The Roman Catholic Church's views of other faith groups
Recent documents: 1964 to 2000 CE
The Roman Catholic Church softened its previous stance of "Extra
Ecclesiam nulla salus." 1
That is, those persons who are outside of the Catholic church are destined to
spend eternity being tortured in Hell because they
cannot possible be saved.
Statements by Catholic leaders from the 6th to 15th century
CE) had confirmed this belief, and even named specific
religious groups who were excluded from salvation. For example, in 1442 CE, Pope Eugene IV issued "Cantate Domino"
"The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches
that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only
pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in
life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was
prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are
joined with Her.
Many people can recall statements made in the 1950s and earlier
by Catholics stating that all Protestants will go to Hell. These were
reciprocated by statements by Protestants that all Catholics will go to Hell.
As a result of the Second Vatican Council (a.k.a. Vatican II),
the Roman Catholic Church experienced a paradigm shift. Although the Catholic
church retains the belief that they alone represent the fullness of Christian
truth, they now teach that there are elements of truth in other
Christian faith groups and even in
other religions. Further, they teach that
theists in other faith group have a chance at
salvation and might attain Heaven after death.
Vatican II Document (1964):
From the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen
Gentium" (Light of the Nations):
14. This Sacred Council wishes to turn
its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon
Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now
sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ,
present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and
the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the
necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity
of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the
Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made
necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not
be saved. ..."
"16. ... those who have not yet received
the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the
first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the
promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the
flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God,
for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He
issues. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge
the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans,
who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the
one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God
far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God,
for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as
Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation
who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or
His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their
deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of
conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for
salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet
arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to
live a good life." [Footnote references were deleted.] 1
One implication of section 14 is that a person who is ignorant of what the
Roman Catholic church considers its unique status might possibly be saved. However,
everyone who is are
aware of the Church's status and has rejected it will remain unsaved and will spend eternity in Hell.
Section 16 extends the possibility of salvation to Jews, Muslims, and those
who are still seeking God. Strong Atheists -- those
who actively deny the existence of God -- apparently are to have no hope of
Vatican II Document (1976):
"Nostra Aetate," the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the relation of the Church to
non-Christian religions reaffirmed that there is only one Church of Christ that is fully in possession of the truth of the Gospel; that is the
Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Although other religions and
denominations differ considerably from the RCC,
their teachings are often seen as containing elements of truth in their beliefs and practices.
In an often quoted passage, the Declaration states, in part:
"2. ... The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in
these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct,
the precepts and teachings, which, although differing in many ways from her
own teaching, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens
all men." 2
In sections 3 and 4, the document "regards with
esteem" Muslims and Jews. In particular, the document repudiates earlier
Church teaching that Jews -- from the first century CE to
the present time -- are all responsible for the execution of Jesus circa 30 CE.
The document also decries "... hatred,
persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and
Finally, the statement concludes:
"The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind
of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of
their race, color, condition of life, or religion." 2
Notably missing from that list are discrimination or
harassment of persons based on their:
||Gender: Along with many other
conservative faith groups, the Roman Catholic Church continues to
discriminate against women by denying them access to positions of authority.
The Church continues to teach that certain forms of discrimination against
gays and lesbians are legitimate. They remain in strong opposition to
allowing same-sex couples to marry, or adopt
Dominus Iesus document (2000): 3
Dominus Iesus was published internally on 2000-AUG-6 by Cardinal Ratzinger who
was at the time the Prefect of the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith. It was released to the public on 2000-SEP-5. The document
ratified and confirmed by the Pope John Paul II on 2000-JUN-16 "with sure knowledge and by
his apostolic authority." The
document appears to have been triggered by the growth in acceptance of "relativistic
theories which seek to justify religious pluralism."
4 Some within the
RCC, and many more without, had been suggesting that:
||At least some
religious truth is subjective and relative: valid for some but not for others;
||Concepts from other spiritual sources can be absorbed into
regard for consistency, systematic connection, or compatibility with
||Scripture can be read and interpreted independently of church tradition.
Cardinal Ratzinger quotes a variety of documents to
||"The full revelation of divine truth is given" in the
"mystery of Jesus Christ."
||The Church does not expect any additional, future, public revelation.
||Nothing needs to be taken from other religions and added to Jesus' message
in order to make it complete.
||Only the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are
inspired by the
Holy Spirit and are without error.
||It is the Holy Spirit who has sown the "seeds of the word"
in diverse customs, cultures and religions around the world, preparing them
for future "full maturity in Christ."
||Jesus is the only savior of mankind.
He divides Christian denominations into three
||The Roman Catholic Church,
the only faith group established by Jesus Christ:
"he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him...."|
||Eastern Orthodox Churches which are united with the RCC by the:
||"Apostolic succession..." (Christ's disciples
consecrated the first bishops of the Church, who subsequently
consecrated other bishops down to the present day), and
||"a valid Eucharist" (a valid celebration of the
These are "true particular Churches." The Church
of Christ is "present and operative" in these churches even
though they do not, at this time, accept the primacy of the pope.
||The remaining Christian denominations which have not preserved the
Apostolic succession. They are not "churches in the proper sense."
However, their members are "incorporated in Christ and thus are in a
certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church."
Members of the RCC are told to not look upon Christianity as a collection of
Christian denominations. The Church of Christ does exist today in the
form of the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches. It is
not to be considered a some type of future goal to which all denominations "must
strive to reach."
Cardinal Ratzinger describes the status of
||The Church of Christ is the instrument by which all humans are saved.
||Salvation is accessible to
some people who are not members of the "Church"
-- (i.e. not Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox Christians). It comes
through grace which originates with Christ and "enlightens them in a
way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation."
||The prayers and rituals of other religions may help or hinder their
believers. Some practices may prepare their membership to absorb the Gospel.
However, those rituals which "depend on superstitions or other
errors... constitute an obstacle to salvation."
||Members of other religions are "gravely deficient"
relative to members of the Church of Christ who already have "the fullness
of the means of salvation."
He discusses inter-religious dialog:
||Dialog with other branches of Christianity and with other religions is
part of the RCC's mission of evangelizing the world.
||Dialog implies the equality of the dignity of the individuals taking part
-- not the equality of their various beliefs and practices.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Pericle Felici, "Lumen Gentium." 1964-NOV-21, at:
"Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the relation of the Church
to non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate," Page 2.
Proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, 1965-OCT-28. See: http://www.vatican.va/
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "Dominus Iesus on the unicity and
salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church," Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith. See: http://www.vatican.va/
The term "pluralism" is ambiguous.
It is sometimes used to refer to religious diversity. Other times, it refers
to the belief that all religions are true. It appears to have been used in its
latter sense here.
Copyright © 2000 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-SEP-12
Latest update: 2015-JUL-20
Author: B.A. Robinson