Does Perfect Charity save the non-Believer?


Faith ONLY was the foundation of Luther’s religion. An atheist has a hard time getting into heaven under the Faith ONLY postulate. Without Faith, even some Protestants view any ‘good deeds’ of the non-believer as sinful.

The question asked is whether the non-believer, committing an act of perfect love (perfect charity) for his neighbor, can merit heaven.

We have the example of a atheistic fireman rushing into a burning building to save a child, in doing so, he loses his life.

Does his act of charity towards his neighbor merit for him everlasting salvation.

In other words, ‘Does perfect charity save the unbeliever?’.




I am overjoyed to hear that you are begging God for his Mercy. That is what we do in the Catholic Church, rely on His mercy. For a minute there, I thought that by your quote from the KJV John 3:18 that by faith only you were guaranteed salvation.

God’s Mercy and his Justice are two sides of the same coin. He is merciful without being unjust, and He is just without holding back his mercy.

Whoever said I don’t approve of His judgment. Shame on you for falsifying Catholic Theology, and my profession of it…

I see no proof from you that perfect love of neighbor does not include love of God. That is where the Protestant notion of faith only cripples. Without faith, any good deed is sinful. Luther said that man must have faith, and faith only saved him – all else was of no value, even sinful.

A man can love God without loving his neighbor. But love of neighbor always includes love of God. And perfect love of neighbor includes perfect love of God.

The atheist giving up his life for his neighbor has perfect charity, and that perfect charity includes perfect love of God.

I have heard nothing to the contrary from you, whether from your private interpretation of the KJV or misunderstanding of Catholic Theology which proves that perfect charity does not save our atheist.

May perfect charity inspire you.



Which is good Lutheranism & good Christianity.

The question asked is whether the non-believer, committing an act of perfect love (perfect charity) for his neighbor, can merit heaven.

Not without grace & not without Christ. Of ourselves we cannot merit the least good, & deserve only damnation. As the Church prays

Merits without Christ are a lie & a blasphemy - one might as well be, & can as soon be, saved without Christ, as merit or be saved without Him. This issue is of the greatest importance.

That amounts to asking is for grace not to be gracious. It’s intolerable from a Lutheran & a Tridentine POV alike. :eek:

We have the example of a atheistic fireman rushing into a burning building to save a child, in doing so, he loses his life.

Does his act of charity towards his neighbor merit for him everlasting salvation.

In other words, ‘Does perfect charity save the unbeliever?’.


No such thing exists for the unbeliever, so the question is empty of meaning.



I will not be participating in your thread, but I wanted to let know I will be an observer.

I expect to enjoy this very much! I hope you get many posts to respond to from many, many visitors. :slight_smile:


The Catholic Church does differentiate between actual graces and sanctifying grace. Because God gives actual graces even to people who do not have sanctifying grace (i.e. are not saved), even people who are not saved can do good works, and these good works are not sins. However, no matter how many of these good works a person does, those works function on the principle of actual grace and not sanctifying grace.

The virtue of Charity is not a cardinal virtue but a theological virtue. By definition, only people who are saved (who have sanctifying grace) can perform a perfect act of charity. In other words, salvation comes before charity. On this matter both Protestants and Catholics agree. So it is not as if a non-believer cannot merit grace by a perfect act of charity, but that a non-believer is incapable of performing a perfect act of charity.

Now, unlike certain fundamentalists, Catholics would never say that everything a non-believer does is a sin. Your case of the sacrificial firefighter shows how atheists can possess true virtue and do good works, but we must remember Aristotle’s principle that happiness and perfection can only be judged in relation to a an entire lifetime. One act of virtue cannot make up for an entire lifetime of rejecting God. The only sacrifice truly capable of freeing men from their sins is the sacrifice of Jesus, because that is the only sacrifice to which God has attached sanctifying grace.


All merits and all salvation are through the merits of Jesus. Christ. I understand grace. No good deed is performed without actual grace.

I can’t figure out your point, or your conclusion. Is he saved by his perfect act of charity or not?

If not, please give theological reasons. Likewise, if he is not, give reasons.

The question is not empty of meaning, and happens a lot more than you think.

Catholics reject Lutheranism. I reject the thought that good deeds before justification are sinful. So does Trent.



I assume you prefer when questions are raised only when they are off-thread.



Nice post, but your logic is faulty. Sanctifying grace comes with Justification. How can your soul be in the state of sanctifying grace unless Charity was infused.

If not so, at what point is charity infused? Charity comes with sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace cannot exist without the theological virtues of Faith, hope, and charity.

I prefer St. Thomas Aquinas. Aristotle knew nothing of grace, or salvation.

Remember the words of Jesus: “No greater love than this doeth a man have than to lay down his life for his friend”




Obj. #1

Obj #2.

On the contrary, the Holy Apostle says "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. I Cor. 13:3

I answer that, sanctifying grace is the formal cause of charity. Charity thus depends on sanctifying grace, not the other way around. Now no man can earn sanctifying grace, but only the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore no act of charity can procure salvation, rather, only salvation can procure the virtue of charity. Now, the virtues are not individual actions but habits of actions, as argued in the Summa in the treatise on virtues. Therefore one act of charity cannot be considered a virtue.

Further, what appears to man to be virtue might not necessarily be so. Since charity is an infused grace, the virtue of charity cannot exist in a person except by that infusion. Therefore, what appears to man to be the virtue of charity, unless it is accompanied by that infused grace, it is not really the virtue of charity, either because it is not a virtue at all, or because it is one of the acquired virtues, like courage.

Answer to obj #1
A soul does not receive sanctifying grace because it is infused with the theological virtues, rather, it is infused with the theological virtues because it has received sanctifying grace.

Answer to obj #2.
The Apostle tells us that even “if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Therefore, the fact that one sacrifices his life does not indicate that his soul has been infused with the theological virtue of charity.

And where do you suppose Aquinas got his ideas of Ethics from? He wrote an entire treatise on Aristotle’s Nicomachaen Ethics where he went through and analyzed Aristotle’s arguments line by line. I actually recently wrote a paper where I head to do some research from both the Nicomachaen Ethics and the Summa Theologica. I only quote Aristotle by means of his association with Aquinas. The point I brought up, that happiness can only be thought of in reference to a lifetime, corresponds to Aquinas’s treatment of the virtues not as actions but as habits.

Just to make you happy though, I put this post in the Summa format.


Altho the normal way to initially receive the life of sanctifying grace is baptism, God may well decide to infuse that life of grace (save their soul) in someone because of their acts of love. God alone knows the heart of that atheist.

*Luke 7:47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." *



I think it all depends on the situation. Remember the Catholic Church here draws a distinction between vincible and invincible ignorance. Still, we must not think in terms of them earning salvation by their good works. Rather, salvation is always a gratuitous gift from God.


Of course not - I’ve explained why not.

The question is not empty of meaning, and happens a lot more than you think.

Catholics reject Lutheranism. I reject the thought that good deeds before justification are sinful. So does Trent.


Of course it’s impossible - it has never happened, it cannot happen, it never will. Therefore, it is empty & meaningless.

I’ve given you reasons. What Trent does not reject is the absolute necessity for grace - it affirms it, as does Lutheranism. And in a sense our works, even our “good” ones are indeed sins; most certainly including “good” ones before justification. Trent was right in one sense, but so, in another, was Luther. How can good deeds before justification not be full of uncleanness ?


Do you mean supernatural love? Such is only the result of having sanctifying grace infused into the soul (which can be lost through mortal sin). Normative way - in fact the only way we can see this is through Christian baptism. Of course there are the nuances - baptism of desire/blood

This might only be on the natural level - and if this is the case the answer would be no, it would not merit heaven.

*If *it’s on the supernatural level, then this person would have to have received
*]receive a baptism of desire upon his death
*]be invincibly ignorant of Christ and His Church - that is not guilty/culpable of rejecting Christ (which is harder I think than most folks think these days).
*]be free from all mortal sin - i.e. have Sanctifying Grace on his soul at the moment of his death.[/LIST]Because, if it’s Supernatural Chairty, that means somehow this athiest wasn’t an athiest - one cannot reject God and share in His Divine life at the same time. At best he could be an invincibly ignorant agnostic who still was seeking God but just didn’t know or ever hear about Christ before.

Not in and of itself - no.

I think the better question is “can an unbeliever have perfect charity?”

Theoretically, perhaps (and I could stand to be corrected here, but merely on the hypothetical/theoretical level), given a number of circumstances / criteria that must be present as defined and taught by HMC down through the ages. Simple good acts, even really good acts, don’t save us…only Christ and having His Divine Life in us (Sanctifying Grace) saves us. And if we got that, we are in HMC whether we know it or not.

Peace in Christ,


On the contrary, the Holy Apostle says "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. I Cor. 13:3

On the contrary, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, BUT HAVE PERFECT LOVE, I GAIN EVERYTHING.

This is only logical.

You said: “only salvation can procure the virtue of charity”

I think not! By God’s grace, I believe my soul is in the state of grace, and I have not attained salvation yet. I have the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, and I hope you do too. I have no guarantee that I will perserve to the end. I hope and pray so. How do you image that you don’t have the virtue of charity right now with sanctifying grace?

Perfect charity, which blots out sin, even before repentance, is beyond the unaided powers of sinners. In the 5th century, Pelagius taught that heaven can be won by our own powers, which of course is wrong and was condemned.

Our good Samaritan performs a salutary act, which positively serves towards the attainment of eternal life. But Pelagius raised the question: “Can a man perform salutary actions without the grace of God? No! is the emphatic answer of Catholicism, at the Council of Ephesus We need the help of God’s grace. We can do nothing of ourselves towards our salvation. (John 15: 4-5: “….for without Me, a man can do nothing”.

Moreover, we cannot form a really holy and salutary thought by our own power. How does our mythical man have the charitable thought to save his neighbor? By God’s actual grace moving him to do it.

Apart from Christ, we are all spiritually dead, and no natural action of ours can have any real value unto eternal life. It is a physical impossibility for us to do any salutary act – we need the grace of God.

Our good Samaritan needs actual grace to perform his meritorious act. And in his perfect love of his neighbor, motivated by actual grace, he has perfect love toward God. Without God, all of us are helpless – dead, as it were: we cannot move to grace.

Even the wish, the hope for God’s help is, of itself, the result of a movement of God’s grace. The first grace (actual grace) given to our good Samaritan was given to him by God himself – not of his own merit or work.

“It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish”. (Phil 2:13)



Excellent. Let’s explore his mind:
Whether every act of an unbeliever is a sin? ( IIa IIae q. 10 a. 4Summa Theologica)

Objection 1. It would seem that each act of an unbeliever is a sin. Because a gloss on Rom. 14:23, “All that is not of faith is sin,” says: “The whole life of unbelievers is a sin.” Now the life of unbelievers consists of their actions. Therefore every action of an unbeliever is a sin.

Objection 2. Further, faith directs the intention. Now there can be no good save what comes from a right intention. Therefore, among unbelievers, no action can be good.

Objection 3. Further, when that which precedes is corrupted, that which follows is corrupted also. Now an act of faith precedes the acts of all the virtues. Therefore, since there is no act of faith in unbelievers, they can do no good work, but sin in every action of theirs.

On the contrary, It is said of Cornelius, while yet an unbeliever (Acts 10:4,31), that his alms were acceptable to God. Therefore not every action of an unbeliever is a sin, but some of his actions are good.

I answer that, As stated above ( Ia IIae, q. 85, Aa. 2,4) mortal sin takes away sanctifying grace, but does not wholly corrupt the good of nature. Since therefore, unbelief is a mortal sin, unbelievers are without grace indeed, yet some good of nature remains in them. Consequently it is evident that unbelievers cannot do those good works which proceed from grace, viz. meritorious works; yet they can, to a certain extent, do those good works for which the good of nature suffices.

Hence it does not follow that they sin in everything they do; but whenever they do anything out of their unbelief, then they sin. For even as one who has the faith, can commit an actual sin, venial or even mortal, which he does not refer to the end of faith, so too, an unbeliever can do a good deed in a matter which he does not refer to the end of his unbelief.

Reply to Objection 1. The words quoted must be taken to mean either that the life of unbelievers cannot be sinless, since without faith no sin is taken away, or that whatever they do out of unbelief, is a sin. Hence the same authority adds: “Because every one that lives or acts according to his unbelief, sins grievously.”

Reply to Objection 2. Faith directs the intention with regard to the supernatural last end: but even the light of natural reason can direct the intention in respect of a connatural good.

Reply to Objection 3. Unbelief does not so wholly destroy natural reason in unbelievers, but that some knowledge of the truth remains in them, whereby they are able to do deeds that are generically good. With regard, however, to Cornelius, it is to be observed that he was not an unbeliever, else his works would not have been acceptable to God, whom none can please without faith. Now he had implicit faith, as the truth of the Gospel was not yet made manifest: hence Peter was sent to him to give him fuller instruction in the faith.



Please stand corrected. I am not posing a question where the love of this good samaritan was ‘natural love’, or ‘erotic love’, but supernatural love. "No greater love can a man have but to lay down his life for his friend’.

How many fireman died in the World Trade Center on 9/11? How many firemen lose their lives each year trying to save lives. Hundreds.

I remember back in the 1960’s when 11 New York fireman lost their lives - I don’t remember the year, but it was on the Feast of St. Luke.

It may be theoretical, but happens often enough in real life.



And more…

Whether it is necessary for salvation to believe anything above the natural reason? ( IIa IIae q. 2 a. 3Summa Theologica)

Objection 1. It would seem unnecessary for salvation to believe anything above the natural reason. For the salvation and perfection of a thing seem to be sufficiently insured by its natural endowments. Now matters of faith, surpass man’s natural reason, since they are things unseen as stated above (q. 1, a. 4). Therefore to believe seems unnecessary for salvation.

Objection 2. Further, it is dangerous for man to assent to matters, wherein he cannot judge whether that which is proposed to him be true or false, according to Job 12:11: “Doth not the ear discern words?” Now a man cannot form a judgment of this kind in matters of faith, since he cannot trace them back to first principles, by which all our judgments are guided. Therefore it is dangerous to believe in such matters. Therefore to believe is not necessary for salvation.

Objection 3. Further, man’s salvation rests on God, according to Ps. 36:39: “But the salvation of the just is from the Lord.” Now “the invisible things” of God “are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal power also and Divinity,” according to Rom. 1:20: and those things which are clearly seen by the understanding are not an object of belief. Therefore it is not necessary for man’s salvation, that he should believe certain things.

On the contrary, It is written (Heb. 11:6): “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

I answer that, Wherever one nature is subordinate to another, we find that two things concur towards the perfection of the lower nature, one of which is in respect of that nature’s proper movement, while the other is in respect of the movement of the higher nature. Thus water by its proper movement moves towards the centre (of the earth), while according to the movement of the moon, it moves round the centre by ebb and flow. In like manner the planets have their proper movements from west to east, while in accordance with the movement of the first heaven, they have a movement from east to west. Now the created rational nature alone is immediately subordinate to God, since other creatures do not attain to the universal, but only to something particular, while they partake of the Divine goodness either in “being” only, as inanimate things, or also in “living,” and in “knowing singulars,” as plants and animals; whereas the rational nature, in as much as it apprehends the universal notion of good and being, is immediately related to the universal principle of being.

Consequently the perfection of the rational creature consists not only in what belongs to it in respect of its nature, but also in that which it acquires through a supernatural participation of Divine goodness. Hence it was said above ( Ia IIae, q. 3, a. 8) that man’s ultimate happiness consists in a supernatural vision of God: to which vision man cannot attain unless he be taught by God, according to Jn. 6:45: “Every one that hath heard of the Father and hath learned cometh to Me.” Now man acquires a share of this learning, not indeed all at once, but by little and little, according to the mode of his nature: and every one who learns thus must needs believe, in order that he may acquire science in a perfect degree; thus also the Philosopher remarks (De Soph. Elench. i, 2) that “it behooves a learner to believe.”

Hence in order that a man arrive at the perfect vision of heavenly happiness, he must first of all believe God, as a disciple believes the master who is teaching him.

Reply to Objection 1. Since man’s nature is dependent on a higher nature, natural knowledge does not suffice for its perfection, and some supernatural knowledge is necessary, as stated above.

Reply to Objection 2. Just as man assents to first principles, by the natural light of his intellect, so does a virtuous man, by the habit of virtue, judge aright of things concerning that virtue; and in this way, by the light of faith which God bestows on him, a man assents to matters of faith and not to those which are against faith. Consequently “there is no” danger or “condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,” and whom He has enlightened by faith.

Reply to Objection 3. In many respects faith perceives the invisible things of God in a higher way than natural reason does in proceeding to God from His creatures. Hence it is written (Ecclus. 3:25): “Many things are shown to thee above the understandings of man.”



This is a tenet of Protestantism of many varieties, particularly Martin Luther.

St. Thomas may be helpful, but there is a more definite definition of heresy of this idea by the Council of Trent Concerning Justification, Sixth Session, Canon 7:

“If anyone says that all works done before justification, in whatever manner they may be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more he greviously he sins, let him be anathema”.



I do not think that everyone who lays down one’s life for another does so from supernatural charity…it can be done on the basis of natural love as well. In the latter case, it would profit nothing eternally for the person in question. I think you are reading too much into the passage.

I understand that folks lay down their lives for others - even athiests - but such acts are not necessarily on the supernatural level - and with true athiests - they couldn’t be. Such could be out of natural love - they could also be out of a sense of duty, honor, glory, excitement, etc. A multitude of reasons are possible.

I would only say that the Church teaches that it is impossible for a true athiest to make a supernatural act of love unless he/she is given a tremendous grace from Our Lord prior to that supernatural act of charity - in which case they would not technically be athiest when they die…they’d have been infused with His Divine Life which would have included Supernatural Faith, Hope and Charity, thus adding them to the body of Christ, the Church. In other words, God would have worked a miracle for that person. It’s theoretically possible sure - but we won’t know about it on this side of the pearly gates.

Peace in Christ,


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