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Andrew Cody wrote:

Hi, guys —

A good friend of mine who is a non-denominational Christian had asked me about what the Catholic teaching is on Salvation. I showed him the Catechism, and the section on Salvation outside of the Church but it confused him.

He said that the word knowing makes it difficult for him. He said he knows that the Catholic Church teaches the necessity of the Church but he does not believe that the teaching is correct. My question is:

  • Does he know that the Church is necessary?

    • If yes, then in knowing the teaching, but rejecting it, he says he is condemned.
    • If no, he believes that the teaching only applies to those who accept it as true and not to those who reject its truth. He says that truth is relative to the individuals and is not absolute.

He went on to say that, this teaches either:

  • all who worship Christ outside of the Catholic Church and who know the teachings of the Catholic Church are condemned, or
  • God's requirements for salvation are relative to every human's personal beliefs.


He said if the former is absolutely true, then none of the early believers were saved because they were not members of the Catholic Church. He also said the latter cannot be true because God, by his very nature, is perfectly just, and it follows that His requirements for salvation would also be absolute.

I responded by telling him that the early Christians were of the same Church which was later named Catholic sometime between 50 A.D. and 107 A.D. by St. Ignatius of Antioch, but I am not sure how to respond on the [absolute/relative] point.

I accept and believe the Church's teaching on salvation outside of the Church, but am unclear on how to answer in a way that clearly explains the Catholic teaching any more than what is in the Catechism.

  • What are your thoughts on our discussion?

Thank you for your time.

Andrew Cody

  { Can you help me reply to his opinion about our teaching: Outside the Church there is no salvation? }

Eric replied:

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the question.

You said:
A good friend of mine who is a non-denominational Christian had asked me about what the Catholic teaching is on Salvation. I showed him the Catechism, and the section on Salvation outside of the Church but it confused him.

He said that the word knowing makes it difficult for him. He said he knows that the Catholic Church teaches the necessity of the Church, but he does not believe that the teaching is correct. My question is:

  • Does he know that the Church is necessary?

    • If yes, then in knowing the teaching, but rejecting it, he says he is condemned.
    • If no, he believes that the teaching only applies to those who accept it as true and not to those who reject its truth. He says that truth is relative to the individuals and is not absolute.

Truth is not relative, but guilt is. In Catholicism we talk about objective guilt versus subjective guilty; someone who commits what God has declared to be a sin is objectively guilty of that sin, yet there may be a factor in that circumstance that affects how much God will punish them, for example, ignorance (see below).

I would argue that one has to personally know and be personally convinced of the necessity of the Catholic Church in one's heart of hearts, not merely know that the Catholic Church teaches that it is necessary (but not personally believe it).

You said:
He went on to say that, this teaches either:

  • all who worship Christ outside of the Catholic Church and who know the teachings of the Catholic Church are condemned, or
  • God's requirements for salvation are relative to every human's personal beliefs.


He said if the former is absolutely true, then none of the early believers were saved because they were not members of the Catholic Church. He also said the latter cannot be true because God, by his very nature, is perfectly just, and it follows that His requirements for salvation would also be absolute.

Not true.

Consider Luke 12:47-48:

"That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

Consequently, we will be judged on the basis of what we know. If we know and believe something is wrong, and do it deliberately, that deserves much greater punishment than if we are ignorant that something is wrong and do it.

This operates in everyday life. If you have a young kid who does something wrong out of ignorance, you'll gently correct him perhaps with a smile, but if he does it again, and is old enough to understand that what he is doing is wrong, you are going to punish him more severely.

You said:
I responded by telling him that the early Christians were of the same Church which was later named Catholic sometime between 50 A.D. and 107 A.D. by St. Ignatius of Antioch.

That would have been my answer.

Eric

Bob replied:

Andrew,

Your friend, apparently of good intelligence, has grasped some, but not all, of the nuances of this important teaching. While stating that there is an either/or scenario, his has ignored the possibility of a both/and scenario. There are both objective and subjective components to salvation and that is the point. There is too much to cover in this subject, so I will just give some abbreviated thoughts.

The objective truths that are critical — no one is saved without the Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the objective means to salvation. How that is appropriated, is where the subjective component comes in.

  • Can Christ save someone who does not explicitly know him as Savior? <Yes.>

The Church acknowledges that while Christ established an ordinary means for salvation, the sacraments, etc., He is not bound to them in a legalistic sense. He can choose to save someone who, through no fault of their own, did not have exposure to His teachings, before or after, he walked on the planet earth, and did not resist the prompting's of the Holy Spirit in as much as the Spirit moved them toward the truth. This is clearly how the possibility of salvation exists for infants, pre-Christians, retarded people, etc.

Ultimately, we are responsible for our yes to God's grace, however He reaches us. The dangers that put our souls in peril are vast and this doesn't mean God has some big loophole so anything goes. Jesus put it plainly,

"to whom much is given, much is required." (Luke 12:48)

God's salvific will is universal (cf. 1 Timothy 4:10), so he would be a serious under-achiever if the possibility was not made to all whom he created except those within earshot of the Gospel.
I think he deserves better credit than that.

Your friend has an obligation to follow the truth, if he turns away from it, that is when he is in peril. When Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." (John 14:6), He is either:

  1. telling the truth
  2. he's lying, or
  3. he's crazy
  • Can your friend find a more credible Savior?
  • Is he going to save himself?

I would keep the focus on Jesus' claims, because ultimately, He is the one that can deliver.

Peace,

Bob Kirby

Mike replied:

Hi Andrew,

I just wanted to add to what my colleagues Eric and Bob have said.

As to your question of whether your friend is condemned or not, I would agreed with my colleague Eric:

I would argue that one has to personally know and be personally convinced of the necessity of the Catholic Church in one's heart of hearts, not merely know that the Catholic Church teaches that it is necessary (but not personally believe it).

Nevertheless, it sounds like he has a very guilt conscience.

My short and simple interpretation that I believe represents what the Church teaches on this teaching holds all three statements together:

  • Those who no fault of there own don't know the Gospel or have not been presented with the Gospel through no fault of their own, can, not will, but can be saved.
  • Those who know the Church is the True Church yet refuse to enter it, can not be saved.
  • All men and women are bound to form their consciences and grow in the knowledge of:
    • Christ
    • the history of their current denomination, and
    • be open to learning about the Catholic faith: the only Church Our Lord established on St. Peter and his successors.

All three of these statements should be articulated when explaining this important doctrine of the Church.

Hope this helps,

Mike

Eric followed-up:

Andrew,

As an example, the Lord sometimes works in our lives to bring us, over time, to the knowledge of the truth.

Let's suppose you were a non-Catholic and the Lord had been working in your life and showing you how true the Catholic faith was. You saw that it made sense, and came to realize intellectually:

  • that Christ had to have founded a visible church
  • that this Church is necessary for salvation, and
  • that this Church is the Catholic Church of today.

However, for other reasons — say a residual hatred of the Catholic Church or a refusal to submit to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church or whatever irrational reason — you deliberately and willingly decided to reject that next logical step to join the Catholic Church, then you could not be saved.

This is different from the case where someone has sincere unresolved difficulties with the Catholic faith and cannot, in conscience, accept that it is the Church founded by Christ as necessary for salvation.

The key is that you must humbly accept the truth that God has revealed to you and cooperate with His graces.

If you resist the Holy Spirit for culpable reasons, you get yourself in trouble.

Eric

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