Common Heresies on Salvation Theology

The Roman Catholic Magisterium has many definitive teachings on salvation, which have been taught by Ecumenical Councils, or Popes, or the ordinary and universal Magisterium. And yet common opinions on the same topic persist among the faithful, in contradiction to these infallible teachings. Below is a list of each heretical idea, followed by each correct teaching.

In no particular order:

1. the heretical claim that we may “reasonably hope” that “perhaps” all human persons go to Heaven and none are condemned to eternal punishment in Hell.

The Roman Catholic Church has repeatedly infallibly taught that some human souls are condemned to Hell to be punished forever:

* May We Reasonably Hope that All are Saved?
* Bishop Robert Barron on Hell: May we reasonably hope that all will be saved?

2. the heretical claim that the eternal destination of each soul is determined after death. Some claim that, at the particular judgment, the soul can repent of actual mortal sin and be saved. Others claim that each soul receives a special revelation of God after death, at which time the person chooses Heaven or Hell.

Any such claim, no matter how it is arranged, which proposes that our eternal destination (to Heaven or Hell) is determined by a decision of the soul after death is abject heresy. The Councils of Florence and Lyons II, as well as the infallible teaching of Pope Benedict XII (the 12th) in Benedictus Deus, and the ordinary and universal Magisterium all teach that all souls which die unrepentant from actual mortal sin necessary goes to eternal punishment in Hell, and that all souls which die in the state of sanctifying grace necessary will go to Heaven (perhaps after a temporary punishment in Purgatory).

3. the heretical claim that, before death or at the moment of death, each soul is given a special revelation from God, at which time they choose Heaven or Hell.

This heresy avoids the error of salvation after death. However, it remains heretical because the claim negates all that Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium teach on the path of salvation in this life. The claim, implicitly if not explicitly, allows anyone to be saved or condemned, based on that proposed spiritual even before death, regardless of the Sacraments, regardless of sins and repentance, virtue and vice, regardless of whether one has followed Christ or not, regardless of whether one is the greatest Saint or the greatest sinner. Did the Blessed Virgin Mary have this special revelation at the end of her life, as if she could have chosen Heaven or Hell? Certainly not. Neither did any of the Saints. And no such claimed special revelation before death is taught in Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.

This claim is a severe heresy because it negates all the teachings of the Church on Sacraments, morality, and salvation. Certainly, a person can repent from sin at any time during this life, even at the hour of death. But neither Sacred Tradition, nor Sacred Scripture, nor the Magisterium has ever taught that each person receives a special revelation at the hour of death (or at any time), which is the determinant of one’s eternal destination.

4. that only baptized Christians are children of God by spiritual adoption

This claim might not seem to pertain directly to salvation, but it does. For the Council of Trent infallibly taught that all who are in the state of grace, whether they obtained that state by formal baptism or by a baptism of desire (or of blood, by implication), are true children of God by spiritual adoption. And the Magisterium infallibly teaches, in many places, that dying in the state of grace is absolutely necessary for salvation.

This heretical idea, that only baptized Christians are children of God by spiritual adoption, is being spread around the internet by various foolish bloggers and commentators. They teach without first having learned. They teach from their own minds, not from Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.

5. that few are saved

In the early Church, before the Magisterium has taught extensively on the subject of salvation, it was a common opinion that few are saved. For Christians were few in the world. As time passed, this opinion continued, for Christians were still a minority compared to the total world population. And many Christians were clearly living very sinful lives. So, in the past, you can find Saints and Doctors who opined that few are saved.

But in the present time, we have recent magisterial teachings on salvation which, together with all the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, lead us to the conclusion that most human persons are saved, though usually through Purgatory. These recent teachings of the magisterial consider that non-Christians can be saved, extensively, by a baptism of desire, through the love of neighbor, and that invincible ignorance plays an important role in the salvation of sinners.

It is no longer a tenable opinion that few are saved. However, is it heresy? Only when the “few are saved” opinion is presented in a form that contradicts definitive recent teachings of the Magisterium, what I will call the extreme form of that opinion, does it rise to the level of heresy.

For example, it is a mitigated form of the heresy of Feeneyism to say that, among non-Christians, very few are saved by a baptism of desire or of blood. Feeneyism completely denies salvation for non-Christians, the mitigated form of this idea is not sufficient to turn the idea from heresy to tenable opinion.

It is worse still to claim that the vast majority of Catholic Christians — or even the vast majority of Catholic priests — are not saved. For this implies that salvation for non-Catholics is even more narrow. And all this contradicts the infallible teaching of the universal salvific will of God. If God wills all persons to be saved, though not all are saved due to free will, we cannot propose that God is so thwarted by free will that His plan of salvation only succeeds in very few cases.

6. that prenatals, infants, and young children can only be saved by formal baptism, and not ordinarily or commonly by a baptism of blood

This heretical claim is another form of Feeneyism. It is exactly the same error as Feeneyism, except that it is restricted to the very young. It contradicts the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels:

[Matthew 18]
{18:3} And he said: “Amen I say to you, unless you change and become like little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

{19:14} Yet truly, Jesus said to them: “Allow the little children to come to me, and do not choose to prohibit them. For the kingdom of heaven is among such as these.”

[Luke]
{18:17} Amen, I say to you, whoever will not accept the kingdom of God like a child, will not enter into it.”

And it contradicts the teaching of the Magisterium of the universal salvific will of God. For prenatals especially cannot receive a formal Baptism, so the salvific will of God would not be universal unless there were some ordinary way for them to be saved without formal Baptism.

The salvation of the holy innocents is not a unique privilege, but an example of the ordinary case for little children who die without formal baptism.

What then is meant by dying in a state of “original sin alone”? Such persons die in a state of original sin alone who die unrepentant from the actual mortal sin of omission of never having found sanctifying grace in this life, despite ample opportunity. No children die in that state, since they have not had ample opportunity.

7. that atheists cannot be saved, unless they convert to belief in God

This claim is heretical because it implies a rejection of the magisterial teaching on invincible ignorance and on the conditions needed for any objectively grave sin (objective mortal sin) to be also an actual mortal sin. Only actual mortal sin condemns to Hell (per the teaching of Florence and Lyons II and Benedict XII).

If an atheist is in a state of invincible ignorance concerning the existence of God, such that this rejection of belief is not an actual mortal sin (though it is objectively grave), then they may be saved — depending on whether they enter the state of grace by any of the three forms of baptism, and whether they commit any actual mortal sin in any area of life, and whether they repent with perfect contrition. Certainly, many atheists were baptized as Christians when they were infants or children, and only later in life did they leave the faith to become atheists.

8. that non-Christian believers cannot be saved, if they have sufficient accurate knowledge of Christianity and yet to do not convert to Christianity

This claim is heretical for the same reasons. It implies a denial of the teachings on invincible ignorance and on the conditions needed for any sin to be actual mortal sin — the only type of sin that condemns to Hell.

9. that persons living in sin, that is to say, obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin, such as homosexual sins, divorce and remarriage, sex outside of marriage, etc., cannot be saved unless they repent before death.

This claim is heretical for much the same reasons. It implies a denial of the teachings on invincible ignorance and on the conditions needed for any sin to be actual mortal sin — the only type of sin that condemns to Hell.

There are certainly other errors on salvation that are promoted in the present time, especially on the internet. The above errors are perhaps the most common.

See my book: Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone

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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12 Responses to Common Heresies on Salvation Theology

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    we cannot propose that God is so thwarted by free will that His plan of salvation only succeeds in every few cases.

    I think you meant “very few cases”.

  2. Theophanes the Recluse says:

    Hi Ron Conte, i’ man italian guy and i follow with much interest your blog. Excuse me if i will possibly make some mistakes in writing but i’m an italian who lives in Italy.

    I think that the most problematic issue with salvation is the one related with conscience and invincible ignorance.

    I want to ask you one question, it’s VERY important for me to clarify this matter: when can be said that someone has full awareness of the norm?

    Is it enough to know the norm and the proibition of the Church related to it (cognitio conceptualis) or is it necessary to understand the norm, as is stated in Amoris Laetitia?

    Let me quote Amoris Laetitia https://w2.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia_en.pdf

    “More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great diffi- culty in understanding “its inherent values”
    Because a friend of mine, in Italy, says that if someone knows the norm and doesn’t act accordingly to it, is guilt is not diminished, but increased.

    IF that was the case, i think that (considering how many behaviours the Catholic Church anatematizes as inherently evil) the vast majority of grown up catholics would be condemned to hell (unless we speculate that God offers efficacious grace to nearly every catholic when death is approaching but that would be just a baseless speculation, grounded more on wishful thinking that factual reality).

    The same could not be said regarding ortodox christians, for example, considering that they a far less demanding moral sexuality (they even bless second unions, and this prevents remarried ortodox christians forum committing mortal sin of adultery. They still committ adultery, but for them is not a mortal sin, it does not jeopardize their souls).

    • Ron Conte says:

      Mere knowledge of a norm, rule, or teaching of the Church is not sufficient to establish full knowledge (as it applies to actual mortal sin). A Protestant or Orthodox Christian may know the teaching of the Catholic Church and disagree. And unfortunately, many Catholics know what the Church teaches, and yet believe that their own understanding is correct, and that the norm, or rule, or teaching is wrong. Perhaps some of the papal critics, who are rejecting what they know the Pope teaches, are in a similar state of invincible ignorance. But only God can judge the conscience.

      Vatican II: “Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity” (GS 16). “Everyone of us is bound to obey his conscience” (DH 11).

      So we cannot say that invincible ignorance is rare. Nor can be push conscience into a corner by claiming that mere knowledge of a rule or teaching decides the state of the conscience.

    • Theophanes the Recluse says:

      @Ron
      “Mere knowledge of a norm, rule, or teaching of the Church is not sufficient to establish full knowledge (as it applies to actual mortal sin). A Protestant or Orthodox Christian may know the teaching of the Catholic Church and disagree. And unfortunately, many Catholics know what the Church teaches, and yet believe that their own understanding is correct, and that the norm, or rule, or teaching is wrong. Perhaps some of the papal critics, who are rejecting what they know the Pope teaches, are in a similar state of invincible ignorance. But only God can judge the conscience.”

      Perfect. Another question: why does it seem so much widespread the invincible ignorance concerning moral sexuality.?

    • Ron Conte says:

      I edited the above post because it was too long and contained errors that would take too long for me to explain.

      Our understanding of morality is affected by culture and society, which today widely approves of many sexual sins, as if these were good and moral. That is one reason why a person might possibly have invincible ignorance on a matter of sexuality. Other reasons pertain to the person’s own experiences, misunderstandings, circumstances, and psychology. See the CCC on factors that reduce culpability.

    • Theophanes the Recluse says:

      Ron, i wrote a comment that is under moderation (i don’t know why, maybe because of a link)

    • Ron Conte says:

      All comments are placed in the moderation cue automatically.

    • Theophanes the recluse says:

      @Ron

      “I edited the above post because it was too long and contained errors that would take too long for me to explain.

      Our understanding of morality is affected by culture and society, which today widely approves of many sexual sins, as if these were good and moral. That is one reason why a person might possibly have invincible ignorance on a matter of sexuality. Other reasons pertain to the person’s own experiences, misunderstandings, circumstances, and psychology. See the CCC on factors that reduce culpability.”

      Ok, perfect. CCC 1860 explains very well mitigating factors.

      But there is another question: you wrote

      “And unfortunately, many Catholics know what the Church teaches, and yet believe that their own understanding is correct, and that the norm, or rule, or teaching is wrong. ”

      And this is very clear. But how can someone claim to be catholic, wich means that he believes that everything the Church teaches is true, and still believe that his own understanding is right and the teaching of the Church is wrong?

      I know that our society has a huge influence on consciences, but still, if someone claims to be catholic how can he profess to believe the Church (Apostle’s Creed) and follow is own conscience when it contradicts the teachings of the Magisterium without being guilty of mortal sin?

    • Ron Conte says:

      We are fallen sinners, living in a fallen sinful world, in which many different ideas are tossed about, even with the Church. So it is understandable that many Catholics would disagree in good conscience with the Church. It happens, all too often.

    • Teophanes the recluse says:

      Hi Ron, Cardinal Müller seems to contradict the liberal interpretation of Al based on internal forum. http://www.cnsnews.com/blog/michael-w-chapman/vaticans-muller-no-communion-divorcedremarried-not-evan-pope-can-change

      Why the Pope doesn’t clarify once and for all that Amoris Laetitia introduced a different and more merciful pastoral/disciplinar approach?

      With his silence he is giving the impressione that he doesn’t possess the power to introduce such a change.

  3. Theophanes the Recluse says:

    P.s: when i wrote “if that was the case” i was meaning to say “if the cognitio conceptualis is more than enough to satisfy the full awareness condition for mortal sin”.

    That’s why i wrote that, in that case, almost every catholic would be damned (considering the fact that it is very hard to repent from something you cannot “feel” as a sin, it’s hard to repent from something when you don’t grasp the sinfulness of the act, even though you know the Church forbids it).

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