In other words: “Outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation.”
1. The Catholic Church alone gives salvation; i.e., the Catholic Church alone possesses those means which lead to salvation, viz., the doctrine of Christ, the means of salvation appointed by Christ, and the teachers and guides of the Church established by Christ.
The Church cannot teach that truth and error lead equally well to salvation; she makes no declaration as to who is saved, but states only what is necessary for salvation. The judgment of particular individuals is left to the God Who searches hearts (Ps. vii. 10). Her doctrine is not a declaration of intolerance to the individual, but of intolerance of error, such an intolerance as God Himself expressed when He forbade false gods to appear before Him (1 Cor. v.). So far is the Church from hating those outside her pale that in her public prayers on Good Friday she begs God’s mercy for them. The persecutions of the Middle Ages formed no part of the work of the Church, which desired not the death, but the conversion of the sinner; it was the civil power which used force to repress heretics, because as a rule they disturbed the public peace and morality. The Church is the way to salvation; it differs in this respect from the synagogue; the latter merely pointed out the way of salvation in the distant future, while the Church claims itself to be the true way. The Catholic Church is distinct from the heretical churches which have corrupted Christ’s doctrine and have rejected the means of grace, especially Mass and penance. Their way is a roundabout way, or the wrong way. “The further one goes out of the right path,” says St. Augustine, “the further he is from the goal of his journey.”
2. Hence every man is bound to become a member of the Catholic Church.
Some will say that a man ought not to change his religion; they might just as well argue that a man may keep an inheritance which his father obtained unjustly. Others say: “One faith is as good as another, and all lead equally well to heaven.” This is to profess indifferentism. It is certain that one religion only can be the true one, i.e., the one revealed by God; and reason alone would tell us that the truth is what we should aim at. It is absurd to suppose that God is unconcerned whether man adore Him or sticks and stones, or whether Christ be regarded as His Son or as a blasphemer. Why should Christ, and after Him the apostles, preach the Gospel amid so much persecution, if it were of no moment what a man believed? Why were the apostles so vehement in denouncing those who perverted the teaching of Christ (Gal. i. 8; 2 John i. 10)? Why should God have converted Saul, and sent an angel to Cornelius? The apostles gave the reason: “There is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved” (Acts iv. 12). And Christ said: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by Me” (John xiv. 6), Hence it is that so many eminent people enter the Church, despite the sacrifices en tailed. Queen Christina, the only daughter of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the arch-enemy of the Catholics, studied the Catholic teaching and was persuaded of its truth; and as the laws of the land forbade her to practice her faith, she resigned her crown and spent the rest of her days in Rome. So, too, in the beginning of the century Count Stolberg resigned his post on his conversion. In England during the last few decades very many most distinguished men have entered the Church, especially Cardinals Newman and Manning. Even from Judaism there have been remarkable conversions, as, e.g., those of Ratisbonne and Liebermann.
3. Whoever through his own fault remains outside the Church will not be saved.
A man who, knowing the Catholic Church to be the true one, leaves it, say, to make a good marriage, or to push on his business, or for some such unworthy motive, will not be saved; so, too, of the man who from a cowardly fear of the reproaches or the disesteem of others, does not enter the Church. The same is true of the man who having solid doubts as to whether his Church is the true one, takes no pains to find out the truth. Such as these love the darkness better than the light (John iii. 19). “He cannot have God for a Father, who has not the Church for a Mother,” says St. Cyprian. “He who has not Christ for a Head,” are the words of St. Augustine, “cannot be saved; and he who does not belong to the body of Christ, i.e., to the Church of Christ, has not Christ for his Head.” “He who breaks away from the Church separates himself from Christ” (Council of Lateran, iv.).
If, however, a man, through no fault of his own, remains outside the Church, he may be saved if he lead a God-fearing life; for such a one is to all intents and purposes a member of the Catholic Church.
The majority of men who have been brought up in heresy think that they belong to the true Church; their error is not due to hatred of God. A man who leads a good life and has the love of God in his heart, really belongs to the Church, and such a one is saved, not by his heresy, but by belonging to the Church. St. Peter said: “In every nation he that feareth God and worketh justice is acceptable to Him” (Acts x. 35). “The Catholic Church,” says St. Gregory the Great, “embraces all the just from Abel to the last of the elect at the end of the world.” All who lived up to their lights were Christians, though they might have been looked upon as godless, as, e.g., Socrates among the Greeks, Abraham and Elias among the Jews. They do not belong to the body of the Church, that is, they are not externally in union Math the Church, but they are of the soul of the Church, i.e., they have the sentiments which the members of the Church should have.
Thus the Catholic Church has members both visible and in visible.
The visible members are those who have been received into the Church by Baptism. The following are not members: The unbaptized (heathens, Jews, Mohammedans), formal heretics (Protestants), and schismatics (the Greeks), those who are excommunicated. The invisible members are those who without any fault of their own are outside the Church leading God-fearing lives.
The visible members of the Church are called living or dead members, according as they are in the state of sanctifying grace or not.
It is an error to think that those who have fallen into grave sin are no longer members of the Church. The Church is like a field, in which grow both wheat and cockle (Matt. xiii. 24), or like a net which contains fish both good and bad (Matt. xiii. 47). It is not enough to belong to the Church; a man should also live up to his belief, otherwise “ is membership will help only to his greater condemnation.
This article, 8. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ALONE GIVES SALVATION is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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