The Wikipedia page on Salvation in Christianity says the following about the Catholic view of salvation of non-Catholics:

Nevertheless, individual Protestants aware of the fact that Christ established the Catholic Church, but fail to join its membership, "cannot be saved" since they are living in open contempt towards God's known truth.

This statement is sourced by Lumen Gentium, a 1964 Roman Catholic dogmatic constitution that was a major document of Vatican II. Wikipedia didn't say which part, but as best I can tell, it is referring to Chapter II, Section 14:

This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism(124) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

Is it accurate to say that this passage is saying that Protestants (or at least those who know the historical basis for the Catholic Church) cannot be saved unless they join the Catholic Church? Or is there something that I am missing?


2 Answers 2


Lumen Gentium does indeed state that non-Catholic Christians can not be saved, but there are some important qualifications. First of all, part of the statement in Chapter II, Section 14 states:

Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

This is important, because the section only affects Christians who "knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ" refuse to become Catholics. It can be said that anyone who holds this belief would, of course, become a Catholic and that anyone who does not become a Catholic does not hold that belief. Protestants and others are off the hook.

Second, Lumen Gentium must be read in the context of Dignitatis Humanae, also issued by the Second Vatican Council. This states:

  1. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.
    The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.

In Dignitatis Humanae, section 2 grants non-Catholics the absolute right, under Catholic teaching, to religious freedom. But is the exercise of that freedom to be considered as being at the expense of their salvation? For this I turn to section 1:

First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men ...
This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.

Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.

I notice that the bishops say three times in the space of the above extract that what follows is their "belief" - thus not immutable truth. The council only requires non-Catholics to follow their consciences, not necessarily bound by the teachings of the Church, saying "The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth."

So, yes, Lumen Gentium does say that non-Catholic Christians can not be saved, but only if they actually know the requirement to become Catholics. In Dignitatis Humanae, they are to follow their own consciences in reaching the truth as to whether they should be Catholics.

  • I'm a bit confused about the subtleties with "knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ". The Catholic Church traces its lineage to Jesus ministry (with Peter), and creating a group of believers was part of Jesus' goal. I think most Protestants would acknowledge that, but you said they are off the hook. Is this instead saying something else? Jan 31, 2017 at 17:48
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    @Thunderforge I cited the actual words of Lumen Gentium without comment, but it was intended to be read as "knowing that [belonging to] the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ ..." While most Protestants would acknowledge that the Catholic Church traces its lineage to Jesus' ministry they disagree that membership of the Catholic Church is made necessary for salvation. Jan 31, 2017 at 19:40

This is a common misconception (possibly a heresy) to believe the "Rigorist" position that "Outside the Church there is no salvation". Because it is true, but not open for personal interpretation of what is meant by "Outside the Chuch"

The doctrine that "Outside the Church there is no salvation" is one that is constantly misinterpreted by those who won't submit to the Magisterium of the Church. Faith does not depend upon our ability to reason to the truth but on our humility before the Truth presented to us by those to whom Christ entrusted that task. This is why the First Vatican Council taught that it is the task of the Magisterium ALONE to determine and expound the meaning of the Tradition - including "outside the Church no salvation."

EWTN - Outside the Church there is no Salvation

That, however, is pre-Vatican II. It's surprising that people would interpret the writings of Vatican II as having a harder stance on Protestants and be less ecumenical. I can only imagine this is being presented to you through a negative filter.

It is probably better to use a magnifying glass.

Lumen gentium also likes to speak of the Church as a mystery. This is correct, for it is a mystery, since it is only partly visible. It does have visible structure, and no one who knowingly rejects that can be saved. It has members visibly adhering. But it also has members who belong to it even without knowing that, and without external explicit adherence. Hence there is much mystery, to be known fully and clearly only at the end.

Fr. William Most - No Salvation Outside the Church

In summary, it is the Magisterium of the Catholic Church that gets to decide what their own words mean. They're the Congress, Supreme Court and President (In communion with the Pope) all rolled up into one; with no power to amend.

So, when confronted with two truths in one sentence, it's always a good bet that the Catholic position is going to be more lenient and err on the side of Salvation for as many as possible. Not universalism, but certainly the benefit of the doubt when it comes to allowing God to be the true judge of man.

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