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. 4. Is it not a very uncharitable doctrine, to say that none can be saved out of the Church, or who do not believe as the Church does?

   A. If this doctrine were a mere human opinion, or the result indeed of human reasoning, it might be called uncharitable; but it is a doctrine into which mere human reason does not enter. It is a point which depends solely on the will of the Almighty; and the only question is to know what He has been pleased to decide concerning it. Now, His Holy Scriptures declare in the plainest terms that He has been pleased to ordain that none shall be saved out of the Church of Christ, or without the true Faith; and who shall dare to say, a doctrine taught and declared by God is uncharitable?

But the mistake into which many fall arises from not reflecting that God is not obliged to save anyone. He pursued the fallen Angels with the utmost rigor of justice, and He could justly have treated man in the same manner. If, therefore, He is pleased to offer salvation to mankind through the merits of Jesus Christ, this is the effect of His infinite mercy; and as He is perfect master of His Own gifts, He is at full liberty to require whatever conditions He pleases for bestowing them upon us. Now, the whole tenor of His revealed will declares that He requires our being members of His Church, and having the true Faith of Jesus Christ, as indispensable conditions of salvation and who shall dare to find fault with Him for doing so? Or who shall say, it is uncharitable to think and believe what He has so expressly and so repeatedly declared in His Holy Scriptures?

   Observe further, that it is not the Catholic Church alone that holds this doctrine. We have seen that the founders of the Protestant Church of Scotland hold, in express terms, that "out of the true Church of Christ there is no ordinary possibility of salvation," and have inserted it as an article of their Faith in the public authentic standard of their religion, the "Confession of Faith," which all her ministers must subscribe.

   The Church of England also, in the same manner, declares, as an article of her Creed, "That except a man do keep the Catholic faith whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly;" and assures her members that this Creed can be proved by the most evident texts of Holy Scripture; which, therefore, all her ministers must subscribe. Moreover, she affirms that "those are to be accursed who presume to say that every man (even though he be not in the true Faith of Jesus Christ) shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth."
 If, therefore, this doctrine be deemed uncharitable, the Churches both of England and Scotland must evidently fall under the condemnation. It is true, indeed, that, though the founders of these Churches, convinced by the repeated and evident testimonies of the Word of God, professed this truth, and inserted it in the public standards of their religion, yet their posterity now disclaim it, and accuse the Catholic Church of being uncharitable for holding it; but this only shows their inconsistency, and proves that they are devoid of all certainty in what they believe; for if it was a Divine truth, when these religions were founded, that out of the true Church, and without the Catholic Faith, there is no salvation, it must be so still, and if their first founders were mistaken on this point, what security can their followers now have for any other thing they taught?

   But the Catholic Church, always consistent and uniform in her doctrine, always preserving the words once put in her mouth by her Divine Master, at all times and in all ages has believed and taught the same doctrine as a truth revealed by God, that "out of the true Church of Christ, and without His true Faith, there is no possibility of salvation;" and the most authentic public testimony of her enemies proves that this is the doctrine of Jesus, and of His holy gospel, whatever private persons, from selfish and interested motives, may say to the contrary. Neither is she afraid of being thought uncharitable on this account. On the contrary, she considers it the height of charity to warn men of their danger, in an affair of such immense importance as is that of their eternal salvation; and, with compassion for their situation, she uses every means in her power, particularly fervent prayer to God, for the conversion of all who are out of the true way, that they may be brought to the knowledge of the truth, and be saved.
   This is true charity; for charity is a virtue of the heart, which causes a man to love his neighbor's soul, and endeavor to promote his salvation; and only that opinion deserves to be called charitable which tends to excite and promote this disposition; whereas the contrary, which renders a man careless and indifferent about his neighbor's soul, is truly uncharitable.

   It is plain, therefore, that the charge of being uncharitable is only misrepresentation and slander, employed to render the Catholic Church and her doctrine odious. Her enemies saw that want of charity was a crime shocking to every well-disposed mind, and must excite odium and aversion, if charged on her. They knew their followers, who were ever ready to believe anything against her, would take no pains to examine the grounds for such a charge-----would take it for granted that she was guilty upon their bold assertion; and the result has verified their opinion. But the smallest attention must show that her conduct is the effect of genuine charity. Was St. Paul uncharitable when he declared that "neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, etc., shall possess the kingdom of God?" [1 Cor. 6: 9]; or when he pronounced "a curse upon anyone, though an Angel from Heaven, who should preach any other gospel than what he had
preached?" [Gal. 1: 8] Quite the contrary: it was his ardent charity and zeal for their salvation which made him so earnest in warning them of their danger.

   How then can the Catholic Church be deemed uncharitable for only saying what He declares, and from the same charitable motive? An unfavorable opinion she certainly has of all those who are not of her communion; but to call this uncharitable, is a mere imposition on the unreflecting.

Q. 5. But if a man act according to the dictates of his conscience, and follow exactly the light of reason which God has implanted in him for his guide, is that not sufficient to bring him to salvation?

   A. This is, indeed, a specious proposition; but a fallacy lurks under it. When man was created, his reason was then an enlightened
reason. Illuminated by the grace of original righteousness, with which his soul was adorned, reason and conscience were safe guides to conduct him in the way of salvation. But by sin this light was miserably darkened, and his reason clouded by ignorance and error. It was not, indeed, entirely extinguished; it still clearly teaches him many great truths, but it is at present so influenced by pride, passion, prejudice, and other such corrupt motives, that in many instances it serves only to confirm him in error, by giving an appearance of reason to the suggestions of self-love and passion. This is too commonly the case even in natural things; but in the supernatural, in things relating to God and eternity, our reason, if left to itself, is miserably blind. To remedy this, God has given us the light of Faith as a sure and safe guide to conduct us to salvation, appointing His Holy Church the guardian and depository of this heavenly light; consequently, though a man may pretend to act according to reason and conscience, and even flatter himself that he does so, yet reason and conscience, if not enlightened and guided by True Faith, can never bring him to salvation.

Q. 6. Does Holy Scripture give any light in this matter? 

A. Nothing can be more striking than the words of Holy Scripture. "There is a way," says the wise man, "that seemeth right to a man, but the ends thereof lead to death," [Prov. 14: 12]. This is repeated, [Prov. 16: 25]. What can be more plain than this, to show that a man may act according to what he thinks the light of reason and conscience, persuaded he is doing right, and yet, in fact, be only running on in the way to perdition? And do not all those who are seduced by false prophets, and false teachers, think they are in the right way? Is it not under the pretext of acting according to conscience that they are seduced? And yet the Mouth of Truth itself has declared, that "if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the pit," [Matt. 15: 14].

In order to show us to what excess of wickedness man may go under the pretense of following his conscience, the same Eternal Truth says to His Apostles, "The hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doth God a service," [John 16: 2]; but observe what He adds, -----"And these things will they do, because they have not known the Father nor Me," [ver. 3]. Which shows that if one has not the true knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ, which can be obtained only through True Faith, there is no enormity of which he is not capable while thinking he is acting according to reason and conscience. Had we only the light of reason to direct us, we would be justified in following it; but as God has given us an external guide in His Holy Church, to assist and correct our blinded reason by the light of Faith, our reason alone, unassisted by this guide, can never be sufficient for salvation.
Nothing will set this in a clearer light than a few examples. 

Conscience tells a heathen that it is not only lawful, but a duty to worship and offer sacrifice to idols, the work of men's hands. Will his doing so, according to his conscience, save him? Or will these acts of idolatry be innocent or agreeable in the sight of God, because they are performed, according to conscience? The answer which the Word of God gives to this question; to which add that of the wise man,-----The idol that is made by hands is cursed, as well as he that made it, for that which is made, together with him that made it, shall suffer torments," [Wis. 14: 8, 10]; also, "He that sacrificeth to gods shall be put to death, save only to the Lord," [Exod. 22: 20].

In like manner, a Jew's conscience tells him that he may lawfully and meritoriously blaspheme Jesus Christ, and approve the conduct of his forefathers in putting Him to death upon a tree. Will such blasphemy save him, because it is according to the dictates of his conscience? The Holy Ghost by the mouth of St. Paul says, "If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema," that is, "accursed," 
[1 Cor. 16: 22].

A Mahometan is taught by his conscience that it would be a crime to believe in Jesus Christ, and not believe in Mahomet; will this impious conscience save him? The Scripture assures us that "there is no other name given to men under Heaven by which we can be saved," but the name of Jesus only; and "he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remaineth on him."

All the various sects which have been separated from the True Church, in every age, have uniformly calumniated and slandered her, speaking evil of the truth professed by her, believing in their conscience that this was not only lawful, but highly meritorious. Will calumnies and slanders against the Church of Jesus Christ save them because of their approving conscience? The Word of God declares, "That the nation and the kingdom that will not serve her shall perish" and "there shall be lying teachers who shall bring in damnable heresies, bringing upon themselves swift destruction, through how the way of truth shall be evil spoken of," [2 Pet. 2: 1].

In all these, and similar cases, their conscience is their greatest crime, and shows to what a height of impiety conscience and reason can lead us, when under the influence of pride, passion, prejudice, and 
self-love. Conscience and reason, therefore, can never be safe guides to salvation, unless directed by the sacred light of revealed truth.

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