Salvation for Non-Christians who know about Christianity

Suppose that a non-Christian knows about Christ, Christianity, and the Church. And to make the argument clearer, let’s further stipulate that he has what I term sufficient accurate knowledge. He knows enough about the Christian Faith to convert or at least to examine Christianity further, subsequently attaining enough knowledge to convert. Objectively, someone in this situation should convert. The requirements of the moral law can be known by reason alone. Given sufficient accurate knowledge, there is an objective grave obligation to convert to Christianity.

Now suppose that this non-Christian dies, never having converted, despite sufficient accurate knowledge. Is it possible that he nevertheless dies in a state of grace and will have eternal life? Yes, it is entirely possible, and I’m certain that it happens quite frequently. Allow me to explain.

Catholic dogma on this topic is that all human persons who die in a state of grace will have eternal life in Heaven, perhaps after a temporary stay in Purgatory. No exceptions. If you are a self-exalting Pharisee who persecutes the Church deliberately and hands over many faithful Christians to imprisonment or death, and you later convert (as Saul converted to become Paul) and you die in a state of grace, then you are saved. If you are a veritable Saint for almost all your life, but in your last years, months, or even days, you commit one or more actual mortal sins — and you die without repenting, then Hell is your final destination.

All those persons and only those persons who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin go to Hell. Everyone else dies in a state of grace and goes to Heaven. (I’ve already dealt with the question of dying in a state of original sin; see my previous posts on that topic.)

“God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.” [CCC 1037]

So the answer to the above question turns on whether a non-Christian, with sufficient accurate knowledge of Christianity, who never converts, might still die in a state of grace. Rejecting Christianity after receiving sufficient accurate knowledge of the Faith is objectively a mortal sin. But it is only also an actual mortal sin if the individual commits that objectively grave sin with full knowledge of its grave immorality and full deliberation. In this hypothetical, the individual has sufficient accurate knowledge and full deliberation. But knowledge of Christianity is not the same as full knowledge that converting is a grave moral obligation, or that failing to convert is a grave sin.

“The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all.” [Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, n. 10.]

Many persons in the world today know about Christ and Christianity. But they do not convert for several reasons:

* They see Christians committing so many sins.
* The majority view in secular society is contrary to many Christian teachings, making those teachings seem false.
* They see that many leaders of the Catholic Church are not very holy.
* They have been raised and taught as Christians with gross inadequacy,
* or, they have not been raised from childhood as Christians at all.
* Their sufficient accurate knowledge of Christianity is accompanied by many misunderstandings.
* Their own sins and failings, along with concupiscence, obscure the goodness of the Faith.

Therefore, they might fail to convert without the full culpability of an actual mortal sin.

Of course, someone in that situation could still end up in Hell for some other sin, though not for failing to convert. But it is entirely possible for such a person to be in a state of grace, having gained and retained that state by loving his neighbor as himself, without becoming Christian or Catholic. An atheist might be saved by the love of neighbor, without converting to belief in God. The true love of neighbor always includes, at least implicitly, the love of God. A non-Christian believer might be saved without converting to Christianity by the love of God (despite the flawed teachings of their own religion). A non-Catholic Christian might be saved without converting to Catholicism.

The sin of final impenitence is the sin of refusing to repent from actual mortal sin, through the last moment of life. Jesus called the sin of final impenitence by another name: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. For it is to the Holy Spirit that we account the conversion of sinners.

{12:30} Whoever is not with me, is against me. And whoever does not gather with me, scatters.
{12:31} For this reason, I say to you: Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.

Our Lord cannot be mistaken in anything He teaches. He clearly stated that ALL sins would be forgiven, in this life or in the next (in Purgatory), except one sin: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all those persons and only those persons who end their lives in a state of unrepented actual mortal sin (i.e. final impenitence) are sent to Hell. ALL other persons will have eternal life in Heaven, perhaps after a time of purification in Purgatory.

Some Catholics will be condemned to Hell. Some non-Catholic Christians, some non-Christian believers, and some unbelievers will have eternal life in Heaven.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone
available in print (paperback, 510 pp.) and in Kindle format.

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2 Responses to Salvation for Non-Christians who know about Christianity

  1. Alex Lim says:

    How does this square with what the Church has always taught: Outside the Catholic Church, there can be no salvation?

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