Catholic and Anglican Views of Salvation

Catholic View of Salvation

The Catholic understanding of salvation is a complex and nuanced theological concept, open to ongoing interpretation and study. It’s a dynamic process that begins with God’s grace and unfolds throughout a person’s life, culminating in eternal union with Him after death.

Original Sin: Catholics believe that humans inherited original sin from Adam and Eve, leading to a separation from God and an inclination towards sin. Salvation cannot be achieved through merit alone, but requires God’s grace, a free and undeserved gift. Humans are “justified.” i.e., reconciled with God through faith in Jesus Christ and His redemptive sacrifice on the cross. However, salvation is not a one-time event but a continuous process of cooperating with God’s grace that involves ongoing repentance, striving for holiness, and living according to the teachings of Christ. Perseverance in faith and good works until the end is crucial for securing eternal salvation.

Sacraments: Thus, faith requires expression through good works, which are evidence of a transformed heart and cooperation with God’s grace. The sacraments, instituted by Christ, are visible signs of God’s invisible grace. Baptism washes away original sin and makes us children of God; Confirmation strengthens our faith and equips us for Christian witness; the Eucharist nourishes us with the body and blood of Christ; Penance provides forgiveness for sins committed after baptism; Anointing of the Sick offers healing and comfort; Holy Orders enables the ordained to minister in the Church; and Matrimony sanctifies the union of husband and wife.

Confession, Atonement and Absolution: Regular Confession is encouraged, ideally once a month or more often for serious sins. This frequency fosters ongoing moral development and strengthens the relationship with the priest as spiritual guide.  Forgiveness is granted by God through the priest as His minister, acting in persona Christi (as Christ himself). The priest hears the Confession, determines the appropriate penance, and then pronounces Absolution, effectively removing the sin and its eternal punishment.

purgatory: Since Heaven cannot tolerate any sin or imperfection, however slight, purgatory allows for this final cleansing, preparing souls for the complete joy and holiness of heaven. purgatory is a temporary state of purification after death for those who die in God’s grace and friendship but are imperfectly purified of the sinfulness and imperfections that cling to them.  The precise nature of purification in purgatory remains undefined by the Church. It’s not considered a state of punishment or torment, but rather a process of healing and preparation for perfect communion with God. The Church encourages Masses, prayers, and acts of charity for the dead in purgatory, believing they can benefit from our love and intercessions and hasten their entry into heaven.

Role of the Church: The Church, established by Christ and entrusted to the Apostles, is the primary instrument of salvation. Through the Church, we receive the sacraments, encounter God’s word, and participate in a community of faith that supports our spiritual journey. While salvation comes solely through Christ, Mary as the mother of God and the saints, having completed their earthly pilgrimage and living in union with God, can intercede for us and inspire us on our path to salvation.

Church of England View of Salvation

Protestant views of salvation (originating from Martin Luther) and the minimized role of the church authority and structure greatly influenced the doctrinal positions taken by Cranmer in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.  Catholics and Protestants alike agreed with the concept of Original Sin, separation from God, and the need for reconciliation (salvation).

Free Will. Theologians in the 16th century had disagreements about the validity of free will. Erasmus. a Catholic humanist, and Luther published treatises in 1524 and 1525, respectively.  Luther argued that human nature is fundamentally corrupted by original sin, leaving us enslaved to sin and incapable of choosing good on our own. He emphasized God’s predestination, claiming that God chooses some for salvation and others for reprobation, irrespective of their choice.  Erasmus, reflecting the view of the Church affirmed the reality of human free will, asserting that humans are created in God’s image, endowed with the ability to choose good or evil, love or reject God. This freedom is a gift from God, allowing us to participate in shaping our own destiny and cooperate with His grace in achieving salvation.

  • Protestant View of Salvation by Faith Alone.   Protestants asserted that salvation came solely through faith in Jesus Christ, and good works played no role in earning or maintaining salvation.
  • Catholic theology teaches that good works are important for salvation., i.e., each – faith and good works – plays a role in achieving and maintaining one’s salvation.

The Middle RoadCranmer, perhaps recognizing the explosive result if he chose one side or the other, elected to take a middle ground. Good works were considered important but not seen as the means of earning salvation. Even so, they were important expressions of Christian faith and piety. The BCP noted that Christians were called to live righteous and virtuous lives, which included performing acts of charity, kindness, and moral uprightness.  Even so, the Book of Common Prayer included liturgical services for Confession and penance, similar to Catholic practices.  Confession and penance were seen as ways for individuals to seek God’s forgiveness for their sins and to reconcile with Him, but they were not considered significant in terms of salvation.

Cranmer’s nuanced approach attempted to thread the needle between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Compared to Luther’s aggressive rejection of Catholic traditions, the Prayer Book took a more cautious and moderate approach, seeking continuity with traditional practices while introducing Protestant innovations.  While God initiates the process of salvation through grace, humans possess the free will to respond to this grace and actively pursue a life of faith and good works. This view was more aligned to the Catholic position.

Other Readings