ASK FATHER: Salvation “outside” the Church

Nulla-SalusFrom a reader…


To begin, I want to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog – Thank you. I have always struggled with the teaching of “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus”. Is this doctrinal? My thoughts always go to seemingly sincere and good Christians of other denominations and how it can be that in their error, they are damned. Any thoughts you an share would be appreciated.

A good deal of ink has been spilled over this concept, rooted in Holy Scripture and the consistent tradition of the Church.

We know from the Gospels that Our Lord established the Church as His vehicle for the salvation of humanity.

He ordered us to preach the Gospel to all nations, and taught that baptism is essential for salvation.

St. Cyprian of Carthage (+258) wrote, “Salus extra ecclesiam non est” (ep. 72, Ad Iubaianum de hereticis baptizandis). Even earlier, Origen, wrote, “Let no man deceive himself. Outside this house, that is, outside the Church no one is saved.” (Homily on the Birth of Jesus). Clearly from both the Fathers and from the Magisterium of the Church we have a consistent teaching that the Church is THE vehicle of the salvation.

The Church still maintains that and teaches, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is His Body.” (CCC 846)

This is a positive formulation of the doctrine, in contrast to the flip side, “there is no salvation outside the Church”.

The Church has always taught that we do not know the inscrutable ways of God.

Can those who appear to be visibly outside of the Church attain heaven?


Not through their own merit.  None of us attains heaven through our own merit. We have the example of Christ Himself, who stated that, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven (John 3:5). That’s pretty straightforward.  But then, on the Cross, He informed the Good Thief that He would be in paradise (Luke 23:43).

How do we square those things? There’s no indication that the Good Thief was “born of water and the Spirit”, yet we know he attained heaven.

If baptism is the entrance into the Church, and outside the Church there is no salvation, how can we say that the Good Thief is in heaven?

We also have the consistent teaching of the Church on the concept of invincible ignorance. There are those who, through no fault of their own, have not heard the Gospel message. Are they all guaranteed to be damned? No.  St. Augustine commented in a homily once on the sheep who are outside of the flock and the wolves who are within (tr. eu. Io. 45.12). Bl. Pius IX wrote

“It must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood; but on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, will not be held guilty of this in the eyes of God.
Now in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to mark the limits of such an ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things? For in truth, when released from these corporeal chains, ‘we shall see God as He is’ (1 John 3:2), we shall understand perfectly by how close and beautiful a bond divine mercy and justice are united; but as long as we are on earth, weighed down by this moral mass which blunts the soul, let us hold most firmly that, in accordance with Catholic teaching, there is ‘one God, one faith, one baptism’ (Ephesians 4:5); it is unlawful to proceed further in inquiry. But just as the way of charity demands, let us pour forth continual prayers that all nations everywhere may be converted to Christ; and let us be devoted to the common salvation of men in proportion to our strength, ‘for the hand of the Lord is not shortened’ (Isaiah 9:1) and the gifts of heavenly grace will not be wanting to those who sincerely wish and ask to be refreshed by this light.” (Allocution “Singulari quadam” 9 December 1854).

Is it possible to be saved outside of the Catholic Church? No. It is not.

Salvation comes through the Church.

Is it possible that those who seem to be outside of the Catholic Church end up in heaven?

God’s mercy and judgment are such that His understanding of salvation in and through the Church is on a different plane than ours is in this life.

It is possible for those who, due to invincible ignorance, appear to remain outside the Church are, somehow, saved in and through the Church. This possibility should, in no way, shape, or form, allow us to relax our efforts to work and pray for the spread of the Gospel and for seeking to get as many of our brothers and sisters as we possibly can into the Ark of Salvation, the Holy Catholic Church.

Bottom line: God is not limited by our understanding.  God can save whom it pleaseth Him to save.  Can He save people who are not visibly and formally within the embrace of Holy Catholic Church, and not even baptized?  Yes.  He can.  We don’t know how He might do that, but He can, whether we understand it or not.   In any event, any person who is saved, is saved through the merits of the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and that salvation and those merits are mediated – somehow – through the only Church that He found, the Catholic Church.

Also, I want to remind everyone what the Second Vatican Council said in Lumen gentium 14:

“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.”

Moderation queue is ON.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TomG says:

    Great summation. In addition, for me, reading and re-reading “Dominus Iesus” was most helpful (prayers for our dear Pope Emeritus – and, of course, always prayers for our Holy Father).

  2. Bosco says:

    Very helpful, Father Z. Thank you!

    I often recall the passage from Luke when I think about this issue:

    “47 Yet it is the servant who knew his Lord’s will, and did not make ready for him, or do his will, that will have many strokes of the lash;

    48 he who did not know of it, yet earned a beating, will have only a few. Much will be asked of the man to whom much has been given; more will be expected of him, because he was entrusted with more.” Luke 12:47-48

  3. ronconte says:

    Pope Saint John Paul II has a nice General Audience on this topic, saying much the same thing as Fr. Z.:
    [The Vatican page for this audience now only has Italian and Spanish. The text in the link above is the English translation that used to be on the Vatican website.]

  4. Excellent explanation.

    The way I summarize my answer is to say that no one who is in heaven will be outside the Church. As to how someone who is visibly outside the Church in this life can be in the Church in eternity, I think you explained well.

    Further, there is a need to acknowledge that baptism itself links us to the Church. Someone who is baptized, but not a Catholic, isn’t exactly “outside” the Church; how can they be? I think it was Saint Augustine who said that when non-Catholic Christians celebrate the sacraments, the sacraments, when valid, are still the Church’s sacraments.

    And didn’t Saint Thomas Aquinas (or maybe it was Augustine again) who said, in effect, we are bound to the sacraments, but God isn’t?

  5. Cornelius says:

    So, . . . has anyone actually met anyone who believed that the Catholic Church was necessary for salvation but refused to enter it, as per LG 14? This is absurd on its face. [No. You find it everyday.]

  6. Kent Wendler says:

    I seem to recall (correct me, Father, if I err here), that when we die we (each and every one of us; past, present, future) has in our particular judgment an individual direct encounter with Jesus, the Eternal Word of God, Who is Truth Itself, and presents our whole life to us (perhaps we instantaneously “reinhabit” it – the whole of it?) and we, ourselves, understanding it perfectly in the light of Truth, with no deceptions or errors, judge ourselves and cast our own (aev-)eternal fate; i.e., it is not imposed “externally” by our Lord.

    In conjunction with this we have the Divine Mercy Devotion, proclaimed as worthy of belief by St. John Paul II, in which St. Faustina relates in her diary (1485-1486) that our Lord calls to the dying (not yet quite *dead*) reprobate up to three times with ever increasing floods of grace and mercy to seek forgiveness, which will be granted.

    On a personal note, I would like to think that for anyone not formally baptized by water who does not die in final impenitence our Lord effectively performs the same washing away of Original Sin, perhaps with the Water which poured from His side on Calvary?

  7. mburn16 says:

    I fall into the camp that views salvation as an expansive proposition: most men will, eventually, make it to Heaven. In my view, the existence of Purgatory and this widespread salvation are the best explanation for a God who is both just and merciful. If you seek to do good, have remorse when you do not, accept the inferiority of man in relation to his creator, and are generally decent…I’m inclined to think you are on a road to salvation. Provide me with a census of Heaven, and I would be most surprised if there were not legions of Jews, Muslims, and even others among its ranks.

  8. Father P says:

    I find a helpful image for the question of “who belongs to the Church” when this question comes up to be that of the Temple in Jerusalem with its various courts. There is the Temple building proper (the visible Catholic church) but then related to it in various ways are the Courts of the Priests, of Israel, of the Women, the Inner Courts, of the Gentiles.

  9. Father, that is one of the best, most succinct reiterations I’ve yet seen. Thank you for your clarity and accuracy.

  10. GypsyMom says:

    Thank you, Father! How beautiful!
    “God is not limited by our understanding.” This is so true! How often do we think we completely fathom the ways of God, when what we’re really doing is “limiting” how He can operate to our way of looking at things.
    There is an interesting explanation given to this dilemma in the testimony of Gloria Polo, an orthodontist from Columbia who was struck by lightening. She died from the terrible burns and was on her way to hell from living a life far from God, but was given a second chance through the prayers of a local farmer. Jesus showed her many things, among them how He brings the righteous who are outside the Church to Heaven through the work of the Catholic Church here on earth. It, of course, is private revelation and not doctrine, but it seems to make a lot of sense.

  11. Pete Morrell says:

    I agree with everything as you have explained Father.
    And yet, I think the Church has disintegrated in large part the last 50 years because most of her priests and bishops presume unlimited mercy of God and invincible ignorance of most all men.

    What is the average man asking when he posits the OP’s question? “Do my nice Protestant relatives and friends really need to convert and accept the Catholic faith?”
    Yes should be our resounding emphatic answer. Convert before death, living your remaining life in a state of grace with the sacraments, or no one should have good hope for your salvation. Period.

  12. I actually found Question 121 from the Baltimore Catechism to make good sense here. I’ll quote the end. Basically, if Catholics, “spiritual Rockefellers,” as Scott Hahn calls us, with all the sacraments and sacramental and spiritual aids that we have, do not get a bye into heaven, how much more difficult will it be for those less blessed to make it? For example, can one make a perfect act of contrition and be forgiven without confession? Sure. But going to confession is much easier and certain a path.

    “Suppose, however, that there is a non-Catholic who firmly believes that the church to which he belongs is the true Church, and who has never — even in the past — had the slightest doubt of that fact — what will become of him?

    “If he was validly baptized and never committed a mortal sin, he will be saved; because, believing himself a member of the true Church, he was doing all he could to serve God according to his knowledge and the dictates of his conscience. But if ever he committed a mortal sin, his salvation would be very much more difficult. A mortal sin once committed remains on the soul till it is forgiven. Now, how could his mortal sin be forgiven? Not in the Sacrament of Penance, for the Protestant does not go to confession; and if he does, his minister — not being a true priest — has no power to forgive sins. Does he know that without confession it requires an act of perfect contrition to blot out mortal sin, and can he easily make such an act? What we call contrition is often only imperfect contrition — that is, sorrow for our sins because we fear their punishment in Hell or dread the loss of Heaven. If a Catholic — with all the instruction he has received about how to make an act of perfect contrition and all the practice he has had in making such acts — might find it difficult to make an act of perfect contrition after having committed a mortal sin, how much difficulty will not a Protestant have in making an act of perfect contrition, who does not know about this requirement and who has not been taught to make continued acts of perfect contrition all his life. It is to be feared either he would not know of this necessary means of regaining God´s friendship, or he would be unable to elicit the necessary act of perfect contrition, and thus the mortal sin would remain upon his soul and he would die an enemy of God…

    “I said I gave you an example that can scarcely be found, namely, of a person not a Catholic, who really never doubted the truth of his religion, and who, moreover, never committed during his whole life a mortal sin. There are so few such persons that we can practically say for all those who are not visibly members of the Catholic Church, believing its doctrines, receiving its Sacraments, and being governed by its visible head, our Holy Father, the Pope, salvation is an extremely difficult matter.

    “I do not speak here of pagans who have never heard of Our Lord or His holy religion, but of those outside the Church who claim to be good Christians without being members of the Catholic Church.”

  13. The Cobbler says:

    If I’m not mistaken, “nulla” is “none”*, the quantitative measurement used in answer to “how much” questions (or in such a way as can be the answer to “how much” questions) — e.g. “How much of salvation is outside the Church?” “Nulla — none.”

    That’s not as thorough a treatment as getting into the claims of the Church Fathers and the theology of Augustine, of course, but if I’m correct then it’s an interesting and much briefer counterpoint to the seeming simplicity of the negative formulation — it isn’t necessarily a “there is no” statement, it can be read as a “none of this is” statement (“None of the salvation is outside the Church” or “No salvation is outside the Church”)… right?

    Of course, I’d say the bottom line is we’d better not presume on God’s mercy, nonetheless.

    (*I remember this because “nil” — which comes from “nihil”, “nothing” — is commonly used to mean “none”, and in some fields “null” means “nothing” or “nothing valid” as quite distinct from “zero”, “none” or “empty”, so nil and null are basically etymologically backwards if I understand correctly.)

  14. Supertradmum says:

    Thanks, Father, as there are multitudes of Jansenists, Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians walking around who think their views are Catholic. If I had to write about one subject only for the rest of my life, it would be “baptism” as so many Catholics simply do not understand the meaning and efficacy of this sacrament.

    We are NOT saved either by natural religion, or good works. And, after purgatory, the good, purified Protestants would be Catholics. No heretics in heaven.

    I do have trouble believing in 2015 that there is invincible ignorance in this day and age of information. People choose not to study their religion, or they choose to ignore religion. This is not invincible ignorance, nor is bad catechesis.

    God gives all people sufficient grace for salvation. All. Even the pagans are given such grace. But, we all have free will. A few introductory texts from Garrigou-Lagrange’s Grace may be helpful.

    “God does not command the impossible, but by commanding He teaches thee both to do what thou canst and to ask what thou canst not, and He helps thee that thou mayest be able” (St. Augustine, quoted at the Council of Trent, Denz., no. 804).

    “Christ is the propitiation for our sins, for some efficaciously, but for all sufficiently, since the price of His blood is sufficient for the salvation of all” (St. Thomas on I Tim. 23, and elsewhere).

    “The help of grace is twofold: one, indeed, accompanies the power; the other, the act. But God gives the power, infusing the virtue and grace whereby man is made capable and apt for the operation; whereas He confers the operation itself according as He works in us interiorly, moving and urging us to good” (St. Thomas on Ephes. 3:7).

  15. NomenDeiAdmirabileEst says:

    “A good deal of ink has been spilled over this concept…”

    I personally think that too much ink has been spilled over this doctrine, particularly in discussing its “loopholes,” if you will. The seemingly endless clarifications (some of which seem to altogether distort the concept) dominate any discussion, resulting in blurred lines that leave plenty of room for disagreement, and consequently failing to call the hearts of the faithful to a deeper conversion.

    I think it is safe to say that many of these discussions are prompted by the horrible thought of our loved ones who’ve died outside of the Church perishing. In cases like these (which I have experienced firsthand; two of my late grandparents were lifelong Lutherans) we have to face the reality that the situation is not ideal. We must pray for them, hear Masses and have Masses said for them, and entrust their judgment to God, whose knowledge, wisdom, love, justice, and mercy are infinite. On the other hand, engaging in lengthy discussions that propose loopholes, blur lines, and distort the Church’s doctrine of salvation is like drugging ourselves. We gain comfort, assume our loved ones are enjoying the Beatific Vision, and move on. We blind ourselves to reality, fail to see the gravity of the situation, and consequently fail to pray, fast, and love with the fervor demanded by the situation we no longer see as unfortunate.

    There are also those who engage in these discussions so as not to offend, cause emotional discomfort, or drive away any person who might be in the above situation. I think this is especially true for those with ecumenical sensibilities. The phrase “meeting people where they are at” comes to mind. The problem here is that now we go about the work of evangelization without the priority and urgency that are fitting. We don’t want to make any man uncomfortable, fearing that he will be driven away by the demands of life in Christ. But one who is comfortable as he is finds no need for the interior and exterior conversion all men, Christian or not, are called to.

    I do not propose to say that these discussions are worthless. It is right and just to present the fullness of truth. What I do assert, though, is that such discussions must not dominate our overall discussion of this doctrine. What ought to be a footnote, a mention of an extraordinary circumstance, must remain just that. These “loopholes” are meant to give us hope, a hope that inspires action, prayer, and trust, realizing that although the situation is gravely unfortunate, there is still hope. Any discussion that blinds us to the situation’s gravity fails to accomplish this. Prayers go unspoken, mortifications unoffered, and sinners unconverted. In our comfort there is no conversion, interior or exterior. “Salus extra Ecclesiam non est.”

  16. jameeka says:

    Gosh, by the time I was going to ask whether this was the St Augustine sermon, it was already included in your post
    but it so interesting to hear his thoughts and try to compare to now. No different!
    ( not sure if link will work)

  17. TWF says:

    Fr. Fox raises a good point. The sacraments belong to the Church. The very idea of a sacrament existing outside of the Church is absurd. Yet we know that most Protestant baptisms are valid. More profoundly, we know that the Eucharist, and in fact all seven sacraments, are validly celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches (non-Chalcedonian), the Assyrian Church of the East, and in a number of other bodies. The Catechism describes these Churches as being in an imperfect communion with the Catholic Church and it must, logically, be by virtue of that communion, as imperfect as it is, that the grace of the sacraments is channeled to these communities. There isn’t a Catholic Eucharist and an Orthodox Eucharist…there is only one Eucharist.

  18. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Does an analogy to sin itself help in this case?

    Original Sin — which is ours because of our human condition
    Venial Sin — could be because of lack of full consent, lack of knowledge…
    Mortal Sin — grave matter, full consent, full knowledge

    Those in mortal sin can’t enter heaven
    Those in venial sin can enter after purgation
    Heaven isn’t our right, but God’s gift, which He can bestow on whomsoever He wishes.

  19. Landless Laborer says:

    mburn16 says: “I fall into the camp that views salvation as an expansive proposition: most men will, eventually, make it to Heaven.”

    Our Lord Himself tells us “narrow the gate and straitened the way that leads to life, and they are few who find it.” We say in the act of faith, “Thou canst not deceive nor be deceived”. I find that verse quite chilling. The few quotes from Fathers and Doctors down through the ages on this topic are no less dire. There was another recent thread here where a psychologist thought it absurd that priests and religious should not die more gracefully. Maybe it’s because they alone understood the full gravity of the situation?

  20. iamlucky13 says:

    I grew up blind to how many Catholics had never been taught really important details of faith like this. Granted, it’s even more egregious how many are not taught the True Presence in the Eucharist, but at least all the Catholics I know who attend Mass at least weekly seem to know that much. However, a very large proportion of them erroneously believe either the standard heresy of our time that anybody who seems “nice” automatically goes to heaven, or the slightly better catechized but still incorrect notion we’re discussing here: that because salvation is only possible in the Church, only the “visible” Church as father calls it, can be saved.

    I first learned things like this from the Saint Joseph Baltimore catechism, even though I was born decades after that book fell out of common use, to the best of my knowledge. In fact, I happened to do a search and find the image that was used on the page that dealt with this topic, which it refers to as a baptism of desire.

    I hope this doesn’t come across as critical of those who don’t know the full context of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus.” It’s generally not your fault you weren’t taught, although it’s a reminder that we have a duty to actively learn our faith.

    While looking for the catechism page, I happened across the story of Leonard Feeney, who unfortunately became so vocally attached to the strictest interpretation of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus.” that he had to be excommunicated:

  21. JabbaPapa says:

    One of the best explanations of the doctrine I’ve ever seen.

    Though there is another way of understanding it.

    The doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus was originally formulated to combat a heresy claiming that there were multiple heavens — one for Christians, one for Jews, one for “good pagans” and etc.

    So the doctrine, as well as all that Father Z has so brilliantly explained, also states that howsoever people shall be saved by God, all of the saved shall belong to the One Church of Christ in Heaven.

  22. Jerry says:

    mburn16: “I fall into the camp that views salvation as an expansive proposition: most men will, eventually, make it to Heaven”

    Just a thought: How do you reconcile this view with Matt 7:13-14 (“Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!”)?

  23. Midwest St. Michael says:

    I second what Jonathan says. Thank you, Father Z.

    Fr. Stravinskas says it similarly in this piece:


  24. jhayes says:

    In 1949, the CDF (then called the Holy Office) issued an explanation. Here is a part of it

    In his infinite mercy, God willed that, since it was a matter of the means of salvation ordained for man’s ultimate end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, its salutary effects could also be obtained in certain circumstances when these means are only objects of “desire” or of “hope”. This point was clearly established at the Council of Trent, with regard to both the sacrament of baptism and of penance (Denziger, n. 797 and 807).

    The same must be said of the Church, as a general means of salvation. That is why for a person to obtain his salvation, it is not always required that he be de facto incorporated into the Church as a member, but he must at least be united to the Church through desire or hope.

    However, it is not always necessary that this hope be explicit as in the case of catechumens. When one is in a state of invincible ignorance, God accepts an implicit desire, thus called because it is implicit in the soul’s good disposition, whereby it desires to conform its will to the will of God.

    I think that “invincible ignorance” doesn’t mean simply that you have never heard that the Church teaches that it is necessary for salvation, but rather that you have not been convinced of the truth of that teaching.

  25. Thorfinn says:

    I like to think of the example of Doubting Thomas.

    St Thomas denied the resurrection of Christ in the face of the witness of all the other apostles.

    Yet when he came face to face with Christ he acknowledged his error and made a perfect confession of faith: “My Lord and my God”.

    My hope is that each soul will be allowed a similar opportunity.

  26. Faithful to the Core says:

    When I was a child which, granted, was some time ago, we were taught that there was “baptism of desire” by which those outside the Church committed to Good and the Truth who lived by their conscience could be saved through Jesus and the Church. Maybe that’s how they tried to explain it to children, but it’s worked for me ever since.

  27. LarryW2LJ says:

    Thank you so much, Fr. Z. I am going to print out your explanation and keep it handy. This comes up from time to time in our Bible study group. And thank you so much for, “The Church has always taught that we do not know the inscrutable ways of God.” I have some acquaintances who are sure that even though the Church doesn’t know – they do. This is a good reminder for them.

  28. Legisperitus says:

    Inculpable ignorance might be a better expression; a broader category than invincible ignorance.

  29. norancor says:

    I know for myself that the Holy Ghost acts on my conscience dozens of times each day, and my confessions usually consist of the times that I repeatedly do not respond to Him, and consequences of failing to response to grace.

    I could be wrong, but I would not expect that I’m somehow special in noticing His promptings. We know that His grace is upon all in this world, but the unfortunate reality is that most people do not respond to Him, and do not move closer to the Truth of the Church, whether its the visible confines of the Church, or in their natural lives far from the Truth of the Church.

    I fall into the exact opposite camp as @mburn16. Narrow gate means narrow gate, and Heaven is a positive choice in response to God’s grace. In other words, apocatastasis is really and truly a heresy, Heaven is not the default for a soul, the damned are the damned forever, because Heaven and Hell are not bound by “time” in the way we live in creation. Heaven and Hell are the place as state of being with, or without, God — permanently.

    Let’s think about apocatastasis… the thought that God’s mercy is so great that eventually, perhaps even a very long time, He will cease punishing the damned and allow them into Heaven. We know that Hell is completely absent grace. According to this notion, you can see that God would have to freely choose to release the unrepentant and damned from Hell, and allow them into Heaven even though they rejected Him and have no repentance. Fr. Barron’s, echoing von Balthazar and others, called Hell a place primarily of loneliness, but this is absurd, because we know that Hell is a burning and unquenchable fire where the pain of loss of God is the primary suffering, each according to the demerits of their sins. To allow the damned into Heaven isn’t just, because it overrides the will, and ignores that they cannot form repentance.

    God’s justice and mercy are true, perfect, and infinite, and we have no idea who is and is not in Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. But you have to WANT to be “saved.” You have to persist in that desire. You are not just in the eyes of God without Baptism and being in a state of grace, or having a desire thereof in wanting Baptism or making a perfect act of contrition. Salvation is not equal to “being a good person.” I think it is a dangerous and false, “Pelagian-esque” view of God, to think that His mercy is superabundant to the EXCLUSION of His justice.

    One shouldn’t ask “Why does a good God who desires the salvation of all men allow so few people to be with Him in Heaven?” The question needs to be, “Why do so many people believe that they have to do so little in order to live a life with God here and merit, by His grace, to be with Him in Heaven?”

    Lastly… if many, most, or all go Heaven, why would Our Lord pontificate, “And will not God revenge his elect who cry to him day and night: and will he have patience in their regard? I say to you, that he will quickly revenge them. But yet the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?”

    That is an apt and perfect description for the state, and destiny, of man. Christ, in the parable of the banquet, doesn’t just show that the Jews rejected Him, but also shows that God’s grace is superabundant and showered upon men, but that it is typically rejected for the self.

    Heaven is a place where God has brought those that responded to His invitation; not for those that rejected Him. How can this be?

    Again you should ask why the metaphor of family divided 3 against 2? Why let the dead bury their dead? Why was the prodigal son dead? Why are many called but few are chosen? Why both hands to the plow? Why does St. Paul warn to finish the race?

    Its not hard a great leap to believe, or hope, that there may be Protestants in Purgatory…. people invincibly ignorant who lived decent lives according to their understanding of the Gospel. Wanting people to be in Heaven doesn’t make it so, and you cannot be lead to a complacent notion of salvation.

    Before you get mad at me or think I’m being a covert Feeneyite looking to damn people left and right without a second thought, I have had verbally violent debates against Feeneyites many times. I completely reject their heretical and damning attitude in how they read the articles of Faith.

    But that doesn’t mean Heaven is a common destination for man, because God knows how many times He prompted them – we don’t. Evil lies hidden within the hearts of men, in their negligences and contempt, in their indifference and lukewarmness, in their false religions, in their absence of faith, in their love of sin, and love of self, and their lack of love of God, and others.

  30. ach7990 says:

    Two thumbs up to NomenDeiAdmirabileEst’s response.

    I side with Dante Alighieri and the medieval theologians. The virtuous pagans don’t go to heaven, they go to limbo. I know it’s not doctrine but it is the only logically coherent position if you’re going to say that you have to be baptized and die in a state of grace in order to be saved.

    The Good Thief was baptized by desire – another concept which is muddled by all sides. Aquinas explains it best:

  31. Imrahil says:

    Sounds a good explanation, to me.

    As someone once said, (I heard this attributed to Archbishop Lefebvre, but it isn’t a literal quote anyway)

    there will not be any Protestants, Buddhists, etc. in Heaven. There will only be Catholics in Heaven, including those who on Earth were not Catholics.

    That said, as a point of mere evangelizing prudence, I’d figure it is probably best to leave out “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” entirely, except in bypassing when discussing the respective section of the Catechism, and when we have to combat a Protestant* or Feeneyite in argument.

    [*Protestants obviously argue away the duty of adhering to the Catholic church or replace it by something else, an invisible church of all believers or what not. However, if they are traditional, then unlike us Catholics they will not allow any ignorance, however invincible, as excusing from some duties, such as that of having (what they call) faith.]

  32. Imrahil says:

    Dear Cornelius,

    if it happens rarely (though I grant at first instant that our reverend host as better insight to the general structure), that is not “absurd”, but a reason to rejoice ;-)

    Dear Chris Garton-Zavesky,

    it is true that God is not obliged to bestow Heaven on everyone. However we know that in the actual world God has created, God does bestow Heaven on everyone, excluding those who end up in Hell (and perhaps unbaptized infants, about whom nothing is known for certain).

    Dear NomenDeiAdmirabileEst,

    I do not propose to say that these discussions are worthless. Neither do I. The world asks questions; the Church gives answers. We have a right to give the right answers, and not to give any answers we are not sure of except with the appropriate qualifiers; but we cannot control what questions are posed to us, including by Christians. You argued yourself quite well that the problem is (emotionally often – and why not?) pressing enough, and actually asked by people; that is grounds enough – not to answer it falsely, of course, but to give a correct, if necessary lengthy, answer to our best abilities.

    Dear Jerry,
    if I may venture to answer as I hold the same opinion as mburn16, the narrow path with its gate is the virtuous life, and the wide path is the vicious life, and its gate, which is destruction, is mortal sin. The classical theologians distinguished between “active perseverance”, which is a Christian actually persevering in living as a Christian in an uncompromised way, and it should be obvious that not this is what the majority of people do (if we remain on a neutral-from-outside point of view, let me qualify that statement by: in the present). But they distingished it from “passive perseverance”, which is just “the moment of death happens to be a moment when the person is in the state of grace”.

    We all know this happens, and we do know that a person may many times have entered the destruction of both actual mortal sin, and of sin which is mortal in its objective manner, but still be saved in the end.

    Dear Supertradmum, and generally,

    I personally do not really like the adjective “invincible” before “ignorance”… still it is the one the Church uses, of course.
    However, I don’t think it is supposed to mean “absolutely invincible” (which I daresay is absent in civilized countries these days), but it certainly includes “morally invincible”, according to the usual Catholic terminology. [And I don’t think that if I privately speculate that between invincible ignorance which excuses, and wilful ignorance which does not excuse, there is also an area of not-really-invincible-but-neither-wilful ignorance, which would excuse from mortal sin but not from venial, I’d be so totally off the hook… all said in obedience, of course.]

    The usual Protestant or Muslim you meet in the street is morally invincibly ignorant of the fact that the Church is in the right (if only because his ears are closed, and he has been brought up to not even consider Catholic claims).

    That said,
    non-Catholics commit other sins also, apart from not-being Catholic. And while they can repent from them, they do not have the help of the Sacraments (except for Eastern Christians, and Baptism and Marriage for Protestants). They do not have the help of the Church’s magisterium and hierarchy. And even if they are saved in the end, the non-Christians among them do not, and the Christians among them do not quite, belong to Christ’s Mystical Body right now at this moment.

  33. jhayes says:

    Legisperitus wrote Inculpable ignorance might be a better expression; a broader category than invincible ignorance.

    Invincible is the term Thomas used in the Summa:

    it is not imputed as a sin to man, if he fails to know what he is unable to know. Consequently ignorance of such like things is called “invincible,” because it cannot be overcome by study. For this reason such like ignorance, not being voluntary, since it is not in our power to be rid of it, is not a sin: wherefore it is evident that no invincible ignorance [ignorantia invincibilis] is a sin. [I-II, Q. 79, Art. 2]

    It is the person’s ignorance that is invincible – either because he has never heard that the Church is the proper path to salvation or, having heard it is not convinced. A Lutheran theologian may know all of the arguments for the Church’s teaching but not be convinced by them. He is “invincibly ignorant”

  34. robtbrown says:

    TWF says:

    Fr. Fox raises a good point. The sacraments belong to the Church.

    Exactly, and Christ is the Head of the Church.

  35. Imrahil says:

    Dear ach7990,

    that is Dante, and Dante is fiction. By the way, for Dante, Emperor Trajan is in Heaven, and so is some hero of Vergil’s stories, forgotten who. If he hadn’t had need for a guide through Hell and Purgatory, he’d probably have written Vergil into Heaven, too.

    The mediaeval theologians, however, were as clear as the Church is today that – at least once you reach the age of reason* – will go either to Heaven (possibly with Purgatory before) or to Hell. God could have ordained sorts of intermediate states, as e. g. the Mormon’s fable has it, but in actual fact he didn’t.

    And, ceterum censeo, this is why the doctrine of Hell is Good News. If Heaven, if the Beatific Vision were a prize given to only some few superperformers, while the others are granted a natural paradize, what sinful man who is not totally unrealistic would even take the heart to hope to get to Heaven?

    But no. Heaven is for all, except for those that go to Hell.

    [*The idea, somewhen present that unbaptized infants go to Hell in the sense of receiving some, mitigated, pains, which was once favored, if I am rightly informed, by St. Augustine, has since been dismissed by pretty much any theologian, if not the Magisterium itself. So, they go either to a natural paradise, though outside Beatific Vision, called the limbo, or they go to Heaven, namely if God grants them that grace – it is unknown if He does.]

    But speaking of Dante, though that doesn’t belong here at all…

    I absolutely love his image that the Light of God is so bright that any little flame besides it… no… not utterly vanishes… but shines itself like a sun.

  36. PaterAugustinus says:

    I know it can be tempting to be lax on this point, and often folk try to push “invincible ignorance” well beyond its limits. Let’s try to arrive at a very precise understanding by “triangulating” our position, here. We’ll look at a “strict” expression (Bd. Pius IX), the broadest possible clear position (the Holy Office’s correction against the Feeneyites), and the Catholic Encyclopedia’s explanation of ignorance.

    Bd. Pope Pius IX taught in his encyclical, Quanto Conficiamur Moerore:

    “7. Here, too, our beloved sons and venerable brothers, it is again necessary to mention and censure a very grave error entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching. There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.

    “8. Also well known is the Catholic teaching that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. Eternal salvation cannot be obtained by those who oppose the authority and statements of the same Church and are stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, to whom “the custody of the vineyard has been committed by the Savior.” The words of Christ are clear enough: “If he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you a Gentile and a tax collector;” “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you, rejects me, and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me;” “He who does not believe will be condemned;” “He who does not believe is already condemned;” “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” The Apostle Paul says that such persons are “perverted and self-condemned;” the Prince of the Apostles calls them “false teachers . . . who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master. . . bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”

    Bd. Pius IX is merely continuing the Church’s Tradition, going all the way back to our Lord (“the gate is narrow,” He said), of being more strict than lax on this point. He mentions “invincible ignorance” as the exception – an exception also explained by the Holy Office’ response to Archbishop Richard Cushing in the case of the Feeneyites:

    “…Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing.

    “Yet this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God…

    “…But it must not be thought that any kind of desire of entering the Church suffices that one may be saved. It is necessary that the desire by which one is related to the Church be animated by perfect charity. Nor can an implicit desire produce its effect, unless a person has supernatural faith: ‘For he who comes to God must believe that God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him'”

    In other words, both Popes have confirmed the constant teaching of the Church: outside of actual incorporation into the Church (by baptism and holding to the right faith), they alone can be saved who either: 1) explicitly wish to become Catholics (i.e., Catechumens, one who wishes to convert but is trapped in a prison or island, etc.); 2) implicitly desire to be members of God’s Church, which is an option ONLY for those in invincible ignorance, whose implicit desire is rooted in supernatural faith.

    People are very ready to assume that “invincible ignorance” applies to anyone who more or less “sincerely” believes what they believe. That would be just about everyone! The Catholic Encyclopedia has the following to say about ignorance:

    “So far as fixing human responsibility, the most important division of ignorance is that designated by the terms invincible and vincible. Ignorance is said to be invincible when a person is unable to rid himself of it notwithstanding the employment of moral diligence, that is, such as under the circumstances is, morally speaking, possible and obligatory. …On the other hand, ignorance is termed vincible if it can be dispelled by the use of “moral diligence.” …We may say, however, that the diligence requisite must be commensurate with the importance of the affair in hand, and with the capacity of the agent, in a word such as a really sensible and prudent person would use under the circumstances. …When ignorance is deliberately aimed at and fostered, it is said to be affected, not because it is pretended, but rather because it is sought for by the agent so that he may not have to relinquish his purpose. Ignorance which practically no effort is made to dispel is termed crass or supine.”

    I am a former Protestant. The cornerstones of Protestantism are “sola fide” and “sola scriptura.” There is no verse teaching “sola scriptura,” making it not only a self-defeating proposition, but even a bitingly ironic one. There is only one verse in the Scriptures where “faith” and “alone” occur together: James 2:24 (“You see that a man is justified by his works, and not by faith alone”). So, again, a bitingly ironic condemnation of the belief. In this day and age, there is no reason why a Protestant, who employed the smallest amount of “moral diligence” to be honest with himself, to hear the other side and to question his own beliefs on a matter he understands to be critically important, could not easily forsake his Protestantism in a quarter of an hour. It took me about 5 minutes flat, with the pamphlet “Twenty-One Reasons to reject Sola Scriptura” in my hand, to at least realize that Protestantism was self-condemning. The real reason why I had remained a Protestant before this time, was due to “partisan spirit” – an assortment of unexamined prejudices in favour of “my team,” and of unexamined bigotries against the benighted, Medieval, Mary-worshipping Catholics. But as soon as I allowed myself just a few minutes of honesty and moral diligence, I realized that “my side” was utterly wrong. Being convinced of the Truth of all the Catholic propositions was another matter, obviously, but the important thing is this: nobody, in this day and age, who remains a Protestant (apart, perhaps, from a completely isolated Snake-Handler in a Smoky Mountain Compound who’s never heard of the Catholic Church), is truly in invincible ignorance. As was the case with myself, most Protestants’ ignorance is not only vincible, but also crass and affected: one wishes to be right, one “feels” right, one takes pleasure in denigrating “the enemy,” and so one abandons all moral diligence to be fair-minded on an important matter. Protestantism is an ignorant mess of self-contradiction, and superficially so; it is fueled only by emotion and withers immediately under honest scrutiny. It seems to me that it is contrary to Catholic piety, therefore, to think that there is “at least a good hope” for the salvation of Protestants who are not living under a rock in this information age. About the only thing that may complicate this issue, is the mixed-message put out by “Ecumenical Dialogue” and other gestures, which give Protestants the impression that the Catholic Church no longer exhorts them to convert.

  37. benedictgal says:

    Two years ago, I interviewed (at the time) Archbishop, now-Cardinal Gerhard Mueller at the Ordinariate Conference in Houston. We talked about the former Anglicans joining the Church, in many cases, en masse.

    He said something that struck me as rather apropos to the discussion:

    “One becomes Catholic by conscience,” he said. “We belong to Jesus Christ through Baptism and we must do all that is possible to come to a closer communion with him. Yes, there are struggles, but, we must realize that in these struggles, we encounter Christ. Communion with Jesus Christ in the sacramental sense is important and the doctrinal identity with the Apostolic Church is fully realized in the Catholic Church. Courage is a gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    He also told me something that remains ingrained in my brain:
    “It is Christ’s will that all become members of His Church.” That is why He founded the Church. I thought this was a rather profound and straightforward answer.

  38. Supertradmum says:

    Confusion here in comments on moral ignorance. Moral ignorance still involves sin. Invincible ignorance involves “good faith”, that is, a person is trying to find the truth and wants it but may be hindered from doing so. If one is not trying, one is culpable.

    No one is excused from invincible ignorance regarding sins against natural law. The theologians agree on this, as do the Doctors of the Church.

    As to those who are not Christian, we are to blame for not spreading the Gospel. That is our responsibility, even to Muslims. St. Francis Xavier wrote that he could have spread the Gospel and converted China, but there were not enough missionaries. God’s wrath, which some will see in their lifetime soon, will include punishments for those who had the chance to spread the Gospel but did not out of fear or sloth or whatever.

    The problem, of course, with Protestantism, is that past the age of reason, the members of those congregations have no access to Confession, which removes mortal sin. Hence, more a reason to fast, pray, do mortification for those who are in this state.

  39. Supertradmum says:

    PS I referred to that idea of only Catholics in heaven above.

  40. Supertradmum says:

    jhayes, your take is not correct nor in keeping with the Doctors of the Church and such interpreters of St. Thomas as Garrigou-Lagrange. As sufficient grace for salvation is given to all, and as all who are in contact with anything that has to do with the Church can pursue the Truth and study, your interpretation is incorrect.

    If one is not convinced, there is a spiritual blockage, either serious sin or some other evil. What you have described in vincible or voluntary ignorance. Faith is a gift and that same Lutheran you describe can ask for the gift of faith in order to believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church. Remember what I wrote above that all men are given sufficient grace for salvation. Also, people do not convert because of antecedent passions or prejudices, rather than the lack of rational study or reasoning. As Newman wrote, one cannot study the Early Church Fathers and not be a Catholic.

  41. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear norancor,

    “Its not hard a great leap to believe, or hope, that there may be Protestants in Purgatory…. people invincibly ignorant who lived decent lives according to their understanding of the Gospel. Wanting people to be in Heaven doesn’t make it so, and you cannot be lead to a complacent notion of salvation.”

    But as we know, Purgatory is a temporary destination. All who enter it are destined for Heaven once their souls have been purified. Protestants who enter it will be admitted to Heaven as members of the Church.

  42. Imrahil says:

    Dear Pater Augustinus,

    In this day and age, there is no reason why a Protestant, who employed the smallest amount of “moral diligence” to be honest with himself, to hear the other side and to question his own beliefs on a matter he understands to be critically important, could not easily forsake his Protestantism in a quarter of an hour.

    But what if the Protestant in question thinks it even so much as his duty to not hear the other side, dismisses arguments by “ah well, I did know some among them know how to argument”, etc.?

    Among Catholics, such an approach towards heretics would be considered wise and commendable. We know some of them are smart. That is what, once upon a time, the Index was there for. That is what even now, a humble Catholic might say that he won’t touch some book for fear it might endanger his faith.

    No Catholicism is true and Protestantism is false, of course. But subjectively speaking, our Protestant is treating, and, if he was invincibly ignorate, innocently treating, Catholicism as if it were a heresy, and consequently, does not consider our claims. Now the thing is that if he was invincibly ignorant before, and does not sin by not considering our claims, he remains not only ignorant but also invincibly so (in the moral sense). Wilful ignorance is only to fail to obey a subjective duty to investigate and consider.

    We can only hope that something breaks through that wall, that truth wins over falsehood and that the same walls which in truth’s case we hope to hold, are torn down in falsehood’s case. For even if he gets to Heaven, he’d miss so much.

    Dear benedictgal,

    Cdl Müller’s remarks are quite true, only I fail to see their relevance w.r.t. the final prospect of the outsiders.

    Dear Supertradmum,

    1. the fact that a sufficient grace (to eternal salvation) is given to all is quite true. To deduce, however, from that that someone who hears but remains unconvinced is in his ignorance wilfil, in fact, begging the question – which is, of course, can there be people saved by merely implicit belonging to Church, other than 10th century Indians and the like. If no, then of course not being convinced counts as complete resistance to that grace – but if yes, it needn’t.

    2. W.r.t. natural law, I cannot see in logic why one would, or could in justice, be held accountable (subjectively, that is) for not fulfilling a law that one does not know to be law. (We are not taking about the State’s law here, which takes, as a loss, such injustices, for otherwise law would be nullified by self-serving assertions; but we’re talking about an omniscient Judge.)

    So, I might be inclined to disagree with the theologians. Is there something in the Magisterium? But still, if you don’t consider the effort wasted, I would in fact like to see where they say that “there is no excusing ignorance w.r.t. natural law”, and whether it is that explicit.

  43. Imrahil says:

    By the way, as an addition to the dear Supertradmum (if my previous comment gets through… if it doesn’t, this one, which is shorter, might serve well),

    You say,

    No one is excused from invincible ignorance regarding sins against natural law. The theologians agree on this, as do the Doctors of the Church.

    One of these doctors, St. Thomas, says,

    Wherefore through negligence, ignorance of what one is bound to know, is a sin; whereas it is not imputed as a sin to man, if he fails to know what he is unable to know. Consequently ignorance of such like things is called “invincible” […]. For this reason such like ignorance, not being voluntary, since it is not in our power to be rid of it, is not a sin: wherefore it is evident that no invincible ignorance is a sin. On the other hand, vincible ignorance is a sin, if it be about matters one is bound to know [to which natural law, called by St. Thomas here “and the universal principles of right”, indeed belongs]; but not, if it be about things one is not bound to know. (S. th. I/II 76 II)

  44. Dcduo says:

    A rarely quoted gem – Romans 2:14-16:

    “(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”

  45. Gerard Plourde says:

    To follow on Imrahil’s explanation concernig invincible ignorance, we must also remember that, the Church, following the teachings of Scripture, has also recognized that not all sin is deadly and merits Hell. (1Jn. 5: 16 – 17 explained in CCC 1852 – 1864). Veneal Sin cripples our relationship with God and, if unaddressed through contrition, Confession and a firm purpose of amendment, can lead us further astray at the peril of our souls. We also know that a grave matter that would constitute a Mortal Sin remains Veneal without knowledge of its gravity (identified above by Supertradmum as moral ignorance) and/or full consent of the will.

    None of this is intended to counter Fr. Z’s wise counsel to go to confession. It is to remind us that it is God’s intent that all be saved. How many actually are saved is dependent on our efforts at following God’s Will.

  46. PaterAugustinus says:


    A Protestant is bound to be reasonable, and to offer rational service to God just as a Catholic is. A Protestant does not have to be put in touch with Catholic authors, to be concerned about the weakness of his position. Indeed, I sought out apologetical material for the Catholic Faith because, as a *very* young Protestant – I converted when I was 15, and was already being crushed by the logical fallacies and problems by the time I was 18 – I realized entirely on my own (without really even knowing any Catholics) that there were problems with Protestant doctrine. In the first place, the idea that a believer is an authority unto himself should give immense philosophical pause to anyone who wants to say “no” to lesbian witches with socialist tendencies.

    It was also impossible to ignore the picking and choosing of one verse over another that goes on. No attempt is made to really read the Bible as a unified whole; one just assembles a list of proof-texts for his preferred system. We were always talking about “accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” and “the security of the believer” – concepts completely absent from Scripture – but if anyone ever mentioned genuinely Scriptural concepts (like “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” or “I buffet my body and make it my slave lest, after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified”), we would grasp abstrusely at ephemeral straws in the most outlandish debunking attempts. All of this was plain to me within a very short time, and was so obvious to me that I knew I could not accept baptism in good conscience until the contradictions and irrationalities were explored.

    No, there is no excuse. One doesn’t have to be visited by a Cardinal, or furtively acquire Catholic contraband, to sit down and THINK for a few minutes. One may not be able to become a Catholic after a mere, few moments of simple reflection, but he can certainly think his way out of Protestantism. What care should he then have, whether his anabaptist grandpa forbade him from reading St. Robert Bellarmine? Indeed, he’s more likely to conclude that whatever books his grandfather found necessary to ban, in order to preserve this fatuous system of doctrine, are probably the very first books he should read.

  47. Imrahil says:

    Dear Pater Augustinus,

    I do not deny that the Protestant system and its proofs are nonsense; they are. And (I do not say it in complaint, just to state the bare fact: ) you do not have to tell me that.

    But nonsense can have hold on the erring human mind, for a whole bundle of reasons; and while wilful ignorance is one of them, and I don’t deny it, too, happens sometimes, I would not feel able to diagnose it from afar.
    Though I assumed you were speaking about the Catholic arguments (as I also assumed that you were Protestantly baptized in childhood); but the same, somewhat, applies to the Protestant stumbled “internally” over some doubts.

    For doubts the Catholic has as well. What, then, is he to do? First think, “I know the Church is right, and whenever I find a contradiction, then either I thought something of faith which isn’t, or erred in my reason, or erred in supposing the twain to be actually contradictory”, and then work that out.

    Now, as I said before, Catholicism is of course true and Protestantism false; but the Protestant does not know this (in this case only the latter is of interest).

    As for
    A Protestant is bound to be reasonable, and to offer rational service to God just as a Catholic is.
    apart from that many quietly, and not (I’d say) with necessarily committing full subjective grevious sins, shirk to apply reason and logic in any case (about which the math teacher at the next highschool will know stories to tell): objectively he is, but – other than us Catholics – these Protestants tell them (and this they do tell; at least it was Luther’s opinion, and it is the opinion of many pious non-Catholics, etc.), that reason itself is of the Devil, “a whore that stinketh from the he-goat Aristotle” (Luther), etc., religion is about feelings and not about intellect, etc., it is baaad to let one’s intellect into play when religion is the topic, etc. …

    then all this is of course terribly false, objectively; but I should think that it might hinder the thinking process.

    That some, thankfully, got out of that in spite does not mean the others are without excuse.

  48. Supertradmum says:

    Imrahil, the whole point of natural law is that all men know this by the fact that they are human. Natural law is not something one learns — it is what one is. The dignity of the soul and the rational capacity of all men naturally connect them to the basic morality of natural law; hence, all are culpable for going against these basic human truths. Natural law is universal, rational, free and part of man’s created end to be united with God.

    And, your quotation of Thomas is out of context and misleading as such. I suggest you read Garrigou-Lagrange on the subject of all men being held to natural law by the fact that they are human, a subject he covers in several books, basing his comments on Aquinas and other Doctors of the Church.

    Consult his books, Grace, The Three Ages of the Interior Life and Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought. St. Paul, Augustine and Aquinas write at length on lex indita, lex naturalis . The Ten Commandments are merely the physical codification of what is “written on the hearts of men”, natural law. And yes, we are culpable as humans for sins against natural law. The CCC, in fact, refers to the four sins which cry out to God for vengeance, which are all sins against natural law, and therefore all men are bound by such. God gives us the cardinal virtues to help us live out natural law as well as revealed law, and the following life of the virtues, as explained by God in the Beatitudes.

    Of course, grace is necessary in order to follow even natural law, but all men are given grace sufficient for such. There are modern, liberal theologians who want to excuse humans from a natural law philosophy, seeing law are merely that which humans create. This idea, which has gained popularity, denies what it means to be human and the dignity of the human soul.

    The greatest danger for a person is to keep sinning against natural law to the point that they no longer know it or sense it. St. Paul is clear on this point in Romans, and this is the state of depravity we now see in the West, in Europe and in the States where evil is now called good-abortion, euthanasia, homosexual acts, and so on. That a society, which has become so corrupted as to ignore natural law, exists does not make anyone less culpable for not following these basic precepts.

    This very fact of such deep corruption will bring about the wrath of God, (Who gave us natural law, the Church and grace), as noted by Our Lady of Akita.

  49. ach7990 says:


    If you are seriously suggesting that somebody can be ignorant of the natural law, you clearly do not have even a remotely rudimentary understanding of what the phrase “natural law” means.

  50. Imrahil says:

    Dear Supertradmum and ach7990,

    I am seriously suggesting that some people are ignorant of some precepts of natural law, yes. Not the entire concept. I wouldn’t, based on what I know, even rule out that some are entirely ignorant of natural law, but I don’t generally see this is regularly the case (though none but some instructed calls it natural law, of course).

    You (Supertradmum) yourself say that a person can sin herself into not knowing, and so can a society. That person then is ignorant; and society too. As for the person, her ignorance is of course wilful; but for a child newly born, and growing up, in such society? That‘s then unwilful ignorance, it seems.

    (Though I generally stop once I’ve seen “ignorance”. Whether it be wilful or no is, thank God, not my business.)

    As for my quote from St. Thomas, he is quite clear there and he is not out of context. He says that natural law is something people are obliged to know, but does not leave it out from the reason that they may be invincible ignorant.
    I cannot comment on Fr Garrigou-Lagrange because I have not (yet) read him, but if he argues (as I maybe take you) that all are bound to natural law, that is of course true, and I wouldn’t have thought of denying it for a millisecond. Only to be bound to do something is one thing, and to sin subjectively when not doing so quite another.

    So, for instance, one of the things incompatible with natural law (as taught, e. g., by Fr Johannes Messner, “Natural Law” [the narrowing English translation of the title is “Social Ethics”) is slavery; but we can safely say that many people were ignorant on that subject, or at least passing by it and apparently accepting it, all-the-while Christianity silently gave to the slaves, first, dignity and secure conditions, and then a couple of centuries, formal freedom at last.

    And generally, natural law may have some fine consequences following from more basic principles, over which, of course, there even is dispute among the theologians – just as there is about dogmatic theology. Natural law is not just (no quote) “the very most basic principles, and then the rest may be decreed by the State (or the Church) as it pleases him”, or so. If this, as I guess, is the remotely rudimentary understanding you (dear ach7990) wish me to have, then indeed I do not have it; for that’s not what natural law is.

    It is the entire law a man in conscience has to hold. [The right of the State to obedience comes from his authority, which is granted by natural law. A state acting over this delegation has no authority, unless the thing is not in itself sinful and to obey would be a lesser evil – and if these conditions hold, is again decided by natural law.]

    I could quote that from Fr. Meißner, again, but believe me I do not have the time.

    Two asides:

    – the Third Commandment is not natural law, but (and only) Divine positive law.
    – other then homosexuality, and I guess euthanasia (which though still is forbidden, in most places, by state authority), the interesting enough thing about abortion is that in general people seem to be not ignorant about the fact that it’s evil.

  51. Imrahil says:

    I could quote that – i. e., prove by giving the appropriate quotes. But I do not know them by heart, nor do I have the book at hand.

    I quoted St. Thomas, at any rate, and no, the quote was not out of context.

  52. PaterAugustinus says:

    Imrahil, I would concede that the Natural Law is not, as some other posters are saying, something that is always immediately obvious and “intuitive.” As St. Thomas says:

    “I answer that, As stated above (XC, Art. 4,5), there belong to the natural law, first, certain most general precepts, that are known to all; and secondly, certain secondary and more detailed precepts, which are, as it were, conclusions following closely from first principles. As to those general principles, the natural law, in the abstract, can nowise be blotted out from men’s hearts. But it is blotted out in the case of particular actions, in so far as reason is hindered from applying the general principle to a particular point of practice, on account of concupiscence or some other passion, as stated above (Question 77, Article 2). But as to the other, i.e. the secondary precepts, the natural law can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions, just as in speculative matters errors occur in respect of necessary conclusions; or by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among some men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states (Romans 1), were not esteemed sinful.” (XC, Art. 6)

    I am not God, and am not in the position of judging individual souls. If there are some souls who have been so corrupted through passion, vice and bad custom as to fly from their most basic instinct to try to love and understand the God whom they trust and serve, then I suppose it may be possible for their ignorance to remain invincible. God will be the judge of that.

    But such persons are few. My point, was that too many Catholics nowadays are willing to imagine that there is this wide berth, that Protestants are simply “separated brethren” who still participate in the goods of the Church and will be saved through her. This is simply contrary to the mind of the Church through the centuries, which has condemned Protestantism and warned that those who cleave to their heresies are in grave danger of damnation, not theoretically but in fact. The Council of Florence, dealing with the Orthodox (who are so close to us), said:

    “It [the Ecumenical Council] firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Catholic Church before the end of their lives; that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only for those who abide in it do the Church’s sacraments contribute to salvation, and only in it do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the christian militia produce eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed his blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.”

    This is a solemn declaration of an Infallible, Ecumenical Council; it easily outranks any curial document such as Dominus Iesus in terms of its theological note (though I grant that it does not go into the matter of being joined to the Church in voto); in other replies of the Holy Office/Sacred Congregation, as we have seen, it has been explicitly affirmed that there is not “at least a good hope” for the salvation of those not joined to the Church in the aforementioned ways. This is the clear Tradition and mind of the Church, and anything put forward in modern times must, through the “hermeneutic of continuity,” preserve this.

  53. Imrahil says:

    Rev’d dear Pater Augustinus,

    I quite agree to the first part, of course.

    But such persons are few.

    Where would we know that from?

    As for the attitude, the general tone of speaking, that kind of speaking may (as far as I know) change, and at any rate I don’t really so much like to talk about it.

    But of course, we should note that it is – in fact – a great evil to be separated from the Church in any case, even if it be ignorant enough to still be compatible with final salvation.

    As for the Council of Florence, I never wanted to say anything more than

    though I grant that it does not go into the matter of being joined to the Church in voto.


  54. PaterAugustinus says:

    Benevole Imrahil,

    How would we know that such persons are few? I would call it an educated guess, based on my time in Protestant circles. There were very few persons who viewed logic and thought as intrinsically evil and forbidden; most thought (and I imagine CS Lewis’ influence is large here) that their version of Christianity was “common sense” and stressed the importance of apologetics (not the kind of thing that one can do, if understanding/explaining doctrine is forbidden). And as for the idea that some religious authority had the right to impose on your personal “walk with God,” well, the very idea was anathema; indeed, most Protestants I knew had a strong sense of entitlement to spiritual wisdom and power, and went around speaking as if the Holy Ghost were mandating every detail of their daily affairs to them. God forbid that Pastor Bob should disagree with what He Who Is told me this morning in the kitchen, whilst I basked in the glory of His Shekinah and sipped on my Starbucks.

    I met very few families where the attitude of “don’t question, just learn the rules and obey” was present. Even then, their children were visibly chafing under their parents’ consistent unreasonableness. They don’t start out ignorant of the Natural Law on this point, they have to take the personal responsibility to forget it. That is Supine, not Invincible, Ignorance.

    As to “in voto,” it is important to consider one thing: we have already seen what “in voto” is (a very narrow group – those explicitly wanting to become Catholics, or those who, in supernatural faith and invincible ignorance, implicitly desire to become Catholics, and, to top it all off, who do not die in mortal sin but remain in a state of grace via perfect charity and contrition); if Florence felt the need to speak in this manner when addressing the Orthodox, who are closest to us of all the schismatics and heretics, then we must draw from that a realistic expectation of just how much hope there is of finding one’s self in this “in voto” membership of the Church. I’m not out to deny that some non-Catholics can be (and are) saved; I’m just saying that our modern tendency to expand this category in a cheery manner, is a marked departure from the mind of the Church, which has always been quite narrow on this point.

  55. Imrahil says:

    As an addition,

    you quoted above the Magisterium on the fact that we cannot have good hope on the salvation of the non-Catholics. I do not know what you precisely quoted, but the occasion where I remember that line from is the Syllabus, so I answer from the Syllabus: and here it says that “Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ [is a forbidden proposition]”. Read carefully, this forbids to have good hope about all the non-Catholics, but not about most of them; in fact, if you suffer me to take it purely logically, the Magisterium (at least here) only says that there will in all the time of the world one non-Catholic that is not saved (though there may be more).

    Now to your recent answer (thanks very much!),

    most thought (and I imagine CS Lewis’ influence is large here) that their version of Christianity was “common sense”

    And as for the idea that some religious authority had the right to impose on your personal “walk with God,” well, the very idea was anathema

    indeed, most Protestants I knew had a strong sense of entitlement to spiritual wisdom and power, and went around speaking as if the Holy Ghost were mandating every detail of their daily affairs to them.

    Sounds like pretty strong ignorance, and pretty strong walls for real common-sense to break through, to me.

    As for “in voto” being a very narrow group, I have not seen it (read: that this would necessarily be the case). That it has been treated in the tone of sermons that way is beyond doubt but does not constitute proof. As for Florence, the probable reason for defining that dogma was giving a reason to the Orthodox why they should convert at all. (And yes of course, objectively you must become Catholic.)

    It is, in fact, exactly here that I do not think the Council of Florence intended its dogma to mean that the Eastern Orthodox, who just were (then supposed to be) reentering the door to the Catholic Church, would have been given as welcome-present the solemn doctrine that they have to write off all their forefathers to Hell.

    Well, personal supposition is a dangerous ground. But as long as I’m allowed to hope for a large in voto mass of people we’d finally meet in Heaven after their stay in purgatory is over, I’ll continue to do so. And so did, in fact, the Pope emeritus in what constitutes a magisterial document (Spe salvi no. 46.)

    (Note that they don’t have Confession, but they do have contrition [“confession-by-desire”? ;-) ] open to them.)

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