Does paragraph 847 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church mean that someone outside of the Church can go to heaven? If a bushman in Africa never heard the gospel but knew there was a higher authority and did all he could to be the best person he could and helped other bushmen, would he go to heaven? Can you clarify what this paragraph means? Thank you for your time.
Let’s look at paragraph 847 of the Catechism:
This affirmation “Outside the Church there is no salvation”] is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
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 (CCC 847).
All that this says is that those who were blamelessly ignorant either of Christ or of the necessity to join the Church that he founded will not be excluded from heaven simply because of their innocent lack of knowledge. They will only be held accountable for what they do know and for how they lived their lives in light of what they did know.
That means that non-Catholics and non-Christians may go to heaven. On a level playing field, Catholics have a better chance at salvation because they have the fullness of divine revelation and access to the supernatural grace offered normatively through the sacraments, but no one will be barred from the heavenly gates through no fault of his own.
All who are saved – including non-Catholics and non-Christians – will be saved through Jesus Christ and through his mystical body, the Church. But some may not realize how they were saved until the next life.
Can Outsiders Be Insiders?** by Fr. Peter Stravinskas