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The Question of Salvation

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a person about religions, Catholicism and the question of salvation. She shared that she was brought up Catholic but converted to Judaism at age 14 after deciding that she did not want to be confirmed. Her Catholic formation was very mediocre and faith did not make sense to her, but going to the origins of it all and having no mediator made more sense. Her continual issue was that her Catholic family thought ‘she was condemned to hell’. Is that really what the Catholic Church says? Let’s look at a key passage in Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 16:

Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.”
He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.”(12*) All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.(13*)”.

In summary, this says that the Catholic Church believes that someone who has not known Christ out of no fault of their own yet strives for the Truth and lives a moral life can be saved. In fact, Catholics who have been given the ‘fullness of means of salvation’ in the Church and do not live an authentic life of charity and love will be judged to higher standards. No Catholic has their salvation secured. What matters, following the teachings of Jesus, is what happens inside the heart of each person, that is all that really matters. Certainly, having met Christ assumes a person will want to be a member of the Church and participate fully in its life and Sacraments. But merely going through the motions, being nominally Catholic in “body” but not “in heart”, that is not living an authentic charity, leads to no guarantee of salvation.

2 thoughts on “The Question of Salvation

  1. I to had a similar experience as Ricardo in a recent conversation on salvation with a fundamentalist friend who, in essence, claimed that “if you don’t believe the right way you are damned”. I think this is reflective of an attitude that salvation is “exclusive”. However, we have a loving and “inclusive” God. John Paul II spoke directly this in his address Dominus Iesus in 2000.

    ” The Gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the beatitudes–the poor of spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life–will enter God’s kingdom. All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and His Church, contribute under the influence of grace to the building of the kingdom. God offers salvation to all people as a gift of grace and that those who are of essential goodness, through the grace of God, may be saved”.

    I also think this is reflective of the theme of the epistle of James in that faith and works are intermingled to build the kingdom of God. As I like to remind my fundamentalist friends who have intently studied the Bible – Most of Jesus messages in the Gospels are about how we are to act not what we must believe.
    There an analogous message within the stewardship concept. We do not always have to believe in certain environmental theories in order to act in a prudent and caring manner in our interaction with creation.

    1. Thanks for the comment. The passage from Dominus Iesus is excellent.

      With regards to the relationship to environmental theories, that is an interesting link. It goes both ways as well. A person may preach the most terrible or mistaken environment theories but in practice they may be acting with great stewardship and care. This is possible. It is also possible that Catholics may not understand or care for certain environmental philosophies but still act as great stewards of creation. This is also possible. However, there is usually a great correspondence between how one thinks and how one acts. And given that it is so challenging to act well (morally) under the best of conditions, we discover the duty to understand with our minds, in theories and ideas, what the best action should be. Having found the best approach, we still hope that we can carry this through in our action. This is also true of Vatican II and the quoted passage. While salvation is possible with different and even mistaken beliefs, it is much better to find and seek the Truth intellectually. It would be presumptuous to be content with what is less than Truth, believing that one’s actions would conform to the Truth out of ‘luck’.

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