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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    "Do Catholics officially recognize Protestants as Christians?" and "does the Catholic church accept that Christians like me have eternal life, yes, or no?" are actually two quite distinct questions whose answers don't quite align; for this reason, I'm voting to close this question as too broad. – bruised reed Feb 24 '16 at 6:40
  • I agree with bruisedreed and am voting to close for the same reason: which question are you asking? – Geremia Feb 25 '16 at 0:30
  • In fact, a more fundamental question has to be answered first before answering this one: "Who is a Christian?" Is he simply someone baptized, someone who is a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, or something else? – Geremia Feb 25 '16 at 0:52
  • Have you read Lumen Gentium? If not, your research before asking the question is incomplete. Read article 15 and see how that speaks to you. Article 15 is under the general heading of "People of God." You may wish to edit your question after reading that, or not. – KorvinStarmast Feb 25 '16 at 2:33
  • @Geremia I think that's the same question: does the RCC officially recognize protestants as Christians according to their own definition of what a Christian is? – curiousdannii Feb 25 '16 at 4:18

From Catholic Answers article Does "no salvation outside the Church" include non-Catholic Christians?, non-Catholic Christians are specifically addressed in the Catechism:

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 Catholic Answers article 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 EWTN Global Catholic Network article Some Things That Catholics Do Not Believe (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
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    @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
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    That is, according to Trent, the only "proper" and "valid" baptism is a strictly Catholic one, and according to Trent, if anyone teaches or practices baptism or any other sacrament in any way than that prescribed by the Catholic church, or even differs in the number of sacraments practiced, he is cursed and condemned. See Trent Section 7 On Baptism Canon 3, and On Sacraments Canons 1,10, etc. In my opinion there is no getting around this. According to this document, which is still held as canon by the RCC, all protestants are condemned. – Andrew May 16 '15 at 0:07
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    "The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal..." – RavenHursT Jun 11 '15 at 21:53
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    "...but that they will go into the "eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41), unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation..." – RavenHursT Jun 11 '15 at 21:54

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).

In any case, reading the already mentioned CCC 838 and also other paragraphs, it's quite clear that Catholic 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"

However, CCC 846 reveals the answer:

846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? 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.

The last, bolded sentence, includes respect of God for our personality, thoughts, mentality. So if in your conscience 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
  • The question isn't about salvation. – Geremia Feb 23 '16 at 4:33
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    @Geremia How do you arrive at that position? – KorvinStarmast May 31 '16 at 21:59

Addressing your question of salvation: Is

my salvation as a whole, outside the Catholic church,…recognized by my trust in Christ?

No, the Catholic Church, in the Council of Trent session VI, condemns the Protestant notion of sola fide ("saved by faith alone"):

no one ought to flatter himself up with faith alone (sola fide), fancying that by faith alone (sola fide) he is made an heir [i.e., a member of the Church.]
CANON IX.—If any one saith, that by faith alone (sola fide) the impious is justified, in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will: let him be anathema.

I have always thought that the Pope did not recognize the validity of the faith of those outside of the Catholic church.

Yes, that's true—for example, Pope Eugene IV with the Council of Florence solemnly defined the following infallible (and thus unchangeable) dogma in Cantate Domino:

The sacrosanct Roman Church, founded by the voice of our Lord and Savior…firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

A good book on this topic is Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton's The Catholic Church and Salvation: In the Light of Recent Pronouncements of the Holy See.

According to Pope Benedict XV's encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, a Christian is a Catholic who holds the faith in its entirety:

  1. … Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: "This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved" (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname"
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"Do Catholics officially recognize Protestants as Christians?" More generally: Are baptized non-Catholics Christians?

The answer is no. A Christian is someone who is a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. Baptized non-Catholics are not members of the Church because, as Pope Pius XII wrote in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi:

Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have

  1. been baptized


  1. profess the true faith,*


  1. who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.

“For in one spirit” says the Apostle, “were we all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free.” As therefore in the true Christian community there is only one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism, so there can be only one faith. And therefore if a man refuse to hear the Church let him be considered — so the Lord commands — as a heathen and a publican. It follows that those [who] are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit.
*[in its entirely; cf. Satis Cognitum]

Protestants are at least material heretics; they do not hold the same faith as Catholics. They deny the papacy, a truth necessary for being a member of the Church. They do not even recognize the visible Church (its government). And, as Pope Leo XIII said in Satis Cognitum, an encyclical on the unity of the Church consisting in being “one in faith, in government, and in communion:”

The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium.

Thus, Protestants are not Christian.

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    This answer basically takes some past statements from the church and applies your own interpretations to them, ignoring the official statements from the church about how they should be interpreted. – DJClayworth Feb 23 '16 at 9:58
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    If you actually read what he says, no he doesn't. – DJClayworth Feb 23 '16 at 13:56
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    I suggest you reconsider your answer in the light of #818 of the CCC – bruised reed Feb 24 '16 at 7:39
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    @Geremia Your interpretation of these statements is not more authoritative than the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which tells us how the Catholic Church interprets them. – DJClayworth Feb 24 '16 at 14:18
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    This: "...they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church" is unambiguous. Are you seriously asserting that the encyclicals are contradicting the catechism and the latter is wrong?! – bruised reed Feb 25 '16 at 0:37

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