Posts filed under: dogma

Father, I'm very confused about "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" which holds that outside of Baptism, there is no salvation. I know that many popes have infallibly pronounced this to be true (e.g. Boniface VIII, Eugene IV, Innocent III etc.), And it is in scripture, John 3: 5 but I've gotten heard many differing views on this matter in especially in more recent times. The idea that souls can be saved without Baptism is understandably comforting, but I just want to know the truth. Thank you. - Anonymous

It’s a theologically nuanced phrase that can very easily be misunderstood. There are a few groups in the Church that are upset with the Church’s self-understanding and make a lot of hay about it, so there’s a good deal of confusion.

The best and simplest guide is what the Catechism says:

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." (Lumen Gentium 14)

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." (Lumen Gentium 16)

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.” (Ad Gentes 7)

God bless you!

- Father Shane

We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor as an attitude on the part of the government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of is adherents and the appeal of its dogma. When the State encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For then it respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe.

— US Supreme Court, Zorach v. Clauson (1952)

A Powerful Conversion Story

From atheist to Catholic:

When the possibility of converting to Catholicism became a real one, it was the immensity of the whole package that daunted me, rather than specific teachings. I therefore spent little time agonizing over the Assumption of Mary, justification by works as well as faith, the reverencing of statues, and other such concepts that traditionally irk the non-Catholic mind.

Rather, such anguish as I felt came from entirely the other direction. However dimly and inadequately, I had learnt enough Catholic history and Catholic dogma to know that either Catholicism was the greatest racket in human history, or it was what it said itself that it was. Such studying burned the phrase “By what authority?” into my mind like acid. 

Read the rest!

I don't understand why the Catechism is used in the Catholic church as a valid source of Truth. It's not the Bible right? Is there an explanation Father? - Anonymous

Good eye! You’re right. It’s not a source of Truth (it’s not God’s Word itself), but it is an exceptional summary of Catholic teaching.

When we say that the sources of authoritative doctrine about God are Scripture (God’s Word in the 73 books of the Bible, interpreted by the Church), Tradition (the Church’s liturgy and traditions, plus dozens of Fathers of the Church and Doctors of the Church) and the Magisterium (thousands upon thousands of documents down through the ages, and hundreds of specific dogmatic pronouncements), we’re talking about an incredible bulk of documentation that very few expert theologians can get an adequate knowledge of. 

Hence the need to boil down our communication of the truths of the Faith into a basic summary like that of the Catechism. Otherwise we ordinary folks just will never get all the knowledge we need. It simply wouldn’t be practical.

That’s why the Church produced the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its shorter Compendium, plus the US adult catechism and the recent YouCat for young people. It’s not so much to be an authoritative source of truth as to be a trustworthy place to find quick answers.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

i don't understand why if someone has led a relatively good life, being kind and selfless and consistently put others before them will not 'get in' to heaven? if we are all equal in God's eyes and being on Earth is a test - how is it fair when others have had a huge advantage by being brought up as religious or even just in a country where there is a church down the road, as opposed to people in remote places for example those indigenous people found in the amazon who had not, until recently, met the modern human. I heard something at my church and that's what made me start to wonder: 'You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.' or 'many are invited but few are chosen' - if we are all, in the end, 'chosen' then what's the point of spreading the word if the people in heaven are predestined to be there. and what's the point of living on earth to prove ourselves if, again, some are prechosen? these are genuine questions from a devout catholic! - Anonymous

Really good question.

I think the key is this: Is our life on Earth really a “test”?

The word never gets used in Catholic doctrine, and yet it does tend to be prevalent in our secular-culture simplifications of “what Christianity teaches.” It seems to make sense, after all, since if you’re “going somewhere” after death based on how you lived, then maybe God set it up that way.

The answer is more complex: God set up this earth as a natural place for us to be fully happy, but then original sin happened. So God had to “fix” it with Christ’s Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection, and now we once again have the chance to get to full happiness, but no longer here on this life (as in Eden)… in heaven.

Let’s look at it differently, then: If life here isn’t a “test,” maybe we should say that it’s a “love affair.” That God loves you passionately and is hoping you’ll discover his love and love him back. And that life isn’t merely “here,” but something that continues into heaven.

More than a test, it’s a choice. It’s the sum total of the choices we make, and so we freely choose whether to accept God’s love or not.

Based on that logic, the Amazon problem becomes a question of how people discover God’s love. It’s the “Romans 10” problem:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:13-15)

In other words, folks in the Amazon haven’t heard the Good News, and you can’t fall in love with someone you’ve never met. So here’s the Church’s response to that:

For all those who have received the Gospel and have heard that Jesus Christ is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), Baptism is the only way to God and salvation. At the same time, however, it is true that Christ died for all mankind. Therefore all men who have had no opportunity to learn about Christ and the faith but seek God sincerely and live according to their conscience also find salvation.

God has made salvation dependent on the sacraments. Therefore the Church must tirelessly offer them to mankind. To give up her missionary work would be a betrayal of God’s commission. God himself, however, is not dependent on his sacraments. In places where the Church does not exist or has had no success — whether by her own fault or for other reasons — God himself paves another way to salvation for the people. (YouCat 199)

So why were you and I chosen and so many folks elsewhere weren’t? It’s a complete mystery to us. But the same salvation is being offered to our brothers and sisters in indigenous tribes, and by God’s grace we hope to share heaven with them! Why are many invited and few chosen? Well, all (“the many”) are invited, but “not as many” are chosen because not everyone chooses to respond! We are chosen because we choose, so it’s not that God does the predestining for us. Human freedom is real and our choices are real… just like in any love affair.

Want a neat series of brief articles on heaven/hell by Bishop Serratelli? Part 1, part 2, part 3.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

Reviewing the new book "Why Catholics Are Right"

(Well, I’ve been wrong several times today, personally…)

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