Is Rome the True Church?
- Thursday, December 18, 2008
It calls the Roman Catholic Church “this one and only Church of God.”22 However, like those before, Vatican II affirmed:
“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.”23
This is nothing more than a restatement of baptism by intention in early Catholic proclamations.24
What Rome’s Claim to Being the True Church Does Not Mean
Now that we have examined the background to claims of papal authority and to Rome’s exclusivity as the one true church, we will look more closely at particular aspects of Rome’s claim to exclusivity, beginning with what it doesn’t mean.
Rome’s Claim Does Not Mean That All Non-Catholics Go to Hell
Roman Catholic teaching allows for salvation without baptism or communion within the Catholic Church on the grounds of invincible ignorance. The exception is made for some people, including those who desired baptism but were not able to get it (called the baptism of intent) or those who die as unbaptized martyrs (called the baptism of blood). “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ . . . may achieve eternal salvation.”25 Though they are called “separated brethren”26 from “separated churches,”27 they are still “brethren.”
According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church, “All who have been justified by faith in baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.”28
In fact, they hold to the belief that not only are there true believers among non-Christians, but also that there is both truth and goodness in non-Christian religions. The Catechism declares: “Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as ‘a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.’”29
Rome’s Claim Does Not Mean One Cannot Grow in the Faith Outside the Catholic Church
The Catholic Catechism declares that “‘many elements of sanctification and of truth’ are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.”30 It goes on to say that “Christ uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as mean of salvation.”31
Rome’s Claim Does Not Mean That Non-Roman Catholic Baptism Is Not Valid
Both Augustine and Aquinas allowed for baptism by non-Catholics, including by heretics, as long as it was done by water in the name of the Trinity. Even laypersons can administer the sacrament of baptism.
The Catechism of the Catholic Faith declares, “When the necessity of the Church warrants it and when ministers are lacking, lay persons . . . can also supply for . . . Baptism, and to distribute Holy Communion in accord with the prescriptions of law.”32
Rome’s Claim Does Not Mean That Baptism Is Absolutely Necessary for Salvation
The above exceptions show that neither baptism nor membership in a Roman Catholic Church is absolutely necessary for salvation but only normatively necessary. That is, it is the norm (rule) for all, but there are some exceptions such as baptism by intent or by blood (martyrdom). Flannery said, “In view of the stress laid upon the necessity of membership of the Church for salvation it is understandable that the possibility of salvation for those outside the Church is mentioned only hesitantly.”33
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