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January 24, 2008 / vivator

Salvation of Non-Christians

What is the fate of those who lived and died before they have the chance to hear the Gospel?  Before we answer that question we need to briefly summarize what Catholics believe about our salvation:

  1. Men, though have freedom, can neither will nor save themselves without God’s Grace.  God, by His Grace, takes the first initiative for our salvation and using our freedom we response to and cooperate with His Grace.  Grace is (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1996) favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons (John 1:12), partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life (2 Peter 1:4).

  2. God calls all men for salvation and therefore He gives His Grace through Christ to everyone.  Scripture says (RSV): ‘For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men’ (Titus 2:11) and ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (1 Corinthians 15:22).

  3. Since the initiative for our salvation belongs to God, there is what we call as predestination. God predestines some (the Elect) to heaven but He predestines no one to hell. Scripture says that He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4, RSV).  Those who end up in hell do so because they, in using their freedom, reject or refuse to cooperate with His Grace.

  4. God’s Grace first moves us to believe in Christ and to obey His Commandments. Without His Grace we cannot do both, not even have the initiative to do them. Scripture says (RSV): ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him‘ (John 6:44) and ‘Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God‘ (2 Corinthians 3:5).  Catholics believe that salvation is by grace with which we must cooperate using our freedom.  Thus Catholics reject what is known as monergism, the belief that God’s grace requires no human cooperation.  Scripture says (RSV):   ‘But by the grace of God I am what I am. and his grace toward me was not in vain.  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me (1 Corinthians 15:10) and ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). In Revelation 3:20 while Christ takes the initiative to knock at our door He waits our response to open the door to welcome Him.

  5. The Elect have assurance of salvation but unless God reveals it to us we cannot identify them.

  6. Christ died on the cross for all men – He ‘who gave himself as a ransom for all’ (1 Timothy 2:6, RSV), who ‘came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15, RSV) and who ‘came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10, RSV).

  7. Faith in Christ and in God is God’s free gift – He gave it to us not because we did something to deserve it; faith is necessary and is the beginning of our salvation.  Once we believe in Christ and if we have the opportunity we should be baptized and become the member of His Church, which is His Body; then with the help of and moved by God’s Grace we obey His commandments – we undergo what Scripture calls as Sanctification.  Scripture says (RSV): ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved’ (Mark 16:16), Do this and you will live“! (Luke 10:28) and ‘God chose you from the beginning to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Scripture nowhere says that faith alone saves us.  Christ said (RSV): ‘Not every one who says to me, Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is ion heaven (Matthew 7:21).  ‘You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24, RSV)

From these seven points Catholics believe that salvation is still possible to those who NOT through their own fault, do not hear the Gospel and therefore do not know the Church.  Since God, by His Grace offers salvation to all (Titus 2:11) and through Christ all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22) then He should provide a mean to those who never heard the Gospel – He would not contradict Himself or makes empty promise.

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.

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 847

Is there any biblical basis for what Catholics believe? 

And Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Acts 10:34 (RSV)

One might argue that here Scripture talks about Cornelius who later became believers of Christ.   But certainly there are other Cornelius’ in every nation who fear God and do what is right, which is acceptable to God, even if they do not know Christ.   Are they saved by their works?   Recall that Catholics believe no one can do any good works without being first moved by God’s Grace.

It is worth to mention that Clause 847 should be read together with:

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, 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.

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 846

Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 848


One Comment

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  1. Matthew Grant / Feb 19 2008 11:14 pm

    The Church Fathers often avowed that “outside the Church there is no salvation.” Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, at
    first glance, seemingly contradicts this significant declaration in his optimistic thesis that some non-Christians, even self-professed atheists, may be called anonymous Christians because they have anonymous faith in Christ. This paper will argue that Rahner’s thesis is quite plausible because it does not at all deny that the Church, with Christ as its head, is necessary for salvation, but clearly acknowledges the possibility that a non-Christian who genuinely and freely follows his or her pure conscience is indeed accepting
    Christ’s offer of salvation and therefore is counted among the faithful of God’s universal Church.

    Rahner’s thesis is fundamentally rooted in the convictions that God is a merciful and loving God who wants to save all
    humanity, that the Holy Spirit is at the core of each person’s pure conscience, and that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. Rahner cannot accept that God, who became incarnate and died for the sins of the world, would damn all those without explicit faith in Christ. Surely there are people who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ, but stay true to their pure consciences in their everyday actions. These particular people, even atheists, have anonymous faith because they freely seek the Truth, which points to the fact that they have accepted God’s gift of love through the power of the Holy Spirit. Certainly anonymous faith must be a faith in Christ because Christ, the Incarnate Truth, is the only path to salvation.

    No doubt Rahner’s thesis provides hope that some non-Christians can enter the Church, but it does not imply that the gates of Heaven will be open for all. Rahner argues that when a person knowingly acts against his or her pure conscience, he or she rejects God’s offer of salvation. Rahner, true to his optimistic approach, does not underscore the consequence of such a rejection. Christ considers the rejection of the Holy Spirit to be an unforgivable sin! (cf. Matt 12:31-32; Mark 3:29-30) If one freely refuses God’s grace, even if he or she outwardly professes faith in Christ, he or she remains outside the Church where no salvation can ever be

    Rahner can be rightly criticised for not citing specific biblical passages to support his thesis. Moreover, certain verses of the New Testament appear to demonstrate that his argument is incompatible with Christ’s message. In John 3:5, for instance, Christ affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation. Rahner’s argument, on the other hand, is consistent with the belief that Christ, following his death, descended into hell to save all righteous individuals (i.e., anonymous Christians) who had died before God was fully revealed through the Incarnate Truth (cf. 1 Pet 3:18-20; 4:6). These anonymous, un-baptized Christians were now reborn and granted full communion with Christ and his body, the Church. At the heart of Rahner’s thesis is the hope that Christ will save all righteous people from all places and times.

    Rahner’s thesis may seem to severely diminish the importance of the Church’s mission, ordered and directed by Christ, to evangelize the world. In reality, however, evangelism is not at all undermined by Rahner’s thesis because a person’s inner faith in Christ is ever more strengthened once he or she is explicitly converted to Christianity through the Bible, apostolic tradition, and the sacraments of the Church. As well, a person who is familiar with the Gospel and a participant in the Eucharistic celebration can more fully realize if his or her conscience is guided by the Holy Spirit, mere human desires, or even Satan.

    Rahner’s thesis may be offensive to some non-Christians because it presumes that the Christian faith is the ultimate faith. Christian theologians, however, should not compromise their faith in the wake of political correctness. Rahner’s thesis, in fact,
    should be considered a vision of inclusion because it illustrates the true Christian hope that all people, Christians and non-Christians alike, will somehow find eternal life in Christ’s Church. Rahner’s thesis does not alter the truth of salvation, but only amends the formulation of that truth.

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