to the finite participation of mankind, is still infinity. God does not play zero sum games.
So why bother?
At this point, many non-Catholics will respond by asking, that if God’s infinite power is responsible for our salvation then why even bother talking about man’s participation? They say, isn’t that just a distraction from the truth that God is 100% responsible for salvation? Oops, there you go again trying to measure and place limitations on God.
The problem with thinking of salvation as only 100% God’s doing is that in doing so you neglect the fact that the Bible tells us that man has an obligation to participate in God’s graces. If mankind fails to participate as God demands, (by believing, by repenting, by being Baptized, by works, by obedience of faith, to name a few) then mankind’s salvation is at risk. We must talk about man’s participation because our eternal destiny is at stake.
[If you insist on limiting God and placing numerical values then the correct answer must be: salvation is 100% God’s and 100% man’s doing. I know that might hurt the heads of some modern rational minds. Some can’t imagine anything more than 100% in a glass. But the theology of salvation is not described by finite volumes or percentages. Salvation is described by the unlimited, indescribable love of God.]
Babies to the rescue…
Okay, some of the above might have gotten a little abstract and that is totally understandable. You probably have been wondering from the title, how making babies and salvation are related and we’ll get to that now with a final analogy. Hopefully, this analogy will clear things up a little.
When talking to my non-Catholic friends that deny the possibility of mankind’s “participation” in a (100%) completely divine act, I often bring up the analogy of the birth of a baby. I ask them about the miracle of a new life being created. With little hesitation, we usually agree that a new human life is an absolute miracle. We agree – only God can create life. In a manner of speaking the creation of life is 100% God’s doing.
I then ask them a series of questions regarding what role the parents had in the creation of life. Did the mother and father with their free wills, choose to have that child? Did the mother and father then use their physical gifts from God in a manner they understood would likely bring a child into existence? Did the mother and father love each other and physically become one? Did the mother and father provide DNA? With little hesitation, we usually agree that this new human life came into being as a result of the parents actions. In a manner of speaking, the creation of life was 100% the parents doing. See where I’m going?
Only God has the power to create life, but it is God’s plan for man and woman to participate in creating that life. The fact that mankind participates, using the gifts that God provides, in no way diminishes the power and providence of God to create life.
So it is with salvation.
Only God has the power to save, but it is God’s plan for man and woman to participate in their salvation. The fact that mankind participates, using the gifts that God provided, in no way diminishes the power and providence of God to save.
So you see, making babies and salvation do have a lot in common. Both are part of God’s wonderful plan. 100% God and 100% mankind.