(No Salvation Outside the Church)
Today's pluralistic and godless society creates an environment of indifference in matters of religion in order to achieve a false and empty unity and liberty. It is said that everyone must be allowed to believe as they see fit and do what makes them happy. The implication is that God is not very concerned about whether one believes in what is true, for all will be saved as long as they are "nice." Some come to this conclusion by asserting that there does not exist any objective truth for us to adhere to, which in turn leads to a denial of the existence of God. Others say that there exist only a few basic objective truths that we need to believe in order to be saved. Both opinions miss the plain reality of the order established by God – one must believe all and everything that the Catholic Church teaches to be saved.
This assertion implies that all non-Catholic religions are false, that only the Catholic Church contains the entire deposit of Truth given to the Apostles by Christ, and that this entire deposit – not a majority of it or a part of it – is necessary for salvation. Although these truths are denied and scorned by today's world, they are fully in accord with common sense and the constant teaching of the Church. Christ gave to the Apostles the entire deposit of faith ("The Holy Ghost will teach you all things" John 14:26), told them to pass it on to the world ("Going therefore, teach ye all nations" Matt. 28:19), and threatened damnation for those who did not believe them ("He who believes not will be condemned" Mark 16:16). He would not have condemned to hell the disbelievers if either it was not important to believe all that the Apostles taught or if He was not certain that the Apostles were teaching the truth ("He that heareth you heareth Me" Luke 10:16). The Apostles themselves knew that all who believed in any way different from their infallible teaching would perish – "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema" (Gal. 1:8).
Christ did not intend for only men who lived in the Apostles' lifetime to know and live the Truth. He ensured that the deposit of faith would be passed on throughout the generations so that all might have an opportunity to believe all that He entrusted to the Apostles – "I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt. 28:20). His truth, the actual truth, never changes, and it is as important to hold it today as it was in the first century. It is only by holding to what is true that we can love and serve God and be saved, for false principles lead to evil actions. Since there is only one truth and it is unchanging and indispensable, it is impossible for more than one of the systems of belief or religions that exist in the world to lead to salvation. Any other position negates the words of Our Lord.
It is certainly through the Catholic Church that Our Lord has guided men to keep the deposit entrusted to the Apostles throughout the centuries. It is the Catholic Church that defeated the many heresies against the nature and person of Christ, long before Protestant denominations appeared, such as Arianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, Nestorianism, Pelagianism, Apollonarism, etc.. – all of these had to be opposed vigorously with the true doctrine before they were extirpated, and some still exist today. It is the Catholic Church that holds to the same doctrines that the Fathers, who had the words of the Apostles "resounding in their ears", taught and defended and which all but the schismatics reject today – auricular confession, veneration of images, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, the existence of seven sacraments, the Church as the final arbiter of all doctrinal disputes, and many more. It is only the Catholic Church that has not changed and it is only She that has existed since the time of Christ.
The Church has certainly always been aware that she has been given by Christ the entire deposit of revelation to guard until the last day and thus asserts the infallibility of her Supreme Pastor, appointed by Christ to be His Vicar on earth, and also that salvation can be found only within her maternal bosom. Whenever the Pope, 1.) using his full apostolic authority, 2.) defines, 3.) as supreme teacher of all Christians, 4.) a matter of faith or morals 5.) that must be held by the universal Church, he is infallible and is expressing a doctrine that is part of the deposit of the faith entrusted to the Apostles and which has been believed always and everywhere by Catholics.
The Catholic Church has solemnly defined three times by infallible declarations that outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation. The most explicit and forceful of the three came from Pope Eugene IV, in the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441, who proclaimed ex cathedra: "The Most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, also Jews, heretics, and schismatics can ever be partakers of eternal life, but that they are to go into the eternal fire 'which was prepared for the devil and his angels' (Mt. 25:41) unless before death they are joined with Her... No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ can be saved unless they abide within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church."
The other two infallible declarations are as follows: There is one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all can be saved. Pope Innocent III, ex cathedra, (Fourth Lateran Council, 1215).
We declare, say , define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. Pope Boniface VIII, (Unam Sanctam, 1302).
This means, and has always meant, that salvation and unity exist only within the Catholic Church, and that members of heretical groups cannot be considered as "part" of the Church of Christ. This doctrine has been the consistent teaching of the Popes throughout the centuries.
Further, it is dogmatically set forth that no authority in the Church, no matter how highly placed, may lawfully attempt to change the clear meaning of this (or any) infallible dogma. Vatican I taught: "The meaning of Sacred Dogmas, which must always be preserved, is that which our Holy Mother the Church has determined. Never is it permissible to depart from this in the name of a deeper understanding." This same Vatican I defined solemnly that not even a Pope may teach a new doctrine.
Naturally, the truth that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church has been supported by all the saints from every age. Following are several examples:
St. Irenaeus (130-202), Bishop and Martyr: "The Church is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account we are bound to avoid them . . . . We hear it declared of the unbelieving and the blinded of this world that they shall not inherit the world of life which is to come . . . . Resist them in defense of the only true and life giving faith, which the Church has received from the Apostles and imparted to her sons."
St. Augustine (354-430), Bishop and Doctor of the Church: "No man can find salvation except in the Catholic Church. Outside the Catholic Church one can have everything except salvation. One can have honor, one can have sacraments, one can sing alleluia, one can answer amen, one can have faith in the Name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and preach it too, but never can one find salvation except in the Catholic Church."
St. Fulgentius (468-533), Bishop: "Most firmly hold and never doubt that not only pagans, but also Jews, all heretics, and all schismatics who finish this life outside of the Catholic Church, will go into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604): "The holy universal Church teaches that it is not possible to worship God truly except in Her and asserts that all who are outside of Her will not be saved."
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226): "All who have not believed that Jesus Christ was really the Son of God are doomed. Also, all who see the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and do not believe it is really the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord . . . these also are doomed!"
St. Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274), the Angelic Doctor: There is no entering into salvation outside the Catholic Church, just as in the time of the Flood there was not salvation outside the Ark, which denotes the Church."
St. Louis Marie de Montfort (1673-1716): "There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Anyone who resists this truth perishes."
St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), Bishop and Doctor of the Church: "Outside the Church there is no salvation...therefore in the symbol (Apostles Creed) we join together the Church with the remission of sins: 'I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins"...For this reason the Church is compared to the Ark of Noah, because just as during the deluge, everyone perished who was not in the ark, so now those perish who are not in the Church."
St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1696-1787), Bishop and Doctor of the Church: "All the misfortunes of unbelievers spring from too great an attachment to the things of life. This sickness of heart weakens and darkens the understanding, and leads to eternal ruin. If they would try to heal their hearts by purging them of their vices, they would soon receive light, which would show them the necessity of joining the Catholic Church, where alone is salvation. We should constantly thank the Lord for having granted us the gift of the true Faith, by associating us with the children of the Holy Catholic Church ... How many are the infidels, heretics, and schismatics who do not enjoy the happiness of the true Faith! Earth is full of them and they are all lost!"
Pope Pius XII (1939-1958): Some say they are not bound by the doctrine which teaches that the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing. Some reduce to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation. Others finally belittle the reasonable character of the credibility of Christian Faith. These and like ERRORS, it is clear, have crept in among certain of our sons who are deceived by imprudent zeal for souls or by false science." (The dates for the two Popes are the years they reigned as Sovereign Pontiffs.)
The greatest act of charity that one can perform is to bring others to the truth. The Catholic Faith is a gift from God, one that can be shared, one that gives life and salvation. Mother Church, being solicitous for the welfare of all mankind, has always sought to bring all into the One Fold (John 10:16), and to unite all in the profession of the one Faith given to us by Christ through the Apostles. If She were to hide the truth, or be content to leave others in their error, She would be cruel and indifferent.
This is a great lesson for Catholics, for many do not esteem the priceless value of their Faith as they should. It must be given to others at every opportunity; it must be passed on to those who languish without the true sacraments, who struggle to interpret the Bible without an infallible teaching authority, or who lead often immoral lives without the guidance of the "pillar and ground of truth" (I Tim. 5"15).
Let all Catholics then, be both like the martyrs of old, who died rather than relinquish one doctrine of their Catholic Faith, and like the great missionaries, who endured extreme privations and sufferings in order to bring salvation to even one soul. It is only a firm belief in the importance of the Catholic Faith for salvation that motivated these heroic actions and it is only such a faith that can "overcome the world" today (I John 5:4).