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John Andrews wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am a Protestant Christian who was brought up with the idea that salvation is:

"by grace, through faith, not by works, lest anyone should boast."

Ephesians 2:8-9

I take this to mean that anyone who acknowledges their sinfulness, their inability to reach God through deeds, and accepts, through faith, the "substitution" of Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf, has everlasting life.

However, when I recently invited a Roman Catholic friend to my church youth group (her church does not have a program aimed at the youth), she told me that her priest had told her that the only true church is the Catholic Church, and that there is no salvation outside of it. I was troubled by this assertion, and wish to corroborate this with my upbringing that salvation is through faith alone. She also thought that since Protestants do not pray to Mary, there is something off kilter in their faith.

  • Is this priest's opinion upheld by the rest of the Catholic Church as well?
  • And does the Authority of the Church mean that individual belief in Jesus is not a basis for reconciliation with the Father?
  • I realize that the Nicene Creed refers to the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" , but does not "catholic" here, mean universal?

Looking forward to hearing from you on these questions,

John
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  { Is my understanding of how we are saved correct and is this No-Salvation-Outside Teaching true? }

Mike replied:

Hi John,

Thanks for your question.

We are saved by grace from beginning to end, but contrary to what you have learned, we are saved by faith working in love. St. James tells us:

"Faith without works is dead." James 2:14-26

In another question my colleague Eric shows how one has to persevere in obedience to God until the end, in order to be saved.

Many times, words like salvation, justification, works, merit, and grace, have different meanings between Catholics and other Protestant denominations. The Catechism of the Catholic Church elaborates on what we mean by these terms from CCC 1987 to 2011

You said:

  • Is this priest's opinion upheld by the rest of the Catholic Church as well?

Yes! This priest's opinion is upheld by the rest of the Catholic Church. This is a teaching (Outside the Church there is no salvation) which can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Many of your questions on this official Church teaching can be found in this topic area of our web site.

An on-line version of the appropriate parts of the CCC can be found here:

I would read down through paragraph 856.

The main problem surrounding this teaching is that usually when it is explained, something critical to an appropriate interpretation of the teaching is left out. That said:

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. CCC 847

Nevertheless, those who have an initial familiarity with Jesus and His saving "Good News", like many of us, are called to pray, learn and study their Christian faith more, including its origins.
If you look into the roots of Christianity, you will find out they are 100% Catholic. Protestants in the 1517's broke from the True Church because, although the Church needed reform from within, others wanted to revolt. They subsequently "protested" many Teachings dealing with the Church Jesus founded on St. Peter. Despite our many differences, there are many things we agree on to this day.

Those who know the Catholic Church to be the true Christian Church, but refuse to enter it, can't be saved. CCC 846

  • If Charlie Catholic knows the Catholic Church is the true Church, but enjoys being a member in the Baptist Church, he cannot be saved as long as he refuses to return to the Catholic Church.
  • If Peter Protestant knows the Catholic faith is the true faith, but for some other reason obstinately denies entering, he cannot be saved as long as he refuses to enter the Catholic Church.
  • If Peter Protestant was never taught anything about the Catholic faith or raised to believe is was incorrectly the church of Satan, he can be saved as long as he or she follows where the Holy Spirit leads them and Christian principles; this includes being open to researching the history of the Catholic Church.
  • If Arthur Atheist or Amy Agnostic were never taught anything about the Christian faith, they are culpable for what the nature law tells them. The nature law is that thing that internally tells you, this is wrong, or this is right. For example, no balanced person would ever saying shooting any person was good.

That said:

  • The Catholic Christian is called to deepen his/her faith because you can't give to others what you don't know.
  • The Protestant Christian is called to be open about looking into the fullness of Christianity, which can only be found in the Catholic Christian Church.

To be Protestant is to be partially Christian and accept only some of Our Lord's Teachings.
To be Catholic is to be fully Christian and accept all of Our Lord's Teachings.

You said:

  • And does the Authority of the Church mean that individual belief in Jesus is not a basis for reconciliation with the Father?

You can't separate the Lord from His Church. Both individual belief, as well as a community of belief, is required for reconciliation with the Father. Redemption and reconciliation with the Father is an individual and family affair. Why? Because no man or woman exists by themselves; each man and woman has come from a father and a mother's love through the conjugal embrace after marriage.

You said:

  • I realize that the Nicene Creed refers to the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" , but does not "catholic" here, mean universal?

CCC 830 The word "catholic" means "universal," in the sense of "according to the totality" or "in keeping with the whole." The Church is catholic in a double sense:

First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her.

    "Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church."

    St. Ignatius of Antioch in 107 A.D.
In her subsists the fullness of Christ's body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him "the fullness of the means of salvation" which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in Apostolic Succession. The Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost and will always be so until the day of the Parousia.

I hope this helps,

Mike Humphrey

John replied:

Hi, John —

I just wanted to clarify a point made by Mike.

He said:
To be Protestant is to be partially Christian and accept only some of Our Lord's Teachings. To be Catholic is to be fully Christian and accept all of Our Lord's Teachings.

Indeed, it is true that if one is Protestant, one only accepts part of Christ's Teachings. Hence, one could say that one is partially Christian on an [intellectual/theological] level.

However, on an ontological level, being a Christian is a binary question. One either indwells with the Holy Spirit and is regenerated, or one is not. Christian Baptism leaves an indelible mark on the soul. A Christian is a Christian is a Christian.

The point Mike is making is that a true Catholic who embraces all the teachings of the Church, accepts the fullness of Christ's Teachings. He or she also has access to the sacramental grace which is not fully available in Protestant congregations.

Because of this, we see Protestants as brother and sister Christians, not half brothers and half sisters.

John DiMascio

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