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Marc Arnaez wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am having a difficult time with our teaching that "Outside of our Church there is no salvation".

I recently visited the Holocaust museum at Washington, D.C. and I cannot believe that God would not allow the victims into Heaven because they were Jewish.

To me, that seems to make God a bigot and I don't want to think that.

This is a fairly major conflict for me.

Thank you for taking the time to respond.


  { Doesn't our teaching that "Outside of our Church there is no salvation" make God a bigot? }

Mike replied:

Hi Marc,

Thanks for the question.

We have to remember a few things when talking about this extremely important dogma of the Church, which all Catholics must believe. One of the biggest problems we have today is either a misunderstanding of what it means, or an incorrect explanation of it, usually by an omission of a critical part.

  • God does not bring people into life just to damn them. God always gives every person a means of salvation to which they can, with a good conscience, turn. A means which will lead them into the 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. — Vatican II and CCC 846.

    Note: the Catechism states "may" NOT "will".

I recently finished a very good book by a friend of mine, Roger LeBlanc, Relativism, the Redefinition of Religion. It is currently unavailable, but in Chapter 3, Roger addresses this issue by discussing three types of ignorance. I've paraphrased very small portions in order for them to read smoothly:

-- start of quote --

Invincible ignorance This is when a person simply is not aware of an explicit religious truth due to no fault of his or her own.

Antecedent ignorance This is when truth presents itself to the intellect saying there is a deeper truth, which will be shown if it is not rejected. The conscience now enters in. It beckons the individual to take the next step along the path of truth. The person may refuse to do so because of an unwillingness to repent and therefore rejects the deeper truth that would have been made known to them.
This is no longer innocent, invincible ignorance. It's willful sinful ignorance. There may be conditions in each life such as childhood abuse, or prejudice instilled in them during their youth, and so on. These thing may certainly affect their response to the deeper truth. A response might not even occur until the moment before death. However, at judgment, everyone will be responsible for rejection of truth known to him or her, if they did not respond to the degree to which they were obligated.

Consequent ignorance This is happens, not only when one refuses to take a step towards truth, but one embraces an attitude of hostility which results in a deeper ignorance and blindness. It gets closer to the original blindness that came from the fall of man. There is a temptation to fling open the doors of the heart and mind to moral and religious relativism.

Antecedent and Consequent ignorance can be seen at both ends of the religious spectrum. It can be found in those the jungle as well as in those who refuse to recognize the Papacy. We cannot see what is in the heart and mind of a person as God does. That is why it is dangerous to judge motives. Since we cannot be fully aware of motives we do not know if a person is responding to or rejecting grace. This is why all we can do, as Catholics, is state the unchanging, truth according to the mind of the Church. In charity, we have a duty to respond to relativism and those who oppose the Church.

Roger goes on to talk about the difference between invincible ignorance about revealed truth and invisible ignorance about the natural law where moral objectivity is present.

He says: No one is ignorant about the latter, i.e., the natural law where moral objectivity is present. Culpable ignorance does not apply to those who cannot reason, through no fault of their own. He goes on to say:

The promise of salvation to our first parents after the fall was a religious revelation that had nothing whatsoever to do with the natural law or what our first parents knew through reason. The revealed promise was unchangeable and objective; otherwise there is no certainty of salvation in Christ.

A few questions must now be asked.

  • Can the term "invincible ignorance" be applied to those in the jungle?

The answer to this question is two-fold.

If "invincibly ignorant" means that someone has never openly heard of the Gospel then of course the term applies.

If, however, invincibly ignorant means that one has not even a grain of salvation's promise from our first parents, Adam and Eve, which connects them to the Gospel, then it does not apply.

  • Can anyone be invincibly ignorant of religious truth?
  • If they cannot, is the door of salvation open to them?
  • Can the degree of Revealed Truth in anyone's life satisfy the necessity of belonging to the Catholic Church?

Religious relativists, as well as those who speak of the necessity of being within the visible confines of the Church, must "see" what is before them. When discussing salvation they both talk about "those people in the jungle" as though they appeared growing on the branch of some tree, and when ripe appeared on the jungle floor as though they have no connection or lineage to our same first parents, Adam and Eve.

This brings us to a significant matter that can be illustrated by asking a question.

  • Can we not say that the Jewish people, the direct line of salvation, had the same first parents as Catholics and those of the jungle?

The answer can only be "yes"!

It's important to understand that the Jewish people did not have the fullness of revelation explicitly revealed to them by Christ until He came into this world.
This is a fact. This brings us to several more questions.

  • Are we to say Jewish people of the Old Testament were not of the same identifiable Catholic faith?
  • Do we say they had no connection to the visible confines of the Catholic Church?
  • Do we say that they have identifiable link to the Gospel because they possessed a lesser degree of Revelation?
  • Do we say the lesser degree of revelation which they had in their possession meant they did not have the same faith?
  • That this lesser degree of revelation could not save them?

We had best be able to say they are of the same faith and that they could be saved, in spite of the difference in the degree of revelation because Catholicism speaks of Abraham as "... our Father in faith." If we say they are not of the same faith,
we condemn everyone in the Old Testament, including the prophets, because they did not have the fullness of revelation.

This demonstrates that the degree of revelation one possesses, even in it's not the fullness of revelation, is the standard in their life. This determines if people are connected to the Catholic faith, provided they have not rejected the degree of revelation presented or known to them.

This is no less true for those of the jungle. They live, like the Old Testament Jewish people did, according to the degree of Revelation present in their lives. These degrees of Revelation establish a connection to the Catholic Church which shows the necessity of the Church for salvation has not been violated.

-- end of quote --

The main concern I have, is for those in the Antecedent ignorance camp. I'm concerned that there are many that incorrectly believe something like:

"As long as I live a good life and be a good person, I will go to Heaven."

This attitude tends to want to chide God on Judgment Day, by saying:

"I know you gave me free will and an intellect; and that you revealed your Divine Truth to me so I could meditate, ponder, and study about you, My Lord and
(the history of) your Church, and therefore be your witness to the world of Your Word in my life, but decided not to use it. Besides Your Mercy outweighs Your justice, so can you please let me into Heaven?"

This is an incorrect attitude. A good case example is Our Lord's parable of the talents in
Matthew 25:14-30.

  • Why didn't Our Lord have mercy on the slothful servant who buried the one talent?

If those who fall in the Antecedent ignorance camp don't take the next step along the path of truth, they will have to answer for those "sins of omission" on Judgment Day. It can be willful sinful ignorance.

I hope this clarifies the Church's view on this important dogma.


Eric replied:

Hi Marc,

Another important thing to keep in mind is that the Lord condemned those victims of the Holocaust (and we can't be sure He condemned them all), not because they were Jews,
but because they were in a state of separation from God, into which all of us are born.

There is no discrimination here; their Jewishness doesn't enter into the decision. They are judged as every other human being is judged.


Mary Ann replied:

Dear Marc,

"Outside the Church there is no salvation" simply means "without the Church there is no salvation." That means that the Church in the world is the way that grace is in the world.
The Church is the Sacrament of God's presence and action in the word.

"All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is His Body" (CCC 846).

Membership in it is only necessary for an individual's salvation if the individual knows it is the true 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." (Vatican II)

Every reflection of truth and goodness that people find, and do, is part of the One Truth and the One Good that is in God, and it is acceptable to God because Christ has joined Himself to humanity in the Incarnation, and He works through, and in, us by the Spirit. To be brief, just substitute "Without" for "Outside" and you have the idea.

Mary Ann Parks

Mike replied:

Dear Marc,

I have to take exception with my colleague, Mary Ann, and her reply.

Let me preface my comments by saying I agree with the line of reasoning in her reply, but we should not be privately changing the language of the dogmas of the Church.

If the Church intended to teach "Without the Church there is no salvation", She in Her wisdom would have written that in Her numerous Church documents, Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but She did not.

The Church teaches: "Outside the Church there is no salvation".

If the Church chose to teach, "Without the Church there is no salvation", it could imply to the
un-catechized Catholic or non-Catholic that one can live a good life without the need for pursuing the Catholic faith. Peter Protestant could say,

"Hey, the Church is physically and visibly on earth, so that's all I need."

The reason this would be a problem is because they might think all they need are the graces, not the Church. Even if my reasoning is incorrect here, I just don't think we should be changing the language of the dogmas of the Church. We should be explaining them better.

The Church teaches, "Outside the Church there is no salvation".


Mary Ann replied:

Mike —

"Extra" ecclesiam would mean outside of or without or beyond. We are not saved without or beyond or outside of the Church. A person does not have to be a full member of the Church by belief and Sacrament. The knowledge and love that he does have already unites him implicitly to the Church. This union, any union, with the Church is a union in grace, which is first of all a spiritual union involving love in the will (a full member of the Church who is in grave sin is not spiritually united, and is in danger of damnation). So what is "intra" (inside) or "extra" (outside) the Church, is the will.

Anyone in grace, by reason of freely willing to follow the truth as known to his conscience, is thus united to the Church, even if not by full membership, and thus their salvation is not "outside the Church". This is looking at the question from the point of view of the internal reality of salvation.

Looked at from the outside, as an external matter of membership, anyone can be saved, whether external members or not. Salvation comes through the Church, whether they know it or not.
That is the sense in which I meant "without" — which also has the meaning of "outside" in English.
It was a hint on how to conceive the problem, not a substitution for a saying of the Fathers which, in any case, was said in Latin and Greek.

Mary Ann Parks

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