Catholics and Evangelicals: Similarities: Salvation

I am sorry for being delinquent on this task for so long. What can I say, life is very busy.

We are moving to the fifth part of our series Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences. In this section we will discuss another area of agreement, the doctrine of Salvation. I think you may be surprised like I was surprised the first time I read this how many similarities we really have. Enjoy the study.

This is an interesting topic because while I was a Catholic I never understood the concept of salvation. I’m sure some of this would have been my fault but some was certainly the lack of teaching of this concept in the Catholic Church or maybe the mixed messages of salvation by works. Let’s use this chapter to clear things up and to get it straight in the minds of my Catholic readers, Protestant readers and those of you that are non-believers.

Catholics and evangelicals share a common core of beliefs about salvation. After almost twenty years of discussing the topic Catholics and Lutherans came up with this statement

"Our entire hope of justification and salvation rests on Christ Jesus and on the gospel whereby the good news of God’s merciful action in Christ is made known; we do not place our ultimate trust in anything other than God’s promise and work in Christ."

Even though this does not imply a complete agreement on justification by faith, it does imply significant agreement on the core beliefs of salvation.

Early Patristic Period

Our agreement on this topic stems to get the family from our agreements between Old and New Testament, the work of the early church fathers, and that creeds that we had discussed in earlier lessons.

Reaction to Gnosticism Heresy

Summary of Gnosticism

  • Special mystical knowledge led to salvation.
  • Matter is evil and Spirit is good therefore if Jesus as was good, he must have been. Spirit only. This led to both asceticism and libertinism at the two extremes.  Both of these ideas were already seen and addressed in the New Testament books of Scripture.
  • Fatalism was also a concept that came out of Gnosticism period.  This was a apposed by stressing the freedom of the human will.

Works-righteousness and the Pelagian Heresy cropped up at this time also.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

Augustine was an intellectual superstar. His works have been embraced by both Catholics and evangelicals. He did great work on the doctrine of justification. It is out of his work while combating the Pelagian Heresy that he solidified his thinking on the doctrine of salvation, being by grace alone (sola gratia).

Definition of Salvation in the early Period

After studying the writings of the Apostle Paul, Augustine had come up with the following conclusions…

  1. “the internal decree of God’s predestination determines ones election”
  2. God’s offer of grace (salvation) is itself a gift.
  3. Human will is completely unable to initiate or attain salvation.
  4. “The justified center does not merely receiving the status of some shippers, but becomes one”.
  5. God may regenerate a person without causing that one to finally preserve (This means he thought you could lose your salvation).

This is where things get really interesting between Catholics and Protestants. Frankly it is tricky for Protestants and Protestants and Catholics and Catholics. This is an area that is not clear and quite mysterious. In all of my reading and studying and thinking on this subject I lean towards the idea of this being one of those inscrutable truths that we are just unable to understand. It is a mystery or at least my brain is too small to understand it.

The Early Medieval Period

This time period is basically from the time of Augustine (430) to the 1500’s. Many heresies emerged during this time, and many were dealt with by the church including Pelagianism (condemned at the Council at Ephesus AD 431) and semi- Pelagianism (condemned at the Council of Orange AD 529). These heresies seem to pop up throughout history, and I think Catholics need to look again closely at semi-Pelagianism had crept back into the church now. 

During this period in history the “sacraments” of baptism and penance were linked with justification.

“god’s righteousness was begun (infused) in baptism and can continue perfected the through tenants.”

This concept of penance seemed to originate the works-righteousness system.

Predestination and Justification

Again Augustine seems to be the initiator on much of this thought, and again much of this thought came out of the dispute with Pelagius, who denied original sin. Augustine disagreed arguing that before the fall we were free to sin or not to sin. After the fall our inclination was to sin and after the cross the freedom is restored.

It is important to note that Augustine does not deny the freedom of human will.

Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury

Anselm was the next great theological thinker between the Augustine and Aquinas.

  • For Anselm, “faith is not only the foundation of true understanding; it is the stimulus to understanding”.
  • Faith is “intrinsically and preeminently rational”.
  • “The faith that introduces man to God, and thus to all of reality, must be defined primarily in terms of relationship with God”.
  • He built on the understanding of the atonement, the “satisfaction theory” gives compensation to the father for our rightful penalty of death.
  • His book ‘Cur Deus Homo” (Why the God-Man) has been called “the truest and greatest book on the atonement”.

Central themes in Medieval Soteriology

Let’s summarize these important developments in the doctrine of salvation from the middle ages

  1. There was an increased interest in theological studies.
  2. The theory of atonement was significantly updated.
  3. Man’s status, not his nature was affected by justification.
  4. Most of the theological concepts were Augustinian in nature.

The Late Medieval Period

A major figure of this period was the great Dr. Thomas Aquinas (AD 1225 – 74).

  • Aquinas considered Augustine his mentor.
  • He believed that regeneration occurs at baptism
  • Likewise he held that “not all the regenerate will persevere”.
  • He also believed that human beings are fallen and that faith can not be merited (earned).

“Whatever can be said of others, the two great theologians of the Catholic church, Augustine and Aquinas, clearly believed that salvation is completely dependent on God’s grace”

Pre-Reformation Period

Pre-Reformation Events: Major events that occur that changed the world.

  • Columbus arrived in the new world (1492)
  • King Henry VIII desired to have his divorce to be sanctioned by the church and the renaissance
  • Major Papal moral corruption and the need for reformation
  • Clerical celibacy was the law of the church but many ignored the law
  • John Wycliff and John Hus were two major figures just prior to the Reformation. Wycliff upheld the supremacy of scripture in religious affairs

Summary of Salvation Prior to the Reformation

  1. Justification was regarded as both an initial act and a continual process.
  2. The view of man’s standing before God and his basic nature underwent change.
  3. Firm anti-Pelagianism was in place and that carried forward into the theology of the reformation.
  4. A works-righteousness position had emerged what would become a major point of contention in the Reformation.

The Reformation Period

Martin Luther

The themes of salvation and damnation concerned him greatly.  He suffered spiritual anguish because of his keen awareness of his sin and the inability of “penance” to cover his sin.  During his years as theology and biblical studies professor at Wittenberg circa 1513 he developed his core theology of justification by faith.

”justification is a gift of God, appropriated by faith“

” because God is almighty and rich in mercy and turns as such to me, I can– indeed, I must – trust in him, I can and must be certain of my salvation in spite of my own sinfulness!”“

The posting of the ninety five theses on October 31, 1517 rocked the world.

Contemporary Catholic theologians have noted some revaluation concerning the Luther’s reactions.

The council of Trent (1545-63) addressed some of the issues outlined by Luther.

Philip Melanchthon

Even though he had some theological differences with Luther, he became a trusted companion and lieutenant of Luther and produced much of the Augsburg Confession. 

John Calvin

The most important Reformed theology was that of John Calvin. He was familiar with the Wycliff, Hus, and Luther but he was most influenced by Augustine.

He clarifies salvation as both a justification and sanctification. He also further defined predestination and election

Huldreich Zwingli 

Zwingli was a major force in the Swiss Reformation.

Summing Up Our Common Soteriological Roots

  1. Catholics and evangelicals believe that salvation is historical and found in both the Old and New Testament.
  2. Salvation is a moral and spiritual. It provides deliverance from: • Sin and its consequences • From the cursor the law • from death • from judgment • from fear • from bondage
  3. Salvation is eschatological
  4. Initial justification is unmerited.

This list of similarities is not meant to imply there are not significant differences, but it is to show that there are indeed many similarities.

This concludes our study on salvation next time we will be studying "the church".

If you have not gotten the book yet and you still want to participate in the conversation, it is not too late. Order your book today!

Find the complete series here.


About waynem

As a Minnesota based photographer and artist I have been greatly influenced by the Upper Midwest. I focus my skills and energies on portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, architectural and fine art work. My best work comes from images first painted in my mind. I mull over a prospective image for weeks or months, seeing it from different angles and perspectives, then finally deciding what to capture. The result is images that deeply touch people's emotions and powerfully evoke memories and dreams. My images are used commercially by companies and organizations ranging from Financial Services firms, mom and pop Ice Cream shops and The Basilica of St Mary to communicate their shared vision and values. Book and magazine publishers have featured my images on their covers. My photographs also grace and enhance the decor of many fine homes.
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