Cardinal Newman and the Supernatural Drama of Salvation
examined his conscience honestly after a fall into a mortal sin will recognize how the "no" to God involved in choosing a particular act, whether out of weakness or, worse, intentionally, shuts God out of the picture. We close the door on God, and he has been excluded from the drama of our life.
Does a man who looks at pornography on the internet to assuage his lust, or one decides to have an adulterous affair, or one who talks his wife into aborting their child have any "yes" to God left in him when he makes such choices and acts upon them?
If such a man looks honestly into his soul and does not rely upon some shallow dogma of "once saved, always saved," he will confront the horrible reality that engaging in mortal sin, with knowledge and consent, is an entrance into a horrible darkness that leaves a damned spot in the soul. And that darkness, that dark spot, stays in the soul, though one may neglect it or even forget it.
And there the spot festers, suppurating, befouling the soul. "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!" says the conscience, and yet it can do nothing about it on its own. The conscience cannot forgive itself. And the furies of conscience whirl about the iner mountains of the soul, the cliffs of fall as Gerard Manley Hopkins called them, while the fate of our soul, which has said "no" to God, hangs at the balance.
But forgetfulness, either through neglect or through suppression, does not out the spot. Reliance on a past "yes" of ours is of no avail. The darkness can only be overcome by a return, by a renewed "yes," to the merciful God to whom one has said "no."
While we have the ability to say "no" to God--which is something with us till our dying day--we cannot have assurance of salvation, unless through some sort of special revelation. And yet we are not therefore compelled to despair. This is because God gives us the grace to say "yes" anew to him.
"In one sense, indeed, you may take comfort from the first," Newman says, as "from the first you know [God] desires your salvation, has died for you, has washed away your sins by baptism, and will ever help you; and this thought must cheer you while you go on to examine and review your lives, and to turn to God in self-denial."
But this cheer and this hope we have is different from assurance of salvation. Newman continues to tell his flock that "you never can be sure of salvation, while you are here; and therefore you must always fear while you hope."
To believe in "once saved, always saved" is not authentic Christianity, but a corrupt form of it, one rejected by the Church in various ways, but most notably by the Council of Trent in its Decree on Justification.
As Aidan Nichols explains it in his excellent book The Shape of Catholic Theology, the Council of Trent saw the "supernaturalized life," as "life lived under grace in faith, hope, and love," and therefore presented "a more complex and subtle picture," than the "once saved, always saved" doctrine of the Protestant reformers such as Luther and Calvin. As Aidan Nichols explains it, the life of a Christian travels between "two poles."
In the drama of the Christian life, one pole is "absolute confidence in the goodness and mercy of God, mediated to us through Christ via the sacraments of the Church."
The other pole is "a fearful recognition of our weakness, the permanent possibility that we may reject this goodness and mercy."
For this reason, the "Catholic experience of justification would consist in an unconditional trust in the help of God, but within this trust, a genuine fear of separating oneself from God." This leads to "a conscious effort of union with God in prayer and penance."
This is authentic Christianity, in the words of Newman, "the true Christian state" of life.
As Newman describes it, an authentic Christian life will have the following dramatic elements: "A deep resignation to God's will, a surrender of ourselves, soul and body, to Him; hoping indeed, that we shall be saved, but fixing our eyes more earnestly on Him than on ourselves; that is, acting for His glory, seeking to please Him, devoting ourselves to Him in all manly obedience and strenuous good works; and, when we do look within, thinking of ourselves with a certain abhorrence and contempt as being sinners, mortifying our flesh, scourging our appetites, and composedly awaiting that time when, if we be worthy, we shall be stripped of our present selves, and new made in the kingdom of Christ."
Look at the action words that Newman uses: resigning, surrendering, hoping, fixing our eyes upon, acting, seeking, devoting, working, looking within, thinking, mortifying, scourging, awaiting . . . . This is a marriage with Christ, not a one-night stand with Christ.
That's the true Gospel, a dramatic life in Christ, not an instantaneous "once saved, always saved" experience.
Newman famously said that "in heaven, love will absorb fear; but in this world, fear and love must go together." And for that reason, "fear and love must go together; always fear, always love, to your dying day."
These are the words of a true Christian sentiment, and they are at the heart of the Christian drama: always fear, always love, to your dying day.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Justification, Salvation, once saved always saved, John Henry Newman
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