I have spoken with many Catholics who say that the Catholic Church does not teach that you must be a Catholic to be saved. I beg to differ on this:
“The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism explains: “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.” (CCC 816).
This text from the Catholic Catechism makes it clear that it is through the “Catholic Church alone” in which we can receive salvation. Some may say that this does not teach that you must be a member of the Catholic Church to be saved. It is clear that the verse says that the “sole” church of Christ was entrusted to Peter to rule over along with the bishops. If this is the case, and someone rejects the papacy and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, how can the Catholic church hold the position that it is ok to reject the authority that Christ put into place?
They also have pronounced anathemas on those who believe in the “faith alone” and eternal security doctrines of Protestantism at the Council of Trent:
“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.” (Canon 9)
If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema (Canon 1)
“If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified … let him be accursed” (Canon 12)
“If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.” (Canon 14)
“If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema” (Canon 7).
“If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema” (Canon 8).
“lf any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, during his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial,- except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard of the Blessed Virgin; let him be anathema.” (Canon 23)
They also condemned those who say we are not saved by our works, which contradicts Ephesians 2:9-10. Normally when I talk to Roman Catholics, they say the church teaches that our works our a sign of our faith and love towards God, but this is not what the Catholic Church teaches:
“If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.” (Canon 24) (also see CCC 2068, where it is taught you must observe the Ten Commandments to be saved)
They also pronounced an anathema on those who do not believe in purgatory:
“If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.” (Canon 30)
It seems from these quotes that the Catholic Church is condemning all “Christian” denominations and churches that are not part of the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Catechism makes the same points as the Council of Trent:
“Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops.”375 Hence the Church teaches that “the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ.” (CCC 862)
“How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
- Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” (CCC 846)
I have had discussions with one Roman Catholic who holds the position that the Catholic Church at the council of Trent did not pronounce anathemas on those who disagree as we understand the word ‘anathema.’ He says that the word anathema was used at that time to mean “excommunication,” not “eternal condemnation.” Although I disagree with this and feel it is a redefinition of the word to suit present Catholic teachings, I say this so you can consider it for yourself. My opinion is that at the time of the Council of Trent, emotions were still pretty strong against the reformers, and that the anathema is a condemnation of those who oppose the doctrines of the Catholic church.
Well, at least they make an exception for Muslims:
“The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.” (CCC, par. 841)
Muslims worship a different god. Just because they claim to follow the God of Abraham does not make it so. They do not believe God is triune. They do not believe Jesus is God. They cannot be saved without repenting of their idolatry and trusting in Christ.
They also make an exception for those who, by no fault of their own, do not know Christ:
“Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”
These people that do not know Christ cannot achieve salvation on their own and cannot be saved by doing good works. They cannot make up for their sin. They must hear the gospel or they will be lost.
Council of Trent quotes from http://www.thecounciloftrent.com/ch6.htm
Catholic Catechism quotes from http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/ccc_toc.htm