By Deacon Frederick Bartels
Fourth Sunday of Easter, 25 April 2021
Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer. Period. “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12).
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (4:8-12), Peter had previously healed a crippled man. After that miracle, both he and John were arrested for boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus in the temple. The next morning, the leaders in Jerusalem interrogate them and ask, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
Peter responds by emphasizing the necessity of faith in Jesus and proclaims him as the sole means of salvation, saying:
[Jesus] is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.Acts 4:11-12
In reference to Peter’s statement, the Church teaches in paragraph 432 of the Catechism:
The name “Jesus” signifies that the very name of God is present in the person of his Son, made man for the universal and definitive redemption from sins. It is the divine name that alone brings salvation, and henceforth all can invoke his name, for Jesus united himself to all men through his Incarnation, so that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”CCC, 432, quoting Acts 4:12
What are we to make of this? Is it true that Jesus is the one and only unique Savior and Redeemer? Is faith in Jesus required for salvation?
Yes. It is. That’s always been the teaching of the Church. Jesus is Lord, Savior, and Redeemer. According to the Lord Jesus himself, he is the only means of salvation, for he said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Belief in the Lord Jesus and his saving Gospel, and reception of the saving sacrament of Christ we call baptism, are essential. In Mark’s gospel, the resurrected Jesus says to his disciples: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
So important is the fact that Jesus is the one and only unique Savior, that the Catechism’s first paragraph emphasizes just that point:
God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, …. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.
The name Jesus itself in Hebrew means: “God saves.” In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read:
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchiz?edek.Hebrews 5:8-10
The Sins of Relativism and Religious Indifferentism
That the resurrected Jesus is the one and only Savior should be abundantly clear to every Catholic. However, there’s a tendency today to dismiss this clear teaching found in both Sacred Tradition and Scripture. Due to the sins of relativism and religious indifferentism, many people have the idea today that Jesus is merely one means of salvation among others.
Some prefer to grant to Jesus an elevated position but not an entirely unique position. With that point of view, they say he’s the “fullest means of salvation,” which implies there are other means of salvation apart from Jesus, which of course is incorrect. Still others say he’s the “privileged way to God,” which again implies that there are other ways to God, which is also incorrect.
Again, our Lord Jesus stated clearly, ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Ignorance Without Fault
Immediately the question arises about people who have no knowledge of Jesus or the Church he founded. We think about people who were raised in other religions who have not heard the Gospel and therefore have not had any opportunity to accept Jesus in faith.
What about these people? What if they die before hearing the gospel or learning about Christ? Is it possible for them to be saved?
The Church has a teaching on this in the Catechism beginning with paragraph 846 in reference to the apostolic teaching of the Church Fathers, who often stated that there is no salvation outside the Church:
How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.
The Essential Nature of Evangelizing Others
Those who are ignorant of Christ through no fault of their own can be saved. This becomes possible when, moved by grace, they follow their conscience, sincerely seek God, and strive to live fully according to his will.
In doing this, they desire to follow God’s commands, which is itself an implicit faith in Christ. Had they known about Christ, who is the Son of God sent into the world for salvation, they surely would have assented to him in faith.
Bear in mind that, although people who are ignorant of Christ through no fault of their own can be saved, it’s more difficult for them to attain salvation. Why? Because they lack the fulness of truth found in the saving Gospel, and they lack the saving sacraments of the Church of Jesus Christ, such as baptism and Eucharist.
Therefore, our mission of evangelizing others, giving witness to Christ, and communicating the truth of the saving Gospel is essential. It’s necessary and it’s crucial. We must always avoid attitudes of relativism and indifference in this area.
The Church emphasizes the need to evangelize others:
Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.CCC, 848
Today we heard St. Peter boldly give witness to Christ, saying, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).
These words must be our words. His faith in Christ must be our faith in Christ. Jesus alone is the one and unique Savior and Redeemer.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.