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. 7. But suppose a person to be invincibly ignorant of the Faith of Jesus Christ and His Church, will not this invincible ignorance save

   A. This is also a very specious proposition, and I am afraid that from not being properly considered it is an occasion of a dangerous mistake to many; we shall therefore endeavor to examine it thoroughly. And here we must observe, that two different questions are commonly mixed together when people speak of invincible ignorance: the first is, Will a person who is invincibly ignorant of the true Faith or Church of Christ be condemned precisely on account of that ignorance? That is, will that ignorance be imputed to him as a crime? Or will this his invincible ignorance excuse him from the guilt of not believing?  To this I reply, that as no man can be guilty of a sin in not doing what is absolutely out of his power, therefore a person who is invincibly ignorant of the true Faith and Church of Christ will not be condemned on account of that ignorance; such ignorance will not be imputed to him as a crime, but will undoubtedly excuse him from the guilt of disbelief: in this all divines agree without doubt or hesitation. A heathen, for example, who never heard of Jesus Christ, will not be condemned as criminal precisely for want of Faith in Him; a heretic who has never had any knowledge of the True Church of Christ will not be condemned as guilty because he is not joined in communion with that Church. So far, the first question admits of no dispute. The second question is this, Can a person invincibly ignorant of the True Faith or Church of Jesus, and living and dying, in that state, be saved? This is a highly important but a very different question from the former, though too frequently confounded with it. Now, to answer this question clearly and distinctly we must consider two different cases: first, that of Mahometans, Jews, and heathens, who, never having heard of Jesus Christ or of His religion, are invincibly ignorant of it; and, secondly, that of all the different sects of Christians who are separated from the True Church of Christ by heresy.

    Q. 8. What then is to be said of all those Mahometans, Jews, and heathens, who, never having heard of Jesus Christ or of His religion, are therefore invincibly ignorant of both? Can they be saved, if they live and die in that state?

   A. The plain answer to this is that they cannot be saved; that not one of these "can enter into the kingdom of God." It is true, as we have seen above, they will not be condemned precisely because they have not the faith of Christ, of which they are invincibly ignorant. But the faith of Christ, though an essential condition of salvation, is but one condition;
others also are required.

And though invincible ignorance will certainly save a man from sin, in not knowing that of which he is invincibly ignorant, yet it is impossible to suppose that this invincible ignorance on one point will supply the want of all other conditions required. Now, all those we here speak of are in the state of Original Sin, "aliens from God, and children of wrath," being unBaptized; and it is an article of Christian Faith, that, unless Original Sin be washed away by the grace of Baptism, there is no salvation; for Christ Himself expressly declares, "Amen, amen, I say to thee, except a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," [John 3: 5]. And, indeed, if even the children of Christian parents, who die without Baptism, cannot go to Heaven, how much less can those who, besides being unBaptized, live and die in ignorance of the true God, of Jesus Christ and His Faith, and, on that account, may be supposed to have also committed many actual sins. Nay, to imagine that heathens, Mahometans, or Jews who live and die in that state can be saved, is to suppose that ignorance will save worshipers of idols, of Mahomet, and blasphemers of Jesus Christ, in the guilt of actual as well as Original Sin; which is putting them upon a better footing than Christians themselves and their children. The fate of all such the Scripture decides as follows: "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven, with the Angel of His power, in a flame of fire, yielding vengeance to them who know not God, and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord and from the glory of His power," [2 Thess. 1: 7]. This is precise, indeed-----a clear and decisive answer to the present question.

   Q. 9. What judgment does the Scripture pass on all those Christians who are separated from the Church by heresy? Can they be saved if they be in invincible ignorance, and live and die in their state of separation from the True Church of Christ?

   A. These are in a very different state from Mahometans, Jews, and heathens, provided they have true Baptism among them; for if they either have no Baptism, or have altered the form of giving it ordained by Christ, then they are in no better state as to the possibility of their salvation than heathens, though they may assume the name of Christians. But if they have valid Baptism, then they are, by it, made true members of the Church of Christ, and those who die young, in their Baptismal innocence, shall undoubtedly be saved. But as to those among them who come to the years of discretion, are educated in a false faith, and live and die in a state of separation from the communion of the Church of Christ, we also must distinguish between two different cases. The first is that of those who either live among Catholics or have Catholics living in the same country with them; who know there are such persons, and often hear of them. The second regards those who have no such knowledge, and who seldom or never hear Catholics spoken of except in a false and odious light.

   Q. 10. What is to be said of those who live among Catholics? If they be in invincible ignorance, and die in their state of separation, can they be saved?

    A. It is next to impossible for anyone of this class to be in a state of invincible ignorance; for, to be invincibly ignorant, three things are necessarily required,-----first, that a person have a real and sincere desire of knowing the truth; for if he be cold and indifferent about an affair of such importance as his eternal salvation; if he be careless whether he be in the right way or not; if, enslaved to this present life, he take no concern about the next, it is manifest that an ignorance arising from this disposition is voluntary ignorance, and therefore highly culpable in the sight of God. It will be still more so if a person be positively unwilling to seek the truth from the fear of worldly inconvenience, and therefore avoid every opportunity of knowing it. Of these the Scripture says, "They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment they go down to Hell; who have said to God, Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways," [Job 21: 13]. Secondly, In order that one be invincibly ignorant, it is required, that he be sincerely resolved to embrace the truth wherever he may find it, and whatever it may cost him. For if he be not fully resolved to follow the will of God, wherever it shall appear in all things necessary to salvation if, on the contrary, he, be so disposed that he rather would neglect his duty and hazard his soul than offend his friends or expose himself to some temporal loss or disadvantage, his ignorance is culpable, and can never excuse him before his Creator. Of this Our Savior says, "He that loveth father or mother, or son or daughter, more than Me, is not worthy of Me," [Matt. 10: 37]. The third thing necessary for a person to be in invincible ignorance is, that he sincerely use his best endeavors to know his duty, and particularly, that he recommend the matter earnestly to Almighty God, and pray for light and direction from Him. For, whatever desire he may have of knowing the truth, if he does not use the proper means of finding it, his ignorance is not invincible but voluntary. Ignorance is invincible only when a person has a sincere desire to know the truth, with a full resolution to embrace it, but. either has no possible means of knowing it, or after using his best endeavors, is unable to discover it. Therefore, if a person be deficient in seeking to know his duty, his ignorance is not invincible-----it is his own fault that he does not know it; and if inattention, indifference, worldly motives, or unjust prejudices influence his judgment, and cause it to yield to the bias of education, he has neither invincible ignorance nor the fear of God.

   Now, it is inconsistent with the goodness, and promises of God, that a person brought up in a false religion, but who is in the state supposed by these three conditions, and uses his best endeavors to know the truth, should be left in invincible ignorance of it; but if, from his attachment to the world, to sensual or selfish objects, he be not so disposed, and neglect the proper means for arriving at the truth, then his ignorance is voluntary and culpable, not invincible.

Q. 11. But what if doubt never rises in his mind, and he goes on bona fide, in the way in which he was brought up?

   A. It is a mistake to suppose that a formal doubt is necessary to render one's ignorance of his duty voluntary and culpable; it is enough that there be sufficient reason for doubting, though from his unjust prejudices, obstinacy, pride, or other evil dispositions of the heart, he hinder these reasons from exciting a formal doubt in his mind. Saul had no doubt when he offered sacrifice before the prophet Samuel came; on the contrary, he was persuaded that he had the strongest reasons for doing so, yet he was condemned for that very action, and himself and his family rejected by Almighty God. The Jews believed that they were acting well when they put our Savior to death; nay, their high priest declared in full council that it was expedient for the good and safety of the nation that they should do so. They were grossly mistaken, indeed, and sadly ignorant of their duty; but their ignorance was culpable, and they were severely condemned for what they did, though it was done in ignorance. And indeed all who act from a false and erroneous conscience are highly blamable for having such a conscience, though they have never entertained any formal doubt. Nay, their not having such a doubt when they have just and solid grounds for doubting, rather renders them the more guilty, because it shows greater corruption of the heart, greater depravity of disposition. A person brought, up in a false faith which the Scripture calls sects of perdition, doctrines of devils, perverse things, lies, and hypocrisy-----and who has heard of the True Church of Christ, which condemns all these sects, and sees their divisions and dissensions has always before his eyes the strongest reason to doubt the safety of his own state.

   If he make any examination with sincere dispositions of heart, he must be convinced that he is in the wrong; and the more he examines, the more clearly will he see it,-----for this plain reason, that it is simply impossible that false doctrine, lies, and hypocrisy should ever be supported by solid arguments sufficient to satisfy a reasonable person, who sincerely seeks the truth, and begs light from God to direct him in the search. Hence, if such a person never doubts, but goes on, as is supposed, bona fide, in his own way, notwithstanding the strong grounds of doubt which he daily has before his eyes, this evidently shows either that he is supinely negligent in the concerns of his soul, or that his heart is totally blinded by passion and prejudice.

   There were many such persons among the Jews and heathens in the time of the Apostles, who notwithstanding the splendid light of truth which these holy preachers everywhere displayed, and which was the most powerful reason for leading them to doubt of their superstitions, were so far from having such doubts, that they thought by killing the Apostles they did God a service. Whence did this arise? St. Paul himself informs us: "We renounce," says he, "the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor adulterating the Word of God, but, by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." Here he describes the strange light of the truth which he preached; yet this light was hidden to great numbers, and he immediately gives the reason: "And if our gospel be also hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God, should not shine upon them," [2 Cor. 4: 2]. Behold the real cause of their incredulity: they are so enslaved to the things of this world by the depravity of their heart, and the devil so blinds them that they cannot see the light; but ignorance arising from such depraved dispositions is a guilty, a voluntary ignorance and therefore never can excuse them.

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