Is the Orthodox understanding of extra ecclesiam nulla salus different from the Catholic?

One of the things that most bothers me about Catholicism is the doctrine that no one outside the Church can be saved. I know that today, the Church is more open and teaches that there is room for ignorance to excuse people for not being Catholic and even hope that infants who die without baptism can be saved. But it definitely seems that in the past, things like Unam Sanctam said that everyone who wasn’t Catholic and subject of the Pope was absolutely going to hell, ignorant or not. For me, just the bare fact that the Church used to bury unbaptized infants in unconsecrated ground has been probably the biggest thing that has ever made me wonder if Catholicism wasn’t the right form of Christianity. And just the fact that the Feeneyites of the St. Benedict Center are allowed to remain in the Church while denying even the Baptism of Blood and Desire for Catechumens—meaning their position is acceptable if not endorsed—is something extremely difficult for me to overcome.

I know that the Orthodox churches teach something like EENS, but I don’t know if it is different in any essentials from the Catholic. Did Orthodox Churches treat unbaptized infants in the same way the Catholic Church used to? Are there radical traditionalists in the Orthodox church who can point to their own equivalent of Unam Sanctam saying all non-Orthodox are damned?

Orthodox says "we can know where the church is but we cannot say where She isn’t.

I don’t think it is “more” open, because it Always taught that.

Scripture, Church Fathers, and Medieval Doctors on the Possibility of Salvation for Non-Catholics
historyandapologetics.com/2015/02/scripture-church-fathers-and-medieval.html

Just as one example, not long before Unam Sanctam, St. Thomas Aquinas was clear that salvation is possible for non-Catholics, at least in some sense:

St. Thomas Aquinas - “[E]ven if someone is brought up in the forest or among wild beasts…[God will] furnish everyone with what is necessary for salvation, provided that on [man’s] part there is no hindrance. Thus, if someone [who was] brought up [in the wild] followed the direction of natural reason in seeking good and avoiding evil, we must most certainly hold that God would either reveal to him through internal inspiration what had to be believed, or would send some preacher of the faith to him as he sent Peter to Cornelius (Acts 10:20).” (De Veritate Question 14 Article 11 Answer to Objection 1)

And: “[It] is not imputed as a sin to man, if he fails to know what he is unable to know. Consequently ignorance of such like things is called ‘invincible,’ because it cannot be overcome by study. For this reason such like ignorance, not being voluntary, since it is not in our power to be rid of it, is not a sin: wherefore it is evident that no invincible ignorance is a sin.” (Summa Theologica I-II Question 76 Article 2)

And: “[People] can…obtain salvation…[who either] sacramentally [or] mentally are…incorporated in Christ, through Whom alone can salvation be obtained… [F]or instance, when a man wishes to be baptized, but by some ill-chance he is forestalled by death before receiving Baptism…such a man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism… [For] God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies [such a] man inwardly.” (Summa Theologica III Question 68 Article 2)

And: “[Man] receives the forgiveness of sins before Baptism in so far as he has Baptism of desire, explicitly or implicitly… [Therefore even] before Baptism Cornelius and others like him receive grace and virtues through their faith in Christ and their desire for Baptism, implicit or explicit.” (Summa Theologica III Question 69 Article 4)

“[For] Cornelius…was not an unbeliever, else his works would not have been acceptable to God… [He] had implicit faith, as the truth of the Gospel was not yet made manifest: hence Peter was sent to him to give him fuller instruction in the faith.” (Summa Theologica II-II Question 10 Article 4)

But it definitely seems that in the past, things like Unam Sanctam said that everyone who wasn’t Catholic and subject of the Pope was absolutely going to hell, ignorant or not.

It doesn’t say “ignorant or not.” In Catholic theology, you Are (in a sense) subject to the pope if you sincerely seek God’s will in a state of invincible ignorance, because you are united to the Church’s soul, even though you are not united to its body. This was long recognized both before and after Unam Sanctam. St. Augustine says that even Heretics, if they are invincibly ignorant and seek the truth, count as members of the Church in the eyes of God. (Letter 43 Chapter 1)

For me, just the bare fact that the Church used to bury unbaptized infants in unconsecrated ground has been probably the biggest thing that has ever made me wonder if Catholicism wasn’t the right form of Christianity.

The fact that the Church had that discipline does not imply a restrictive sense of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus.” That discipline was used to reinforce the doctrine that baptism is necessary for salvation, with all appropriate qualifications. In modern times, we use other methods of reinforcing that doctrine, and the discipline has changed. But that is allowed: disciplines CAN change, and God set up His Church that way. I hope that a disciplinary matter is not a stumbling block on a question of truth because disciplines have little to do with what is or is not true.

And just the fact that the Feeneyites of the St. Benedict Center are allowed to remain in the Church while denying even the Baptism of Blood and Desire for Catechumens—meaning their position is acceptable if not endorsed—is something extremely difficult for me to overcome.

Just because Feeneyites aren’t kicked out does not mean their position is acceptable. Catholics, including Feeneyites, are expected to believe ALL the Church’s teachings, and baptism of desire is confirmed in Catholic dogma: it’s in the Council of Trent Session 7 Canon 4. “If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification; though all (the sacraments) are not indeed necessary for every individual; let him be anathema.” source

The Church may not kick out the Feeneyites, but that does not imply that their position is acceptable. The Church wants them to fully adhere to Church teaching, and is pursuing a course that, in the Church’s wisdom, she thinks will draw them closer to her bosom.

@dmar198

I’ll just say that I agree with you, but I’ve seen plenty of trads trot out lists of quotes from various Popes that certainly at least seem to deny that ignorance matters. Like this:

" The Church Teaches Ex Cathedra: “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 ever be partakers of eternal life, but that they are to go into the eternal fire “which was prepared for the devil, and his angels,” (Mt. 25:41) 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 from the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and that they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, almsdeeds, and other works of Christian piety and 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 they abide within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.” (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441) "

There are definitely even trads on this very board who believe the Christians martyred in Libya went straight to Hell, even though they probably keep it to themselves, because of this quote and those like it. It at the very least does seem like there wasn’t any exceptions being made for ignorance.

As for the Feeneyites, I think the same as you, but I can’t understand how on earth the St. Benedict Center could have been regularized if the Church considered their views heresy.

This is something quite beautiful and complex, and I think it’s something we ought to look more into - especially in this modern world of ours which has such a diluted concentration of Christians and a lack of knowledge in the truths of Christ’s true Church.

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus is certainly an important teaching of the apostolic faith, and we know that God cannot be limited in His mercy and love. So where the Church is, we know - where it’s not, we are unsure. How can we be sure!?

What is the status of that declaration. Was it infallible? Is what the Pope said true or not?

I don’t see where that quote denies that ignorance matters. It seems to me that the Church’s teaching on the possibility of salvation for non-Catholics involves two conditions: (1) if you are in a state of invincible ignorance and (2) if you still strive to follow the light of natural reason assisted by grace, then you can be saved. People who fulfill those conditions are not “outside the Church” but are “united to its soul” even though not yet united “to its body,” or, to use the language of St. Thomas Aquinas, they are “incorporated in Christ” not sacramentally but “mentally.”

Pope Eugene IV discusses people who are “outside the Catholic Church,” “[outside] the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church,” and “[not] within this unity,” and he says they cannot be saved. The doctrine of invincible ignorance simply says that people who meet the above-mentioned conditions (#1 in a state of invincible ignorance and #2 striving, with grace, to follow the light of natural reason) are Not outside the Catholic Church.

That’s why there’s no contradiction: one is saying those who die outside the Church cannot ever ever ever be saved, and the other is saying that the invincibly ignorant, under the right circumstances, AREN’T outside the Church.

Also: invincible ignorance was taught both before and after Pope Eugene IV, and I’m confident that if I had access to his other writings and if I knew Latin, I could find references to the doctrine in his own words.

I hope that makes sense. It looks like a lot.

As for the Feeneyites, I think the same as you, but I can’t understand how on earth the St. Benedict Center could have been regularized if the Church considered their views heresy.

I think it may come down to Fr. Feeney himself. He was excommunicated for heresy, but his excommunication was lifted without his repentance. Here’s how Fr. William Most puts it: “Some followers of Feeney insist that the fact that he was finally reconciled to the Church without retracting indicates the Church admitted Feeney had been right all along. This is not true: (1) The broad Magisterium texts (with repetition, so that we can claim infallibility for them) are incompatible with Feeney; (2) He was reconciled when quite old. The fact that he was not pushed to do more is an example of the widespread permissiveness that has done so much harm to the Church in our times.” source

It is my understanding that Cantate Domino is infallible at least because it is the definition of an ecumenical council, and also possibly because it may fulfill the conditions of an ex cathedra definition by the pope. Unless I’ve misunderstood something, Cantate Domino was delivered as one of the documents of the Seventeenth Ecumenical Council Session 11. source (The above link has two “session 11s,” one of which is the Council of Basel and one of which is the Council of Florence. I’m referring to the latter.)

This is the same for Lutherans. Presumably, the Orthodox also identify the church by its four marks?

While I wish I could accept this logic more readily, it really does seem that our current interpretation of EENS is a sort of tautology (i.e. there is no salvation outside the Church because all those who are saved are in Church, regardless of being in the visible church or not), and that the only way to really be damned by it would be the nigh on impossible situation of knowing that the Catholic Church is true and yet refusing to be a part of it, was not the way the doctrine used to be interpreted. This part of Cantate Domine in particular was a bit of saber rattling on Eugene IV’s part trying to scare to Orthodox into reconciliation—it doesn’t seem like there was much of a point in including it if it had the implied disclaimer, “Of course, its been 400 years since to schism started so most of your are probably invincibly ignorant of the need to submit to my authority because of social influences so you probably won’t really go to hell if you don’t rejoin the Roman Church…but you really should still do it.” It sounds like he’s saying, obey or burn.

I also believe Feeney was excommunicated for refusing a summons to Rome, not heresy in particular. But they boast on their website that they have permission to teach their heresy, and the fact that their center in Virginia was regularized seems to suggest the Church does not believe they are teaching heresy.

That is not a tautology. In tautological form, this doctrine would say, “All who are outside the Church are outside the Church.” In reality, it says, “All who are outside the Church are doomed,” and, “Some invincibly ignorant people are not outside the Church.”

[It seems] that the only way to really be damned by it would be the nigh on impossible situation of knowing that the Catholic Church is true and yet refusing to be a part of it

I don’t think that follows. First, even without knowing the Catholic Church is true, there is a moral obligation to seek the truth that many people ignore. Unless I’ve misunderstood something, most non-Catholics are not invincibly ignorant but vincibly ignorant: they can easily overcome their ignorance by simply seeking the truth.

Also, unless I’ve misunderstood something, even a person who is invincibly ignorant of the Church’s truth in general can be culpable for ignoring or rejecting certain things about the Church that they can know. I think such people would be included in Pope Eugene’s condemnation. When Vatican 2 discussed extra ecclesiam nulla salus, the situation they saw as rendering a person unable to be saved was a situation where a person knowingly hardens their heart against the Church’s truth in general. I think that is probably more common than we know, but more than that, I don’t think Vatican 2 said that that’s the only way to fall into the category of “outside the Church.” Perhaps hardening one’s heart to specific moral and theological teachings of the Church can also place people “outside the Church” even when they are invincibly ignorant of the Church’s truth in general. Some moral duties which can be known through reason are often ignored, for example.

This part of Cantate Domine in particular was a bit of saber rattling on Eugene IV’s part trying to scare to Orthodox into reconciliation—it doesn’t seem like there was much of a point in including it if it had [an] implied disclaimer.

I do not think invincible ignorance is a disclaimer on extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Since invincible ignorance was an ancient and well-understood part of the Church’s doctrine, the idea that Pope Eugene was ignoring it, muffling it, or renouncing it seems unlikely. If the pope had brought it up in this context, it would possibly seem like they don’t have an obligation to convert because invincible ignorance might cover them. That would be an abuse of the doctrine, which leaves untouched the natural responsibility to pursue the truth.

I also believe Feeney was excommunicated for refusing a summons to Rome, not heresy in particular. But they boast on their website that they have permission to teach their heresy, and the fact that their center in Virginia was regularized seems to suggest the Church does not believe they are teaching heresy.

I wonder if the following is true: they are permitted to believe that baptism of desire has not been infallibly defined so long as they theoretically agree to submit to any future judgment by the Church that is has been.

He said it is a sort of tautology which I agree with. Because if you are saved, then you are in the Church, whether you know it or not?

If what you’re saying is in the bold is true, then it really really disturbs me. That just takes me back to the situation of trads assuming those people in Libya who were killed for being Christians weren’t really even martyrs, and probably went to hell. They cried out for Jesus with their lasts breath and he answered, “Sorry, you don’t have the proper understanding of the hypostatic union and you didn’t really try hard enough to find out, so off you go to hell.”

I honestly just deplore EENS as a whole. If I die only to find out that C.S. Lewis or any other Protestant or Orthodox person I’ve admired as a Christian is in hell, not for any run-of-the-mill, but just for not being a Catholic, I’ll probably be damned myself because can’t accept that God would do such a thing.

First, please don’t label me as such a trad. I don’t sympathize with any viewpoint that downplays the martyrdom of those Christians or thinks it “doesn’t count” or that they are in hell.

Second, don’t let my mistakes and misunderstandings disturb you. I am not the Church and I don’t always get things right. Certainly no one is required to hold that good people will be damned simply because they hadn’t yet worked out that Anglicanism, for example, was the wrong door.

I honestly just deplore EENS as a whole. If I die only to find out that C.S. Lewis or any other Protestant or Orthodox person I’ve admired as a Christian is in hell, not for any run-of-the-mill, but just for not being a Catholic, I’ll probably be damned myself because can’t accept that God would do such a thing.

First, that’s not what EENS means. EENS means that Jesus is the only way. It comes directly from this simple syllogism:

(1) You cannot be saved without Christ. Acts 4:12.
(2) The Church is the body of Christ. Colossians 1:18.
(3) Therefore, you cannot be saved without the Church.

If you can’t find something wrong with that syllogism (go ahead! try) then you can easily see why EENS is a good and biblical doctrine. There really ought to be nothing objectionable in it. It doesn’t say the people you admire will be damned or anything. It’s just the plain truth that if Jesus gives us all good things, and salvation is good, then all salvation is in Jesus.

[quote=Tomdstone]He said it is a sort of tautology which I agree with. Because if you are saved, then you are in the Church, whether you know it or not?
[/quote]

If you are saved, then you are in the Church in some sense, that is true. That does not equal a tautology unless every definition is a tautology.

“Sausage is a cylindrical length of minced and seasoned pork.” <-- That is not a tautology.
“Sausage is sausage.” <-- That is a tautology.
“All the saved are in the Church.” <-- That is not a tautology.
“All the saved are all the saved.” <-- That is a tautology.

EENS implies that the Church includes all the saved. Invincible ignorance implies that some people who Appear to be outside the Church are actually inside it in some way.

Those doctrines are not tautological because they are not repetitive.

I’m sorry if it came off that way, I absolutely wasn’t accusing you of being a trad, which is an uncharitable word, but one I think applies to some, though not all traditionalists. Its plain from your signature that you’re exactly the person I really respect who tries to engage with the errors of more radical traditionalists.

First, that’s not what EENS means. EENS means that Jesus is the only way. It comes directly from this simple syllogism:

(1) You cannot be saved without Christ. Acts 4:12.
(2) The Church is the body of Christ. Colossians 1:18.
(3) Therefore, you cannot be saved without the Church.

If you can’t find something wrong with that syllogism (go ahead! try) then you can easily see why EENS is a good and biblical doctrine. There really ought to be nothing objectionable in it. It doesn’t say the people you admire will be damned or anything. It’s just the plain truth that if Jesus gives us all good things, and salvation is good, then all salvation is in Jesus.

I really want to believe that the way your laying it out is correct, but it really does feel like this wasn’t the way the doctrine was mostly used to say that pagans, Jews, Protestants and the Orthodox were all definitely going to hell because they didn’t obey the Pope.

Just noticed your tagline. HERETICS, chap. VI, p. 94 (1st American ed.)

Gee, thanks. I don’t consider myself a traditionalist, at least not in this sense: I prefer the New Mass to the Old Mass, and in traditionalist circles I think that would set me apart in some sense. Also, I think that any self-proclaimed “traditionalist” who doesn’t honor the pope and accept his teaching with submission isn’t really a traditionalist, because doing that is part of Sacred Tradition. Thus I don’t consider groups like the SSPX and Sedevacantists “traditionalist.” When some people call those groups “ultra-traditionalist,” I don’t think that is accurate. They are “anti-traditionalists” in my opinion.

I really want to believe that the way your laying it out is correct, but it really does feel like this wasn’t the way the doctrine was mostly used to say that pagans, Jews, Protestants and the Orthodox were all definitely going to hell because they didn’t obey the Pope.

First, I’m not sure the doctrine was ever “mostly” used to, um, sort-of threaten people. I don’t even think that’s what Pope Eugene was doing. I think what he was doing was closer to a warning than a threat: the road you are going down cannot get you to heaven. Pope Francis recently did something similar with the Mafia: “[M]afia crimes [produce] blood money, it is power soaked in blood, and you cannot take it with you to the next life. Convert, there is still time, so that you don’t end up in hell. That is what awaits you if you continue on this path.” source

In my view, Pope Francis implied that Mafiosos cannot go to heaven in the same way that Pope Eugene said that Jews and heretics cannot get to heaven – that is, not unless they convert. But if someone 1000 years in the future looked back on that remark and summarized it by saying that Pope Francis was forgetting the doctrine of invincible ignorance, or if they said that this proves that he thought he could judge peoples’ hearts, they would be wrong. And it is just as wrong to say such a thing about Pope Eugene. He was warning Jews and heretics and so forth that they cannot get into heaven without submitting to the pope. It is certainly better to convert, and explicitly put yourself under the pope, than to hope for invincible ignorance to catch you and put you under his authority implicitly. I wouldn’t expect either pope to bring up invincible ignorance in the context of warning people that they are on a road to hell, because the listeners could get the impression that they don’t need to convert and aren’t really in all that much danger – which isn’t true.

To be in a non-Catholic community is to skate on thin ice, and not just because of EENS. Now, that does not mean that to be non-Catholic is automatically to be damned, and it certainly does not imply that admirable skaters like C.S. Lewis are in hell (nor any particular person, for that matter). But it is much better for them to come to the thicker part of the ice than to remain in a situation where they can only be saved through invincible ignorance.

I think Bl. Cardinal Newman exemplifies the proper attitude toward invincible ignorance in his book “Difficulties of Anglicans.”

“There may be many too, who, being in invincible ignorance on those particular points of religion on which their Communion is wrong, may still have the divine and unclouded illumination of faith on those numerous points on which it is right.” source

“[But] my dear brethren, there is…one thing that forces me to speak,—and it is my intimate sense that the Catholic Church is the one ark of salvation, and my love for your souls; it is my fear lest you ought to submit yourselves to her, and do not… It will be a miserable thing for you and for me, if I had been instrumental in bringing you but half-way, if I have cooperated in removing your invincible ignorance, but am able to do no more.” source

“Of course, we think as tenderly of them as we can; [note: he just went through a list of admirable non-Catholics such as Bunyan and Wesley, and even included an infidel who had been a priest, left the faith, and showed signs of moral uprightness on his deathbed]] and [we] may fairly hope that what we see is, in particular instances, the work of grace, wrought in those who are not responsible for their ignorance; but the claim in their behalf is unreasonable and exorbitant, if it is to the effect that their state of mind is to be taken in evidence, not only of promise in the individual, but of truth in his creed.” source

In other words, we can and ought to think very kindly of non-Catholics, and hope that they are invincibly ignorant and can make it to heaven. But there are also occasions for warning them that there is only one Church in which they can be saved. It would be my guess that if we had Pope Eugene’s other writings before us and in English, we would clearly see that he understood this quite well. I don’t imagine he was always warning the non-Catholics about the end their path is headed towards and never expressed hope that some would be saved through invincible ignorance. But certainly warning someone about hell does not exclude hoping they can be saved in invincible ignorance.

I am going to say this wrong, but this reminds me of the sacraments. They are the normative way of receiving God’s grace. However, God can (not that he necessarily will, but he can) certainly act without the sacraments. The Church is the body of Christ, and the Catholic Church is the normative way to be a part of it. But God can join others outside of it to his body, too. He can bring them into the Church, even if they are ignorant of the formal institution. There is one Church, the Catholic Church, and the institution is the core of it (Christ is of course the head), but while the Church is the institution, it’s also more than the institution…

Okay, I go too far. I apologize for my late night rambling. I hope at least one point in there was coherent. I don’t speak from an educated POV of the formal position of the Church, so take what I said how you will.

I am not talking about these, but about trads who pay lip-service to being faithful to the Pope while at the same time calling him “Bergoglio” and generally treating him, and every Pope since VII, like thy were the anti-Christ. You can see these kind of trads on Rorate Caeli, Fish Eaters, The Remnant, the Crisis, etc. I have even seen one such poster essentially encouraging in his error using quotes taken out of context from various saints a poor soul on this very forum whose physical suffering has lead him to espousing straightforward Manicheanism about the world and the body (both are evil—for example, this person, for example, believes Adam and Eve had purely spiritual bodies before Fall). I have never faced anything that has made me question by devotion to Catholicism than the claim by such people that they espouse what the Church once espoused, and if they are wrong, it means the Church’s claim of consistently teaching the same message is wrong.

(Also, if you’re “Gee, thanks” implies I offended you, I really am sorry and it wasn’t my intention)

As for everything else, well, I certainly hope you’re right.

I tend to lump them together with the SSPX and Sedevacantists. Perhaps I shouldn’t, since there are differences. But I think there is something similar about their spirit – a “more Catholic than the pope” attitude maybe.

Also, if you’re “Gee, thanks” implies I offended you, I really am sorry and it wasn’t my intention

Nope, I wasn’t offended. “Her thanks” was sincere since you said I am the kind of person you really respect. Gee, thanks! :slight_smile:

As for everything else, well, I certainly hope you’re right.

Me too. I don’t want to ever say or believe anything contrary to Church teaching. But sometimes I think I misunderstand it.

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