Jesus on Salvation for non-Christians

The Beatitudes are the path to Heaven. Whosoever lives these beatitudes, even just one of them lived in full cooperation with grace, will have eternal life. For each of these beatitudes is an exercise of the love of God and the love of neighbor.

{5:3} “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
{5:4} Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
{5:5} Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled.
{5:6} Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
{5:7} Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
{5:8} Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
{5:9} Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
{5:10} Blessed are those who endure persecution for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
{5:11} Blessed are you when they have slandered you, and persecuted you, and spoken all kinds of evil against you, falsely, for my sake:
{5:12} be glad and exult, for your reward in heaven is plentiful. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

One need not be a Christian to be poor in spirit, or to be truly meek, or to mourn over the sufferings of one’s neighbor, or to hunger and thirst for true justice. One need not be a Christian to be merciful, or pure in heart, or a peacemaker. Which persons endure persecution for the sake of justice? Many different persons, not only Christians. Whosoever does any of these things, in full cooperation with grace, has the state of grace, and will have eternal life — if they die in that state. For the state of grace is the state of loving God and neighbor.

The last beatitude is the greatest, to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ. I suppose that it is mainly Christians who live this beatitude, but it might be fulfilled by some non-Christians. For example, not long ago, a group of Muslims surrounded a Christian Church, forming a human shield, to protect the Christians there from threats of terrorism.

“Then, on Christmas day just two days ago [2015], a group of 200 young Muslim men surrounded a prominent church in Kaduna [in Nigeria] … to protect it. And this ring of protection was more than a gesture. Christmas day is known around the world as a day of persecution for Christians in the Middle East and Africa.” [Preemptive Love]

Next, consider how, during World War 2, Christians risked their lives to protect Jews from torture and death. The same situation could certainly happen in reverse. Jews or any other non-Christian could fulfill this the greatest beatitude by risking their lives for the sake of Christians, that is to say, for Christ.

Therefore, non-Christians can have the state of grace, and can obtain eternal life in Heaven, even if they make the mistake of failing to convert to Christianity.

Errors on Salvation

There is a grave error in doctrine spreading among conservative Catholics: the idea that only Christians are the adopted children of God. But according to the infallible teaching of the Council of Trent, all the baptized — including those who receive a baptism of desire — are the adopted sons (children) of God. So the Council clearly teaches that non-Christians are among the children of God, just as Christians are, as long as they have entered the state of grace by baptism of desire (or, we can also conclude, by a baptism of blood).

Feeneyism is the condemned heresy which claims that only baptized Christians can be saved. The heresy of Feeneyism claims that anyone who desires baptism explicitly, would be given baptism with water by God through providence or miracles, and anyone who is willing to give up his life for Christ, in a baptism of blood, similarly would be given baptism with water before death. So the essential error in Feeneyism is to restrict salvation to baptized Christians, as if a baptism of desire or of blood could not save.

What I term “mitigated Feeneyism” is a similar error, which admits that non-Christians can receive a baptism of desire or of blood, but greatly restricts this possibility. This error assumes that non-Christians who know about Christianity and yet do not convert cannot be in a state of grace. Thus, they make the uncharitable and unwarranted assumption that everyone who declines to become a Christian commits actual mortal sin.

The correct position is that non-Christians, who outwardly reject the Church, might still be in a state of grace by an implicit baptism of desire.

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.” (Redemptoris Missio 10).

Pope Saint John Paul II: “salvation is accessible in mysterious ways, inasmuch as divine grace is granted to them by virtue of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, without external membership in the Church, but nonetheless always in relation to her (cf. RM 10). It is a mysterious relationship. It is mysterious for those who receive the grace, because they do not know the Church and sometimes even outwardly reject her.” [All Salvation Comes Through Christ].

As the holy Pontiff points out in the above quotes, persons who are formally outside the Church (non-Christians) can still have sanctifying grace, even if sometimes they “outwardly reject” the Church. This teaching of a Pope-Saint refutes the claim that non-Christians, who know about Christianity and do not convert, cannot be in the state of grace.

Pope Pius IX: “It must, of course, be held as a matter of faith that outside the apostolic Roman Church no one can be saved, that the Church is the only ark of salvation, and that whoever does not enter it will perish in the flood. On the other hand, it must likewise be held as certain that those who live in ignorance of the true religion, if such ignorance be invincible, are not subject to any guilt in this matter before the eyes of the Lord. But then, who would dare to set limits to this ignorance, taking into consideration the natural differences of people, lands, native talents, and so many other factors?” (Singulari Quadam).

Since the Church is the sole Ark of Salvation, how can non-Christians be saved without entering that Ark by formal baptism? They are not formal members of the Church, since they lack formal baptism, but they can be non-formal members (mystical members) by means of a non-formal baptism (a baptism of desire or of blood). So they are saved by the Church and by Christ, despite outwardly rejecting the Church and Christ. However, this occurs only if they obtain and retain the state of grace by the true love of God, in so far as they know Him, or by the true selfless love of neighbor (which always includes the love of God at least implicitly).

But what of those who are not ignorant of Christianity? One type of invincible ignorance occurs because the person lacks sufficient accurate knowledge of the true Faith and the true Church. But another type of invincible ignorance occurs because the person, who possesses sufficient accurate knowledge, does not realize that Christianity in the truest form of religion. The knowledge of Christianity is obscured by the many sins of Christians, which make our holy religion seem tainted or even false, and is further obscured by the influence of sinful secular society and by the wide range of conflicting opinions on faith and morals found in the world.

Pope Pius IX asked, “who would dare to set limited to this ignorance”? The promoters of mitigated Feeneyism (though they do not use that term) would dare to set such limits. They greatly restrict the non-formal types of baptism (desire, blood). They claim that prenatals, infants, and young children, who die without a baptism of water, cannot receive either a baptism of desire or of blood — for they narrow both so as to be out of the reach of little children. They assume that Jews and Muslims and other believers cannot be in the state of grace by loving God and neighbor, because they know of Christianity and do not convert. They assume that invincible ignorance is very narrow. And as a result, they assume that the mercy and grace of God is very narrow. Then the teaching of the Church on this subject is ignored or radically reinterpreted whenever that teaching would allow salvation to be “concretely available to all”.

Jesus is Ignored

The teachings of Jesus in the Gospel clearly show the universal salvific will of God, and the concrete availability of that salvation, even outside the visible structure of the Church.

Jesus encountered a Roman Centurion (a soldier in charge of 100 men). This man was not a disciple of Christ, not baptized a Christian, and not a Jew. He likely followed the Roman pagan religion. And yet Jesus says that he has greater faith than the Israelites (in general, not necessarily in every case).

{8:5} And when he had entered into Capernaum, a centurion approached, petitioning him,
{8:6} and saying, “Lord, my servant lies at home paralyzed and badly tormented.”
{8:7} And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
{8:8} And responding, the centurion said: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.
{8:9} For I, too, am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
{8:10} And, hearing this, Jesus wondered. And he said to those following him: “Amen I say to you, I have not found so great a faith in Israel.

Similarly, there are some non-Christian believers who have greater faith than many Catholics.

In another example, Jesus encountered “a woman of Canaan”, who was certainly not a Jew, and not a disciple of Christ. Yet she too was said by Jesus to have supernatural faith:

{15:22} And behold, a woman of Canaan, going out from those parts, cried out, saying to him: “Take pity on me, Lord, Son of David. My daughter is badly afflicted by a demon.”
{15:23} He did not say a word to her. And his disciples, drawing near, petitioned him, saying: “Dismiss her, for she is crying out after us.”
{15:24} And responding, he said, “I was not sent except to the sheep who have fallen away from the house of Israel.”
{15:25} But she approached and adored him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
{15:26} And responding, he said, “It is not good to take the bread of the children and cast it to the dogs.”
{15:27} But she said, “Yes, Lord, but the young dogs also eat from the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.”
{15:28} Then Jesus, responding, said to her: “O woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you just as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Jesus says her faith was great, indicating that she also had love and hope, the three theological virtues found only in those who have the state of grace.

Many other passages in Scripture indicate this same truth, that non-Christians can possibly be saved, despite the error of failing to convert.

{18:11} For the Son of man has come to save what had been lost.
{18:12} How does it seem to you? If someone has one hundred sheep, and if one of them has gone astray, should he not leave behind the ninety-nine in the mountains, and go out to seek what has gone astray?
{18:13} And if he should happen to find it: Amen I say to you, that he has more joy over that one, than over the ninety-nine which did not go astray.
{18:14} Even so, it is not the will before your Father, who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should be lost.

Does this teaching make the Christian religion superfluous? Not at all. The easiest path to Heaven is given to believing and practicing Catholics. The further away from Catholicism one goes, the harder it is to be saved. And this is true for Catholics who have moved far from the Catholic faith by refusing to believe or practice their own religion, just as it is true for non-Catholic Christians, non-Christian believers, and unbelievers. The further away from the source of truth and grace you go, the harder it is to be saved.

But with the merciful love of God, all things are possible.

{19:23} Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, that the wealthy shall enter with difficulty into the kingdom of heaven.
{19:24} And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for the wealthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
{19:25} And upon hearing this, the disciples wondered greatly, saying: “Then who will be able to be saved?”
{19:26} But Jesus, gazing at them, said to them: “With men, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”

Catholics, remember to go to Confession regularly, or you might lose the salvation offered to you.

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

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