If the question strikes the reader as strange, it should. But it should do so for only one reason, namely, because it implies that nasty modern habit of opposing things that are in no way opposed. It is a false either-or scenario.
The answer to the question is Yes; we were saved by Jesus Christ and by the Holy Trinity.
By “saved” in this question, we do not mean to imply the heresy of “once saved always saved,” whereby the individual Christian claims to have been saved once and for all without any further possibility of damnation. No, what we mean by the word is that objective work of salvation that has been accomplished already and must, in time, be applied to individual souls who need not only the grace of conversion and justification, but the gift also of final perseverance.
Although the concepts of “salvation” and “redemption” are slightly different, for our purposes, the question could speak of redemption as well. The concepts differ in that “redemption” implies being bought back from sin, whereas “salvation” does not necessarily imply this. The good angels, who had not sinned, were saved when they were admitted to the Beatific Vision, and Jesus is their Savior, too. But when we speak of fallen mankind, to be saved we must necessarily be redeemed.
Let us break the question up into two smaller questions: (1) Were we saved by Jesus Christ? And (2) Were we saved by the Holy Trinity?
To the first question, the answer is undoubtedly in the affirmative. We were saved by Jesus Christ. As the unique Mediator of human salvation, Jesus Christ both satisfied for our sins and merited salvation for us on the Cross.
Holy Scripture testifies to this truth. The Holy Name itself reveals Jesus’ saving mission: “Thou shalt call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Once He arrived, He was announced to the shepherds by the angels as a Savior: “For this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the City of David” (Luke 2:11). Still an infant, He is uniquely hailed by the venerable Simeon: “Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of peoples” (Luke 2:30). In His public ministry, He announced that He came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Perhaps most pointedly of all these, the Savior, speaking to Nicodemus of Himself in the third person, declares that, “God sent not His son into the world to judge the world; but that the world may be saved by Him” (John 3:17).
The Holy Apostles Peter and Paul add their testimony to this. First, the Prince of the Apostles: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver, from your vain conversation of the tradition of your fathers: But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). And: “Simon Peter, servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained equal faith with us in the justice of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1). Among the numerous passages from the Apostle to the Gentiles, we cite what he wrote to Saint Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief” (1 Tim. 1:15).
The Magisterium teaches that Christ redeemed and saved us:
The Nicene Creed says that Christ, “for us men and for our salvation descended from heaven and was made flesh.”
The Council of Trent, Session 5, Canon 3: “If any one asserts that this sin of Adam. . . is taken away . . . by any other remedy than the merit of the one Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath reconciled us to God in His own blood, made unto us justice, sanctification, and redemption, . . . let him be anathema.”
The Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 7: “[Christ,] by His most holy passion on the wood of the Cross merited justification for us and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father.”
Theologically speaking, as the “one Mediator” (Cf. 1 Tim. 2:5-6) between God and Men, it was the “theandric” merits of Christ on the Cross that saved us. Theandric, comes from the Greek words for God (Θεός – Theos) and man (ἀνδρὸς – andros), and means “of or pertaining to the God-Man.” What puts Christ in the unique place to be our Redeemer and Savior is that He can, as Man, undergo His saving Passion, but, He can uniquely do so as a Divine Person, whose acts carry an infinite weight.
The fact that Jesus Christ is the unique Mediator between God and man does not rule out the efficacy of intercessory prayer on the part of the Blessed Virgin or the other saints. In fact, Christ’s mediation makes their intercession possible, as Saint Paul suggests in 1 Tim. 2:1-5. Nor does the unique role of Christ in causing human salvation make individual Christians mere passive recipients of grace who are either incapable of cooperating, or not obliged to cooperate, in their own salvation.
Now to the second question: “Were we saved by the Holy Trinity?” Again, the answer is in the affirmative, and this is not a contradiction.
Isaias the Prophet foresaw the Messianic times when he said, “God himself will come and save you” (Is. 35:3). Inasmuch as human redemption and salvation constitute divine activity, the activity is common to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for there is a principle of Trinitarian theology which clearly states that all the works of the Trinity ad extra (outside the Trinity, i.e., in creation) are works of all three Persons. Multiple times in her history, for instance, the Church has taught us that the Divine Trinity brought about the Incarnation. Though only the Second Person was Incarnate “for us men and for our salvation,” the event of the Incarnation was an act of the whole Trinity.
Jesus was sent by the Father to accomplish His saving mission. This is affirmed numerous times in the Gospel of Saint John (a partial list of references: 5:36, 5:37, 6:39, 6:40, 6:44, 6:58, 8:16, 8:18, 12:49, 20:21). The Father’s sending the Son in time is a temporal embodiment of an eternal reality in the Trinity, namely, the generation of the Son from the Father. That the Father sends us a Savior immediately implies a saving causality on the part of the Father. Also, as one of the Holy Trinity, the Father, with the Holy Ghost (and yes, the Son, too) is the “recipient” of the Man-God’s self offering on the Cross, and grants that for which Christ the Victim and Priest has offered Himself, namely, forgiveness, grace, and salvation.
The Holy Ghost’s mission in salvation history is a temporal realization of His eternal procession from the Father and the Son (the Filioque). To the Holy Ghost, we appropriate acts of divine goodness and love. He is called “the Sanctifier,” and rightly so. His mission to sanctify is a continuation of the saving mission of the Son. The Holy Ghost completes the Trinitarian processions in eternity (as said Saint Basil the Great), and His mission in time has that same “finishing” or “completing” character. Therefore, we can say that the Holy Ghost saves us.
We call the Father the Creator, the Son the Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost the Sanctifier. There are good and solid reasons that these names are appropriated to the three Persons in this way. Yet it is also true that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost all created us, redeemed us, and sanctify us.
A close and careful reading of what the Council of Trent says of the “causes of justification” (especially what is said of the “efficient cause”) will also reveal that justification (without which we cannot be saved) is the work of the whole Trinity, while Christ’s passion is the “meritorious cause” of justification.
Before closing, I would like to address time as it intersects with salvation. Christ achieved salvation for us once and for all in His Passion. Saint Paul uses this fact to show Christ’s priestly superiority over the Old Testament priesthood: “But Christ, being come an high priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hand, that is, not of this creation: Neither by the blood of goats, or of calves, but by his own blood, entered once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:11-12). But the merits of Christ’s Passion are distributed to men a bit at a time, in a flow of graces fulfilling the prophecy of Isaias (12:3): “You shall draw waters with joy out of the saviour’s fountains.”
In both its “once-and-for-all” aspect and its gradual unfolding over time, human salvation is the work of Christ the High Priest (who is still a Mediator in Heaven; cf. Heb. 7:25) and of the Holy Trinity.
Very fittingly, Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité called Sister Lucy’s vision of the Trinity at Tuy the “Icon of the Redemptive Trinity.” In that image, which graces our sanctuary here at Saint Benedict Center, we contemplate the Trinity redeeming us, and the “grace and mercy” which still flow into us from the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. It is fitting that this image is situated over the altar, which is where Sister Lucy saw it in the chapel she was praying in then. For it is especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that the Holy Trinity still pours on us the gift of salvation.
“God indeed was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).