Do We Contribute To Our Own Salvation?

by admin on May 26, 2017

The second Epistle of St. Peter comments on the complexity of the Epistles of St. Paul: “In them [his Epistles], are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable twist, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.” (3:16). From our own experience with St. Paul we can say a hearty, “Amen. Yes, St. Paul’s writing can be puzzling.”

Earlier, in speaking of Luther’s idea of our total dependence on God, we quoted some texts from St. Paul and found them difficult to understand. We promised to return to them. Now is the time, since they are vital in ecumenism. Protestants insist strongly that we contribute nothing at all to our own salvation. The problem gets more complex because, as we began to see in Chapter 18, these texts of St. Paul seem to leave us no free will at all.

As a result, we are again faced with two sets of seemingly contradictory statements. First, St. Paul insists with devastating force our incapability of doing any good. Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who works in you, both the will and the doing, according to his good will.” So we cannot even make a good act of will by ourselves, or carry it out. But, could we at least get the good thought that starts the process? No, for 2 Cor. 3:5 says, “Not that we are sufficient to think any thing of ourselves, as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is from God.”

Could Philippians 2:13 be softened by saying Paul is using a familiar Semitic pattern in which Scripture says that God positively does what He really just permits? Thus, in Exodus 10:1 God says of Pharaoh, “I have hardened his heart.” Of course, God does not create evil. (See 1 Sam. 4:3). Obviously, that language pattern is not used here, for then Paul would mean just that God permits us to do good. In that case, the good would be from us, not from Him. Whereas Paul says in 1 Cor. 4:7, “What have you that you have not received?” In other words, “Every bit of good that you are or have or do is God’s gift, you did not originate it.”

Some weak translations of Phil. 2:13 imply that God only gives us the desire. If that means that He causes the desire, but we make the act of will, the same problem exists, for we would credit ourselves with the real good.

Consequently, we are forced to take the meaning of Phil. 2:13 and 2 Cor. 3:5 fully. They deny us all ability to think good, to will good, to carry out good by ourselves. In fact, these verses say that even when God offers us grace to enable us to do good, we cannot even decide (make the act of will) to accept it! So where is our free will?

We know from experience, as well as from Scripture, that we do have free will. All the countless exhortations in Scripture to repent, to reform, to turn to God, imply that. So does St. Paul in 2 Cor. 6:1: “And we exhort you, not to receive the grace of God in vain.”

Semites did not mind believing two truths which seemed to clash. Faith made that easy for them, and their own mentality did not tend to make syntheses or harmonious patterns. For example, in Matthew 6:6 Jesus says, “But you when you pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret.”

Yet in Matthew 5:16, He said, “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Both sayings are fully true, even though they seem to conflict. Semites might not even notice the seeming clash.

But people of our time do notice such incongruities, and naturally ask, “How can we be both dependent on God for decision of will and yet be free?”

As we said, since the Church has not given an answer to this problem, we must find one on our own. Our ecumenical spirit urges us to find a solution, since the question of the interaction of our freedom and God’s grace is vital, and Protestants insist that we contribute nothing to our own salvation. So we are going to offer an original attempt at a solution. We did a similar thing in Chapter 19, when we proposed a solution to the problem of predestination. There we offered it confidently, for the answer, once found, was so completely simple and clear. But on this problem we cannot and do not claim the answer is so obvious. Even so, it is worth our time and effort.127

First, imagine God sending me grace to lead me to do .a particular thing now. Without it I would be helpless, of course. His mere favor-smiling at me-would not be enough, for as Jesus insisted, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). So then grace has come to me. First, it must put the good idea into my mind because as 2 Cor. 3:5 insists, I am not sufficient to do that. The very fact that I saw something as good makes me favorably disposed, for the will is naturally inclined to what is presented as good.

What are the possibilities now that this grace has come? We see that I could accept it or reject it. But we had better think twice before saying I could accept it, since that would be a decision of my will, a good decision. Phil. 2:13 warns, “It is God who works in you both the will and the doing.” So then, it seems there would be only one option open to me: to reject. But if that is my only choice, I am not free. A person with just one choice is not free.

Thus, there has to be a third option to consider besides accepting and rejecting. Clearly, the only possibility would be “non-rejecting.” This would have the same effect as accepting, but yet would not be the same thing in itself.

There are two ways to describe the concept of non-rejecting. The first will not hold up under study, but we will examine it anyway for completeness.

After I find that grace has put a good idea into my head, I sit back and say to myself, “I see that a grace has come to me. It wants me to do thus. What will I do?” After thinking it over I conclude, ‘I hereby decide, I will not reject it.'” But St. Paul will not allow it to be so simple, since the example involves a decision to non-reject. Such a decision is ruled out again by Phil. 2:13, “For it is God who works in you, both the will and the doing.”

There is a different way of looking at the same example. God has sent me a grace; it has put into my head the good idea of what He wants me to do. At this point I could reject it-I know that from sad experience. But-and this is the important point now-at the very juncture at which I could reject it, I might just do nothing, make no decision at all. Is that in my power? Of course, for it is merely doing nothing. Yes, that lack of decision at such a juncture, when I could have rejected it, can serve as the condition for the next step. If that condition is verified, God will then work in me both the will and the doing.

We should notice that though we have spelled out this process at length, it really would not have to take up any length of time. The complete process, from good thought to decision, can fit into just one instant of time. For clarity of explanation, we needed a logical division or spelling out of the stages.

Now we can see where we are at: In doing a good act, our contribution at the critical instant which settles everything was zero or a lack of a decision, when we could have rejected it. This fits well with the Protestant insistence that we refrain from saying we contribute anything to our own salvation. And yet, we would be controlling the outcome, even though we would do it by taking no action. So two elements are clear in our example: (1) we contribute nothing to salvation; (2) we control whether or not we receive the grace of God in vain-recalling 2 Corinthians 6:1, which urges us not to receive grace in vain.

We may even add that our very ability to do nothing, to non-reject when we could reject, depends on the fact that grace causes us to see the thing proposed as good. If it did not do that, rejection would readily follow.

At this juncture, the Council of Trent demands one small addition to our picture. It teaches that under the action of grace, we are not totally passive.128 So in this second stage, after omitting a decision to reject, two things are happening: I am both being moved by grace, and moving myself by power being received at the very instant from grace. Thus I am not fully passive.

St. Augustine said, as we saw earlier, “When God crowns our merits, He crowns nothing other than His own gifts.”129 We have accepted that idea completely. And we can agree most heartily too with St. Paul: “Or what have you that you have not received? And if you have received, why do you boast, as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

By Fr. William Most from Catholic Apologetic’s Today – Chapter 20

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St Catherine of GenoaCHAPTER XI

Of the desire of souls in Purgatory to be wholly cleansed of the stains of their sins. The wisdom of God who suddenly hides their faults from these souls.

The soul was created as well conditioned as it is capable of being for reaching perfection if it live as God has ordained and do not foul itself with any stain of sin. But having fouled itself by original sin, it loses its gifts and graces and lies dead, nor can it rise again save by God’s means. And when God, by baptism, has raised it from the dead, it is still prone to evil, inclining and being led to actual sin unless it resist. And thus it dies again.

Then God by another special grace raises it again, yet it stays so sullied and so turned to self that all the divine workings of which we have spoken are needed to recall it to its first state in which God created it; without them it could never get back thither. And when the soul finds itself on the road back to its first state, its need to be transformed in God kindles in it a fire so great that this is its Purgatory. Not that it can look upon this as Purgatory, but its instinct to God, aflame and thwarted, makes Purgatory.

A last act of love is done by God without help from man. So many hidden imperfections are in the soul that, did it see them, it would live in despair. But in the state of which we have spoken they are all burnt away, and only when they have gone does God shew them to the soul, so that it may see that divine working which kindles the fire of love in which its imperfections have been burnt away.


How suffering in Purgatory is coupled with joy.

Know that what man deems perfection in himself is in God’s sight faulty, for all the things a man does which he sees or feels or means or wills or remembers to have a perfect seeming are wholly fouled and sullied unless he acknowledge them to be from God. If a work is to be perfect it must be wrought in us but not chiefly by us, for God’s works must be done in Him and not wrought chiefly by man.

Such works are those last wrought in us by God of His pure and clean love, by Him alone without merit of ours, and so penetrating are they and such fire do they kindle in the soul, that the body which wraps it seems to be consumed as in a furnace never to be quenched until death. It is true that love for God which fills the soul to overflowing, gives it, so I see it, a happiness beyond what can be told, but this happiness takes not one pang from the pain of the souls in Purgatory. Rather the love of these souls, finding itself hindered, causes their pain; and the more perfect is the love of which God has made them capable, the greater is their pain.

So that the souls in Purgatory enjoy the greatest happiness and endure the greatest pain; the one does not hinder the other.


The souls in Purgatory are no longer in a state to acquire merit. How these souls look on the charity exercised for them in the world.

If the souls in Purgatory could purge themselves by contrition, they would pay all their debt in one instant such blazing vehemence would their contrition have in the clear light shed for them on the grievousness of being hindered from reaching their end and the love of God.

Know surely that not the least farthing of payment is remitted to those souls, for thus has it been determined by God’s justice. So much for what God does as for what the souls do, they can no longer choose for themselves, nor can they see or will, save as God wills, for thus has it been determined for them.

And if any alms be done them by those who are in the world to lessen the time of their pain, they cannot turn with affection to contemplate the deed, saving as it is weighed in the most just scales of the divine will. They leave all in God’s hands who pays Himself as His infinite goodness pleases. If they could turn to contemplate the alms except as it is within the divine will, there would be self in what they did and they would lose sight of God’s will, which would make a Hell for them. Therefore they await immovably all that God gives them, whether pleasure and happiness or pain, and never more can they turn their eyes back to themselves.


Of the submission of the souls in Purgatory to God’s will.

So intimate with God are the souls in Purgatory and so changed to His will, that in all things they are content with His most holy ordinance. And if a soul were brought to see God when it had still a trifle of which to purge itself, a great injury would be done it. For since pure love and supreme justice could not brook that stained soul, and to bear with its presence would not befit God, it would suffer a torment worse than ten purgatories. To see God when full satisfaction had not yet been made Him, even if the time of purgation lacked but the twinkling of an eye, would be unbearable to that soul. It would sooner go to a thousand hells, to rid itself of the little rust still clinging to it, than stand in the divine presence when it was not yet wholly cleansed.


Reproaches which the souls in Purgatory make to people in the world.

And so that blessed [3] soul, seeing the aforesaid things by the divine light, said: “I would fain send up a cry so loud that it would put fear in all men on the earth. I would say to them: ‘Wretches, why do you let yourselves be thus blinded by the world, you whose need is so great and grievous, as you will know at the moment of death, and who make no provision for it whatsoever?’

“You have all taken shelter beneath hope in God’s mercy, which is, you say, very great, but you see not that this great goodness of God will judge you for having gone against the will of so good a Lord. His goodness should constrain you to do all His will, not give you hope in ill-doing, for His justice cannot fail but in one way or another must needs be fully satisfied.

“Cease to hug yourselves, saying: ‘I will confess my sins and then receive plenary indulgence, and at that moment I shall be purged of all my sins and thus shall be saved.’ Think of the confession and the contrition needed for that plenary indulgence, so hardly come by that, if you knew, you would tremble in great fear, more sure you would never win it than that you ever could.”


This Soul shews again how the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory are no hindrance at all to their peace and their joy.

I see the souls suffer the pains of Purgatory having before their eyes two works of God.

First, they see themselves suffering pain willingly, and as they consider their own deserts and acknowledge how they have grieved God, it seems to them that He has shewn them great mercy, for if His goodness had not tempered justice with mercy, making satisfaction with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, one sin would deserve a thousand perpetual hells. And therefore the souls suffer pain willingly, and would not lighten it by one pang, knowing that they most fully deserve it and that it has been well ordained, and they no more complain of God, as far as their will goes, than if they were in eternal life.

The second work they see is the happiness they feel as they contemplate God’s ordinance and the love and mercy with which He works on the soul.

In one instant God imprints these two sights on their minds, and because they are in grace they are aware of these sights and understand them as they are, in the measure of their capacity. Thus a great happiness is granted them which never fails; rather it grows as they draw nearer God. These souls see these sights neither in nor of themselves but in God, on whom they are far more intent than on the pains they suffer, and of whom they make far greater account, beyond all comparison, than of their pains. For every glimpse which can be had of God exceeds any pain or joy a man can feel. Albeit, however, it exceeds the pain and joy of these souls, it lessens them by not a tittle.


She concludes by applying all she has said of the souls in Purgatory to what she feels, and has proved in her own soul.

This form of purgation, which I see in the souls in Purgatory, I feel in my own mind. In the last two years I have felt it most; every day I feel and see it more clearly. I see my soul within this body as in a purgatory, formed as is the true Purgatory and like it, but so measured that the body can bear with it and not die little by little it grows until the body die.

I see my spirit estranged from all things, even things spiritual, which can feed it, such as gaiety, delight and consolation, and without the power so to enjoy anything, spiritual or temporal, by will or mind or memory, as to let me say one thing contents me more than another.

Inwardly I find myself as it were besieged. All things by which spiritual or bodily life is refreshed have, little by little, been taken from my inner self, which knows, now they are gone, that they fed and comforted. But so hateful and abhorrent are these things, as they are known to the spirit, that they all go never to return. This is because of the spirit’s instinct to rid itself of whatever hinders its perfection; so ruthless is it that to fulfill its purpose it would all but cast itself into Hell. Therefore it ever deprives the inner man of all on which it can feed, besieging it so cunningly that it lets not the least atom of imperfection pass unseen and unabhorred.

As for my outer man, it too, since the spirit does not respond to it, is so besieged that it finds nothing to refresh it on the earth if it follow its human instinct. No comfort is left it save God, who works all this by love and very mercifully in satisfaction of His justice. To perceive this gives my outer man great peace and happiness, but happiness which neither lessens my pain nor weakens the siege. Yet no pain could ever be inflicted on me so great that I would wish to depart from the divine ordinance. I neither leave my prison nor seek to go forth from it: let God do what is needed! My happiness is that God be satisfied, nor could I suffer a worse pain than that of going outside God’s ordinance, so just I see Him to be and so very merciful.

All these things of which I have spoken are what I see and, as it were, touch, but I cannot find fit words to say as much as I would of them. Nor can I say rightly what I have told of the work done in me, which I have felt spiritually. I have told it however.

The prison in which I seem to myself to be is the world, my chains the body, and it is my soul enlightened by grace which knows the grievousness of being held down or kept back and thus hindered from pursuing its end. This gives my soul great pain for it is very tender. By God’s grace it receives a certain dignity which makes it like unto God; nay, rather He lets it share His goodness so that it becomes one with Him. And since it is impossible that God suffer pain, this immunity too befalls the souls who draw near Him; the nearer they come to Him, the more they partake of what is His.

Therefore to be hindered on its way, as it is, causes the soul unbearable pain. The pain and the hindrance wrest it from its first natural state, which by grace is revealed to it, and finding itself deprived of what it is able to receive, it suffers a pain more or less great according to the measure of its esteem for God. The more the soul knows God, the more it esteems Him and the more sinless it becomes, so that the hindrance in its way grows yet more terrible to it, above all because the soul which is unhindered and wholly recollected in God knows Him as He truly is.

As the man who would let himself be killed rather than offend God feels death and its pain, but is given by the light of God a zeal which causes him to rate divine honor above bodily death, so the soul who knows God’s ordinance rates it above all possible inner and outer torments, terrible though they may be, for this is a work of God who surpasses all that can be felt or imagined. Moreover God when He occupies a soul, in however small a degree, keeps it wholly busied over His Majesty so that nothing else counts for it. Thus it loses all which is its own, and can of itself neither see nor speak nor know loss or pain. But, as I have already said clearly, it knows all in one instant when it leaves this life.

Finally and in conclusion, let us understand that God who is best and greatest causes all that is of man to be lost, and that Purgatory cleanses it away.

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