Although the main texts cited on this page are from the twentieth-century council, Vatican Council II, they are merely repeating what the Church’s councils, popes, and saints have been saying, in accordance with Christ’s words, for two thousand years: that it is necessary to be a member of the Church to attain salvation. This requires being incorporated into the society of the Church, a membership that requires of the members that they
“….accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion.” Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 14.
The Church, based on the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, affirms that for those who are outside the visible ranks of the Church the following conditions for salvation are necessary:
- Inculpable ignorance of the Catholic Faith: “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 16; emphasis added by author)
- Sincerity in the search for Truth: “yet sincerely seek God” (Vatican II,Lumen Gentium 16)
- Obedience to the Natural Law under the power of sanctifying grace from Christ: “moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His Will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience”. (Vatican II,Lumen Gentium 16)
A footnote in Lumen Gentium 16 referring to a document of the Holy See of August 12th, 1949, approved by Pope Pius XII, further clarifies:
“We are bound by divine and Catholic faith to believe all those things which are contained in the word of God, whether it be Scripture or Tradition, and are proposed by the Church to be believed as divinely revealed, not only through solemn judgment but also through the ordinary and universal teaching office (Denzinger, n. 1792).
“Now, among those things which the Church has always preached and will never cease to preach is contained also that infallible statement by which we are taught that there is no salvation outside the Church.
“However, this dogma must be understood in that sense in which the Church herself understands it. For, it was not to private judgments that Our Savior gave for explanation those things that are contained in the deposit of faith, but to the teaching authority of the Church.
“Now, in the first place, the Church teaches that in this matter there is question of a most strict command of Jesus Christ. For He explicitly enjoined on His apostles to teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever He Himself had commanded (Matt. 28: 19-20).
“Now, among the commandments of Christ, that one holds not the least place by which we are commanded to be incorporated by baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, and to remain united to Christ and to His Vicar, through whom He Himself in a visible manner governs the Church on earth.
“Therefore, no one will be saved who, knowing the Church to have been divinely established by Christ, nevertheless refuses to submit to the Church or withholds obedience from the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.
“Not only did the Savior command that all nations should enter the Church, but He also decreed the Church to be a means of salvation without which no one can enter the kingdom of eternal glory.
“In His infinite mercy God has willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of those helps to salvation which are directed toward man’s final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when those helps are used only in desire and longing. This we see clearly stated in the Sacred Council of Trent, both in reference to the sacrament of regeneration and in reference to the sacrament of penance (, nn. 797, 807).
“The same in its own degree must be asserted of the Church, in as far as she is the general help to salvation. 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.
“However, 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.
“These things are clearly taught in that dogmatic letter which was issued by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, on June 29, 1943, (AAS, Vol. 35, an. 1943, p. 193 ff.). For in this letter the Sovereign Pontiff clearly distinguishes between those who are actually incorporated into the Church as members, and those who are united to the Church only by desire.
“Discussing the members of which the Mystical Body is-composed here on earth, the same august Pontiff says: ‘Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.’
“Toward the end of this same encyclical letter, when most affectionately inviting to unity those who do not belong to the body of the Catholic Church, he mentions those who ‘are related to the Mystical Body of the Redeemer by a certain unconscious yearning and desire,’ and these he by no means excludes from eternal salvation, but on the other hand states that they are in a condition ‘in which they cannot be sure of their salvation’ since ‘they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church’ (AAS, 1. c., p. 243). With these wise words he reproves both those who exclude from eternal salvation all united to the Church only by implicit desire, and those who falsely assert that men can be saved equally well in every religion (cf. Pope Pius IX, Singulari quadam, in Denzinger, n. 1641 ff.; also Pope Pius IX in the encyclical letter, Quanto conficiamur moerore, in Denzinger, n. 1677).
“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” (Heb. 11:6). The Council of Trent declares (Session VI, chap. 8): ‘Faith is the beginning of man’s salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and attain to the fellowship of His children’ (Denzinger, n. 801).”
This last paragraph of the text, by asserting that “perfect charity” is needed, implies that no mere vague assent to the existence of God or “religion” is enough to be saved; one must firstly recognize the existence of God as Lord of one’s life, secondly one must obey Him. As Pope Pius IX stated:
“This is absolutely contrary to Catholic teaching. We know (…) that those who are invincibly ignorant of our most holy religion, and who, carefully observing the natural law and its precepts placed by God in the hearts of all men, and, disposed to obey God, lead an honest and upright life, can, with the help of divine light and grace, merit eternal life; for God, who has perfect knowledge, examines and judges the minds, the souls, the thoughts and deeds of all men, and does not permit, in his sovereign goodness and mercy, any man not culpable of willful sin to be punished with eternal torment. But this Catholic dogma is equally well known: that one cannot be saved outside the Catholic Church, and that those who knowingly rebel against the teaching and authority of the Church cannot obtain eternal salvation, nor can those who willfully separate themselves from union with the Church and with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, to whom the Saviour has entrusted the safe-keeping of his vineyard.
“The words of Jesus Christ are in fact extremely clear: ‘If he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican’ (13). ‘He that heareth you heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth me, and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me’ (14). ‘He that believeth not will be condemned’ (15). ‘He that believeth not is already judged’ (16). ‘He that is not with me is against me and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth’ (17). So the Apostle Paul says that men are subverted and condemned by their own judgment (18), and the Prince of the Apostles calls ‘lying teachers them who shall bring in sects of perdition, and deny the Lord who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction’ (19)”. [Pope Pius IX, Quanto conficiamur maerore, August 10, 1863].
For all of the above reasons, given by the supreme magisterial authority in the Church, convictions of the Church during 2,000 years, the urgency of proposing conversion to the Catholic Faith is evident.