What is meant by the teaching , “There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church?” Does this mean that a person cannot be saved unless he is a formal member of the Catholic Church? Well, people outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church have the possibility to be saved if they had never heard of Jesus Christ or had never rejected him.
First of all, let us look at what Jesus says in John 14:6, Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So, we see in Jesus’ words that a person will only be saved through him. If someone does not know about Jesus because of “invincible ignorance,” and has never had the opportunity to accept or reject him, then he still has the possibility of being saved. But, for the person who knows and rejects, Jesus says, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father (John 15:22-24).”
Jesus established a visible Church (Catholic) and appointed Peter as the head when he said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:18).” Jesus’ Church on earth is the “body of Christ.” He says that the Church he established is called to be “…A city set on a mountain that cannot be hidden (Matt 5:14).” Jesus tells us that his visible Church is where the Christian can go to handle disputes, “If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matt 18:17).” So, if someone knowingly rejects the Church Jesus established, then he is rejecting Jesus himself.
“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 (CCC# 837).‘”
“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.” Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. 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 (CCC# 838).”
What does the Catholic Church teach about, “Outside the Church there is no salvation” :
(CCC# 846) How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
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.
(CCC# 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.
Until next time, God bless.