On salvation and the good works of non-Catholics

Question from ivan misoto December 6, 2011 at 12:52 

So, you said that we should be wary of false prophets, and that we shall know them by their fruits. Isn’t it that there are also people in other religions that show really good deeds to their fellowmen? Some of them even possess humility that nowadays are hard to see in people. They are not as famous as Mother Theresa or Saint Joan of Arc, but, I believe that you too have friends like them or have met people like them. Some of them also are very diligent in their church services and responsibilities. My point is: how can man be really saved, considering that we keep on committing sins before God? Will religion be a way to salvation or just our “faith”? Similarly, what if we do persevere in doing missionary works for the glory of “God,” but then, it is not the same God as the God of other faiths? Will those works, no matter how selfless, still count on the day of judgement, if that “saintly” person did not really serve the true God who is spoken of and being taught in the Bible? Do we really need to find the true Church of Christ before we can serve God and go on with our missionary works?

Response by Quirino M. Sugon Jr December 14, 2011 at 8:25 pm


I shall answer your 2011/12/06 comment.

1. Yes, there are people in other religions who show good deeds to their fellowmen, but there is difference in merit. If a stranger gives a woman a bouquet of roses, the woman can simply smile and say thank you. But if it is her beloved boyfriend who gives her an ordinary flower freshly plucked from the field, and telling her, “I love you,” the woman would be ecstatic in joy. Similarly God gives more merit to those good deeds done by His beloved adopted sons–and infinitely more that of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The good deeds of non-Catholics may save themselves. But the good deeds of Catholics can save not only themselves but also those of others, especially the souls in Purgatory. This is what the line “I believe in the Communion of the Saints” means in the Apostle’s Creed.

2. The first path to salvation is through the Sacrament of Baptism. As Christ said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5). “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15). Peter also said to the crowd: “Repent and be baptized,* every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.u 39For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”v 40He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”w 41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day. (Acts 2:37-41)

3. Through Baptism we become adopted sons of God, so that we can call Christ as our Brother and God as our Father, and God will say as He did to His Son: “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. (c.f. Mt 3:17)” Sonship can never be revoked, but you can squander God’s graces as what the prodigal son did. Yet God always awaits for the coming home of his son. For Catholics, this coming home to God after a life of sin is done through the Sacrament of Confession. Catholics must tell all their sins to the priest whom Christ gave the power to absolve sins: “Receive the holy Spirit. 23* n Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:22). This power to forgive sins was given to the apostles and to their successors, the bishops. The bishops in turn delegated this power to the priests.

4. Basing from 2 and 3, the Catholic religion is a real path to salvation and not just an emotional feeling or an intellectual opinion. The Catholic religion is a practical religion because it saves man from sin.

5. God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, but He Himself is not bound by his Sacrament. For those who were not baptized in the Catholic religion, God will judge them according to their conscience. So even if the pagans have not heard of the Gospel, they will still be judged by their obedience to the natural law engraved in their hearts. Indeed, what you are asking is what the Japanese also asked St. Francis Xavier. The Japanese are worried that their ancestors have not heard of the Gospel and will not be saved. Here is an excerpt of the letter of St. Francis Xavier to the Society of Jesus in 1552:

“Before their baptism the converts of Yamaguchi were greatly troubled and pained by a hateful and annoying scruple—that God did not appear to them merciful and good, because He had never made Himself known to the Japanese before our arrival, especially if it were true that those who had not worshipped God as we preached were doomed to suffer everlasting punishment in hell. It seemed to them that He had forgotten and as it were neglected the salvation of all their ancestors, in permitting them to be deprived of the knowledge of saving truths, and thus to rush headlong on eternal death. It was this painful thought which, more than anything else, kept them back from the religion of the true God. But by the divine mercy all their error and scruple was taken away. We began by proving to them that the divine law is the most ancient of all. Before receiving their institutions from the Chinese, the Japanese knew by the teaching of nature that it was wicked to kill, to steal, to swear falsely, and to commit the other sins enumerated in the Ten Commandments, a proof of this being the remorse of conscience to which any one guilty of one of these crimes was certain to be a prey.

“We showed them that reason itself teaches us to avoid evil and to do good, and that this is so deeply implanted in the hearts of men, that all have the knowledge of the divine law from nature, and from God the Author of nature, before they receive any external instruction on the subject. If any doubts were entertained on the matter, an experiment might be made in the person of a man without any instruction, living in absolute solitude, and in entire ignorance of the laws of his country. Such a man, ignorant of and a stranger to all human teaching, if he were asked whether it were or were not criminal to kill, to steal, or to commit the other actions forbidden by the law of God, and whether it were right to abstain from such actions, then, I say, this man, so fundamentally without all human education, would most certainly reply in such a manner as to show that he was by no means without knowledge of the divine law. Whence then must he be supposed to have received this knowledge, but from God Himself, the Author of nature? And if this knowledge is seen among barbarians, what must be the case with civilized and polished nations? This being so, it necessarily follow that before any laws were made by men the divine law existed innate in the hearts of all men. The converts were so satisfied with this reasoning, as to see no further difficulty; so that this net having been broken, they received from us with a glad heart the sweet yoke of our Lord….”

6. Nevertheless, it still remains the task of Christians to proclaim the Good News, in fulfillment of Christ’s command: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 h 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,20i teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)

Prayer of St. Francis Xavier for Unbelievers

O God, everlasting creator of all things, remember that the souls of unbelievers were made by Thee and formed in Thine own image and likeness.  Remembere that Jesus, Thy Son, endured a most bitter death for their salvation.  Permit not, I beseech Thee, O Lord, that Thy Son should be despised any longer by unbelievers, but do Thou graciously accept the prayers of holy men and of the Church, the Spouse of Thy most holy Soin, and be mindful of Thy mercy.  Forget their idolatry and unbelief and grant that they too may some day know Him Thou hast sent, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Life and Resurrection, by whom we have been saved and delivered, to whom be glory for endless ages.  Amen

Source: The Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual with Vespers for Sundays and Feasts, from the Editio Typica of The Roman Misal and Breviary, 1962, with supplements containng the additional masses for England and Wales, Scotland and the United States, Summorum Pontifucm edition (Baronius, London, 2008), p. 57-58.