By Chris Castaldo – 

The doctrine that “Outside the Church there is no salvation” (Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus), first expressed by the third century martyr/bishop, Cyprian, and to this day by the Roman Catholic Magisterium, is a matter of much confusion. At face value (when expressed by Rome) it points to the Catholic Church institution as the single location where humanity encounters divine grace. But it’s not that simple. In what follows, we will briefly consider how the exclusivity of Cyprian’s dictum relates to the inclusive emphasis of today’s Catholic Church.

The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1964, is a helpful place to start:

Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. (Lumen Gentium, 2.16; cf. Gaudium et Spes 1.22)

The necessary foundation of implicit knowledge is “invincible ignorance”—the state in which one is without access to Christian revelation. This is, for example, the pigmy, aborigine, or post Christian European who has never heard the gospel. Since such people have not received an opportunity to understand and respond to the explicit teaching of Christ, they are “inculpable.” Assuming this ignorance is genuinely outside of their control (that it is not due to prejudice or neglect) and that there is perfect contrition and a desire to do God’s will, then, moved by divine grace, these persons may pursue and lay hold of salvation through their conscience.

Perhaps the biggest exponent of this concept was the twentieth century theologian, Karl Rahner:

The “anonymous Christian” in our sense of the term is the pagan after the beginning of the Christian mission, who lives in a state of Christ’s grace through faith, hope, and love, yet who has no explicit knowledge of the fact that his life is orientated in grace-given salvation to Jesus Christ… There must be a Christian theory to account for the fact that every individual who does not in any absolute or ultimate sense act against his own conscience can say and does say in faith, hope and love, Abba within his own spirit and is on these grounds in all truth a brother to Christians in God’s sight. (Theological Investigations, Vol. 14, Chp. 17.)

This view seeks to reconcile God’s universal will, as expressed in passages such as 1 Tim 2:4 (that “God desires all people to be saved”) with the necessity of faith in Christ (Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus). It implies that all people have some opportunity to believe, precisely because God is at work in all people. Where is the locus of this work? It is through general revelation, which includes other religions and one’s moral sensibilities. It may even apply to the atheist insofar as such a person is motivated by grace with sincere contrition. How the atheist is said to believe in God introduces the category of anonymity. Thus, because it is God who manifests himself through one’s conscience, a person can genuinely believe, even though he or she perceives the object of belief to be something other than God. Accordingly, one’s encounter with transcendent reality (anonymous as it may be) is regarded as a divine experience.

The theory of anonymous Christianity has fit like hand-in-glove in today’s relativistic culture where the subjective reputation of truth is the plat du jour.  In this epistemological universe, doctrine is regarded as the product of one’s own creation. Perhaps it is for this reason that sociologists of religion at Catholic University recently reported that 88% of American Catholics say “how a person lives is more important than whether he or she is Catholic.”  In addition to demonstrating the practical significance of theology, it offers new meaning to Cyprian’s nulla salus.

Chris Castaldo serves as director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He is the author of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic and a main contributor to Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Anglicanism (January 2012). He blogs at www.chriscastaldo.com.

This column comes from the January issue of Credo Magazine, “In Christ Alone.” Read other columns and articles like this one today!

The January issue argues for the exclusivity of the gospel, especially in light of the movement known as inclusivism. This issue will seek to answer questions like: Can those who have never heard the gospel of Christ be saved? Will everyone be saved in the end or will some spend an eternity in hell? Must someone have explicit faith in Christ to be saved? Contributors include David Wells, Robert Peterson, Michael Horton, Gerald Bray, Todd Miles, Todd Borger, Ardel Caneday, Nathan Finn, Trevin Wax, Michael Reeves, and many others.

To view the magazine as a PDF Click Here

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5 Comments

  • On this issue, is it accurate to say that the RCC actually has changed positions?

    On one hand I remember reading things that confirmed the exclusivity doctrine, even corroborated by papal bulls; on the other, I’ve read Roman Catholic apologists say it isn’t really a change.

  • Wednesday, February 29, 2012
    DOES THE CATHOLIC CHURCH TEACH THAT MUSLIMS ARE SAVED ?

    Muslims need to enter the Church for salvation ( to avoid Hell). Their religion is not a path to salvation.(1).They need to enter the only Ark of Salvation (2).Catholic Faith and the baptism of water are the ordinary mean of salvation. The ordinary means of salvation is not being saved in invincible ignorance (3).Muslims need to convert for salvation.(4).Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.(5).

    OBJECTIONS

    Lumen Gentium 16

    We do not know any non Catholic saved in invincible ignorance or a good conscience (Lumen Gentium 16).Neither do we know any one in the present times saved with the baptism of desire, the Word of God, in imperfect communion with the Church (Vatican Council II). We accept in principle the possibility of these persons being saved ‘in certain circumstances’ (Letter of the Holy Office 1949) however we do not know any such explicit case. So it is not an exception to the magisterial teachings quoted above. The Magisterial teaching says every one needs to convert into the Catholic Church for salvation, all need Catholic Faith and the baptism of water to avoid Hell. We know there are no known exceptions on earth. If there is any such case it would be known only to God.

    Lumen Gentium 16 mentions that a non Catholic can be saved with a good conscience. LG 16 does not say that this the general, ordinary means of salvation or that we know of particular Muslims saved with a good conscience. We are unable to know who is presently saved among them in Heaven.

    So those saved with a good conscience, unknown on earth, are not exceptions to Cantate Domino, Council of Florence, Vatican Council II, Dominus Iesus 20 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church 845 etc. These magisterial documents say all need to convert into the Church to avoid Hell, all need Catholic Faith and the baptism of water for salvation and that Jesus died for all but to receive this salvation all need to enter the Church and that the Church is the only of Noah that saves in the flood. God the Father wants all people to be united in the Catholic Church.

    We don’t know any Musllim saved following his good conscience so it does not contradict the dogma outside the church no salvation.

    All one can say is that it is possible that a Muslim can be saved following his good conscience and that in principle we accepts this.

    The traditional teaching is that all people, with no known exceptions need to enter the Church with faith and baptism (AG 7) for salvation.( Cantate Domino, Council of Florence, Vatican Council II (AG 7, LG 14) etc.

    To say that Muslims in general can be saved by following their conscience is a personal interpretation of Vatican Council II but not the traditional official teaching of the Catholic Church. It’s a break with the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus, Vatican Council II (AG 7,LG 14), Dominus Iesus 20 etc.Contraception and divorce may be popular and the secular media encourages it but this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church. So it is not the teaching of the Catholic Church that Muslims are saved in general by following their conscience

    Nostra Aetate

    Nostra Aetate, Vatican Council II no where says that non Catholic religion are paths to salvation or that non Catholics are saved in general in their religions. We accept in principle the possibility of a Muslim being saved ‘in certain circumstance’ and know that these cases would b known only to God.

    So Nostra Aetate is not a contradiction of Ad Gentes 7, Vatican Council II which indicates the norm of salvation is Catholic Faith ans the baptism of water.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church 846

    So when the Catechism of the Catholic Church 846 says all those who are saved are saved through Jesus an the Church this does not contradict the Church teaching which says all need to enter the Church with Catholic Faith and the baptism of water.

    Lumen Gentium 14 says those who know about Jesus and the Church and yet do not enter cannot be saved. The religious leaders and founders of Islam, the Quran indicates, knew about Jesus and the Catholic Church He founded but chose not to enter.
    -Lionel Andrades
    _____________________________________________

    1.
    Above all else, it must be firmly believed 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 (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door”. This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); “it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for this salvation”.-Dominus Iesus 20

    2.
    To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.-Catechism of the Catholic Chuch 845

    3.
    Therefore, all must be converted to Him, made known by the Church’s preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself “by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door.-A Gentes 7, Vatican Council II

    4.
    submission to the Catholic Church and to the Sovereign Pontiff is required as necessary for salvation.-Letter of the Holy Office 1949.

    5.
    EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS (EXTRAORDINARY MODE )

    • “There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved.” (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.)

    • “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” (Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302.)

    • “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.” (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.) –http://catholicism.org/category/outside-the-church-there-is-no-salvation

    EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS ( ORDINARY MODE )

    Pope Boniface I, Epistle 14.1: “It is clear that this Roman Church is to all churches throughout the world as the head is to the members, and that whoever separates himself from it becomes an exile from the Christian religion, since he ceases to belong to its fellowship.”

    Pope Pelagius II (578-590): “Consider the fact that whoever has not been in the peace and unity of the Church cannot have the Lord… Although given over to flames and fires, they burn, or, thrown to wild beasts, they lay down their lives, there will not be (for them) that crown of faith but the punishment of faithlessness… Such a one can be slain, he cannot be crowned… [If] slain outside the Church, he cannot attain the rewards of the Church” (Denzinger, 469).

    Saint Gregory the Great (590-604), Moralia: “Now the holy Church universal proclaims that God cannot be truly worshipped saving within herself, asserting that all they that are without her shall never be saved.”

    Pope Sylvester II, Profession of Faith, June AD 991: “I believe that in Baptism all sins are forgiven, that one which was committed originally as much as those which are voluntarily committed, and I profess that outside the Catholic Church no one is saved.”

    Pope Innocent III (1198–1216), Profession of Faith prescribed for the Waldensians: “With our hearts we believe and with our lips we confess but one Church, not that of the heretics, but the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, outside which we believe that no one is saved” (Denzinger 792).

    Pope Clement VI, Letter Super Quibusdam (to Consolator the Catholicos of Armenia), September 20, 1351: “In the second place, we ask whether you and the Armenians obedient to you believe that no man of the wayfarers outside of the faith of this Church, and outside the obedience of the Pope of Rome, can finally be saved… In the ninth place, if you have believed and do believe that all who have raised themselves against the faith of the Roman Church and have died in final impenitence have been damned and have descended to the eternal punishments of hell.”

    Pope Leo XII (1823–1829), Encyclical Ubi Primum: “It is impossible for the most true God, who is Truth Itself, the best, the wisest Provider, and rewarder of good men, to approve all sects who profess false teachings which are often inconsistent with one another and contradictory, and to confer eternal rewards on their members. For we have a surer word of the prophet, and in writing to you We speak wisdom among the perfect; not the wisdom of this world but the wisdom of God in a mystery. By it we are taught, and 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… For the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. With reference to those words Augustine says: ‘If any man be outside the Church he will be excluded from the number of sons, and will not have God for Father since he has not the Church for mother.'”

    Pope Gregory XVI (1831–1846), Encyclical Summo Jugiter Studio (on mixed marriages), 5-6, May 27, 1832: “You know how zealously Our predecessors taught that very article of faith which these dare to deny, namely the necessity of the Catholic faith and of unity for salvation. The words of that celebrated disciple of the Apostles, martyred Saint Ignatius, in his letter to the Philadelphians are relevant to this matter: ‘Be not deceived, my brother; if anyone follows a schismatic, he will not attain the inheritance of the kingdom of God.’ Moreover, Saint Augustine and the other African bishops who met in the Council of Cirta in the year 412 explained the same thing at greater length: ‘Whoever has separated himself from the Catholic Church, no matter how laudably he lives, will not have eternal life, but has earned the anger of God because of this one crime: that he abandoned his union with Christ’ (Epsitle 141). Omitting other appropriate passages which are almost numberless in the writings of the Fathers, We shall praise Saint Gregory the Great, who expressly testifies that this is indeed the teaching of the Catholic Church. He says: ‘The holy universal Church teaches that it is not possible to worship God truly except in her and asserts that all who are outside of her will not be saved’ (Moral. in Job, 16.5). Official acts of the Church proclaim the same dogma. Thus, in the decree on faith which Innocent III published with the synod of the Lateran IV, these things are written: ‘There is one universal Church of the faithful outside of which no one at all is saved.’ Finally, the same dogma is expressly mentioned in the profession of faith proposed by the Apostolic See, not only that which all Latin churches use (Creed of the Council of Trent), but also that which the Greek Orthodox Church uses (cf. Gregory XIII, Profession ‘Sanctissimus’) and that which other Eastern Catholics use (cf. Benedict XIV, Profession ‘Nuper ad Nos’)… We are so concerned about this serious and well known dogma, which has been attacked with such remarkable audacity, that We could not restrain Our pen from reinforcing this truth with many testimonies.”

    Pope Pius IX (1846–1878), Allocution Singulari Quadem, December 9, 1854: “Not without sorrow we have learned that another error, no less destructive, has taken possession of some parts of the Catholic world, and has taken up its abode in the souls of many Catholics who think that one should have good hope of the eternal salvation of all those who have never lived in the true Church of Christ. Therefore, they are wont to ask very often what will be the lot and condition of those who have not submitted in any way to the Catholic faith, and, by bringing forward most vain reasons, they make a response favorable to their false opinion. Far be it from Us, Venerable Brethren, to presume on the limits of the divine mercy which is infinite; far from Us, to wish to scrutinize the hidden counsel and “judgements of God” which are “a great abyss” (Ps. 35.7) and cannot be penetrated by human thought. But, as is Our Apostolic Duty, we wish your episcopal solicitude and vigilance to be aroused, so that you will strive as much as you can to drive form the mind of men that impious and equally fatal opinion, namely, that the way of eternal salvation can be found in any religion whatsoever. May you demonstrate with skill and learning in which you excel, to the people entrusted to your care that the dogmas of the Catholic faith are in no wise opposed to divine mercy and justice.

    “For, it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood…

    Pope Pius IX (1846–1878), Encyclical Singulari Quidem March 17, 1856): “Teach that just as there is only one God, one Christ, one Holy Spirit, so there is also only one truth which is divinely revealed. There is only one divine faith which is the beginning of salvation for mankind and the basis of all justification, the faith by which the just person lives and without which it is impossible to please God and come to the community of His children (Romans 1; Hebrews 11; Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 8). There is only one true, holy, Catholic Church, which is the Apostolic Roman Church. There is only one See founded on Peter by the word of the Lord (St. Cyprian, Epistle 43), outside of which we cannot find either true faith or eternal salvation. He who does not have the Church for a mother cannot have God for a father, and whoever abandons the See of Peter on which the Church is established trusts falsely that he is in the Church (ibid, On the Unity of the Catholic Church). … Outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or salvation unless he is excused through ignorance beyond his control.”[7]

    Pope Pius IX (1846–1878), Encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore, August 10, 1863: “And here, beloved Sons and Venerable Brothers, We should mention again and censure a very grave error in which some Catholics are unhappily engaged, who believe that men living in error, and separated from the true faith and from Catholic unity, can attain eternal life. Indeed, this is certainly quite contrary to Catholic teaching.

    Pope Pius IX The Syllabus of Errors, attached to Encyclical Quanta Cura, 1864: [The following are prescribed errors:] “16. Men can, in the cult of any religion, find the way of eternal salvation and attain eternal salvation. – Encyclical Qui pluribus, November 9, 1846.

    “17. One ought to at least have good hope for the eternal salvation of all those who in no way dwell in the true Church of Christ. – Encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore, August 10, 1863, etc.”

    Pope St. Pius X (1903–1914), Encyclical Jucunda Sane: “It is our duty to recall to everyone great and small, as the Holy Pontiff Gregory did in ages past, the absolute necessity which is ours, to have recourse to this Church to effect our eternal salvation.”

    Pope Benedict XV (1914–1922), Encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum: “Such is the nature of the Catholic faith that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole, or as a whole rejected: This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”

    Pope Pius XI (1922–1939), Encyclical Mortalium Animos: “The Catholic Church alone is keeping the true worship. This is the font of truth, this is the house of faith, this is the temple of God; if any man enter not here, or if any man go forth from it, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation… Furthermore, in this one Church of Christ, no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors.”

    Pope Pius XII (1939–1958), Allocution to the Gregorian University (17 October 1953): “By divine mandate the interpreter and guardian of the Scriptures, and the depository of Sacred Tradition living within her, the Church alone is the entrance to salvation: She alone, by herself, and under the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the source of truth.”-Wikipedia
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