Salvation, Necessity of the Church for
SALVATION, NECESSITY OF THE CHURCH FOR
Christianity is essentially a soteriology. The gospel is a message of salvation. The kingdom of god is destined to assume the dimensions of the entire world: all men are called to supernatural destiny (see destiny, supernatural). But to enter the kingdom certain conditions are laid down. God's call to the kingdom does not reach man through reason alone, but through definite manifestations of God in history, through a positive historical body vested with divine authority. Man must come into contact with this divine economy in order to be saved. And this contact is established through supernatural faith, without which "it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11.6), and through the Catholic Church, which is the mystical body of christ, outside of which there is no salvation [see church, ii (theology of)].
This article considers the historical development of the doctrine; its proofs; and the ways of belonging to the Church.
Historical Development . The Fathers of the first four centuries were impressed by the fact that the light of the gospel had shone on the world relatively late. How could the many millions of pagans who lived before Christ attain salvation? The explanation they offered was based on the Pauline text: "For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen … being understood through the things that are made" (Rom1.20). The chosen people, therefore, were not the only beneficiaries of God's divine plan of salvation. The same argument was used by the apologists in regard to the pagans who lived after Christ.
The controversies on grace in the 5th century forced theologians to look more closely into the doctrine of salvation. Against the Pelagians, augustine defended the gratuitousness of faith and grace, which are dispensed by the Church, and the absolute necessity of both for salvation; against semi-pelagianism, prosper of aquitaine maintained that God truly wills the salvation of all men.
In the Middle Ages the doctrine on the necessity of the Church for salvation made further progress, until it reached a balanced synthesis. In the present dispensation the Sacrament of baptism, by which a person becomes a member of the Church, is necessary for salvation; it was, however, already generally held at this time that Baptism of desire (in voto ) could supply for the Sacrament (in re ) in case of the impossibility of receiving the Sacrament or invincible ignorance. These sacramental concepts were later transferred to ecclesiology and applied with regard to ways of belonging to the Church. Like his contemporaries, St. thomas aquinas taught that at least the echo of the gospel had reached the farthest limits of the earth in his time, and if by any chance there should yet be any person still invincibly ignorant of the truths that are necessary for salvation, God would send him a missionary to teach him these truths (De ver. 14.11 ad 1).
With the discovery of America, the whole problem of salvation through the Church once more confronted theologians in its concrete reality. If outside the Christian faith there is no salvation, what had been the fate of the peoples living in the western hemisphere? The positions taken by the reformers and Catholic theologians in this regard were diametrically opposed. The attitude of the reformers was one of pessimism. luther held that explicit faith in Christ was absolutely necessary for salvation, and that therefore all pagans who had been excluded from the benefit of the Church's preaching were the object of God's reprobation and predestined to hell. The Catholic position was more optimistic. Some theologians, for lack of a better solution, suggested that the doctrine on limbo might be applied to adults who had lived all their lives according to the precepts of natural law and died invincibly ignorant of the Church.
The official position in this regard, however, was elaborated in the Council of trent. Defining the doctrine on grace, the council insisted on its necessity and priority in the order of justification and salvation; but it asserted that the infidel, under the influence of actual grace, can make a progressive preparation for faith and thus God will eventually lead him to justification and salvation. A question, however, still remained to be answered: how can an infidel, even with the help of grace, make an act of faith if he is ignorant of revelation and has not been reached by the preaching of the Church? Here suÁrez's opinion became generally accepted, stating that implicit faith (fides in voto ) in Christ and the Trinity would suffice wherever the gospel has not yet been divulged.
After vatican council i, which dealt with some important aspects of the Church, theologians preferred to consider the problem of salvation from an ecclesiological standpoint. If those who are not members of the Church can be saved, what is their relationship to the Church outside of which there is no salvation? Much light was thrown on this problem by the encyclical mystici corporis of pius xii, which appeared in 1943. While Vatican Council I had emphasized the juridical aspect of the Church, the encyclical stressed the spiritual aspect and explained the doctrine of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, which, while being visible by nature, exerts an invisible influence that reaches the souls of all men of good will. The same concept was taken up again and developed in vatican council ii, as can be seen from its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
Proofs. Scripture, tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church offer a solid basis and proof of the doctrine.
Scripture. The main object of the gospel's message was the Redemption performed by Jesus Christ, to whose will and teaching all men must adhere in order to be saved. Christ instituted the Church on earth and entrusted it to His Apostles; furthermore, He communicated to it His own mission and endowed it with His own authority to carry on His message of salvation and to apply the fruits of His Redemption: "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned" (Mk 16.16). The Apostles were sent by Him to the ends of the earth as His own representatives; what is more, He identified Himself with them: "He who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me" (Lk 10.16). He also identified Himself with the Church, which is the kingdom set up by Him to continue His presence on earth; just as there can be no salvation without Christ, so there can be no salvation without the Church.
In the Epistles of St. Paul, the Church appears as the Mystical Body of Christ (Eph 1.22; 4.4; 5.23; 1 Cor 12.27): whoever is separated from this living Body cannot have divine life in him. According to St. Paul, the Church is also the Spouse of Christ (2 Cor 11.2; Eph5.26): for her sanctification and salvation Christ laid down His life, and he who is excluded from her is also excluded from Christ.
Tradition. The necessity of the Church for salvation is illustrated in the Fathers by means of Biblical figures, such as that of the ark in the deluge. irenaeus declares that wherever there is the Church, there is the Holy Spirit; and wherever there is the Holy Spirit, there is also the Church and all grace (Enchiridion patristicum, ed. M. J. Rouët Dejournel [21st ed. Freiburgim Breisgau 1960]226). origen is the first to formulate the dogmatic axiom extra ecclesiam nulla salus (ibid. 537); and cyprian writes that one cannot have God as one's Father unless one also has the Church as one's mother (ibid. 557). The same notions were repeated by the Latin Fathers, especially by jerome and Augustine.
The Magisterium. The necessity of the Church for salvation is explicitly defined by the Church as a revealed truth. It is contained in the pseudo-Athanasian Symbol (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 75–76) and has remained one of the most basic points of her teaching throughout the centuries. Thus, Boniface VIII asserts in his bull Unam sanctam that outside the Church of Christ there can be neither salvation nor remission of sins (Enchiridion symbolorum 870–875); and Pius IX, in his allocution Singulari quadam, clearly states that this doctrine must be held as a matter of faith (Enchiridion symbolorum 2865, introd.). In the encyclical Mystici Corporis of Pius XII, the Catholic Church is identified with the Mystical Body of Christ. The already defined doctrine of the necessity of the Church for salvation is declared again in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Vatican Council II [Lumen gentium 14; Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 (1965) 18–19]; in this important document the Church is again identified here on earth with the Mystical Body of Christ (8; ibid. 11–12) and described as the people of God, i.e., the gathering of those who acknowledge God in truth and serve Him in holiness of life (9; ibid. 12–14). The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes the positive formulation of this doctrine: "all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body" (CCC 846), including those means, known only to God, by which he leads those who are ignorant of the gospel to faith.
Ways of Belonging to the Church. If the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation, it follows that no one can be saved unless one belongs to the Church in some way or other. One can therefore distinguish the following categories:
1. Potential members of the Church are all human beings, since all are destined to a supernatural end and since God wants all men to be saved (1 Tm 2.4).
2. Actual members of the Church are those who are recognized as such by the Church herself, namely, all Catholics. These are fully members of the Church, because they are formally incorporated into her and in them are verified all the conditions laid down by the Church as a juridical society, namely, sacramental Baptism, profession of the true faith, and obedience to the legitimate authority (cf. Pius XII MysCorp ). These formal members can be perfect or imperfect, depending on whether or not they are in the state of sanctifying grace.
3. Radically joined to the Church are all validly baptized non-Catholics. Although these lack formal recognition by the Church, still they have baptismal character which gives them a proximate intrinsic exigency for incorporation into the Church (cf. 1917 Codex iuris canonici c. 87); if, besides, they have faith and sanctifying grace and are in good faith, they really belong to her without knowing it.
4. Belonging to the Church by intention and desire are all non-Christians in the state of grace. Those who, without fault of their own, have never heard of Christ as their only Savior and who at the same time, helped by grace, follow the dictates of their conscience, can be saved. And if they are actually saved, it is through the Church that they are saved, for there is no salvation except by her mediation. These are not members of the Church, but belong to her and are sufficiently joined to her to receive divine life and salvation through her. Their link with the visible Church is invisible, and hence they are sometimes called invisible or spiritual members; this terminology, however, is not to be adopted, for they are nowhere called members in Church documents. Their implicit desire or intention, which is called votum by theologians, must of course be accompanied by supernatural faith and informed by perfect charity. [Concerning the above categories see Lumen gentium 13–16; Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 (1965) 17–20.]
According to some theologians, especially before Mystici Corporis, justified non-Christians as well as baptized non-Catholics living in the state of grace can be said to belong to the soul of the church, rather than to her body, because they actually receive the life of grace from the Holy Spirit, who is the Soul of the Church. This explanation, however, is theologically inaccurate and misleading. It is inaccurate because the Church, being the Mystical Body of Christ, is one living organism; it is the whole Church, Body and Soul, that is necessary for salvation; and if one is related at all to the Church, this relation must be not only to the Soul but also to the Body animated by the Soul. It is misleading because it suggests a split in the reality of the Church into a spiritual organization and a social institution, into an invisible Church and a visible one. Both Mystici Corporis and Humani generis emphatically declare that the Mystical Body here on earth is not only identified with but is coextensive with the Roman Catholic Church, and both encyclicals warn theologians against the danger of admitting a double economy of salvation.
See Also: infidel; necessity of means; necessity of precept; votum; society (theology of); faithful.
Bibliography: k. rahner, Theological Investigations, v.2, tr. k. h. kruger (Baltimore 1964) 1–88. j. c. fenton, The Catholic Church and Salvation (Westminster, Md. 1958). m. eminyan, The Theology of Salvation (Boston 1960). l. cafÉran, Le Problème du salut des infideles (Toulouse 1934). j. beumer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 1:343–345; ibid. 3:1320–21. Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) Tables générales 1:1118–21. f. mcshane, "America, Theological Significance of," A Catholic Dictionary of Theology, ed. h. f. davis et al. (London 1962) 1:69–70.