When it comes to the theology of salvation in Christianity, perhaps one of the biggest divides is between the Catholic concept of increasing in justification and the Protestant concept of justification as a single event. This divide is evident in the way each tradition approaches the question of how one is saved – is it a process or a one-time event? In this article, we will explore the differences between these two theological concepts.

The Catholic Concept of Increasing in Justification
Catholics believe that justification is a process that begins at baptism and continues throughout one’s life.1 This process involves cooperation between God’s grace and the individual’s actions to grow in holiness and righteousness. This cooperation is what Catholics refer to as “works”.2 The idea is that as the individual engages in good works, they grow in grace and their justification increases.3

Catholics also believe that justification can be lost through sin.4 If someone commits a mortal sin (i.e. a grave, deliberate offense against God), they are separated from God’s grace and in need of the sacrament of confession in order to be reconciled with God and increase in justification once again.

The Protestant Concept of Justification as a Single Event
Protestants, on the other hand, hold to the concept of justification as a single event that happens at the moment of faith in Christ.5 They believe that justification refers to the act of God declaring the sinner to be righteous based on the imputed righteousness of Christ.6

Protestants reject the idea that good works play a role in justification, arguing that they are a result of justification rather than a cause of it.7 They believe that good works flow from saving faith but are not necessary for salvation itself.8 Protestants also reject the idea that justification can be lost through sin, arguing that once someone is justified, they are always justified.

Comparison and Contrast
At first glance, these two concepts of justification might seem to be at odds with each other. However, there are some similarities. Both Catholics and Protestants believe that justification is necessary for salvation and that it is a result of God’s grace. Additionally, both agree that there is a need for cooperation between God and humanity.

The primary difference, then, is in the understanding of what happens after justification. Catholics see this as a process that continues throughout one’s life, while Protestants see it as a one-time event. Protestants focus more on the imputed righteousness of Christ, while Catholics focus more on the righteousness that is infused in the believer.

Another difference is the role of good works. For Catholics, good works are seen as necessary for justification, while for Protestants, they are not. There is also a difference in the view of sin and its effects. Catholics believe that someone can lose justification through sin, while Protestants believe that justification is always secure.

These two concepts of justification reflect broader theological differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. Though there are some similarities, the distinction between increasing in justification and justification as a single event has remained a point of disagreement. While both traditions hold to the importance of grace in salvation, they differ on the role of good works and whether justification can be lost. Ultimately, this disagreement highlights the complexity of understanding salvation in Christianity.

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1987
2 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2010
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1995
4 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1861
5 Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646
6 Romans 4:5-8
7 Ephesians 2:8-9
8 James 2:14-26