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We’re Talking About Eternal Salvation Here! 3 Need-to-Know Dogmas You Never Hear About

It is said that St Francis Xavier baptized 30,000-100,000 people

A dogma is a teaching of the Church that has been proposed infallibly by the Magisterium as something that has been revealed by God. This means you are required to believe it and, if you deny it obstinately, you are a heretic, are outside of full communion with the Church, and your salvation is in jeopardy.

Even if your heresy is merely material and not formal (translation: you believe a heresy out of ignorance, not out of rebellion to the Church), in which case your salvation may not be jeopardy, heresy is still dangerous: it means you misunderstand something fundamental about the faith.

This can cause at least two problems: (1) Since all doctrine is systematic, believing one heresy will likely lead you to believe other heresies in order to be consistent. (2) Since orthopraxis (right action) is based off of orthodoxy (right belief), believing heresies can lead to sin or otherwise not living the fullness of the Christian life.

Here are three dogmas that, in my experience, many Catholics just don’t know about – and to their great loss:

1) Original Sin alone condemns a person to hell.

From the 6th Session of the Council of Florence: “We define…[that] the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.”

So do only people who have committed great sins and explicitly rejected God go to hell? No. Original Sin alone is enough to condemn a person to hell. And according to the Council of Trent, the stain of Original Sin is passed on by propagation: it’s a stain we have from the moment of our conception.

Baptism, or the desire thereof, applies the grace of Christ and is the only means of removing Original Sin (another dogma). This is why we baptize infants. Even though they are not capable of committing any sins personally, they have Original Sin and thus are in desperate need of the grace of Christ offered in baptism for their salvation. It’s also why many missionaries have given their lives to physically preach the Gospel to non-believers – and then baptize them.

Orthopraxis: Get baptized yourself if you aren’t already, get your children baptized, and evangelize any non-Christians you know so they can be baptized and have their Original Sin removed.

2) For those who have sinned mortally after baptism, the Sacrament of Confession, or the desire thereof, is necessary for salvation.

From the 14th Session of the Council of Trent: “[T]his sacrament of Penance is, for those who have fallen after baptism, necessary unto salvation; as baptism itself is for those who have not as yet been regenerated.”

A mortal sin is any sin that is regarding a grave matter and is carried out with both full knowledge that it is wrong and with full intentionality (not done accident). Any mortal sin, if left unforgiven before a person dies, condemns that person to hell.

Any mortal sins committed before baptism are removed at baptism (only relevant to adults being baptized, not infants). But mortal sins after baptism can only be removed with the Sacrament of Confession, or the desire to receive the Sacrament of Confession.

Since this is true for anyone who has been baptized, this is also true for Protestant Christians (who have been baptized). If you’re thinking, ‘But my Protestant friends of course don’t ever to go confession to a Catholic priest’, you are correct – it’s a problem for their spiritual life and an example of how heresy (even if held out of ignorance) can have serious ramifications. The 16th century Protestant Reformers led large groups of people out of the fullness of the Church and away from the Sacraments, and it’s a serious problem.

Orthopraxis: Go to confession regularly. Especially be sure to go if you think you’ve committed a mortal sin. Don’t put it off, it’s a serious matter. Talk to Protestant Christians you know about the faith, trying to lead them to the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church so they can receive all of the Sacraments, including the Sacrament of Confession.

3) Subjection to the Pope is necessary for salvation.

From Pope Boniface VIII’s papal bull Unam sanctam: “[W]e declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

This dogma was reaffirmed by the 11th Session of the Fifth Lateran Council: “[S]ince subjection to the Roman pontiff is necessary for salvation for all Christ’s faithful, as we are taught by the testimony of both sacred scripture and the holy fathers, and as is declared by the constitution of pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, also our predecessor, which begins Unam sanctam, we therefore… renew and give our approval to that constitution.”

The technical term for rejecting the Pope is “schism”: “Schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” (CIC 751)

The bishop of Rome is the successor of St Peter the Apostle who was made by Jesus the head of the Apostolic college. As an essential part of the Church, anyone who rejects him rejects the Church, the Body of Christ, and thus Christ himself.

Again, you may be thinking, ‘My Protestant friends don’t follow the Pope’. Yes, and it’s a problem. The Protestant leaders that led people to break off from the Pope and thus the Catholic Church in the 16th century did something objectively very evil. Many Protestants today may reject the Pope out of ignorance (though only God knows a person’s heart), nonetheless, as Christians they should be consciously subject to him – and Catholics should help them do that.

Orthopraxis: Follow the teachings of the Pope and remain engaged in a parish headed by a priest who is in communion with a bishop who is in communion with the bishop of Rome. In other words, stay in the Catholic Church and try to lead others to the fullness of the Catholic Church as well.

About Brantly Millegan

Brantly Millegan is studying for a MA in Theology at the St Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St Paul, MN, is a Co-Founder and Co-Editor of the online journal Second Nature, and is an Assistant Editor for Aleteia. He and his lovely wife Krista live in South St Paul, MN with their two small children, Elijah and Adelaide. His personal website is brantlymillegan.com

  • James - Great post! Thank you for sharing.

    I would like to see another post going into the details of “Baptism of Desire” and what it means when you say that a desire for confession will get a person’s mortal sins forgiven. 🙂

    Thank you again!

    God bless,
    JamesSeptember 12, 2013 – 7:25 amReplyCancel

  • Becky - Great post! Thank you! I’ve been working on a post about baptism and I’m planning to link back to this post in it, if that’s okay. 🙂September 12, 2013 – 10:22 amReplyCancel

  • Brantly Millegan - Hey James, Glad you read the post. Maybe I will write something about those two topics in the future. The key thing with baptism of desire is that the desire must be real, even if it is explicit or implicit. Meaning, mere ignorance of the Gospel does not equal baptism of desire.

    Re the desire for Confession being sufficient for the removal of mortal sins: the desire for confession (explicit or implicit) must be accompanied by perfect contrition, or true sorrow for one’s sins out of love for God. And again, the desire for confession, even if it is implicit, must be real: mere ignorance of the sacrament does not equal a free pass.September 12, 2013 – 10:25 amReplyCancel

  • Brantly Millegan - Hey Becky, Cool! GreatSeptember 12, 2013 – 10:28 amReplyCancel

  • Martina - Love this post! Can I recommend that you end each apologetics post with asking readers what they’d like to see you tackle next? I think James was on to something with his question. 😉September 12, 2013 – 10:47 amReplyCancel

  • Allison H. - “Yes, and it’s a problem.” Love this! And thanks for the solid info.September 12, 2013 – 10:48 amReplyCancel

  • Casey - Hello! This is my first time visiting this blog. Thanks for your post and for acting on your desire to educate people in the faith.

    I do have to quibble with your statement about dogma #1 though. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    “1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:621″

    And also:

    “1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,”64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.”

    Now, of course I believe and affirm that the grace of baptism is necessary for salvation, but the church teaching doesn’t say that those who aren’t baptized, through no fault of their own, and thus die with original sin are immediately consigned to hell. If it did say that, there would be no point in trusting in God’s mercy for the souls of miscarried babies. Likewise, the catechism states that a willful turning away from God is necessary to end up in hell. Original sin is not personal or willful, so it can’t land a person in hell.

    My own hypothesis is that, since God desires all men be saved, and God also predestines no one for hell, then those innocents who die without baptism just might have their minds enlightened by the Holy Spirit, so that they can know God enough to choose for or against him. Then, if they choose God, He would give them the grace of baptism through desire, and if they choose against him, that would be the sin that would send them to hell, not original sin. Of course, that’s conjecture, since the Church can’t know for sure how God handles those cases.

    Thanks again for your efforts at evangelization. They are much needed!September 12, 2013 – 10:53 amReplyCancel

  • Karyn - This seems to suggest that babies who die unbaptized are in danger of going to hell. But I thought the Church said this teaching was never officially taught, it was just the opinion of some of the theologians??September 12, 2013 – 5:03 pmReplyCancel

  • Brantly Millegan - Hey Karyn, Yes, it does, which is why we baptized babies. Remember, babies are too young to have committed any personal sins, so why would we baptized them? We baptize them because they have Original Sin, and thus are in desperate need of the grace of Christ for salvation.

    Re your thought that “the Church said this teaching was never officially taught”, you’re probably thinking of the idea of Limbo. Limbo is actually still on the table theologically. It’s not dogma and is an open question, but is one attempt at reconciling the Church’s teachings on the matter. The idea of Limbo is that babies who die unbaptized don’t go to heaven, they go to hell, but they go to the edge of hell. They lack the beatific vision, but don’t have any “pain of sense” (one of the two kinds of punishment in hell) because they haven’t committed any sins. Some theologians would say that babies in Limbo have perfect “natural happiness”. In any case, much more could be said about Limbo, but like I said, it’s just speculation.

    As far as I can tell, the Church’s teaching re the fate of unbaptized babies (or anyone else who dies in a state of Original Sin without having committed any personal sins) is that, at best, we don’t know. It’s a dogma, as I explain in the post, that anyone who dies in a state of Original Sin, regardless of whether they’ve committed any other sins, goes to hell. It’s also a dogma that baptism, or the desire thereof, is necessary for salvation. Baptism, or the desire thereof, is the only means we know of from revelation for the removal of Original Sin. Those things are not up for question and can’t be denied without being guilty of heresy. Now, is it possible that God through some sort of extraordinary act removes the Original Sin of unbaptized infants at some point before they die? It’s hard to rule out an action of God. And as the Catechism says, “the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God.” But that God does that certainly hasn’t been revealed. Instead, we are supposed to baptize our babies. As the Catechism also says, “All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.” See paragraph 1261.

    God bless!September 12, 2013 – 5:22 pmReplyCancel

  • Harry - Just like to point out to those who are in danger of believing the above that it is perfectly possible to be conservative Catholic heretic as well as a liberal Catholic heretic – the latter will simply ignore ancient dogma to suit their views and the former will twist ancient dogma and ignore modern stuff to get the picture of salvation they want.
    Newsflash people – the Church no longer believes, as it once did, that non-Catholic peoples are pretty much damned without baptism. Nor does it believe that babies are pretty much damned without baptism – the most recent teaching on the subject is that we can live in hope that the babies are saved – something quite impossible if you have already decided that, actually, countless billions of infants are, right now, screaming in agony as they are roasted in hellfire ’cause mum and dad couldn’t find a priest in time and God, even though He was perfectly capable of saving them through his own means, is still kinda pissed about Adam. (ah, the wonderful Mercy of God as believed by Traditionalists! And the bizarre idea that the above image will actually *help* people into the Church. It’s a prescription for atheism and Unitarianism)
    We live in a Church where an Encyclical (Spe Salvi) can be published by the Pope, invested with his authority and that of the Holy Spirit’s, wherein it is casually suggested that we can “reasonably hope” that for most people, Catholic or no, there remains an openness to love in their lives that will result in their eventual salvation. Quite difficult to explain that away.
    Perhaps you believe that even if this opinion is kosher, it hurts evangelisation efforts or is evidence of modernism seeping into the Church etc etc – Tough. Deal with it. The Church has developed its teaching on Hell to that point – you may not like or believe it, but you cannot label others who do believe it as heretical, especially when that includes the Pope.
    Everyone – get your education on the Faith from the Catechism and the latest Encyclicals. That is their purpose. For your own sake, don’t turn to the internet expert to tell you what the Faith *really* teaches. That way leads only to disaster.September 13, 2013 – 6:56 amReplyCancel

  • Mary - Thanks for your post, Brantly. It’s unfortunate that some of these truths of our faith are not being taught. We live in an age where people think they will go to heaven just by being “good people” in a secular sense.

    That said, regarding the fate of unbaptized infants, it’s necessary to try to find a balance in our message between the urgency and necessity of baptism, and the depth of God’s goodness and mercy. Yes, Catholics have gone too far in the direction of emphasizing God’s mercy such that people no longer think baptism is important, and they delay it without just cause, possibly endangering the souls of their babies. On the other hand, in the age of millions of abortions, and when women are ever more aware of early pregnancy losses, I think it’s still necessary and important to speak of the hope that we can have as Catholics that God’s mercy can extend even to our littlest ones. You’re right, we do not know for sure what happens to the unbaptized. It’s important to remember that and to let that truth be what guides our actions regarding our newborn babies. But for the those who have lost babies before there was a chance to baptize them, the truth that we entrust our babies to God’s mercy and maintain hope in their salvation is an especially important one as well.September 13, 2013 – 9:48 amReplyCancel

  • Brantly Millegan - Hey Henry,
    You seem to accuse me of heresy. A heresy is the denial of a dogma. What dogmas have I denied? I’ve claimed certain things are dogmas, and I’ve given references to back up those claims. Dogmas don’t change (see Vatican I).

    I don’t know what you mean by “pretty much”. Either a person is saved or they are not. Re baptism, as I explained in the post, the Church believes that baptism, or the desire thereof, is necessary for salvation. This was taught at Trent. As I explained in a comment above, that desire can be either explicit or implicit, but must be real. In other words, the fact a person is ignorant doesn’t mean that automatically have a desire for baptism. They may, they may not.

    I also think you’re not responding to what I said about unbaptized babies. Please re-read my comment above.

    You point out what Benedict said in Spe Salvi. That’s true, but I’m not sure how it’s relevant, since I haven’t taken a position on the proportion of people who may or may not be saved? More could be said on that topic, but, that’s not the topic of this post.

    I too recommend people look to the latest encyclicals and catechism, none of which, to my knowledge, contradict what I’ve said here. In any case, the magisterium is the magisterium, and doesn’t cease to be the magisterium due to the passage of time. Dogma is dogma, and remains so. That’s the point of dogma. My point here is that what I listed in the post are dogmas, and I show exactly where I’m getting them.

    God bless!September 13, 2013 – 10:16 amReplyCancel

  • Karyn - Well said, Mary. Thank you for reminding us of the Lord’s mercy towards little ones.September 13, 2013 – 1:31 pmReplyCancel

  • Becca - Harry,

    The Church teaches in VATICAN II that there is a slim chance that someone who is not a Christian might be saved. SLIM! Read the documents! It says there is a chance, but it GOES ON TO SAY that VERY OFTEN it DOES NOT happen. Read Ralph Martin’s book ‘Will Many Be Saved’. He goes into great detail using tons of quotes and lays out the history of the development of the doctrine that is expressed in Vatican II.
    The author of this post said nothing wrong and your comment was uncharitable, ignorant and reactionary.September 14, 2013 – 2:10 amReplyCancel

  • bill bannon - The internet because it is necessarily brief essays over simplifies everything it deals with. Submission to the Pope sounds simple but if you did it uncritically throughout history, you were at times submitting to the morally evil. Romanus Pontifex by Pope Nicholas V ,1453, in the mid 4th large paragraph gave Portugal the right to enslave and rob pagans while Pope Paul III in 1537 tried to reverse that permission. But that meant that for 80 years, Portuguese were enslaving and frankly didn’t stop til the 19th century because Rominus Pontifex had a clause that said no one could reverse this permission in the future.
    See the essay “Inquisition” at newadvent, Pope Innocent IV made burning heretics mandatory on princes in 1253 ( the reverse of the common internet version) but now in section 80 of ” Veritatis Splendor”, coercion of spirit and torture are called intrinsic evils.
    So….submission to the Pope…taken in a too simplistic manner, had people doing intrinsic evils like burning heretics from 1253 into mainly the 17th century.
    Cardinal Newman pointed out that the laity and few Bishops like Athanasius saved orthodoxy by not submitting to the majority magisterium including one Pope on the Arian question in the 4th century.
    Submit in the inerrant, the de fide, and the clearly infallible but LG 25’s submission in the non infallible has qualifiers that should have been placed in LG 25 and were not. The well read clergy know this.September 14, 2013 – 4:54 amReplyCancel

  • S Smith - As someone who has 3 living children and 11 miscarried and stillborn babies, I am very troubled by your assertions in #1, especially since I have been told by priests and the Catechism that what you say is not true. The Catechism states that we must entrust these souls to the mercy of God and should not that they “go down straightaway to hell to be punished” Indeed, as we are now so much more aware of early miscarriage, if we as a people truly believe that life begins at conception, how can we believe that our Lord consigns all those souls to the fire?September 14, 2013 – 9:04 amReplyCancel

  • bill bannon - Becca,
    I don’t see how “very often” people fail to act morally… (if it is an exact quote from Vatican II and I think it is but cites help) equates to your translation of that into “slim” chance of non Christians being saved. “Very often it rains” …does not mean that there is a slim chance of blue skies.
    Your readers often have family members who could not see the truth of Catholicism sincerely but lived according to best conscience and then died. They may have seen the sex abuse decades or the Inquisition centuries as proof that Catholicism was not the Church. They are wrong but God understands them. When Paul preached in the first century, the Church had no bad baggage and that made it easier for people to affirm the early Church as true. The Church now gets most converts from Africa and Asia who may not know of the baggage. We don’t convert droves of well read non Christians for baggage reasons but we do get well read Christians fleeing their own churches. But the well read non Christians God understands their unbelief but He still requires them to live heroic lives of sincere conscience through which they may be said to have faith of a general less detailed kind as when Hebrews talks of Rahab showing a general faith in accepting the spies in Jericho because of their God. Hence the catechism says God is not bound by the sacraments even though He authored them:
    ccc #1257 ” The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.60 He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them.61 Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.62 The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.”

    Look at that last sentence hard.September 14, 2013 – 10:32 amReplyCancel

  • Full Text of Pope's Letter to Atheist Journalist - BigPulpit.com - […] Frye, Catholic Answers Series on the Sacraments: Baptism – Alexandra Reis, Ignitum Today We’re Talking About Eternal Salvation Here! – Brantly Millegan The Happy Warrior – Colin Gormley, Ignitum Today The Priesthood and the […]September 16, 2013 – 3:28 pmReplyCancel

  • Christie - Brantly,

    Having original sin doesn’t make one guilty per se; since guilt is a disorder in the will caused by that disordered act of that will, sin. And just having original sin doesn’t mean that person committed a sinful act that would make them personally guilty.

    So if someone is not guilty from being born after the Fall, how is it right that God could punish this innocent person in hell for the sin they did not commit (Adam’s sin)? Given that God cannot punish an innocent person for sins they did not commit as if they were guilty.

    –ChristieSeptember 21, 2013 – 9:22 amReplyCancel

  • James - Christie, you are not debating some theory about original sin that Brantley came up with. You are arguing against Catholic dogmaSeptember 23, 2013 – 9:23 pmReplyCancel

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