Salvation Outside the Catholic Church

Friends, how does the “invincibly ignorant” doctrine regarding salvation outside the Church apply when a poorly catechized cradle Catholic leaves the Church as an adult to join another Christian church? Understanding that ultimately only God knows the person’s heart, is that person’s salvation in jeopardy for leaving the Church?

If this hypothetical person were ignorant, by no fail of his own, of the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus, left the Church because he felt that it would help him to better serve God, and continued to live a virtuous life, both by his natural power and supernatural grace, I do not believe that he would sin by leaving the Church.

James, thanks for your reply. Doesn’t this person have some duty, however, to search for truth and perhaps re-visit the Church’s teachings, etc.? I ask this question because I myself experienced leaving the Church for the better part of a decade – only to return home. It seems the Church has lost so many in similar circumstances – poor catechesis followed by a luring to the emotional connection found in the non-denominational realm, and the ostensible beauty of the “simple Gospel message uncluttered by 2000 years of barnacles.” Your answer, which I am sure is well-studied, seems rather liberal in scope. I guess at the heart of it is what is meant by “no fault of one’s own.” Thanks again and God Bless.

Personally, I believe we should leave their eternal Salvation to God.

“Not everyone who says, ‘yes’ to God does His will” (even Catholics are subject to rejecting Gods will!)

Those who leave the fullness of the Church Communion (Eucharist) are NOT necessarily leaving a saving faith. I agree this is a troubling aspect of our (protestant Christianity) Church, but we MUST be happy for those who genuinely believe Jesus is our savior, and have turned from sin. Just because they may hold to degrees of heretical beliefs, does not mean they have apostacized!

Remember, the Lord also said, “…And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”

This tells me that they may ‘see’ some Teachings as from men, because men have not shown them the fruits of these Teachings (bad Catholics who say yes to God, but do not do His will)But they still find the Spirit of Jesus in other, more foundational ways, as being the Holy Spirit of God.


Thanks, Michael. But what if an expressed hostility (or hatred) develops for the Church in the heart of the separated brother? Is this apostacy in your view? My experience has been that those who leave the Church for evangelicalism or some modern protestant strain rarely do so out of indifference – they seem to develop a real distaste for their Catholic upbringing and try extra hard to convert their Catholic friends to their new-found truth.

Yes, I know what you are saying. I am a convert from evangelical free denomination. I have good Christian friends from that Church. But im not a big fan of the Catholics who left the faith for a less accurate and full deposit. They seem to be motivated by animosity and contempt. They spread misunderstandings into the genuine communities and cause unwarranted disdain.

I apologize that I didn’t include this. Yes, the man has an obligation to continue to search for Truth and for ways to please God better, a search which, if successful, will inevitably lead to the Catholic Church.

I ask this question because I myself experienced leaving the Church for the better part of a decade – only to return home.

Welcome home! :slight_smile:

It seems the Church has lost so many in similar circumstances – poor catechesis followed by a luring to the emotional connection found in the non-denominational realm, and the ostensible beauty of the “simple Gospel message uncluttered by 2000 years of barnacles.”

Indeed, Modernism has been growing stronger in recent years. Our Church needs prayers.

Your answer, which I am sure is well-studied, seems rather liberal in scope. I guess at the heart of it is what is meant by “no fault of one’s own.”

Hmmm… I certainly didn’t mean to come across as liberal; in fact, I am very much a traditionalist. What is meant by “no fault of one’s own” is that their ignorance is due to factors over which the person has no control.

James, your courtesy is only exceeded by your wisdom! Many thanks.

This might be a blessing in disguise; you never know. For example your friend joins another Christian church, sticks with it for a few months until he starts to dislike something the pastor said or did. Then hops to another denomination and sticks with it until he disagrees with something and switches to another. Maybe after 5 years of hopping back and forth he starts to ask himself what he has been doing for 5 years and decides to crack open the Catechism because he is bored one night but still searching for the truth. Then after investigating more and more and after he reads more of the Church Fathers he comes to realize he had the truth the entire time and didn’t know it. And then years later he comes back home just like you did. You never know, just pray that Jesus is there to guide and lead him.

I know this is a hard saying, but no one can give you a definitive answer to your question. One must remember that Protestants have no recourse to the sacrament of confession, but then again most have no concept of mortal sin and one must have full knowledge of the gravity of his sin for it to be mortal. Also they have no ability to consume the Lord’s body and blood and we know what the Lord said to His disciples in the Gospel of John, yet the good thief never had a chance to partake of the Lord’s Supper. All we know is that if those outside the Church are saved they are saved through the grace of Christ, but we have no assurance of their state. Indeed, we have no assurance of anyone’s state unless the Church, after careful investigation, canonizes someone.

A similar line of thought is that many people who have had mystical experiences, like Mother Angelica of EWTN, believe at the point of death a person has one last chance to repent; however, this is private revelation and I wouldn’t bet my soul on it.

To the best of my understanding:

When we say extra ecclesiam nulla salus, we in part mean that anyone who’s saved will inevitably be so through Christ. And in turn, our role in that is to follow the Church he founded. But at the same time, the Catholic Church rarely makes pronouncements on where people end up. The only people it declares that for is the saints. We don’t say non-Catholics are automatically condemned to Hell, just like we don’t say Catholics are automatically getting into Heaven.

For those who leave the Catholic Church who know it is the one true Church established by Christ, Peter Kreeft says that they probably don’t understand the Eucharist. The Church is Christ’s body that is presented to the Father at the end of time. So we should all get on board because it is on the move.
If someone is outside the Church they are not in Christ’s body and not being fed the graces to attain salvation. They don’t have the supernatural life that Baptism gives us that makes us God’s children and worthy of the heavenly inheritance. But that can be remedied by confession if they have been personally resisting the graces God has been giving them to bring them back. God wants all of us to attain salvation but not at the cost of our free will.

Ephesians 2
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Romans 10:13
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Romans 10:9
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Salvation is a gift of God not any particular church.

Mike SoCal #13
Salvation is a gift of God not any particular church.

As Christ clearly and expressly established His Church on St Peter – She is the means of salvation.

The Council of Trent, 1545-1563, pictured by some dissenters as triumphant and absolutist, defined the dogma of baptism by desire thus on to what Vatican II taught: “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.”

The correct interpretation and sense of the maxim is that we cannot be saved without the Church. It is through the Church, which carries on and makes present the salvific work of Jesus Christ in the world, that all who are saved reach heaven (even if it is perhaps only there that they realize it). Those who, through no fault of their own, have never known Christ or his Church can still be saved. But their salvation, too, is the effect of Jesus working through his Church. In a positive sense, this theological principle “means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body” (CCC 846).
Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine, OSV].

“The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of His Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.” (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 1990, 10).

This is true. :thumbsup:

If a Catholic turns their back on the Church it has nothing to do with invincible ignorance.
The possibility for a Catholic to be invincibly ignorant is the highly improbable scenario that they were brought up away from the church by a rogue priest who taught things that were against Church doctrine but the person thought they were real. Other than my silly example Catholics cannot be invincibly ignorant.
On the other hand Catholics can be vincibly ignorant, meaning they do not actually know what the Church teaches or do not understand a particular teaching. It is up to Catholics to ensure they do know what the Church teaches and try as best as they can to understand. If they try to learn more about a particular teaching but still fail to understand it then they have to accept that the teaching is correct nevertheless. Christ established the Catholic Church and gave it authority to teach. If you know this to be true then it follows that the Church cannot be in error in matters of faith and morals otherwise it would mean Christ lied.

Since’s the OP’s is a hypothetical scenario, I don’t think the probability of the event is relevant. But you are correct, nonetheless, an invincibly ignorant Catholic is a rare occurrence.

Thanks, CJ. I suspect that scenario is quite common, and it is not too different from my own journey.

So, you are saying that a once practicing Catholic who leaves the Church for denomination x or y, because he honestly believes the Church is apostate (and doesn’t “know as truth that God established the Catholic Church”) is not invincibly ignorant; rather he is “vincibly” ignorant and therefore risks eternal separation from God? If this is your answer, it isn’t really consistent with other responses given above.

James, clearly, many have left the Catholic Church (I don’t have statistics but clearly I’m not relying purely on anecdotes). If you are saying that only a very small percentage of them (“rare occurrence” by your words) are invincibly ignorant, doesn’t that bode ill for the rest vis a vis their salvation?

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