Salvation Is Received In Love, Not Knowledge

Salvation Is Received In Love, Not Knowledge April 4, 2023

Bicanski: Christ Saving Humanity (Adam) / Pixnio

Salvation is a wonderful gift from God. It given to us due to God’s love, but, because it is based upon love, it is received and experienced by us in and through our own love, the love which we give in return. Therefore, salvation comes to us through love, not knowledge, and this is something Christian doctrine has consistently recognized, even if it struggles to understand all the implications of this fact. How can you love someone you don’t know? How can you receive a gift if you do not know it is there?  That is, how can someone be saved by God’s love without knowing they are being saved and it is being done by God? Doesn’t that prove that knowledge is involved in salvation? Throughout the centuries, various theologians have explored these questions, and have provided various speculative answers to them. What most of those answers have in common is that they say what is important is that we react in accordance to the truth and goodness and grace which we know and understand; if we react positively to what we know, we will open ourselves to the transcendent, incomprehensible glory of God, and all that God is willing to give us out of love. Thus, while we might not know or understand that even God exists, we do have some understanding of truth, goodness, mercy and grace, and through them, we will be interacting with God. The more we receive such grace, the more we will be led further and further to the truth, until at last, perhaps in the eschaton itself, we will apprehend the truth of what was happening and so become enlightened by the grace which we have received. Thus such theologians know that however important Christian doctrine is, and to be sure, it is not unimportant, they had to find a way to get beyond the ideology suggested by the so-called gnostics, the ideology which suggests only those with special revelation of the truth can come to know the fullness of the truth and be saved, and so their response was to show the ways God could be at work beyond our comprehension.

Thus, in a sense various gnostics were right: salvation will bring with it an enlightenment, so that what was previously not understood will be realized. The difference is that such enlightenment does not have to happen within our temporal existence, indeed, for all of us, we will realize and apprehend the truth far greater in the eschaton than in temporality so that in the eschaton, we will all receive some kind of enlightenment. In our temporal existence, we can and hopefully will come to know or apprehend various elements of the truth. And, as has been said, insofar as we will for what is good and true, and accept and engage what we learn of it, letting it transform us into better people, we will be on the path of salvation; we will be open to the truth and the grace which comes from it.  Christianity, through the revelation given to it, states that all of this is connected to Jesus, for he, in himself is the truth; where the truth is found, Jesus likewise is to be found. Where Jesus is found, grace and salvation is to be found.

Now, because we do not have a full comprehension or understanding of the elements of the truth which we have been given, we can end up misinterpreting what we know, leading to all kinds of mistaken opinions. Such errors, even when we hold to them, does not in and of themselves, show we are turning away from salvation and risk perdition. For, we can still be open to the truth and grace, and with it, love, and so find ourselves engaging love, using it to help us further along the path of salvation. And if we continue to embrace such love all our lives we can receive the grace and salvation which we need, and through it, either in our temporal existence, or in the eschaton, find ourselves realizing the error of our opinions and accepting the truth when it is revealed to us. This is why St. Augustine, who was very concerned about keeping doctrines and dogmas pure, understood the faithful would know or understand them in various degrees, and those who had little real knowledge about them, and so held some views which were contrary to church doctrine, could still be saved:

On the other hand, many who glory in the cross of Christ and do not withdraw from the same way, though ignorant of those points which are so subtly debated, because not one little one perishes for whom He died, attain to the same eternity, truth, charity, that is, to a fixed, sure, and complete happiness where all things are clear to those who remain faithful, who see, and who love. [1]

We need to understand and accept our limitations. We cannot comprehend the truth. We will find ourselves in situations where we do not know what we should do. Similarly, we will find ourselves in various situation where we are weak and unable to do the good which we desire we should do. Grace reveals to us that both limitations do not need to get in the way of our salvation, for grace fulfills and perfects what we can’t do ourselves:

Divine grace is a good, a good that is given to man and not simply thought by him. As has been said above, man’s nature and his reason, which teaches him the moral law, are insufficient to bring about good in him, and so he has either to give it up altogether or to recognize that it exists outside and independently of human nature and reason, and it exists as an absolute and communicates itself to man from itself. The true good, the being which possesses in himself the fullness of good and the source of grace, is God. [2]

We do not know the internal disposition of another person. We do not know what they know or do not know, what they understand or do not understand, nor what weaknesses they have which prevent them from doing what they want to do. We do not know their intentions and how those intentions relate to the greater good. These are some of the reasons why we must not judge others, trying to determine for them their eschatological fate. We know God is for us, for everyone, and desires all should be saved. We know God will do all God can in order to save everyone, looking for whatever good a person has in them as a means by which to bring them healing and deifying grace. We can and should hope that God’s will will be done, after all, it is what we pray when we pray the Our Father, “thy will be done.” And so, we should hope that all will end up being saved, though if they are, this does not mean the process of salvation for any particular person will be easy.

Therefore the grace of Christ is at hand every day. It calls out and says to everyone without exception, ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,’ because he desires ‘all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ But if he does not call all universally but a few, it follows that not all are burdened by original sin and by present sin and that these words are not true: ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Nor would it be believed that ‘death has passed through all men.’ And so true is it that all who perish do so contrary to God’s will that God is said not to have made death itself, as Scripture testifies: ‘God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the loss of the living.’ [3]

God desires to bring all to salvation, to reveal to everyone the fullness of truth; it is not the revelation of truth, the knowledge of it and the ability to teach it to others, which brings salvation, but rather, salvation is what leads them to come to the truth face to face. This is not to say there is no value in study and learning the various truths which such study can reveal to us; indeed, the more we engage the truth, the more we discern some element of the truth, and love it, the more we open ourselves up to the grace which is connected to it.  But what we must do is remember that all such attempt to study and learn about the truth through study and reason is of secondary importance. Not everyone will have the same opportunity or ability to learn about the truth. What is important is that we are open to the truth. Even a small opening, a small desire for it could be enough for God to bring someone salvation.


[1] St. Augustine, “Letter 169 to Evodius” in Saint Augustine: Letters Volume IV (165 – 203). Trans. Sister Wilfrid Parsons, SND (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1955), 54.

[2] Vladimir Solovyey, God, Man & The Church. The Spiritual Foundations Of Life. Trans. Donald Attwater (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2016), 9.

[3] John Cassian, The Conferences. Trans. Boniface Ramsey, OP (New York: Newman Press, 1997), 472-3  [Thirteenth  Conference; Chaeremon].


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