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Monday, January 17, 2011

Does the Catholic Church still teach "Outside the Church there is no salvation?"

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37


Question:
My Catholic grandma told me that the Catholic Church once taught that unless you were a Catholic you couldn't go to heaven.  Now it seems that the Church has changed its teaching.  Does the Catholic Church still teach "Outside the Church there is no salvation?"

This is a corollary to last week's discussion: if "indifferentism" (the belief that it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're moral) is a heresy, does it mean that only Catholics go to heaven?

Firstly, the Catholic Church has NOT changed its teachingExtra ecclesiam nulla salus.  Outside the Church there is no salvation.  This has been the constant teaching of the Church (proclaimed by Pope Pelagius as early as 585) and remains a dogma of the church, echoed and affirmed by Pope JPII. 

However, Extra ecclesiam nulla salus does not mean that only Catholics can be saved. The Church has never taught that non-Catholics and non-Christians are in hell.  In fact, I believe it is a heresy for any Catholic to declare someone to be in hell!  When our Catholic grandmas tell us, "Oh, yes, we definitely were taught that only Catholics were going to heaven" it is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the Church's constant teaching on this issue.

The purpose of the teaching is to tell us how Jesus makes salvific Truth accessible to all:  through His Body, the Catholic Church.  That is, The Catholic Church is "the single and exclusive channel by which the truth and grace of Christ enter our world of space and time" (Karl Adam, The Spirit of Catholicism, 179). Adam maintains, "though it be not the Catholic Church itself that hands them the bread of truth and grace, yet it is Catholic bread that they eat." And when they eat of it, "without knowing it or willing it" they are "incorporated in the supernatural substance of the Church."

Thus, if a Muslim, Jew, Atheist, Episcopalian, Baptist, etc is in heaven it is because they have accepted the Truth that was brought to them through Jesus, through His Body, the Catholic Church, whether they recognized it formally or not. 

"Acts 4:12 says that salvation is found in no one other than Christ, "for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." This verse and many others make it abundantly clear that Christ is the only Savior of the world. That is precisely why the Church says that its existence in the world is necessary for salvation: because we would not know of Christ had it not been for the Church." Source: here

The Catholic Church is the necessary instrument by which one can know Jesus.  Thus, without the Catholic Church no salvation is possible.  Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.


For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Catholic Bible online

Catechism of the Catholic Church online

Article on "No Salvation Outside the Church"
from "This Rock" magazine

Fr. Dwight Longenecker's (convert to Catholicism and now a Catholic priest!) article



"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

2 comments:

  1. > In fact, I believe it is a heresy for any Catholic to declare someone to be in hell!

    What does that have to do with the subject at hand? It is quite possible to believe that:

    1) "Without the 'Catholic Faith' it is impossible to please God."
    2) That real and natural water is absolutely necessary for salvation.
    3) That submission to the Roman Pontiff (ie accepting canon law) is necessary for salvation.

    ...and at the same time not have any certainty about the state of a given individual's soul at the point of his/her death. Not true?

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  2. Thank you for your comment.

    I have no disagreements with your points 1-3. 'Tis true what you say that I have no certainty about the state of a given individual's soul at the point of death. We can only be assured that they are in heaven if the Church discerned that they are.

    Which is why the Catholic Church has never declared anyone to be in hell. It simply is not ours to know.

    ReplyDelete