NO SALVATION OUTSIDE THE CHURCH
by Fr. William Most
It is a defined doctrine that there is no salvation outside the Church.
Yet, as the Holy Office pointed out in condemning L. Feeney (DS 3866) we
must understand this the way the Church means it, not by private
First we find that the Church insists many times over that those who
through no fault of their own do not find the Church, but keep the moral
law with the help of grace, can be saved:
#16 says: "For they who without their own fault do not
know of the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with sincere
heart, and try, under the influence of grace, to carry out His will in
practice, known to them through the dictate of conscience, can attain
eternal salvation." John Paul II in his Encyclical on the Missions in #10
says the same [underline added]: "For such people [those who do not
formally enter the Church, as in LG 16] salvation in Christ is accessible
by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the
Church, does not make them part of the Church." We underline the
word "formally" to indicated that there may be something less than formal
membership, which yet suffices for salvation. A similar thought is found in
LG #14 which says "they are fully incorporated" who accept all its
organization. . . . ." We will show presently that there can be a lesser,
or substantial membership, which suffices for salvation.
What should we say about a line in LG #8: "This Church, in this world
as a constituted and ordered society, the Catholic Church. .
. even though outside its confines many elements of sanctification and
truth are found which, as gifts proper to the Church of Christ, impel to
We must not overlook the words in LG #8 which speak of "this one and
only  Church of Christ, which we profess in the Creed. . . ."
Similarly the Decree on Religious Liberty in #1 says that" it [this decree]
leaves untouched the traditional Catholic doctrine about the duty of men
and societies to the true religion and the one and only  Church of
So there really is only one true Church. But really, we it seems that
some think that protestant churches are as it were of the
Church of Christ. And they think that follows from the words about
"subsisting in" and the statement that elements of sanctification can be
found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church.
This does not mean that there are other legitimate forms of
Christianity. Pope Gregory XVI (DS 2730. Cf. Pius IX, DS 2915 and Leo XIII,
DS 3250) condemned "an evil opinion that souls can attain eternal salvation
just any profession of faith, if their morals follow the right norm."
So although people who do not formally join can be saved, as LG #16 says,
and #10 also says, they are not saved such a
faith. It is in spite of it.
Yet we can account for the words about and about finding
elements of salvation outside. For this we need the help of the Fathers of
In this way we find :
We begin with St. Justin the Martyr who c. 145 A. D. in 1. 46,
said that in the past some who were thought to be atheists, such as
Socrates and Heraclitus, who were really Christians, for they followed the
Divine Logos, the Divine Word. Further, in 2. 10 Justin adds that
the Logos is in everyone. Now of course the Logos, being Spirit, does not
take up space. We say a spirit if present .
What effect? We find that in St. Paul, in Romans 2:14-16 where he says that
"the Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature the works of the law.
They show the work of the law ." and according to
their response, conscience will defend or accuse them at the judgment.
So it is the Logos, the Spirit of Christ, who writes the law on their
hearts, that, it makes known to them interiorly what they need to do. Some
then could follow it without knowing that fact. So Socrates: (1)read and
what the Spirit wrote in his heart; (2) he had ; (3) he . We see this obedience in the fact that Socrates
went so far as to say, as Plato quotes him many times, that the one who
seeks the truth must have as little as possible to do with the things of
Let us notice the three things, just enumerated: St. Paul in Romans 3:29
asks: "Is He the God of the Jews only? No, He is also the God of the
gentiles." It means that if God made salvation depend on knowing and
following the law of Moses, He would act as if He cared for no one but
Jews. But God does care for all. Paul insists God makes salvation possible
by faith for them (cf. Romans chapter 4). Faith in Paul includes the three
things we have enumerated which Socrates did.
So in following that Spirit of Christ Socrates was accepting and
following the Spirit of Christ, But then, from Romans 8:9 we gather that if
one has and follows the Spirit of Christ, he " Christ". That
is, He is a , which in Paul's terms means a , which is the Church.
So Socrates then was a member of the Church, but not formally, only
substantially. He could not know the Church. So he was saved, not his
false religious beliefs they are able
to find even outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church.
Many other Fathers speak much like St. Justin. A large presentation of
them can be found in Wm. Most, , in a 28 page appendix.
Lumen gentium also likes to speak of the Church as a . This
is correct, for it is a mystery, since it is . It does
have visible structure, and no one who knowingly rejects that can be saved.
It has members visibly adhering. But it also has members who belong to it
even without knowing that, and without external explicit adherence. Hence
there is much mystery, to be known fully and clearly only at the end.
So all other forms of Christianity are heretical and/or schismatic. They
are not legitimate.
The Decree on Ecumenism states that the worship and liturgical actions
of other Christian bodies 'can truly engender a life of grace and can be
rightly described as capable of providing access to the community of
Here is the actual text of the Decree: "In addition, out of the elements
or goods by which, taken together, the Church herself is built up and made
alive, certain things, or rather many and excellent things can exist
outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church: The written Word of God,
the life of grace, faith, hope and love, and other interior gifts of the
Holy Spirit and visible elements: all these things, which come from Christ
and lead to Him, belong to the one-only Church of Christ. Even not a few
sacred actions of the Christian religion are carried out among the brothers
separated from us. . . which beyond doubt can really generate the life of
grace, and are to be said to be apt to open the entry into the community of
We notice the things mentioned: (1) -- Protestants read it.
(2)-- yes, one can reach the state of grace without
formally entering the Catholic Church, as 16 says:"They who
without fault do not know the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek
God with a sincere heart, and try with the help of grace to fulfill his
will, known through the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal
salvation." Even pagans can do this. (3) - yes, outsiders can have
faith, at least if they are not misled by Luther's great error on what
faith is. (4) - again, even a pagan may attain these.
(5)-- yes, if outsiders reach the
state of grace, they also have the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. (6) - Baptism if validly given. BUT we must note the next
words in the decree:" all these things. . . belong to the one-only Church
of Christ." In other words, it is not a protestant church as protestant
that can provide these things -these are things that belong to the Catholic
Church, which the Protestants have not completely rejected. So some
religious actions are carried out in protestantism which can really
generate the life of grace. Yes, Baptism does that. Reading of Scripture,
prayers, and other things enumerated above in the first 6 items can do
that. But again, it is not protestant worship as protestant that gives
grace -- it is things the protestants have retained even after breaking
with the one-only Church of Christ. As the previous sentence said:"
So the Decree continues in the next sentence cited above: "they belong
to the one-only Church of Christ."