Over the last few years since my reversion, I have had the opportunity to dialogue and discuss many differing points of contention between Catholics, other Christians and members of other Faith traditions. Obviously not all these discussions have happened with a spirit of kindness and openness. Mankind, flawed as we may be suffers from the ego, and points of discussion involving 'Truth' often lead to a full blown argument. Needless to say that this of course is pointless as no good fruit may come of it. About two months ago, I received a most curious email, but one that required me to not just write a simplistic blog post, but to amplify my answers within the context of a near full blown thesis. The question, paraphrased, 'Are non-Catholics saved?' So that being said, I hope to clarify as much of the Catholic position as possible! Here goes, enjoy and have fun!
First off, as a primer, I'll quote from Sacred Scripture,.."I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (St John 14:6) Simple enough, in this passage, Jesus clearly teaches that He is the only way to Salvation. Next up we'll go to the Church Fathers on this very topic. So here goes, St Ignatius of Antioch, in his letter to the Philadelphians, chapter three goes on to say that (paraphrase) For all who belong to Christ Jesus are with the Bishop...He latter says that people who go into schism will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (1 Cor.6:9) So far we've got a consistant model right? So the question becomes the following, are people living good lives in other religions saved? The simple answer is they can be, in a way known only to Christ Himself,.for they are saved through Christ by His merits on the Cross and by their relationship to the Church.
By now, the liberals are gushing, going God loves everybody/everything, there is no hell, blah, blah, blah,...The Conservatives, on the other hand are rigidly interpreting the 'No salvation outside the Church within the confines of a very literalistic interpretation. The Catholic Church, in her wisdom discerns that there are elements of Truth in other religions, but that truth is first and foremost Catholic truth, as it properly belongs or finds its natural end within the Catholic understanding. At this time, we can now begin to understand that with God, all things are possible, God wills all men to be saved, man however has free will and therefore a free choice. An ignorant buddhist who never heard the Gospel, yet lives as best he can by the dictates of the natural law and of his conscience can therefore be saved. How? By Christ, in a manner known to Himself, and by that person's relationship to the Church. Therefore we can conclude the Buddhist is not saved by his buddhist faith, but by Christ! St Thomas Aquinas argued that people are united to the Church (invisible) by various degrees, (in potencia...). So people not in full communion with the Church can still be receiving Grace from Her. The Church will look at these communities and religions and therefore see how much Catholic Truth they contain. Here goes:
The Fullness of God's Revelation is found in the Catholic Church...***The Orthodox Churches in the East also are true Churches, and the schism of 1054 has been removed, so by the will of the Holy Spirit, we will probably achieve unity under the Papacy two generations from now,..(In my opinion.)
Next up we have the protestant communities stemming from the 'Reformation.' Although most vary in degree within themselves, the further back you go, (Anglicanism) the more Liturgical they are. Most evangelicals only recognize two sacraments, yet they possess the Bible, a moral code, and traditional beliefs in the Trinity, and the Redemption of mankind by the cross.
After that we have Traditional Judaism,.which we can consider our elder brothers in the Faith. While we disagree on who the Messiah is, we look to them for the Old Testament. Within Judaism, its own schisms started to occur, with Reform, liberal, Hassidic, Orthodox,..you name it!
Finally within the monotheistic realm, we have the first of what we could call the great heresies. Islam. We(Catholics) affirm that they believe in one God, and to quote Vatican II (Nostra Aetate)they also profess to hold the faith of Abraham. We disagree on God's nature, and thus disagree with Master/slave imagery. To paraphrase John Paul the Great, Islam sees Christ as through broken lenses. (For more on Islam,..search for my posts on it,...)Obviously I could go on forever, considering all major religions and faith systems.
I hope this example serves well, because ultimately we are all called to evangelize. The next time we are at a funeral, and the priest unofficially canonizes the deceased, (most of the liberals do,..) gently remind them not to judge, (proclaming a person in Heaven is rendering judgement too!!) lest we be judged. It is especially important when at a funeral of a non-Catholic or non Christian. Ask that Almighty God shine His face upon them, and that at death, they had repented asking God, in their own understanding, of forgiveness. Are non-Catholics saved? To answer the question, I will ask if a person can get to China on a canoe without directions, I would argue they can,..but... (I think you get my point...)
Sorry for the drab post today,..but I hope I made sense...
St Thomas Aquinas,....ora pro nobis.