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. 12. Are not the members of the Church of Christ, also, when of sufficient age, obliged to examine whether they be in the right way or not, as well as those who are brought up in any sect separated from the True Church?

   A. There is nothing which the Church of Christ has more earnestly desired, than that her children should be thoroughly instructed in their religion, and in the grounds of it, as far as they are capable. For this end she strictly commands her pastors to be assiduous in instructing their people from their earliest years, well knowing that the more they know of their religion, the more they must be attached to it. The True Church of Christ is the work of God, the doctrine she teaches contains the truths of God; now, the more attentively truth is examined, the more illustrious it must appear; and Almighty God has given such splendid testimony to the truth of His religion, that the more it is examined with sincerity, the more it convinces and delights. Here, then, lies the difference: when a member of the Church of Christ considers his religion, he cannot have any reasonable grounds of doubt concerning it, and the more he examines, the more convinced he must be of its truth. But one brought up in a false religion, if he thinks at all, cannot fail to perceive the strongest grounds of doubt; and the more he examines, the more its falsehood must appear, for falsehood can never bear the light of unbiased and impartial examination.

   Q. 13. But how comes it that we see many good men and men of learning among all sects of Christians, some of which must undoubtedly be false, as they contradict and condemn one another?
   A. To understand this we must observe that the Word of God declares that God wills, "all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." [1 Tim. 2: 4] In consequence of this sincere desire God never fails to give to all such outward helps and inward graces as He sees sufficient to bring them to the knowledge of the truth, if they co-operate with them; but if they shut their eyes against His light-----if, from the corruption of their heart, they pay no regard to His graces-----then they remain in their ignorance; but their ignorance is voluntary in its cause, and a just punishment of their own fault.

   Now, though many of those who are brought up in a false religion may not live good lives as to moral honesty in the eyes of the world, yet they may be very blamable in the sight of God, and, their secret passions and attachments to the things of this life, may put an effectual obstacle to His merciful design of bringing them to the knowledge of His truth. The proud Pharisee was a just man in the eyes of the world, and yet he was condemned by Almighty God for the secret pride of his heart. And as to men of learning who are to be found in a false religion, their learning does not exempt them from pride and passion; nay, the Word of God assures us that "knowledge puffeth up;" [1 Cor. 8: 1] and, generally speaking, where there is not true humility and the love of God, the more learning there is, the more pride, self-conceit, desire of glory, and obstinacy of heart, and consequently the more opposition to Faith; for Jesus Christ Himself says to the Jews, whose hardened hearts resisted all the evidence of His doctrine and miracles, "How can ye believe who receive glory from one another, and the glory which is from God alone ye do not seek?" [John 5: 44]

   There were, no doubt, many learned people both among the Jews and Gentiles when the gospel was first preached by the Apostles, and yet, notwithstanding the numberless miracles which they wrought in proof of its being from God, St. Paul expressly tells us that it was "to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles foolishness;" [1 Cor. 1: 23] because, notwithstanding all their learning, their pride, passions and prejudices so blinded their minds, that the light of the gospel shone upon them in vain. It is no matter of surprise, therefore, to see learned men in a false religion, especially as their learning is commonly of a worldly kind, for Faith is a gift of God; and it is not the knowledge of the head, but humility and sincerity of the heart, which disposes a soul to receive that gift from Him; yea, Christ Himself expressly says, "that God hides these things from the wise and prudent, and reveals them to little ones." [Mat. 11: 25] We must conclude, then, that among those who are brought up in a false religion, and separated from the Church of Christ, but who know that there is a Church which declares herself to be the only True Church of Christ, who have the opportunity of hearing of her, and of being acquainted with those of her Communion, it is highly improbable invincible ignorance can have any place. But if any should be
found among them invincibly ignorant, their state will be the same as that of persons who have never had an opportunity of knowing any other than the false religion they are in.

   Q. 14. What, then, is to be said of those who, being brought up in a false religion, have no opportunity of hearing of the True Church and Faith of Christ, or who hear of it only in a false and odious light? Can such as these be saved if they live and die in their separation from the Communion of the Church of Christ, and in invincible ignorance of the truth?

   A. The learned author of the book called Charity and Truth, who seems willing to go as far as possible in favor of those who are not joined in the Communion of the Church of Christ, candidly owns, that it is quite uncertain if any such shall be saved, even though in invincible ignorance; for in laying down the true state of the question, he says, "The meaning is that no one is saved unless he be in the Catholic Communion either actually or virtually, either in fact or in desire; and that we are not sure, generally speaking, that anyone is saved out of the Catholic Church, who is invincibly ignorant of the True Church, and of the True Religion (Part 1, Q. 3.) The fact is, there is not one single testimony of the Holy Scripture which gives reason to think that anyone will be saved out of that Communion; but there are many, as we have seen above, which very strongly declare the contrary.

   All the reasons which are brought in favor of those who are out of the Church, are taken from imaginary cases and from our imperfect ideas of the goodness of God, or from the idea which some form to themselves of what is meant by being a member of the True Church; and those people of whom we speak in the present question afford the principal grounds of these reasonings.

   This is the line of argument. Suppose a man born and Baptized in a heretical sect, and afterwards, when he comes of age, to be placed in such circumstances as prevent his ever hearing of the True Religion, except in such false and odious terms as serve only to make him detest it, and to make him more and more attached to his own way, and, on this account, to be in invincible ignorance of the truth: it is acknowledged by all, that this man, by Baptism, is made a member of the Church of Christ, and that, if he die before he comes to the use of reason, he will certainly be saved in his Baptismal innocence. Let us now suppose further, that, when he comes to age, he continues to live an innocent life, and, co-operating with the graces which God bestows upon him, perseveres in his innocence, and does his best, according to his knowledge, and would do better if he knew it: is it not inconsistent with the goodness of God to suppose that such a man, living and dying in this state, would be lost? Is he not, in the sight of God, a real member of the Church of Christ, though not joined in her Communion? And, if he die in his innocence, must he not be saved?

   Such is the argument proposed; and it has a specious appearance. But it must be observed that there is the strongest reason to doubt if there ever was, or ever shall be, such a case.

(1) There is not the smallest ground in Scripture to suppose it.
(2) As it is impossible for man, in his present fallen state, to preserve his Baptismal innocence for any space of time, much less to persevere in it to the end of life, without a special and extraordinary grace from God; and, as a grace of this kind is justly esteemed one of the most singular favors given by God to His faithful servants, who are members of His Church, and enjoy all the powerful helps that are only to be found in her Communion, to enable them to do so;-----is it to be supposed that He will bestow this priceless favor upon anyone who is out of her Communion, and consequently deprived of all these helps? And if it be supposed that he loses his Baptismal innocence by committing a mortal sin, but recovers the grace of justification by a sincere repentance, the difficulty still increases. For a repentance without the help of the Sacraments sufficient to obtain the grace of justification includes a perfect contrition, founded on the love of God above all things; a favor so seldom granted to sinners, even in the Church itself, that the Sacrament of Penance is appointed by Jesus Christ as the standing means of supplying our deficiency in that respect. Now, what likelihood is there that Almighty God will bestow so very singular a favor upon one who has lost his innocence, and is not in the Communion of His Church to obtain the helps which she affords for recovering it?

   But, (3) let us suppose the case to happen as proposed, and that Almighty God gives this man these extraordinary graces by which he preserves his Baptismal innocence to the last, dies in the Grace of God, and goes to Heaven,-----would not this be making God contradict Himself, and act directly contrary to the whole tenor of His revealed will? All the testimonies of Scripture concur to prove that God has appointed True Faith in Jesus Christ, and the being in Communion with the Church of Christ, as necessary conditions of salvation; and yet, in the present case, the person would be saved who had not had the True Faith in Jesus Christ, had not been in Communion with His Church, but who had lived and died in a heretical Communion. There is therefore the greatest reason to believe that such a case will never happen, but that a person brought up in heresy, and invincibly ignorant of the truth, being deprived of the helps and graces which are the consequences of the True Faith, and which are only found in the true Church, will not preserve his innocence, but, continuing in heresy, shall die in his sins, and be lost; not precisely because he had not the True Faith, of which he is supposed to be invincibly ignorant, but for the other sins of which he dies guilty.

   Q. 15. But can none who are in heresy, and in invincible ignorance of the truth, be saved?

   A. God forbid we should say so! All the above reasons only prove that if they live and die in that state they shall not be saved, and that according to the present providence they cannot be saved; but the great God is able to take them out of that state, to cure even their ignorance though invincible to them in their present situation, to bring them to the knowledge of the True Faith, to the Communion of His Holy Church, and to salvation: and we further add, that if He be pleased, of His infinite mercy, to save any who are at present in invincible ignorance of the truth, in order to act consistently with Himself, and with His Holy Word, He will undoubtedly bring them to the union of His Holy Church for that purpose before they die.

   Q. 16. Are there any grounds in Scripture for this doctrine?

   A. This doctrine is founded upon the most positive declarations of Scripture. For the Scripture lays down this fundamental truth, "The sure foundation of God standeth firm, having this seal: The Lord knoweth who are His." [2 Tim. 2: 19] That is, God, from all eternity, knows those who, by co-operating with the graces He shall bestow upon them, will persevere to the end in His Faith and love, and be happy with Him forever. Now, to all mankind, without exception, and in whatever state, heathen, Muhammadan, Jew, or heretic, in vincible or in invincible ignorance, God, through the merits of Christ, and for His sake, gives such graces as He sees proper for their present state, with a view to their eternal salvation; if they comply with those He gives, and cooperate with them, He will then give them more and greater, till He brings them at last to that happy end; but if they resist and abuse those graces they receive, no more will be given them, and they will be left to their own ways, as the just punishment of their ingratitude.

   Those, therefore, whom Almighty God foresees will make a proper use of His graces, and be saved, those He ordains to eternal life; and all such the Scripture assures us He will in His own good time, and in the way and manner He sees proper, bring to the knowledge of the True Faith, and to the Communion of His Holy Church. Thus, "The Lord daily added to the Church such as should be saved." [Acts 2: 47] Now, what the Lord daily did in the time of the Apostles, He daily will continue to do till the end of the world; and as none could be saved who were not added to the Church in those days, so neither can any afterwards be; for there is no new revelation since the Apostles' time, discovering a different way to salvation. Again the Scripture says, that "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed," [Acts 13: 48]-----that is, were brought to the True Faith which the Apostles preached: the same then will be done ever afterwards; for as then none were ordained to eternal life who did not believe, so neither will there be any afterwards.

   Our Savior Himself decides this point in the clearest terms when He says, "Other sheep I have who are not of this fold; them also I MUST BRING, and they SHALL hear My voice, and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd." [John 10: 16] Here He manifestly speaks of those who had not as yet heard His voice, but were either Jews or heathens, and not united in the fold of His Apostles and other disciples; yet He calls them His sheep, because "the Lord knoweth who are His," and He foreknew who would cooperate with His grace and follow His voice; now He expressly declares, "them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice." It was not enough for their salvation that they were ready in the disposition of their hearts to answer His call, and to do better if they knew better; it was necessary they should actually be brought to the Communion of His own fold, "them also I must bring;" it was necessary they should have the True Faith of Christ, "and they shall hear My voice," in order to secure their salvation; for, as He says a little after, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give them eternal life, and they shall not perish for ever, and no man shall snatch them out of My hand." [John 10: 27]
This will still further appear from the account which St. Paul  gives of the several steps of Divine Providence in the salvation of the elect, and of the principal graces bestowed upon them for that great end; "for whom He foreknew," says he, "He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son; and whom He predestinated, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them he also glorified." [Rom. 8: 29] First, he lays down the "sure foundation of God," above mentioned, "which has this seal, The Lord knoweth who are His." [2 Tim. 2: 19] God, from all eternity, foreknew who would improve the talents He should in time bestow upon them, and who, persevering, to the end, should be His forever. Now, says the Apostle, "whom" He thus "foreknew He also predestinated to be conformable to the image of His Son;" that is, He preordained that all His elect should resemble Jesus Christ, by "putting off the old man with his deeds, and putting on the new, according to the image of Him that created Him." [Col. 3: 9]

   To procure this conformity with Jesus Christ, the next step He takes is to call them; for, "whom He predestinated, them He also called" -----namely, to the knowledge and Faith of Jesus Christ, and to the Communion of His Holy Church; that is, He gives them such internal graces, and so disposes all external circumstances, as effectually to bring them to this great happiness; and whom He thus called to the True Faith, "them He also justified"-----that is, being brought to the True Faith, "without which it is impossible to please God," he continues to bestow still further graces upon them, of fear, hope, love of God, and sorrow for their sins, with which they, cooperating, are brought by means of His Holy Sacraments to the grace of justification. Greater and greater graces are bestowed upon them, and they, persevering to the end in their co-operation, are received at last into eternal glory; for "whom He justified, them He also glorified." Here it is manifest that our being called to the Faith and Church of Jesus Christ is ordained by Almighty God as an essential step in the affair of salvation, a necessary condition to be performed, even, before we can be justified from the guilt of our sins, and consequently, that without True Faith, and out of the Communion of the Church of Christ, there is no possibility of salvation. It is no less manifest that, let a person be in any state whatsoever-----heathen, Muhammadan, Jew, or heretic-----if Almighty God foreknows that this person will cooperate with those graces which from all eternity He had resolved to bestow upon him, and continue faithful to the end, He will by no means permit him to live and die in his present state, but will so order matters out of the treasures of His Divine Wisdom, that sooner or later he shall be brought to the union of the Church of Christ, out of which he has ordained that salvation cannot be found.

Continued Forward