Love of Neighbor is Salvific

Catholic dogmatic teaching is that anyone who dies in the state of grace is saved. They will go to Heaven either directly or after a stay of some length in Purgatory. Dying in the state of grace is salvific. Those who die without the state of grace do not go to Heaven. Everyone who dies unrepentant from actual mortal sin goes to Hell, to be punished forever. All human persons are offered salvation; not all accept that offer. Therefore, some persons go to Hell, and others to Heaven.

The state of grace always includes the three infused theological virtues of love, faith, and hope. We fallen sinners, who are conceived with original sin, receive the state of grace and the infused virtues of love, faith, and hope at baptism (by which all original sin is wiped away). There are three types of baptism:
1. the formal Sacrament of Baptism, which is called baptism by water
2. the non-formal baptism by desire, which can be implicit
3. the non-formal baptism by blood, the chief example of which is the martyrdom of unbaptized catechumenates.

God wills all human persons to be saved; this is called the universal salvific will of God. For this reason, I believe that salvation is widely available to everyone, including unbaptized persons, i.e. non-Christians. The baptism of desire can be implicit, as the Church and the Doctors have taught. Pope Pius XII taught that the state of grace and salvation can be obtained by “an act of love” as a type of implicit baptism of desire. Thus, salvation is available to everyone, though not all persons attain to salvation.

Pope Pius XII, Address to Midwives 21a: “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.”

Pope Saint John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio 10: “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.”

However, God gives us free will, and He requires of us fallen sinners that we obtain the state of grace in this life by one of the three forms of baptism.

A person in the state of grace has love, faith, and hope. If that person then commits an actual mortal sin and loses the state of grace, they often retain faith, losing love and hope — unless the sin gravely offends faith, so that all three infused theological virtues are lost. So a person who has faith, might not be in the state of grace, as they may have lost love and hope by an actual mortal sin. But anyone who has the infused theological virtue of love (not love in merely a human sense) certainly has the state of grace and all three of the infused theological virtues.

This virtue of love (or charity, as some texts call it) orders the human soul toward the love of God above all else, and the love of neighbor as self. The person who violates these, the two greatest commandments, loses the state of grace and therefore loses that love.

{22:36} “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
{22:37} Jesus said to him: “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God from all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
{22:38} This is the greatest and first commandment.
{22:39} But the second is similar to it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Since salvation is offered to all, including to non-Christians, how can those who do not believe in God, or whose ideas about God are so disordered that they have greatly or entirely obscured the truth about God, have the state of grace? If their lack of belief in God has invincible ignorance, due to a sincere but mistaken conscience, then that failure to believe is not an actual mortal sin. Invincible ignorance is not salvific; it merely excuses an objectively grave sin from full culpability. So the person must still obtain the state of grace by one of the forms of baptism.

An atheist or agnostic or a believer in a non-monotheistic religion (one which makes love of God difficult) can still obtain an implicit baptism of desire by an act of love of neighbor. This love must be a full cooperation with God’s grace. Such an act fulfills the conditions for a baptism of desire as those who truly love their neighbor certainly also love God, at least implicitly.

[1 John]
{4:7} Most beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God. And everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
{4:8} Whoever does not love, does not know God. For God is love.

{4:20} If anyone says that he loves God, but hates his brother, then he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he does see, in what way can he love God, whom he does not see?
{4:21} And this is the commandment that we have from God, that he who loves God must also love his brother.

True love of neighbor always includes, at least implicitly, love of God. Even the atheist, who does not believe in God, an implicitly love God by loving his neighbor, who is made in the image of God. God wills all human persons to be saved, and so He offers salvation very broadly. But not all are saved, as many persons reject salvation by means of unrepentant actual mortal sin.

Now I caution you all that the true selfless love of neighbor is not the type of human love that only love friends or family or those who are close to you. The love of neighbor which is of the infused virtue of love is selfless and full; it is like the love of Christ for sinners. And so it is salvific, as this love is of the graces Christ obtained for us on the Cross, and which He dispenses to sinners, even before they repent, even before they believe in Him.

Note that this article is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion of salvation. See my book Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone for a full treatment of the topic.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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