Friday, March 21, 2008

Salvation Outside the Roman Catholic Church

Andrew's post pondering various aspects of ecumenism inspired me to jot down this concept that I've meant to write for a while.

In response to the question (is there salvation outside the Church) Catholics have, in ages past, responded unequivocally in the negative. The Second Vatican Council and more recent ecumenical endeavors have, of course, asserted that non-Catholics may too end up in Heaven.

Without ignoring the apparent contradiction here, I would like to call to mind the very day of resurrection at which point, by faith in Jesus every man has the opportunity to be saved - right? (I'll assume evangelical theology for the time being).

Before Christ rose from the dead, was salvation possible? We could rightly say no in a certain sense. Salvation was made possible by His resurrection therefore it was not possible until calvary. In the same way - salvation is made possible by the Church and no one is saved until they enter the Church.

It is important here to speak of the exceptions. We know by divine revelation (if not raw common sense) that at least the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets made it to Heaven. How could they without calvary? They didn't believe in Jesus Christ --- per se. They never said the sinner's prayer and made Him Lord of their life. But how could they? Christ had not yet come. Could/would God require of a man something he was literally not able to produce?

Ok, we shall make an exception for those who came before Christ. Yet, on the same day Christ rose from the dead, hundreds or maybe thousands of people died. Where did they go? Christ had already come yet they had not believed in Him. I think fairness would dictate that we label them unable to believe as well. You should see where I'm going with this. Even today, there are those who are unable to believe in Jesus for whatever reason. For these, if they are literally unable to believe in Christ, we must allow exception (according to God's divine mercy which we ought not pretend to know the extent of). It no sooner means that all those who are unable to believe now go to Heaven than it means that all those before Christ ended up in Heaven.

In spite of all this, we affirm without hesitation that Christ is the only means of salvation (it is, after all, sort of a Christian dogma if ever there was one). Therefore in a perfectly analogous way, the Catholic Church retains her dogma "there is no salvation outside the Church" despite the exceptions (which we pray are numerous). It is absolutely no more difficult to assert one than the other. In fact, perhaps the former is even a bit more of a stretch.

I should mention, if even as a footnote, that the Reformed branch of Christianity particularly seems to have no problem with placing all who don't literally pray the sinner's prayer in Hell (post-calvary of course). Then again, the Reformed Christian will rarely assert such a thing. It has been my experience that they would preface the statement with: "the Reformed theologians would say..." as opposed to merely stating it as their personal belief. Strange.


Ggoose said...

I don't think that Vatican II asserted there was salvation outside the Catholic Church.

Lumen Gentium 14. This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism(124) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

While V2 may be perceived by some as having blurred the lines with subsequent paragraphs on the matter, the fact is the doctrine did not change. To my understanding anyone who is not visibly Catholic is saved by God's granting the extraordinary grace of membership in the Catholic Church. We should prefer the ordinary means. They are more certain in the sense that they have been clearly revealed to us.

Tim A. Troutman said...

I agree. I only call it an apparent contradiction - not that it actually is a contradiction.

Thanks for bringing that up - I should have been a little more clear on that area.

Anonymous said...

You should simply quote all the Vatican II passages involved. This is an area that brings the phraisee out in everyone and should not be dealt with without quoting the passages.
The alleged changes of Vatican II had been building for centuries ever since the age of discovery showed that there were other peoples who never heard the gospel.
Examples are the post medieval theologians like Francisco de Vitoria (1493-1546) who stated that the unbelief of foreign natives was not the sin of unbelief; Melchior Cano (1505-1560) who stated that foreign natives had implicit faith in Christ when they had explicit faith in God and that that sufficed for being in grace but not for Beatific Vision; Dominic Soto O.P. (1524-1560) who corrected Cano by including Beatific Vision as resulting from implicit faith.
Next we go to the Jesuits like Francisco Suarez ( 1548-1619) who held that explicit faith in Christ was required not by intrinsic necessity but by a positive disposition of God which can be suspended by God and replaced by faith in God simply. Cardinal Juan de Lugo, S.J. (1583-1660) repeated Suarez’ view but held it to be applicable to non-Catholic religions who heard the gospel but to whom “the faith has not been proposed sufficiently”…he described this as an intermediate state and his outlook is easily found in Pope John Paul II’s statement in Redemptor Missio n.8,p.15..” Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear 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…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 accomodated 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.”

Tim A. Troutman said...

Anon - you sound like you're disagreeing with me (and calling me a Pharisee) but I'm not sure on which point. Perhaps you should re-read my post and then tell me what you agree or disagree with.

TheDen said...


Great post.

There is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church and that has not changed with Vatican II.

Salvation is only through the Church as the Church is the Body of Christ.

My understanding is that the Church--which consists of all followers of Christ--exists in heaven, through Purgatory and here on earth.

Christ is the head and we are the body and His body reaches down from heaven and envelops the entire world.

Technically, when we are in the Church (i.e. in good standing and fully reconciled), we are in heaven as we are fully within His body--albeit we can "leave" it at any time through our unrepentant mortal sins.

If we were to die not reconciled to His body then we die without the hope of Salvation.

Fortunately, Christ has the power to call all people to His body (i.e. the Church) up to and including the moment of their death. We as Catholics have to hope that all people are called to turn to Christ through God's help before their death as that is God's desire per Scripture.

Happy Easter.

Phil Snider said...

You do realize that the two classic Protestant response to this kind of position about no salvation outside the Church is as follows.

1. The Roman Catholic Church is NOT the Church. As it was in error and the Reformation established the 'True' Church, we can safely ignore it.

2. The Roman Catholic Church is not the whole Church. That is, the fragmentation of, first, the Orthodox Church and, later, the Protestant Churches means that the original entity-the Church- has split into three branches. Then, of course, the issue becomes what is the true bounds of the true Church and how do we know if a group is truly orthodox comes up.

Yet, to a large degree, I think this discussion is beside the point. Surely we all agree that Jesus will know his own sheep and that salvation is not about which Church we are a member. I don't say that to dismiss doctrine or dogma, but to return the true focus of our faith to primacy: Jesus Christ. Christ saves. The Church serves.


Anonymous said...

I have noticed that Protestants are now often calling themselves "the church." What do they mean by "the church?" There are several Protestant churches. To me, the Catholic Church is "the church," as it was founded by Christ Himself and is the whole body of Christ. Do Protestants mean all Christians when they say "the church?"

Phil Snider said...


It depends on the Protestant. Fairly extreme ones will suggest that their denomination is the only Christian group which should be called the Church as all others have fallen away.

Many Protestants, myself included, will use it of all Christians within certain essential bounds like the Trinity and such forth.


TheDen said...


I'm sure that Tim will probably want to respond but I'll leave my $.02 as well.

Either the Church Christ established is the Catholic Church or it's not. To say that "it was in error" is to conflict with Scripture as Christ says that the "Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)

What you're implying is that somewhere along the way, the Gates of Hell did prevail and that Christ was wrong.

Jesus Christ established only one Church. That Church is His Body thus that Church is Jesus Christ. It doesn't serve Him. It is Him. It's an extension of Him. As Ephesians 5:25-32 tells us, He sanctifies it with His blood so that she is spotless and without blemish and that He and His Church are one.

That Church is the Catholic Church. All other churches (and ecclesial communities) can trace their historical roots to that one Church. As Catholics, we are united to Him through the Eucharist. The priest (or extraordinary minister) proclaims, "The Body of Christ" and we become one with Him.

It's in that unity that we are saved. We eat His flesh and drink His blood so that we may have life within us. (John 6:53)

As a Protestant, you are a member of His body but that membership is still only through the Catholic Church--whether you agree to it or not. The reason is that the elements that save you are the truths that are consistent with Catholicism.

So, "Protestant A" believes certain items that agree with the Catholic Church while "Protestant B" believes other elements that agree with the Catholic Church. Both "A" and "B" disagree with each other on certain items but where they are in accordance with the Catholic Church is where they will find their salvation.

I do agree however that through this all, it's Jesus Christ that saves us and that we come to Him for judgment and ultimately salvation.

Tim A. Troutman said...

TheDen - well said.

Phil - this wasn't actually intended to be a discussion about the nature of "Church" or even whether people outside the Church could be saved (misleading as the title was).

I meant to attack a certain argument against the Catholic Church on the basis that she contradicted herself by saying first that no one outside the Catholic Church could be saved and then in V2 appearing to say something different.

I did this by pointing out a similar exception to an even more apparent contradiction that Protestants too would agree with (that there is no salvation outside Christ yet there may very well be non-Christians who end up in Heaven).

StBasil said...

Phil said: "Surely we all agree that Jesus will know his own sheep and that salvation is not about which Church we are a member."

The problem with this popular Protestant position is that belong to a church is not just membership. It actually means something. It means I should confess their creed(s) and partake in whatever means they grant for my salvation (i.e. Sacraments). To say that my salvation is not about what church I belong to is blatant indifference not only towards the Church but also towards belief and the way in which we believe we are saved. No one will deny that Christ is the source and means and cause of our salvation. No one would deny that the Church is His servant. However to belong to the Church means something. She is our mother and she teaches us, leads us and nourishes us. This is also why, incidentally, why Protestant communities cannot be called churches in the proper sense - because they lack the full means for our salvation, i.e. the Sacraments.

This mentality is the one that leads many Protestants - and I've experienced this first hand - to simply believe what they want, worship how they want and to not even attend a community worship. It denigrates into a very individualistic view where it is just "Jesus and me," which really means "my own interpretation of Jesus and His teaching."

As for those outside of the Church, we need only look to St. Augustine in his work The City of God. In it he notes that there are some members of the visible Church who in reality are not true members of her and there are those outside of the visible Church who are actually her members. That idea does not mean the Church is not visible, for she is, but it means that our full communion with her is not guaranteed by visible membership and that to be visibly outside of her confines (if invincibly ignorant and seeking God's will) does not necessarily mean one is lost forever. God is the judge but the ordinary and sure way of our salvation which Christ has given to us is to seek safe refuge within the Church.

Incidentally, an interesting point also is that anything true and right outside of the Church - such as Trinitarian baptisms in Protestant communities - leads toward full communion with the Catholic Church.

Pax Christi tecum.

Phil Snider said...


I take your point that your entry was really about Vatican II, so not necessarily aimed at a wider discussion of the Church. I note in passing that it is hard to bring up this subject and not expect a Protestant to be, at least, mildly annoyed at the implications of identifying the Church with the Roman Catholic Church. Still, I take your point that your intent wasn't to address that issue.

Mind you, I'm not sure that I really do rise past mild irritation at that assertion. I don't even mind that kind of statement because it is neither new nor surprising. I don't agree with it, but that is beside the point here.


I really do get what you're saying, but everything you are arguing is based on an assumption that the Catholic Church= the Roman Catholic Church which I just don't think can be a priori justified any more than saying the Anglican Church=the Church. That is a central fault line between us.

That said, the comment about the Gates of Hell not prevailing is absolutely true, but this is an eschatological statement; a promise for the future, not, in all likelihood the existing state of affairs. We are called to hope because we know that the Church (however you define it) will prevail because God will prevail. Last I checked, the last trumpet has not been sounded and, while we know Satan won't win, we also know by experience that he'll keep trying. Otherwise, how do we explain the persecution of Christians in various parts of the world? How do we explain martyrdom? My point is not to deny that the Church will prevail against the Gates of Hell, but to note that, in our mortal time, it hasn't yet.

My point in emphasizing this is that we can't use what is, in essence, a future hope to justify a present reality.


I agree that membership is not the only way to determine being in the Church. Yet, I recite the Creed (and know what I'm saying and agree with it). I take Eucharist (and believe in the Real Prescence). So, where does that put me?

The Church is important, absolutely, but salvation doesn't come from the Church, but from Jesus, God. Let's not elevate the instititution (albeit instituted by Jesus himself) over God himself. I don't think you're doing that, but I also think that you underestimate the degree to which many (by no means all; possibly not even an majority of)Protestans do value the Church.

Sorry for the multi-front comments.


TheDen said...


My assumption is based off of history. The Catholic Church traces it's origin back to Christ. No other Church/Community can seriously make that claim.

I also don't understand why you think that the "Gates of Hell" passage is Eschatological. I think that's an assumption that's not evident in the reading. Jesus was not talking about end times in His discourse.

I also don't see the logic in how the Church "fell into error." Historically, we can see that the central core doctrines have NOT changed from the time of Christ to now and that the Church has never fallen into error. (This does not exonerate individuals--including leaders in the Church who may have strayed) As a matter of fact, the Church has refused to change their views on gay marriage, birth control, pre-marital sex, and divorce because she understands that these have been teachings that can be traced back to the apostles and that these--along with a lot of other teachings--have been handed down by Christ.

In regards to persecutions and martyrdom, martyrdom does not suppress the Church. It edifies it. To have people die for Christ is a tremendous witness. For not only did they die, they died forgiving their murderers. Their death brought hope to the ones who were persecuting them and eventually brought the conversion of an empire to Christianity.

Phil Snider said...


I suspect I have expressed myself in a fuzzy way on the 'Gates of Hell' explanation. What I mean is that, while that promise will no doubt happen, it has not yet been fully realized. That is, I fully believe that nothing will prevail against the Church, but that, in the here and now, it is perfectly possible that Satan and evil will achieve temporary victories which may look like they are winning. In those situations, our expectation that nothing will prevail against the Church gives us the faith to survive these difficult times.

My point is that we cannot assume that the state of the Church today is the state of the Church when it prevails. Given that the Church (however you define it) is a mixture of sinners and saints, there are times when the sinners prevail for a time. Recall that the Arians had a stranglehold on the Church for a generation after Nicea, yet orthodoxy won out. That is what I mean that the current state of the Church at any given point in history is only an imperfect guide to the Church which will come. This is why I really don't fully accept your reasoning that the promise that 'the Gates of Hell won't prevail against the Church' is an indication that the Roman Catholic Church could not be in error. I concede the final result, but we aren't there yet.

I agree with you that the steadiness of the witness of the Catholic Church are strong points and argue against viewing it as wholly in error. In fact, my own position is that it is right about most doctrinal matters, especially about creedal ones. I am not one of those Protestants who reflexively condemn the Roman Catholic Church. I do think it can be critisized, however, without condemning it completely.

Ideally, ecumenism allows us to discuss these kinds of issues without getting bogged down in entrenched position and without wanting to fudge the differences. Where we can do that, I think we will accomplish something useful.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Phil - I think the issue you bring up about Arianism is a fair point and a strong historical lesson that we all need to learn from.

We must remember though that the "Church" and her teachings are not defined authoritatively by a mere democratic process. (This doesn't mean there aren't democratic processes involved in the authority of the Catholic Church just that a majority of bishops being in error on a certain point does not mean the Church herself actually teaches such a thing).

We should understand that first but understand second that it is not 100% certain that the majority of bishops were Arian at any time in the Church's history although I will concede it is a real possibility.

Even if it is true though, we must look at the actual doctrine of the Church. Beside that one (albeit critical) error, it is a certainty that the Arian bishops were otherwise far more orthodox and true to the apostolic faith than mainstream Protestantism today. (Don't take that as an affront to Anglicanism because I'm not necessarily lumping Anglicanism in there).

But the Church hammers out doctrine over time. Therefore while many bishops may be in error over certain points (even Aquinas goofed a couple times) it doesn't mean the Church fell into temptation or that sin had temporarily prevailed.

It means that human influence is showing its ugly head. Take the recent sex scandal or the corruption issues in the 16th century - those don't mean a thing in terms of doctrine. Our doctrine is exactly the same now as it was before the Reformation started.

Not one Protestant sect has the same doctrine now as it did a generation or two ago - not a single one. That says something.

The official doctrine of the Catholic Church has never changed. She has stood her ground for 2000 years. Ordinary men can't orchestrate such a thing.

When Israel built the golden calf, she didn't cease being Israel. Korah could not start a new Israel because he didn't like Moses. Likewise, when bishops and priests started abusing their authority in the 16th century, the Catholic Church didn't cease being the Church. Luther couldn't start a new Church just because he didn't like the pope and Calvin couldn't merely re-define the word.

How do these conversations always end up growing into much more than they were ever intended to be? :)

TheDen said...


I actually do agree with a lot of your last comment.

I also believe that the Catholic Church should ALWAYS be under scrutiny and examination.

If there are priests or or bishops or popes that are teaching unorthodoxy, they need to be reprimanded and chastised.

I also can agree that at times, the people within the Church have not been the best witnesses for Christ.

Ultimately, we as Christians are called to constantly search for Christ. To look for His Truth and for our hearts to be restless until they rest in Him.



George Weis said...

Tim, Some good thoughts here. Now, I will say that I am moving away from the need to pray the sinners prayer, although I believe that can be at least for the mind of a person the definitive moment of calling upon the name of the Lord. However, for some I'm sure this was just as empty as saying some flippant comment. So, no I am not one who condemns all who (post calvary) don't say a prayer... I let God be the judge. I will also say that God's grace and mercy are beyond our understanding. His ways are not our ways. Now, I will say though, that we are called to GO and MAKE disciples. And yes we know that Christ is the only means of salvation. Who knows the mind of God? However, this still doesn't really answer the turn around in the claims of the Papacy.

Much love to you man!


Tim A. Troutman said...

Well I think it does answer it and so on this intellectual crossroads we might need to part ways.

A parting note on this subject though: Protestants read "no salvation outside the Church" like... well like Protestants. We're not trying to estimate the populations of heaven or hell by these dogmas. We're saying that salvation is found in the Christ ALONE and that Christ and His Church are inseparable.

Let me restate the Catholic dogma as it currently stands: "There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church".

Catholic Mission said...


So he thought hard.

Lumen Gentium says that all those who are saved are saved by Jesus and the Church he said.

True I responded but this does not conflict with the dogma which says everyone needs to be a formal member o the Church with no exceptions for salvation.

There could be someone who is not a formal member of the Church but whose heart is in the Church he observed.

Correct! And he could be saved it would be known only to God. This too does not conflict with the dogma.

So what is the basis of his optimistic view of objective reality at the supernatural level?

For centuries the Church has taught that the millions of non Catholic need to convert to avoid Hell.

Why does the Church not teach it now?

He thought that we need to keep a middle ground between optimism and pessimism,

How can he keep a middle ground when you read the dogma which says clearly that millions of non Catholics are on the way to Hell?

The secular culture discourages belief in Hell and presents a glamorous-everyone- smiling image through the media.

I think more Catholics will see through the glamour when they realize that.

1. There is no text in Vatican Council which can account for this positive view of objective reality. Hell is still Hell and there people going there according to present day Catholic visionaries alive, who have seen Hell and returned to tell us about it.

2. The Letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston (1949) referred to the ‘dogma’ (Cantate Domino, Council of Florence) which indicates all Jews in Boston need to convert to avoid Hell. The dogma supported Fr. Leonard Feeney. The Letter, published in the Denzinger, was not against Fr. Leonard Feeney as is being reported in the secular media for over 50 years.

3. There is no text in Vatican Council II which says we can know specific cases of non Catholics saved with the baptism of desire or with invincible ignorance in the present times.

De facto (in reality) we cannot know any such case (baptism of desire etc).

So if Fr. Leonard Feeney or anyone else says there is no de facto baptism of desire that we can know of, it makes sense. In principle we can accept that it is possible for someone to be saved with the baptism of desire. De facto we do not know any case.

So there is no text in Vatican Council II or the Catechism of the Catholic Church which contradicts the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus or Ad Gentes 7.

The optimistic view of supernatural reality has no basis in the text of Vatican Council II.
-Lionel Andrades