Salvation of Non-Catholics
In Catholicism, Christ provides the Church with "'the fullness of the means of salvation' which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession." This does not mean that only Christians can enter heaven, for "Jesus, the Son of God, freely suffered death for us in complete and free submission to the will of God, his Father. By his death he has conquered death, and so opened the possibility of salvation to all men." As Pope John Paul II stated in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio,"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. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the Gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation."
This encyclical echoes what the Church solemnly declared in the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) and is thus binding on all Catholics. Concerning Jews and Muslims, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, states:"In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh; the Jews On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge humanity"
Paragraph 16 of Lumen Gentium takes a step further and declares:"Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel"
Thus, the Catholic Church teaches that, although Christ is the Saviour of humanity, it is not necessary to know of him, or have a relationship with him, to be saved. This is because the Church teaches that the salvation of humanity takes place because of Christ's death and resurrection, and that this salvation applies to all people whether or not they are aware of this act. This does not mean that the Church teaches that all religions are equal, but rather that everyone does not have the same access to Christ and his teachings, or may have had the Gospel presented in such a manner as to have turned them away (e.g. by missionaries who were poor examples of the Christian life).
In its Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis humanae, the Second Vatican Council also stated:"This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right"
Read more about this topic: Christian Soteriology, Catholicism
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