Why is membership of the Catholic Church necessary for salvation?

These are the notes made for a talk given to the Young Roman Catholics group at Gateshead by Rev. Robert Brucciani.

Defining terms

What is the Catholic Church?

  • Material Cause: The assembly of all the faithful under one Head (Christ) - all men except the infidels, the schismatics & heretics, and the excommunicated, and all angels except the demons.
  • Formal Cause: The Mystical Body of Christ.
  • Final Cause
    - Ultimate finality is AMDG; 
    - Immediate finality is to continue the mission of Our Lord Jesu Christ: to redeem man from sin and hell, and to teach him the way to heaven. Its principal activities are:
       - teaching the doctrine of Christ, 
       - governing the faithful according to God's law, and 
       - sanctifying the faithful by her Sacrifice, sacraments, and sacramentals.
  • Efficient Cause: The Church came into being at the death of Jesus, or some of the Fathers say at Pentecost. It was founded by God.

How does one become a member of the Catholic Church?

  • Sacramentally: by baptism which imprints a character on the soul;
  • Practically: by professing the Catholic faith, by obedience to the Church's laws, and by worshipping with the Church's liturgy;
  • Formally: by sanctifying grace.

What are the different types of members of the Catholic Church?

  • According to place
    - Church Triumphant
    - Church Suffering
    - Church Militant
  • According to visibility:
    - Visible member (baptised, adheres to Catholic faith, laws & worship)
    - Invisible member (any other soul in a state of sanctifying grace)
  • According to supernatural life:
    - Living member (anyone in a state of grace)
    - Dead member (baptised and in a state of mortal sin)
    (nb. see modern error concerning membership according to supernatural life)

What is salvation?

Sacred Scripture uses the word "salvation" mainly in the sense of liberation of the human race or of individual man from sin and its consequences. This liberation is effected by sanctifying grace, it is fixed at death, and it is perfected in the Beatific Vision. (See modern errors concerning salvation).

Answering the question

What souls are saved?

Only souls who die in a state of sanctifying grace are saved. That is, all living members of the Church (living members of the Mystical Body of Christ). Some of these are visible members, some are invisible members.

It is important to understand that the state of grace is not a ticket or a passport to get into heaven, but it is the very essence of heaven which is a state of union with God. St. Augustine: Grace is the beginning of glory, and glory is the consummation of grace.

Do I need to be a Catholic to be saved?

Yes, I need to be incorporated into Christ by sanctifying grace to be saved, which is to be a Catholic.

Questions annexed

What about those souls who have never been baptised through no fault of their own: can these be saved?

As mentioned above, if a soul dies in a state of grace even without having been baptised, it will be saved. All such souls are living invisible members of the Catholic Church.

If a soul can be saved without sacramental baptism or without adhering to Catholic faith, laws, and worship, why should they be converted?

For souls: the surest path to salvation is by the teaching, governance, and sanctification of the Catholic Church. It is the expressed will of God that all nations be taught and baptised.

For existing visible members of the Church: we have been instructed to go out, teach all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Notes on false religions, ignorance, truth & salvation

  1. The following distinction is important to remember: 
    (a) Worshipping the true God in the true religion (Catholic Religion) and
    (b) Worshipping the true God in a false religion.
    (See Do we all worship the same God?)
  2. A false religion, even in which the true God is worshipped, will never lead a soul to heaven of itself. A soul practicing a false religion in invincible ignorance and with a good heart may attain heaven, but not because of the false religion.
  3. One is never saved "by ignorance", at most "with ignorance". Every false religion mixes truths and errors, some more some less. Such a mixture cannot save; only truth can save. Therefore, any false religion cannot save.
  4. Only the grace of God can save; the grace of God never impels someone to adhere to error, only to truth; nay, one should say that the grace of God removes from error (though not always from all errors at once).
  5. Moreover, salvation requires an act of Faith (and Hope and Charity), i.e. supernatural adhesion to a revealed truth. God will provide to everyone (reaching the age of reason) the occasion for such an act of Faith. The salvation of a soul depends on how it cooperates with that offer of the grace of Faith: if it accepts it or if it refuses it.
  6. The error of the modernists is to suppose that if a soul worships the true God, then it will be saved. They forget that a soul is only saved by worshiping the true God with supernatural Faith, Hope and Charity in the Church. This fact is conspicuously absent from Pope Paul VI's Declaration, Nostra Aetate.