The sudden death of Tony Palmer–the friend of Pope Francis–has raised the question whether he could be saved even though he never converted to the Catholic faith.
Some Catholics would shake their head sadly and quote the famous phrase, Extra Ecclesiam nulls salus- Outside the Church, No Salvation.
Does this mean that everyone who is not a Catholic will go to hell?
Let’s think it through.
First of all, apart from canonizations, nobody, not even the pope can make the call on whether a particular person is in heaven or hell.
We agree that there is no salvation outside the church, but the discussion gets interesting when we ask “What is the Church?”
Dominus Iesus – the document published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2000 clarifies that the Church is coterminous with Christ himself.
The Lord Jesus, the only Saviour, did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him (cf. Jn 15:1ff.; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:15-16; Acts 9:5). Therefore, the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery belongs also to the Church, inseparably united to her Lord. Indeed, Jesus Christ continues his presence and his work of salvation in the Church and by means of the Church (cf. Col 1:24-27),47 which is his body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13, 27; Col 1:18).48 And thus, just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute a single “whole Christ”.49 This same inseparability is also expressed in the New Testament by the analogy of the Church as the Bride of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-29; Rev 21:2,9).50
Therefore to be united to Christ must include being united with his Church. You cannot be “in Christ” without being “in the Church.”
Furthermore, to be a Catholic one has to believe and trust that the Catholic Church is that same Church founded by Christ himself.
The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession53 — between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church: “This is the single Church of Christ… which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (cf. Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other Apostles to extend and rule her (cf. Mt 28:18ff.), erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’ (1 Tim3:15).
The Church teaches that Christ’s Church “subsists” in the Catholic Church. What does this mean?
This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him”.54 With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”,55 that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church.56 But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.57
Therefore there are other “churches” and “ecclesial communities” within which are found “elements of sanctification and truth”. What is another “church”?
The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches.59 Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.60
This is where it gets more interesting. Is Tony Palmer’s CEEC (Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches) one of these “true particular churches”? Continue Reading