“This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.
“They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a ‘bodily’ manner and not ‘in his heart.’ ”Lumen Gentium 14
Those who reject Vatican II generally do not quote this. I suppose this makes sense, as there would be no reason to quote it if a person already agrees with it. If I were trying to show contradictions in the Book of Mormon, I probably would not Alma 7:10, which says of our Lady: “she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.” I love this verse. It is indeed a high compliment to the Mother of God and our Mother. Still, there is a charge made by sedevacantists and Marshallists (those who follow the teachings of Taylor Marshall) that Vatican II contradicts the perennial doctrine that there is no salvation outside of the Church or at least uses far too ambiguous wording for an Ecumenical Council which could be interpreted in that light. But Vatican II says plainly that there is no salvation outside of the Church (hence Orthodox, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Atheists are all going to hell). I would not, therefore, expect the Fathers of the Council to contradict themselves. It is still charged by some that the words on other religions are heretical. Let us begin.
“The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God. They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ’s disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.”Lumen Gentium 15
This is tested against the words of Pope Leo XIII, which states, in keeping with the perennial teachings of the Catholic Church: “The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium.” (Satis Cognitum 9) Well, we must remember that this section is talking mainly about invincible ignorance. The following paragraph states: “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.” (LG 16) Invincible ignorance, of course, is not heretical. The terminology was coined by Pope Pius IX, but it was written of long before. Our Lord said in John 22:15: “If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.” (DRA) This sounds like invincible ignorance to me. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Ignorance is ‘antecedent’ to the act of the will, when it is not voluntary, and yet is the cause of man’s willing what he would not will otherwise. Thus a man may be ignorant of some circumstance of his act, which he was not bound to know, the result being that he does that which he would not do, if he knew of that circumstance.” (ST 2:1:6:8) One common way to be in ignorance of that sort is to be an adherent of a false religion or a heretical sect. Perhaps the reader has not met any, but I do believe that there are some Protestants who would convert to Catholicism if they knew that Jesus Christ had made it necessary for salvation. They are validly baptized and therefore in an imperfect relation with the Church. The faith is an incarnational thing, not just a “spiritual” (disembodied) thing, as our Lord himself. It is, of course, possible to be bodily united to the Church yet cease to be in communion with her spiritually, such as a person who continues to receive Holy Communion yet accepts heresy or continues in the state of mortal sin. It is also possible to be in communion with Mother Church spiritually yet be outside of communion with her bodily out of ignorance. The former disunity is more serious than the latter. In that sense, we are united with Orthodox and Protestants.
Some would object to For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture. This is considered objectionable because heretics distort the Word of God. Although this is true, most Protestants, for instance, could not really be called heretics (heresy is, of course, an obstinate denial or doubt). From the moment they became Christian, some have been taught to assume that Christians go by the Bible alone. Many Protestants are actually doing their very best without knowledge of Tradition and the Magisterium. Those Protestants do, in fact, honor Sacred Scripture.
“Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.”Lumen Gentium 16
“As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock.
“Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ—Abraham’s sons according to faith are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.” Nostra Aetate 4
This is considered objectionable because the Jews rejected our Lord and therefore ought to be called a false religion. We cannot, therefore, remember any bond with them. First of all, not all Jews are responsible for our Lord’s death. Second, we could just as well hold the Romans responsible. Do we not profess in a certain place, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate”? Surely we cannot reject the entire culture of the Greeks and Romans on that account. If Augustine or Aquinas decided that, we might have a relatively great problem now. They learned quite a bit from Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. No Jews today are responsible for what happened two thousand years ago. Our Lord was Jewish. The apostles did not cease to be Jewish when they became Christian. Why do we esteem our Lady? If I were asked that question, I would probably answer: what is there not to love about her? To quote Vatican II, “the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all guilt of original sin, on the completion of her earthly sojourn, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and the conqueror of sin and death. (. . .) In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace. (. . .) Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix.” (LG 59, 61, 62) I am not quite sure what Adjutrix means, but I think all the articles concerning our Lady is good evidence that the problem in the Church today is the spirit rather than the letter of Vatican II. To quote Pope Leo XIII, “Thus as no man goeth to the Father but by the Son, so no man goeth to Christ but by His Mother.” (Octobri Mense Adventante 4) But concerning our Lady, what is the first Marian doctrine out of which others spring? What is the one dogma for which even a few Protestants honor her? I say a few, because many Protestants want to entirely depreciate that role. Protestant commentator Dave Norris writes: “Her womb was home to Jesus Christ. The infant. That is where her task ended.” If that is his idea on what it means to be a mother, that is simply depressing. But not all Protestants feel this way and we as Catholics obviously do not. We Catholics honor our Lady because she is the Mother of God. She is the one from whom God chose to be conceived and born. Now we also esteem the Jews to a lesser extent, because our Lord chose to be born a Jew. God founded Judaism prior to Christianity. He built Christianity upon Judaism. Surely, can we not esteem the Jews who are children of Abraham for what good they have?
“But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God.”Lumen Gentium 16
“The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God.”Nostra Aetate 3
So, the alleged heresy is that Muslims worship the same God as Christians do although they deny Trinity and the divinity of Christ. Actually, the idea that Muslims worship the same God as Christians do is not new. The Catechism of St. Pius X states as follows:
12 Q. Who are infidels?
A. Infidels are those who have not been baptized and do not believe in Jesus Christ, because they either believe in and worship false gods as idolaters do, or though admitting one true God, they do not believe in the Messiah, neither as already come in the Person of Jesus Christ, nor as to come; for instance, Mohammedans and the like.The Catechism of St. Pius X, The Ninth Article of the Creed, Those Outside the Communion of Saints
Surely we cannot suppose that St. Pius X was a heretic, yet he said that the “Mohammedans” worship the true God. This is Pope St. Pius X, recall, the same man who was a vehement opponent of all modernism, calling it “the synthesis of all heresies”. (Pascendi Dominici Gregis 39) So, in what sense do Mohammedans (as Pius calls them) worship the true God? First of all, since apostolic times, the Church has always recognized the Jews to worship the same God. This is obvious, as God founded Judaism and Jesus was Jewish. Yet God did not explicitly reveal the Trinity until the New Testament. Surely we cannot suppose that Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and Elijah were all idolaters. As an analogy, imagine two people watching an episode of Doctor Who from the Jon Pertwee era (before it went so downhill and the Doctor basically became a god). One sees it on a high tech flat-screen TV. (wait, does not everyone have a flat screen TV nowadays?) The other is watching it on an old, blurry thing. They are still watching the same television show and still seeing an image of the same Doctor fighting aliens with bad special effects from the seventies. This is not to say that one is not favorable to the other. Christian worship is more favorable to God than that of either the Muslims or Jews. Both Pope St. Pius X and Vatican II taught that although Muslims deny important aspects of the Christian Faith, they cannot be classified as idolaters. “Allah” (which is the Arabic word for God) cannot be justly equated with Zeus, Odin, Baal, Freya, Amon-Ra, or even, probably, the Heavenly Father professed by the Church of Latter Day Saints. Islam’s roots are in Judaism and Christianity (if sullied by the Arian heresy) and retains the basic monotheistic concept of the one true Creator God. Although Islam flatly denies the divinity of Christ and is not in itself salvific in character, the object of that defective worship—that is, the Being toward whom it is directed—is nevertheless the true God, imperfectly understood.
“…who on the last day will judge mankind.”Lumen Gentium 16
Some object to this because they do not believe that Jesus Christ will judge mankind as God. Indeed, they deny the divinity of Christ, but as Christ is the Second Person in the Trinity and three Persons are in one God, we can still say that we both believe God will judge mankind.
“Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”Nostra Aetate 3
There they mention our Lady again. Actually, Muslims seem to believe she was without sin. The Quran states: “I have named her Mary, and lo! I crave Thy protection for her and for her offspring from Satan the outcast.” (Surah 3:36, Pickthall Version) I think more highly of the Muslims now that I know this.
“[A]ll those who are outside the catholic church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life . . . that only for those who abide in it do the church’s sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia produce eternal rewards.” (Council of Florence, Session 11) This is sometimes taken to be in contrariety to Nostra Aetate’s praise for the Muslims for their works of piety. First of all, all Nostra Aetate says is that Islam “values” these things, which is undoubtedly true. Indeed, Pius IX expounded upon the teaching that there is no salvation outside of the Church in his (albeit fallible) words: “This hope of salvation is placed in the Catholic Church which, in preserving the true worship, is the solid home of this faith and the temple of God. Outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or salvation unless he is excused through ignorance beyond his control.” (Singulari Quidem 7) However, if “excused through ignorance beyond his control”, a Muslim can profit from his devotions. Why is this? Because he is is a Muslim through no fault of his own.
“Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”Nostra Aetate 3
Some would argue that this means that we must forget a large portion of European history, including the great saints and heroes of Christendom. I do not think that is what it is saying. Isaiah 43:25, for instance, states: “I am, I am he that blot out thy iniquities for my own sake, and I will not remember thy sins.” But God knows everything and therefore remembers everything. So I think Vatican II is hardly teaching to avoid studying history but simply to not hold such past dissensions against the Muslims, but move on. We should not forget the stories of heroes in the Crusades and so forth, but we should move on rather than holding on to previous disagreements. “For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
The second charge is that this blames the Christians as being in the wrong to some degree. But it does not say this directly, but only that “not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems”. If anything, it seems to be calling us, as Christians, to do our duty to forgive Muslims. For the most part, it was indeed the fault of radical Islam that this occurred more than Christians. But supposing it is saying which Christians were partially to blame (although I am not convinced that it is), this would not mean that the Catholic Church is to blame, but only some sinful Christians who do not live up to her teachings.
“Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust.”Nostra Aetate 2
I have seen this contrasted with Leo XIII’s words: “Through his [St. Francis Xavier’s] extraordinary perseverance, he converted hundreds of thousands of Hindus from the myths and vile superstitions of the Brahmans to the true religion. In the footsteps of this holy man followed numerous priests, secular and religious, who with the authority and permission of the Holy See strove untiringly to preserve and promote the Christian mysteries and institutions introduced by Thomas and renewed by Xavier.” (Ad Extremas 1)
It appears that Vatican II is saying something good about Hindu myths and Leo is saying something evil. Vatican II’s words are sometimes taken to mean that Hindu mythology is another way by which one may find the Answer to the divine mystery. That is not exactly true. Tolkien is thought to have said: “We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”1 He undoubtedly wrote this:
“Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
“through whom is splintered from a single White
“to many hues, and endlessly combined
“in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
“Though all the crannies of the world we filled
“with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
“Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
“and sowed the seed of dragons—’twas our right
“(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
“we make still by the law in which we’re made.”
On Fairy Stories p. 9
This was, by the way, a poem in response to a friend who had called making a fairy-tale “breathing a lie through Silver.” I think that friend may have been C. S. Lewis in his atheist days, although I am not sure about this. On the occasion that the reader has been living under a rock for the past fifty years, Tolkien was a devout Catholic and he intentionally weaved Catholicism into his book. If you have been living under a rock for the past seventy years, his book is The Lord of the Rings. He is probably the greatest deal, or at least among them, of all Catholic novelists in history—although it appears that O’Brien may lately be taking his place. Yes myth can be abused, as Tolkien himself admits. Gods can be worshipped, but neither Tolkien nor Vatican II were heretical. Hindu myths cannot perfectly express the divine mystery, only the True Myth—the Myth which became history, the Myth of Jesus Christ. However, these myths are useful to contemplate it and move towards it. Otherwise, why on earth were the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid preserved by the Christians? Are they useless?
“Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination.”Nostra Aetate 2
If this means that Buddhists can be saved through Buddhism, it is heretical. Buddhism teaches a way to perfect liberation, but not the right way. Vatican II makes this very clear in the following sentences: Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing “ways,” comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.
It seems that Nostra Aetate reaffirms Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I read some sedevacantists claiming that there is not a word in Vatican II about a call to convert them. It seems to me that there is.
“Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.” Lumen Gentium 16
The idea is that this teaches that people can be atheists through no fault of their own. This is tested against Romans 1:20:
“For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.” (DRA)
My first response was that it is wrong to test the teachings of the Magisterium to the Scriptures (or personal interpretations of them) in this way. That was what Martin Luther tried and he, needless to say, fell into heresy. However, then there is also On Revelation Can. 1 of the First Vatican Council which states:
“If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.”
Let us use an analogy of Protestants. I do not know if the reader has met any but there are definitely some Protestants who are in invincible ignorance. Those pious Protestants who give no further thought to the Catholic Church and to whom the truth in her was not revealed can be saved, as I have already explained. Well, do they not have the Scriptures? And is not Catholic doctrine completely contained within them?
Evangelical: By faith only a man is justified.
The Bible: By works a man is justified; and not by faith only. (James 2:24)
Calvinist: Christ gave himself as a redemption for the Elect only.
The Bible: Christ gave himself a redemption for all. (1 Timothy 2:6)
Baptist: Baptism does not save you.
The Bible: Baptism now saveth you. (1 Peter 3:21)
Memorialist: For Christ’s flesh is symbolic meat and Christ’s blood is symbolic drink.
The Bible: For Christ’s flesh is meat indeed and Christ’s blood is drink indeed. (John 6:56)
For this reason, we have Catholic apologetics, based mainly around the Bible. I think we can certainly use the Bible together with reason to prove Protestantism wrong to any open-minded Protestant. So also we can use the Book of Nature and reason to prove atheism wrong to any open-minded atheist. This does not mean that it is impossible for an atheist who has not thought of such reasoning to be in invincible ignorance. I am doubtful that most staunch atheists (nor many who have examined theistic arguments) are in such a state, but concerning atheists and agnostics in general, I think there are some.
So to answer the charges, Vatican II does not teach salvation outside of the Church. Anyone who knowingly chooses to be Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jew is damned.
Bonum Certamen Certemus
I am the Catholic of Honor
1Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 197-198