Protestants and Catholics profess different beliefs about how justification works. Let’s go with three realistic examples:
1a) An “evangelical” (sic) has a “born again” experience at the age of thirteen. He professes that he is saved for all time. The Catholic Church denies that this is how justification works.
2a) The evangelical is later baptized with water in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Catholic Church acknowledges that this Baptism *might* be valid, but it’s unclear whether it actually justifies a believer who remains enmeshed in culpable heresy or credulity. So the question of whether this Baptism justifies is, from the Catholic perspective, an open question to be assessed on an individual level (I guess). According to the evangelical, Baptism has no objective effect on his salvation.
3a) After his “born again” event and Baptism, the evangelical commits a serious sin. Practically all human beings do this at some point, so I do *not* regard this as a rare event. The Catholic says that the evangelical needs to repent of his sin in order to regain the state of justification (assuming he was ever justified to begin with). The Sacrament of Penance is necessary, which is unavailable in the evangelical’s Protestant sect. For his part, the evangelical is conflicted. He feels the urge to repent, which is only natural (*natural*, not even supernatural). But he also professes that he never fell out of the justified state.
In every generation, a number of Protestants become Catholic. They acknowledge the truth of the Catholic teaching on justification. So what do they do with their personal “salvation history”? In the situation above:
1b) Do they still think they were justified by their “accepting Jesus into my heart” moment?
2b) If so, do they just chalk up the “born again” event as Baptism of Desire? Or do they say they were justified at their (water) Baptism without knowing it?
3b) If they claim they were justified as Protestants, do they acknowledge losing the state of justification when they sinned mortally? Do they think they were restored to justification by their un-Catholic response to that sin?
If the convert thinks that his actions as a Protestant were efficacious, whether for first justification or for repentance and restoration to grace, doesn’t this mean that the Protestant account of justification is correct? If you can be justified doing what a Protestant does qua Protestant, then Protestantism is true and the Catholic Faith is false.
If you’re a convert from Protestantism to Catholicism, please let me know how you approach this subject, as well as what you were taught when you converted. Do you think that your conversion to the True Faith entailed a translation from a state of original or mortal sin to a state of grace?