It begins and ends with the grace of God

“It begins and ends with the grace of God.”

…deep within the Catechism there awaited a high hurdle.  Even if Cardinal Newman convincingly demonstrates how the development of doctrine accounts for those Catholic doctrines that make Baptists bristle and Calvinists cringe, there awaited the Grace and Justification section of the Catechism.  Wasn’t that the real key?  Hadn’t we been taught that Catholics were “working their way to heaven” or “earning” their own salvation?  Wasn’t that why Martin Luther had to rescue the gospel in the sixteenth century?  Rome was preaching another gospel, as Paul warned the Galatians, deserving the anathema, right?

To my shame and embarrassment, I discovered that idea to be false; born of ignorance at best, maybe anti-Catholic prejudice, or worse.  Even if I had picked it up innocently, and repeated it naively, I cannot justify my own ignorance and sloth.  To my surprise, I discovered in the twenty-first century what Saint Augustine discovered in the fourth: “Great hope has dawned; the Catholic Faith teaches not what we thought, and vainly accused it of[.]”  Indeed, the Church has been maligned and slandered, starting not in the sixteenth-century with the Reformers, but from the beginning.  Like Augustine, when I discovered the truth of the Catholic Church, by God’s grace, I could not stay away.  In fact, the Catholic Faith teaches what I have long believed:  our salvation begins and ends with the grace of God – – based on the life and death of the God-Man, Jesus Christ; His cross; and His triumph over the grave by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Then quotes from the Catechism on grace and justification appear. You can read them on the Vatican website here, if you wish)

apostle paul rembrant
The Apostle Paul, by Rembrandt.

There is no daylight between the Catholic Faith and Sacred Scripture on Grace and Justification.  Martin Luther had legitimate complaints about the practices and discipline of the Church in the sixteenth century.  However, his expressions of sola Scriptura and sola fide were error.  He had no authority to break from the Church, or to set himself up against Her…

In short, Rome does not have a works-based religion.  Catholics are no more “working” or “earning” their way to heaven on their own merit than the Philippians, to whom the Apostle Paul exhorted: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.” (Phil. 2:12-13, NAB, Revised Edition).  It begins and ends with the grace of God. There is no Scriptural authority to divorce my faith from my actions.  You and I know each other’s faith when we see each other’s works…

From With My Own Eyes

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Grace and the sacraments

I’d like to talk about grace. Specifically, how grace is given and the mechanism for how it flows into the life of the believer.

I was a Protestant/Evangelical for a short time, but definitely not a theologian. So I might not represent the Protestant/Evangelical view on this point correctly. On the other hand, there may be multiple views since there isn’t one governing body among them to define orthodoxy on this point. Even so, I am open to being corrected.

It seems to me that under Protestant/Evangelical theology, there is no explicit “vehicle” to impart grace, no explicitly defined way that grace flows into the life of the believer. It is just sort of like an invisible cloud that somehow appears, surrounds, or is absorbed into the believer’s soul once faith in Christ is exercised. If faith in Christ ceases, the cloud departs. For those who believe in Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS), the cloud never departs.

Protestants/Evangelicals reject the necessity of the sacraments. I have had the impression that they reject the physicality associated with the sacraments. They seem to recoil at the idea that God has instituted something physical as a way to channel grace into the life of the believer. To them, grace is only imparted in an unseen, spiritual manner, like an invisible cloud.

As I have mentioned before, I spent a lot of time in a gnostic cult, where we actually studied different gnostic texts by famous gnostic authors (such as G.I. Gurdjieff and his most famous disciple, P.D. Ouspensky). So I am very well acquainted with it. Gnosticism has two main ideas: 1) there is special, hidden knowledge which is only given to certain people, and this knowledge is what saves people. 2) the physical realm is undesirable, evil, and/or ultimately unnecessary. It needs to be shed and discarded the way a snake sheds and discards his skin.

-The physical is bad!Because of that experience, anytime I see people rejecting the physical, claiming it is unnecessary or bad, my alarm bells go off.

The Church does not teach that special knowledge saves people, and she teaches that the physical is good. So good, in fact, that our physical bodies will be resurrected. Because of this, the sacraments make sense to me precisely because they are physically based.

The Church teaches that the sacraments are the normative “vehicle” through which grace is given to Christians. This physicality speaks to the goodness of the physical creation, to Christ’s humanity and his physical body, to the idea that the physical is good, that God loves the physical, and he uses it for our good.

I take the physicality of the sacraments as evidence for the the Church’s claim about who she is, not as evidence against that claim.

Edited to add: this post is based on a comment I left on a blog called Orthodox Christian Theology.