Is There Salvation Outside the Church?
“All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body.” (CCC 846)
It’s pretty clear in the Gospel, isn’t it? Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This sounds clear: “Jesus is the only way to God.”
When you combine this with the teaching in the third chapter of John’s gospel the message is even more stark. Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in him [God’s Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
In other words, the default setting is that a person is condemned. Spiritually dead. Going to hell.
This is where the doctrine of original sin comes from — that humanity’s default setting is down.
This is not very nice to hear because we want to think that most people are not really so bad. “What? Come now Father, do you really mean those nice, polite people who live next door are headed for hell unless they believe in Jesus Christ? You mean those nice, interesting non-Christians are all on the slippery slope? What you mean all those pleasant enough, decent enough ordinary folks are on the “down” escalator?”
We want to think that if there is a hell that maybe just maybe people like Judas and Hitler and Pol Pot and that guy in Ohio who enslaved those three girls — that maybe they go to hell — but not all the nice ordinary people who like hot dogs and go to ball games and theme parks with their kids and do the best they can. That wouldn’t be fair would it?
I too feel that way on my optimistic days, but then on other days I look around (and worst of all I look in the mirror) and I acknowledge that the default setting really is original sin and original sin is not just being a mass murderer, a tyrant and a child killer, but the most obvious evidence of original sin is that I have made myself my own god.
When the realism hits hard I realize that I am convinced at the basic level of my existence that I am the center of the universe and that its everybody else who has the problem.
I may not do many terribly wicked things, but that doesn’t really matter because almost everything I do is conditioned by what I am going to get out of it, how it affects my ego and how this action or decision is going to feather my next, make me feel better about myself and promote my own self-interest.
If that’s the way I am, then I reckon most other ordinary people are operating pretty much on the same basis. In which case, without a radical conversion, I’m also heading to that place where I alone am god and that place must be a place where I am totally alone, and the place where we are totally alone without God is called “Hell.”
Which brings me back to what Jesus is getting at in the gospel. He did not live for himself. He lived (and died) for others. That was his default setting because he was God in human flesh. Therefore the only answer for me is to radically converted — to have a basic re-orientation — to be re-programmed or re-wired to operate in and through and with him.
This is what he means: not only the sacrament of baptism and the gift of faith, but for that baptism and faith to effect in me a new union with Christ the Lord. It is to walk his Way, to know his Truth, to Live his Life.
I can’t do this without the Church, for it is in and through the Church (and only there) that I just might begin to live what we call “eternal Life” — life with a new dimension of reality.
So is there salvation outside the Church? Does that mean “There no salvation outside the Catholic Church?” The old guys said, “No Way.” The new guys say, “Well, you know the Church is bigger than the Catholic Church. Christ’s salvation extends to all who are baptized and have faith in Christ.”
Uh-huh. I get it.
“Furthermore, it may extend to all men and women of goodwill who follow the light to the best of their ability. They’re salvation is also through Christ for he is the source of all goodness, truth and beauty even if they don’t know it.”
OK. If you say so.
Well, good for them, but I’m not taking any chances.
I want more Christianity, not mere Christianity, and it is only within the great, graced riches of the Catholic Faith that I can hope for this wounded soul to be healed and for me to make my long journey home.