Salvation by What?
May 11, 2005 § 42 Comments
In a lengthy comment thread over at The Dawn Patrol I was asked this question:
How knowledgeable, really, is the Catholic flock?
The underlying assumption seems to be salvation by knowledge. But to understand the Catholic Faith you have to understand that it is not primarily about intellect, or even morals: it is about Christ received through the sacraments, because He commanded it, and because those who love Him will do as He commands because they love Him. And He commands as He does because He loves us. Understanding may follow practice, to a greater or lesser degree. But the Catholic faith is a loving response to our King and Redeemer, not an intellectual response to a text. A Downs Syndrome Catholic who can’t read the Bible is in no way lesser than a theological polymath.
The Catholic faith doesn’t get snagged on “what exactly is it that saves us” because the thing that saves us isn’t an “it”. The thing that saves us is a Who. Asking what you have to do to be saved is like asking what you have to do to make sure that your wife will still love you tomorrow (or in this context what do you have to do to make sure that you still love her tomorrow). There may be things you can do, but it isn’t a mechanical process. It isn’t something that you do today, making everything that you do tomorrow irrelevant. It is love.
The Catholic view is that if we love Christ we will follow his commands, submit to the Rock of authority He established (including text written by inspired human beings, traditions passed on by human beings, and a magisterium that remains quite fallen and human yet bears the protection of the Holy Spirit in doctrinal and sacramental matters), and wait in joyful hope.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t sincere elements of all of these things in Protestant faiths. But the answer to “what must I do to be saved” can’t be specified in a finite text, any more than “what must I do to make sure I still love my wife tomorrow”. There are no intellectual certainties, and yet the certainties transcend any intellectual certainties because they are rooted in love.
So the “ultimate answer” here is not salvation by faith, salvation by works, or sola anything. The answer is salvation by love.
UPDATE: I changed the analogy “make sure your wife loves you tomorrow” to “make sure you love your wife tomorrow”, since I think it fits better, and as Dawn Eden points out Christ’s love is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.