We all have family and friends who are not Catholic. Many of us pray for our loved ones’ salvation, but can one be saved without the Church?
“I’m a convert to Catholicism but one teaching of the Church I still struggle with is the concept that there’s no salvation outside of the Catholic Church. And the fact that I was brought up in a Baptist family and all my previous relatives and living relatives, I’m concerned because they have baptism through their particular denominations. I wondered if you could clarify that issue for me?” asked Ken.
“For those who know the Catholic Church to be what she is—that the Church founded by Christ subsists in the Catholic Church and that the Catholic Church was made necessary for salvation by Christ—those who know that who refuse either to enter her or to stay within her, there’s no hope for salvation for those who know. But for those who don’t know, there is real but imperfect communion with the Church,” explained Msgr. Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your FatherTM.
“So, we walk this fine line between saying, we know the truth and the truth will set us free and here’s the fullness of truth about the Church: that everything God intended us to have for our salvation and sanctification is found within the Catholic Church. So if we know that, we have to be part of it. You’re a convert, I’m a convert; we came to know that. That’s why we became Catholics. But the affirmation of that truth does not rule out that God’s grace can work through the Church in ways known to God alone to those who are not formally members of the Church. This is laid out fairly well, both in the Catechism (846-848) and in Lumen gentium (paragraphs 13-17).”
“Outside the Church there is no salvation”
846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.
848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”