Sunday, July 7, 2013

Beyond Salvation, or, Why to Evangelize the Baptized

"It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church."
--Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio §3

As the extra ecclesiam nulla salus doctrine is currently understood, we do not despair of the salvation of the non-Catholic baptized.  We acknowledge that the Spirit works through those aspects of the Faith they share in common with the Church.  The Church has the fullness of the faith: this cannot be denied.  When other Christians break away from the Church, they deny different aspects of this fullness; however, they hold on to some parts of the Faith, some vestiges of the Church, and these are enough to bring salvation.  (I refrain from discussing those who do not baptize, who baptize invalidly, or who have too deficient an understanding of the Faith.)  Those aspects of the true Faith that those outside the Church still hold did not originate in them but in the Church: the Church is still the one channel of salvation's waters, as willed by Christ, though some have divided the stream and only drink from certain rivulets.  Though they do not receive the fullness of the Faith, what water of truth that they receive (which always has its source in the Lord and its first riverbed in the Church) is, in general, enough to grant salvation.

A non-Catholic Christian who is properly baptized can be saved, according to the current understanding of this teaching, and we should not despair of their salvation.  Unfortunately, for many, that seems to remove all reason for preaching the fullness of the Faith.  "Isn't evangelization about saving souls?  If souls are saved, what more is required?  What difference is there between a Methodist and a Catholic if both are saved?  Isn't the rest just a difference in taste?"  It can seem pointless to try to bring separated Christians into communion with the Church, to bring them into the fullness of the Faith, if doing so is just a matter of taste.  Sometimes this teaching can make people take salvation too far: "If God will save people without following the rules of the Church, won't He save them without Baptism or Christianity at all?  After all, the Jesus I believe in is loving, and love means never hurting anyone ever."  This is, of course, a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching: because Baptism is a vestige of the full Faith that remains in non-Catholic Christianity, it can still be efficacious, but its salvific effects do not necessarily extend to those who do not partake of it (there is, after all, the teaching of baptism by desire).  But this is a tangent that distracts from the issue at hand: many do not try to bring separated Christians back into the Catholic fold because of a blind emphasis on salvation.

Salvation is not to be despised, of course: without salvation, any other effects of Christ and His Church are meaningless.  Salvation is the bedrock, the basis, of all the gifts we gain from Christ through the Church.  Yet it is not the sole gift: this is what many do not recognize, I think.  The point of trying to bring separated Christians back into the full Church is to give them the greatest form of the faith.

Separated Christians have a form of the faith, a form that, in general, can grant salvation: this much is declared by the Second Vatican Council.  This faith includes, as a basis, a belief in the saving power of Christ, most of the Sacred Scriptures, and Baptism.  Different ecclesial communities or churches have differing degrees of the fullness of the Faith, with the closest being recent schisms such as the Society of St. Pius X and the Old Catholics, followed by the Eastern Orthodox (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc.), followed by the Oriental Orthodox (Assyrian Church of the East, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Tewahedo, etc.), followed by the various Protestant denominations in various degrees.  (To the best of my knowledge, this hierarchy is correct.)  The goal of preaching the Catholic faith to separated Christians is to fill up what is lacking in their faith and to reunite the pieces of Christ's broken Body, the Church.

Through this form of evangelization, we preach the Good News not to give salvation (since it is already given) but to give salvation in its greatest possible form, in its fullness.  Christ came to give us not just life but life in abundance.  Just so, our evangelization should be directed not just to salvation but to salvation in the fullest measure.  Can Christians be saved without the "deuterocanonical" books of the Bible?  Such is our teaching.  Yet how lacking are Christian lives without the elevated human wisdom of Sirach and the great witness of the seven martyred brothers of 2 Maccabees!  Can Christians be saved without the Eucharist?  Such is our teaching.  Yet how lacking are the lives of Christians deprived of such a marvelous, pure, immortal, life-creating, awesome mystery and gift of the Lord!  Can Christians be saved without accepting the Successor of Peter as the God-appointed leader of the Church on earth?  Such is our teaching.  Yet how lacking are the lives of Christians who do not have such a leader whose predecessor was elected by Christ Himself!

We must not just desire salvation for others: we must desire that they have the best life possible.  It is only this that can give us the impetus to heal the schisms of the Church and to bring separated Christians to the fullness of the faith.  We must desire to bring them beyond salvation, as it were, to give them the greatest Christian life that they may have on earth in order that they may more quickly be purified after death and more speedily reach the place of light, the place of joy, the place of peace, where there is no pain, no grief, no sighing, but everlasting life in the bosom of Abraham and the most beautiful presence of the Holy, Gracious, Life-Giving Trinity.  If we do not desire so the best life for others, then the Body of Christ will remain fractured for ever.


  1. There is nothing beyond salvation and it is the sole Gift! God became man so that we can become what God is! The goal of preaching is to save and there is nothing in Catholicism that teaches otherwise! There is no such thing as broken pieces of Christ body when you come to him in faith you get the full thing. What we lack with other Christians is referred to in the Catholic Church as the lack of visible communion. We are called to restore the communion that we lack with other Christians, which as a Catholic I believe that we alone have the gifts to do that. I think there is a deeper reality present here that you are missing. When speaking about baptism you said, “but its salvific effects do not necessarily extend to those who do not partake of it”. I can’t help but to recognize that many Catholics let alone non-Catholics have yet to participate in the full reality of the baptism into the Church. As a Byzantine Catholic my theology teaches me that at baptism we receive mystically the fullness of what God is, which allows us to become partakers of the divine nature. To put it simpler everything of God is fully in me and this same reality is present in everyone who is baptized with no distinctions. Consequently, a protestant is never limited in their ability of participation in the divine nature, even though they might be deficient in the full reality of gifts that Christ left for his Church. In such cases it says in Catechism of the Catholic Church that God did bind himself to the intuitional elements that make up the Catholic Church but he is no way bound by them (1257). I would take issue with the fact that you try to separate the Christian life from salvation. There is nothing in the teaching of the Fathers to support this belief. Christian life is salvation and only in this life do we become partakers of the divine nature (2pter 1:4).This separation is sometimes the mistake of Protestants and I think that’s perhaps the mentality that you address here. However, the fact is that even if I was an astronaut in space and a violent nuclear war erupted below destroying any form of Church on earth I would be in no way lacking in my experience of God. Not having a pope or even access to the sacraments would obstruct the quality of a person’s Christian life.

    1. I think you are correct about my division between salvation and Christian life. My more-or-less avoidance in this post of the doctrine that God is not bound by the Sacraments is also a concern. My main issue I'm wrestling with, though, is what, theologically, makes being a Catholic objectively better than being a non-Catholic Christian (though that is by no means to say that every Catholic is better than every Protestant, just as we cannot say that every consecrated virgin is better than every wife). My attempt at explanation may have faltered, but that is the topic I was attempting to address here. I apologize for my mistakes, and I hope that at some point I can understand this issue enough to put it correctly into words.

    2. Please forgive me if I came on to strong. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I don’t think it’s possible to objectively point out one specific thing theologically that would make Catholicism better since God works mysteriously. What we can say is that we have all the gifts of Christ given for our salvation and the opportunities that they offer us. For me who came into the Church out of heathenism 17 years ago I had no idea what Catholics or Protestantism were. What I did see in churches were the opportunities that allowed me to have a greater relationship with God. I think as a Catholic evangelist this is what we need to offer people “a real opportunity” to experience God. I don’t know any saints who went around trying to make everyone a Catholic. Those that heard the saints usually converted because the spirituality given through the saint could not be separated from the Church in which they worshiped. Sometimes its easer to talk about what our church can offer instead offering what our church has done in us. I say this as a sinner who hopes one day to have more to offer.