Salvation is not Restricted to Christians

The heresy of Feeneyism is not the teaching of the Catholic Faith. Instead, the Church teaches that salvation is possible for persons who are not formal members of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Saint John Paul II: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only 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.” [Redemptoris Missio 10]

Universality refers to the offer itself. God offers salvation to all human persons. Not everyone accepts the offer, and as a consequence, some human souls are in Hell. But God makes salvation “concretely available to all”.

How can prenatals who die in the womb be saved? They can’t have a baptism of water or of desire. And baptism is required for salvation, since we are conceived with original sin. Therefore, they must receive a baptism of blood. There is no other possibility. The limbo of Hell is not salvation. Salvation is Heaven and nothing else.

How can Jews, Muslims, other believers, and non-believers be saved? It conversion to Christianity their only path to salvation? No, it is not. For if they have a sincere but mistaken conscience in outwardly rejecting Christianity and the Church, they do not deserve eternal punishment. Only actual mortal sin deserves eternal punishment.

Some persons do die in a state of original sin alone. My view is that they have committed the actual mortal sin of omission of never having found sanctifying grace despite ample opportunity. No child has had ample opportunity, so no child dies in original sin alone.

An baptism of desire is available to non-Christians as part of their path of salvation. And this desire is usually implicit. The person does not desire water baptism, but desires to live a life of love, justice, mercy, and truth. An act of love, chosen in full cooperation with grace, whether love of God or love of neighbor, is sufficient to bring that unbaptized person into the state of grace.

Pope Pius XII: “Above all, the state of grace is absolutely necessary at the moment of death; without it, salvation and supernatural happiness — the beatific vision of God — are impossible. An act of love is sufficient for the adult to obtain sanctifying grace and to supply the lack of baptism.”

And how did Jews who lived before Christ obtain salvation? It is dogma that they did obtain salvation. For when Jesus died, before He rose, He visited the souls not only in Purgatory, but also in the Limbo of the Fathers. He opened the gates of Heaven for those souls who died in a state of grace, despite living before the Sacrament of Baptism (with water) existed. So they obtained salvation by a baptism of desire which was certainly implicit, since the Sacrament did not exist yet to be explicitly desired.

And when our merciful loving Savior arrived, do you think that he narrowed the path of salvation? Do you think that He made it more difficult to be saved, as a consequence of His Teaching and His Death and Resurrection? How dare you make such a foolish false accusation against the Son of God!

Therefore, implicit baptism of desire did not end when Christ arrived. Instead, Jesus made it easier to obtain salvation. He added all Seven Sacraments to the path of salvation — which before was a narrower and more difficult path. His teachings illuminated the path of salvation. Baptism with water and Confession made it easier for sinners to be saved. But the earliest form of salvation, the implicit baptism of desire, remains in effect.

If a person has sufficient accurate knowledge of Christianity, and he nevertheless declines to be baptized with water, he commits an objective mortal sin. But that sin might not have the full culpability of actual mortal sin. And therefore the person might still be in the state of grace, or might still subsequently enter the state of grace, by implicit baptism of desire.

And if a non-Christian or a Christian without access to Confession commits an actual mortal sin, even one not related to religion, how can they be forgiven by God? In the same way as for holy persons who lived before Christ. King David, for example, sinned gravely. And without judging his soul, from what Sacred Scripture says, it seems to have been an actual mortal sin. Yet he was able to return to the state of grace by an act of perfect contrition. The same path of salvation remains available today, for persons without the Sacrament of Confession.

How can an atheist, who does not believe in God, have an implicit baptism of desire by an act of love, or have perfect contrition out of love for God? As Scripture teaches in the first Letter of John, the love of neighbor always includes, at least implicitly, the love of God. An atheist can love his neighbor selflessly, and in doing so he implicitly loves God. By loving all the goods of this life, which are of God, the atheist is unknowingly loving God. And this is also taught by Jesus:

{25:34} Then the King shall say to those who will be on his right: ‘Come, you blessed of my Father. Possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
{25:35} For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in;
{25:36} naked, and you covered me; sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’
{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.’

The saved did not realize that in loving their neighbor, they were loving God. And that is the point exactly. Even persons who do not know that God exists can love God implicitly, and therefore they can be saved, as Jesus taught.

Is not supernatural faith needed for salvation? The state of grace always includes love, faith, and hope. If anyone has supernatural love, they necessarily are in the state of grace, and they necessarily have faith and hope as well. And just as love can be implicit, so also can faith be implicit. By faith in the things of this life that are of God, the person unknowingly has faith in God.

Jesus taught this doctrine also. For he stated that the Centurion and the woman of Canaan each had great faith. Yet the Centurion would not be able to have his position in the Roman army, unless he followed the Roman religion of gods and goddesses. That religion, despite believing in gods, is essentially atheism, since there is so little of religious truth in it. Yet Jesus says that the Centurion had great faith, which must mean love, faith, and hope. For faith without love is not great.

This is a very important teaching, and I believe that Pope Francis will soon teach it dogmatically. Therefore, conservative Catholics will have to choose between a liberal but true teaching of the Magisterium, and their pride in their conservatism. Many will fall away. I want you all to be well-taught, so that you have the knowledge needed to oppose any heresy on this topic.

Please be advised that Michael Voris and Christine Niles over at the wildly-inaccurately-named “Church Militant” teach a version of Feeneyism, which restricts salvation to baptized Christians. They are both teaching heretical errors on salvation. They claim that Jews and Muslims do not have supernatural faith, which implies that Jews and Muslims do not have supernatural love of God and neighbor. That’s a vicious false accusation against countless persons. The claim actually implies that all non-Christians lack love, faith, and hope. And that is Feeneyism in a nutshell.

As for me, I realize that many non-Christians, including Jews, Muslims, other believers, and atheists, often have a true selfless love of neighbor, and that love proves they are in the state of grace; it proves they have supernatural faith. The Letter of James teaches us this principle:

{2:18} Now someone may say: “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works! But I will show you my faith by means of works.

Works does not save. But works proves faith, and faith, with love and hope, saves. For the state of grace always includes love, faith, and hope. Similarly, works of mercy toward others proves supernatural love, and no one can have supernatural love without also having supernatural faith and hope.

I personally worked for a man who was an atheist. He ran a summer camp for disabled children. He didn’t just run it, he worked directly with the handicapped children. Before he was the director of the camp, he was a counselor there for many summers. I’ve seen him treat handicapped persons like friends and family members. I’ve seen him do countless acts of love and mercy toward persons in need, which proves supernatural love and therefore proves implicit supernatural faith.

He once said to me, “I wouldn’t want to believe in a God who would send me to Hell for not believing in Him.” Okay, that’s a funny thing for an atheist to say. But in any case, God does not send persons to Hell for sincerely believing that God does not exist.

And we can look at the behavior of many persons in society, some of whom are from any religion you might name, and others are non-believers, and we can see that many have a selfless concern for persons in need. The have supernatural love, which proves that the path of salvation is available, widely, to non-Christians and non-believers.

Why then did Jesus say the path of salvation was narrow and that few are saved? He was speaking figuratively. Have you never heard the teaching: love your neighbor? The term neighbor is figurative. He doesn’t mean love only your neighbor, but rather treat everyone like your neighbor. The teaching that salvation is narrow and few find it is a figure for the behavior that leads to salvation: love, faith, and hope. You cannot behave however you like. You cannot commit the myriad grave sins that occur in this world. The choice of salvation is a narrow one, since only love leads to Heaven. And few are the saved in the sense that few live the way of salvation well, as it ought to be lived. Most arrive at salvation by the mercy of God, despite many failings.

Few go to Heaven directly. Many are saved by Purgatory, which is a place provided by the mercy of God, for persons who died not fit for Heaven, to make them fit. And few as a percentage but many by sheer numbers go to Hell. And in that sense, it is very true that many take the path to salvation: many in the sense of the number of souls lost, but not many as a percentage.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian
* My books of theology
* My translation of the Bible
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4 Responses to Salvation is not Restricted to Christians

  1. King Robert the Bruce says:

    An excellent summary Ron

  2. erm6 says:

    “The saved did not realize that in loving their neighbor, they were loving God.” Thank you Ron for sharing this interpretation of that passage from Matthew 25.

    I have wondered in the past why the saved answer Our Lord with the questions, “Lord, when have we seen You hungry?” etc.

    Many Christians, such as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and other canonized and uncanonized saints, have consciously and intentionally served Jesus by serving the poor. So I would not expect them to be surprised by His recognition of their having served Him in this way.

    Numerous other Christians—those who are also saved, but without having distinguished themselves in these works of mercy—are still not likely to be genuinely surprised by Our Lord’s words, because they are aware of this aspect of Christianity, not least of all because of having heard this passage of the Gospel read during their lives on earth.

    So it began to seem to me that it were a more figurative passage, in the sense that for us who are hearing the Gospel—hearing it in the first century A.D. from Our Lord Himself or hearing it read from the Bible—the reaction of the saved is described in this manner primarily for our own benefit, as we listen to the story. In other words, the reaction of the saved is given to us as questions, “Lord, when have we seen You hungry?” etc. in order to drive home the hidden and mysterious aspect of this service, to remind us to persevere in these works of mercy. So it would be a figurative scene, unless it is literal in some less than obvious way, for example, that the saved ask those questions, already knowing the answers, only as a sign of humility—humbly deflecting Our Lord’s praise of their virtue—or only out of zeal to faithfully fulfill this biblical prophecy of their asking such questions, or else they are so delighted by Our Lord’s glory that they temporary forget about everything that happened during their mortal lives.

    In contrast, your interpretation is something that I never thought of before. It never occurred to me that potentially a large number of the just genuinely DO NOT KNOW the answer to the questions! But this interpretation makes a lot of sense. Thanks for bringing this out.

  3. erm6 says:

    Hmm… I just posted a comment but it’s not showing up in “awaiting moderation”

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