Can Jews and Muslims be saved without conversion to Christianity?

The papal accusers have been coalescing around a particular answer to this question, the answer given by Michael Voris of Church Militant, and the answer of others on the far right, which is that non-Christians cannot be saved, since the time of Christ, if they know about Christianity and the Catholic Church, but do not convert and become a formal member before death.

As my book Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone proves from magisterial teaching, everyone, from Catholics to non-Catholic Christians to Jews and Muslims to other non-Christian believers to non-believers (atheists), can be saved and very many are saved without conversion to Catholicism or Christianity or even to belief in God. Of what use is it, to be Catholic then, if anyone can be saved? The easiest path to Heaven is to be a believing and practicing Catholic. The further away from Catholic Christianity one goes, the more difficult the path of salvation. But God is infinitely merciful, so He makes salvation accessible to everyone.

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.” [RM 10]

Does this contradict the dogma that Outside the Church, There is no salvation? No, it does not. Non-Catholics are saved by being members of the Church at least implicitly. Protestants and Orthodox are members by baptism; if their heresies and schism is not to the extent of actual mortal sin, then they can be saved. Non-Christian believers and non-believers can be saved by a baptism of desire, and by perfect contrition, which can also be implicit. But in every case, they are saved by Christ, even if they do not realize that in loving their neighbor, they love Christ implicitly (Mt 25).

The Council of Florence, dogmatically taught the following:

“It [“the holy Roman church”] firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the catholic church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Catholic Church before the end of their lives; that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only for those who abide in it do the Church’s sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia produce eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed his blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.”

But this dogma requires interpretation. And my interpretation is that Jews, Muslims, heretics, schismatics, believers of any religion or no religion, as they continue in good conscience through the end of their life, have not committed the actual mortal sin described above. No one is sent to Hell for mere objective mortal sin, but only for actual mortal sin. (In my view, those who die in a state of original sin alone have committed the actual mortal sin of omission of never having found sanctifying grace in their lives despite ample opportunity afforded to them by God.) So if the above sin of declining or failing to become Catholic is made with a sincere but mistaken conscience, then they do not go to Hell.

And this interpretation does not contradict the dogma, but rather understands it as referring to actual mortal sin, rather than to mere objective mortal sin. The interpretation is justified because the Church has always taught that for sins to deserve eternal punishment, they must have all three aspects of actual mortal sin: grave matter and full deliberation and full knowledge [Benedictus Deus, 1336]

HOWEVER, the schismatic who reject Pope Francis generally interpret the above teaching as referring to mere objective mortal sin. They believe — and this is quite a grave error on soteriology — that Jews, Muslims, other non-Christian believers, agnostics and atheists all go to Hell unless they convert to Christianity, or to Catholicism. The problem, of course, is that those who believe this error are schismatics and heretics. And so, under their own misinterpretation of this teaching, they too would go to Hell. It’s ironic and would be rather funny, if it was not such a serious subject. They condemn themselves who condemn others.

{7:2} For with whatever judgment you judge, so shall you be judged; and with whatever measure you measure out, so shall it be measured back to you.

The position of Bishop Athanasius Schneider in his book Christus Vincit is essentially to contradictory positions. He clearly asserts the position that only Christians are saved, and he seems to suggest that perhaps only Catholic Christians are saved. Then he does quote statements from the Magisterium saying that non-Christians might be saved in a way known only to God. The problem is that, given the salvation theology asserted by Schneider, there is no path to salvation in his description and understanding. None whatsoever. In my salvation theology, the path is by a baptism of desire or baptism of blood, and by implicit perfect contrition, as a way to repent from actual mortal sin. In his soteriology, there is no path. He does repeatedly state that they might be saved, but then he always follows this assertion with a claim that he can’t see any way that can happen. It’s supposedly known only to God.

The general position that is seen in the followers of Schneider and other far right leaders is “we can see any way that they can be saved” and “you can’t prove that any of them are saved” and “if it is possible, it is rare” and “maybe none of them are saved in reality, even though it is theoretically possible”. And these positions are simply mitigated Feeneyism or occult Feeneyism.

They make the bare assertion that non-Catholics or non-Christians can be saved. But they provide for them no actual path of salvation. It is worship with the lips but not the heart. It is exterior assertion of Church teaching, without interior assent. This is an increasingly common heresy on the far right, a neo-Feeneyism. Some of them go so far as to try to rehabilitate Fr. Feeney himself and to support modern-day followers of Feeney.


This entry was posted in commentary, salvation. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Can Jews and Muslims be saved without conversion to Christianity?

  1. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Dear Ron,
    Thank you for this very clear and helpful article. I like the way you interpret what the Council of Florence teaches in its 1442 Decree for the Jacobities, Copts, and Ethiopians, which is given in Denz.-H, 1351 this way: “[The Church] firmly believes, professes and preaches that ‘none of those who are outside of the Catholic Church, not only pagans,’ but also Jews, heretics and schismatics can become sharers of eternal life, but they will go into the eternal fire “which was prepared for the Devil and his angels” [Mt 25:41], unless, before the end of their life, they are joined to her (nisi ante finem vitae eidem fuerint aggregati).” I believe the Holy Spirit left an opening for further doctrinal development in the “unless” (nisi) clause. At the time of the Council of Florence, many people might have though the only way of being joined to the Church before death was by explicit visible membership. In the 16th and 17th centuries, theologians such as Suárez and Juan de Lugo speculated on the possibility of belonging to the Church by desire and longing. The 1949 Letter of the Holy Office concerning Fr. Feeney made it clear that some people belong to the Church by “an unconscious yearning and desire” citing Pius XII (Denz.-H, 3871). At Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 16 cites the 1949 Letter of the Holy Office in a footnote. You are quite correct that there is no contradiction between the Council of Florence and Vatican II if one interprets the matter in the correct way according to the mind of the Church.

    Thanks again and God bless.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Thanks Robert. And this is a good example of the true development of doctrine, not the false type where older teachings are simply abandoned or openly contradicted. I expect the Church to more toward a formal definition on this matter, perhaps in this generation. The result may be a condemnation of the recent revival of this Feeneyism or semi-Feeneyism.

  2. erm6 says:

    Thank you, Ron, for this article. And thank you, Dr. Fastiggi, for your many comments on Ron’s blog.

  3. Rob says:

    To answer: if by God’s grace they are sufficiently disposed to do whatever they in good faith and conscience believe to be the will of God by their life’s end, then yes. However, such a person would not be, properly speaking, outside the Church so much as inculpably ignorant of the truth of it. They are still saved through Christ and His Church, they are just unaware of their membership status. Saint Justin Martyr commented that people such a Socrates who lived by reason in earlier times were in truth Christians at heart, even if they didn’t know it themselves.

    As to how frequently that happens, I’m not going to speculate. It seems to me that it is for the best that we don’t know. If it happened a lot it could tempt people to laxity in evangelization, if almost never it could tempt people to despair.

  4. Brock Henderson says:

    Mr. Conte, can you furnish me with a Magisterial document that explicitly states that people who reject the Church can still be saved?

    And anyway, perhaps Michael Voris and Bishop Schneider are acting according to a sincere conscience and a love of neighbor, and can consequently be saved.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Yes, Voris and Schneider can saved by love of neighbor (and of course for believers love of God) and a sincere but mistaken conscience. But they are also guilty of publicly teaching their own version of the heresy of Feeneyism, as well as very blatant public formal schism. If they are your teachers, you are lost from Christ.

      If you are truly interested in what the Church teaches on salvation, read my book, Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone. The subject is subtle and complex, and includes dogma, non-infallible teachings, and sound theological opinions. And I think I already referred you to the two teachings of JP2, Redemptoris n. 10, and All Salvation Comes through Christ.

      I’m not interested in arguing with you about the truth. Learn from me, or go away.

  5. Brock Henderson says:

    I must ask a question about your take on […deleted…]

    • Ron Conte says:

      Brock, you are banned from leaving comments on this site. If you don’t believe you can learn the Catholic Faith here, then go somewhere else.

Comments are closed.