Religious Indifferentism: Leading Souls to Hell One at a Time

The Fatima Center is pleased to introduce Matthew Plese, who will be writing a regular column on Catholic Apologetics for us.  Matthew is a traditional Catholic convert, a Dominican tertiary and the president of  You will find more from Matthew on his blog A Catholic Life.

Catholic Apologetics #1

A fundamental error with modernism and those who adhere to it, is that they refuse to embrace extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside of the Church there is no salvation). Pope Innocent III declared at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215: “There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved.” His Holiness Innocent III unequivocally declared that all men must belong to the Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Period.

Subsequently, Pope Boniface VIII made the matter even more clear when in 1302 he unequivocally declared, “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Unam Sanctam, 1302). Read those words carefully: absolutely necessary.

And these remarks are not the only ones pronounced by the Holy Catholic Church. The Church continues to teach that outside of the Church there is no salvation. Period. The Church is unchanging in matters of Faith and Doctrine. If it is true that in the past salvation was possible only for Catholics and if this is not true now, then the Faith has changed. But the Faith cannot change because God doesn’t change. As the Scriptures affirm: “Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

The simple answer is that the Church in Her glory and perfect Truth has not changed. Salvation is still only possible to those within the barque of Peter. The New Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Edition), in paragraph 1260, states, “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved.” Some falsely use this ambiguous language to support the erroneous notion that salvation can be possible by living as seemingly “good people” in other faiths.  But this is not the case. 

Let’s look at what we mean by “truth” and “ignorance.” Quid est veritas? We, if we are grounded in sound catechesis, will declare that Jesus Christ is the sole way, truth, and life (cf. John 14:6). And what is “ignorance?” The Church has clarified this to describe “invincible ignorance,” which unlike “ignorance” has a rather precise meaning.

Invincible ignorance refers to the state of persons (such as pagans and infants) who are ignorant of the Gospel message because they have not yet had an opportunity to hear it. The first Pope to use the term officially seems to have been Blessed Pope Pius IX in the allocution Singulari Quadam (9 December 1854) and the encyclicals Singulari Quidem (17 March 1856) and Quanto Conficiamur Moerore (10 August 1863). The term, however, is far older than that. St. Thomas Aquinas uses the term “invincible ignorance” in his Summa Theologica, which has been a foundation for the Thomistic Philosophy on which the Church’s teachings are based. In short, invincible ignorance only applies to those who, through no fault of their own, were ignorant that the Church existed – people who were ignorant of the fact that there was a Jesus Christ.

Yet, in our modern era, with missionaries preaching around the world and with a globalization of the world, people in diverse places have been connected through technology in ways never before possible. People around the world have the ability to read about the Faith with only an Internet connection. What does this mean? It means that with access to such a wide variety of information, it is highly unlikely that many people even exist who are invincibly ignorant and have never heard of Our Lord or the Church.

It was Archbishop Sheen who said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church but there are millions who hate what they mistakenly believe it to be.” Some would counter that because these millions are ignorant of what the Church really is that they can still be saved. Rather, now that we have clarified invincible ignorance, we can assert that these people – though ignorant – are not invincibly ignorant because they have access to the Gospel.

In fact, the Church has always and continues to profess that these souls of the invincibly ignorant are spiritually united to the Church so, nonetheless, they are still saved through the Church. Outside of the Church there is no salvation. Those who fail to share this truth do great harm for souls and possibly have prevented souls from converting, thus rejecting salvation.

To support religious indifferentism violates the First Commandment since, by such support, we deny that there is One God, through Whom salvation alone comes. As St. Luke wrote in the Book of Acts, For there is no other name under heaven given to men [than the name of Jesus Christ], whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

True enculturation is the answer. We do not force Our Lord and the Faith to conform to our cultures.  Rather, we all conform to Our Lord Jesus Christ.  We live our own unique traditions in a way that conform to the saving truths of the Faith. And in such a way, we preserve the beauty of diverse human experiences and cultures but do so only if they conform to the religion established by God Himself.


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