Temporal and Eternal Salvation

by James Akin

1. “AVOID DISPUTING ABOUT WORDS” (2 Tim. 2:14)

It has long been noted that many of the accusations Protestants make against Catholics are based on semantic misunderstandings–places where the two groups fail to appreciate that they are using terms differently.

For example, Catholics tend to use the term “faith” in the sense that it is used in Romans 14 and James 2–that is, as a synonym for “intellectual assent.” Thus when Catholics deny that we are saved by “faith alone,” they are denying that we are saved by “intellectual assent alone”–something that (the theologically able kind of) Protestant will also deny.

Protestants, for their part, tend to use the term “faith”–that is, living faith or saving faith–to mean “that faculty, given by God’s grace, by which we believe God’s teachings and trust in God for our salvation and which ends up producing produces good works in our lives as a consequence” (Gal. 5:6). However, when Protestants affirm that we are saved by “faith alone” in this sense, it is equivalent to the Catholic saying that we are saved by “faith, hope, and charity”–for the Protestants have defined faith in such a way that it includes the Catholic virtues of faith (belief), hope (trust), and charity (love/good works).

The debate over whether we are saved by faith alone is thus largely a matter of semantics–at least so long as one is dealing with the kind of Protestant defines saving faith as including belief, trust, and the subsequent production of good works in our lives.

This is important because Paul positively forbids us to engage in fights about words. He warns us against the type of man who “is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4). Regrettably, this is exactly the picture of the more low-brow anti-Catholic controversialists (e.g., Jack Chick, Dave Hunt, Ralph Woodrow, Loraine Boettner, and numerous others).

Thus Paul orders Timothy to speak to his congregation “and charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14).

The principle Paul lays down is that so long as two sides of a debate are agreed in substance, they are not to quarrel about the words in which they express they express themselves. Thus Paul binds Christians not to debate over whether salvation is by “faith alone” or by “faith, hope, and charity” so long as the same thing is meant by these expressions.

This is not to say that there are not differences between Protestants and Catholics on matters of salvation. There are. For example, the common Protestant assertion that it is impossible for a true Christian to lose his salvation. This is a serious difference–not merely a matter of terminology–and it must not be swept under the rug, for it has dire spiritual consequences. But there are still semantic differences which must be identified, clarified, and removed from the area of theological dispute.

2. TWO KINDS OF ATONEMENT

One of the greatest semantic misunderstandings concerns the way in which the terms “salvation,” “atonement,” and “redemption” are used by Catholics. Protestants have a distinctive and narrowly focused set of meanings for these terms, and when they read Catholic documents that use these terms in larger senses, it appears to them that Catholics are saying things that deny the sufficiency of Christ’s cross.

For example, if many Protestants were reading a Catholic book and encountered the statement that one may atone for one’s iniquity by faithfulness and love, they would have an attack of apoplexy. “No one can atone for their sins!” they would exclaim. “That is a denial of the sufficiency of the cross; only Christ can make atonement for us!”

Well, that’s true. Only Christ can make atonement for us in one sense (the most important sense), because only he can deliver us from the eternal consequences from our sins. But this is not the only sense in which one can atone for sins.

We can prove this because the statement that love and faithfulness atone for iniquity is straight out of the Bible. It happens to be Proverbs 16:6–“By love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.”

Since it is true that only Christ can atone for our sins in one sense, we must therefore conclude that Proverbs 16 is speaking of atonement in a different sense. And since only Christ can atone for the eternal effects of our sins, we must conclude that Proverbs 16 speaks of love and faithfulness resulting in a non-eternal atoning for sin; in other words, a temporal atonement rather than an eternal atonement.

Unfortunately, most Protestants have had such a lopsided presentation of the Biblical doctrine of the atonement presented to them that they are only aware of the eternal aspect of atonement and will be completely at a loss when they encounter passages in the Bible such as Proverbs 16:6. Some less experience and weaker in their faith might even be led into questioning the inerrancy of Scripture by perceiving this as a contradiction of the doctrine of atonement by Christ alone. At least it would provide many with a perplexing, mysterious passage that they aren’t sure how to harmonize with their other beliefs.

In addition, many Protestants have received such an indoctrination into anti-Catholicism that they unconsciously operate with a double standard when reading Catholic works. If they are reading the Bible, they will accept its terminology concerning temporal atonement, but if Catholics start using in real life the same language the Bible uses on this subject, they instantly accuse their Catholic brothers of teaching all kinds of blasphemous, anti-Christian doctrines that deny the sufficiency of Christ’s cross.

The only way to cure this tendency is to point it out–to bring it out into the light, even at the risk of offending some–and then stepping back, looking at the Bible’s teaching, and then applying it to the misunderstandings of Catholic teaching that pervade anti-Catholic literature.

3. TEMPORAL AND ETERNAL SALVATION

In order to understand the idea of temporal atonement, we need to set it in its larger Biblical context, which includes the concepts of temporal salvation and temporal redemption.

When they begin to read the Bible, most Christians quite naturally begin by reading the New Testament and only then going back to read the Old. This can cause perplexity about the use of certain terms, such as salvation, which are employed in different ways in the Old Testament.

The New Testament focuses on the idea of eternal salvation–salvation from the eternal consequences of sin (i.e., hell)–but when one turns to the Old Testament one finds the term “salvation” most often used to refer to salvation from temporal dangers such as war, famine, disease, oppression, and physical (rather than eternal) death. In fact, the focus on temporal salvation is so great that out of the over two hundred references to salvation in the Old Testament, it is very hard to find any unambiguously referring to eternal salvation.

A few examples will suffice to give one a taste of the way in which the Old Testament most often conceives of salvation:

“I wait for thy salvation, O Yahweh. Raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels.” (Genesis 49:18-19)

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. Yahweh will fight for you, and you have only to be still.'” (Exodus 14:13-14)

“Because Yahweh your God walks in the midst of your camp, to save you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, that he may not see anything indecent among you, and turn away from you.” (Deuteronomy 23:14)

“Now therefore stand still, that I [Samuel] may plead with you before Yahweh concerning all the saving deeds of Yahweh which he performed for you and for your fathers.” (1 Samuel 12:7)

In these passages the salvation Yahweh gives concerns deliverance from dangers that the Israelites may not have brought on themselves by sin. It is simply a fact of life in this world that the wicked oppress the righteous and bring trouble on them that is not being given as a punishment for sin (the fact that not all suffering is a punishment for sin is, of course, a major theme–in fact, the key point–of the book of Job).

God saves from this kind of calamity, but he also saves from calamities that people bring on themselves by sinning. For example, in Job we read:

“Man is also chastened with pain upon his bed, and with continual strife in his bones . . . [But if] there be for him an angel, a mediator, one of the thousand, to declare to man what is right for him; and he is gracious to him, and says, ‘Deliver him from going down into the Pit, I have found a ransom’ . . . then man prays to God, and he accepts him, he comes into his presence with joy. He recounts to men his salvation, and he sings before men, and says: `I sinned and perverted what was right, and it was not requited to me. He has redeemed my soul from going down into the Pit, and my life shall see the light.'” (Job 33:19, 23-24, 26-28)

In this passage the sickness is brought on the man by his own sin, so he is chastised, but an angel mediates for him, and God saves him from the temporal calamities that had come upon him for his sins. We thus have a reference to temporal salvation–not just from calamity in general–but from the temporal consequences of sin. It is this understanding of temporal salvation that we are most concerned about in this paper since it is the kind of temporal salvation Catholics most frequently focus on.

Of course, Job 33 is nowhere near the only Old Testament passage dealing with salvation from the temporal consequences of sin. This idea positively dominates the deliverance passages in the writings of the prophets, since the prophets are almost invariably talking about God delivering his people from calamities they brought on themselves by their violence, oppression, and most of all their worship of false gods. The true God gave them these punishments to chastise and correct them, and once the people repent, God then saves them from the distress their sins brought down on them.

What most people aren’t aware of is that the idea of temporal salvation is also found in the New Testament. Though the New Testament mostly focuses on eternal salvation, the idea of temporal salvation is certainly present as well. In fact, it is far more common than many would suppose. Let us look at just a few examples:

“And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing!'” (Matthew 8:23-25)

“And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” (Matthew 24:22)

“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” (Matthew 27:42)

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us” (Luke 1:68-71)

Another passage in Luke 1, which is almost certainly a reference to salvation from temporal trouble, is almost always misread as a reference to eternal salvation. It occurs in the Magnificat:

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden–for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.'” (Luke 1:46-55)

This passage is almost always used by Protestants in a polemical attempt to show that Mary was a sinner because she refers to God as her Savior. This is a fruitless attempt since Catholic theology teaches that God was Mary’s Savior–in fact, he saved her in a more spectacular way than others since he not only saved her from the consequences of having fallen into sin, he saved her from falling into sin in the first place, making her “the most excellent fruit of redemption” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 508). Mary is the most saved person there is since by God’s grace she was saved from things he let the rest of us fall into.

Not only is it fruitless to argue that Mary must be a sinner because she has a Savior, it is also a complete misreading of this passage. The misreading stems from the fact that Protestants generally assume all references to salvation are references to eternal salvation. But this is an assumption that is patently false given the Biblical evidence. Whenever one encounters a reference to salvation in the Bible, one must always ask whether it is temporal or eternal salvation under discussion. Thus we must ask ourselves how Mary is conceiving of God in this passage–as saving from temporal or eternal calamity.

When we do this it is almost certain that the idea of God as Savior from temporal circumstances is at the forefront of her mind. She declares: “[M]y spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden–for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me.” As the explanatory connective term “for” indicates, the reason Mary rejoices in God as her Savior is that “he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” and done marvelous things for her. God has thus saved her from her low estate and given her an exalted on that will be remembered and honored forever: “for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.”

The fact it is salvation from temporal circumstances that Mary has in mind is reinforced by the fact she then proceeds to name a bunch of different kinds of temporal salvation (“He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever”) and by the parallel canticle in which Zechariah proclaims the praise of God as temporal Savior (Luke 1:68-75).

Fortunately, some Protestants, such as R.C. Sproul (an otherwise very anti-Catholic guy), are recognizing the force of the evidence backing up the fact that Mary’s reference to God as Savior refers to his role as temporal Savior. Hopefully, their admission of this fact will lead to a broader understanding among Protestants of the Biblical teaching on temporal salvation.

As with the Old Testament, the New Testament also includes the idea of salvation from the temporal consequences of sin. A rather off-beat and comical example of this is found in the account of when the apostles saw Jesus walking toward them on the Sea of Galilee:

“And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘O man of little faith, why did you doubt?'” (Matthew 14:28-31)

Here Peter’s transgression is the sin of unbelief and the temporal consequence from which he is saved is sinking into the water.

A point of special interest in this text is the way in which Jesus saves him from it–simply by reaching out a hand and pulling him up. To save Peter Jesus did something that any one of us could have done if we were close enough to Peter–assuming we had a firm base to stand upon. Jesus, of course, was standing on the water, but anyone standing on a boat, a rock, or a platform could have done the same thing.

4. TEMPORAL AND ETERNAL SAVIORS

This reveals to us a very important point about the mechanics of temporal salvation: One does not have to be God to be a temporal savior.

This is something I can testify from very recent experience. The day before I began this paper I went to a doctor to see about getting some medicine for lower back pain I have been experiencing. You see, contrary to all the advice, contrary to my own knowledge of what I should have done, I have recently lifted some heavy objects and bent at the waist rather than the knees when doing it. And as a result, I have now been suffering the consequences of my transgression. Thus I went to a doctor who prescribed some medicine for my back pain and thus helped save me from the consequences of my own folly.

And, under the providence of God, I am sure that it was the Lord’s will that I receive this salvation, since I am now committed to taking better care of my back (stretching exercises are on the program, for example).

This situation of God using a physician to heal someone after they have sinned is reflected in sacred Scripture. Though it is a passage that the Reformers cut out of the Bible, the principles it expresses are so good that I imagine most Protestant would wish it was in their Bibles for its value in combating health and wealth preachers:

“Honor the physician with the honor due him, according to your need of him, for the Lord created him; for healing comes from the Most High, and he will receive a gift from the king. . . . The Lord created medicines from the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them. . . . [T]he pharmacist makes . . . a compound. His works will never be finished; and from him health is upon the face of the earth. . . . My son, when you are sick do not be negligent, but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you. . . . And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him; let him not leave you, for there is need of him. There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians, for they too will pray to the Lord that he should grant them success in diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life. He who sins before his Maker, may he fall into the care of a physician.” (Sirach 38:1-2, 4, 8-9, 12-15)

In any event, there can be no disputing that God sends some people to be temporal saviors, for even the Protestant Scriptures flatly describe individuals in this manner:

“And the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he gave them continually into the hand of Hazael, king of Syria, and into the hand of Ben-hadad, the son of Hazael. Then Jehoahaz besought Yahweh, and Yahweh hearkened to him; for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them. Therefore Yahweh gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians; and the people of Israel dwelt in their homes as formerly.” (2 Kings 13:3-5)

“Nevertheless they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer; and in the time of their suffering they cried to you and you heard them from heaven; and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies.” (Nehemiah 9:26-27)

“The exiles in Halah who are of the people of Israel shall possess Phoenicia as far as Zarephath; and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall possess the cities of the Negeb. Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau; and the kingdom shall be Yahweh’s.” (Obadiah 20-21)

In each of these cases, God sends temporal saviors to deliver his people from the temporal consequences of their sins. We therefore have to say that God (and particularly Jesus Christ) is the only eternal Savior, but that numerous people are used by God to be temporal saviors.

5. FORGIVENESS AND FELLOWSHIP

With background in the concepts of temporal versus eternal salvation and temporal versus eternal saviors, we can proceed further in understanding the related biblical and Catholic teachings.

For example, we opened this paper with the statement from Proverbs 16:6 that love and faithfulness atone for iniquity. At the time we noted that the verse was referring to temporal atonement, and now that we have gotten a little more familiar (and hopefully more comfortable) with the Bible’s teaching on the subject, we are ready to delve into the meaning of Proverbs 16:6 a little more deeply.

The term that this verse uses for “atone” is kaphar, which is the ordinary Old Testament word for atonement. When this concept is viewed in relationship to salvation, it is atonement that brings about salvation. On the eternal scale, it was the eternal atonement of Christ that brought about eternal salvation for us, and on the temporal scale, it is temporal atonement that brings about temporal salvation, or freedom from the temporal consequences of sin.

In this case, the consequences of iniquity which love and faithfulness repairs is the constriction that is put on one’s relationship with God even if the eternal effects of the sin are forgiven. Protestants, especially those who assert that it is impossible to lose salvation, often stress the difference between forgiveness and fellowship. They will point out, rightly, that even when the eternal consequences of one’s sins have been forgiven, one’s relationship with God can still be impaired. Thus even though one is in a state of eternal forgiveness–what Catholics call the state of grace–one may still need to repent in order to restore one to fellowship, or at least full fellowship, with God.

Such impairment of one’s fellowship with God is, or course, a temporal rather than an eternal consequence of sin, and by repenting–by being faithful and loving under the impetus of God’s grace–the relationship one has with God will grow in strength and thus one’s level of fellowship with God will grow. It is in this sense that love and faithfulness atone for iniquity.

6. MIDDLE SALVATION

Thus far we have spoken of temporal and eternal salvation and their relationships to various doctrines, however the Scriptures also use another kind of language about salvation. We might call this the language of “middle salvation.”

Middle salvation is what happens when God uses one person as the agent of bringing eternal salvation to another. Thus by preaching the gospel, rebuking sinners, administering the sacraments, etc., one human may, under the providence of God, bring God’s grace of eternal salvation to another.

This language rubs many Protestants the wrong way, but in fact it is the language of the New Testament:

“Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order to . . . save some of them” (Romans 11:13-14).

“Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16)

“To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

“I, Paul, write this with my own hand, I will repay it — to say nothing of your owing me even your own self” (Philemon 19).

“Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).

“My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

“And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).

The fact is that, as these verses, show the Bible speaks of humans saving other humans not just with respect to temporal salvation (such as delivering them from physical disasters, illnesses, wars, etc.), but with respect to eternal salvation as well. Of course it does not mean that humans bestow eternal salvation on other humans the way Christ does, by meriting it for them, but it does mean that humans serve as agents of Christ in bringing his graces to others (a point Martin Luther makes very well in the section on baptism in his Long Catechism).

Yet for many Protestants this language is embarrassing and any talk of one mortal human saving another makes them extremely uncomfortable. Catholic have no problem, however, because they have not rejected this modality of biblical language in a drive to speak of salvation exclusively in terms of God’s actions.

8. GENERAL SALVATION

There is yet one final mode of speaking about salvation which needs to be noted. We will call this the “general salvation” mode of speech. When the general mode is being used, a person uses the term “salvation” without differentiating between temporal, middle, and eternal deliverance.

It would be a mistake to assume, merely because there are three kinds of saving spoken of in Scripture, that every use of the term “salvation” must refer either to one or the other. This would be as big a mistake as assuming that, because there are two kinds of humans –men and women–that in every use of the term “human” must either have in mind exclusively men or exclusively women. Just as the term “human” can have a general reference including both men and women without differentiation, so the term “salvation” can have a general reference including temporal, middle, and eternal salvation without having in mind any particular one of them exclusively.

This is, in fact, the sense of salvation that is behind some of the descriptions of God as “Savior.” In many passages, such as the ones we saw above, one particular aspect of his role as Savior may be in the forefront. He may in a given passage be spoken of as a Savior from temporal distress or as a Savior from eternal distress, but he may be spoken of as a Savior in a general sense without intending either kind of salvation he gives to be highlighted.

This mode of speech is found in Scripture, for example, when it speaks of humans participating in the sufferings and work of Christ:

“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5).

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).

“But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

This speaking of uniting our sufferings with Christ’s and sharing in his sufferings is something that Catholics talk about all the time, yet Protestants almost never do because they have almost totally lost the language of general salvation.

Humans do share in Christ’s sufferings in the sense that they are persecuted for the sake of Christ or because they suffer in the service of Christ, and both of these forms of suffering bring salvation to others. In the case of being persecuted for Christ it brings salvation to others for “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and in the case of suffering in the service of Christ one spreads the gospel and brings salvation to others.

In all these cases, however, ordinary humans are merely serving as temporal or middle saviors, not eternal saviors, as Christ is. Humans may bring temporal salvation to others by direct action (such as pulling them out of a flood) or by indirect action (such as praying for those in a flooded area). And they may bring Christ’s eternal salvation to others by direct action (such as preaching the gospel or administering the sacraments) or by indirect action (such as praying for conversions). But in no case do humans merit eternal salvation for others and thus serve as eternal saviors the way Christ does.

Catholics are entirely comfortable with this “general salvation” mode of speech, which is the one Paul is using when he says he “complete[s] what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” though Paul like modern Catholics know perfectly well that with regard to eternal saving Christ’s afflictions were not only not lacking anything but that they were superabundant in value for the salvation of the world.

Paul’s statement that he makes up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings is horrifying to Protestant ears, and if any Protestant heard a Catholic make such a statement (not knowing or remembering that Paul had said exactly the same thing in Scripture), he would immediately denounce the Catholic as a heretic due to his lack of familiarity with the Bible’s manner of speaking of salvation in a general manner, without differentiating the role an ordinary human is playing with respect to temporal, middle, or eternal salvation.

This is the reason Protestants hop up and down so much when they hear Catholics talking about Mary as a coredemptrix or the saints as playing a role in our salvation by their prayers. They fail to identify the fact that the language of general salvation is being used and that, as in the Bible, ordinary humans are being spoken of in a manner that does attribute to them a role in salvation but not the role of serving as eternal saviors, which is something only Christ can do. Mary and the saints do, like living humans, serve as temporal and middle saviors, though in their case they do this through indirect action only (i.e., through their prayers) since they are not on earth and cannot take direct action (such as pulling someone out of a flood, preaching the gospel, etc.).

Protestants similarly fail to recognize the language of general salvation when they read Catholic language about the sacraments. For example, professional anti-Catholic Dave Hunt has in the last couple of years been making a big deal about the fact that the first page of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (the first Vatican II document) states: “For it is the liturgy through which, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, the work of our redemption is accomplished” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 2). Hunt thus starts waving his arms and modulating his voice and declaring: “You see! The liturgy saves us! Vatican II preaches a false gospel from the very first page!”

Yet Hunt has gone wrong because he has failed to distinguish the language of general saving from the language of eternal saving. No Catholic theologian anywhere would say that the liturgy accomplished the work of our redemption the way Christ did on the cross, by meriting our eternal salvation. The Church has, as at the Council of Trent, been very explicit about the fact that the liturgy and the Eucharist in no way substitute or supplement what Christ did on the cross — that sacrifice being superabundant for all our needs. Instead, it is through the liturgy and the Eucharist that what Christ did on the cross is applied to us — playing a role with respect to “middle salvation” (either by applying to us eternal graces or by elevating our thoughts and reinforcing habit patterns such that we will cling to God’s gifts more tightly and pursue Christ more zealously), and Hunt has failed to recognize it because he, like most Protestants, has almost totally lost the ability to recognize the language of general salvation.

The same is also true when Protestants hear Catholics talk about indulgences and their basis on the merits of the saints. In fact, it is quite odd but Protestants seem to have developed their own language about this doctrine which they believe Catholics use, though in reality Catholics don’t.

For example, Protestants will say Catholic believe in something called “the transfer of merit,” but Catholics never use that term. I have specifically check with multiple Catholic theologians and apologists who have been Catholic all their lives, and none of them have ever heard of “the transfer of merit.” That is a Protestant phrase, not a Catholic one. Catholics will talk about, as part of the doctrine of indulgences, God being gracious to one Christian as a reward to a departed Christian (a saint), and thus on the basis of the saint’s merits (that is, the saint’s rewards — see the piece on Righteousness and Merit to understand this doctrine). But Catholics never speak of God transferring merit from one person to another.

In fact the old Catholic Encyclopedia happens to state: “Each good action of the just man possesses a double value: that of merit and that of satisfaction, or expiation. Merit is personal, and therefore it cannot be transferred; but satisfaction can be applied to others, as St. Paul writes to the Colossians (1:24) of his own works: ‘Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things which are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church'” (7:784).

In the same way, Protestants also talk about the treasury of merits consisting of Christ’s merits and the merits of the saints which are “more than what was needed for their salvation.” I’ve checked the official documents, and I can’t find anything like this language in them, neither does one encounter it in Catholic theological conversation. As a matter of fact, the official document discussing the basis for this doctrine (Pope Clement VI’s 1343 bull, Unigenitus) states: “to the mass of this treasure the merits of the Blessed Mother of God and of all the elect from the first just one to the last, are known to give their help.”

If a Catholic did use language to the effect of doing more than what was required for one’s salvation, it would not be a reference to doing what was required for one’s eternal salvation, since Christ did all that was needed and the minute one is justified one given eternal life, but it would be a reference to temporal salvation in the sense of removing the temporal barriers (divine discipline, penance, purification/sanctification in purgatory) between one and final entrance into glory. It would thus be a kind of “middle salvation” language.

In any event, one can see the endless confusion that has been caused in the minds of Protestants because of the loss of the ability to distinguish between the language of eternal, middle, temporal, and general salvation. It is truly tragic that those who pride themselves the most on fidelity to the Bible have in fact been unfaithful and forgotten the language of the Bible itself.

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