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I have always thought that the Pope did not recognize the validity of the faith of those outside of the Catholic church, but in comments from a different post I am surprised to find out I may be confused. It may be because I read old books and things have changed in more recent history.

Most Protestants believe that anyone who genuinely believes in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins is saved. I am one of them. I believe simply believing in Christ without adding anything else to the mix, including church denomination, brings eternal life to anyone.

My question is does the Catholic church accept that Christians like me have eternal life, yes, or no? If so, when did the Catholic church begin to recognize the faith of those outside of her church and understand that as believers they will be in heaven?

I am not interested in if Catholicism recognizes my baptism, or other sacraments that may have been administered to me, but rather the eternal life which has been granted to me by believing in Jesus. I am interested to know if my salvation as a whole, outside the Catholic church, is recognized by my trust in Chrst?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

From http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/does-no-salvation-outside-the-church-include-non-catholic-christians

Specifically concerning non-Catholic Christians, the Catechism notes:

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. Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. With the Orthodox churches, this communion is so profound that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist. (CCC 838)

The way I read this, the answer is "yes, but they' don't have the full Truth. If they've been properly baptized and believe in Christ, they are associated with the Church, but imperfectly."

This agrees with http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/what-is-the-relationship-between-the-church-and-baptized-protestants

Full Question

What relationship does the Catholic Church perceive to exist between itself and various Protestants (the baptized ones who still accept their faith)?


Validly baptized Protestants are regarded as true Christian brothers and sisters who are in imperfect relationship with the Church. The nature of the imperfections is as varied as Protestantism itself. The idea at work here is that the faith is an incarnational thing, not just a "spiritual" (disembodied) thing—just like Jesus himself. Thus, it is possible to be out of union with the Church "bodily" (structurally, sacramentally, liturgically), yet still have a spiritual unity with the Church. Likewise, it is possible to be "bodily" united to the Church yet cease to be in communion with her spiritually (as an apostate Catholic is if he keeps going to Communion yet rejects the creed or continues unrepentant in grave sin). The latter form of disunity with Church is more serious than the former.

Also, from http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/dontbelieve.HTM (Item # 7)

Catholics do not believe that Protestants who are baptized, who lead a good life, love God and their neighbor, and are blamelessly ignorant of the just claims of the Catholic Religion to be the one true Religion (which is called being in good faith), are excluded from Heaven, provided they believe that there is one God in three Divine Persons; *that God will duly reward the good and punish the wicked; that Jesus Christ is the Son of God made man, who redeemed us, and in whom we must trust for our salvation; and provided they thoroughly repent of having ever, by their sins, offended God.

Catholics hold that Protestants who have these dispositions, and who have no suspicion of their religion being false, and no means to discover, or fail in their honest endeavors to discover, the true Religion, and who are so disposed in their heart that they would at any cost embrace the Roman Catholic Religion if they knew it to be the true one, are Catholics in spirit and in some sense within the Catholic Church, without themselves knowing it. She holds that these Christians belong to, and are united to the "soul," as it is called, of the Catholic Church, although they are not united to the visible body of the Church by external communion with her, and by the outward profession of her faith.

Very different is the case of a person who, having the opportunity, neglects to learn from genuine trustworthy sources what the Catholic Religion is and really teaches, fearing, that were he to become convinced of the truth of the Catholic Faith, he would be compelled by his conscience to forsake his own religion, and bear the worldly inconveniences attached to this step. This very fear shows a want of good faith, and that he is not in that insurmountable ignorance which could excuse him in the sight of God, nut that he is one of those of whom it is said in Psalm xxxv. 4, "He would not understand that he might do well."

Fairness, no less than common sense, teaches that a man should study and examine the teaching of the Catholic Church from Catholic sources before condemning her. Surely no man ought to reject Catholic doctrine if he has not made himself well acquainted with them. Nor is is fair to form a judgment from misrepresentations made by ill-informed, interested, or prejudiced persons; one should rather, by the study of authorized Catholic works, judge of the truth with that calm and unprejudiced mind which the all-important subject of Religion deserves. Thus having heard both sides, you will be in a state to pass a right judgment and not in danger of being misled by prejudice.

Our Saviour gave no hope of salvation to the Samaritan woman unless she entered the one true Church of the tine, saying to her who was destitute of a sure guide: "You adore that which you know not; we adore that which we know; for SALVATION IS OF THE JEWS". (St John iv. 22.) So likewise there is no salvation for any one who, having by God's grace come to the knowledge of the truth, obstinately refuses to join the true Church of God.

That third paragraph on, particularly the very last sentence, indicates to me that the hope of salvation for protestants doesn't extend to those that flat-out refuse to learn about what the Catholic Church really teaches.

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The terms often used indicate that the Catholic Church and her sacraments are the "ordinary" means of salvation. Other means are not "guaranteed" by the Church, even though the Church "hopes" that God will also work "extraordinarily" through other groups' and person's beliefs and practices as well. Anyone who is ultimately heaven-bound is part of the mystical Church. Whether the Church on earth calls each person or denomination "Christian" would be case-by-case, I think. –  svidgen Jan 5 '13 at 17:27
So the answer would be "They hope non-Christians will get to heaven"? –  David Jan 5 '13 at 18:05
@Mike - I found one more source - EWTN and added to this answer, which changes the final understanding significantly in my opinion. It's less happy to find out. –  David Jan 5 '13 at 18:11
@DavidStratton Your answer is sufficient. (+1) I only mean to add that the Church deems her own teachings and practices as the "ordinary" or "regular" means to serve God. Other means aren't condoned by the Church per se, but neither does the Church presume to think God can't work through other means. In all honesty, the Catholic answer to anyone, a Catholic included, asking whether they will be saved is, "We hope so." –  svidgen Jan 5 '13 at 19:58
@DavidStratton - thanks for all the good info. Now I am back to my original 'biased' view that basically it is doubtful to none, which explain the protestant equal reaction as doubtful to none that Catholics can be saved, for salvation depends on how sure one is that faith in Christ can save, not faith in church. Cheers –  Mike Jan 6 '13 at 2:46

That's funny to see that we all lack of information (see my answer which asked exactly the opposite, that is to say if some protestant church believed that Catholics were pagans]1).

In any case, reading the already mentioned CCC 838 and also other paragraphs, it's quite clear that catholich church believes that everybody can find salvation if their heart sincerely searches for God

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation. (CCC 847)

Hence if through your faith you sincerely search for God, you are saved.

Be careful to some traps that we might fall in, like the one raised by the sentence

"Outside the Church there is no salvation"

the answer is here

846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336

The last, bolded sentence, includes respect of God for our personality, thoughts, mentality. So if in your coscience you do not believe that the Catholic church is "founded as necessary by God through Christ", then you are still in the position of searching God with a sincere Heart.

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Thanks for clarification it supplements the other post by David well. –  Mike Jan 6 '13 at 2:48

To those of you using CCC 838 for your answer, you have a problem. There was no divine inspiration behind that paragraph. That paragraph uses the Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium for it's inspiration. CCC 841-844 also use Lumen Gentium, as well as Nostra Aetate for their inspiration. Both documents have statements that completely contradict everything the Church has ever taught about God (CCC 261-267). Pope Paul VI was speaking from his own person instead of the full authority of the papacy, so it doesn't matter whether or not he was teaching a doctrine on faith and/or morals, because his declaration could not be binding on the Church. A pope cannot infallibly contradict what prior church authorities have already taught. Pope Eugene IV, Council of Basil, 1434: “…there is hope that very many from the abominable sect of Mahomet will be converted to the Catholic Faith.” Pope Callixtus III, 1455: “I vow to…exalt the true Faith, and to extirpate the diabolical sect of the reprobate and faithless Mahomet in the East.” Pope Pius II, papal bull, 1459: “…the false prophet Mahomet” Or consider what Doctor Saint Thomas Aquinas had to say: “He [Mohammed] seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure … he perverts almost all the testimony of the Old and New Testaments by making them into a fabrication of his own, as can be seen by anyone who examines his law” (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 16, Article 4).

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838 isn't a problem, is it, really? And 841-844 specifically deal with non-Christians (including Muslims), which is not what this question is about: this question is about non-Catholic Christians. –  Andrew Leach May 17 at 21:31
The point is a dogma is a revelation from God to the Church, God cannot deceive or be deceived, the Second Vatican Council documents claim Allah to be God despite the historical fact that the Arab pagans were worshipping Allah at the Mecca long before Muhammadanism started, so the Second Vatican Council is not dogmatic, so Christians don't have to regard Protestants as Christians if they don't want to but the Church has declared the "Latter-Day Saints" and "Jehovah's Witnesses" as non-Christians. –  user20202 May 17 at 22:02
@user20202: That's why the Church doesn't except [the Latter-Day Saints'] so-called "trinitarian baptism". Plus they don't even read the Bible. Both statements are factually incorrect. The LDS don't believe in the Trinity as understood by the Catholic church, so their baptism is not regarded, even by themselves, as Trinitarian. And a dogmatic belief in the Bible is affirmed in the 8th Article of Faith. It is held to be a canonical work, and Latter-Day Saints are frequently encouraged to study it. –  Mason Wheeler May 17 at 23:00
As a moderator, I'd like to welcome you to Christianity.SE and encourage you to have a look at our community standards in the links found in the page header bar. This site is not a web forum, and one of our most important rules is civility. A place like this couldn't exist without everyone treating each other with respect, and being able to disagree without being disagreeable. Please keep that in mind, as the mods and the normal community members take our standards seriously and we do enforce them. Having said that, you seem pretty knowledgeable about Catholicism. I hope you stick around. :) –  Mason Wheeler May 17 at 23:05
@user20202: Again, please have a look at the tour page. Discussion of "is group X truly Christian" is explicitly off-topic here. The rule is, if the group identifies themselves as Christian, for the purposes of this site and keeping things civil, they are Christians. We have Catholics and Eastern Orthodox here, we have Protestants of nearly every flavor imaginable, we have Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, and even a few atheists, and all of them except the atheists, who don't claim to be Christians, are regarded as Christians here. –  Mason Wheeler May 18 at 0:18

The Catholic church's response to the eternal condition of a "Protestant" is both inconclusive, and troubling. It's position thatbit, and it alone contains the truth of the Gospel, is bybit's own definitions flirting with heresy.

It is additionally troubling that based on catechism #841, the Catholic church leaves little doubt thatbit considers a practicing Muslim, worshipping the demon Allah, as preferential to the confession of Protestant Christians and, by the language in that paragraph, certain of Salvation which also, makes John 14:6, of no account.

Thr many accounts of Salvation experiences detailed in the Book of Acts makes it clear; a person is Saved then "Added", without the adding contributing to his eternal salvation....it is also clear that the only confession which is beneficial for salvation, is contained in the very unique and specific language in John 14:6, which includes all professing the name of Jesus, and clearly excludes those who claim another, ie, Allah

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This answer ignores the positive statements in CCC 818 and 1271. It may also misconstrue what is meant by "The plan of salvation" as what that plan actually entails is not spelled out. –  Andrew Leach May 16 at 8:17
Andrew Leach neglects to mention that CCC818 was taken from the nondogmatic Second Vatican Council document Unitatis Redintegratio. Before quoting the so-called "Catechism of the Catholic Church", be sure the paragraph you quote is not inspired by a Second Vatican Council nondogmatic document. My earlier comment explains why it's nondogmatic. I comment on his answer and tell him myself but my reputation isn't up to 50 yet so it won't let me. –  user20202 May 17 at 22:35
@user20202: Converted your comment-answer to a real comment for you. –  Mason Wheeler May 17 at 22:55

"A man cannot have salvation, except in the Catholic Church. Outside the Catholic Church he can have everything except salvation. He can have honor, he can have Sacraments, he can sing alleluia, he can answer amen, he can possess the gospel, he can have and preach faith in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; but never except in the Catholic Church will he be able to find salvation." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 418 A.D.)

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Welcome Benhur! Sadly, this doesn't directly answer the question regarding Protestants, and doesn't seem to reflect the official teaching of Roman Catholicism. Please take a minute to learn how this site is different from others, and review how to write a good, supported answer. –  Nathaniel Aug 23 at 20:18
Protestants didn't exist in 418. At that time, the "Catholic Church" and "universal Church" (which is the originally meaning of the term catholic) were synonymous. –  ThaddeusB Aug 23 at 21:38

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