No salvation outside the Catholic Church?

If I understand this correctly, the original reformers and first generation protestants were heretics as they knew the truth of the Catholic Church and rejected it for their own heresies. But Protestants born into protestantism are not heretics as it is all they know and thus because they are baptised in valid Catholic baptismal formula, they are saved by being spiritual members of the Catholic Church due to their baptism.

As such they aren’t “outside” the Catholic Church?

What do we make of ex Catholics who ,today, reject the Catholic Church for Protestantism? Are they equivalent to the reformation heretics and thus outside the Catholic Church (for they reject the truth for heresy)?

All answers are much appreciated :slight_smile:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines these three sins against the faith in this way: 2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it.
"Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same…

The Church’s moral theology has always distinguished between objective or material sin and formal sin. The person who holds something contrary to the Catholic faith is materially a heretic. They possess the matter of heresy, theological error. Thus, prior to the Second Vatican Council it was quite common to speak of non-Catholic Christians as heretics, since many of their doctrines are objectively contrary to Catholic teaching. This theological distinction remains true, though in keeping with the pastoral charity of the Council today we use the term heretic only to describe those who willingly embrace what they know to be contrary to revealed truth. Such persons are formally (in their conscience before God) guilty of heresy. Thus, the person who is objectively in heresy is not formally guilty of heresy if 1) their ignorance of the truth is due to their upbringing in a particular religious tradition (to which they may even be scrupulously faithful), and 2) they are not morally responsible for their ignorance of the truth. This is the principle of invincible ignorance, which Catholic theology has always recognized as excusing before God.

The same is true of apostasy. The person who leaves not just the Catholic Church but who abandons Christ Himself is materially an apostate. He is formally an apostate through willful, and therefore culpable, repudiation of the Christian faith.

Finally, the person who refuses submission to the Roman Pontiff, whom Vatican I defined as having a universal primacy of authority over the whole Church, is at least a material schismatic. It was thus common in the past to speak of the schismatic Orthodox Churches who broke with Rome in 1054. As with heresy, we no longer assume the moral culpability of those who belong to Churches in schism from Rome, and thus no long refer to them as schismatics.

When it comes to Catholics who are formally guilty of heresy, apostasy or schism, the Church applies the penalty of excommunication. The 1983 Code of Canon Law, repeating the sanctions of the earlier 1917 Code, states,

c. 1364

  1. With due regard for can. 194, part 1, n. 2, an apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication and if a cleric, he can also be punished by the penalties mentioned in can. 1336, part 1, nn. 1, 2, and 3.
  2. If long lasting contumacy or the seriousness of scandal warrants it, other penalties can be added including dismissal from the clerical state.
    This canon is saying that once a person willingly repudiates Christ, embraces a heresy, knowing it to be contrary to divine and Catholic faith, or refuses submission to the Roman Pontiff , by virtue of the law itself they are automatically excommunicated. No ecclesiastical act is necessary and no public notice.

However, to incur this latae sententia excommunication one must satisfy the general conditions for canonical culpability set out in the Code. For example, a person who has not been diligent (prudently weighing the issues involved) in their action is not punished.
c. 1321
1. No one is punished unless the external violation of a law or a precept committed by the person is seriously imputable to that person by reason of malice or culpability.
2. A person who has deliberately violated a law or a precept is bound by the penalty stated in the law or that precept; unless a law or a precept provides otherwise, a person who has violated that law or that precept through a lack of necessary diligence is not punished.
3. Unless it is otherwise evident, imputability is presumed whenever an external violation has occurred.

A person who lacks the proper use of reason is likewise not punishable.
c. 1322 Persons who habitually lack the use of reason are considered incapable of an offense even if they have violated a law or a precept while appearing to be sane.
The following canon completes the list of conditions that can prevent the application of an excommunication and other ecclesiastical sanctions.

c. 1323 
The following are not subject to penalties when they have violated a law or precept:
(1) a person who has not yet completed the sixteenth year of age; 
(2) a person who without any fault was unaware of violating a law or precept; however, inadvertence and error are equivalent to ignorance; 
(3) a person who acted out of physical force or in virtue of a mere accident which could neither be foreseen nor prevented when foreseen; 
(4) a person who acted out of grave fear, even if only relatively grave, or out of necessity or out of serious inconvenience unless the act is intrinsically evil or verges on harm to souls; 
(5) a person who for the sake of legitimate self-defense or defense of another acted against an unjust aggressor with due moderation; 
(6) a person who lacked the use of reason with due regard for the prescriptions of cann. 1324, part 1, n. 2 and 1325; 
(7) a person who without any fault felt that the circumstances in nn. 4 or 5 were verified. 

To address your question specifically, are Catholics today who reject Catholicism and become protestant Outside of the Church? The answer is yes assuming that the former Catholic was diligent in his/her decision to reject the Church since that person would formally be a heretic and thus excommunicated.

Here’s an analogy I use:

There’s a runaway train. Hundreds of people are on board. All will die unless the train is saved. Many don’t even realize that they are in danger. The engineer and coal man are terrified and are trying their hardest to slow the train down. Some people in the first carriage are trying to help them - the realize the danger.

Most people don’t know this but Indiana Jones is on the train. He has a plan to save the train. He quickly tells the engineer who agrees to help. Some of those already working wotht he engineer don;t believed the plan could work.

Indiana Jones does indeed save the train. No lives are lost. Most were ignorant of what happened and are still wondering why their train has come to a halt. Only a few know what happened and are truly grateful.

From the Catechism:

"Outside the Church there is no salvation"

846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? [335] Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

[INDENT]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. [336]

847 This affirmation 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. [337]

848 “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.” [338]

[335] Cf. Cyprian, Ep. 73.21:PL 3,1169;* De unit.*:PL 4,509-536.
[336] LG 14; cf. Mk 16:16; *Jn *3:5.
[337] LG 16; cf. DS 3866-3872.
[338] AG 7; cf. Heb 11:6; 1 Cor 9:16.

Like most things of whether or not an individual goes to Hell, it depends on that specific individual, and there is no universal answer. Only God is the final judge in this matter though.

Some leave because they were nominal Catholics, who never really believed the Catholic faith. Then there’s the poorly catechized, who were taught poorly, and then got suckered by Protestant propoganda. I believe those people have a shot at Heaven, if only because they left Catholicism because they didn’t really know much better.

People who leave because they dislike the Church though, well, their odds aren’t looking so good. They knew what Christ’s Church teaches, and willingly chose to leave, rejecting Him. But again, God is final judge, and only God can see what is on your heart.

If you find yourself in heaven, you will be Catholic and it will have come by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church Jesus founded for that very reason.

There is no salvation outside of the catholic church
Just a lot of other religions want to go to heaven unwittingly. But, God in his Mercy is the judge one ever knows except Him. :slight_smile:

God bless

I can’t help with the interpretation but here are a few of the relevant passages from the CCC that have not been posted yet.

Wounds to unity

817 In fact, "in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame."269 The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ’s Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism270 - do not occur without human sin:

Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.271

818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers … All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church."272

819 "Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth"273 are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements."274 Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him,275 and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."276

Who belongs to the Catholic Church?

836 "All men are called to this catholic unity of the People of God… and to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God’s grace to salvation."320

837 "Fully incorporated into the society of the Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept all the means of salvation given to the Church together with her entire organization, and who - by the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government, and communion - are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but ‘in body’ not ‘in heart.’"321

838 "The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter."322 Those "who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church."323 With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound "that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist."324

I believe everyone has a path to salvation from God. Of course this all goes through our beloved Church but anyone who seeks truth and justice can have salvation.

Triumphguy has it right.

His analogy can be viewed in deeper and wider perspectives.

Great job Triumphguy! :thumbsup:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit