The Catholic Church teaches in the Catechism on Baptism that there are several types of Baptism, one of which is for those fellow eternal-soul-endowed humans who have never heard of Christ.

But, what does the Church say about those who have heard of Jesus; know a little bit of what the Church teaches; received validly all the sacraments of initiation; but then, because what they know (or think they know) was so shoddily taught they wholly reject every lick of the Catholic Church in favor of Buddhism, Islam or Atheism because they never remotely understood what they had in the Church since it was presented in such an ineffective manner*.

Are they apostates or can we apply the logic, "to whom much is given, much is expected", to posit that this person was given nothing so nothing is expected?

* I'm looking for Catholic doctrine, not criticism of my straw man, I think he or she is the best kind of person. Who, actively seeking the truth was presented with none by a wall of bad Catechesis in the Catholic Church. As a kid, I had very little notion of a global church and nearly never went to any parish except my home one. I could have easily been this person having only understood the Church through the easily forgotten texts used during Religious Ed. class had it not been for my mom and one excellent priest.

2 Answers 2


I believe this concern is explicitly addressed in Lumen Gentium - Chapter 2, paragraph 16:

Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature", the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

I think we'd only consider an explicit choice to deny God, properly understood (though never fully understood), as a truly damning sin.

Now, we couldn't claim that every atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, or whatever is engaged in a sincere quest for truth. But, those that are engaged in sincere truth-seeking (and conformance) are headed in the right direction.

But, this does not relieve our obligation, nor should it relieve our desire, to deliver the truth as we know it, with all due respect -- and tact! It is much easier to lose interest in the quest for truth, or become perverse in that quest, if one is not actually presented with the truth! (in charity)

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    Welcome to the site, please stick around (we need more Catholic Wisconsinites around here)! One question though - do you think this: without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life applies to those who zone out in CCD through no fault of their own?
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 5, 2012 at 18:59
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    "Through no fault of their own" implies that they're guiltless. But, there's a question of whether the zoning is truly a fault-less and whether he/she, upon recognizing the problem, sincerely attempts to correct the situation. There's also the guilt of the onlooker(s) that might be important to consider, if you happen to be one!
    – svidgen
    Nov 5, 2012 at 22:31

We are all equal before the eyes of the Lord.

Seemingly, the only premise needed to obtain the Kingdom of Heaven is to take Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior - to believe he existed, died for our sins as living sacrifice then was resurrected on the third day to ascend to the right hand of God and realizing that only through taking him as the sole means of salvation from sin can we receive atonement and go to heaven.

I am not clear on the need for baptism by water to enter the kingdom of Heaven, unfortunately. If anyone can help me on that, please do. My current thoughts lead to the idea that if one is not baptized by water, you may still go to Heaven.

In tension with salvation by grace through faith is doing good works after you have been justified. Our fleshly vessel, which contains our soul, receives into it fully through the rebirth of ourselves into a new life walking with Christ the Holy Spirit.

We are not freed from the commandments and the law, but guided by the Holy Spirit and reborn via our faith, we are expected and do naturally walk ever more toward sanctity through our relationship with God.

If we backslide and disbelieve after the above events have happened, some argue that the spirit will never let you fall back to your old self before the rebirth.

My current thoughts are that if that were the case, you are pushing the point of judgement to the time of salvation, not after death. In so doing, you are losing free will in the process by becoming a puppet of the Holy Spirit.

I think if we backslide and disbelieve and do not walk in the paths of righteousness, we can lose our ticket to Heaven.

However, unlike much of what you write in the above, I do not think there are degrees of expectation in ones salvation - you are either saved or not by grace through faith. If you have not received the good news, that makes it pretty hard to be saved, so it is all of our duties to help those who have not been informed hear the good news and at least have that chance. But I cannot see that knowing less or more makes it harder or easier for you to be saved by some kind of sliding scale standard.

However, the idea of teachers and leaders in faith being held to a stricter standard of word and deed is clearly spelled out.

One thing I would add about the need for studying and agreeing to or discussing a catechism or taking a class as a prerequisite to Baptism can be indicated by the following:

Acts 2:40-41 (NIV)

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Obviously, 3000 people could not have heard the word, accepted God's message and been baptized all within one day if they had to do the catechism thing. Would not the original Church on its birthday and its practices which were under the direct supervision of the original 12 apostles who were actual eyewitnesses and companions to Christ himself be more authoritative than any additions made later in a more modern Church that have been added on extra-Biblically?

In the end, though you are seeking an answer within Catholic doctrine, maybe your answer lies more with Scripture?

All this is just my current understanding born of reading Scripture, both individually and in community, tradition, reason and my own experiences.

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    RE: Baptism by water. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says something to the effect that God is not bound by His sacraments. I think water in Baptism is an important sign (as are the white garment, the candles, the holy oil and the godparents), but the absolutely essential thing is being baptized in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and that can happen in ways we don't fully understand.
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 2, 2012 at 17:15
  • And yeah, I pretty much want a very Catholic answer full of references to some esoteric curial document. But, I do appreciate anyone who takes the time to write a thoughtful answer!
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 2, 2012 at 17:18
  • No problem, and thank you for your praise. However, I am not Catholic, so cannot provide what you need for this post. Good luck!
    – Xitalogy
    Nov 2, 2012 at 21:29
  • @PeterTurner Just a thought - maybe pray and read scripture about this? And talk to a Priest/Pastor/other member of the Church?
    – Xitalogy
    Nov 3, 2012 at 17:42
  • well there are a few other Catholics on the site who drop by and answer questions occasionally. I've even had two questions answered here by priests.
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 4, 2012 at 2:58

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