|ELCore.Net > Catholicity > The Salvation of Non-Catholics|
originally published 1938-1942
There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Churchwhich is, of course, quite a different thing. These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics “adore statues”; because they “put the Blessed Mother on the same level with God”; because they say “indulgence is a permission to commit sin”; because the Pope “is a Fascist”; because the “Church is the defender of Capitalism.” If the Church taught or believed any one of these things it should be hated, but the fact is that the Church does not believe nor teach any one of them. It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth. As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do....
536. Do you maintain that one is obliged to join your infallible, one, holy, catholic, apostolic, and indefectible Church, if he wishes to be saved?
If a man realizes that the Catholic Church is the true Church, he must join it if he wishes to save his soul. That is the normal law. But if he does not realize this obligation, is true to his conscience, even though it be erroneous, and dies repenting of any violations of his conscience, he will get to Heaven. In such a case, it would not have been his fault that he was a non-Catholic and God makes every allowance for good faith.
537. So I deserve Hell because I am a non-Catholic?
If you say, “I know quite well that the Catholic Church is the true Church, which God obliges me to join, but what of that!” then you deserve Hell. That would be a serious sin. But apparently you do not realize this obligation. Your position is based upon insfficient or false information, and this leads you to a wrong if sincere conclusion.
538. If one has to be a Catholic to get to Heaven I shall be glad to stay outside.
That is an absurd statement, for there is no eternal happiness outside Heaven. But I understand what you mean. You believe the Catholic Church to be wrong, and you will not do what you believe to be evil that good may come. But God does not want you to do that. Nor do I. As long as you believe the Catholic Church to be wrong, you are obliged not to join it. Yet if ever God gives you the grace to perceive its truth, you will be obliged to join it, no matter what the cost in renouncing your previous attachments.
539. If a Catholic leaves his Church, and outside that Church lives a good and devout life, could he be saved?
You give an impossible case. To live a devout life is to live a life devoted to God. Now no Catholic can have a really sufficient reason to doubt the truth of his Church. If doubts do come, he owes it to God to make sure of his position before he acts, and inquiry will show such doubts to be unfounded. If he leaves without such inquiry, he is to blame for throwing away the best of God’s gifts. If he inquires sincerely, he stays.
540. But what if he be fully convinced that the Catholic Church is wrong, even though his conscience be erroneous, would you blame him for leaving rather than violate his conscience by remaining?
I would blame him for allowing his conscience to become so convinced by insufficient reasons, and for not studying the grounds which absolutely guarantee the Catholic Church as the only completely Christian Church. His first difficulties should have led him to seek advice from competent guides.
541. So if a Catholic becomes a Protestant, he has no hope?
Whilst there is life there is always hope. Such a man may return to the Catholic Church, or at least die sincerely repenting of ever having left it.
542. Are Protestants free to leave the Protestant Church, yet Catholics not free to leave the Catholic Church?
One may always renounce error for truth; but no one is free to forsake truth for error.
543. Christ died for all. He did not say that we must all be Catholics.
Since Christ died for all, it follows that He wants all to belong to the one Church He established and endowed with His authority.
544. Many clever men have examined the Roman claims and have rejected them. They do not think it necessary to join the Catholic Church.
Equally clever men are convinced of its necessity. After all, there are clever men who reject Christianity itself, but that does not make the truth of Christianity uncertain. We cannot argue from the degrees of intelligence in those who accept or reject the Catholic claim. Such differences of human thought prove nothing except that men differ. The real question is not affected. We must study carefully the value of the foundations upon which the claim rests.
545. You said that a Protestant in good faith could be saved. Does not that admit that his religion is sufficiently true?
No. Such Protestants are saved not because of, but in spite of their erroneous religion. They have simply been true to a conscience which was erroneous through no fault of their own.
546. What are the conditions for the salvation of such a good Protestant?
He must have Baptism at least of desire; he must be ignorant of the fact that the Catholic Church is the only true Church; he must not be responsible for that ignorance by deliberately neglecting to inquire when doubts have perhaps come to him about his position; and he must die with perfect contrition for his sins, and with sincere love of God. But such good dispositions are an implicit will to be a Catholic. For the will to do God’s will is the will to fulfill all that He commands. Such a man would join the Catholic Church did he realize that that was part of God’s will. In this sense the Catholic Church is the only road to Heaven, all who are saved belonging to her either actually or implicitly.
547. Since Protestants can be saved, and it is ever so much easier to be a Protestant, where is the advantage in being a Catholic?
Firstly, remember the conditions of salvation for a Protestant. If he has never suspected his obligation to join the Catholic Church, it is possible for him to be saved. But it is necessary to become a Catholic or be lost if one has the claims of the Catholic Church sufficiently put before him. I myself could not attain salvation did I leave the Catholic Church, unless, of course, I repented sincerely of so sinful a step before I died.
Secondly, it is easier to live up to Protestant requirements than to live up to Catholic requirements. Non-Catholic Churches do not exact so high a standard of their followers as does the Catholic Church of hers. But that is not the question. It is much easier to be a really good Christian in the full sense of the word as a Catholic than as a Protestant, and surely that is what we wish. What advantages contribute to this? They are really too many to enumerate in a brief reply. The Catholic is a member of the one true Church established by Christ. He has the glorious certainty of the true Faith, and complete knowledge of the whole of Christian truth is much better than partial information, if not erroneous information. By submission to the authority of Christ in His Church he has the advantage of doing God’s will just as God desires. If he fails at times by sin, he has the certainty of forgiveness by sacramental absolution in the Confessional. He has the privilege of attending Holy Mass Sunday after Sunday, and the immense help of Holy Communion by which he may receive Our Lord Himself as the very food of his soul. He has the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Christ, by observing the precepts of fasting and mortification. He receives innumerable graces from Sacramentals and from the special blessings of the Church. He may gain very useful indulgences, cancelling much of the expiation of his sins which would otherwise have to be endured in Purgatory. And he is more loved by God in virtue of his being a Catholic even as God loves the Catholic Church more than any other institution on the face of the earth. In short, even as there is an advantage in being a Christian rather than a pagan, so there is an immense advantage in being a true Christian and belonging to the one true Church rather than to some false form of Christianity. Thus a good Catholic has many advantages over and above those possessed by a good and sincere Protestant. But, as I have remarked, if a Protestant begins to suspect his own Church to be defective, inquires into the matter, and becomes convinced that the Catholic Church is the true Church, he has no option but to join that Church if he desires to avoid the risk of eternal loss.
444. Is it necessary for salvation to become a member of the Catholic Church?
Since God sent His only-begotten Son into this world, and that Son established the Catholic Church, sending it to teach all nations, it is certainly necessary to be taught by that Church if one desires to save his soul. Christ said, “If a man will not hear the Church, let him be as the heathen.” Matt. XVIII., 17.
445. Do you assert that all people not members of the Roman Church are heathens?
I would not make such an assertion without due qualifications. The Catholic Church, of course, stands foursquare for the teachings of the Gospel. She accepts absolutely all that Christ says. And consequently, she accepts the words of Christ recorded in Matt. XVIII., 17, “If a man will not hear the Church, let him be as the heathen.” But to whom does the Church apply those words? She applies them only to those who clearly realize that the Catholic Church is the one true Church, yet who refuse submission and obedience to it. Therefore, she does not regard as heathens the vast majority of non-Catholics, for they have never clearly realized her truth. Full allowance is made for sincere yet mistaken people.
446. Religiously I am just nothing, and have never bothered about religion. Do you say that I am obliged to become a Catholic?
God has declared the Catholic religion to be necessary. And one who becomes aware of that must become a Catholic if he wishes to save his soul. But you adopt a peculiar position. You say you have never bothered about religion. Then it is most necessary that you begin to give your attention to the question. For example, you went to the bother of learning to write, you have bothered to learn the use of various things which are necessary to your earthly welfare. You know what those things are for. But surely it is man’s duty to know what he himself is for! And a man cannot know that unless he knows the fundamental truth concerning his origin, his nature, his destiny, and the moral law. The teachings of the true religion alone can provide the necessary knowledge, and a man is obliged to find that true religion. And you are robbed of excuse by the fact that a vast international Church like the Catholic Church is in this world, claiming to speak with the authority of God. Confronted with such a fact, every reasonable man would say, “Such claims are rather tremendous. At least, I’d better look into them and see whether there is any justification for them.” One who would note the fact, and simply not bother about it, is violating reason, and has only himself to blame if he wrecks his eternal destiny.
447. There is no need to join the Catholic Church in order to be saved. John III., 15, says, “Whosoever believeth in Him will not perish, but will have life everlasting.”
That particular text does not say that non-Catholics will be saved. It might avail if Christ had never said anything else. But He said much else. And whosoever really believes in Christ must accept every single thing He taught, and try to fulfill all that He commanded. For example, He said, “Unless your justice abound more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. V., 20. One could believe in Christ, yet make no effort to acquire the prescribed justice. That is why Christ said, “Not every one who cries: ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. VII., 21. It is evident that you cannot attach an unconditional and universal sense to the text you have quoted. They will be saved who so believe in Christ that they are prepared to accept and to fulfill all the conditions prescribed by Him.
448. There is nothing in those wonderful words of a privileged Church.
The same Christ who uttered those wonderful words also said, “If a man will not hear the Church, let him be as the heathen and the publican.” It is necessary then that those who believe in Christ should hear and obey His Church. And you must ask yourself whether you hear and obey any Church as your teacher and ruler in religious matters. Also you must ask yourself what Church Christ had in mind when He spoke. If you say that it is not necessary to obey any Church, you do not believe Christ’s word. And in that case you cannot be ranked amongst those included in the promise, “Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish.” The Church Christ had in mind was the Catholic Church; and once a man adverts to the fact, he must join her if he wishes to save his soul.
449. Gal. III., 28, says, “There is neither Jew nor Creek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
St. Paul was speaking there of the Catholic Church in which national and earthly differences are no obstacle to membership. Insofar as we are members of the Catholic Church, all other Catholics are our brethren. In our mutual faith there is neither Gentile nor Jew, neither German nor Frenchman, nor Italian, nor Irishman, nor American. We Catholics are all one in Christ Jesus, belonging to His mystical body, the Catholic Church. But you, as a Protestant, do not belong to the same Church as Catholics. You should. The text you quote and which says that we should all be one cannot possibly justify our continued separation and your remaining outside the Catholic Church. In reality, it is Protestantism which says that there are Jews and Gentiles, Englishmen and Germans, Dutch and Norwegians, for it permits religion to differ according to nationality. Where Catholicism has one religion for all nations, Protestantism sanctions as many religions as there are nations, and even variations and divisions within the one nation. The text you quote is really suicidal for Protestantism, and proves the necessity of Catholicism.
450. Would you presume to say that unless a man is a Catholic he is not serving Christ?
He is not serving Christ as Christ demands. But if he be ignorant of the full teaching of Christ through no fault of his own, he may be trying wholeheartedly to serve Christ, little realizing how mistaken are his ideas.
451. Surely this is disheartening to many who lead good lives and believe in Christ, yet cannot conscientiously accept the dogmas of Rome.
Since the Catholic Church is the one true Church to which God wills men to belong, it is impossible to hold out equal hopes of salvation to those who reject that Church and deprive themselves of all the helps she can give. And if some of my statements dishearten those outside the Church sufficiently to make them take an interest, inquire, and discover the truth, leading eventually to their becoming Catholics, I have done them a very great service indeed.
487. Will all those in heaven be Catholics only?
Good non-Catholics who, through no fault of their own, have never known the Catholic Church to be the true Church, and who die sincerely repentant of such sins as they have committed, will save their souls. But once they leave this life they will see the truth and gladly admit their mistake. They will then realize that the Catholic Church is indeed the true Church. In that sense all in heaven will profess the truth of the Catholic religion, whatever form of religion they mistakenly professed in this life. They will also, as is clear, admit that it would have been far better for them to have known the full truth whilst on earth, and to have had the use of so many more means of grace than they knew. Anyone who does realize the truth of the Catholic Church whilst he is in this life is obliged of course to become a Catholic even now.
488. That still means that non-Catholics are excluded from heaven.
It means that non-Catholics who attain heaven will cease to be non-Catholics once they are there. The Catholic Church teaches that non-Catholics in this world are mistaken in their religious views in so far as they diverge from Catholic teaching. She could not believe herself right without believing other and opposed Churches wrong. But though Protestants are mistaken, it does not follow that they realize this. If their lack of full knowledge be no fault of their own, their sincerity may save them. And in heaven they will see the full truth as they did not see it on earth. But it is surely better to be saved by doing the right thing, than to have to be excused from it on the plea of ignorance.
489. What do you mean by the clause, “If their ignorance be not their own fault”?
I mean that a man forfeits his right to salvation if his ignorance of his obligations be really through guilty neglect on his part. For example, a man might suspect that the Catholic Church is the true Church, yet deliberately put the thought aside and refuse to inquire further into the matter for fear lest he should become convinced of its truth. That man would, to say the least, be running a great risk, for he has not the will to find out God’s will, let alone do it, in a serious matter.
490. Read the enclosed statement by Cardinal Manning in 1864.
Speaking in the name of the Pope as supreme head of the Church and the instrument of Christ’s authority over men in spiritual things, Cardinal Manning said, “I acknowledge no civil power. I am the subject of no prince. And I claim more than this. I claim to be supreme judge and director of the consciences of men; of the peasants that till the fields, and the prince that sits upon the throne; of the household that lives in the shade of privacy, and the legislator that makes laws for kingdoms. I am the sole, last, and supreme judge of what is right and wrong. Moreover, we declare, affirm, define, and and pronounce it to be necessary to salvation to every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” Such are the words you send, and I subscribe to every one of them. They are but the logical application of Christ’s decree, “If a man will not hear the Church, let him be as the heathen.” Once one grants that the Catholic Church is the true Church, and that the Pope is the supreme court of appeal in that Church, the conviction embodied in the words you quote at once follows.
491. Do you not contradict that when you say that non-Catholics can get to heaven?
No. Cardinal Manning fully agreed that, if non-Catholics did not perceive an obligation to become Catholics, they would not be condemned for that for which they were not responsible; and that if they die repenting of such sins as they did consciously commit, they would save their souls.
492. How do you account for Proposition 17 in the Syllabus of Errors published by Pope Pius IX.?
In Proposition 17, Pope Pius IX. condemned this doctrine: “At least there is a well-founded hope for the salvation of all those who have never belonged to the true Church.” By condemning that proposition the Pope says that there is not a well-founded hope for the salvation of all those who have never been Catholics. But that does not mean that all non-Catholics are necessarily lost, and that none can be saved. The statement condemned by the Pope practically said, “Anyway, there is no real obligation to join the Catholic Church. One can be saved without that.” The Pope replies, “That won’t do. We cannot hold out hope of salvation to all who have refused to join the Catholic Church. If a man has never realized the obligation, God may overlook his mistake, and grant him salvation. But if a man has realized the obligation, and willfully refuses to join the Catholic Church, there is certainly no well-founded hope for the salvation of that man.”
493. That is merely your interpretation of the mind of Pope Pius IX.
Let me quote his own words from his Encyclical Letter on Indifferentism, Aug. 10th, 1863. “The Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church is well known. Those who obstinately and knowingly reject the authority and definitions of the Church, and persist willfully in remaining separated from the unity of the Church and from the Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter to whom the charge of the vineyard was committed by Christ, those cannot be saved.” Yet in the same letter he says, “We know that those who are invincibly ignorant of our holy religion, and who are prepared to obey God, earnestly observing the natural moral law engraven in the hearts of all men by God, can be saved by living an honest and just life with the help of divine light and grace. For God, who clearly discerns the minds and souls, thoughts and habits of all men, will not, in His goodness and mercy, permit anyone to be punished eternally who is not guilty of voluntary sin.” The Pope himself, therefore, clearly distinguishes between those who knowingly and willfully refuse to join the Catholic Church, and those who do not do so merely because they are not aware of the obligation to do so. And he admits that these latter can be saved.
These passages were taken from the three-volume set republished by Tan Books, 1979: see AddAll or Best Book Buys.
See also Passage from The Catholic Encyclopedia, Passages from The Spirit of Catholicism, and Passage from Whereon to Stand.
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Created July 30, 2001; revised August 5, 2001.