February 14, 2009

Salvation Outside the Church? --Recap

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Nine people attended this the tenth meeting of Liturgy and Lager. Our topic was posed as the following question: "Is salvation possible outside of the Catholic Church?" The answer, of course, is "No." This is firmly established from Scripture and the consistent voice of Tradition.Vatican II reaffirmed the teaching of no salvation outside of the Church, while at the same time affirming that those who are but imperfectly united to the Church may obtain the gift of eternal life.

Here is a summary of last night's presentation:

All baptized Christians participate in the life of the mystical Body of Christ. Those Christians who do not enter or remain in full communion with the Catholic Church, provided that through no fault of their own they do not know that the Catholic Church is the "fullness of him who filleth all in all," and as such necessary for salvation, may be saved by virtue of the gifts of God available to them. These gracious gifts, which in various ways come through the Catholic Church (e.g., Baptism, sacred Scripture, orthodox trinitarian and christological beliefs), render those non-Catholics who participate in them a part of the Church, albeit in an incomplete way.

Of course, most non-Catholic Christians know of the Catholic Church. Many of these, however, might be inhibited from entering into full communion with the Church due to a complex set of external and internal circumstances for which they are not personally responsible. Such circumstances may lessen or even nullify their culpability for remaining, to one degree or another, apart from the Catholic Church.

Furthermore, untold numbers of people have been unable to exercise explicit faith in Christ or receive the sacraments from the Church for the simple reason that these ordinary means of grace have never been made available to them. Obviously, they cannot be blamed for failing to enter into full, visible communion with Christ in his Church. These too may attain eternal salvation through grace which unites them to Christ and his Church in ways that have not been revealed to us.

Such are the teachings of the Catholic Church, and have always been the teachings of the Catholic Church. Vatican II did not invent this rather nuanced construal of "no salvation outside the Church." Clear precedents for the teaching of the Council on this matter include: Acts 10:34,35; Romans 10:14-18 (cf. Psalm 19); the teaching of some of the early Church Fathers (e.g., Justin Martyr); St. Thomas Aquinas' teaching on the possibility of receiving the grace of the sacraments in an extraordinary way (e.g.. "baptism of desire"); Pope St. Pius V's (1567) rejection of extreme Jansenist teachings on this matter. More recently, yet also prior to Vatican II, Fr. Leonard Feeney was excommunicated for holding to an extreme interpretation of "no salvation outside the Church."

We are given to simultaneously affirm that: (1) There is salvation in no other name than the name of Jesus Christ, and (2) those who through no fault of there own cannot be united to Christ in his mystical Body by means of explicit faith and the sacraments may by the grace of God be united to Christ in ways that have not been made known to us. The latter teaching is based upon the revelation of the universal salvific will of God, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2.4). The Son of God tasted death for everyone, without distinction and without exception.

If God desires all to be saved, then it must be possible for all to be saved. Otherwise, God would desire something that is not possible, which is absurd. Therefore, salvation is possible for all men. Salvation comes through faith, which comes through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. But these are not available to all. Nevertheless, per the universal salvific will of God, we hold the possibility that those who have no known recourse to the Catholic Church may yet be joined to her in the Holy Spirit by way of implicit faith in Christ and an extraordinary manner of participation in the grace of Baptism.

This should fill us with great hope and zeal for the mission of Church, which is to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel, teaching the commandments of God and sanctifying sinners through the seven sacraments of grace. The fields are indeed ripe for harvest. The mystery of iniquity has quite obviously not ceased to be at work in the world. Souls are in peril. We ourselves are in peril if we do not continue in the faith that works by love for God and man. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. Let us reach out to one another with the love of God, knowing that he already loves each of us and has done more for each and every human being than we can possibly imagine.

There was much less preaching and more interaction and group input (with some very interesting asides) than is apparent from this summary of our session. But such was the general drift of the discussion.