No Salvation Outside the Church?

Is the CEEC a “particular true church”? We recognize the Eastern Orthodox as such, but does CEEC maintain apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist?

Their very interesting history recorded here tells how a group of Evangelicals grew towards a Catholic understanding of the church and after they elected bishops made sure that they were in the line of apostolic succession through the Old Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches–both groups which Rome recognizes as having valid orders. Therefore is the CEEC one of those “true particular churches”? Was Tony Palmer a “true Bishop” on a par with Eastern Orthodox bishops?  It’s arguable.

As an interesting sideline, my friend Graham Leonard–the former Anglican Bishop of London recounts his conversation with the then Cardinal Ratzinger. Bishop Leonard explained how he had been careful to be consecrated bishop through the Old Catholic Succession and the Eastern Orthodox succession. When he asked Cardinal Ratzinger about the validity of his orders Ratzinger smiled and said, “I won’t say that you are not a bishop.”  Reflecting this conversation, Bishop Leonard went on to be ordained as a Catholic priest, but was ordained conditionally.

Dominus Iesus goes on to clarify that we cannot believe that the Church is simply a collection of various independent bodies all under a large umbrella called “Christian Church” and conclude that it doesn’t matter which one you belong to. No. The fullness of Christ’s Church resides in the Catholic Church and the other “true particular churches” and “ecclesial communities” are not only defective, but what good they have is derived from the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the goodness and truth that are in those churches can bring individuals to salvation:

Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been 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 Catholic Church”.66

The key phrase here is “the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation.”

To summarize: it is true that there is no salvation outside the church. However, the Spirit uses those “true particular churches” and “ecclesial communities” which are defective as a means of salvation. Because what goodness and truth they have is derived from the Catholic Church they may be regarded as real, but defective extensions of the boundaries of the Church. As the Catechism says of our separated brethren,

All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.”272

 “Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth”273 are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.”274 Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him,275 and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity.”

The last line is very interesting…the good things that exist in the non-Catholic churches are themselves “a call to Catholic unity” In other words, the goodness, truth and beauty in non-Catholic Christians will give witness because they too will have a genuine longing for full communion with Christ’s church and be moving in that direction.

Does that mean Tony Palmer and other separated brethren are definitely saved? We don’t make that call for anybody. We can see that Tony Palmer was a good man, a zealous disciple of Jesus Christ, an enthusiastic worker for the Kingdom. His associates and friends speak of his holiness and love for God.

Does the church’s teaching mean that he and others like him are saved?

It means they may be saved by the Spirit’s work through the churches and ecclesial communities that are not in full communion. We therefore leave them in God’s merciful hands and pray for the repose of their soul just like we would anyone else.

Does that mean we shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh well, I guess it’s okay for all non-Catholics to stay where they are”? No. From the position of the fullness of communion we are called always to mission. So from the CCC:

Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be ‘the universal sacrament of salvation,’ the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel to all men”:339 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and Lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age.”

How we do that is another matter for another day.


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