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On Salvation Outside the Catholic Church [Ecumenical]
Biblical Evidence for Catholicism ^ | 15 June 1998 | Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.)

Posted on 05/16/2008 4:46:28 PM PDT by annalex

On Salvation Outside the Catholic Church

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Monday, January 23, 2006

[originally uploaded on 15 June 1998; from The Catholic Catechism, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1975, 234-236]


The Catholic Church makes claims about herself that are easily misunderstood, especially in the modern atmosphere of pluralism and ecumenism. Among these claims, the most fundamental is the doctrine of the Church's necessity for salvation. Not unlike other dogmas of the faith, this one has seen some remarkable development, and the dogmatic progress has been especially marked since the definition of papal infallibility. It seems that as the Church further clarified her own identity as regards the papacy and collegiality, she also deepened (without changing) her self-understanding as the mediator of salvation to mankind.

The New Testament makes it plain that Christ founded the Church to be a society for the salvation of all men. The ancient Fathers held the unanimous conviction that salvation cannot be achieved outside the Church. St. Ireneus taught that "where the Church is, there is the spirit of God, and where the spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace." (35 ) Origen simply declared, "Outside the Church nobody will be saved." (36) And the favorite simile in patristic literature for the Church's absolute need to be saved is the Ark of Noah, outside of which there is no prospect of deliverance from the deluge of sin.

Alongside this strong insistence on the need for belonging to the Church was another Tradition from the earliest times that is less well known. It was understandable that the early Christian writers would emphasize what is part of revelation, that Christ founded "the Catholic Church which alone retains true worship. This is the fountain of truth; this, the home of faith; this, the temple of God." (37) They were combating defections from Catholic unity and refuting the heresies that divided Christianity in the Mediterranean world and paved the way for the rise of Islam in the seventh century.

But they also had the biblical narrative of the "pagan" Cornelius who, the Acts tell us, was "an upright and God-fearing man" even before baptism. Gradually, therefore, as it became clear that there were "God-fearing" people outside the Christian fold, and that some were deprived of their Catholic heritage without fault on their part, the parallel Tradition arose of considering such people open to salvation, although they were not professed Catholics or even necessarily baptized. Ambrose and Augustine paved the way for making these distinctions. By the twelfth century, it was widely assumed that a person can be saved if some "invincible obstacle stands in the way" of his baptism and entrance into the Church.

Thomas Aquinas restated the constant teaching about the general necessity of the Church. But he also conceded that a person may be saved extra sacramentally by a baptism of desire and therefore without actual membership by reason of his at least implicit desire to belong to the Church.

It would be inaccurate, however, to look upon these two traditions as in opposition. They represent the single mystery of the Church as universal sacrament of salvation, which the Church's magisterium has explained in such a way that what seems to be a contradiction is really a paradox.

Since the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 defined that "The universal Church of the faithful is one, outside of which no one is saved," there have been two solemn definitions of the same doctrine, by Pope Boniface VIII in 1302 and at the Council of Florence in 1442. At the Council of Trent, which is commonly looked upon as a symbol of Catholic unwillingness to compromise, the now familiar dogma of baptism by desire was solemnly defined; and it was this Tridentine teaching that supported all subsequent recognition that actual membership in the Church is not required to reach one's eternal destiny.

At the Second Council of the Vatican, both streams of doctrine were delicately welded into a composite whole:

[The Council] relies on sacred Scripture and Tradition in teaching that this pilgrim Church is necessary for salvation. Christ alone is the mediator of salvation and the way of salvation. He presents himself to us in his Body, which is the Church. When he insisted expressly on the necessity for faith and baptism, he asserted at the same time the necessity for the Church which men would enter by the gateway of baptism. This means that it would be impossible for men to be saved if they refused to enter or to remain in the Catholic Church, unless they were unaware that her foundation by God through Jesus Christ made it a necessity.

Full incorporation in the society of the Church belongs to those who are in possession of the Holy Spirit, accept its order in its entirety with all its established means of salvation, and are united to Christ, who rules it by the agency of the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops, within its visible framework. The bonds of their union are the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government and fellowship. Despite incorporation in the Church, that man is not saved who fails to persevere in charity, and remains in the bosom of the Church "with his body" but not "with his heart." All the Church's children must be sure to ascribe their distinguished rank to Christ's special grace and not to their own deserts. If they fail to correspond with that grace in thought, word and deed, so far from being saved, their judgment will be the more severe. (38)
Using this conciliar doctrine as guide, we see that the Church is (in its way) as indispensable as Christ for man's salvation. The reason is that, since his ascension and the descent of the Spirit, the Church is Christ active on earth performing the salvific work for which he was sent into the world by the Father. Accordingly, the Church is necessary not only as a matter of precept but as a divinely instituted means, provided a person knows that he must use this means to be saved.

Actual incorporation into the Church takes place by baptism of water. Those who are not actually baptized may, nevertheless, be saved through the Church according to their faith in whatever historical revelation they come to know and in their adequate cooperation with the internal graces of the Spirit they receive.

On both counts, however, whoever is saved owes his salvation to the one Catholic Church founded by Christ. It is to this Church alone that Christ entrusted the truths of revelation which have by now, though often dimly, penetrated all the cultures of mankind. It is this Church alone that communicates the merits won for the whole world on the cross.

Those who are privileged to share in the fullness of the Church's riches of revealed wisdom, sacramental power, divinely assured guidance, and blessings of community life cannot pride themselves on having deserved what they possess. Rather they should humbly recognize their chosen position and gratefully live up to the covenant to which they have been called. Otherwise what began as a sign of God's special favor on earth may end as a witness to his justice in the life to come.



35. St. Ireneus, Adversus Haereses, II, 24, 1.

36. Origen, Homilia In Jesu Nave, 3, 5.

37. Lactantius, Divinae Institutiones, IV, 30, 1.

38. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, II, 14.

TOPICS: Catholic; Ecumenism
KEYWORDS: catholic; ecumenism
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Let's see how the Ecumenical format works. Per Religion Moderator:

Ecumenic threads in this trial run are closed to all “anti” arguments. Posters who try to tear down other’s beliefs – or use subterfuge to accomplish the same goal – are the disrupters on ecumenic threads and will be booted from the thread and/or suspended.

1 posted on 05/16/2008 4:46:29 PM PDT by annalex
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To: Antoninus; ArrogantBustard; CTK YKC; dan1123; DogwoodSouth; FourtySeven; HarleyD; Iscool; Jaded; ...
As promised, this is the Catholic Theology for non-Catholics series. I am reusing my Easter Celebration ping list. However, it will be treated as a separate list in the future.

If you want to be on the Catholic Theology for non-Catholics list but are not on it already, or if you are on it but do not want to be, let me know either publicly or privately.

I have not decided whether to use the Open format or the Ecumencial format. Let me know what you think works best. I invite all opinions and encourage clear posts on the topic.

2 posted on 05/16/2008 4:53:26 PM PDT by annalex (
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To: annalex

I may be pointing out the obvious, but don’t others think the good Jesuit Father needs to change his last name?

3 posted on 05/16/2008 4:54:42 PM PDT by MIchaelTArchangel
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Comment #4 Removed by Moderator

To: annalex

Just passing through with a bttt for dear Father Hardon.

5 posted on 05/16/2008 5:43:06 PM PDT by Tax-chick (I love my parents.)
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Comment #6 Removed by Moderator

To: e.Shubee
torture and death

Hell is an unpleasant place too, no?

7 posted on 05/16/2008 5:49:21 PM PDT by annalex (
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Comment #8 Removed by Moderator

To: Tax-chick
dear Father Hardon.

Unfortunate name for a Catholic Priest!

9 posted on 05/16/2008 5:51:16 PM PDT by humblegunner (Che is Gay)
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Comment #10 Removed by Moderator

To: e.Shubee
This is a very good collection. Let me reproduce it directly.

The belief that all should submit to the Roman Pontiff

Pope Boniface VIII:

"We declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302).

Pope John XXIII:

"And you, venerable brothers, will not fail, in your teaching, to recall to the flocks entrusted to you these grand and salutary truths; we cannot render to God the devotion that is due Him and that is pleasing to Him nor is it possible to be united to Him except through Jesus Christ; and it is not possible to be united to Jesus Christ except in the Church and through the Church, His Mystical Body, and, finally, it is not possible to belong to the Church except through the bishops, successors of the Apostles, united to the Supreme Pastor, the successor of Peter." (Pope John XXIII, Address on the creation of three new dioceses on Taiwan, L'Osseratore Romano, June 29, 1961).

"The Saviour Himself is the door of the sheepfold: 'I am the door of the sheep.' Into this fold of Jesus Christ, no man may enter unless he be led by the Sovereign Pontiff; and only if they be united to him can men be saved, for the Roman Pontiff is the Vicar of Christ and His personal representative on earth." (Pope John XXIII in his homily to the Bishops and faithful assisting at his coronation on November 4, 1958).

Pope Pius XII:

"O Mary Mother of Mercy and Refuge of Sinners! We beseech thee to look with pitying eyes on poor heretics and schismatics. Do thou, who art the Seat of Wisdom, enlighten the minds wretchedly enfolded in the darkness of ignorance and sin, that they may clearly recognize the Holy, Catholic, Roman Church to be the only true Church of Jesus Christ, outside of which neither sanctity nor salvation can be found. Call them to the unity of the one fold, granting them the grace to believe every truth of our holy faith and to submit themselves to the Supreme Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, that, thus being united with us by the sweet chains of charity, there may soon be but one fold under one and the same Shepherd; and may we all thus, O Glorious Virgin, exultantly sing forever: ‘Rejoice, O Virgin Mary! Thou alone hast destroyed all heresies in the whole world!’ Amen." (Pope Pius XII, The Raccolta, Benzinger Brothers, Boston, 1957, No. 626).


"This is our last lesson to you: receive it, engrave it in your minds, all of you: by God's commandment salvation is to be found nowhere but in the Church; the strong and effective instrument of salvation is none other than the Roman Pontificate." (Pope Leo XIII, Allocution for the 25th anniversary of his election, February 20, 1903; Papal Teachings: The Church, Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, St. Paul Editions, Boston, 1962, par. 653).

Pope Innocent III:

"There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved." (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.)

Pope Eugene IV:

"The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church." (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.)

Pope Pius XI:

"Furthermore, in this one Church of Christ no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors." (Pope Pius XI, Encyclical, Mortalium animos, January 6, 1928, The Papal Encyclicals, Claudia Carlen, I.H.M., McGrath Publishing Co., 1981, pp. 317, 318).


11 posted on 05/16/2008 5:54:57 PM PDT by annalex (
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To: the invisib1e hand

“Ecumenical” are threads where you are free to express any belief, but not to attack beliefs of others. I am not convinced it is a good idea, but am giving it a try. I explained that in the trailer to the main article.

12 posted on 05/16/2008 5:56:53 PM PDT by annalex (
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To: humblegunner

That never occurred to me, and I will never think of it again.

13 posted on 05/16/2008 6:23:22 PM PDT by Tax-chick (I love my parents.)
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To: annalex

Alex, in light of the snips from comments by various modern popes, is there truly any wonder that there is such little enthusiasm among the Orthodox for reunion with Rome?

14 posted on 05/16/2008 6:26:29 PM PDT by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated)
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To: annalex
Peter proclaims the Good News...

Acts 2: 22-41

Seems pretty straight forward. Nothing about they keys, nothing about an earthly throne for Peter, nothing about a succession after Peter. The Good News in the Bible never includes the Catholic Church nor the position of Pope. If it was true, I'd think it would qualify.

Not sure if that's up to the ecumenical standards. Thought I'd give it a try.

15 posted on 05/16/2008 6:38:09 PM PDT by Tao Yin
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To: Tao Yin

Actually you need to look again. Jesus said to peter “you are the rock upon which I will build my church” I for one don’t beleive that he made a mistake.

16 posted on 05/16/2008 7:23:53 PM PDT by cdpap
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To: cdpap

But no where does the Bible state that Jesus intended the Church to evolve into a hierarchical and institutional body.

17 posted on 05/16/2008 8:17:47 PM PDT by quadrant
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To: annalex

Joh 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

Joh 10:9 I am the door. If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in, and will go out, and will find pasture.

I do not need the roman catholic church to be saved.

Eph 2:8 For by grace you are saved, through faith, and this is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.

18 posted on 05/16/2008 8:25:29 PM PDT by Delta 21 ( MKC USCG - ret)
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To: e.Shubee; the invisib1e hand
This thread is posted in the Religion Forum.

If you do not wish to see RF posts, do NOT use the "everything" option on the browse. Instead, browse by "News/Activism." When you log back in, the browse will reset to "everything" - so be sure to set it back to "News/Activism."

Also, this is an "ecumenic" thread. That means the poster must not argue against any other beliefs. He can only argue for what he believes – or ask questions.

Your posts were not "ecumenic" and therefore they were pulled. If you cannot or will not comply with the guidelines do not post on the Religion Forum.

19 posted on 05/16/2008 8:37:56 PM PDT by Religion Moderator
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To: cdpap
Actually you need to look again. Jesus said to peter “you are the rock upon which I will build my church” I for one don’t beleive that he made a mistake.

Correct on God/mistakes...But you are misquoting God...You are adding to the words of God...

20 posted on 05/16/2008 8:45:01 PM PDT by Iscool
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