All Salvation is Through Christ and His Church

I would like to call the reader’s attention to this talk by Pope Saint John Paul II: All Salvation Comes through Christ (General Audience — May 31, 1995). This concise discussion of salvation works as a summary of my understanding of salvation theology (set forth in detail in my book: Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone).

The first point is that everyone who is saved, is saved by Christ and His Church. No exceptions.

The second point is that: “the gift of salvation cannot be limited ‘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.’ ” [inner quote from Redemptoris Missio 10].

All those who died in the state of grace prior to the time of Christ were saved by Christ and His Church, through implicit membership in the Church via a baptism of desire or of blood. Christians are saved by explicit membership and a baptism of water (the formal Sacrament of Baptism). And non-Christians since the time of Christ are saved by implicit membership and any of the three forms of baptism (water, desire, blood).

How can a non-Christian be saved by a baptism of water? Many persons are baptized into the Christian faith as children. Then, as adults, they leave Christianity for other belief systems or they fall into atheism or agnosticism. But they did enter the state of grace by formal baptism. Alternately, a non-Christian who was never baptized can repent and be baptized at any time, even at the hour of death.

What about non-Christian religions? Members of those religions can be saved by implicit membership in the Church by any of the three forms of baptism. They are not saved by the non-Christian religion, in and of itself. However, any religion which teaches the believer to love God and neighbor thereby leads the believer to a baptism of desire, which makes them implicitly a member of the Church, outside of which there is no salvation. So some of the non-Christian religions offer some help to their members along the path of salvation.

The third point is that the Church, as the sole Ark of Salvation, includes explicit members, as well as implicit members. So an atheist can be an implicit member of the Church, and be saved by Christ, even though he does not believe in God — if only he selflessly loves his neighbor, so as to be in the state of grace. And the same can be said for any religion, as long as the person loves others. If any religion or version of a religion does not teach love of God and love of neighbor, but instead teaches hatred or selfishness or evil in any form, then that false religion is an obstacle to salvation. Such a person, who belongs to such a harmful form of religion, is only saved if he essentially rejects whatever is evil in that belief system, and loves others in contradiction to that harmful set of beliefs.

Repentance is always available, through the last moment of life. But if anyone, Catholic or Christian or non-Christian believer or non-believer, dies unrepentant from any actual mortal sin, then they die without the state of grace and will be condemned to Hell. If a Catholic or Orthodox Christian sins graves, he can obtain forgiveness more easily in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If other persons sin gravely, they can obtain forgiveness by perfect contrition, which can be explicit or implicit. For the selfless love of others implicitly includes repentance from every grave sin, and thereby provides forgiveness from the grace of God.

What about persons who commit objective mortal sins and do not repent? They are saved if their objective mortal sins are not also actual mortal sins, because they acted without full knowledge or without full deliberation. Or they can be saved, despite committing many actual mortal sins, if they repent by implicit contrition, that is, by the selfless love of neighbor in full cooperation with grace.

Repentance is easiest in the Catholic Faith. And the whole path of salvation is easiest in the Catholic Faith. So the idea that non-Christian believers and non-believers can be saved in no way denigrates the holy Catholic Faith. But salvation is not given only to Catholics or only to Christians. A vast number of persons are saved who are implicit, but not explicit, members of the Church. And they are saved by Christ, without realizing it.

{25:37} Then the just will answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when have we seen you hungry, and fed you; thirsty, and given you drink?
{25:38} And when have we seen you a stranger, and taken you in? Or naked, and covered you?
{25:39} Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit to you?’
{25:40} And in response, the King shall say to them, ‘Amen I say to you, whenever you did this for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did it for me.’

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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3 Responses to All Salvation is Through Christ and His Church

  1. Mark P. says:

    I have a book called, “The Catholic Church: The Teacher of Mankind.” It is a reprint of a book that was originally published during the Pontificate of Pope St. Pius X. There is a section on the teachings of the Church, with one of the headings being “Salvation for the heathens.” It states much of what was written above. In other words, what was taught over 100 years ago was echoed by Pope St. John Paul II, although in perhaps clearer language. And it is being reinforced by the Holy Father today.

  2. Francisco says:

    This is an example of how doctrine develops over time, over years, and some times even over centuries. It does not change, but over the years the Popes are clarifying more and more the same doctrine. Pope Francis may clarify it even more than his predecessors to the point that the ultra static and simplistic conservatives (in this particular case) might accuse him of heresy for they do not accept a teaching contrary to their fixed ideas or narrow minded misunderstandings, they are not open to the possibility that there could be more to understand regarding that same doctrine. But Jesus gave authority to the Pope who is His VICAR to teach and lead us.

  3. Rodney Ford says:

    Christ taught us that we should come through the one door, and those who climb in by another way are thieves and robbers. Jesus is the door!(John 10:1-9) I understand that God has the prerogative, by his sovereignty, to work outside the sacraments of the Church proper, and I believe he does; but do you think it wise for priest’s and others to expound this view publicly to unlearned lay folk who could be mislead into a false assurance of there salvation. Instead, why wouldn’t we preach the true gospel of repentance and faith in Christ?

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