In Acts 4:12, St. Peter, the first pope, proclaims that there’s no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved except for the name of Jesus.
Acts 4:11-12: “This [Jesus] is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
This dogma was repeated by popes throughout history, including by Leo the Great, Leo XII, Pius VIII, Leo XIII, and Pius XI. It was also taught by the Council of Trent.
Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 129, March 10, 454: “… the Egyptians had from the first learned from the teaching of the most blessed Apostle Peter through his blessed disciple Mark, that which it is acknowledged the Romans to have believed: that beside the Lord Jesus Christ ‘there is no other name given to men under heaven, in which they must be saved’ [Acts 4:12].”
Pope Pius VIII, Traditi Humilitati (# 4), May 24, 1829: “Against these experienced sophists the people must be taught that the profession of the Catholic faith is uniquely true, as the apostle proclaims: one Lord, one faith, one baptism... Indeed, no other name than the name of Jesus is given to men by which they may be saved. He who believes shall be saved; he who does not believe shall be condemned.”
Pope Leo XII, Ubi Primum (# 14), May 5, 1824: “It is impossible for the most true God, who is Truth itself, the best, the wisest Provider, and the Rewarder of good men, to approve all sects which profess false teachings which are often inconsistent with one another and contradictory, and to confer eternal rewards on their members... by divine faith we hold one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and that no other name under heaven is given to men except the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth in which we must be saved. This is why we profess that there is no salvation outside the Church.”
Pope Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge (# 17), March 14, 1937: “Since Christ… finished the task of Redemption... since that day no other name under heaven has been given to men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).”
Council of Trent, Sess. 5, Canon 3, On Original Sin: “... if he denies that that merit of Jesus Christ is applied both to adults and to infants by the sacrament of baptism rightly administered in the form of the Church, let him be anathema; for there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved [Acts 4:12].”
To understand why this truth of divine revelation – this dogma of the Catholic Church – annihilates the heretical, but very widespread, idea that unbaptized adults who are ignorant of Jesus Christ or who make no act of faith in Him or who belong to a false religion can be saved, consider the context of Acts 3 and 4.
In Acts 3:6, St. Peter says to a crippled man:
Acts 3:6: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
St. Peter invokes the name of Jesus to heal a man. In Acts 3:16, ten verses later, St. Peter explains that it was by faith in Jesus’ name that the man was healed.
Acts 3:16: “And it is by faith in his name that this man whom you see and know – that his name has made him strong.”
Notice, the invocation of the name of Jesus, i.e. the actual calling upon Jesus’ name in an act of faith in Him, is what healed the man. In Acts 4:10, St. Peter further explains:
Acts 4:10: “… let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by him this man is standing before you well.”
As we can see, the actual invocation of the name of Jesus Christ in an act of faith is what St. Peter means when he says “by the name of Jesus Christ”. Then, in Acts 4:11-12, St. Peter says:
Acts 4:11-12: “This [Jesus] is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. Andthere is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Here we have an infallible declaration from the first pope that the only way for someone to be saved is “by the name of Jesus Christ”. We also saw that “by the name of Jesus Christ” – to St. Peter and the Acts of the Apostles – refers to an actual invocation of Jesus’ name during an act of faith. If a person does not receive that act of faith, which mentions Jesus Christ’s name, he or she cannot be justified and saved – period. That’s the dogma of divine revelation. That’s the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Also consider that it’s a name under Heaven given among men. It thus refers to what actually occurs on Earth. That further excludes the heretical idea that Jesus might save people from Heaven without any act of faith in His name on Earth. No, there must be a justifying act of faith in Jesus’ name which is applied to the person on Earth. There is no other way to be saved.
That’s also why St. Peter says this in Acts 10:43:
Acts 10:43: “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
No one is justified or saved without the act specifically in the name of Jesus Christ. This truth obviously totally excludes (and demonstrates to be heretical) the idea that adults who don’t know of Jesus or believe in Him can be saved without faith in Him, such as the following heretical statements:
Trent Horn: “That doesn’t preclude that some people can be saved, even if they don’t know that the Church’s sacraments are how we receive grace. Or they don’t know about Jesus. They’ve never heard about any of this.”
Tim Staples: “But that relationship can come in mysterious ways known to God alone, through the invincible ignorance of the person.”
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Against The Heresies, p. 208: “Souls can be saved in a religion other than the Catholic religion (Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.), but not by this religion.” (Angelus Press, 1997)
Donald Sanborn, Feb. 17, 2008: “And if someone is saved who is in those false religions, it has nothing to do with that false religion. It has to do with the grace of God and their ignorance.”
Michael Lofton: “Particular individuals, they might identify, you know, as a Jew, a Muslim – might have all those qualifications. It’s possible that they could be mystically united to the Church.”
Those heretics and many others like them deny many dogmatic pronouncements of the Church on this matter.
Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, “Cantate Domino,” 1441: “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… 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.”
They also reduce the dogma of Acts 4:12 (and related dogmas) to meaningless formulas. Pope Paul III further contradicted such pernicious heresies in his May 29, 1537 papal bull.
Pope Paul III, Bull Sublimis Deus, May 29, 1537: “… man, according to the testimony of the sacred scriptures, has been created to enjoy eternal life and happiness, which none may obtain save through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ… ‘Go ye and teach all nations.’ He said all, without exception, for all are capable of receiving the doctrines of the faith….”
Pope St. Leo the Great, Sermon 34, 5th century: “… no one at all can be justified save those who believe the Lord Jesus to be both true God and true man.”
Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos (# 13), Aug. 15, 1832: “They should consider the testimony of Christ Himself that ‘those who are not with Christ are against Him’ (Lk. 11:23), and that they disperse unhappily who do not gather with Him. Therefore, ‘without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate’ (Athanasian Creed).”
Adults must know and believe in the essential mysteries of the Gospel and the Christian/Catholic faith, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, as the Athanasian Creed also teaches.
Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, “Athanasian Creed”, 1439: “But it is also necessary for eternal salvation that he faithfully believe in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ...”
So, what is the external act of faith in the name of Jesus Christ that forgives people, which everyone must receive to be saved? It is baptism. That’s why the Acts of the Apostles repeatedly says that people are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 2:38: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…’”
Acts 8:16: “… they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts 10:48: “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Acts 19:5: “On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Do you see the connection? Divine revelation directly connects St. Peter’s statement in Acts 4:12 that people must be saved by the name of Jesus Christ with baptism, which it repeatedly identifies as the act in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This proves a number of things.
1) Baptism regenerates, forgives and justifies, since it’s the act in the name of Jesus by which people are forgiven and saved (and that’s also clear in Acts 2:38).
2) Infants are justified by baptism, because everyone must receive that act to be saved.
3) No one is saved without water baptism because, as St. Peter says in Acts 4:12, no one is saved except by the name of Jesus Christ – and baptism is that act in His name.
4) No one who dies unbaptized and ignorant of the essential truths of the Christian faith can be saved.
To say that an unbaptized and ignorant adult who doesn’t know Jesus or believe in Him (and therefore doesn’t make any act of faith in Him and His name) can be saved is rank heresy. It is to reject the Acts 4:12 dogma and other dogmas of the Catholic faith, such as the Church’s infallible teaching that no one can be saved or justified without the Catholic faith.
Council of Trent, Sess. 5 on Original Sin: “… our Catholic faith, without which it is impossible to please God [Heb. 11:6].”
Such a position, of course, also rejects the dogma proclaimed by Pope Eugene IV at the Council of Florence: that all who die outside the Catholic Church, including all the pagans, Jews, etc., are not saved. Further, baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ refers to baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as the context of Acts 19 shows. It’s called baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, even though it’s baptism according to the Trinitarian formula, because the Son and Jesus Christ are the same Person.
A baptism in the name of the Trinity is a baptism in the name of Jesus Christ because He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who is invoked in that formula. In addition to baptism, an adult must of course believe in the essential truths of the Gospel and the Catholic faith in order to be justified and saved. He also cannot reject any deeper truth of the Catholic faith of which he is aware.
Matthew 19:16-17: “And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good, God. If you would enter into life, keep the commandments.’”
To be saved it’s also necessary to die in the state of grace by obeying God, avoiding mortal sin, and persevering in the true Catholic faith until death. In 1 Corinthians 6:11, which is a key verse on justification, we also find the direct link between forgiveness, justification and an act “in the name of the Lord”.
1 Cor. 6:11: “… But you were washed [ἀπελούσασθε], you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
The Greek verb for washed here in 1 Cor. 6:11 (ἀπολούω) is only used one other time in the New Testament. That’s in Acts 22:16, which refers to sins being washed away in water baptism.
Acts 22:16: “… Rise and be baptized and wash away [ἀπόλουσαι] your sins...”
St. Paul describes the Corinthians as having been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ precisely because he’s referring to when they were baptized. Many doctors of the Catholic Church reaffirm the Church’s teaching that no one can be saved without faith in Jesus Christ. They correctly taught that those who die without ever having heard the Gospel are not saved.
St. Peter Canisius, Summa Doctrinae Christianae, 16th century, Concerning faith and the symbol of the faith, #18: “Among these there is a unity of faith, an agreement in doctrine, a commonality in the use of the sacraments… Outside this communion of saints (as outside the ark of Noe) there lies assured destruction for mortal men, veritably no salvation: neither for Jews or pagans who never received the faith of the Church; nor for heretics who, having received it, deserted or corrupted it; nor for schismatics… and nor finally for the excommunicated.”
Such ignorant people are not damned for their ignorance but they are damned for their other sins, which cannot be remitted without faith.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Pt. II-II, Q. 10, A. 1: “If, however, we take it [unbelief] by way of pure negation, as we find it in those who have heard nothing about the faith, it bears the character, not of sin, but of punishment, because such ignorance of divine things is a result of the sin of our first parent. However, infidels of this kind [i.e. those who lack the faith through ignorance rather than contrariety] are in fact damned on account of other sins, which cannot be remitted without faith, but they are not damned on account of the sin of infidelity. Hence Our Lord said (John 15:22): ‘If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin’; which Augustine expounds (Tract. lxxxix in Joan.) as ‘referring to the sin whereby they believed not in Christ.’”
If people in such situations are of good will and responsive to God, God will bring them to a knowledge of the Catholic faith and baptism.
In John 3:18, we read:
John 3:18: “… whoever does not believe [in the Son] is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
The same truth is reaffirmed in John 3:36, concerning which St. Robert Bellarmine states:
St. Robert Bellarmine, De Amissione Gratiae et Statu Peccati, Book 6, Chap. 2: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe in the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him [John 3:36]… Correctly St. Augustine observed… that it was not said [in John 3:36]: ‘The wrath of God will come on them’, but ‘remains on them’, in order that we would understand faith in Christ to be necessary not only so that we would not fall into the wrath of God, but even that we might be freed from the wrath into which we have fallen through the disobedience of the first man. Concerning which it was stated by the Apostle to the Ephesians, chapter 2: For we were also by nature children of wrath…”
This is a very important point. Notice that it’s not as if someone must hear about Jesus and the Gospel and then reject Him to be condemned. Yes, that will condemn him, but people who don’t believe in Jesus, whether they’ve heard of Him or not, are already in a state of condemnation due to original sin – and, if they are above reason, their actual sins. That condemnation, which excludes them from Heaven, remains upon themunless it is removed through faith in Jesus Christ and incorporation into Him. There is no other way to be saved.