Can Non-Christians Be Saved?

Four questions routinely arise about the Church’s view of the possibility of salvation for those outside of Her ranks:

  1. Is Baptism necessary for salvation?
  2. Are all of the non-baptized damned?
  3. If the non-baptized can be saved, why share the Gospel?
  4. Has the Catholic Church changed her answer to these prior three questions?

To understand how the Church can simultaneously hold that Baptism is necessary for salvation and that those can be saved who have never been Baptized, we’ve got to consider two things: how to get to Heaven, and how to get to Hell.

Gyula Benczúr, The Baptism of Vajk (1875)
Gyula Benczúr, The Baptism of Vajk (1875)

I. The Necessity of Baptism

Scripture is surprisingly clear on the role of Baptism in salvation. I say “surprisingly,” because its witness is contradicted by a great many Christians, particularly Evangelicals.

Evangelicalism holds that faith alone is necessary for salvation, but holds it in a way that can be summarized as: “He who believes will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” In contrast, Jesus Christ explicitly gives two conditions for salvation: belief and baptism. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). There’s just no getting around those three extra words, and the fact that the Evangelical position ignores that explicit condition for salvation shows it to be in error.

Nor is this a one-off instance of Scripture mentioning the role of Baptism in bringing about salvation. Rather it’s seen time and time again. It’s why, after describing Noah’s Ark, St. Peter says (1 Peter 3:21-22):

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

And this is also why, after laying hands on St. Paul and healing him (cf. Acts 9:17-19), Ananias still says to him, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Recall that Paul already believes at this point, yet Ananias still describes Baptism as necessary to remove his sins.

St. Paul understood this point, which is why he taught that Christ saves us “by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7). Rather than pitting salvation by grace against salvation through Baptism, Paul describes salvation by grace through baptism.

Here, a quick aside about the Evangelical position. Catholics are often baffled by the Baptist obsession with the precise form of Baptism. For example, you get people like John Piper defending why “our church and our denomination make baptism by immersion a defining part of membership in the local covenant community (but not in the universal body of Christ).” He explains, “Should we call a manmade method of baptism “baptism,” if we believe on good evidence that it departs from the form that Christ inaugurated? Would this not run the risk of minimizing the significance that Christ himself invested in the ordinance?” On face, this is bizarre. He thinks Baptism doesn’t actually do anything, and yet he and his church refuse to accept Christians into their church who were baptized by sprinkling, but didn’t have their entire body go underwater. This, despite the fact that the first-century Christians permitted Baptism by sprinkling, as we read in Chapter 7 of The Didache.

Piper’s position isn’t so strange upon closer examination. In treating Baptism, not as a Sacrament by which God saves us, but as an ordinance that we do for God, they end up treating it legalistically. Baptist Distinctives acknowledges that “Because baptism and the Lord’s Supper are symbolic, the use of the proper symbols is important.” That’s it exactly: because they think it’s only symbolic, and can’t figure out any other role that Baptism might play for the Christian, there ends up being a legalistic obsession with getting the symbol just right. They realize that Christ and the Apostles spend a lot of time talking about Baptism, but their theology doesn’t leave an important place for Baptism. Obsessing over ritualistic details serves to fill that void, albeit in the worst way possible. In Titus 3:5-7, Paul offers the correct solution to this problem: Christ saves us by grace, but He does so through Baptism.

The necessity of baptism for salvation also explains the dramatic ending to St. Peter’s Pentecost sermon, in which his listeners ask how to be saved, and he tells them faith and baptism (Acts 2:37-41):

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Okay, so Scripture clearly (and repeatedly) teaches that Baptism is necessary for salvation. But what do we make of those who aren’t baptized? For example, what about the Gentiles before Christ, or the Native Americans after, who didn’t have Baptism and didn’t know the name of Jesus? For that matter, what about the Old Testament faithful? They had some Scriptures, they had the Mosaic covenant, but they didn’t have Baptism, and didn’t know the name of Jesus. Or what about the thief on the Cross, who knew the name of Jesus, but didn’t know about (and was too incapacitated to receive) Baptism?

From the Danse Macabre (Dance of Death) of the Dominican cemetery of Bern‎, Germany
From the Danse Macabre (Dance of Death) of the Dominican cemetery of Bern‎, Germany

II. The Three Elements of Mortal Sin

In addition to providing a roadmap to Heaven, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us how to go to hell (CCC 1857),: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.” So to go to Hell, you need to have done (or omitted) something grave, done so knowingly, and done so intentionally. Is this teaching Biblical? Indeed, it is. What’s more, it’s also perfectly reasonable.

These days, it’s common to hear people, particularly Evangelical Protestants, talk about how all sins are equally bad in God’s eyes. That’s unbiblical nonsense, and I’m happy to see that many Protestants are pushing back against it. Usually, the people claiming this are basing this idea off of half of Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” From this fragment has derived the idea that (1) all sin is mortal, so a single sin (whether a white lie or a genocide) leads to damnation, (2) therefore all sins are punished equally, and (3) therefore all sins are equally bad in God’s eyes. None of those conclusions logically derive from Romans 6:23, nor from one another. The first of them is actually explicitly repudiated by 1 John 5:16-17, in which St. John clarifies that not every sin is mortal (deadly):

If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.

That last line — that there is a type of wrongdoing that’s a sin, but not a mortal sin — is a direct repudiation of the assumption that Romans 6:23 is calling every sin mortal. Or to put it all another way: for a sin to be the type of sin that sends you to hell, it has to be gravely serious. CCC 1855 describes the distinction this way:

Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

But it’s not enough for the act in question to be grave. You also need knowledge. If you’re innocently unaware of a moral duty or prohibition, you’re not punished, or at least punished lightly, for violating it. This is why Christ’s prayer from the Cross is “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). It’s also why St. Paul is gentle in rebuking the Greeks for their idolatry (Acts 17:29-31):

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.

And it’s why Christ concludes one of His parables by saying that those whose sin is rooted in ignorance will be punished less harshly than those who disobeyed knowingly (Luke 12:47-48):

And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.

All of this debunks that whole “all sins are punished equally” thing, but it also shows that knowledge is an important element in the severity of a sin. And of course, that makes complete sense. If you give a peanut butter sandwich to a kid with a peanut allergy, it matters whether or not you knew he had a peanut allergy.

Finally, you need consent. The Mosaic Law recognized this from the start, distinguishing between adulteresses and rape victims (Deuteronomy 22:25-27):

But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But to the young woman you shall do nothing; in the young woman there is no offense punishable by death, for this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor; because he came upon her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

The woman isn’t punished at all, because she didn’t do anything wrong. She had knowledge of the gravity of the offense being done to her, but didn’t consent to it. That’s an extreme, and obvious case. Other factors include things ranging from sleep to mental illness to torture.

Of the three factors we’ve discussed, only one of them (the gravity of the act) can be known by us. The degree to which another person knew and consented to their bad acts is known only to God (CCC 1861):

Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

Mark Antokolski Death of Socrates, 1875
Mark Antokolski, Death of Socrates (1875)

III. Mortal Sin and the Unbaptized

It’s time now to tie this discussion of the elements of mortal sin to the salvation of the unbaptized. Heresy and apostasy are grave matter. But as St. Paul acknowledged to the Greeks in Acts 17, the severity of these sins is diminished (perhaps even eliminated) when there’s an innocent lack of knowledge. There’s a world of difference between the person who doesn’t call upon Jesus out of pride, and the one who doesn’t because he doesn’t know that sweet Name.

Thus, the early Christians were quick to claim those who would have been baptized had they had the chance. For example, St. Justin Martyr writing in the First Apology, c. 160 A.D., explains how both the Old Testament faithful Jews and the pre-Christian Greeks could be saved by Christ:

And when Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring these things to light, and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that he was introducing new divinities; and in our case they display a similar activity. For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue.

Notice the distinction Justin makes in talking about those Gentiles who “lived without reason.” That’s key: how do you respond to the revelation that you’ve been given? People often ask what to make of those who’ve never heard the Gospel. In Romans 10:18, St. Paul denies that such people exist. The Church’s consistent stand has always been that (a) everybody receives some revelation — natural law, conscience, creation, etc.; (b) it’s possible to be saved with even a very tiny amount of revelation, due to the workings of grace; and (c) the more you have to work with, the more likely you are to respond to it, and actually be saved. That’s why we evangelize. We want to give people the tools needed to be saved, and to open as many conduits through which the Holy Spirit can work. Assuming that because a person is ignorant of part of the Gospel that they’re therefore better off is an insult to the Gospel.

So yes, Baptism is necessary for salvation, but refusal to be baptized is only a mortal sin if the refusal is knowing and willing. Those who aren’t baptized through no fault of their own — be it through inculpable ignorance, or the inability to be baptized, as in the case of the death of catechumens, etc. — are not damned for something outside of their own control. And this isn’t some new Vatican II insight, but can be found amongst the earliest of Church Fathers.

28 Comments

  1. “Is Baptism necessary for salvation?”

    Baptism by the Spirit, yes. Catholicism has never taught that unbaptized, faithful people are not saved. Too many martyrs were baptized by blood to say otherwise.

    “Are all of the non-baptized damned?”

    Yes.

    “If the non-baptized can be saved, why share the Gospel?”

    Because maybe they’ll decide to get baptized afterwards 🙂

    “Evangelicalism holds that faith alone is necessary for salvation, but holds it in a way that can be summarized as: “He who believes will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” In contrast, Jesus Christ explicitly gives twoconditions for salvation: belief and baptism. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). There’s just no getting around those three extra words, and the fact that the Evangelical position ignores that explicit condition for salvation shows it to be in error.”

    Yet, by the standards of your own religion you misunderstand the verse. I repeat, Catholicism does not teach that only those baptized by water are saved, and Catholicism acknowledges baptism by blood and baptism by desire. So, to read into the verse something that shows a work, on top of faith is needed for salvation would in effect Catholic teachings on baptism by blood/desire, which would throw Catholic teaching into contradiction.

    “This, despite the fact that the first-century Christians permitted Baptism by sprinkling, as we read in Chapter 7 of The Didache.”

    Yet, if you read the Didache, in chapter 7 it speaks of pouring water in the event there is not enough. Clearly, sprinkling is not in mind and if pouring is the alternative due to the lack of water, what’s the alternative? Obviously immersion. Look at ancient Catholic baptisteries. They are deep enough to immerse people for a reason. Even Dante relates a story of breaking open a baptistery to save an infant that FELL IN AND WAS DROWNING. Why build a baptistery that is no good for baptizing adults but too big for babies so that it would drown them if baptism was simply by sprinkling? It doesn’t make sense.

    I ironically made a video about baptism in church history this morning about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EoU_UfdHjU

    “So to go to Hell, you need to have done (or omitted) something grave, done so knowingly, and done so intentionally. ”

    Which is everyone for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

    Here’s a list of mortal sins that both you and I probably committed several times today:

    “greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1:29-32).

    If men that have never even heard of the Law according to Paul KNOW “that those who practice such things are worthy of death” shows that there is no man who has an excuse: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).

    I mean no disrespect, but you fundamentally misunderstand Rom 1:20. Everyone is going to hell if they don’t know Christ. You can quote Origen or Justin Martyr speculating about righteous proto-christian philosophers and such, but this ignores the later teaching of Augustine and Propser of Aquataine that ALL of the unbaptized are damned.

    The original sin is “mortal enough” to do everyone in apart from the work of Christ on the cross on behalf of those who have placed their faith in Him.

    1. Hi Craig

      ““Is Baptism necessary for salvation?”
      Baptism by the Spirit, yes. Catholicism has never taught that unbaptized, faithful people are not saved. Too many martyrs were baptized by blood to say otherwise”

      Baptism does not mean what you think it means. It never has, and never will. Scripture does not teach that baptism and water are separate. Baptism is baptism. Baptism is clearly interconnected with water. When someone disconnects it, it becomes unscriptural. Where in scripture does it say baptism ….by the Spirit only? Actually in scripture it says otherwise.

      John 3:5
      5 Jesus answered: Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost (Spirit), he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
      Immediately after this conversation, Jesus and the apostles go and start baptizing many people.
      Acts 19:3-6
      2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”  3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.

      1 Peter 3:20-21
      in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

      It’s actually so clear I am surprised that it’s even an issue.

      You say, “Yet, by the standards of your own religion you misunderstand the verse. I repeat, Catholicism does not teach that only those baptized by water are saved, and Catholicism acknowledges baptism by blood and baptism by desire. So, to read into the verse something that shows a work, on top of faith is needed for salvation would in effect Catholic teachings on baptism by blood/desire, which would throw Catholic teaching into contradiction.

      This is not so. What it shows is that Christ establishes the Sacraments and works through them, but He is not limited by them and constrained to them. Furthermore, it syncs perfectly with the rest of the bible, which faith alone, is so far from being able to do.

      You say, “Yet, if you read the Didache, in chapter 7 it speaks of pouring water in the event there is not enough. Clearly, sprinkling is not in mind and if pouring is the alternative due to the lack of water, what’s the alternative? Obviously immersion. Look at ancient Catholic baptisteries. They are deep enough to immerse people for a reason. Even Dante relates a story of breaking open a baptistery to save an infant that FELL IN AND WAS DROWNING. Why build a baptistery that is no good for baptizing adults but too big for babies so that it would drown them if baptism was simply by sprinkling? It doesn’t make sense.”

      This is the type of legalism that Jesus continually condemns with the Pharisees. It doesn’t matter whether by immersion, pouring or sprinkling. It’s get the job done. And if you read the Didache, the writing tone is just that. Get the baptism done. Furthermore, who said a smaller font is no good for baptizing adults? They obviously realized it was just unnecessary. Maybe some folks prefer immersion, no where are we told that it has to be immersion.

      7:2 But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, then in warm.

      7:3 If you have very little, pour water three times on the head in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

      Sprinkling is clearly acceptable according to scripture.

      Ezekiel 36:24-28
      24 For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

      Hebrews 10:22
      22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

      You say, “I mean no disrespect, but you fundamentally misunderstand Rom 1:20. Everyone is going to hell if they don’t know Christ. You can quote Origen or Justin Martyr speculating about righteous proto-christian philosophers and such, but this ignores the later teaching of Augustine and Propser of Aquataine that ALL of the unbaptized are damned.
      The original sin is “mortal enough” to do everyone in apart from the work of Christ on the cross on behalf of those who have placed their faith in Him.”
      Hence, baptism of blood and desire fit perfectly in these scenarios where there is not an opportunity for baptism.

      God bless

      1. “Scripture does not teach that baptism and water are separate. Baptism is baptism. Baptism is clearly interconnected with water. When someone disconnects it, it becomes unscriptural. Where in scripture does it say baptism ….by the Spirit only?”

        First, you yourself wrote, “Hence, baptism of blood and desire fit perfectly in these scenarios where there is not an opportunity for baptism.” Here, the Spirit alone suffices. Second, the Scripture says, “I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). So, the normative sacrament involves water, but by your own admission it does not in every circumstance. Why? Because the Holy SPirit is what really baptizes, if the Holy Spirit does not join the waters the waters do nothing. I think you are trying to have it both ways by saying that water baptism is essential for salvation, yet at the same time teach the doctrines of baptism by blood/desire. I don’t think for all logical purposes you can do this, as this is a contradiction. Let it be known that I am not saying that Christians should not get baptized. In fact, any espousing CHristian who understanding it is God’s will to be baptized, and does not, is not saved. However, baptism is not required in all circumstances for someone to be saved. That is my point.

        “Christ establishes the Sacraments and works through them, but He is not limited by them and constrained to them.”

        The sacrament may be received before actually attaining to the physical sacrament, because of the work of the Holy Spirit. Aquinas writes: “And it has been said above (Question 68, Article 2), that before receiving a sacrament, the reality of the sacrament can be had through the very desire of receiving the sacrament. Accordingly, before actual reception of this sacrament, a man can obtain salvation through the desire of receiving it, just as he can before Baptism through the desire of Baptism, as stated above (Question 68, Article 2)” (Summa Theologica > Third Part > Question 73 >Article 3).

        “This is the type of legalism that Jesus continually condemns with the Pharisees. It doesn’t matter whether by immersion, pouring or sprinkling. It’s get the job done.”

        Good, I’m not here to argue that one mode is absolutely essential. I am just saying the immersion was the dominant mode for most of Christian history. Aquinas wrote, “[T]herefore, although it is safer to baptize by immersion, because this is the more ordinary fashion, yet Baptism can be conferred by sprinkling or also by pouring” Summa Theologica > Third Part > Question 66 > Article 7).

        God bless,
        Craig

  2. Augustine clearly says infants are damned if unbaptized:

    “Well, this opponent of mine was unable to discover the justice of God’s doing this, especially in consequence of the eternal damnation of infants who die without the remission of original sin by baptism; and his inability was equally great in finding out why the good and righteous God both bound the souls of infants, who He foresaw would derive no advantage from the sacrament of Christian grace, with the chain of original sin, by sending them into the body which they derive from Adam,—the souls themselves being free from all taint of propagation,—and by this means also made them amenable to eternal damnation” (A Treatise on the Soul and its Origin, Book 2, Chap 18).

    Prosper says unbaptized are “lost:”

    But for infants who lack altogether the merit of a
    will to do good and who, just like all other mortals, are
    wounded with original sin, they can offer no explanation
    whatever. Why are some of them regenerated in baptism
    and saved, while others fail to be reborn and are lost (Call Of the Nations, Book I, Chap 22)?

    Prosper says unbaptized “suffer harm:”

    For instance, let us reflect on this. Among pagans,
    among Jews, among heretics, and among Catholic Chris-
    tians also, how large a number of children die who man-
    ifestly, as far as their own wills go, have done neither
    good nor evil! But we are told that on them weighs the
    sentence which the human race received for the sin of
    Adam, our first father. And the rigour of this sentence,
    which is not relaxed even for children, proves only how
    grave that sin was. Were children not to suffer harm
    from their privation of baptism, then also we would
    no longer believe that no one is born in innocence (Book 2, Chapter 21).

    Aquinas wrote:

    “Consequently it became necessary to baptize children, that, as in birth they incurred damnation through Adam so in a second birth they might obtain salvation through Christ” (Summa Theologica > Third Part > Question 68 > Article 9).

    My point in quoting the above is to show that apart from baptism by the Holy Spirit, here taught by all these men as accessible in the sacrament meted out by the Catholic Church, there can be no avoiding damnation. Any teaching that unreached peoples or whatnot are somehow exempt clearly throws what these men said into contradiction.

    1. Craig,

      So you are saying that in the case of the Native American people that lived before the missionaries reached them God created them just to be damned? Wouldn’t this fly in the face that God wills all men to be saved?

      And to your point about the views that some of the Catholic saints held, are they infallible?

      1. Yes. As were all the Cambodians from my wife’s country that never heard of Christ. In fact, when I visited her grandmother in the countryside and we told her about Christ, she never heard the name before. I suppose by your standards, we just damned her because before she had ignorance as an excuse but now that we told her the good news and she rejected it, it was really bad news the whole time. We should have just let her be.

        Far be it from the Gospel to be a means of damning those who have heard it. All are damned because all have turned aside and rejected God. God is gracious and gives all men the opportunity to repent and put their faith in His Son.

        For a more specific answer concerning your point on how God desires all men to repent, I wrote about that here: http://christianreformedtheology.com/2014/11/19/god-desires-all-to-repent-but-wills-that-not-all-do/

        1. Craig, you have wrote that:

          “God is gracious and gives all men the opportunity to repent and put their faith in His Son.”

          This flies in the face of what you have said. You have stated that a 2nd century Native American Indian who never even had the OPPORTUNITY to hear the gospel and put their faith in Jesus was damned. How has God given them the opportunity?

          A.) God desires the salvation of all men. (1 Timothy)

          B.) Over the centuries many people were never given the opportunity to hear the Word of God as proclaimed in the gospels.

          C.) You state that the people of category B are wholly damned.

          D.) If C is true, than you have made A false. If God desires the salvation of all, then He would give all the oopportunity to hear His Son’s words. The people of B have not been given the opportunity to accept or reject Jesus.

          Since A is inspired scripture, one must reject C. They may be damned, but not for the reasons you give.

          1. “This flies in the face of what you have said. You have stated that a 2nd century Native American Indian who never even had the OPPORTUNITY to hear the gospel and put their faith in Jesus was damned.”

            He sure will, because he did not repent. What is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse

            “How has God given them the opportunity?”

            Yeah, what is known about God is evident within them.

            “A.) God desires the salvation of all men. (1 Timothy)”

            Sure does. He also willingly blinds people s that they will not repent John 12:39-40.

            “B.) Over the centuries many people were never given the opportunity to hear the Word of God as proclaimed in the gospels.”

            Because God’s wrath was upon them for their sins.

            “C.) You state that the people of category B are wholly damned.”

            For the reason I just gave.

            “D.) If C is true, than you have made A false.”

            Wrong. God has two desires. He desires to punish sin, and He also desires to show pity and grace. This is not a contradiction. A parent may desire to discipline their child, but at the same time never want their child to see pain. The desire that wins out is the desire which is the higher priority. This is everyday life, we in the image of God do it all the time. I see no contradiction in God doing the same. How many times did He threaten to just destroy all of Israel, but also relent? Obviously, He desired both but in accordance with His own counsel decided to be gracious to a certain extent.

            I think you are making a logical error, one that I disproved in my article here: http://christianreformedtheology.com/2014/11/19/god-desires-all-to-repent-but-wills-that-not-all-do/

            “If God desires the salvation of all, then He would give all the oopportunity to hear His Son’s words. ”

            Being that I already disproved your logic, let me turn the tables on you. Is God so powerless that He cannot raise up more missionaries? Or send more dreams in the minds of unreached people to directly reveal Himself? Or use angels to pick up missionaries and help them move more quickly and efficiently?

            ALl these things are in His power and He does not do them. Obviously the only conclusion we can draw is that God does not unconditionally want to do everything He can to save everyone.

            God bless,
            Craig

      2. Not a problem….all of those Native Americans were actually from the Middle East and were mostly Jews….Just ask Joseph Smith or any Mormon! /s

  3. “And so, in God’s hidden counsel, He desires both mercy to all and yet accountability for all. He is gracious to some in so that though they are accountable, He may exercise His mercy. He holds others accountable, as it is not acceptable to Him that no one may be held accountable for his or her own sin.”

    So God will hold to the same standard of accountability the Native American Indian living in the second century who was not given the gospel, as he does lets say an early Roman who heard but rejected the gospel? Seems to fly in the face of Jn. 22

    If I had not come and spoken* to them, they WOULD HAVE NO SIN; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin.
    23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father.
    24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would NOT have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father.

    So you believe like some Mormons that Jesus secretly visited North America?

    1. “So God will hold to the same standard of accountability the Native American Indian living in the second century who was not given the gospel, as he does lets say an early Roman who heard but rejected the gospel? ”

      Yes.

      “If I had not come and spoken* to them, they WOULD HAVE NO SIN; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin”

      Christ here is talking about the specific sin of denying His works. Christ speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah having it better during the judgment than Capernum…Not because Sodom and Gomorrah get off the hook or anything. It is just they weren’t guilty of the specific sins of denying Christ to His face.

      “So you believe like some Mormons that Jesus secretly visited North America?”

      No. I just take Rom 3:23 seriously and do not teach the heresy that preaching the Gospel to people that never heard it before actually puts them at risk of something they were otherwise not at risk to suffer.

  4. I will pedantically observe that “full knowledge” is not in fact required if you are in some states of vincible ignorance — supine ignorance, where you made no effort at all to inform yourself, or worse, affected ignorance, where you positively avoided knowledge.

  5. Craig,

    I’m curious about your Cambodian example. I want to look at two aspects:

    1) The possibility of Absolute Ignorance. You say, “I suppose by your standards, we just damned her because before she had ignorance as an excuse but now that we told her the good news and she rejected it, it was really bad news the whole time. We should have just let her be.” That’s certainly not my argument. I deny the whole premise that she, or anyone, could be absolutely in ignorance:

    “People often ask what to make of those who’ve never heard the Gospel. In Romans 10:18, St. Paul denies that such people exist. The Church’s consistent stand has always been that (a) everybody receives some revelation — natural law, conscience, creation, etc.; (b) it’s possible to be saved with even a very tiny amount of revelation, due to the workings of grace; and (c) the more you have to work with, the more likely you are to respond to it, and actually be saved. That’s why we evangelize. We want to give people the tools needed to be saved, and to open as many conduits through which the Holy Spirit can work. Assuming that because a person is ignorant of part of the Gospel that they’re therefore better off is an insult to the Gospel.”

    Do you agree with (a), (b), and (c)?

    2) Cambodia before and after the Incarnation: Consider Cambodians living and dying in 50 B.C. Obviously, they’ve never heard of Jesus Christ: no one has. Does that mean that they’re all damned? By this same logic, would Jews living in 50 B.C. be damned? Would Cambodians holding identical beliefs living in 50 A.D. be damned?

    I.X.,

    Joe

    1. [quote]1) The possibility of Absolute Ignorance. You say, “I suppose by your [Duane’s] standards, we just damned her because before she had ignorance as an excuse but now that we told her the good news and she rejected it, it was really bad news the whole time. We should have just let her be.” That’s certainly not my argument. I deny the whole premise that she, or anyone, could be absolutely in ignorance:[/quote]

      People cut off from land and sea, living in a culture that has never heard of Christianity, live in ignorance of Christ’s name. I do not think it is absolute ignorance, as God’s wrath against man is made clear by His creation (Rom 1:20).

      [quote]People often ask what to make of those who’ve never heard the Gospel. In Romans 10:18, St. Paul denies that such people exist. [/quote]

      To be fair, Paul in Rom 10 is speaking specifically to the nation of Israel, as does the part of the Old Testament he is quoting. I used to read it just like you there, but I recently did a pretty intense study of Romans using Chrysostom and Aquinas, and on exegetical grounds I would have to disagree. However, I do not think this one verse is the basis of our disagreement so let’s move along.

      “Do you agree with (a), (b), and (c)?”

      Essentially yes, I would affirm all three.

      “2) Cambodia before and after the Incarnation: Consider Cambodians living and dying in 50 B.C. Obviously, they’ve never heard of Jesus Christ: no one has. Does that mean that they’re all damned?”

      Yes, just like all the unbaptized. Is there the possibility a few here and there were saved by direct revelations from God via dreams and such? Perhaps. But, I cannot take possible exceptions and make that paint my entire answer to the question.

      “By this same logic, would Jews living in 50 B.C. be damned?”

      No, because they knew Jehovah, who is Jesus, they just did not call upon His actual name (which neither do we, because we use a translation!) So, I don’t think GOd is a stickler over pronounciation or even names. God saved those who when seeing their own sin in light of the Law repented of it and placed their faith in God that He would forgive them. Jesus said Abraham saw His day and was glad. So, Jews in 50BC would be the same.

      “Would Cambodians holding identical beliefs living in 50 A.D. be damned?”

      They were damned before, and they were damned after.

      I take the view which I think is Bibilically consistent and is the underpinning of the doctrines of Augustine and Prosper of Aqunataine. THey had no problem understanding that there is going to be an ocean of damned people, for we all fall short of the glory of God. Once we understand that, we no longer wonder why God “allows” so many people to be damned, but rather why he allows so many people that should be damned to be saved.

      I have a question for you. On what basis, in your mind, is an unreached person saved? Faith in what? What kind of works?

    2. Craig,

      You say that Cambodians, “just like all the unbaptized,” were damned. But then you said that the pre-Christians Jews weren’t, ” because they knew Jehovah, who is Jesus, they just did not call upon His actual name (which neither do we, because we use a translation!).”

      I don’t see how your argument against Cambodians wouldn’t work against Jews, or how your argument for Jews wouldn’t work for Cambodians.

      Obviously, because they didn’t get the special revelation of the Old Testament, the Cambodians don’t have those particular “oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). But I understood your position to be that Old Testament revelation wasn’t salvific, except inasmuch as it points towards the New Covenant. And if that’s the case, why wouldn’t we say that same thing about general revelation, of the kind that everyone has?

      After all, Colossians 1:21-23 specifically says that the Gospel of salvation has been preached to every single person on Earth:

      “And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

      Paul can’t be talking just about special revelation, since that statement wouldn’t be remotely true of the spread of the New (or Old!) Testament at the time he’s writing. Instead, he seems to be saying the very thing you’re denying that he’s saying in Romans 10. But let’s turn to that.

      You said: “To be fair, Paul in Rom 10 is speaking specifically to the nation of Israel, as does the part of the Old Testament he is quoting. ” The part of the Old Testament he’s quoting is about how Creation gives glory to God. It’s Psalm 19:1-4,

      “The heavens are telling the glory of God;
      and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
      Day to day pours forth speech,
      and night to night declares knowledge.
      There is no speech, nor are there words;
      their voice is not heard;
      yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
      and their words to the end of the world.”

      I don’t know how to read that (or Romans 10) to mean that Israel alone has access to this witness to God.

      1. “You say that Cambodians, “just like all the unbaptized,” were damned. But then you said that the pre-Christians Jews weren’t, ” because they knew Jehovah, who is Jesus, they just did not call upon His actual name (which neither do we, because we use a translation!).”

        Baptism was not expected from pre-Christian Jews, but faith in Jesus (i.e. Jehovah) is. General revelation is not sufficient to tell people the savior. Special revelation (i.e. Scripture, prophets, dreams or angels from God, etc.) is. This is why when all the unbaptized die damnation is the default, as the unbaptized have no faith in Christ, which is essential for salvation.

        “But I understood your position to be that Old Testament revelation wasn’t salvific, except inasmuch as it points towards the New Covenant.”

        This is my position, actually.

        “And if that’s the case, why wouldn’t we say that same thing about general revelation, of the kind that everyone has?”

        General revelation does not reveal the Savior. It specifically reveals God’s wrath against Lawbreakers, even if it is the Natural Law (in the words of Augustine) and not the Mosaic Law.

        “After all, Colossians 1:21-23 specifically says that the Gospel of salvation has been preached to every single person on Earth:

        “And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him,provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.””

        THis is a solid point, but allow me to offer a counterpoint. The word you have translated as “creature’ is usually translated as “creation” (http://biblehub.com/greek/ktisei_2937.htm). I think this is a reference to Col 2:15 which states, “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” Hence, “the gospel” being “preached to all creation” was the public display of Christ’s victory over death. Augustine and Prosper of Aquataine wrote specifically that there are still men that have not heard Christ. Christ told the disciples to preach to all of creation. So, I think these things are suggestive, though they do not definitively prove, that the exegesis I am offering is consistent and traditionally understood by the church.

        Aquinas takes a different view, but appears to believe that the verse means the Gospel was preached to every kind of creature, specifically the elect: “And there is no excuse, because the Gospel has been preached; and he uses the past tense here instead of the future tense because this future event is so certain. The Gospel has been preached, by the apostles that is, to every creature under heaven, that is, to every new creature, that is, to the faithful, for whom it had been prepared.”

        “Instead, he seems to be saying the very thing you’re denying that he’s saying in Romans 10. But let’s turn to that.

        I don’t know how to read that (or Romans 10) to mean that Israel alone has access to this witness to God.”

        First, let me apologize as I was going by memory and forgot the OT text, I would agree with you when you quote Ps 19 it appears to prove your point and disprove mine. The following is my reasoning, which I am open to correction about:
        ___

        16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?”

        In verse 16, Paul is quoting Is 53:1 which states, “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Anticipating the discussion in Rom 11, Paul in verse 16 is referring to the hardening of Israel. In effect, Paul is saying, “The Jews have not believed because God has purposely not revealed Himself in their hearts.”

        This sounds like a stretch given the immediate context, which is simply discussing how much of ethnic Israel has rejected the faith. However, this same verse is quoted in John 12:38. There, John exegetes the verse: “For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted…’” (John 12:39-40). So, it is fitting in light of Rom 11:8-11 that when Paul here refers to Is 53:1 he is desiring that his audience keep in the back of their minds the exegesis offered by John.

        17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

        18 But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have;

        “Their voice has gone out into all the earth,

        And their words to the ends of the world.”

        Paul goes to show that the Jewish people are now without excuse. Isaiah reports that the Israelites disbelieved his report and the word of Christ indeed went out to the whole “world.” Obviously, Paul does not mean the planet Earth because in Rom 15 Paul speaks of going to Spain to preach the Gospel where it has never been preached. So, the citations of the Old Testament here are being cited to show that all the Jews throughout the world have heard of Christ, and so their rejection is not of ignorance but of outright defiance.
        ___

        My exegesis therefore revolves around who the “they” being referred to is in verse 18. It is specifically the Jews, the Jews that denied the report in verse 16. So, contextually, it does not appear that Paul is making the argument that everyone in creation was preached the Gospel, and this makes sense being that Rom 9-11 is specifically about the hardening of ethnic Israel.

        If you don’t mind, let me ask you, did I just do my grandmother a disservice by telling her the Gospel for the first time and having her reject it?

        God bless,
        Craig

        1. Joe, I just came across this again from Augustine. It speaks specifically of the issue of your post:

          Therefore the nature of the human race, generated from the flesh of the one transgressor, if it is self-sufficient for fulfilling the law and for perfecting righteousness, ought to be sure of its reward, that is, of everlasting life, even if in any nation or at any former time faith in the blood of Christ was unknown to it. For God is not so unjust as to defraud righteous persons of the reward of righteousness, because there has not been announced to them the mystery of Christ’s divinity and humanity, which was manifested in the flesh. 1 Timothy 3:16 For how could they believe what they had not heard of; or how could they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:14 For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. But I say (adds he): Have they not heard? Yea, verily; their sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. Romans 10:17-18 Before, however, all this had been accomplished, before the actual preaching of the gospel reaches the ends of all the earth— because there are some remote nations still (although it is said they are very few) to whom the preached gospel has not found its way—what must human nature do, or what has it done— for it had either not heard that all this was to take place, or has not yet learned that it was accomplished— but believe in God who made heaven and earth, by whom also it perceived by nature that it had been itself created, and lead a right life, and thus accomplish His will, uninstructed with any faith in the death and resurrection of Christ? Well, if this could have been done, or can still be done, then for my part I have to say what the apostle said in regard to the law: Then Christ died in vain. Galatians 2:21 For if he said this about the law, which only the nation of the Jews received, how much more justly may it be said of the LAW OF NATURE, which the whole human race has received, If righteousness come by nature, then Christ died in vain. If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by ANY MEANS be justified and redeemed from God’s most righteous wrath— in a word, from punishment— except by faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ (On Nature and Grace, Chapter 2).

  6. “He who believes will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” In contrast, Jesus Christ explicitly gives two conditions for salvation: belief and baptism. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). There’s just no getting around those three extra words, and the fact that the Evangelical position ignores that explicit condition for salvation shows it to be in error.
    Lionel:
    Those words were said in a particular community, a particular church which still exists today. There’s no way of getting around that ! – for evangelicals.

    Vatican Council says we really cannot have a reasonable hope that all men are saved : When did Fr.Barron say this ?
    http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.it/2015/07/vatican-council-says-we-really-cannot.html

    The Bible mentions Hell some 18 times. Jesus repeatedly tells us about Hell. How would Balthasar or any one else know otherwise
    http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.it/2015/07/the-bible-mentions-hell-some-18-times.html

    Firstly, they are theories.Secondly, being theories they are not exceptions to EENS
    http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.it/2015/07/firstly-they-are-theoriessecondly-being.html

  7. Joe,

    Your comments on the definition of mortal sin are clear and unambiguous, which leads to my question. Why, if a mortal sin “destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law”, does the Church teach that missing Mass on Sunday is a mortal sin? I’m certainly not excusing such behavior and readily agree it is (or at least can be) sinful, but it does not seem to meet the criteria you have described as being a grave violation that destroys charity.

    (I ask this as a Catholic who attends Mass not only on Sundays, but often on 2 or 3 weekdays as well.)

    1. Bob,
      I’ll be curious to see what Joe says, but perhaps it is based on our grave obligation to give God what is due to Him, and though we can’t when left to ourselves, we owe Him fitting worship. By not attending and participating in the holy sacrifice of the Mass we commit a sin of omission, which like commission, can and does destroy charity. Just my initial thought after reading your post.

      1. Perhaps I should have been more clear in my question. I’m not thinking of Catholics who simply don’t go to Mass at all, but (to make the issue as binary as possible) of a person who misses, say, a single Mass with no good excuse. How could that possibly be enough to damn a person?

        1. I don’t know if I have a satisfactory answer; but the fact that we ask these questions and struggle with the answers (myself included) today, I think highlights the state of society as severely underestimating the importance of worship. Missing Mass for no good reason is an explicit choice against God and the third commandment, and if one fails to seek the sacrament of Reconciliation sometime afterwards, the consequence of that decision remains in place. Going to Mass one hundred times after committing one mortal sin cannot restore the necessary grace, which points to the necessity and privilege of Confession.

  8. Joe,
    Good article as always. After I read the article and some of the comments I realized it might be helpful to flush out the difference between sacramental baptism and baptism of desire, the former not being necessary for salvation. The key to why baptism is necessary is the fact that without it we are incapable of sanctifying grace, which highlights the seriousness of original sin. However, desire (whether it be for the sacrament or the removal of original sin) is only an option once a certain age is reached, perhaps younger than seven, but certainly older than an infant. Now if the removal of original sin is necessary for salvation (which it is), and even though an infant is not culpable in the least, how is an unbaptized baby who dies free to enjoy the beatific vision? Obviously, one who carries no personal guilt will not suffer the fires of Hell, but does that automatically grant them eternal life in Heaven? You probably know where I’m going Joe, but what is your opinion on Limbo? Although we can hope in the mercy of God and entrust souls to His loving care, I believe Limbo exists and is precisely one of the reasons why we can say we hope in God’s love and mercy.

  9. There is a unanimous consent of the Early Church Fathers that explicit belief in Jesus Christ and the essential mysteries of Catholic faith to be saved after promulgation of the Gospel. Sure, you can believe in Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood, but all the Saints and Doctors of the Church who taught it (St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Alphonsus of Ligouri) refered BoD and BoB to people who had explicit belief in Christ and desired baptism, not those who were ignorant of Christianity.

    Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, Cantate Domino (1441):
    “The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes, and teaches, that none of those who are not within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but Jews, heretics and schismatics, can ever be partakers of eternal life, but are to go into the eternal fire ‘prepared for the devil, and his angels’ (Mt. 25:41)., unless before the close of their lives they shall have entered into that Church; also that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is such that the Church’s sacraments avail only those abiding in that Church, and that fasts, almsdeeds, and other works of piety which play their part in the Christian combat are in her alone productive of eternal rewards; moreover, that no one, no matter what alms he may have given, not even if he were to shed his blood for Christ’s sake, can be saved unless he abide in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.”

    Pope Pius XI, Mortalium Animos (1928)
    “Furthermore, in this one Church of Christ no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors.”

    We know from the dogmatic teaching that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church (extra ecclesiam nulla salus) – one of the best defined dogmas in Church history, repeated also by Clement V, Leo XII, Gregory XVI, Leo XIII and many other Popes. Pope Pius XI teaches, that you cannot be in the Church of Christ unless you accept, recognize and obey the Roman Pontiff. Thus, without submission to the Roman Pontiff one cannot be saved, as Pope Boniface VIII taught in Unam Sanctam – “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

    Also, I can’t think of anything in the Scripture that would support a possibility of salvation without belief in Christ after promulgation of the Gospel. Historically the teaching on salvation through invincible ignorance is a novelty which arose together with modernism which we currently see rampant in the Catholic Church and does not have base in the Magisterium nor ECF’s (perhaps apart from Origen’s universalism and teaching of Pope Pius IX which is often taken out of context – he never taught that invincible ignorance is salvific).

    Fr Wathen on EENS: “This dogma rules out the possibility of simple invincible ignorance concerning the matter of salvation; those who die in ignorance of the Church as the only course of salvific grace must be adjudged to have been culpably so. In a word, they did not know because they did not want to know.”
    We have to remember about God’s Providence – if anyone is of good will and sincerely seeks the truth God will lead him to it whatever means will be necessary. Thus, the teaching on salvation through invincible ignorance puts into doubt God’s providence.

    My main concern is that in post-Vatican II Church the notion of salvation though invincible ignorance in any religion is so rampant that it hurts evangelization and results in the events like Assisi I-III and other inter-religious prayer meetings, as well as constant emphasis on “elements of truth” in false religions rather than preaching the Gospel, or even blatant heresies like Karl Rahner’s concept of “Anonymous Christian”. How different it is from the approach of great 19th century Popes:
    Gregory XVI, Probe Nostis (1840):
    “We are thankful for the success of apostolic missions in America, the Indies, and other faithless lands. The indefatigable zeal of many apostolic men has led them abroad into those places.(…) They are inspired with a burning love and undeterred by rough roads and heavy toil. They search out those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death to summon them to the light and life of the Catholic Religion. So, fearless in the face of every danger, they bravely enter the woods and caves of savages, gradually pacify them by Christian kindness, and prepare them for true faith and real virtue. At length they snatch them from the devil’s rule, by the bath of regeneration and promote them to the freedom of God’s adopted sons.”

  10. May be worth noting that while someone completely ignorant of Christ and Baptism may not be damned on those grounds, they may be on other grounds. Among the unbaptized there may perhaps be a few who, by God’s grace, attained to such virtue that they never committed mortal sin with knowledge and consent, in which case they would presumably end up in a similar place to unbaptized babies, wherever that is (Limbo? The first Circle Dante traveled through? I dunno; Heaven seems to me a bit of a stretch, but I could be wrong). As for the rest, well, Romans 1 does say that men are without excuse; also from the writings of the unbaptized themselves: “I see the right way and approve it, but follow the wrong.” – Ovid, from the Metamorphoses.

    The situation is analogous to that of Protestants and other heretics as taught in the Baltimore Catechism, #3, Q.510-512, in which it is taught that they may be saved if they really don’t know that the Catholic Church is the true Church, really do follow the religion they do believe to be true, are validly baptized, and do not die in a state of mortal sin. The emphasis here on the necessity of valid baptism is one of the reasons Heaven seems to me a stretch, as I mentioned above, but more to the point:

    To die in a state of grace is a difficult thing even for a Catholic, with access to all the Sacraments and graces which God both directly and through His Servants has lavished on the Church. For a heretic, it is much more difficult, since they must not only be ignorant of the true Church (and not merely as the Pharisees were ignorant of Christ; see John 5), but also remain in a state of grace having subsistence in most cases to only two Sacraments, if that (given how many Catholic marriages are being declared null these days, the number of invalid heretical marriages must be even greater; and in many cases not even their Baptisms are valid!). Especially the lack of Confession makes this difficult, since perfect contrition is the only way for them to attain again to a state of grace after having committed mortal sin. For one who is not even baptized, who has not even heard, how much more difficult to avoid mortal sin? I will not say impossible, for God’s grace is infinite, and I am somewhat encouraged by the story of the mother of Fr. Hermann Cohen (though even that happened only after years of tears and prayers and Masses offered on her behalf by her son), but I cannot think but that very few have managed it.

    Thus God’s justice is not abridged by His damning men for that which they cannot help, nor is the need for missions work abrogated, since so few of the unbaptized will attain to such virtue, and even those may perhaps not wind up in Heaven even if they avoid Hell.

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