"no salvation except that within the Church"

This is something that I have always had a terrible time with. The, “Christ is the only way” statement. First I’ll tell you what I believe and why I believe it, and then I would be interested to hear your views on the matter.

My opinion. I am a serious Christian, don’t let my “religion” listed on my profile confuse you. I may have a lot of confusion regarding the branches of Christiantity, but to me, Christ is the way to salvation. But I also believe that a Muslim can make it into Heaven, provided he is a great and loving person who loves all around him, including his God. I believe that if he makes it to Heaven, that he will make it there because Christ (through His death and resurrection) has made that possible for Him. Now, “no way but through Christ” could mean a number of things (to me). He could work things out after his death, maybe a purgatory type deal etc, I don’t know.

I also believe that people who were born before Christ can also make it into Heaven. This is a real tough reality here guys, for those of you who believe that you must be a professed Christian to make it into Heaven. In order to take a real stance on this doctorine you have to be ready to admit that all of the human beings who were born before Christ were created, born, and made to go to Hell. Essentially predestined. There is no way around it. They had no opportunity to know Christ ON EARTH DURING THEIR MORTAL STATE.

Ive actually heard some people remedy this by saying something like, “well, he made a special provision for those people.” Well great, I agree. But then you are saying that God, apparently, makes special provisions to the “must be a Christian” rule. If you believe that He has made this ruling in the past, why are you certain He no longer does?

Even today, there are groups of people on this Earth who have never even heard of Jesus. I absolutely cannot believe that our Lord would create people and totally leave them out there cut and dry with no opportunity whatsoever for salvation, and that despite how wonderful they be, they are simply going to hell.

I would love to hear your opinions on the matter, and your opinions on my opinions. Thanks!

My “opinion” is irrelevant, as is the “opinion” of any Catholic. This is what the Church teaches as truth:

The Church and non-Christians

839 "Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways."325

The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People,326 "the first to hear the Word of God."327 The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”,328 "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable."329

840 And when one considers the future, God’s People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.

841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day."330

842 The Church’s bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race:

All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .331

843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life."332

844 In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them:

Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair.333

845 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.334

“Outside the Church there is no salvation”

846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches 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, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336

847 **This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.**337

848 "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."338

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Wow, thank you Deacon. I actually felt an enormous sense of relief reading that. May I ask, was that doctorine created at Vatican 2?

First of all, let me say: “you are certainly quite welcome”. :tiphat: That has always been the teaching of the church, just not expressed in quite that way.

I am uncomfortable with the language “doctrine created at Vatican II”. Doctrine cannot be “created”. It simply “is”. It may be “defined” at some point, when it has not been defined in the past. That said, I think the answer to the question “was that doctrine more fully developed at Vatican II, so as to more meaningfully apply to the changing circumstances in the world?” would be “yes”. Does that answer your question?

Very much, Im glad you saw my post. Here I was expecting a huge debate to follow lol. God Bless!

Your concerns, beliefs, and reasons are very Catholic-sounding.

The Catholic Church teaches that anyone can get to Heaven, even an atheist. At the end of the day, it is not having the right belief that gets us into Heaven but having the right kind of love. One thing is sure: Whoever gets to Heaven does so through Christ’s grace and his death on the cross.


The section of the Catechism that Deacon Jeff quoted is the perfect explanation for what you are looking for, because it is the official teaching and Truth of the Catholic Church.

To add, this will explain the situation in regard to those who lived and died before the time of Jesus, from Father William Saunders on the EWTN website: ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/VISHELL.htm

In regard to today’s world, the fact of the matter is that, unless someone is invincibly ignorant (through no fault of their own do not know of Jesus and His Catholic Church), there is no way to be saved except through belief in Jesus and this is through the Catholic Church, because the Catholic Church is the only one founded by Jesus Himself. Every other Christian denomination, although having some of the Truth, does NOT have the whole thing and is in heresy and schism from the True Catholic Faith. Other non-Christian religions deny Jesus, and Jesus did not come to the earth to save us so that we could just do and believe whatever we want: He came to save us and teach us how to live and how to believe so that we can attain to the Beatific Vision of Him, with the Father and Holy Spirit, one God in Three Persons, Almighty and ever-living, forever and ever. Amen.

May God bless you with the Light of His Truth now and always! Amen. :slight_smile:

The good deacon has already pointed out that Vatican II developed a doctrine that was already previously there. I hope he doesn’t mind me citing a few examples to corroborate his point.

You might like this page:

Scripture, Church Fathers, and Medieval Doctors on the Possibility of Salvation for Non-Catholics

Among the quotations that I think are especially noteworthy, here are a few which help show that the Church taught the same thing before Vatican II as it does now:

1949 A.D. - Venerable Pope Pius XII - “[F]or a person to obtain his salvation, it is not always required that he be de facto incorporated into the Church as a member… When one is in a state of invincible ignorance, God accepts…the soul’s good disposition, whereby it desires to conform its will to the will of God.” (Letter to the Archbishop of Boston from the Holy Office Concerning Fr. Leonard Feeney)

1908 A.D. - Pope St. Pius X - “A person outside the Church by his own fault, and who dies without perfect contrition, will not be saved. But he who finds himself outside without fault of his own, and who lives a good life, can be saved by the love called charity, which unites unto God, and in a spiritual way also to the Church, that is, to the soul of the Church.” (Catechism of Christian Doctrine)

And: “If [a man] is outside the Church through no fault of his [own], that is, if he is in good faith, and if he has received Baptism, or at least has the implicit desire of Baptism; and if, moreover, he sincerely seeks the truth and does God’s will as best he can,] such a man is indeed separated from the body of the Church, but is united to the soul of the Church and consequently is on the way of salvation.” (Catechism of Pope St. Pius X, the Ninth Article of the Creed, Question 29)

And: “The absence of Baptism can be supplied by martyrdom, which is called Baptism of Blood, or by an act of perfect love of God, or of contrition, along with the desire, at least implicit, of Baptism, and this is called Baptism of Desire.” (Catechism of Pope St. Pius X, On Baptism, Question 17)

1863 A.D. - Blessed Pope Pius IX - “There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.” (Quanto Conficiamur Moerore 7)

1854 A.D. - Blessed Pope Pius IX - “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; but, on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, are not stained by any guilt in this matter in the eyes of God. Now, in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to mark the limits of such an ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things?” (Singulari Quadam)

1786 A.D. - Bishop George Hay of Edinburgh - “[If a non-Catholic] has actually died [separate] from the true Church of Christ and without the true faith of Christ, he cannot be saved. But if God, of His great mercy, has given him in his last moments light and grace to see and embrace the true faith, and he has corresponded with so great a favor as God requires, he will be saved.” (Sincere Christian, Vol. 2, pp. 322-323.)

1532 A.D. - Francisco de Vitoria - “For [those] to whom no preaching of the faith or Christian religion has come…if they do what in them lies, accompanied by a good life according to the law of nature, it is consistent with God’s providence [that] He will illuminate them regarding the name of Christ [so that they may be saved]… [And] if before hearing anything of the Christian religion they were excused [from the sin of unbelief], they are put under no fresh obligation by a simple declaration and announcement of [the gospel], for such announcement is no proof or incentive to belief… Nay…it would be rash and imprudent for any one to believe anything, especially in matters which concern salvation, unless he knows that this is asserted by a man worthy of credence…[therefore] matters of faith are seen and become evident by reason of their credibility.”

1274 A.D. - St. Thomas Aquinas - “[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)

I hope that helps. God bless!


There could be no debate when the official documents of the Catholic Church are presented :slight_smile: Some more writings to support SMOM’s posts:

St. Justin Martyr, 1.46 (c. 150 AD): “We have been taught that Christ is the first-begotten of God, and we have declared him to be the Logos of which all mankind partakes [John 1:9]. Those, therefore, who lived according to reason [Greek, logos] were really Christians, even though they were thought to be atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates, Heraclitus, and others like them. . . . Those who lived before Christ but did not live according to reason [logos] were wicked men, and enemies of Christ, and murderers of those who did live according to reason [logos], whereas those who lived then or who live now according to reason [logos]are Christians. Such as these can be confident and unafraid” 2.10:" Christ… was and is the Logos who is in everyone, and foretold through the prophets the things that were to come, and taught these things in person after becoming like to us in feeling."

Origen, 2.11-12: (c. 240 AD): “Do not think I speak of the spouse or the Church [only] from the coming of the Savior in the flesh, but from the beginning of the human race, in fact, to seek out the origin of this mystery more deeply with Paul as leader, even before the foundation of the world.”

St. Augustine - “When we speak of within and without in relation to the Church, it is the position of the heart that we must consider, not that of the body . . . All who are within [the Church] in heart are saved in the unity of the ark” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 5:28[39]).

Haymo, Bishop of Halberstadt (c. 853) (on Romans, 2) “They show surely that they have the natural law written on their hearts, and they are the law for themselves: because they do the things that the law teaches, even though it was not given to them. For example, the Saracens who have neither the law of Moses nor of the Gospel, while by nature they keep the law, do not commit murder, or commit adultery, or other things, which the law written within them contains; they are a law to themselves. . . . In the second way: When the gentiles . . . naturally do the things . . . because they have the same law of Moses written on their hearts by the inspiration of Almighty God . . . “their conscience bearing witness to them, and their thoughts in turn accusing or even defending.” And when will this be? “On the day when the Lord will judge the hidden things of men” according to my Gospel.”

Pope St. Gregory the Great, . 15: (540-604 AD): “When He descended to the underworld, the Lord delivered from the prison only those who while they lived in the flesh He had kept through His grace in faith and good works.”

Pope St. Clement I, 7.5-7 (c. 95 AD): “Let us go through all generations, and learn that in generation and generation the Master has given a place of repentance to those willing to turn to Him. Noah preached repentance, and those who heard him were saved. Jonah preached repentance to the Ninevites; those who repented for their sins appeased God in praying, and received salvation, even though they were aliens [allotrioi] of God.”

Pope St. Gregory the Great : (540-604 AD ) 2.3: “The passion of the Church began already with Abel, and there is one Church of the elect, of those who precede, and of those who follow… They were, then, OUTSIDE, BUT YET NOT DIVIDED FROM THE HOLY CHURCH, because in mind, in work, in preaching, they already held the sacraments of faith, and saw that loftiness of Holy Church.”

Pope St. Leo the Great, 23.4: (440-61 AD): “So God did not take care of human affairs by a new plan, or by late mercy, but from the foundation of the world He established one and the same cause of salvation for all. For the grace of God by which the totality of the saints always had been justified was increased when Christ was born, but did not begin [then].” Pope Innocent II - To your inquiry we respond thus, we assert without hesitation on the authority of the Holy Father’s Augustine and Ambrose, that the priest whom you indicated in your letter had died without the water of baptism, because he persevered in the faith of holy mother the church and the confession of the name of Christ, was freed from original sin and attained the joy of the heavenly father land… Question concerning the dead, you should hold the opinion of the learned fathers, and in your church, you should join in prayers, you should have sacrifices offered to God for the priest mentioned.

Pius IX, By Faith it is to be firmly held that outside the Apostolic Roman Church none can achieve salvation. This is the only ark of salvation. He who does not enter into, will perish in the flood. NEVERTHELESS equally certainly it is to be held that those who suffer from invincible ignorance of the true religion, are not for this reason guilty in the eyes of the Lord.

POPE PIUS IX, SINGULARI QUIDEM, 1856: The Church clearly declares that the only hope of salvation for mankind is placed in the Christian faith, which teaches the truth, scatters the darkness of ignorance by the splendor of its light, and works through love. This hope of salvation is placed in the Catholic Church which, in preserving the true worship, is the solid home of this faith and the temple of God. Outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or eternal salvation unless he is excused through ignorance beyond his control.


EDIT: LOL dmar198 :smiley:

God Bless you too

I’ll never not believe that Muslims can make it to Heaven but Protestants cannot. That to me seems incredibly absurd. It is possible for a wonderful person to be Protestant, have exhausted his intellect on the matter, and in doing so has decided that Lutheranism, for example, is the best way to be a Christian. He donates a ton of money to charity, feeds homeless people, LOVES JESUS, and is a wonderful man, yet he goes to Hell for some confusion regarding doctorine? Despite loving Jesus with all of his heart?

The only way for a good man to go to hell is for him to become a Protestant? Your views do not line up with the Catholic Church itself. That I knew even before creating this thread.

“He who believes in me will never perish” “My burden is easy my yolk is light”

Indeed, in the very early Church, we see a distinct foreshadowing of Vatican-2’s teaching. The Church was confronted with the question of baptism by heretics. Heretics were separate from the Church, being excommunicate. Could they confer valid Christian Baptism? The question was highly contentious, but was settled by Pope St. Damasus in the very early 300’s.

Oh, the answer: Yes, even *heretics *may confer valid Christian Baptism, provided they use water, the Trinitarian form, and intend to “do what the Church does” (even if they don’t understand what that is).

So in saying Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, the Church has an ancient precedence of a somewhat flexible idea of what constitutes “the Church” and what it means to be “outside” of Her. According to Catholic theology, even as taught in the very early 300’s, a pagan could receive Christian Baptism from an excommunicate heretic and, if he avoids subsequent mortal sin, would be assured salvation.

Yes, but you miss the teaching that “there are elements of salvation in other Christian religions” The teaching goes on to say that these other Christian religions (for all the reasons we note) , the Church has every reason to believe they can obtain salvation. In other words, while the fullness of salvation naturally comes from the Catholic Church, the actual fact of achieving entry into Paradise is available to other Christian religions.

I found the teachings to which I referred:

818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church."272

819 "Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth"273 are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements."274 Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him,275 and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."276

Well, I have nothing to add, because everything that needs to be said has been.

If you’ve considered the Catholic Church in your discernment, we invite to take a closer look. :slight_smile:

The Old Testament situation was different from the New era after Christ. Some writers like Fr. Brian Harrison believe that one must have explicit faith in order to be saved. When Pius IX or Vatican II say “outside of the Church nobody can saved unless he has invincible ignorance”, they interpret it as if it says “sinners have no hope, but those who fight sin will be led someday to faith in Christ”. This interpretation is valid. Its really a theological oddity of a debate though. Its really about WHEN a person receives sanctifying grace. When he is following natural law, or latter when hears about Christ, either from angels in a vision, or a missionary, or whoever.

And the problem with this line of reasoning is that it excludes those in the New Era who are invincibly ignorant, and who at the same time never have/had access to explicit faith (consider NA aboriginals prior to European settlement).

It is important to note, however, that the Church’s teaching is not that there are many, equal ways to get to Heaven and Christianity is just one way. That is not Her teaching. Always and only through the grace of Jesus Christ and the Church He established.

No, this limited interpretation is based on Aquinas, that explicit faith is needed for sanctifying grace. American Indians could have had Baptism of Desire on their death beds as a vision from God revealed the truths of the faith.

Which truths of the faith are the necessary ones has not been settled by anyone though.

I agree with this. I suppose my objection was based on how I had interpreted “explicit faith” to mean. Everyone in Heaven will believe in the true faith because it’s true. How they arrive at that will vary throughout their lives, but for those who didn’t receive the Gospel through ordinary means (i.e., evangelization/catechesis), their responses to natural law and conscience will condition their responses to God’s supernatural revelation at death, and their response then will determine their eternal state.

The bottom line is that we all require supernatural grace to be saved, and the Church is the ordinary means of the outpouring of that grace. Any other means is an extraordinary extension of the ordinary means.

The title of this thread has been bothering me.

The Latin phrase is extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. It means outside the Church there is no salvation.

“Except that within” really isn’t the way the Church expresses it. The Church never taught that there is no salvation “except within”.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.