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Anonymous Allen wrote:

Hi, guys —

I have read your information on Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, but I was hoping that you could clarify a point for me.

I think I understand the teaching, but I wanted to be sure I completely understand the teaching correctly by posing a specific example as a question.

  • I hope this is okay?

If a Protestant believes in the Trinity and is baptized, but after studying the Catholic Church and doctrine is not convinced and still firmly does not believe in:

  • Papal authority
  • Transubstantiation
  • Veneration of Mary
  • The intercession of saints, or
  • other Catholic doctrines, and
  • firmly believes in Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide, even if they believe this in good faith
  • Can they be saved?



  { Can you clarify a point on 'Outside the Church there is no Salvation', based on this hypothetical? }

Paul replied:

Dear Allen,

Yes. The overriding principle is that God can work outside His sacraments to offer grace to those who genuinely seek Him with an open heart but with invincible ignorance.

Hence, if, through no fault of their own, one does not recognize that the fullness of the truth and grace subsides in the Catholic Church, it is still possible to be saved. The Church doesn't teach God does this, but that He can do this, so we recognize its possibility.



Allen replied:

Hi guys,

Thanks for your reply. I am a little confused though, as I thought that the doctrine was:

  • that salvation outside of the Church was only for those who are invincibly ignorant, and
  • that if a person studies the doctrines of the Church but still rejects them he will be lost.



Paul replied:


I could be wrong, but I always thought one could possibly remain invincibly ignorant even after hearing or reading the truth. The intellect may not be able to understand by virtue of the causes like a malformed conscience, formed through childhood by the influence of authority figures such as parents, ministers, etc. So they may not be able to fully assimilate the truth, at least at this or that point in their lives, through no fault of their own.

Sometimes grace is needed to see past deeply ingrained biases formed within us, and God may work with each person and their conscience at a different pace.

Having said that, if one deliberately shuts oneself off from grace, there can be no salvation.

If a person is able to assimilate and properly understand the truth that the Catholic Church is the one Church of God in which the fullness of the truth subsides, he or she would be culpable for choosing against it. Remember, salvation is accepted by an act of the will on our part, a yes to God and His saving Love; not by having a perfect understanding of the truth that He has given us.

This is my personal take on invincible ignorance. If my colleagues have a different one, I trust they will chime in.



Mike replied:

Dear Allen,

In your example, you appear to be describing a poorly catechized, cafeteria Catholic — one who believes part of the faith (like the Trinity but rejects the other doctrines).

You said:
and that if a person studies the doctrines of the Church but still rejects them, will be lost?

  • If they are past the age of reason and reject the list of teachings you mentioned, why would they want to join the Church?

One should join the Catholic Church for two reasons:

  1. Because it's the one, and only one Church, Jesus founded on St. Peter and his successors, and
  2. Because Jesus said, I will be with you always, even to the end of time and because Jesus is True God and True Man who can neither deceive or be deceived . . . His Church will always be a true-telling Church.

What this means is you shouldn't join the Church because it agrees with your personal views (which may change over time) but because, on issues of faith and morals, Catholics can be at rest that the faith and related morals will always be true, good, holy, and family-friendly.

As a Catholic apologist, one of my greatest concerns is for newbie Catholics who had poor RCIA instruction and really didn't get to know what we believe as Catholics or who poorly understood the faith. They are easy pickings for former Protestant friends who have questions about the Church, which they can't answer. This is why having a Catholic Apologetics support group is so important at every Catholic parish.

Sorry for the deviation from the question at hand.

If you haven't done so yet, and wish to truly understand all aspects our teaching on No Salvation outside the Church, you should read through the four pages of web postings in our database on this issue. We cover almost every case you could thing of.

I hope this helps,


Allen replied:

Thanks again for your reply.

I guess I'm wondering what the Catholic response is to Protestants who would argue that if salvation can be found outside the Church, then it's better to be Protestant on the basis of Pascal's wager.

I.e. If Protestants are right then there is no salvation in the apostate Church so it's best to be Protestant, but if they are wrong then there is salvation outside the Church anyway so you are still okay.

  • Does that make sense?
  • What would be your response?


Mike replied:

Allen —

In Pascal's wager, Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives:

  1. There is a God, or
  2. There is not a God.

but that is not the wager [or question] involved in the case of your question. Both Catholics and Protestants believe in a Trinitarian, Incarnated God. The question is:

  • Which Church is the true Church, Jesus founded?

Since Jesus became Our Incarnate Lord and God, this is an incarnational question that can be answered in Earthly time by both:

  1. Human reason, and
  2. a knowledge of history

so legitimizing their argument by using Pascal's wager makes no sense.

You said:
. . . but if they are wrong then there is salvation outside the Church anyway.

No. You misunderstand this teaching. For this to be true, every Protestant on the face of the Earth would have to be truly seeking to know the totality of the Christian faith, meaning the Catholic faith (which is what the word Catholic means <the totality of the Christian faith>).

No one but the Lord, Himself and individual Protestant faith-believers can know whether the [Protestant] is truly seeking to know the totality of the Christian faith.

If anyone on the face of the Earth senses an inner call to discover more about the Catholic faith, yet rejects that inner call knowingly, coming from the Holy Spirit, they can't be saved.

From CCC 846

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches 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, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 14 cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5

I've dealt with this issue a lot in the past and one of the biggest problems people run into is they take one or two sentences out of the whole context of the Church's teachings to defend their personal view of salvation, and omit portions like the one above which I have mentioned.

One has to read the whole chapter in context to understand what the Church teaches.


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