Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Can Non-Catholics Be Saved?
In case you missed it on the show, I got calls from a couple of sedevacantist friends regarding the issue of Christian unity. A sedevacantist (a Latin word that means "vacant seat") is someone who believes that there currently is no valid Pope, since Vatican II was an invalid council, and thus must have been convened by an invalid Pope. Their rejection of Vatican II (aka the Second Vatican Council) is based on their belief that the council changed or contradicted several unchangeable dogmas of Catholic teaching. And because the Church cannot err in her official teaching, by the providential protection and inspiration of the Holy Spirit--i.e. "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it"--two contradictory ideas cannot be reconciled.
But did the Second Vatican Council represent a rupture from Tradition or a deeper development in our understanding of that Tradition? At issue today is the Latin term, "extra ecclesiam nulla salus," which means "Outside the Church there is no salvation."
Yes, "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" is a dogma of the Church, but what does it mean to be "outside the Church?" Does it mean, as sedevacantists claim, that one must be explicitly Catholic--in full, visible, confessional communion with the Pope--in order to be saved? The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium," rejects this idea: "The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter."
In other words, the Church--while affirming "extra ecclesiam nullas salus" has come to understand that visible, confessional membership in the Catholic Church is not an absolute requirement for salvation. What's more, this is not a recent innovation, but has been understood by the Church for many centuries. This does not mean that anyone is saved apart from the Catholic Church; for Christ's saving grace is always mediated through his Church, even for those who aren't aware of it.
I'm linking here some excellent articles that explain it much better than I could.
Mark Shea's article: Can Non-Catholics Be Saved?
More on Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus
Salvation Outside the Church?
Also, here's the Peter Kreeft article I referenced today regarding Christian unity