Ask a Priest – Can Non-Christians Go to Heaven?
May 04, 2012
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me”. So what happens to non-Christians who do not follow Jesus, or atheists who do not believe in God at all – can they get to Heaven?
In the year 2000 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document called “Dominus Jesus” – the Lord Jesus. It says:
“5. As a remedy for this relativistic mentality, which is becoming ever more common, it is necessary above all to reassert the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact, it must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), the full revelation of divine truth is given.”
What then about other religions and their sacred texts. The document says:
“The hypothesis of the inspired value of the sacred writings of other religions is also put forward. Certainly, it must be recognized that there are some elements in these texts which may be de facto instruments by which countless people throughout the centuries have been and still are able today to nourish and maintain their life-relationship with God. Thus, as noted above, the Second Vatican Council, in considering the customs, precepts, and teachings of the other religions, teaches that “although differing in many ways from her own teaching, these nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men”.” (Par. 8)
If you read paragraph 14 you will see that the Church affirms that salvation comes only through Christ and Christ is our only mediator. Nevertheless, other religions may offer a form of mediation through which people can achieve salvation, but not through the merit of their founders, but from Christ.
In paragraph 17 it explains that other Christian churches that are separated from the Catholic Church do have a certain imperfect communion and that ” the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.”
When it comes to non-Christian religions it says:
“For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, “salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit”;81 it has a relationship with the Church, which “according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit”.” (Par 20)
So, it is possible for believers in other religions to achieve salvation, but always through the grace obtained by Christ. It is more difficult, as they do not have the sacraments and guidance of the Church, but it is possible. As for atheists it is even more difficult, but if through no ill will someone cannot believe in God, but nevertheless lives a morally upright life then in some way God’s grace will be able to work. Obviously here it depends on each individual and we have to leave it up to God to judge.
This question was posted in Xt3’s ‘Ask a Priest’ group. You can join the discussion by visiting the original thread – you must be logged into Xt3. Or, to see more Ask a Priest questions, click here.
- Reflection And Orientations On Interreligious Dialogue And The Proclamation Of The Gospel Of Jesus Christ: A document issued by the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue Paragraphs 17 and 27-32 are of particular relevance.
- “Domunis Iesus” – On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of the Jesus Christ and the Church: Document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
- What Does Church Mean? – Catholic Answers: Article on the Protestant vs. Catholic view on the true Church.
- Atheists Are Closer to God Than They Think – Catholic Answers: Article by Jennifer Fulwiler, who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism.
- How can atheists be saved just by acting charitably? A summary about atheists and salvation, by Catholic Answers.