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Salvation in the Roman Catholic Church
Part Two

By Gary F. Zeolla

This article is continued from Salvation in the Roman Catholic Church - Part One.

The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation 

In the RCC system, what does one need to do if they have sinned a sin grave enough to cause them to lose their salvation? It is here that another sacrament becomes important.

But first, it should be noted that in the RCC there are two classes of sins: venial sins and mortal sins. The former is a "lesser" sin that does not cause a loss of salvation. Such sins are forgiven in the sacrament of the Eucharist. However, it takes the sacrament of Penance for mortal sins to be forgiven, the kind that cause the loss of salvation. 

Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded the ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification (P 1446).

So the RCC has developed the sacrament of Penance for those who have committed a mortal sin. 

There are various aspects to this sacrament:

Beneath the changes in discipline and celebration that this sacrament has undergone over the centuries, the same fundamental structure is to be discerned. It comprises two equally essential elements: one the one hand, the acts of the man who undergoes conversion through the action of the Holy Spirit: namely, contrition, confession, and satisfaction; on the other hand, God’s action through the intervention of the Church. The Church, who through the bishop and his priests forgives sin in the name of Jesus Christ and determines the manner of satisfaction, also prays for the sinner and does penance with him. Thus the sinner is healed and re-established in ecclesial communion (P 1448). 

Protestants would agree with the need for Christians who have sinned to have “contrition” over their sins. “Contrition is ‘sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again’ [fn, council of Trent (1551); DS 1676]” (P 1451). When Christians sin they should feel “sorrow of the soul.” In fact, this writer believes that if one is truly saved, then he or she will feel sorrow. The Holy Spirit living inside the believer will see to that.

And this sorrow will cause true Christians to confess their sins. However, it is with what confession entails that a major disagreement enters between Protestants and the RCC. The Catechism states, “Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance … “ (P1456).

So the RCC teaches on must go to a priest in order to confess their sins. However, Protestants believe that we can come directly to God through Jesus Christ to confess and be forgiven of our sins. The additional mediator of a priest is not necessary. 

In none of the following passages is there even a hint for the need of a priest to intercede for us:

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1Tim 2:5).

Therefore He [Jesus] is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Heb 7:25-26).

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9). 

There is also the question of whether sins committed after salvation cause one to lose their salvation or not. The RCC, along with Arminian Protestants, would say that they can, while Calvinist Protestants would say that they do not. Again, this issue is beyond the scope of this article. But again, it is apparent that in the RCC/ Arminian view "something" is being added to the initial salvation experience for one to remain saved. In this case, it is “not sinning,” or at least, not committing a mortal sin in the RCC perspective.  

As for the third aspect of Penance, Protestants would agree with some aspects of the RCC satisfaction requirement but not with others: 

Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g. return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationship with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused [fn, Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1712]. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance” (P1459). 

Protestants would agree that whenever possible, one should make amends to the person who has been wronged. But the disagreement comes in when the RCC says that such acts somehow “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” the sinner’s sins.

The RCC correctly notes in the next paragraph that Christ “alone expiated our sins” (P 1460). So it’s rather confusing for it to also say the sinner needs to make expiation as well.

The subsection to paragraph 1460 states, “The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ.” It is true that any good we do is done in Christ, but again, if Christ alone made satisfaction for out sins, there is nothing we can do to add to that satisfaction.

The average Catholic could easily take these statements to mean that he needs to somehow “add” to what Christ has done in order to be forgiven. And such an attitude could easily set someone up on a treadmill of continuing trying to do “good” to “pay” for past sins. In fact, this theme is common in TV shows: the “hero” at one time lived an evil life, but now is trying to “atone” for his sins by doing good works. But as can be seen in such shows, this mindset sets someone up for an every ending battle to do enough good for such an atonement, with never knowing when enough has been done. It might make for an exciting TV show, but in real life it can be emotionally devastating.

How much more satisfying is it to know that one’s forgiveness is based on Christ’s finished act of atonement on the cross. Simple trust in Christ and what He has done for forgiveness brings relief to the troubled soul. And the RCC should make it clear that this is the case just as David does in his prayer for forgiveness: 

Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. …

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. …

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:1-3, 7, 16-17). 

It should be noted in this passage that David goes directly to God for forgiveness, and this was in the Old Testament economy. How much more do we have direct access to God and His forgiveness today through Jesus Christ (Heb 4:14-16). Moreover, David knows he will be “clean” as soon as God forgives him without him having to make any kind of “satisfaction” for his sin. In fact, God is not pleased with works done to try to earn forgiveness. 

The Ten Commandments 

The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them [fn, Cf. DS 1569-1570]; the Second Vatican Council confirms: “The bishops, succors of the apostles, receive from the Lord … the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments” (P 2068; ellipse in original). 

This passage in the Catechism makes it clear that the RCC considers the Ten Commandments to be binding on Christians in the sense that Christians must keep them in order to be saved. But does the Bible teach that keeping the Commandments is a requirement for salvation?

Consider the following passages:

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference (Rom 3:21-22).

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom 10:4).

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity (Eph 2:14-17).

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13-14). 

So Paul clearly teaches that the requirements of the Law, of which the Ten Commandments are a part, are not binding on believers in the sense that keeping them contributes in any way to salvation.

But please note, this writer is not saying that Christians should not keep the Ten Commandments. Given that nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament, these statues are requirements for Christians in the sense of showing us how we should conduct our lives. And if a Christian breaks one of these commandments he or she will be convicted by the Holy Spirit and led to repentance. But for the Christian, love, not a striving for salvation, is why we keep these commands (Rom 13:8-10).

“Outside the Church there is No Salvation.” 

An often quoted statement throughout the history of the RCC is, “Outside the Church there is No Salvation.” This quote is the heading of a section in the Catechism (before P 846). 

This writer finds the sub paragraph to the first paragraph from this section particularly disturbing:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church through which men enter through Baptism as through the door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse to enter it or to remain in it [fn, LG 14; cf. 16:16; John 3:5] (P 846). 

It should be noted that in this section the only Scripture references the Catechism gives are the ones seen above. These verses were discussed previously in regards to Baptism. They say nothing about the need for people who know about the claims of the RCC to be a member of it to be saved, yet that is what these verses are asserting.

The idea that Christ’s teaching of “the necessity of faith and Baptism” logically leads to “the necessity of the Church” is because it is only within the RCC that one can attain baptism, at least baptism as the RCC defines it. But this would be true only if baptism were a requirement for salvation and only the RCC properly applies it.

The question here is, does a person have to join the RCC to be saved? This passage declares this to be the case, but only for people such as myself. I was raised Catholic, but I left the RCC. I understand the RCC’s claims that it is equated with “Christ’s Church,” and its claim to have been founded by God. Yet I reject these claims and remain outside “the Church.” As such, this passage clearly teaches that I am not saved.

If the reader is Catholic, I want you to understand the importance of this. Nowhere in this article or any place else on my site will you see me saying that you are damned because you are a member of the RCC. However, your church does say that I am damned because I am not a member of it. So if you think I say some things that are a little harsh about the RCC, remember, there's nothing harsher than telling someone they are going to hell.

Now if it were true that I was damned, then this warning would be appropriate. But I will stake my eternal soul on the Bible's teaching, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph 2:8-9). Not here nor any place else in Scripture is there even hint that I have to join an organization to be saved. 

But it should be noted that for people who do not understand the claims of the RCC, the RCC teaches they can be saved without joining the RCC. That is why the RCC does put some qualifiers on this requirement:

“This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation” [fn, LG 16; cf. DS 3866-3872]. 

So it would appear it is much better for someone to be ignorant about RCC's claims than to hear about such claims and then reject them.

The above two paragraphs together produce an interesting implication. The Catholic could very well be doing a disservice to people by telling them about the RCC. The person in ignorance might already be saved, but if a Catholic tells him about the RCC and that person rejects its claims, he will be damned. The person would have been much better off being left in ignorance. 

The next paragraph in the Catechism tries to disavow this conclusion:

“Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men” [fn, AG 7; cf., Heb 11:6; 1Cor 9:16]. 

It is true Christians are obliged to evangelize, and this should be enough incentive for evangelism. But still, it is hard to escape the conclusion, that given the RCC’s teachings above, some people would be better off being left in ignorance.  

Summary/ Conclusion 

To be saved, the RCC teaches a person must do the following:

1.  Have faith in God and Christ.

2.  Be baptized.

3.  Not commit a mortal sin after baptism.

4.  If one commits a mortal sin, go through the sacrament of Penance.

5.  Keep the Ten Commandments.

6.  Be a member of the RCC if you understand its claims.

Some of the above points overlap, and the RCC does put qualifiers on some of these requirements as discussed in this article. But it does appear that this list of requirements is a far cry from Paul's simple declaration to the Philippian jailer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).

So the conclusion to this article is that the RCC clearly teaches salvation by faith plus works. However, the Bible teaches people are saved by grace through faith apart from works (Rom 4:6; Eph 2:8,9; Gal 2:16).

Even more, Paul describes the logical impossibility of combining salvation by grace through faith with salvation by works: 

Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin" (Rom 4:4-8).

And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work (Rom 11:6). 

So the reader has a choice: you can either believe what the Bible says and place your faith in Jesus Christ and Him only to save you, or you can trust what the RCC teaches and try to keep the above list of requirements. You cannot trust both Christ and your own actions.

The links below are direct links to where the book can be purchased from Books-A-Million.

All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.
Catechism of the Catholic Church . Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 1994.
Metzger, Bruce. A Textual Commentary on the Greek NT . New York: United Bible Societies, 1975.

The above article was posted on this Web site February 24, 2001.


Catholicism: Salvation

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