No Salvation Outside the Catholic Church?
I attend a parish that subscribes to your service. I do not have the insert from this past Sunday and cannot remember the exact text so please excuse me. It was not the normal Joe Sixpack insert but rather one written by the devil. It listed various accomplishments that the devil has achieved one being the splitting of the Church by Luther. The text said something like "the devil got x-millions of lost souls in one transaction." Do you consider all non-Catholics lost souls under the devil's authority with no hope for salvation? It sounded that way to me but perhaps I did not understand the point.
"My greatest feat was about 500 years ago when I split the Pretender’s church and came up with Protestantism. (Oh, how I love reminding Luther of that every day!) I managed to get eight million souls in almost one fell swoop then.”
There isn’t anything here to imply I think non-Catholic Christians are hopelessly lost, but I also understand your reaction. Yours is a common reaction among Catholics who have family and friends who are Protestant and living a life as Godly as they can, and it’s a very valid concern. So let me explain the background to this and the Church’s official position.
When Martin Luther revolted in 1517, the new Protestantism spread like wildfire throughout Europe. By the time it was all said and done, Luther had managed to get eight million people to leave the Church with him. As the dust began to settle, Pope Paul III convoked the Council of Trent (1545-1563) to answer the heresies of the reformers.
Virtually everything the reformers had done (especially Luther, Calvin and Zwingli) was answered with unvarnished clarity and unapologetically. It had to be, as this was a serious wound to the Mystical Body of Christ. When dealing with the mass exodus of Catholics from the Church to the new Protestant churches, the Council declared “extra Ecclesiam null salus”, which means “outside the Church there is no salvation”. The reason for this proclamation is, these eight million Catholics knowingly and willingly left the only means of salvation established by Jesus Christ, which is the Catholic Church. So those who left the Church for Protestantism condemned themselves through their own actions, just as any modern Catholic would condemn himself if he died in a state of mortal sin.
Now let’s fast forward to the present era. The Fathers of Vatican Council II (1963-1965) explained it this way:
“Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: The one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism [Mark 16:16], and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” (Lumen Gentium 14)
But the Council Fathers didn’t leave it there. They went on to say:
“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 dictate of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (Lumen Gentium 16)
So why the softening of the Church’s teaching for modern Protestants? It’s not actually any softening at all. You see, it is a mortal sin for a Catholic to leave the Church, as is stated in Lumen Gentium 14, but for a sin to be mortal there are three conditions that have to be met: serious matter, sufficient reflection, and a full consent of a fully free will. All three conditions must be simultaneously present for the sin to be mortal. So are modern Protestants guilty here? Well, it’s certainly serious matter to “refuse to enter” or “remain in” the Church. But what of the serious reflection; that is, does the modern Protestant know it is serious matter? The answer is obviously “no”.
Modern Protestants have been taught only what their particular sects believe. They have no earthly idea that Jesus established the Catholic Church. The vast majority have no knowledge whatsoever of Christian history, much less a knowledge of Who established the Catholic Church, so they are not lost, provided they “try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictate of their conscience.”
There are millions upon millions of good Protestant Christians. Frankly, there will be a lot of Protestants who make it to heaven while a lot of Catholics will find themselves in hell. And because there are so many good Protestants who love Christ and want to follow Him, we are obliged to share the fullness of truth with them.
But this leaves us with two elephants standing in the middle of the room. First is Catholics who leave the Church for other faith communities. Catholics who leave the Church do so at their own eternal peril. It’s just as simple as that.
The other elephant actually comes down to our obligations regarding evangelization and the receptiveness on the part of non-Catholics. The mind of man is designed by God to know and tell the truth. Therefore, all people are obligated to seek absolute truth. Most non-Catholic Christians think what they practice is the truth, but you and I know it isn’t. This means we are obligated to reach out to non-Catholic Christians with the divinely revealed truths of the Catholic faith. Indeed, all Catholics have two primary obligations: to become saints and to share the faith with others. So if we refuse or neglect to share our faith with others, we commit a sin of omission. And once a non-Catholic Christian has had the faith explained to him, and the truth in all its purity has been given, he then risks eternity by refusing to enter the Catholic Church.
I was raised in a vehemently anti-Catholic home, and I followed the men of my family into the Masonic Order as a fourth generation Mason, so the last thing I wanted to do was become a Catholic. However, when I studied the faith and was taught everything pertaining to the ninth article of the Creed (I believe in the Catholic Church, the communion of saints…), which was also proven to me, I was faced with irrefutable truth and had to make a decision. Thanks be to God, I decided in favor of truth, as the mind of man was designed to do.
I hope this has answered your question. I realize it is a bit long, but I’ve learned over the years that a lack of clarity on my part only leads to additional questions that often go unasked and unanswered, so I apologize if I bored you with such a long piece of prose.