I don't care if I'm right, but what is the truth about salvation outside the Church?

I’ve been in a discussion with another Catholic on a Catholic message board concerning a statement I made to a protestant who posted in the apologetics forum concerning being separated from Christ.

I understand, based on my reading of CCC paragraph 838, that baptized Non-Catholic Christians are in imperfect communion with the Catholic Church and so are not necessarily separated from Christ.

I was corrected by another poster who pointed to Pius XI’s encyclical Mortalium Animos. I read the encyclical, and it seemed to me that the Holy Father was responding specifically to a situation involving the participation of Catholics in ecumenical organizations that attempted to water down or deny the importance of Catholic doctrine and the True Church. I found two articles (including one from This Rock) that supported my reading. (This poster also indicated that I should be reading the CCC through the “lense”" of Mortalium Animos. I responded that the CCC was undoubtedly informed by it and all other encyclicals.)

To clarify my understanding, I read Lumen Gentium and found a passage (ch. 2, sec 15) that supports 838 in the CC. I pointed out this passage from that source:

They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God.(16*) They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power.

He then pointed me to Unitatis Redintegration. I read this encyclical, and responded that this also supports Lumen Gentium and the CCC, specifically ch. 1, sec 3:

The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect.

This person then informed me that I was in grave error and that I was either reading a a poor translation of the Latin or I had misunderstood what I had read. I resolved that I won’t post on that topic again until I’ve thoroughly researched the subject and come to a proper understanding.

I then went to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, where I found the following concerning the dogma.

It has always been believed that there is no salvation outside the Church, but as this belief has gradually come to be better understood, many are now considered within the soul of the Church who would have been placed without, in a day when the distinction between the soul and the body of the Church had not generally obtained.

My understanding was informed by this belief—that dogma develops, and that such a thing had indeed happened concerning the dogma concerning salvation and the Church.

I don’t care if I’m right. I want to know the Truth of the matter. Could you point me to some orthodox, exhaustive discussions of this topic? Also, how would you respond to this fellow’s assertions?

Please help!

Dear Billicus,

Well, you ARE right and Lumen Gentium backs you up! What you have been discussing, though you haven’t used the term, is invincible (innocent) ignorance. Here is an article on it by Jimmie Akin:


Also, read what the Church Fathers have to say about salvation outside the Church:


I’m not optimistic about anyone convincing your opponent on the Forum. In this case I suspect only prayer can conquer such a person.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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