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Apart from God’s saving works, no one can be saved. So how can atheists be saved just by acting charitably?

Full Question

Someone told me that atheists could be saved if they acted charitably, but I said that apart from God’s saving works, man cannot save himself.

Answer

While you are correct that man cannot save himself, God can choose to save someone who is unable in conscience to believe God exists but lives as best he can according to the knowledge he does have. Gaudium et Spes states about atheism:

Undeniably, those who willfully shut out God from their hearts and try to dodge religious questions are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame; yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation . . . To the extent that they [believers] neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion. (19)

This implies that the culpability for atheism is not necessarily entirely the individual’s. To the extent that belief in God has been made impossible for him by others, there may be some mitigation of his culpability for unbelief. Ultimately we must trust that even he is not beyond the reach of God’s mercy if he strives to live morally (cf. Lumen Gentium 16). The second great commandment is love of neighbor (Matt. 22:39) and Christ said of those who serve others, even if they do not explicitly do it for Christ’s sake:

Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?" And the King will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:37-40).

 










1 comment

  1. D Reply

    This whole statement is false. The council of Florence defined in dogma that all those outside the Catholic Church are lost.

    Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence  “Cantate Domino”, 1441, ex cathedra: The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics,  cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Church before the end of their lives; that the unity of this ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only for those who abide in it do the Church’s sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia produce eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.”

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