Where do the souls of those who died professing other faiths fit in?

I have a question.

Church doctrine teaches us that the Church is made up of the Church Triumphant (those in heaven), Church Suffering (those in Purgatory) and Church Militant (those still on earth).

Where do the souls of those who died professing other faiths fit in? Or do they fit in at all?


Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

To begin with, technically speaking, the Church comprises those who are baptised by a Trinitarian formula and explicitly profess faith in Christ.

As such, your question about those who died professing other faiths clearly indicates that they don't "fit in" because they are not members of the Church by baptism. Trying to place them into those three traditional categories of the Church does not even apply because they are not even members of the Body of Christ.

However, if you were to ask the more fundamental question about the salvation of those who die without explicitly professing faith in Christ, that is a more complex question indeed...

Is this what you intend to ask?

Simon said...

Dominus Iesus reminds us that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world, and the Catechism of Pope John Paul II reminds us that "outside the Church, there is no salvation".

For those who, in accordance with the mercy and goodness of our gracious and loving God, attains the blessed happiness (in heaven or yes even in purgatory), they too are saved by Christ through the Church, and so are joined to us in some form of communion with the Church. Thus, they would rightly be classed under Church Triumphant and Church Suffering; the Church can embrace children who are outside of her visible boundaries.

Interestingly, in the 4th Eucharistic Prayer, you might remember that we pray that God will remember those who make the offering, including "those here present, all your people and all who seek you with a sincere heart". Might not the all who seek God sincerely include those even now among us who are outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church?

Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Admittedly, my initial response to the post was trite. I meant it to be so because I wanted to clarify the question being asked and not waste time typing a fuller, longer and more considered answer. But here is one in response to your comment...

The question asked was "where do the souls of those who died professing other faiths fit in?"

By this, given an explicit belief in other religions, the question is immediately one of whether those of other faiths may be saved by Christ. This is the subject of much controversy indeed. But leaving aside the theological arguments, Dominus Iesus states that those who seek Truth are on the "way to salvation" but the Church must go on her mission to bring that fullness of Truth to them, in order that they may be saved. (cf DI 22)

This is linked to the teaching found in Vatican II, 'Lumen Gentium', 14:
"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."

Thus one has an obligation to enter the Church if one knows it to be the sacrament of salvation. One may not feign ignorance and remain in one's own religion. Moreover, one has a duty to seek Truth actively. On the other hand, we in the Church have the duty to ensure these seekers for Truth may find it readily by our witness and preaching. As such there is urgency in our preaching and mission! It also affirms baptism as the basis for incorporation into the Church and a necessity.

But later, LG with reference to non-baptised:
"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. 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." (LG 16)

These are those of "sincere heart" mentioned in EP4. Note that no mention is made here of salvation through the Church as you say, Simon... Only that Christ saves.

In relation then, to all those who by the grace of God are saved, Dominus Iesus, 20 teaches this:

"For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, “salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit”; it has a relationship with the Church, which “according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit”"

As such, to address the original question of the blog post, it would be artificial and unnecessary to classify these unknowns among the three classic states of the Church, because these apply to the Baptised who are fully members of the Church and not merely 'related' to Her.

Vatican II and Dominus Iesus are both vague on the 'mysterious' nature and means by which non-Christians are saved and to speculate on which state of the Church they would belong to is to go beyond what is known to us and the teaching of the Church.

I think we need to emphasise the fundamental and definitive necessity of baptism for salvation in (and through) the Church. The baptised are thus incorporated into the Body of Christ and thus subject to the three states (which are merely descriptive terms for the communion of saints).

If this seems a bit stark, perhaps we should redouble our efforts at evangelisation and the salvation of souls!!

Simon said...

No objections to what you wrote, Paul. Certainly the Church has a mission to spread the Gospel of Christ to all peoples so that all humanity can be received into her visible communion and receive the abundance of graces and the life of the Kingdom even on earth.

But let us also consider for a moment what the Catechism para 846 writes:
"all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body" (emphasis added).

If we understand that the Church, the Bride and mystical Body of Christ, is the sacrament of Christ to the world, then we can begin to understand that Christ has bound himself to his Church in such a manner that Christ's work cannot be separated from the work of the Church, i.e. Christ works and saves today through the Church. The more I think of this, the humbler I think we should become: for God, the all-powerful, has chosen to work through the Church, a community of sinners full of warts and blemishes!

I wouldn't quite agree with you on your interpretation of the word 'mysterious' in the writings. Normally, 'mystery' and 'mysterious' in ecclesial writings do not refer to the unknown, but to a profound truth so rich that it exceeds the ability of man to fathom. Digressing a bit, the word 'sacrament' is related to this meaning of the word 'mystery'. Pope John Paul II thus explains this mysterious relationship in his audience on May 31, 1995:

It is mysterious for those who receive [this] grace, because they do not know the Church and sometimes even outwardly reject her. It is also mysterious in itself, because it is linked to the saving mystery of grace, which includes an essential reference to the Church the Savior founded.

You raised a good point the traditional terms were not formulated to include these 'mysterious' members of the Church, and perhaps I did injustice to rashly include them. But if someone were to insist that I pigeonhole these unbaptized saved souls into the traditional framework, I would still choose to put them into the categories I have chosen. For I believe in a Church that is catholic, and therefore embraces everyone, and I don't quite like the idea of creating a 4th category: let me just call it with a twinkle in my eye "Church Mysterious". =)

Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Simon, thank you for your considered comment which I too am in agreement with. I note your quotation from the CCC and also your reminder of 'mysterion' which I was aware of and perhaps I should have commented upon its use in DI more fully. Thank you also for pointing out that Audience address of John Paul II which was most interesting to read.

I certainly appreciate your understanding of 'mysterion'. Perhaps I should have more fully elaborated on my understanding of this in DI. I think where there appears to be a difference in thinking is because I am concerned with the inner workings of salvation. I am looking at how the un-baptised and even those who reject Christ, on account of the flawed image of Him given by the Church, may be saved. The answer is through Christ Jesus. As Pope John Paul II said in that Audience:

"Rather, we must maintain that the way of salvation always passes through Christ, and therefore the Church and her missionaries have the task of making him known and loved in every time, place and culture. Apart from Christ "there is no salvation"."

More explicitly, he says in 'Redemptoris Missio', 10 that the grace of salvation given to the un-baptised comes from Christ:
"This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation."

There is no mention of a mediation through the Church.

Let's call this step 1.

It is by this grace of Christ, that the un-baptised are then incorporated within the Church or, to be more precise, related to her. It is noteworthy that none of the documents or the papal pronouncements say that they are incorporated. The baptised alone are but the others are "related" to the Church. Thus, "For such people [who do not know Christ] salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation."

Let's call this step 2.

I know it's artificial to separate the two for they occur concurrently, especially since the whole Christ (totus Christi) is Jesus Christ (the Head) and His Church (the Body) and these cannot be severed. However, call me perverse (!), but I wish to look at the 'initial' step of how the un-baptised are saved and so I feel that it is appropriate to attribute this to Christ Jesus. It is 'Step 1' that is the concern and content of my comments thus far. But perhaps, it is not that perverse for me to do so...

Looking at that Audience address again, do note that the Pope also follows this dynamic in his speech. He speaks first of salvation through Christ, the sole mediator etc and then of how the Church is related in this work and how we can thus hold to the ancient axiom that outside the Church there is no salvation.

Incidentally, your CCC quotation only serves to address this principle, which was quite problematic at the time of Vatican II and even today! In an extended discussion like this, we must look outside the CCC for more expanded principles of theology and exegesis. Pope John Paul II clearly explains what that axiom intends: "The axiom means that for those who are not ignorant of the fact that the Church has been established as necessary by God through Jesus Christ, there is an obligation to enter the Church and remain in her in order to attain salvation (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 14)." I doubt the axiom and the CCC 846 based on that actually directly addresses the question at hand which is how those who are ignorant of Christ and the Church may be saved.

Please note that I am not hereby underplaying the role of the Church as the ark of salvation. I merely want to stress that salvation for the unbaptised comes primarily from Christ. One can only say 'through' the Church only in so far as one must related to Her in order to be saved. Stressing the primary role of Christ is important because that is what the Church is for. As John Paul II says again:

"Hence the importance of the Church's indispensable role: she "is not an end unto herself, but rather is fervently concerned to be completely of Christ, in Christ and for Christ, as well as completely of men, among men and for men". This role then is not "ecclesiocentric", as is sometimes said: the Church does not exist nor does she work for herself, but is at the service of a humanity called to divine sonship in Christ (cf. Redemptoris missio, n. 19)."

Lastly, to stress that I don't truly see Christ and the Church, in the work of salvation, as separate, I quote 'Redemptoris Missio',9:

" It is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for salvation. Both these truths help us to understand the one mystery of salvation, so that we can come to know God's mercy and our own responsibility. Salvation, which always remains a gift of the Holy Spirit, requires man's cooperation, both to save himself and to save others. This is God's will, and this is why he established the Church and made her a part of his plan of salvation. Referring to "this messianic people," the Council says; "It has been set up by Christ as a communion of life, love and truth; by him too it is taken up as the instrument of salvation for all, and sent on a mission to the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth."

I hope this clarifies my position and I have no doubt we are in agreement on this matter. Enough of this and let's get out there to evangelise the world!!

irene said...

just dropping by between my lessons to give my 2 cents worth.

for me, the issue is simple: it doesn't matter whether or not you're a christian or believe in christ. as long as you do good on this earth, you'll go to heaven when you die.

no one really knows exactly what happens after death. so it's really a matter of faith and what you believe in i guess. being christian doesn't necessarily guarantee a spot in heaven. in this vein, you can be a devil worshipper (for eg), yet IF you do good deeds, heaven is open to you same as it is to anyone else.

yup. please don't anyone excommunicate me for this.