Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus – Part I

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Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus – Part I


by Ryan Grant


When Pope Boniface VIII penned those words in Unam Sanctam, summarizing the decree of the Fourth Lateran Council (extra quam nullus omnino salvatur), they stirred no controversy. With the Lateran decree in 1215, this was understood as having been de fide non definita coming from the Fathers, and the continuous teaching of the Magisterium from clear scriptural types. The goal of the Council was to formally define what had always and everywhere been believed against the Albigensian heresy to make clear their necessity to be in the Church.


Moreover in 1215 the New World had not yet been discovered, Christendom was still one and there were no other churches claiming to be the Church, and the great bulk of the culture in Europe was Catholic. The successive changes to these three elements provoked a further development and examination of this doctrine in the tradition, which we will examine below. Yet, today this doctrine is surrounded by controversy in spite of being a dogma of the extraordinary Magisterium. Some, trying to provide empty niceties to people with non-Catholic relatives and friends, or simply out of human respect, water this down either by taking developments of the medieval examinations of the means of salvation and apply it to anyone with “good intentions”, or by denying the dogma altogether and declaring that everyone is saved. Others still, reacting to the watering down (hence denial) of a doctrine which is de fide, wish to reject not only the modernism applied in the modern explication by some prelates, but even the legitimate teachings of the Tradition in this matter.


For all of these reasons, it is necessary to examine what the doctrine is and entails theologically, and all the issues surrounding it before we treat it polemically. In this first tract we will consider the question of what extra Ecclesiam nulla salus means, and what the Church teaches about the necessity of Church membership in it.


I. What Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus means in its formal definition.


There are some, eager to show to non-Catholics that we don’t believe they are damned for their unbelief, who attempt to put a different gloss on the dogma by saying “It merely means without the Church there is no salvation”, since the preposition extra in Latin can mean without (without as in “without the means of the Church”). Philip Gray, for example, tries to explain it this way:


“Many people translate the Latin phrase extra ecclesiam nulla salus as “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” This translation does not seem entirely faithful to the Latin meaning, and contributes to the misunderstanding of the phrase.


The Latin word “extra” is both an adverb and preposition. Depending on its use in a sentence, the word has different meanings. When used to describe spatial relations between objects, the word is translated as “beyond” or “outside of” (e.g., Beyond the creek is a tree; or, James is outside of the room). When used to describe abstract relations between concepts or intangible things, the word is commonly translated “without” (e.g., Without a method, it is difficult to teach). Within the phrase in question, extra is a preposition describing the abstract relationship of the Church to salvation. Considering the Latin nuances of the word, a proper translation would be, “Without the Church there is no salvation.” This translation more accurately reflects the doctrinal meaning of the phrase.”1


This type of redefining is problematic on a number of levels and it obscures the real work of theology in this area. Gray has done excellent work in many areas, but this is a mistake. In the first place, he claims it is not faithful to the Latin. The problem is that until Vatican II, “outside the Church” is how every theologian, manualist, Pope and doctor of the Church understood this phrase from 1215 to 1965. Moreover, “Outside the Church” does not more accurately reflect any doctrine from any theologian or Pope prior to 1965. The other problem is if you open up any Latin dictionary, the very first definition is outside, not without. Smith’s Latin-English dictionary for example notes: “Preposition with the accusative, outside of, without, beyond”.2


Moreover “without” in this sense is not as in “without the ministry of the Church” but the old English “without, as in “out of doors”and a synonym for outside, unlike in our modern vernacular. There is a sense in which it can mean “except, besides,” but that is normally with a relations to persons or concepts, such as this use in Cicero: “Extra ducem paucosque praeterea reliqui in bello rapaces.”3


Moreover, Leo F. Stelton’s Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin also defines it as: “outside the Church there is no salvation; a dogmatic axiom, first formulated by Origen in the third century, that holds that the existence of, and either explicit or implicit membership in the Catholic Church are necessary for salvation.”4


‘Outside’ is the primary meaning of the preposition, referring to being outside of a physical thing. The Church is a visible Church, an actually existing thing, and the subject, nulla salus is what is being said to be outside. Furthermore it could not be expressing the Church’s relationship to salvation since the direct object of the preposition is ecclesiam, and the phrase is saying “there is none of this, outside of this.”


Next, were we to take Gray’s hermeneutic and apply it in other places we would immediately see why it doesn’t work. Let’s take for example what Vatican II says in Lumen Gentium 8: “licet extra eius compaginem elementa plura sanctificationis et veritatis inveniantur, quae ut dona Ecclesiae Christi propria, ad unitatem catholicam impellunt.” Literally this should be: “Although there are many elements of sanctification and truth that may be discovered outside of the visible structure, which, are properly gifts of the Church, they persuade toward Catholic unity.” The translation from the Vatican website differs very little: “although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.”5


Now, if we were to apply Gray’s hermeneutic, this would mean the text would instead be translated “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found without (as in apart from) the Church’s visible structure”, since, as he argued above, it would be expressing the abstract relation between the structure and elements of sanctification, and the logical consequent would be that elements of truth are found that do not come from Christ and the Church. If this is so such an interpretation would be heretical, as should be obvious to anyone. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus is constructed in exactly the same fashion.


Lastly, Gray’s interpretation goes against the context and sources of the teaching. The Fourth Lateran Council, as we have mentioned, taught formally: “This very visible Church is the necessary medium of salvation for all, so much that outside of it no one at all is saved.“6


Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII defines: “We are compelled to believe and to hold by the burden of faith that there is one holy catholic and itself apostolic Church, and we firmly believe and simply confess this firmly, outside of which there is neither salvation, nor remission of sins.”7

Moreover, the same document adds: “Therefore, if the Greeks or anyone else should say that they are not united to Peter and his successors, they affirm necessarily that they are not among the sheep of Christ, as the Lord said in John ‘one flock and one shepherd.'[John X:16]”8

In the context both of Lateran IV and the bull Unam Sanctam, a doctrine was dheclared based on Scripture and how the Tradition had been passed down by the Fathers. In the case of Lateran IV, this was against the Albigensians, whereas for Pope Boniface VIII, it was to reaffirm the authority of the Roman pontiff against the King of France, Philip IV, that one must be in the Church, and therefore in communion with the Roman Pontiff in order to be saved. Clearly neither the council nor the Pope intended to decree that without the Church there would not be salvation, since this would address neither issue, and would be contrary to the very context of both documents.


Although it may be true that without the Church there would not be salvation, that does not mean one that is outside the Church can be saved “by the Church”; this is not what either Lateran IV or Boniface VIII meant when they drafted their respective statements, both beginning with the preposition extra. The First Vatican Council solemnly defined:


“Hence, too, the very sense of sacred dogmas must to be retained in perpetuity which Holy Mother Church has once declared, and there must never be any withdrawal of this sense in the guise or in the name of a loftier understanding.”9


Thus if one were to go back to the Latin and tweak it to say “oh, we never saw this before!” then this is clearly contrary to the remote rule of faith. One is not in that context handing down doctrine but changing it, and as Vatican I shows, this is contrary to the mind of the Church, since nearly any heresy could be drafted and defended by trying to alter the meaning of this or that definition to something other than what was intended. On the other hand, this does not mean we cannot examine what the doctrine says and test conclusions that follow from that doctrine. In other words, there are teachings that follow from and are connected to revelation which were examined by the tradition that we may draw out or consider, but we may not go back to the root and say it really means this, for this would be to functionally deny the teaching in question and fall into heresy.


Moreover, if we were to set aside the fact that the teaching is de fide, we might also consider it from the standpoint of reason. Christ established a Church in His own Blood and placed the Apostles with and under Peter to rule it, to teach the faithful, baptize them and conserve the doctrine which he revealed to them in perpetuity. Why would He do such a thing if it were not necessary to be a member of the Church to be saved? If everyone is normally saved simply by being good, what was the point of Christ’s redemption? On this, Cardinal Billot taught :


“This necessity is not of a simple precept, but is also of the mode, since it is about the positive road of salvation, if such should be lacking, no other [road] would remain leading to justification and eternal beatitude. Now, as it is evident from the foregoing, the kingdom of Christ in the New Testament is nothing else but the visible and universal Church which He established. Therefore, this very visible Church is the necessary means of salvation for all men.


“It is confirmed in the first place, because by the necessity of means there is a necessary subordination to Christ the head, from Whom alone salvation can flow. Therefore from the consequent, the same necessity is the necessary mode which He predetermined. But the mode of subordination predetermined by Him consists in the subjection to the visible hierarchhy, remaining perennially and indefectibly for all days even to the consummation of the age, which He Himself established in regard to the ministerial head, when He sent His own apostles as He had been sent by the Father, when He conferred the promised power to them, that is the most universal power of binding and loosing in the kingdom of heaven, when He made them dispensers of His sacraments, when He defined that they were to teach all nations, initiate [them] by baptism and also that they should establish [them] in the observation of all things which He had commanded, and, at length, when He commissioned to one of them the duty of shepherding the sheep and lambs, in whom the unity of the hierarchy should be preserved.”10hhh


Furthermore, the Fathers compare the Church to Noah’s ark, outside of which no one was saved, so likewise one must be in the Church, the new ark, in order to be saved. Surely the ark did not have an abstract relationship to the flood? St. Cyprian of Carthage is perhaps the best source to summarize the Patristic consensus: “Whoever is separated from the Church, is joined to an adulterer, he is separated from the rewards of the Church. He is a foreigner, profane, an enemy. He cannot have God as father, who will not have the Church as mother. If anyone could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then one who is outside the Church could escape also.”11


The contrary to fact condition is a way for Cyprian to emphasize the point. No one survived outside the ark, therefore the conclusion, no one survives outside the Church. For Christ founded a visible Church, with a visible hierarchy that He established to conserve and propagate His teaching. Likewise, He insisted on membership. Whoever will not hear the Apostles and believe will be condemned. This is Christ, the prince of peace, who Himself handed down a stern and difficult doctrine, not some medieval theologian. Now, in theology the necessity of membership in the Church is divided into a two-fold distinction, the necessitas praecepti (necessity of precept), and the necessitas medii (necessity of means). The former refers to the command of Christ given to the Apostles and passed down to us for all men to believe and be baptized; the latter is the means, which is ordinarily baptism. This latter will be taken up in the second and third sections of this tract.


Now we see that being a member of the Church is of the Necessitas Praecepti. How does one then become a member? By the Sacrament of Baptism. As Pius XII taught in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi: “Accordingly, through the washing of purifying waters [baptism] those who are born into this mortal life are not only reborn from the death of sin and constituted members of the Church, but even being sealed with a spiritual seal they are made capable and suited to receive the other holy offices [Sacraments].”12


Our Blessed Lord, when he commissioned the Apostles to teach all nations, said to them: “Going therefore, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”13 Baptizing, in the Greek bapti,zontej, is a present participle. In both Latin and Greek present participles are contemporaneous with the action of the main verb, in this case the imperative maqhteu,sate, literally make disciples, or teach. In other words, while you are teaching, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, for they are not to be done separately. Among the Fathers, St. Cyprian of Carthage observes: “Christ Himself commanded the nations to be baptized in the full and undivided Trinity.”14

The Council of Florence taught in its decree to the Armenians: “Baptism is the door of the spiritual life: through it we are made members of Christ and of the body of the Church.”15


The Sacrament of Baptism has three effects: a) the grace of justification (justificatio prima); b) forgiveness of the penalties of sin; and c) the sacramental character. It is important to keep the effects of the sacrament in mind when we consider salvation and the question of the necessitas medii.


a) In the first place, baptism confers justification. It is worth bearing in mind that Justification in Catholic theology means restoring the soul to the life of grace lost by the sin of our first parents. It is the remission of sin and the infusing of the soul with sanctifying grace, not, as Luther taught, that Christ merely covers the soul with his grace like snow on a dung pile, leaving the nature in its original state. The quality of the soul itself is changed. Sanctifying grace then, is the grace in Baptism that confers membership in the Church and unites the members together under Christ, and the Roman Pontiff His visible head. In this vein the Council of Trent taught infallibly that:


“If anyone should deny that by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted, or even asserts that the it does not remove the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin… let him be anathema.”16


This sanctifying grace, however is not something that is an independent entity. It does not change the soul’s nature, but adheres in it. St. Thomas teaches that: “Every substance either is itself the nature of a thing, the substance of something, or is a part of nature, according to which mode or form is called a substance, but is an accidental form of the soul itself. Indeed, that which is substantially in God, becomes accidentally in the soul by participation in divine goodness.”17


Thus, applying St. Thomas we see that sanctifying grace becomes an accident of the soul, something that characterizes its state as being just in God’s sight.


b) Now, in being incorporated into the Church as a member, the reception of sanctifying grace in baptism is accompanied by the remission of all actual sins as well, and their punishments. Many do not understand that sin also has punishments, eternal and temporal. The eternal punishment, obviously is hell, but the temporal punishments are the punishments which we must make expiation for prior to entering heaven. Baptism wipes all of these out, while the sacrament of Penance only removes the eternal punishment for sin. The theologian Emmanuel Doronzo summarizes this nicely:


“Baptismal grace, since it is a certain generation, imports two ends: the terminus a quo or the corruption of the prior form and the terminus ad quem or, the production of a new form of life.


On the side of the terminus a quo baptismal grace is the total remission of original sin, or of the origin of sin itself, of actual sin both mortal and venial, of eternal punishment and of the whole temporal punishment due to sins.


“On the side of the terminus ad quem baptismal grace is a perfect restitution of original justice, i.e. of sanctifying grace and of the gift of integrity. Nevertheless, this restitution which will be perfected by the force of Baptism in heaven, now immediately after the reception of Baptism is still incomplete; it consists however in the common sanctifying grace, through which substance is restored to original justice, and in sacramental grace (more strictly speaking) which is a certain mode or vigor of sanctifying grace added, which specially orders the soul to all the effects and properties which are referred to generation and by the virtue of which, in the beginning of this life through the exercise of the virtues and perfectly in the next life through the purification of purgatory, and the reward of glory, that gift of integrity is restored in which original justice will be perfected.”18


c) Baptism imparts an indelible mark, a character, but this is an effect of baptism, it is not the cause of justification. Rather it is a mark on the soul to show that one has been baptized. It is a signum distinctivum which confers graces, but it does not by itself make one a member of the Church, it rather combined with faith, charity and the sanctifying grace bestowed by God in baptism, one is incorporated into the Church. As Preuss notes:


“The connection between character and grace is purely moral, and may be described as a kind of affinity, inasmuch as the sacramental character, in view of its purpose, ought never to exist without sanctifying grace.”19


Today, however, there is an opinion floating around that “once Catholic always Catholic”, that one can never be removed from the Church because he always has the mark of baptism, or that Protestants are actually Catholic because they have been baptized and therefore we can have the same hope of their salvation that we have for Catholics who die with the sacraments. This is altogether false, and though it is a side issue it should be considered here because its implications have a bearing on the next section of this tract. In the first place, the Church’s historical practice, as well as the teaching of the Fathers, shows clearly that faithful who are guilty of obstinate heresy or schism are cut off from the Church, and theologians unanimously held that those excommunicated as vitandi were formally outside the Church.


Yet today, some argue because the 1983 Canon Law has removed these distinctions, they are no longer operative and one is never outside the Church. This is also not the case, because the teaching that heresy puts one outside the Church is of divine law, not human law, irrespective of whether the Church wishes to point this out to the faithful at a given time. Secondly, as noted above, the character is not what confers membership in the Church. The character is part of what Theologians distinguish as the res et sacramentum, the grace conferred by the sacrament, whereas the res tantum is the reality, namely being put to death and rising with Christ. To accomplish this Faith is required, the character is a mark i.e. an the effect of the sacrament which confers grace. Yet without faith the character is of no avail, moreover, the character does not confer sanctifying grace. We can see this from the fact that when one commits a mortal sin, he loses sanctifying grace, but he does not lose the character, which remains forever and can not be effaced. If the character conferred sanctifying grace then he would lose it when he commits mortal sin, which we know is false. Secondly, the character does not confer faith, which we know because one can lose the virtue of faith by heresy or other sins of unbelief. Now we have a further distinction. As we shall see below, those who sin mortally are “dead members”, that is, they are still members of the Church but they lack sanctifying grace and if they die without at least a perfect act of contrition they will go to hell. Why aren’t those who sin mortally out of the Church? Simply, because they don’t necessarily lose the virtue of faith. Faith combined with the sacrament of Baptism which confers the character (which provides habitual grace moving the soul toward Christ), are what constitute membership, and the character remains as an effect of that, as we shall discuss more below. If faith however should be lacking, it impedes the work of the character which provides habitual grace. So one can indeed have the character, but if he does not possess faith he is not of the Church. St. Thomas argues:


“The damned are neither by act, nor potency, members of Christ. On that account, the character does not properly unite a man with the head, but is a sign of the potency and of a certain union, and therefore in hell, those who were members of Christ are recognized by that sign. Why it does not unite is obvious, for it does not unite externally, since it is an invisible thing, nor internally, since it is not an act, nor an operative habit.”20


Moreover, St. Robert Bellarmine argues:


“Now I speak with regard to that character. Indeed heretics retain those indelible marks outside the Church, as lost sheep retain the character of the branding on their backs, and deserters of an army military signs: but non on that account are they of the Church, because those characters do not suffice to constitute someone in the Church, otherwise the Church would be present even in hell.”21


Cardinal Billot adds to this:


“There cannot be any doubt that baptism, by reason of the character which it impresses, unites one to the one true Church of Christ, that is the Catholic Church. More correctly, by that very fact, Baptism includes him among the members of that body unless by chance there might be some impediment or break of the external bond of unity: for example a notorious profession of unbelief or heresy, or a separation by schism, or excommunication.”22


So it is possible to be cut off, because it is faith and the sanctifying grace conferred by Baptism which incorporates one into the Church, and if faith or the will to be in union with the Church are lacking, there is no basis by which one can be in union of the Church, irrespective of whether the Church decides to formally impose this as a penalty, because it follows from divine law.


II. Members of the Church


From the foregoing, it is clear that baptism makes one a member of the Church, and the last point should make it clear that formal heretics and schismatics are not members of the Church. What about sinners and catechumens?


In the first place, a sinner, if guilty of venial sin, is an infirm member, but if guilty of mortal sin, a dead member. This is why the Sacrament of Penance is numbered with Baptism as “as sacrament of the dead”, as intended for those who are spiritually dead. But infirm or dead members are not outside the Church, unless they die in mortal sin. This can be seen also, from the fact that the council of Trent confirmed the common teaching of theologians when it taught that a perfect act of contrition was sufficient to restore sanctifying grace, though the sacrament of penance should be used at the first available opportunity. A discussion of this, however, must wait until we deal with the question of Baptism of desire.


As for catechumens, while the Theologians differed, the majority opinion until the 20th century was that catechumens were members of the Church by their will (votum) to be baptized and formally enter the Church. St. Robert Bellarmine taught:


“I respond, when it is said, ‘Outside the Church no one is saved’, it ought to be understood concerning those who neither in fact, nor by desire are in the Church, as the theologians commonly speak on baptism. Though, however, the catechumens are not by act [baptism] in the Church, they are at least in the Church by desire (voto), therefore they can be saved.”23


This teaching, however, would appear to have been superseded by Pius XII in his encyclical Mystici Corporis, where he says:


“Really, only those who have been baptized and profess the true faith are to be counted as members of the Church, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.”24


But is that so? Does this really supersede what Bellarmine taught? It would seem to me that in fact a distinction was made in the Tradition that allows these two propositions may actually be congruous. For instance, Bellarmine did not say that Catechumens were members of the Church in re, i.e. in act by baptism, but rather in potency by their desire. Pius XII, by his use of “Really” (reapse) is referring to in act. This would have to be further extended to deal with how desire could confer sanctifying grace or not, but that deals more with the questions involving Baptism of desire in the next tract. Yet, for our purposes here, it can noted that common teaching of theologians for a thousand years would hold that Catechumens, subjectively belong to the Church, that is in as much as they have and maintain perfect contrition and right faith, but as a group do not belong to the Church ipso facto. Yet a fuller explanation of this must wait until the next tract.


At length, what about Protestants? Do we believe that all Protestants are going to hell? This is a difficult question, but the common teaching of theologians on this subject is that they do not necessarily go to hell. Here what we relate is to be distinguished from the question of the salvation of non-Christians, which will be taken up in the section on Baptism of desire.


This is a question that has arisen only since the Eastern schism and lastly with the Reformation. For the Fathers, the universal Church was one (nota unitatis), moreover politically it was supported by the state, at least most of the time, which is one of the essential characters of “Christendom”. The Reformation largely shattered this unity, so there were many areas that no longer had a throne and altar arrangement. This situation had important theological consequences, because if there is one Church, the state should support that one Church. If it does not, the political entity is giving the idea that there is not one Church. Psychologically this development changed the world view of someone adhering to a sect, say Lutheranism in Scandinavia where it was the state religion, and still is the predominant religion, or for the Orthodox in Greece or Russia, where for many years Orthodoxy was the state religion. The question of the Orthodox is thornier than it is for Protestants, not just because they have a full sacramental life, but even more because the real date of the schism is not 1054 as is commonly supposed in popular history, but rather the aftermath of of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and even more the political failure of 14th century Popes to support reforming emperor’s and bishops willing to effect reunion in Constantinople due to political reasons. Nevertheless let us look at this from Cardinal De Lugo:


“Although those who were baptized in infancy among heretics and nourished among them in false doctrine, after coming to adulthood, they might not sin against the catholic faith for some time, as long as it is not proposed sufficiently, that they should be obliged to embrace it; nevertheless after the Catholic faith is sufficiently proposed, and the obligation of embracing and renouncing contrary errors, if they might still persevere in them, they will be heretics.”25


Moreover, Cardinal Billot in de Ecclesia Christi gives a useful explanation:


“Therefore, as in Catholic doctrine there was always a distinction between baptism in act (in re) and baptism in will (voto) either explicit or implicit, so also there was a twofold distinction of the mode pertaining to the ark which is the Church of Christ.


“Thus it does not impede salvation, when one who ignorantly adheres to whatever false sect, provided that he should be in that disposition of mind (about which we will soon speak) and on the other hand he does not avert himself from the way prepared for justification. Is there not a witness to this truth, that even outside the boundaries of the Church, as I will say with Augustine, the sacraments emanate abundantly? Even that, indeed from the positive will of God, who could apply this condition to the validity of their sacraments, provided that they were confected by legitimate ministers. Now, if the sacraments emanate outside the boundaries of the Church, can’t the intention of those who are de facto separated from the visible communion of the Church be such that the sacraments profit them who live in good faith? Not only the sacraments, but even doctrine also, and, whereupon the preaching springs forth, in order that the Church should be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, even with respect to those who do not recognize the magisterium. Rather flowing through various and wondrous modes, they receive it although they do not perceive it. And through this, descending from the high ecclesiastical seat, directly or indirectly, whether through intention or through occasion, and the light of truth is sprinkled and the notion of divine revelation arrives even to many outside the Church, at least in so far as to fundamental points which necessarily ought to be explicitly believed, and thus to this point the grace of justification arrives outside the sacrament so that a man should convert to God through perfect charity. Nevertheless, God does not need any human minister, that faith, which is the beginning and root of justification, might instill itself into a man so ordained through bestowing the help of grace.


“Wherefore they calumniate us when they affect to interpret our axiom ‘extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, as though we were saying all those were de facto damned who die outside the visible communion of the Church… With respect to this question, until the day of judgment should come, no possibility of a solution appears, because revelation has been made to us from general and common modes alone, not from entirely different modes and in secret by lofty hidden workings of Providence, by which the possibility of salvation comes into being for some or individual adults.”26


What Billot is setting forth is that a) we know that the grace of the sacraments is operative outside the visible boundaries of the Church, e.g. that the Church has always acknowledged some Protestant baptisms and marriages to be valid, and all the sacraments of the Orthodox to be valid, b) why couldn’t the grace of God work outside the sacraments with respect to justification and c) while God can do this provided the disposition of the individual is correct, we do not know as a positive fact that this occurs. In essence, the import of this teaching is that non-Catholic Christians such as Protestants and the Orthodox can be saved, provided that they are in good faith and not really Protestant. This is the notion of the implicit desire that is explicated by various theologians, namely if one knew that the had to be under the Pope and in the Church, he would be without fail. We will discuss this more in the next tract. For now, what this means is that God’s grace can save souls at the hour of death, provided that they have a valid baptism, Divine faith, and the grace of Justification, something that presupposes they have no mortal sins. This is not that they will be saved, because Christ founded one Church to be the ordinary means of salvation. This is contrary to the modernist position that we can have the same hope for Protestants who die outside the Church as we do for Catholics who die with the sacraments. Not that we have no hope, rather not good hope. Such individuals are not saved “outside the Church”, but rather, by sanctifying grace they would be, in such a case, in the Church. Yet we will not know that in this life, so to assume that all Protestants, Orthodox, et al. are saved, is to fail in charity towards them, since there is no certainty about their state.


In the next tract, we will take up the question of the necessity of Baptism.


1Philip Gray, Without the Church there is no salvation, Catholic education resource center, http://catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0043.html. Originally printed in Lay Witness (April, 1999).


2William Smith, Latin-English dictionary, London, 1881; reprint Maximus Scriptorious publications, 2008: pg. 407.


3Cicero, Fam. 7, 3.


4Loc. cit. Appendix entry: E Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, pg. 307.


5Lumen Gentium, no 8, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html


6Lateran IV, ch. Firmiter: “Hanc ipsam visibilem Ecclesiam esse omnibus necessarium salutis medium, ita ut extra illam nullus omnino salvetur.” (My emphasis).All Translations are my own unless otherwise noted.


7″Unam Sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam et ipsam apostolicam urgente fide credere cogimur et tenere, nosque hanc firmiter credimus et simpliciter confitemur, extra quam nec salus est, nec remissio peccatorum.” (DZ 468).


8Ibid: “Si ergo Graeci sive alii se dicant Petro ejusque successoribus non esse commissos, fateantur necesse se de ovibus Christi non esse, dicente Domino in Joanne, unum ovile et unicum esse pastorem.”


9Vatican I, IV Session, ch. 4 no. 14 “Hinc sacrorum quoque dogmatum is sensus perpetuo est retinendus, quem semel declaravit sancta mater Ecclesia, nec unquam ab eo sensu altioris intelligentiae specie et nomine recedendum.” (cf. DZ 1800).


10Billot, Louis S.J. De Ecclesia Christi, Prati 1908,pars, Q 1 a2: “Haec necessitas non est simplicis praecepti, sed est etiam medii, cum versetur circa positivam salutis viam, qua deficiente, nulla alia relinquitur conducens ad justificationem ad beatitudinem aeternam. Nunc autem, ut ex praedemonstratis liquet, regnum Christi in Novo Testamento nihil aliud est quam visibilis et universalis Ecclesia ab eo fundata. Ergo haec ipsa visibilis Ecclesia est pro omnibus necessarium salutis medium.


“Et confirmatur primo, quia necessitate medii necessaria est subordinatio ad caput Christum, a quo solo esse potest salutis influxus. Ergo ex consequenti, eadem necessitate necessarius est subordinationis modus quem ipse praefixit. Sed modus subordinationis ab eo praefixus consistit in subjectione ad illam visibilem hierarchiam, perenniter atque indefectibiliter omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem saeculi permansuram, quam instituit ipse in ratione capitis ministerialis, quando suos apostolos misit sicut ipse missus fuerat a Patre, quando contulit eis promissam potestatem, eamque universalissimam, ligandi et solvendi in regno caelorum, quando eos fecit dispensatores sacramentorum suorum, quando deputavit ut gentes omnes docerent, baptismo initiarent, atque in observatione omnium quae mandaverat instituerent, quando demum uni eorum in quo hierachiae unitas servaretur, commisit officium pascendi oves et agnos. Ero necessarium medium salutis est, adhaerere et subjici huic visibili hierarchiae, mediante qua perticitur subjectio ad Christum ipsum.” (Emphasis in the original).


11Cyprian, de Unitate Ecclesiae, n.6: “Quisquis ab Ecclesia segregatus, adulterae iungitur, a promissis Ecclesiae separatur. Alienus est, profanus est, hostis est. Habere iam non potest Deum patrem, qui Ecclesiam non habet matrem. Si potuit evadere quisquam qui extra arcam Noe fuit, et qui extra Ecclesiam foris fuerit, evadit.”


12AAS XXXV (1943) pg. 193-248: “Siquidem per lustralis aquae lavacrum non modo qui sunt mortali huic vitae nati, ex peccati morte renascuntur et Ecclesiae constituuntur membra, sed spirituali etiam charactere insigniti capaces aptique fiunt ad cetera suscipienda munera sacra.”


13Matthew XXVIII:19: “poreuqe,ntej ou=n maqhteu,sate pa,nta ta. e[qnh( bapti,zontej auvtou.j eivj to. o’noma tou/ patro.j kai. tou/ uiou/ kai tou/ a`gi,ou pneu,matoj.”


14Ep. 73 ad Jubui no. 18 (Migne): “Ipse Christus gentes baptizari iubet in plena et adunata Trinitate.”

15″Baptisma… vitae spiritualis ianua est: per ipsum enim membra Christi ac de corpore efficimur Ecclesiae.” (DZ 696).


16Session V, can 5: “Si quis per Iesu Christi Domini nostri gratiam, quae in baptismate confertur, reatum originalis peccati remitti negat aut etiam asserit non tollit totum id, quod veram et propriam peccati rationem habet… amathema sit.” (DZ 792).


17St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ottawa 1941, I-IIae, q. 110, a 2, ad 2: “Omnis substantia vel est ipsa natura rei, cujus est substantia, vel est pars naturae, secundum quem modum materia vel forma substantia dicitur. Et quia gratia est supra naturam humanam, non potest esse quod sit substantia aut forma substantialis, sed est forma accidentalis ipsius animae. Id enim quod substantialiter est in Deo, accidentaliter fit in anima participante divinam bonitatem.”


18Doronzo, De Baptismo et Confirmatione, Bruce publishing 1947, pg. 86: “Gratia baptismalis, cum sit quaedem generatio, duos terminos importat: terminum a quo seu corruptionem prioris formae et terminum ad quem seu productionem novae formae vitalis.


Ex parte termini a quo gratia baptismalis est totalis remissio peccati originalis, seu ipsius peccati orignis, peccati actualis tum mortalis tum venialis, poenae aeternae ac totius poenae temporalis pro peccatis debitae, omnis poenalitatis.


Ex parte termini ad quem gratia baptismalis est perfect restitutio justitiae originalis, i.e. gratiae sanctificantis et doni integritatis.* Haec tamen restitutio quae vi Baptismi perficietur in coelo, nunc immediate post susceptionem Baptismi est tantum incompleta; consistit autem in gratia communi sanctificante, per quam restituitur substantia justitiae originalis, et in gratia sacramentali (strictius dicta) quae est quidam modus vel vigor gratiae sanctificanti additus, qui eam specialiter ordinat ad omnes effectus et proprietates quae ad generationem referuntur et virtute cujus, incipienter in hac vita per virtutum exercitium ac perfecte in altera vita per purificationem purgatorii et retirbutionem gloriae, restituitur donum illud integritatis quo justitia originalis perficiebatur.” (Emphasis in the original)


*Editorial note: where he adds doni integritatis “of the gift of integrity”, it should be clear that Doronzo doesn’t mean we get the gift of integrity as it was in Adam, hence he says it is incomplete, rather grace is conferred throughout our lives to ultimately achieve this in the next life, the full subordination of our lower faculties to our higher faculties.


19Pohl-Preuss, Grace, Actual and Habitual, B. Herder Book company, 1924; Sect 2, Art 1, Theses I and II.


20III Q. 8 art. 3: “Damnatos nec actu, nec potentia esse membra Christi. Praeterea, non proprie unit character hominem cum capite, sed est signum potestatis et unionis cujusdam, et ideo in inferno, illo signo cognoscentur, qui fuerunt membra Christi. Quod autem non uniat, patet; nam non unit exterius, cum sit res invisibilis: nec interius, cum non sit actus, nec habitus operativus.”


21Robert Bellarmine, De Controversiis, Opera Omnia Tomus 2, de Ecclesia Militante, Neapoli 1837; pg. 77: “Ad illud de charactere dico, haereticos retinere extra Ecclesiam characteres illos indelebiles, sicut retinent oves perditae characterem inustum in dorso, et desertores militiae signa militaria: sed non propterea sunt de Ecclesia, quia non sufficiunt characteres illi ad constituendum aliquem in Ecclesia; alioqui etiam in inferno esset Ecclesia.”


22Billot, De Ecclesiae Sacramentis, Tomus prior, Rome, 1924, Q. LXIX, pg 279: “Non enim dubium iam esse potest quin baptismus, ratione characteris quem imprimit, devinciat hominem uni verae Ecclesiae Christi, id est Catholicae, imo et ipso facto aggreget eum inter membra corporis ejus, nisi forte in eo sit aliquid impediens vel abrumpens externum vinculum unitatis: puta notoria professio incredulitatis vel haereseos, aut schismatica separatio, aut excommunicatio.” (My emphasis).


23Bellarmine, loc cit., pg. 76: “Respondeo igitur, quod dicitur, extra Ecclesiam neminem salvari, intelligi debere de iis, qui neque re ipsa, nec desiderio sunt de Ecclesia, sicut de baptismo communiter loquuntur theologi. Quoniam autem catechumeni si non re, saltem voto sunt in Ecclesia, ideo salvari possunt.”


24loc.cit. no. 22 “In Ecclesiae autem membris reapse ii soli annumerandi sunt, qui regenerationis lavacrum receperunt veramque fidem profitentur, neque a Corporis compage semet ipsos misere separarunt, vel ob gravissima admissa a legitima auctoritate seiuncti sunt.


25De Lugo, De Fide, disp. 20 p.2 n149: “Quamquam qui in infantia baptizatus apud haereticos et apud eos in falsa doctrina nutritur, postea factus adultus possit aliquamdiu non peccare contra fidem catholicam, quamdiu non ei proponitur sufficienter, ut obligetur ad eam amplectendam; postquam tamen ei fides catholica sufficienter proponitur, et obligatio eam amplectendi et relinquendi errores contrarios, si adhuc in iis perseveret, erit haereticus.” Quoted in Franzelin, De Ecclesia Christi, pg. 404.


26Billot, loc.cit., pg.120-122: “Non ergo impedit salutem, quod quis ignoranter ad quamcumque falsam sectam adhaereat, dummodo sit in ea animi dispositione de qua mox dictum est, et aliunde a justificationis via unicuique praeparata sese non avertat. Nonne huic veritati attestatur, quod etiam extra Ecclesiae fines, ut cum Augustino loquar, sacramenta largiter emanant? Et id quidem ex positiva Dei voluntate qui ad ipsorum sacramentorum validitatem potuisset eam conditionem apponere, ut nonnisi a legitimis ministris conficerentur. Nunc autem, si extra Ecclesiae fines sacramenta emanant, nonne ea intentione ut prosint iis qui in bona fide versantes, ab ipsius Ecclesiae visibili communione sunt de facto separati? Et non solum sacramenta, sed doctrina quoque et praedicatio undequaque foras erumpit, ut sit Ecclesia sal terrae et lux mundi, etiam respectu eorum qui magisterium ejus non agnoscunt, sed ejus influxum variis et miris modis, quamvis non advertentes, recipiunt. Ac per hoc, ab alto cathedrae ecclesiasticae, directe vel indirecte, sive per intentionem sive per occasionem, descendit et spargitur veritatis lumen, pervenitque ad multos etiam extraneos notitia divinae revelationis, saltem quantum ad fundamentales articulos qui necessario debent esse explicite crediti, ad hoc ut possit homo per charitatem perfectam se ad Deum convertere, et sic ad justificationis gratiam extra sacramentum pervenire. Quamquam nec indigeat Deus humano quocumque ministerio, ut fidem quae justificationis est initium et radix, inspiret homini sese per gratiae auxilium omnibus oblatum disponenti…


“Quapropter calumniantur nos quicumque axioma nostrum: extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, sic interpretari affectant, quasi diceremus damnari de facto eos omnes qui de facto extra visibilem communionem corporis Ecclesiae moriuntur. …Huic quaestioni, donec veniat judicii dies, nulla patet solutionis possibilitas, quia de solis mediis generalibus atque communibus facta est nobis revelatio, non autem de modis diversissimis et in secreto Providentiae alte reconditis, quibus ad singulos quosque adultos provenit salutis possibilitas.”

ryangrant Ryan Grant is a native of eastern Connecticut. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and also studied at Holy Apostles Seminary. Along with being an apologist for Faithful Answers he also writes for the Distributist Review. He currently teaches Latin in Post Falls, ID where he resides with his wife and four children.

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Comments (8)

  • Michael


    I read it: interesting bit on the schismatics, I have to say. However, it does seem to conflict with other statements saying that a schismatic can have all things – even the valid sacraments -, but outside the Church, they will be of no avail.
    Furthermore, I am find it difficult when it is said that they are only bound to become Catholic once they *sufficiently understand* the necessity of belonging to the Church. The example of Christ and the Apostles was not one of endless argumentation/exposition to *convince*, but they simply taught the Gospel: and those who accepted were baptized while those who rejected it were then left alone.
    As I remember Dominicans saying: it is almost impossible to go to hell, because for one to do so, one has to knowingly reject God, i.e. truly believe God exists, truly believe what one is doing is pure evil and fully understand it and then still say “no” to God. In that sense, the article seemed to say that only a schismatic who already believes Catholicism to be true, but still refuses to become Catholic, will be damned.


  • Lionel Andrades


    interesting bit on the schismatics, I have to say. However, it does seem to conflict with other statements saying that a schismatic can have all things – even the valid sacraments -, but outside the Church, they will be of no avail.

    I affirm the literal interpretation of the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus as did Fr.Leonard Feeney and also accept the baptism of desire as a possibility.

    The baptism of desire is known only to God and so is not an exception to the traditional interpretation of Fr.Leonard Feeney.

    So one can accept the literal interpretation of Fr.Leonard Feeney and not be a schismatic, since the dogma on exclusive salvation is in accord with Vatican Council II (AG 7) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church(846). LG 16 and LG 8 are not known exceptions to AG 7 which says ‘all’ need ‘faith and baptism’ for salvation.

    According to the dogma Cantate Domino, Council of Florence 1441 the majority people, not having Catholic Faith which includes the baptism of water are on the way to Hell.
    According to Vatican Council this is the same position. The majority of the world population do not have ‘ faith and baptism.'(AG 7)
    In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us that the way to Hell is large and most people take it.
    The dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus, Cantate Domino, Pope Eugenio IV mentions Hell having fire.


  • Ryan Grant


    We will not deal with any questions on baptism of Desire until the second tract. Lionel will have to wait and hopefully develop mature theological reflection.


  • Ryan Grant


    Michael, good questions. I apologize for the delay.

    I have to say. However, it does seem to conflict with other statements saying that a schismatic can have all things – even the valid sacraments -, but outside the Church, they will be of no avail.

    Even in the Church, the sacraments are of no avail without right faith and communion with the Roman Pontiff. I thought it would be evident in the tract, but upon reflection, I have seen that one thing I ought to have included were Bellarmine’s definitions of the Church that all the manualists followed in Ecclesiology, drawn from older principles. These are namely, the body of the baptized with right faith who are in subjection to the magisterium Christ Himself established, namely the Roman Pontiff and all the Bishops in union with him. So for a schismatic, who refuses to adhere to the unity of the Church, the sacraments do not avail unto salvation. The question theologians has asked proceeds for true charity and the disposition to be in obedience to the Roman Pontiff, which the Theologians refer to as being in potency of the disposition to obey Christ fully.

    Furthermore, I am find it difficult when it is said that they are only bound to become Catholic once they *sufficiently understand* the necessity of belonging to the Church. The example of Christ and the Apostles was not one of endless argumentation/exposition to *convince*, but they simply taught the Gospel: and those who accepted were baptized while those who rejected it were then left alone.

    The difference is in this: when Christ and the Apostles taught there was no reformation, and likewise after Constantine there was more or less a state religion re-affirming in Law and Society the Church Christ established. The treatment from Cardinal de Lugo and Cardinal Billot which I quoted from, echoed by many other manualists with an impramatur from the Holy See, says that in potency, were such people prepared, it would seem to follow in the internal forum that they would have sanctifying grace. That is to say, Christ will confer sanctifying grace as an effect for true charity and the disposition to do what He commanded should they be convinced of it. If they have the fullness of what the Catholic Church is presented to them, and they do not assent to it, it is a sign that they did not have this disposition to begin with. Moreover, it is not a certain yes, non-Catholic baptized will be saved because they have this, it is rather, suppose this was the case, then it would follow this would happen. Yet we don’t know, because it happens in the internal forum. Thus we must still evangelize and engage in apologetics to convince Protestants and the Orthodox of the claims of Christ’s true Church.

    As I remember Dominicans saying: it is almost impossible to go to hell, because for one to do so, one has to knowingly reject God, i.e. truly believe God exists, truly believe what one is doing is pure evil and fully understand it and then still say “no” to God. In that sense, the article seemed to say that only a schismatic who already believes Catholicism to be true, but still refuses to become Catholic, will be damned.

    Which Dominicans? Frankly that is a little absurd, because you also have to take into account personal sins against the natural law, even for those who are invincibly ignorant. If a schismatic is guilty of mortal sin, particularly against the natural law, he has in fact rejected God. Secondly, I did not say only schismatics who haven’t had the Church sufficiently proposed to them, but rather, those who are of the disposition to obey the establishment of Christ. The onus is on the believer, not on whether or not the Church has been sufficiently proposed to him/her.

    I hope that helps to clear it up.


  • Michael



    I thank you for taking the time to respond to my queries.

    Ihave to admit that I still have difficulties with some of the issues – especially after having spoken to some Feeneyites. It seems that if we assume a schismatic who is rightly disposed and thus would enter into the Church of Christ once shown it, then would not God – as taught by the Saints and other theologians – grant them to grace that they may actually enter into into the Church? It seems to me that only invincible ignorance would be the extraordinary case, but in a time of easy access to information, I do not think this applies as often as in the past anymore.

    It seems that at times there is an excess of excusing any bone fide opinion regarding God and His Will as being sufficient for the possibility of salvation.

    “Which Dominicans?”

    Those of the Northern Province of Germany, i.e. Teutonia.


    • Ryan Grant


      In the first place, we must consider a schismatic. Do we mean someone who has in fact rejected the authority of the Pope, or the Church, etc? Or do we mean someone raised in a schismatic sect that is only materially so? The theologians address more or less the latter case. In the case of the former, its obvious, he must abjure his errors and at least profess the true faith if he is hindered from going to a priest to make an act of re-union by death.

      In the latter case, what the theologians teach (and the feenyites by their novelties reject) is that it proceeds from charity and justice on the side of God, in as much as, e.g. a greek or russian raised in the Orthodox Church, has perfect contrition for their sins, and perfect love of God. This is evinced by a readyness on the part of x person to follow the command of God if their ignorance is removed. Thus sufficiently proposed, means that if their ortjodox priest is blasting the errors of Rome, you could not expect any reasonable person to glean from this that the Catholic Church is true. Sufficiently proposed would be if a priest, a missionary, or even info on the internet, should make it clear, and the person rejects it, he is now in the same position as the first. But it does not follow that had that not happened he would have been saved. If he had true charity for God he would have converted.
      Thus the theologians address a hypothetical question to be considered based reason and truths connected with faith. Namely that perfect charity can forgive sins, which is clear in scripture and Tradition. This is also contrary to modernism where they hold you can be saved outside the church, which is heretical. Modernism also takes this consideration, that there could be schismatics laboring in true ignorance who possess perfect charity, and thus says see they’re a valid Church, which is contrary to the nota unitatis and does not follow as predicated by the scholastics. It is a pure jump to an absurd conclusion, much as the Feenyite reaction to deny the universal teaching of the theologians, which Pius IX taught is infallible, just because the modernists pervert it. The consequence of Feenyism is that the Church’s teaching office can be erroneous and the Holy Ghost could have failed to prevent error for persisting in the life of the church for over a millenia, which in the long run is a at least as dangerous as modernism. Its more like a Calvinism that replaces the Bible with Denzinger but continues to deny the authority of the Church and attributes everything to predestination.


  • Bill Strom



    Thank you for a good article. Better than most “apologists” attempt>
    , Being a “Feeneyite”. I don’t think there is a consensus on those who are material heretics.
    I am in contact with Br. Andre of the NH community ( who are the strictest of the 4 approved congregations.) and posed the question of a Greek Orthodox Farmer who thinks the controversies of the Latins and the EO is silly and holds no obstacle the Faith.

    Bro. Andre seemed to think he was a Catholic. The problem as you pointed out is formal schism or heresy. and material..

    St. Josephat considered himself always a Catholic, even though he attended the Eastern Schismatic church parish with his parents..

    Pope Pius XI, Ecclesiam Dei, Encyclical on St. Josaphat, Nov. 12, 1923:

    “Our Saint [Josaphat] was born of schismatic parents but was validly baptized and received the name of John. From his earliest years he lived a saintly life. …even as a child he turned towards communion with the Ecumenical, that is, the Catholic Church. Of this Church he always considered himself a member because of the valid baptism which he had received. What is more, he felt himself called by a special Providence to re-establish everywhere the holy unity of the Church.”

    St. Josaphat was a Catholic because he had not yet obstinately embraced the Eastern Schism. Notice that the Pope does not say that St. Josaphat condemned his parents as heretics, but that he “tended towards communion with the… Catholic Church.” This simply means that St. Josaphat was inclined to the truth from the beginning, but that he may have been unaware of the issue of the Eastern Schism [and their rejection of the Papacy] in good faith.

    Thus, St. Josaphat is an example of a Catholic young person who was attending an Eastern Schismatic church parish with his parents but was not a heretic. This, of course, proves that today it is possible for the children of the EO or Protestants may be Catholics since they also don’t understand the issues. and put no obstacle to Grace. Like a baptized infant the Church provides– as long as there is no opposition.


  • Andrew Prizzi


    Dear Mr. Grant,

    Thank you for the time and effort put into this article. It’s certainly a topic that requires careful thought and carefully chosen words. I look forward to the 2nd part of the article. Pax Christi.


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