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According to Catholic teaching, Salvation (Greek soteria; Hebrew yeshu'ah), has in Scriptural language the general meaning of liberation from straitened circumstances or from other evils, and of a translation into a state of freedom and security (I Kings, chapter 11 , verse 13; 14, 45; II Kings, 23, 10; IV Kings, 13, 17). At times it expresses God's help against Israel's enemies, at other times, the Divine blessing bestowed on the produce of the soil (Is., xlv, 8). As sin is the greatest evil, being the root and source of all evil, Sacred Scripture uses the word "salvation" mainly in the sense of liberation of the human race or of individual man from sin and its consequences. We shall first consider the salvation of the human race, and then salvation as it is verified in the individual man.
Salvation of the human race
Catholic theology defends and explains questions of the possibility of the salvation of mankind or upon its appropriateness (according to Catholic belief, since God has done as such, it must be both possible and appropriate). Catholic theology believes that after God had freely determined to save the human race, He might have done so by pardoning man's sins without having recourse to the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. Still, the Incarnation of the Word is believed to be the most fitting means for the salvation of man, and, according to Catholicism, was even necessary, in case God claimed full satisfaction for the injury done to him by sin (see incarnation). Though the office of Saviour is really one, it is virtually multiple: there must be an atonement for sin and damnation, an establishment of the truth so as to overcome human ignorance and error, a perennial source of spiritual strength aiding man in his struggle against darkness and concupiscence. From the Catholic perspective, there can be no doubt that Jesus Christ really fulfilled these three functions, that He therefore really saved mankind from sin and its consequences: as teacher He established the reign of truth; as king He supplied strength to His subjects; as priest He stood between heaven and earth, reconciling sinful man with his angry God.
Christ as Teacher
Catholicism teaches that Prophets had foretold Christ as a teacher of Divine truth: "Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, for a leader and a master to the Gentiles" (Is., lv, 4). Christ himself claims the title of teacher repeatedly during the course of His public life: "You can call me Master, and Lord; and you say well, for so I am" (John, xiii, 13; cf. Matt., xxiii, 10; John, iii, 31). The Gospels inform us that nearly the whole of Christ's public life was devoted to teaching (see Jesus). Catholics believe that there can be no doubt as to the supereminence of Christ's teaching.
Christ as King
The royal character of Christ was foretold by the Prophets, announced by the angels, claimed by Christ Himself (Ps., ii, 6; Is., ix, 6-7; Ezech., xxxiv, 23; Jer., xxiii, 3-5; Luke, i, 32-33; John, xviii, 37). His royal functions are the foundation, the expansion and the final consummation of the kingdom of God among men. The first and last of these acts are personal and visible acts of the king, but the intermediate function is carried out either invisibly, or by Christ's visible agents. The practical working of the kingly office of Christ is described in the treatises on the sources of revelation; on grace, on the Church, on the sacraments, and on the last things.
Christ as Priest
The ordinary priest, is made God's own by an accidental unction, Christ is constituted God's own Son by the substantial unction with the Divine nature; the ordinary priest is made holy, though not impeccable, by his consecration, while Christ is separated from all sin and sinners by the hypostatic union; the ordinary priest draws nigh unto God in a very imperfect manner, but Christ is seated at the right hand of the power of God. The Levitical priesthood was temporal, earthly, and carnal in its origin, in its relations to God, in its working, in its power; Christ's priesthood is eternal, heavenly, and spiritual. The victims offered by the ancient priests were either lifeless things or, at best, irrational animals distinct from the person of the offerer; Christ offers a victim included in the person of the offerer. His living human flesh, animated by His rational soul, a real and worthy substitute for mankind, on whose behalf Christ offers the sacrifice. The Aaronic priest inflicted an irreparable death on the victim which his sacrificial intention changed into a religious rite or symbol; in Christ's sacrifice the immutation of the victim is brought about by an internal act of His will (John, x, 17), and the victim's death is the source of a new life to himself and to mankind. Besides, Christ's sacrifice, being that of a Divine person, carries its own acceptance with it; it is as much of a gift of God to man, as a sacrifice of man to God.
Hence follows the perfection of the salvation wrought by Christ for mankind. On His part Christ offered to God a satisfaction for man's sin not only sufficient but superabundant (Rom., v, 15-20); on God's part supposing, what is contained in the very idea of man's redemption through Christ, that God agreed to accept the work of the Redeemer for the sins of man, He was bound by His promise and His justice to grant the remission of sin to the extent and in the manner intended by Christ. In this way our salvation has won back for us the essential prerogative of the state of original justice, i.e., sanctifying grace while it will restore the minor prerogatives of the Resurrection. At the same time, it does not at once blot out individual sin, but only procures the means thereto, and these means are not restricted only to the predestined or to the faithful, but extend to all men (I John, ii, 2; I Tim., ii, 1-4). Moreover salvation makes us coheirs of Christ (Rom., viii, 14-17), a royal priesthood (I Pet., ii, 9; cf. Ex., xix, 6), sons of God, temples of the Holy Ghost (I Cor., iii, 16), and other Christs--Christianus alter Christus; it perfects the angelical orders, raises the dignity of the material world, and restores all things in Christ (Eph., i, 9-10). By our salvation all things are ours, we are Christ's, and Christ is God's (I Cor., iii, 22-23).
The Council of Trent describes the process of salvation from sin in the case of an adult with great minuteness (Sess. VI, v-vi).
It begins with the grace of God which touches a sinner's heart, and calls him to repentance. This grace cannot be merited; it proceeds solely from the love and mercy of God. Man may receive or reject this inspiration of God, he may turn to God or remain in sin. Grace does not constrain man's free will.
Thus assisted the sinner is disposed for salvation from sin; he believes in the revelation and promises of God, he fears God's justice, hopes in his mercy, trusts that God will be merciful to him for Christ's sake, begins to love God as the source of all justice, hates and detests his sins.
This disposition is followed by justification itself, which consists not in the mere remission of sins, but in the sanctification and renewal of the inner man by the voluntary reception of God's grace and gifts, whence a man becomes just instead of unjust, a friend instead of a foe and so an heir according to hope of eternal life. This change happens either by reason of a perfect act of charity elicited by a well disposed sinner or by virtue of the Sacrament either of Baptism or of Penance according to the condition of the respective subject laden with sin. The Council further indicates the causes of this change. By the merit of the Most Holy Passion through the Holy Spirit, the charity of God is shed abroad in the hearts of those who are justified.
Some points regarding the Catholic doctrine of salvation have been specified by the Catholic church; Catholic theologians are obligated to teach these. However, there are several other issues which have not been definitively taught by the Church; theologians are permitted to hold different views on these. The views required by the Catholic church are:
- that the initial grace is truly gratuitous and supernatural;
- that the human will remains free under the influence of this grace;
- that man really cooperates in his personal salvation from sin;
- that by justification man is really made just, and not merely declared or reputed so;
- that justification and sanctification are only two aspects of the same thing, and not ontologically and chronologically distinct realities;
- that justification excludes all mortal sin from the soul, so that the just man is no way liable to the sentence of death at God's judgment-seat.
Other points involved in the foregoing process of personal salvation from sin are matters of discussion among Catholic theologians; such are, for instance,
- the precise nature of initial grace,
- the manner in which grace and free will work together,
- the precise nature of the fear and the love disposing the sinner for justification,
- the manner in which sacraments cause sanctifying grace.
But these questions are treated in other articles dealing ex professo with the respective subjects. The same is true of final perseverance without which personal salvation from sin is not permanently secured.
What has been said applies to the salvation of adults; children and those permanently deprived of their use of reason are saved by the Sacrament of Baptism.