Friday, June 26, 2009

No Salvation Outside the Church after Vatican II

It is after Vatican II that we get the most distinct statements of the Church's teaching on “No Salvation Outside the Church.” This is also the period of Church teaching that is most often ignored or brushed aside by those who attempt to force their own interpretation on the teaching of the Church.

Now, two other big questions arise. How will the catechumens, or better still, all those who do not know the Gospel and the Church, be saved? This is the first question, and an enormous one. The other is this: Do sinners, who are not in God's grace, belong to the Church? We will not answer these questions here, for that would involve distinctions and details requiring long and careful consideration. We will simply say, with regard to the first, that a person can belong to the Church in reality, or in voto virtually, by desire (as the catechumens) or even by properly directing a life that may be deprived of any explicit knowledge of Christianity, but that is, because of the person's moral uprightness, open to a mysterious mercy of God. That mercy can link to mankind saved by Christ, and therefore to the Church, all the immense multitudes of human beings "who sit in the shadow of death," but who are themselves created and loved by the divine goodness. (Paul VI, Voi Forse Sapete)

Paul VI raises two questions, which he says he is not going to answer here. Nevertheless, he offers us a thought concerning each one. The first question is this: How will catechumens, or those who are ignorant of the Church be saved? The second question is whether sinners, who do not have God's grace, belong to the Church.

As he says, he does not really answer the first question, because he does not tell us precisely HOW catechumens and those who do not know of the Church can be saved. Nevertheless, he gives us a general detail concerning their salvation. In regard to catechumens, they are joined to the Church by desire, and thus are able to saved even if they die still as catechumens. Likewise, those who do not know of the Gospel or the Church can be a member of the church by properly directing a life deprived of any explicit knowledge of Christianity, and thus can be saved even if they die still in this state.

Summarizing, Paul VI describes three ways in which one can belong to the Church: 1) in reality, i.e., having received baptism by water. 2) by desire, as catechumens. 3) By “properly directing” a life, even a life deprived of any explicit knowledge of Christianity. This is the same thing we saw in Lumen Gentium. Someone who properly directs his life insofar as is in him, even if he is deprived of a knowledge of the Church, is yet joined to the Church in some mysterious manner, and thus can be saved.

“The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.” (JPII, Redemptoris Missio)

Pope John Paul II explicitly states here that salvation is granted even to those who do not explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Rather, he makes the argument that since salvation is something universal, it must be offered to all. But not everyone is able to explicitly believe in Christ or enter the Church. Hence “salvation in Christ” is accessible to these people by a grace which does not make them formally part of the Church.

This quote is very important because it makes clear that the teaching of the Church is not that God gives everyone the possibility of entering the Church, and thus of being saved, but in fact there are those who do not even know about the church, who may yet be saved through Christ. For those who stubbornly deny this, I give another quotation from John Paul II:

“Normally, it will be in the sincere practice of what is good in their own religious traditions and by following the dictates of their own conscience that the members of other religions respond positively to God’s invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even while they do not recognize or acknowledge him as their Saviour.” (

Notice that he quite explicitly says that they receive salvation EVEN WHILE they do not recognize him as their saviour. Here is another quotation for those who are fond of opposing the early statements on “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” against the current Church interpretation:

“Since Christ brings about salvation through his Mystical Body, which is the Church, the way of salvation is connected essentially with the Church. The axiom extra ecclesiam nulla salus"--"outside the Church there is no salvation"--stated by St. Cyprian (Epist. 73, 21; PL 1123 AB), belongs to the Christian tradition. It was included in the Fourth Lateran Council (DS 802), in the Bull Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII (DS 870) and the Council of Florence (Decretum pro Jacobitis, DS 1351). The axiom means that for those who are not ignorant of the fact that the Church has been established as necessary by God through Jesus Christ, there is an obligation to enter the Church and remain in her in order to attain salvation (cf. LG 14). For those, however, who have not received the Gospel proclamation, as I wrote in the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, salvation is accessible in mysterious ways, inasmuch as divine grace is granted to them by virtue of Christ's redeeming sacrifice, without external membership in the Church, but nonetheless always in relation to her (cf. RM 10). It is a mysterious relationship. It is mysterious for those who receive the grace, because they do not know the Church and sometimes even outwardly reject her. It is also mysterious in itself, because it is linked to the saving mystery of grace, which includes an essential reference to the Church the Savior founded.” (

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