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Can there be salvation outside of the Church?

What happens to a good person who is not a practising Christian?

By on Thursday, 19 July 2012

What happens to someone who is a good person but not a practising Christian? That was the second question put by my former parishioner, which I mentioned in the last post. 

This is a huge question, and one that has vexed theologians for a long time. It is also the one question that always commands immense attention whenever it comes up in discussions about the faith in a parish setting.

I do not want to go into the history of the question, or get into a footnote heavy discussion, but rather to provide a useful answer for the here and now.

First of all, there are a lot of good people about, people who never go to Church, and who seem to be able to live without religion, but who are nevertheless good people. It would be a mistake to deny that they are good, or to claim that their goodness is an illusion. But it would be true, I think, to say that their lives lack something.

Their lives lack an explicit spiritual dimension, though, in conversation with them, one might find that they do have some spiritual awareness, though this may be rather unfocussed. What we as Christians should try to do is to engage with them on this wavelength and see if we can find something explicit in this implicit spirituality.

Their lives clearly lack an explicit faith in God, and this, though they may not realise it, means that they lack something important, namely God’s approval. Ignorance is never pleasing to God (how could it be?) and God wants to be known and loved by all; therefore if someone does not know God, this is a serious lack in their life. Yet, even though God does not approve of their ignorance of Him, we cannot say that God does not love them. God is love. Moreover, God loves human goodness, and therefore he looks kindly on all those who live good lives. Their goodness is not illusory: God, looking at their good deeds sees and loves in them what he sees and loves in Jesus Christ His Son, the Virgin Mary and all the Saints.

And yet we are told in the Scriptures and in the constant tradition of the Church that salvation is of Christ the Lord and that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Outside Christ there is no salvation. This cannot be denied. I could quote numerous verses of Scripture to back this up – but I would rather just point to the whole of Scripture as bearing witness to Christ and salvation through Him.

Could these good people who do not know Christ explicitly, or who may have heard of Him but not responded to Him (at least not explicitly), could they somehow be people who belong to Christ without really knowing it themselves?

This is the usual answer to the question, one associated with the theology of Karl Rahner and his theory about what he calls “anonymous Christians”.

But I would prefer not to get stuck into Rahner, much as I think he was onto something of importance in his theory, even though it has its difficulties. I would rather go with the idea I once heard advanced in a sermon on Our Lord’s words about the vine and the branches. Some branches are clearly and visibly grafted onto the vine; other branches may be hanging onto the vine despite the fact that they have seemingly been broken off, yet they are part of the vine still.

Thus there may be baptised Christians fully participating in the life of the Church; and baptised Christians who seemingly are cut off, but are hanging by a thread or two, and receiving the grace of Christ. But it goes further: the grace of Christ in its operations transcends the physical structures of the Church. There may be those who participate in the grace of Christ without having any visible connection with his Church at all. Nevertheless that connexion may be real and effective.

I may have dug myself into a terrible hole over this, but I would stress one last thing. If someone, like my questioner’s son-in-law, is a good person who never goes to Church, and who seemingly has no need for or interest in religion, we should view this state of affairs as a challenge. We should not think he should be left as he is, but try our best to engage with him and to bring him into the Church. That must be the will of God, who, after all, founded the church to be the Ark of Salvation and a house of prayer for all nations.

  • rjt1

    We don’t claim exemption from having to suffer evils but, for us, they are redemptive.

  • rjt1

    Perhaps we cannot explain it fully because it is, as Dennett says, an enigma.

  • karlf

    I was disputing your belief in a God of love – a logical incompatibility has been demonstrated there

  • http://www.catholicyouthwork.com Catholic Youth Work

    As with all your other posts, that doesn’t answer the question at all. 

    Where do the concepts of absolute ‘good’ and ‘bad’ come from? They are sovereign concepts which has to mean something…

  • rjt1

    Only if you assume that a God of love would remove all evil, but that is precisely what I think is both indemonstrable and unlikely.

  • karlf

    As I said earlier, you think that, not because it makes sense, but because 
     you want to carry on believing your fantasy of a loving God

  • karlf

    I answered your question perfectly well. Humans have feelings and we natural empathise with others, as do other animals. We recognise the suffering of other as a bad this and base our morality on that. We, unlike God, naturally try to stop the suffering of those we encounter.

  • JByrne24

    “Can there be salvation outside of the Church?”
    ## No.”

    Well thanks for that Parasum, my hyper-knowbick, omni-cognick colleague. Theologians may have racked their (often very good) brains about it for many centuries ……but there we have it!    At long last THE ANSWER: “42″, oops sorry, I mean “NO”.

  • JByrne24

    We (my wife and myself, at different Catholic Grammar schools 200 miles apart and separated in time by about 4 years) were both taught that Adolph Hitler would quite probably be in Heaven.
    He honestly thought that what he was doing was the right and proper thing – they told us (at the schools – both run by religious orders).

    So (I say to myself) when I read things on this website (and elsewhere) about the Catholic faith and say “bollocks”, I say (to myself) I COULD still (possibly) be saved (maybe). 
    I do take this seriously – as I would really prefer to be in Heaven than in Hell. I’m sure that, if I were (in Heaven), then earplugs would be provided, if I asked for them.

  • JByrne24

    karlf’s questions are good ones.

  • TPJ

    This is heresy, a contradiction of the dogma ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ (outside the Church there is no salvation).

    ‘Unless one is born of water and the Spirit [through water Baptism], he CANNOT see the kingdom of Heaven … He who does not believe is CONDEMNED already’. (Jesus, John 3)

    ‘There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which NO ONE AT ALL is saved.” (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215)

    ‘NO ONE, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, NO ONE, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.’ (Pope Eugene IV, Bull Cantate Domino, 1441)
     

  • Jonathan West

    In the light of the clerical abuse crisis, what gives you reason to think that salvation is to be found inside the church?

  • teigitur

    I think most people of belief recognise the position of people who do not. But, as I am sure I have said before, many people who say they have no belief, when a little digging is done , turn out to be agnostics and not atheists.
     I would love to go to one of those meetings, but I have never heard of one around here.
      On quite another subject Damo, I m off to Ireland on thursday for twelve days. Looking forward to giving my liver a pounding, and attending an EF Mass of course.

  • JabbaPapa

    This is heresy, a contradiction of the dogma ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ (outside the Church there is no salvation).

    Nope.

    The ecclesia being referred to is the Universal Church of the Saved.

    The doctrine actually means that ALL of the Saved belong to the Celestial Church of the Christ in Heaven, without exception. There are no special Heavens set aside for the righteous among the Jews, or any others whom God in His Sovereign Will may decide to save from the clutches of Hell.

    This is not some sort of modernist revisionist interpretation — that is the meaning of the doctrine as it has been taught throughout the centuries. Your own interpretation is the more modernist one, as it was provided by the highly conservative 19th century Catholicism of Colonialist Europe.

  • TPJ

    You’re right, but in a manner that you probably haven’t seen.

    Salvation is to be found only in the true Church, not in the counterfeit, homosexualised Vatican II ‘church’ presided over by antipopes and invalidly ordained clergy. God allowed this faithless, judaized sect to fall into such gross sexual sins in order to help souls of good will see through their deception. He is also punishing these heretics for their apostasy, as per St Paul’s brilliant analysis of what happens when God withdraws His grace from atheists (Romans 1).

    There are very, very few true Catholics left in the world today. But however small our numbers, we constitute the Church Militant on earth. We long and and groan for a valid Pope, true bishops and priests. Visit the website of Most Holy Family Monastery to learn more.

  • TPJ

    There is only one ‘ecclesia’, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church which true Catholics profess in the Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed. Outside of this there is no salvation.

    ‘Whoever wishes to be saved, needs above all to hold the Catholic faith; unless each one preserves this whole and inviolate, he will WITHOUT A DOUBT perish in eternity.’ (Council of Florence, Session 8, ex cathedra)

    There are no ‘righteous’ Jews. That’s make-believe. All who reject Jesus die in their sins (Jn 8.24) and go to Hell. If you had any true charity in you, you would preach this.

    God has told us infallibly how He applies the principles of salvation. You formally reject His teaching in favour of your own cosy, universalist religion posing as Catholicism, and you blaspheme the constant teaching of the Church by describing it as ‘a modernist interpretation’.

    Quote the Scriptures and the Magisterium if you wish to disagree. Your own heretical opinions are of no interest.

  • Brendan Wall

    In St. Mathew’s Gospel, chapter 25 we read of those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, etc. and did not know they were doing it to Christ. Surely many of those among us today who did not know they were serving Christ but nonetheless showed responsible love to their neighbour will be counted among those who hear the words “Come ye blessed of my Father”

  • Bac3864

    TPJ – your comments worry me. Like Rome you seem to be obsessed with sexual sin. If the church could only see that there is great sin in the world beyond sexuality.

  • Badger

    Thankfully TPJ the God of Love doesn’t think like you do.

  • TPJ

    No, you’re incorrect here. The Church (and I’m not talking about occupied Rome) doesn’t regard sexual sins as the worst sins by any means. The worst sins are the sins against the faith, i.e. heresy, schism and apostasy. These destroy the faith in a man’s soul, cut him off automatically from the Church, and place him beyond all reach of salvation unless recanted before death.

    That’s why it is supremely important for true followers of Jesus to expose the man-made theories of salvation presented on this webpage. Yes, we’ll be hated and abused by false ‘Catholics’ for simply stating what the Church has always and everywhere taught in her magisterial authority. But this can only earn us the greater merit.

  • JabbaPapa

    Been a long time since I’ve been accused of “heresy”, and you’re entirely wrong about that BTW, and it’s nearly always some ultra-traditionalist who does so.

    You falsely believe that good doctrine is made of words, but in fact it resides within the living Revelation of God.

    Having argued with literalists on multiple previous occasions, I am well aware that the usual trick is to take a couple of phrases out of context, often from some very poorly achieved 19th century modern translations, and to utterly ignore the context and details provided by the dogmas, totally ignore any contrary clarifications no matter how infallible they may be, blithely unaware as they are that theirs is an entirely Protestantised approach towards the doctrine, and that literalism is itself a manifestation of the Modernist heresy.

    I’m NOT contradicting the constant teaching of the Church given that I have described it — I am contradicting YOUR extremist interpretation of that doctrine.

    The righteous Jews are described in the Book of Apocalypse, for starters.

    God’s Sovereign Power to provide the Grace of Salvation to whomever of His own Choosing is unlimited by any mortal means whatsoever, but your interpretation contradicts this Omnipotence of our Creator, and it is therefore formally in a state of Error.

    It is NOT what the doctrine teaches either — though some modern translations of the doctrines do spread this sort of false interpretations among the Faithful.

  • TPJ

    But you are an outrageous heretic, a total modernist! And the fact that no one has pointed this out to you for a ‘long time’ simply shows how few genuinely faithful and, charitable Catholics you know. You need to get out more. Meanwhile, the Catholic Herald should ban you for seeking to subvert its professed raison d’être as a faithful organ of  Catholic journalism. Let me prove my contention:

    ‘Good doctrine’, you write, ‘is not made of words’. Yes, I agree, but it is enshrined in them. We are not angels; the Church has to use language to define precisely the doctrines she has received. And these statements are not to be explained away in some modernist game of words.

    ‘That understanding of sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must NEVER be a recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding.” (Vatican Council, Sess. 3)

    Magisterial teachings like this are directed precisely against modernists like you. For it is under ‘the specious name of a deeper understanding’ that you interpret the dogma ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ to mean ‘ALL of the Saved belong to the Celestial Church of the Christ.’ What is this but effectively to stand the Church’s dogma on its head and rewrite it as ‘extra salutem nulla ecclesia’ (outside salvation there is no church)?

    You also give yourself away by your modernist neologism, ‘living Revelation’. For what Pope, Saint or Church Council ever used such a dangerous phrase, highly reminiscent of Error 5 condemned by Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus? What exactly is the true Church supposed to believe in anyway — dead Revelation?!

    You can quote neither the Magisterim nor Scripture in support of your heresies. When you attempt to do so, the result is laughable. Take this nugget: “the righteous Jews are described in the Book of Apocalypse”. Oh, really? Where exactly? Would it perhaps be at 2:9 or 3:9, where they are described as the Synagogue of Satan?! Perhaps you could enlighten us all on your new biblical discovery.

    Finally, yes it’s true, God does indeed control the mechanisms of salvation fully, from beginning to end. But having determined once and for all how they are going to operate and infallibly communicated this information to us in His Revelation, He’s hardly going to contradict Himself and change the rules, is He? We must ALL be baptised in water in the name of the Blessed Trinity, to free us from Original Sin and incorporate us in God’s Church. We must ALL continue to profess until death the theological faith received in baptism. We must ALL live in communion with the members of the Church. And we must ALL repent of any mortal sins we commit. No exceptions.

  • Jonathan West

    How can you tell that they are the schismatics and you are the true church?

  • Oconnord

    First off, hope you have a good stay. I’m sure you’ll have a good one, meeting old friends and visiting old haunts. I could point you towards an Atheist Ireland meeting during your visit. But I’m not a member, so I’d just be given you info from their site. Although not knowing me is certainly a good thing in a few pubs in Dublin!

    Again I came off far harsher than I intended. I did not want to accuse anyone of a lack of empathy. It just seems apparent that there are two mindsets so different that one can never really understand the other. Just as your faith is inherent in your very being.. I am utterly lacking any sense of spirituality. No one will ever be able to change our minds. You said “ when a little digging is done , turn out to be agnostics and not atheists.” But of course I also fall into that category, technically. But you must remember we are also agnostic about Thor, Jupiter.. etc. It is not any admittance of your god, simply an acknowledgement of the boundaries of logic. 

    You said before that everybody has a god sized hole in their heart, (although I did lead you towards that phrase), but it is not true. Thankfully I’ve always had the option of saying that I have never believed in, or needed a god. And I’m not arrogant enough to think I’m exceptional, just lucky to live in the right time and place.  

  • JabbaPapa

    But you are an outrageous heretic, a total modernist!

    What absolute RUBBISH !!!!

    And the fact that no one has pointed this out to you for a ‘long time’
    simply shows how few genuinely faithful and, charitable Catholics you
    know.

    You are fantasizing, and these inventions out of thin air do you no credit whatsoever. Oh, and you’ve insulted several of my friends, quite a few of whom are ardent supporters of SSPX by the way.

    The doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus has been described, since immediately after its declaration around 1500 years ago as both a tautology and a truism — and in fact that is where its infallibility is derived from. It is the expression of the truth, pure and simple.

    YOU are the one having to jump through all kinds of logical hoops to try and justify your false interpretation of it — and you’re the one trying to impose limitations on God’s Sovereign Authority.

    The *reason* why the doctrine is infallible is that Salvation and the Celestial Church of the Christ in Heaven are directly synonymous. They are one and the same thing, and no salvation exists elsewhere.

    You are confusing the Celestial Church of the Saved with the Earthly Church.

    As for living, it’s an adjective. The doctrine resides in Revelation.

    You are UTTERLY mistaken when you describe me as a “modernist” or a “heretic”.

    Sorry if I don’t subscribe to the modern interpretation of that doctrine, which you seem to prefer — my interpretation of the doctrine is derived from the traditional theological explanations from Antiquity and throughout the Mediaeval and earlier modern history, not your revisionist 19th century stuff.

  • teigitur

    Tanks Damo,( note the lack of H)! I intend to haunt far and wide.
     Oh, and you surely are exceptional…………………lol

  • TPJ

     

    Any Catholic with a vestigial knowledge of the faith can see
    that you’re a clueless heretic unable to quote the Magisterium or
    Sacred Scripture in support of your incoherent ramblings and unable even to follow simple Catholic arguments. Nor are your friends your real friends if they fail to
    correct your outrageous heresies. So what if they are ‘ardent supporters of the
    SSPX’? Does that make them models of orthodoxy? This pseudo-traditionalist  Society actively  embraces several errors against the faith, including
    the man-made doctrines of Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood, both of which
    undermine the doctrine ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’.

     

    You seek to void the meaning of this maxim taken from the writings of St Cyprian of Carthage
    by claiming that it’s a truism which equates the Church Glorious with Salvation,
    but says nothing about its relationship with the visible Church Militant on
    earth, membership of which is indispensable for salvation. Now what a pointless
    doctrine that would be! It would tell us absolutely nothing about how we should believe
    and act on this earth, which is the whole point of having a visible, magisterial
    Church in the first place.

     

    In fact, it’s clear that you don’t see the point of the Magisterium
    at all. For if, as you claim, the basis of an infallible teaching is its
    self-evidential nature (a ‘truism’ or ‘tautology’) and not the supernatural assistance
    of the Holy Spirit protecting the Church from error, then the Magisterium
    possesses no raison d’être.

     

    And what on earth is this “19th
    century revisionist stuff” that I’m supposed to adhere to? Please enlighten me.
    Or do you have no idea what you’re talking about either?

  • Oconnord

    Or just special???

    Repeat after me.. 33 an a 1/3… without a single “H”

  • JabbaPapa

    Supra quae propitio ac sereno
    vultu respicere digneris; et
    accepta habere, sicuti accepta
    habere dignatus es munera pueri
    tui justi Abel, et sacrificium
    patriarchae nostri Abrahae, et
    quod tibi obtulit summus
    sacerdos tuus Melchisedech,
    sanctum sacrificium,
    immaculatam hostiam.

    Oh, and you’re talking bollocks BTW

  • JabbaPapa

    For if, as you claim, the basis of an infallible teaching is its self-evidential nature

    It’s perfectly acceptable, socially, to write down “I don’t understand” when you don’t.

    ie — bollocks, I never said anything of the kind

    You seek to void the meaning of this maxim taken from the writings of St Cyprian of Carthage
    by claiming that it’s a truism which equates the Church Glorious with Salvation,
    but says nothing about its relationship with the visible Church Militant on
    earth, membership of which is indispensable for salvation.

    No I bloody well don’t, you nincompoop.

    Any Catholic with a vestigial knowledge of the faith can see
    that you’re a clueless heretic unable to quote the Magisterium or
    Sacred
    Scripture in support of your incoherent ramblings and unable even to
    follow simple Catholic arguments. Nor are your friends your real friends
    if they fail to
    correct your outrageous heresies. So what if they are ‘ardent supporters of the
    SSPX’?
    Does that make them models of orthodoxy? This pseudo-traditionalist
     Society actively  embraces several errors against the faith, including
    the man-made doctrines of Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood, both of which
    undermine the doctrine ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’.

    Ah OK gotcha — you are in fact straightforwardly heretical in the Protestantised manner.

    Well, unless of course you’re just the Usual Suspect with a fresh sockpuppet.

    Boring !!!!

    Anyway, thanx I guess for signifying to me so clearly that you’re not worth talking to.

    A *real* timesaver !!!!

  • JabbaPapa

    Looks like being a troll.

  • TPJ

    Last post to you, and a short one at that, as you’re clearly a heathen of bad will, and also because CH is on a witch-hunt against me for daring to promote the Catholic faith on its pages.

    Baptism is a dispensation of the New Testament, not of the Old. It was not required even for the Holy Innocents or the Good Thief. But once Jesus had undergone the Sacrifice of His Passion, it became necessary for all men, in accordance with Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: ‘Unless a man is born through water and the Spirit, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.’ (Jn 3.3)

  • Neale Walsch

    According to Dr. Jeffrey Long who has chronicled hospital testimonials of Near death experiences (see youtube NDE video) God does not care what religion one is but whether one lives in a beneficial way to others. This is the testimonial of the majority of NDE survivors. They also claim that Hell is not a physical place but a state of ungodliness that we ourselves create both in this life and the next and that in both cases we have free will to change that.

  • rjt1

    Well, I suppose you can think what you like

  • rjt1

    They are interesting questions. They have been looked at by some of the greatest minds. Thomas Aquinas wrote a whole treatise on it (de Malo)  

  • karlf

    If that’s you best answer you can understand why I do

  • aearon43

    “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”

  • aearon43

    Don’t listen to him.

  • No name Jane

    Catholics believe baptism is necessary for salvation.
    VATICAN II declared this in #7 of it’s decree Ad Gentes:
    “Therefore, all must be converted to Him, made known by the Church’s preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself “by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door. Therefore those men cannot be saved, who though aware that God, through Jesus Christ founded the Church as something necessary, still do not wish to enter into it, or to persevere in it.” (Dogmatic constitution by Vatican II: Lumen Gentium 14) Therefore though God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6), yet a necessity lies upon the Church (1 Cor. 9:16), and at the same time a sacred duty, to preach the Gospel. And hence missionary activity today as always retains its power and necessity.”

    We need to be less apathetic to salvation!