False Claims in Roman Catholic Salvation Theology

After lengthy study of the Bible, Catholic moral theology, and Catholic salvation theology, I have reach an understanding of the path of salvation that is thoroughly grounded on magisterial teaching. Unfortunately, many Catholics who write about salvation theology have not bothered to research the subject thoroughly (or at all, in some cases). And a few, who seem to have done the research, have arrived at conclusions incompatible with some clear magisterial teachings on the subject. So this post will list some false ideas in salvation theology, and explain briefly why each one is erroneous.

A list of false claims, in no particular order:

1. The claim that unbaptized prenatals, infants, and young children, who die without formal baptism, are sent to the limbo of Hell because they die in a state of original sin.

To the contrary, the Church has never taught that those who die in a state of original sin include any children, nor has the Church taught that these little souls cannot obtain a baptism of blood, just as the Holy Innocents did. So the above claims is a conclusion that some persons draw, which the Church does not in fact teach.

Pope Innocent III: “For God forbid that all children, of whom daily so great a multitude die, would perish, but that also for these, the merciful God, who wishes no one to perish, has procured some remedy unto salvation….” [Denzinger, n. 410]

Pope Pius IX: “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.” [Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, n. 7]

Some have proposed that the souls in the limbo of Hell have perfect natural happiness, despite being in Hell. But this solution must be rejected because two Ecumenical Councils have infallibly taught that those who die in “original sin only” are punished in Hell [Lyons II, Florence]. They are punished only with the passive deprivation of Heaven, which includes eternal separation from God. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that this deprivation is the “chief punishment of hell” [CCC 1035]. The idea of perfect natural happiness, in the limbo of Hell, is incompatible with the idea of eternal punishment.

No one can be happy in the limbo of Hell, for all the souls there suffer the chief punishment of Hell: eternal separation from God. All the souls in the limbo of Hell are suffering eternal punishment. But Pope Pius IX taught that God never gives eternal punishment to anyone, unless they are guilty of deliberate sin. And these unbaptized prenatals, infants, and young children have not committed any deliberate grave sin.

2. The claim that we do not know how God might save persons who are not baptized Christians.

The Second Vatican Council taught: “All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.” [Gaudium et Spes 22]

But when the Council says that the manner of salvation offered to each person is “known only to God”, the meaning is that the particular path of salvation for each one is not known to us, since God works by His grace hidden in the heart, mind, and soul. But the Council was not saying that the Magisterium cannot determine, from the fullness of truth given in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, a way for them to be saved. The Church already teaches that persons who lack the Sacrament of Baptism, can be saved by a baptism of desire [Council of Trent] or a baptism of blood [CCC 1258].

We already know, in large part, how God saves persons who are formally not a part of the Ark of Salvation. The teachings of Pope Saint John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio, and the teachings in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and in other past magisterial teachings have already described their path of salvation, to a great extent. And the Magisterium certainly possesses the ability and authority to further clarify the truth on this important subject. But in short, they are saved by entering the state of grace through a baptism of desire or of blood, and if they commit actual mortal sin, they return to the state of grace by perfect contrition. Both the baptism of desire and the perfect contrition can be implicit.

Now it is said, in the CCC, that “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” But some persons are misrepresenting this expression, as if God could save without any form of baptism (water, desire, blood). God is not bound by His Sacraments, for He can and does save by an implicit baptism of desire, or a baptism of blood. But God is, in a sense, bound by His own teachings given to us in Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and through the Magisterium. For God cannot teach one thing, and then change His mind, as if He had erred, so that He would then do something else.

God has decided and taught that some form of baptism is necessary for salvation for us poor fallen sinners, who are conceived with original sin. We need some form of baptism to enter the state of grace, and thereby be fit for eternal life.

3. The claim that few if any persons, outside of Christianity, are saved.

[1 Timothy]
{4:10} For this reason we labor and are maligned: because we hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, most especially of the faithful.

God is the Savior of all human persons, “most especially of the faithful”. Notice that the text does not say “solely” of the faithful. Who are the faithful? They are faithful disciples of Christ, i.e. Christians. So this verse implies that non-Christians can be saved, without converting. However, it does not imply that all are saved. The offer of salvation is universal, but not everyone accepts the offer.

And although some Saints and Doctors of the Church opined that a minority of human persons are saved, the Magisterium has never taught this idea as doctrine. To the contrary, the recent teachings of the Magisterium allow at least the possibility that a majority of persons are saved.

Pope Saint John Paul II: “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.”

4. The claim that everyone will eventually obtain eternal life in Heaven.

This claim is a heresy (apocatastasis) formally condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople. The idea that all human persons are saved also contradicts the dogma of the Fourth Lateran Council and of Sacred Scripture that there will be a resurrection of the just and the unjust:

[Acts]
{24:14} But I confess this to you, that according to that sect, which they call a heresy, so do I serve my God and Father, believing all that is written in the Law and the Prophets,
{24:15} having a hope in God, which these others themselves also expect, that there will be a future resurrection of the just and the unjust.

Bishop Robert Barron adheres to this heresy. So do some other Catholic teachers and authors. But it is a grave heresy, contradicted by numerous teachings of Ecumenical Councils as well as Sacred Scripture.

5. The claim that persons who are unrepentant from objective mortal sin cannot be saved.

Some human acts are objective mortal sins; they are objectively gravely contrary to the eternal moral law. But the Magisterium teaches that the commission of any such act does not deprive the person of the state of grace, unless the act is chosen with full knowledge and full deliberation (complete consent). Therefore, persons who commit objective mortal sins, might still be saved, if those sins are not also actual mortal sin.

We cannot assume that atheists, who commit the objective mortal sin of rejecting belief in God, or non-Christians, who reject the Church despite knowing about Catholicism, or persons guilty of grave sexual sins, are necessarily lost to eternal damnation. For their objective mortal sin might not be also actual mortal sin.

There are other errors in present-day discussions about salvation by Catholics. But the above list covers some of the more important ones.

See my book Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone for a comprehensive explanation of Catholic teaching on salvation.

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

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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