Passage from
Whereon to Stand
Concerning the Salvation of Non-Catholics

originally published 1946

by John Gilland Brunini

from The Mystical Body

As blood courses through the physical body of a man, so does sanctifying grace flow throughout the Mystical Body of Christ, going to all parts and all members who have kept the channels free. Since only through the Mystical Body can man become a member of the Church Triumphant, to win salvation, he must first be a member of the Church Militant.

Yet the Church does not interpret this truth to mean that only professed Catholics will reach heaven. She has always taught that nothing else is needed for salvation than an act of perfect love of God, which is charity. If this is true love it implicitly desires the sacrament of Baptism. Whoever performs this act of love, immediately receives, through “baptism of desire,” the gift of sanctifying grace. Thereby he becomes one of the children of God and should he die in this disposition he will assuredly attain heaven. At the same time, since one cannot truly love God unless he follows God’s will and is contrite for his sins, charity carries its own obligation. Should he, aware that God has commanded all to join the Church, remain outside her fold, his charity would become “sounding brass”; it would cease to exist.

There is a positive divine precept to belong to the true Church. By the institution of Christ, no one can be saved unless he is a member of that concrete, visible society which is the Catholic Church. This means actual, visible communion with her whenever this is possible. Meanwhile, it remains true that this communion is impossible for many who are kept from the Church by ignorance of which they are blameless; for many who are sincerely convinced that they are doing all God wills them to do; and for many, too, who are prevented by other circumstances for which they are not responsible.

Nevertheless, even when for such reasons membership in the true Church is impossible, there still exists the obligation under pain of damnation to belong to this Church by interior, spiritual communion. Men come to this communion by an act of perfect love of God—love of Him above all simply for His own sake or because of His supreme lovableness—and thus are in the state of grace. This communion with the Church into which they are drawn is of a spiritual nature, and one of which they, by the very nature of the case, are not aware. It is a spiritual communion with that visible society of the Mystical Body, animated by the Holy Spirit and united with Christ as its Head. It gives those who do not profess to be Catholics participation in its supernatural life, without which there is no salvation.

In the case of those whom God saves apart from her visible communion, the Church therefore teaches that He does so through the grace by which they are brought into spiritual communion with her. But she declares that their position is one through which they suffer by serious deprivations. Thus they cannot avail themselves of the ordinary channels of grace nor of countless means of sanctification which the Church offers them. When she asserts that she is the one, true Church and that salvation must be through her, she may be—and is—called harsh and intolerant. This is the harshness and intolerance of Christ Who said, “If you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sin.” She cannot be any less stern nor more compromising than He. Were she to declare that any road to heaven is good, rather than that there is only one, she would fail in the trust Christ reposed in her. Even where her claims are unwelcome and arouse antagonisms, she must make them, as she has in the past, come rack, come rope, come avalanche of stones.

This passage was taken from Return to Tradition: A Directive Anthology, ed. Francis Beauchesne Thornton, quoting Whereon to Stand, pp. 117-127.
See also Passage from The Catholic Encyclopedia, Passages from The Spirit of Catholicism, and Passages from Radio Replies.
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Created July 30, 2001; revised August 3, 2001.