What is the Catholic view of salvation? Not all Catholics agree, and, sadly, the great majority of Catholics I have met simply do not know what their church’s (official) view is. But Avery Dulles, S.J., a cardinal and a professor of religion at (Jesuit) Fordham University, is as authoritative a voice as any but the pope, I would think.
Dulles has this to say about salvation in a recent First Things article:
“Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted.”
Dulles’ article is mainly about how Christians over the centuries have viewed the fate of the unevangelized. He’s glad that he need not be limited by the NT when theologizing on this topic (emphasis mine):
“We seem to have come full circle from the teaching of Paul and the New Testament that belief in the message of Christ is the source of salvation. Reflecting on this development, one can see certain gains and certain losses. The New Testament and the theology of the first millennium give little hope for the salvation of those who, since the time of Christ, have had no chance of hearing the gospel. If God has a serious salvific will for all, this lacuna needed to be filled, as it has been by theological speculation and church teaching since the sixteenth century. Modern theology, preoccupied with the salvation of non-Christians, has tended to neglect the importance of explicit belief in Christ, so strongly emphasized in the first centuries. It should not be impossible, however, to reconcile the two perspectives.”