by Jayson Brunelle
The Church teaches that “there is no salvation outside the Church.” This is a dogma of the faith, and must be given full assent of intellect and will by the faithful. But doesn’t it seem harsh and even arrogant to state that only Catholics will be saved? Let us set the record straight by stating that many persons, Catholics among them, possess a faulty understanding of the dogma. When the Church makes this assertion, it is simply stating that, objectively speaking, the only way to enter into the fullness of the beatific vision is through Christ and His Church. Christ began the work of redemption at the moment of the incarnation, where he reconciled humanity and divinity in his own person, and brought the work of redemption to completion by offering Himself as the spotless victim on the altar of the cross, taking our place and suffering for our sins. Christ makes eternal salvation possible to all, even those not in full communion with the Catholic Church, yet it is always through Christ and His Church that salvation is offered to such persons. Thus, one does not have to be a card-carrying member of the visible Roman Catholic Church to be saved. It remains true that without the incarnation and the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, there would literally be no possibility of salvation for anyone whomsoever. This is due to the fact that Christ merits mercy and forgiveness.
To better understand the Church’s official explanation of the teaching on the salvation of non-Catholics or even non-Christians, let us turn to the Church’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, also known as Lumen Gentium. Paragraph 16 states the following: “Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126); But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”,(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.”
From the passage reproduced above, it is clear that salvation is certainly possible for persons of all creeds. After all, Christ died for and redeemed all humanity. Essentially, as long as an individual adheres to the dictates of his or her conscience, which is nothing other than the voice of God Himself speaking in the soul, the possibility of salvation remains open to that person.
This is not at all to say that the Church’s missionary activity is not necessary, for Jesus Himself states in Matt 28:19, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.” We must never forget that the Church established by Christ, that is, the Catholic Church, contains the fullness of the truth and the fullness of the means of salvation. We should be eternally grateful to God for our Catholicity. Only the Catholic Church possess the fullness of the deposit of faith, and only the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of the means of sanctification and salvation. While it is true that the Spirit blows where the Spirit wills, and that the Spirit, while bound to the Sacraments, is not bound by the Sacraments, we must never underestimate the tremendous gifts that we have received through and from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the one and only true Church of Christ.