Monday, October 15, 2007

Reserving Hope for Non-Catholic Christians

Gloria asked a very good question recently in the HCR forum, one that has always been difficult for me to answer in a concise manner. So, this post is a long one, but what can you do? I haven't mastered this one yet.

Pax Christi,
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Unlike what I hear from the RCC today, Matatics and others like him say there is NO hope for someone who is outside of the Catholic church. The RCC has a slightly different view of this, right?
Well, we both agree that there is no hope for someone who is outside of the Church. Where we differ is on who we declare to be "outside." I haven't studied his stance too thoroughly, but I'm guessing Matatics believes that, if you are not a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church (as in, if you have not received the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist), then you cannot be saved. However, the official Catholic teaching (which, contrary to belief, has never changed) is more nuanced than that.

The Church believes that Jesus Christ died for all mankind and He desires that every human being be saved. As a result, He, Jesus Christ, provides grace to every man for his salvation, and this grace is utterly gratuitous. Unfortunately, many people turn their back on God and His grace, and these people run the risk of dying in complete separation from the Lord and thus not entering heaven.

Now, some people think that if a person does not have an explicit belief in Jesus Christ as God and the Savior of his soul then that person has rejected God and will go to hell. But, sometimes this lack of an explicit belief in Christ is not that person's fault. Believe it or not, there are still thousands (millions?) of people who grow up, live, and die w/o ever hearing the Gospel of Christ. It is unjust for them to be punished for something that is not their fault.

Of course, a Calvinist will say that these people never heard the Gospel b/c God, in his Providence and Sovereignty, simply decided not to reveal Himself to them and to thus send them to hell. But, Catholics don't believe in double predestination, and, as I said earlier, we believe that God gives every human being, as in every single last one of them, the grace necessary to get to heaven.

So, those people who, for whatever reason, never heard the Gospel of Christ will be held accountable for whatever grace and truth they were given. They, like all of us, will also be held accountable to the natural law imprinted on their hearts. If they lived according to these goods, then heaven will be theirs.

I've never been very good at explaining this (which is why it has taken me so long to respond), so I'd like to also provide an explanation given by one of the theologians at Catholic Exchange. I don't know exactly who wrote it, but it might be more helpful than what I have written:
  • Question: If "no salvation outside the Catholic Church" is infallible teaching, how can we say today that people outside the Catholic church can be saved?
    Answer: We can't and we don't. It remains as true as ever that outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation. However, the Church has never taught that its boundaries are co-terminous with the visible Roman Catholic communion. The fact is, it's hard to tell where "outside" is.
    The same paradox is at work in the two sayings of Christ concerning those who are with and against him and his apostles. Jesus said, on the one hand, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters" (Luke 11:23). In other words, there is no salvation apart from him and the Church which is his body. On the other hand, just who is really part of that body is not always obvious to the naked eye. Mark 9:38-41 tells us, "John said to him, 'Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.' But Jesus said, 'Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.'" It is this latter saying which the Church has in mind in speaking of those who are in imperfect but real communion with the Catholic Church. They are not "one of us" as John said, yet neither are they simply outside the scope of Christ's grace or the working of the Spirit.
    Thus, those who have been, for instance, validly baptized in a Protestant Church have truly received the life of the Blessed Trinity and are in partial communion with the Catholic Church. So too, in mysterious ways, it is possible for Christ, the light who enlightens all, to be at work in the souls of those who are ignorant of or imperfectly educated about him yet disposed to grace (as he himself indicates in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats [Matthew 25:31-46]). This is why the patriarchs, who were never baptized, could still be saved by Christ. It is not to say that everybody will be saved. It is to say that anybody can be and that it is not our place to decide who is and is not responding to the grace of Christ. Anyone who does is in some form of communion with the Catholic Church, however tenuous. Anyone who, in the end, refuses grace (even if they are a baptized Catholic) shall not be saved.
Note that this is not syncretism or universalism. These other ways in which people reach heaven pale in comparison to and are much more perilous than the way provided to us in Jesus Christ and His Church. Christianity is the best way, the surest way, and the only way for those who have received it. Consequently, those who have been given the knowledge of the Gospel and of His Church will be judged much more harshly, since they have been given more. "To whom much is given much is required." This means that schizmatic and heretical Catholics (like Matatics) are in a seriously precarious position.
If so, his seems to be more in keeping with what the Bible says concerning those who are outside of the body of Christ. I'll read the other articles you posted in the other thread.
Yes, perhaps those other articles will help. As for what the Bible says about being outside the Body of Christ, I would have to take each passage on a case-by-case basis.
According to the RCC what will happen to Matatics when he dies? I know you don't view him as being a Catholic, but humor me on this. I hope this made sense.
If he dies a formal heretic (which, btw, only Catholics can do), then there is a good chance that he will go to hell. I qualify that statement b/c it could be that his particular life circumstances or his emotional and psychological states are such that they lessen or even erase the culpability he would otherwise possess for separating himself from the Church. The Catholic Church certainly believes that many people do go to hell, but we also always reserve hope that even the most vile of individuals will somehow, some way find heaven, in a way that is in accordance with the mercy and justice of God.

I hope that answers your question. This issue of "outside the Church, no salvation" is a very difficult one. For a collection of articles that further explain my position, go here. I updated all the links especially for you :D

Pax Christi,


david said...

very helpful. a good document on this topic is "Dominus Ieusus" published in 2000 by the CDF.

Travis said...

I really believe Von Balthasar has the proper view on the subject in suggesting in "Dare We Hope", that we have an obligation and responsibility to hope and pray that all souls would reach heaven.

He doesn't go on to say that there is no Hell, but that it should be our hope that no one would ever choose hell.

Anonymous said...

We are saved only by our choice, and can only be done in full knowledge, no one is united to Christ who does not know it, and no one goes to heaven without being united to Christ. This is why there is no salvation for those in false religions, and is why we must pray for their conversion, and to labour for it.

Pope Leo XII (+1824):“It is impossible for the most true God, who is Truth itself, the best, the wisest Provider, and the Rewarder of good men, to approve all sects who profess false teachings which are often inconsistent with one another and contradictory, and to confer eternal rewards on their members… by divine faith we hold one Lord, one faith, one baptism… This is why we profess that there is no salvation outside the Church.” (Ubi Primum # 14)

It says here that it is impossible for God to confer divine life to the members of false religions, and is why we profess that there is no salvation outside the Church.

Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos (# 13), Aug. 15, 1832: “With the admonition of the apostle that ‘there is one God, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph. 4:5) may those fear who contrive the notion that the safe harbor of salvation is open to persons of any religion whatever. They should consider the testimony of Christ Himself that ‘those who are not with Christ are against Him,’ (Lk. 11:23) and that they disperse unhappily who do not gather with Him. Therefore, ‘without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate”

What are we to think of salvation for those in false religions with this in mind? quite simply that it cannot occur,

Pope Pius VIII(+1829): “Against these experienced sophists the people must be taught that the profession of the Catholic faith is uniquely true, as the apostle proclaims: one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Traditi Humilitati # 4)

So no matter what, only Catholic worship is true and leads to eternal life.

So, who is in the Church, are pagans inside it?

Catechism of the Council of Trent (+1566): “Infidels are outside the Church because they never belonged to, and never knew the Church, and were never made partakers of any of her Sacraments.

No, they are not, only those who are partakers of the sacraments of the Church are members of the Church.

St. Ambrose, Letter 17, #1: "For salvation is not sure unless everyone worship in truth the true God, that is the God of the Christians, under Whose sway are all things; for He alone is the true God, Who is to be worshipped from the bottom of the heart; for "the gods of the heathen," as Scripture says, "are devils."

So, is it heresy to say that only Christ can give salvation through His Church alone? No, for this is the teaching of the Church, and it is undeniable, for to say otherwise it to make heretics of the above mentioned theologians and pontiffs.

Patty said...


I read through your page, and I am wondering what is your view on "Communicatio in Sacris," a very Hot Topic, so to say? Well, this controversy has recently received a special treatment my a very scholarly author, Mr. William DeTucci. I bought the book "Communicatio in Sacris: The Roman Catholic Church against Intercommunion of non-Catholics" recently on Lulu MarketPlace:

In case your are browsing for it at Barnes & Noble, try looking up:

ISBN: 978-1-4357-0388-9

However, I must be honest and confess that I originally was full of skepticism, but after talking to some Catholic Priests, Theologians, and Apologists, I realized from their wisdom to give Mr. DeTucci a fair shake, and so I decided to buy the book, and I found out how important this topic really is.

Mr. DeTucci holds nothing back. He fills the book with Plentiful Documentation of Catholic Popes, Saints, Doctors, Cardinals, Bishops, Theologians, etc. who all pronounced the Catholic Dogma on Communicatio in Sacris. It is true, read it yourself! All the Popes, Saints, Doctors, etc. taught that it is objectively a mortal sin to communicate in sacred with non-Catholics. So, this book is a real Bombshell to the Ecumenist Movement, and I think Benedict XVI may even want to read this book, and reflect on the Spirit of Vatican II.

At the same time, Mr. DeTucci is fair to Benedict XVI (and Paul VI) for he does not try to pick on them (as some hypocritical Traditionalists do), rather he tries to fairly present their viewpoint that has been accepted since Vatican II. Yet, he does do something that was very surprising, and very original, he examines the current situation of the Traditionalist Movement (both Orthodox and Latin Mass sides) and tries to understand how many of them have been caught up into the Ecumenical Movement Theology which they say they condemn, but actually are also part of at the same time. Simply amazing!

I thank God for allowing me to find this great author and his work, we are really indebted to his scholarship and good work, so I invite others to consider the value of this book, and share this with friends, family, and clergy. As I intend to do. Again here is the link to the book Communicatio in Sacris:

May God bless you all.

Sincerely yours,

Bishop Bishop Dr. Joseph John Violet of St. Vitus said...

Patty et al,

I read your blog. Thanks for the information on the Dogmatic Topic of Intercommunion. I studied at an Orthodox-Anglican Monastery in Greece for some time before going to graduate school at Oxford, so I got a special place in my heart for Eastern Monasticism with a little Latin touch, of course! However, now I am a High Anglican Bishop (we celebrate a Tridentine Style Liturgy), who has valid lines from the Orthodox Churches. I am very moved by your page, and I recently got the book Patty mentioned (thanks for the referral) a very Hot! Roman Catholic Theology Book, that is troubling my current position called "Communicatio in Sacris: The Roman Catholic Church against Intercommunion with non-Catholics."

I am thinking of converting over to the Traditional Latin Roman Catholic Church and now talking with a Bishop in France who gave this book of Dr. DeTucci "Two thumbs up!" I must confess I am very close to joining Prime Minister Tony Blair in his voyage from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism (who I actually met once at the Canterbury Abbey of St. Augustine in England):

I personally give Dr. DeTucci TWO THUMBS WAY UP for his Patristic and Dogmatic Scholarship! Indifferentism is a Major Problem, and it has caused the Mass Murder and Holocaust of Abortion today, sadly to say.

I would love to review any Mainstream Periodical that has read through DeTucci's Book, but I may write my own yet. I love to read first more established Scholars, you seem to be a top notch scholarly periodical online. Any degrees? I studied at Oxford, and thank God, I realized the Main Anglican Succession is invalid. That's why I had communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church, but I am rethinking my Economy of Sacramental Grace thanks to Doctor DeTucci (who I heard studied at the Lateran in Rome).

And thank you!

Sincerely in Christ Our Lord,

+ Most Reverend Bishop Dr. Joseph John Violet of St. Vitus, M.A., D.D., Ph.D.

London, England


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