In Revelation, the inhabitants of heaven sing to Christ: “With your blood you purchased for God / those from every tribe and tongue, people and nations” (5:9). The Catholic church affirms this wideness of God’s mercy in Christ, embracing the whole world, desiring with him that “everyone … be saved and … come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4). Nevertheless, the Church also recognizes that the gift of salvation must be accepted to be effective, and human beings, having free will, may choose to reject or “ignore so great a salvation” (Heb 2:3).
The Church accept Christ’s declaration about himself: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to Father except through me” (jn 14:6). She also recalls his words to her that warn those who would turn away from her: “whoever rejects you reject me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Lk 10:16).
If Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, and the Church is his Body on earth, we can understand why the Church fathers often declared: “outside of the Church there is no salvation.” Or to put it another way: “All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body” (Catechism 846). Does this mean that only Catholics can be saved?
The Second Vatican Council made the following affirmations about the possibility of salvation for those outside the Catholic Church:
1. Those who know that God founded the Catholic Church through Christ as the necessary means to salvation, yet still refuse to enter it or remain in it, cannot be saved (see Lumen Gentium 14)
2. “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation” (Lumen Gentium 16, emphasis added)
3. “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men” (Ad Gentes 7).
The new American Bible Revised edition. NAB. Fireside Catholic Publishing, Wichita, Kansas.