Our new friend, theophiletos, fears that my comments in my post of ‘salvation’ were ‘self righteous and misleading’. So, let me try to explain the position they outline clearly.
I think the most natural interpretation of your statement, “What I have not, and do not, find in any way useful is the assertion that my own church, or any other Church is the only valid one,” is that there is more than one Church which is legitimate
This, he tells me:
seems directly to contradict the Roman Catholic doctrine that it is the sole true Church founded by Christ to which all true believers are (willy-nilly) spiritually linked
Let is therefore examine the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church here to see if aught that was written runs counter to its teaching, and, if so, correct any self righteous or misleading comments; but let us also hope, that should there be nought there of those things, that will prompt further thoughts.
Alas for the damage done by the narrow interpretation often offered to St Cyprian of Carthage’s statement ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’. When Bosco cited them to me recently I asked the question: ‘define the Catholic Church’? It is easy (which is why it has been done so often) to interpret St Cyprian as saying that formal membership of the Roman Catholic Church is held by God to be the formal requirement for entry into Heaven, and that therefore everyone outside that Church is damned. Let us turn from popular interpretations to the voice of the Church – which alone is authorised to determine Catholic doctrine and see what it has to say on such matters.
In Dominus Iesus one of the most recent expositions of the teaching of the Magisterium, written under the hand of none other than the Pope Emeritus, we read this:
Furthermore, the salvific action of Jesus Christ, with and through his Spirit, extends beyond the visible boundaries of the Church to all humanity. Speaking of the paschal mystery, in which Christ even now associates the believer to himself in a living manner in the Spirit and gives him the hope of resurrection, the Council states: “All this holds true not only for Christians but also for all men of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery”.
Now that last statement, in quotation marks is from Guadium et Spes which is one of the documents produced by an Ecumenical Council. It goes along, here, with section 16 of Lumen Gentium which reads as follows:
Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) 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.(125) 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.(126) 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, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) 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.(19*) 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.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.
Now read these as I might, I cannot see in them anything which would support the narrower reading of what St Cyprian wrote, or which states that only Catholics may go to Heaven. As the then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in Dominus Iesus:
Above all else, it must be firmly believed 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 (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door”.77 This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); “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 this salvation”.
So, if we are to follow and understand the teaching of the Church, we must hold these two things together; the polemicist will not; he is welcome to his view, but he should not claim, in that, to be following the teaching of the Church. Indeed, most polemicists here simply state that these things were not said by the Catholic Church, but by some false church in its place. That is their problem, and one day I hope they will get over it. But just because they find it impossible to follow the teachings of the Church, does not mean we should not.
As St John Paul II wrote in Ut unum sint:
Indeed, the elements of sanctification and truth present in the other Christian Communities, in a degree which varies from one to the other, constitute the objective basis of the communion, albeit imperfect, which exists between them and the Catholic Church.
To the extent that these elements are found in other Christian Communities, the one Church of Christ is effectively present in them. For this reason the Second Vatican Council speaks of a certain, though imperfect communion. The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium stresses that the Catholic Church “recognizes that in many ways she is linked” 14 with these Communities by a true union in the Holy Spirit.
Now I can see in this nothing which goes against what I wrote. A canonised Pope himself, along with his successor and the documents of an ecumenical council all go is the same direction, namely that whilst there is only one true church, other churches and ecclesial communities are not lacking either in merit of salvific efficacy. I would not reduce that down to saying that there is only one ‘valid’ church. A valid church is one which finds us where we are to be found and which carries us closer to Christ. Just because I have been given the Grace to see that the Roman Catholic Church is the one True Church founded by Christ, does not mean that I should see no merit in other churches, or that the Church does not. To repeat so none can be misled:
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.
If you disagree, take it up with the Pope and the Magisterium, not me. I simply take seriously what the Magisterium teaches.