Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
"And on the sabbath [Jesus] began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, "Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! And they took offence at him. And he could do no mighty work there... And he marvelled because of their unbelief." (Mark
|Jesus is saddened by the "lack of faith" of his own neighbors and the little faith of his own disciples (Cf. Mark 6:6; Matthew 8:26) (CCC 2610)|
|Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. (Cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:36; 6:40 et al.) "Since 'without faith it is impossible to please [God]' and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'but he who endures to the end.' " (Dei Filius 3:DS 3012; cf. Matthew 10:22; 24:13 and Hebrews 11:6; Council of Trent: DS 1532.) (CCC 161) Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16) (CCC 183)|
Just as all faith comes through the graces of the Church, so also the Church, through which comes the faith by which we are saved, is necessary for salvation. The Catechism discusses the oft-quoted and much-misunderstood teaching: "outside the Church there is no salvation."
|How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? (Cf. Cyprian, Ep. 73.21: PL 3, 1169; De unit.: PL 4, 509-536.) Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:|
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. (LG 14; cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5) (CCC 846)
Some mistakenly take this for a blanket condemnation of anyone who is not a "card-carrying" Catholic. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one is condemned for sincerely following his conscience, for this itself is a grace from God.
|This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: |
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience-those too may achieve eternal salvation. (Lumen Gentium 16; cf. DS 3866-3872) (CCC 847)
We would do well to remember the words of St. Thomas More when, implored by his friend the Duke of Norfolk to consent with him to the headship of the Church by, and the divorce and remarriage of, King Henry VIII "for fellowship's sake" he responded, "When you go to heaven for following your conscience and I go to hell for not following mine, will you come along with me for fellowship's sake?"