Salvation by Grace – 3
The first and second posts in this series introduce us to the layman level of the Justification divide: Before considering the arguments from authority (those of Scripture, and those meaning to interpret Scripture), how is the layman confronted by the issue?
Here I attempt an analogy to suggest how the layman ought to approach the issue. That the analogy, itself, has a basis in Scripture is both unintentional and telling.
One commonality between Protestants and Catholics – and I can’t say I’ve heard any objection to this – is that believers ought to become mature in the faith. So who is it, in an ordinary sense, who is new to life and for whom we wish maturity?
And who is it, ideally, who provides the means to this maturity?
We have a child and a parent, respectively. Permit me to guide a meditation on this…
From the very first moment, a human being is utterly dependent on his mother. There is nothing that child could do for himself, except that he benefits from the many good and necessary things his mother’s womb provides for him. He benefits – more basically, he survives – because of her good graces.
The child is born and remains, it is readily seen, utterly dependent on grace; but now he has reflexes which are his own, which have developed because of prior grace on the part of the mother. He will suckle if something is put in his mouth, he will cry to express his needs.
Now this initial “adoption” of the child, even a biological child, is akin to Justification. In a natural sense, the child has not merited the grace of his parents. There is nothing he has done – there is nothing he could do – except to receive and cooperate with their grace. It is they who have first loved him.
From the start, the mother and father wish for their child to become a mature human being. The child should ultimately walk on his own, think clearly and speak deliberately, and become productive to the point that he will have grace to spare for others. This maturation process is analogous to Sanctification. The child cooperates more and more fully with the will of his parents.
This fuller sense of cooperation begins when the child develops a sense of autonomy, a period known as toddlerhood. Now the child can (and does) choose not to cooperate with the will of his parents, even when that will is most obviously in his best interest. But when he understands why he ought to cooperate, and does, then he grows.
The grace continues to flow. The parents continue to feed the child, shelter and clothe him, provide for his education and his recreation, and dispense wisdom. And, ideally, the child finds himself less and less dependent on these graces, as he becomes stronger, wiser, and more skillful.
The ultimate goal of the parents, I say, is to bring the child up so that he can survive on his own; better, so that he can prosper, be upright, and give grace to others, including his own children.
The Baptist in our previous post wants the child to mature in this way, but such maturation is secondary. The Catholic sees salvation as on-going, as requiring works only because they are part and parcel of the maturation process. You do a good work because that is the way you grow.
We are – I believe and confess – unable to perfect ourselves. That is the purpose of grace, just as it is for the infant who is unable to care for himself. Adoption (we Catholics consider this to be Baptism) brings us under His direct care, but He does not force His grace on us. We must cooperate in order to remain, just as a child must cooperate with his parents in order to receive their care (he cannot be fed if he won’t eat; he cannot be taught if he won’t learn).
From the outset, though, I admitted this is only an illustration; if Scripture refuted it clearly and soundly, the illustration would fail. However, as a Catholic, I have never seen Scripture as an altogether foreign entity. It welled up through the geology of the human race; it is the water of everlasting life, but it carries the sediment of human history. The illustration, then, might serve as a means to interpret the very same Scripture. Indeed, this is how it seems to me.
Much like faith and reason, Scripture and the human experience are not at odds. But that’s for another series.