No Salvation Outside of the Catholic Church


by Bishop George Hay of Scotland [1729-1811],

An Inquiry, Whether Salvation Can Be Had Without True Faith,
and out of the Communion of the Church of Christ


Q. 37. In what manner, then, do these holy Saints express themselves on this subject?

   A. It would be endless to collect all their testimonies; the few that follow may suffice as a sample of the whole. St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, and disciple of the Apostles, in his epistle to the Philadelphians, says, "Those who make a separation shall not inherit the kingdom of God." St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, and Martyr in the second age, says, "The Church is the gate of life, but all the others are thieves and robbers, and therefore to be avoided." [De Haer., lib. i. c. 3] St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, and Martyr about the middle of the third age, says, "The house of God is but one, and no one can have salvation but in the Church." [Epist. 62, alias 4] And in his book on the unity of the Church, he says, "He cannot have God for His Father who has not the Church for His Mother. If anyone could escape who was out of the ark of Noah, then he who is out of the Church may also escape." So much for these most primitive fathers.

   In the 4th Century, St. Chrysostom speaks thus: "We know that salvation belongs to the Church ALONE, and that no one can partake of Christ, nor be saved, out of the Catholic Church and the Catholic Faith," [Hom. 1. in Pasch.]

   St. Augustine, in the same age, says, "The Catholic Church alone is the Body of Christ; the Holy Ghost gives life to no one who is out of this Body," [Epist. 185, § 50, Edit. Bened.] And in another place, "Salvation no one can have but in the Catholic Church. Out of the Catholic Church he may have anything but salvation. He may have honor, he may have Baptism, he may have the gospel, he may both believe and preach in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; but he can find salvation nowhere but in the Catholic Church," [Serm. ad Cresarieus de Emerit] Again: "In the Catholic Church," says he, "there are both good and bad. But those that are separated from her, as long as their opinions are opposite to hers, cannot be good. For though the conversation of some of them appears commendable, yet their very separation from the Church makes them bad, according to that of our Savior, [Luke 11: 23], 'He that is not with Me is against Me and he that gathers not with Me scattereth'." [Epist. 209, ad Feliciam]

   Lactantius, another great light of the fourth age, says, "It is the Catholic Church only which retains the true worship. This Church is the fountain of truth, it is the house of Faith, it is the temple of God. If anyone either comes not into this Church, or departs from it, his eternal salvation is desperate. No one must flatter himself obstinately, for his soul and salvation are at stake." [Divin. Instit., lib. iv. c. 30]

   St. Fulgentius, in the 6th Century, speaks thus: "Hold most firm and without any doubt that no one who is Baptized out of the Catholic Church can partake of eternal life, if, before the end of this life, he be not restored to the Catholic Church and incorporated therein." [Lib. de Fid., c. 37] These are sufficient to show the Faith of the Christian World in all preceding ages; for all the holy writers of Christianity, in every age, speak on this subject in the same strain.

   Q. 38. These testimonies are strong, and speak plainly to the purpose; but after such proofs is it not a matter of surprise that anybody should call this point in question?

   A. This, indeed, can be accounted for only by the general spirit of worldliness and disregard of all religion which now so universally prevails; for the first Reformers and some of their followers, seeing the strong proofs from Scripture for this doctrine, and not finding the smallest foundation in these sacred writings to support the contrary, have fairly acknowledged it, however much it made against themselves. We have seen how the divines at Westminster speak on this matter in the Confession of Faith, used to this day by the Church of Scotland, and which was ratified and adopted by the General Assembly in the year 1647, as the standard of their religion. But their predecessors in the preceding century, when the Presbyterian religion first began in Scotland, speak no less clearly on the same subject; for in their Confession of Faith, authorized by Parliament in the year 1560, "as a doctrine grounded upon the infallible Word of God," they speak thus, Article xvi.: "As we believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, so we do most constantly believe, that from the beginning there hath been, and now is, and to the end of the world shall be, one Kirk (Church)-----that is to say, one company and multitude of men, chosen by God, who rightly worship and embrace Him by True Faith in Jesus Christ; . . . which Kirk is Catholic-----that is, universal; because it containeth the elect of all ages, etc.; out of which Kirk there is neither life nor eternal felicity: and therefore we utterly abhor the blasphemy of them that affirm that men which live according to equity and justice shall be saved, what religion soever they have professed." This confession of the original Kirk of Scotland was reprinted and published in Glasgow in the year 1771, from which this passage is taken. Calvin himself confesses the same truth, in these words, speaking of the visible Church: "Out of its bosom," says he, "no remission of sins, no salvation is to be hoped for, according to Isaiah, Joel, and Ezekiel; . . . so that it is always highly pernicious to depart from the Church;" and this he affirms in his Institutions themselves. 
[B. iv. c. 1, 4]

    We shall add one testimony more, which is particularly strong; it is of Dr. Pearson, a bishop of the Church of England, in his exposition of the Creed, edit. 1669, where he says, "The necessity of believing the Catholic Church appeared, first, in this, that Christ hath appointed it as the only way to eternal life. We read at the first, [Acts 2: 47] 'That the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved;' and what was then daily done hath been done since continually. Christ never appointed two ways to Heaven; nor did He build a Church to save some, and make another institution for other men's salvation-----[Acts 4: 12], 'There is no other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus; and that name is no otherwise given under Heaven than in the Church. As none were saved from the deluge but such as were within the ark of Noah, framed for their reception by the command of God; as none of the first-born of Egypt lived but such as were within those habitations whose doorposts were sprinkled with blood, by the appointment of God, for their preservation; as none of the inhabitants of Jericho could escape the fire or sword but such as were within the house of Rahab, for whose protection a covenant was made;-----so NONE shall ever escape the eternal wrath of God who belong not to the Church of God." Behold how far the force of truth prevailed among the most eminent members of the Reformation before latitudinarian principles had crept in among them! What a reproach must this be before the judgment-seat of God to those members of the Church of Christ who call in question or seek to invalidate this great and fundamental truth, the very fence and barrier of the true religion; which is so repeatedly declared by God in His Holy, Scriptures, professed by the Church of Christ in all ages, attested in the strongest terms by the most eminent lights of Christianity, and candidly acknowledged by the most celebrated writers and diviners of the Reformation! Will not every attempt to weaken the importance of this Divine truth be considered by the great God as betraying His cause and the interests of His Holy Faith? And will those who do so be able to plead even their favorite invincible ignorance in their own defense before him?

   Q. 39. What are the proper sentiments and dispositions which this great truth ought to produce in the hearts and conduct of those who are members of the Church of Christ?

   A. Nothing can contribute more effectually to produce the most necessary and salutary dispositions in their hearts, both towards God, towards one another, and towards those who are separated from their Communion, than the frequent and serious consideration of their vocation to the Faith of Christ, and to the Communion of that Church out of which there is no salvation.

   With regard to God, it cannot fail to inspire them with the most tender sentiments of affection, love, and gratitude towards Him, to see themselves so highly favored by His infinite goodness, without any merit on their part, and in preference to so many thousands of others who are left in ignorance and error. They ought never to cease praising and adoring Him for so great and inestimable a favor, and ought to be assiduous in giving proof of the sincerity of their gratitude and love to Him, by a continual obedience to His Commandments. How agreeable such things are to Almighty God, and how much He requires them from those whom He has so highly favored, is evident from His Own Divine Word, where we are frequently put in mind of the greatness of the grace of our vocation, and pressingly commanded to make a proper return to God for it, by these holy virtues. "Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ," says St. Paul, "Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things in Christ, as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in His sight in charity: . . . Wherefore I cease not to make commemoration of you in my prayers, that the God of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit and of wisdom, of revelation in the knowledge of Him; the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the Saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power towards us, who believe according to the operation of the might of His power which He wrought in Christ." [Eph. 1: 3]

    Behold how ardently he desires that we may have a proper sense of that great mercy! And a little after, describing the greatness of this favor, and the return it requires from us, he says, "By Him (Christ) we have access in one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the Saints and domestics of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ, Himself being the chief cornerstone." [Eph. 2: 18] "For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk ye as the children of light; for the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice and truth; proving what is well-pleasing to God: and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness." [Eph. 5: 8] In another place he says, that ye may walk worthy of God in all things pleasing, . . . giving thanks to God the Father, Who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the Saints in light; Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." [Col. 1: 10] And again, writing to Titus, he says, "It is a faithful saying, and these things I will have thee affirm constantly, that they who believe in God may be careful to excel in good works." [Tit. 3: 8]

   Lastly, to show the absolute necessity of this grateful correspondence on our part with great goodness of God towards us, he assures us that it is only on condition of our persevering in our Holy Faith, and in the hope of our calling, that we can expect the eternal reward of being presented spotless before God: "Whereas," says he, "ye were sometimes alienated, and enemies in mind, in evil works; yet now He hath reconciled you in the Body of His Flesh, to present you holy, and unspotted, and blameless before Him, if so ye continue in the Faith grounded and settled, and immovable from the gospel which ye have heard, which is preached in all the creation which is under Heaven." [Col. 1: 21]

   St. Peter also describes the grace of our vocation in the most beautiful terms, and assures us that the very design of God in calling us was that we might make a suitable return to Him by declaring His praises. "Ye are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people, that ye may declare the virtues (or praises) of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His admirable light." [1 Pet. 2: 9] How great an obligation does all this lay us under of living good and studying in all things to do the will of God, especially when Christ Himself expressly says, "So let your light shine before men, that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father Who is in Heaven!"

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