27 – God has saved a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual

What would you think of a cookbook that conceals the main ingredients of its recipes and, to make matters worse, the preparation steps of each dish are explained in a confusing manner? Now, any earthly fare, as good as it may be, is insignificant in face of our eternal destiny, a sensitive subject. While interpreting certain words by Francis in his interview with Antonio Spadaro, there are those who have wanted to reduce this essential problematic to the simple maxim: ‘You will be judged by the company you keep.’ In effect, if eternal salvation doesn’t depend on the individual, but rather exclusively on our belonging to the People of God, our good or evil works would be indifferent… But if this is true, why bother trying to practice virtue and to remain in the state of grace? Let’s just live as we wish, and continue to call ourselves Catholics! Does our eternal destiny depend more on human communities and popular dynamics than on ourselves? To avoid confusion, it is always a good idea to remember the true Catholic doctrine about the conquest of eternal happiness.


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Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships. (Interview with Antonio Spadaro, August 19, 2013)
No one is saved alone. I think that this principle should be kept very clear: salvation is for the people of God. No one is saved alone. One who intends to save himself alone, through his own path of observance, ends up with the adjective that Jesus used so many times: hypocrite. The Lord came to save all. (Dialogue with the 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, October 24, 2016)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Enter the various parts of our study


I — The Catholic Church is necessary for eternal salvation
II — Within the Church and with the aid of grace, each one of the faithful is personally saved by practicing the Commandments

I — The Catholic Church is necessary for eternal salvation

Pius IX

Those who live separated from the true faith cannot attain eternal life

And here, beloved Sons and Venerable Brothers, We should mention again and censure a very grave error in which some Catholics are unhappily engaged, who believe that men living in error, and separated from the true faith and from Catholic unity, can attain eternal life [see no. 1717]. Indeed, this is certainly quite contrary to Catholic teaching. (Denzinger-Hünermann 2865. Pius IX, Encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore, August 10, 1863)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Church is the universal sacrament of salvation

As sacrament, the Church is Christ’s instrument. “She is taken up by him also as the instrument for the salvation of all,” (LG 9) “the universal sacrament of salvation,” (LG 48) by which Christ is “at once manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God’s love for men.” (GS 45, 1). The Church “is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity” (Paul VI, Address to the Sacred College of Cardinals, June 22, 1973) because God desires “that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit” (AG 7; cf. LG 17). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 776)

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)

The Catholic Church is the one true religion, the way in which mankind may be saved in Christ

First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men. Thus He spoke to the Apostles: ‘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, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you’ (Mt 28:19-20). On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it. This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power. Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ. (Vatican Council II. Declaration Dignitatis humanae, no. 1, December 7, 1965)

The full benefit of the means of salvation are found only through Christ's Catholic Church

For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. This people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God’s gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem. (Vatican Council II, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis redintegratio, no. 2, November 21, 1964)

Though part of the body of the Church, he is not saved who does not persevere in charity

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 (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), 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. They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a ‘bodily’ manner and not ‘in his heart’ (cf. St. Augustine Bapt. c. Donat. V, 28, 39; ib., III, 19, 26; V, 18, 24: col. 189; In Io. Tr. 61, 2). (Vatican Council II, Dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium, no. 14, November 21, 1964)

II — Within the Church and with the aid of grace, each one of the faithful is personally saved by practicing the Commandments

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)

Salvation depends on fidelity to baptism and the fulfilment of the commandments

Bishops, as successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord, to whom was given all power in heaven and on earth, the mission to teach all nations and to preach the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain to salvation by faith, baptism and the fulfilment of the commandments (cf. Mt 28:18; Mk 16:15-16; Acts 26:17 ff). (Vatican Council II, Dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium, no. 24, November 21, 1964)

Each man must render an account of his own life before the judgement seat of God

Since man’s freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the aid of God’s grace can he bring such a relationship with God into full flower. Before the judgement seat of God each man must render an account of his own life, whether he has done good or evil. (Pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes, no. 17)

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Man needs Divine help, that he may be moved to act well

And thus in the state of perfect nature man needs a gratuitous strength superadded to natural strength for one reason, viz. in order to do and wish supernatural good; but for two reasons, in the state of corrupt nature, viz. in order to be healed, and furthermore in order to carry out works of supernatural virtue, which are meritorious. Beyond this, in both states man needs the Divine help, that he may be moved to act well. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 109, a. 2)

To love God man needs the help of God's grace

But in the state of corrupt nature man falls short of this in the appetite of his rational will, which, unless it is cured by God’s grace, follows its private good, on account of the corruption of nature. And hence we must say that in the state of perfect nature man did not need the gift of grace added to his natural endowments, in order to love God above all things naturally, although he needed God’s help to move him to it; but in the state of corrupt nature man needs, even for this, the help of grace to heal his nature. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 109, a. 3)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Each one will be rewarded in accordance with his works and faith

Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ (cf. 2Tim 1:9-10). The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus (Lk 16:22) and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief (Lk 23:43), as well as other New Testament texts (2Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23; Heb 9:27; 12:23) speak of a final destiny of the soul -a destiny which can be different for some and for others (Mt 16:26). Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification (Council of Lyons II (1274): DS 857-858; Council of Florence (1439): DS 1304- 1306; Council of Trent (1563): DS 1820.) or immediately (cf. Benedict XII. Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1000-1001; John XXII. Ne super his (1334): DS 990) – or immediate and everlasting damnation (cf. Benedict XII. Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1002). At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love. (Saint John of the Cross. Dichos, 64). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1021-1022)

Eternal salvation is incompatible with mortal sin

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: ‘He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him’ (Jn 3:14-15). Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren (Mt 25:31-46). To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1033)

John Paul II

Each person will be judged according to his works

The faith of the Church, founded upon divine Revelation teaches us that each one of us will be judged according to his works. Take note: it is our person that will be judged in accordance with our works. Thus one understands that in our works it is the person that is expressed and fulfills himself, and so to say, fashions himself. Each person is responsible not only for his own free actions, but also, through such actions, is responsible for himself. (John Paul II. General audience, July 20, 1983)

Benedict XVI

Hope in eternal life cannot be considered narrowly individualistic, although a hope that does not concern me personally is not a real hope

How could the idea have developed that Jesus’ message is narrowly individualistic and aimed only at each person singly? How did we arrive at this interpretation of the ‘salvation of the soul’ as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and how did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others? […] Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we ‘live’. Yet now the question arises: are we not in this way falling back once again into an individualistic understanding of salvation, into hope for myself alone, which is not true hope since it forgets and overlooks others? Indeed we are not! Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus—we cannot achieve it alone or from our own resources alone. The relationship with Jesus, however, is a relationship with the one who gave himself as a ransom for all (cf. 1Tim 2:6). Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into his ‘being for all’; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole. […] And however much ‘for all’ may be part of the great hope—since I cannot be happy without others or in opposition to them—it remains true that a hope that does not concern me personally is not a real hope. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Spe salvi, no. 16, 27-28, 30, November 30, 2007)

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