"Outside the church..." -what did the mean?


Hey there,

I know the contemporary interpretation of “no salvation outside the church”, but I was wondering, if this is truly what the Church Fathers meant when they said it…

A Catholic friend says, they didn’t and that the catholic church has actually changed its mind on this subject, but if it has, it undermines the authority of the Holy See, I should think.

  • CB


Your Catholic friend needs to read some Catholic Church teachings. For a full explanation, see the CCC chapter 3, I believe in the Holy Spirit; Article 9 “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church”; Paragraph 3. The Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
Since you say you know the contemporary interpretation I won’t review it. Ask your friend for the source of his belief. Sounds like he’s taking statements out of context. There have been statements by the Church that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Again it is in its broadest sense that this is true. If I understand Jesus is the Son and still reject Him, I have no salvation. My rejection of Him doesn’t change the fact that He died for me.


What’s important about this is how the Magisterium interprets it.
Because all of the Church Fathers were not right all of the time.


I don’t think this is the issue. The statement that there is not salvation outside of the Church is correct, and has always been correct. What changes is our understanding of what those words mean.

The Catechism acknowledges that there are no limits to God’s mercy, and there are circumstances in which one may not be a member of the visible Church and still be saved. The bottom line is that the Church is the vessel and instrument of Truth and salvation on earth, and that without it, there would be no salvation.



[quote=DanteAlighieri]The statement that there is not salvation outside of the Church is correct, and has always been correct. What changes is our understanding of what those words mean.

But how can the church be said to follow the tradition of the fathers, when she interprets what they said in another sense than what they meant?

One should think that what matters is what they meant, not the mere words they used to express it…

Does the church agree with the church fathers on this issue? :confused:


I’ll just add one comment on this since it’s a complex subject but I do know that the Church throughout history has NOT taken a strict Feeneite view on this.

In the 2nd Century the Church faced down this question with the Donedists who were baptising people. When people came to the Church who had been baptised by Donedists their baptisms were accepted even though the Donedists were regarded as heretics (they effectively preached that there was no forgiveness of sins.) Thus, those outside the Church and in doctrinal error could yet be regarded as joined to the Church in some way through baptism – this was in the 2nd Century.

Then, in the Pre-Vatican II 1950’s (in the good old Latin Mass, non-liberal days in which everything was wonderful) Fr Feeny was censured (indeed, I think he was excommunicated but I ain’t looking it up now) for teaching that “Salvation only comes from the Catholic Church” in a totally wooden fashion and condemning those who were Christians outside formal membership of the Church to Hell.

So the Church has always held to a degree of imperfect communion with the Church being possible. However, exactly how this was viewed across history is difficult especially with multiple generational heresies. I think the Church has always held the Orthodox were Christians and could be saved even though they are in schism and, while the protestant founders were certainly condemned by the Church , she takes a more understanding view of those who have know no other way to be Christian.

That’s all I know and I ain’t going any further! I sure the Feenities will say otherwise.


Anyone who is serious about understanding the Church Dogma of extra ecclesiam nulla sallas should consider these three articles by Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton, S.T.D., American Ecclesiastical Review, March 1948, published by the Catholic University of America Press. These are exact reproductions of the original texts. This is a three part series.




And remember, Monsignor Fenton was the famous opponent of the St. Benedict Center and Fr. Feeney.



Thanks for the links, but would you care to give a summation for those of us who may not have the time to read all of that? :slight_smile:



War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Ignorance is strength.

The Church has never been wrong…

And people thought doublethink was a thing of the future. Heh.


The answer isnt as easy as some herre wouldhave you think.

  1. Feeney was “excomunicated” for not going to Rome to discuss his position. It has been debated if he really was excomunicated under canon law.

      -He was also reinstated in good standing with the  Church    by Cardinal Mederis of Boston in 1973 or so. The Condition of his reinstatement was to recite an accepted creed of the Church. He chose the Athanasius Creed which starts and ends with ' this is the Catholic Faith outside of which there is no salvation'

There are two approved religious orders that hold the Feeny position, one Benidictine the other Franciscan. Both have been allowed to hold his positioin but one choose not to spread it.

2.The statement in the CCC is misleading because it took a negative definition and made it positive. This is a no no in philosophy because the negative statement is usally mor e accurate. eg:
All men are intelligent animals.- this doen’t exclude other intelligent animals.
There are no intelligent animals outside of man.- this excludes any other intelligent animals.

Both are true statements but the negative is more accurate.

  1. Definitions are not interpreted they are accepted or rejected. They can be expanded but never meaning the opposite of the definition. One doesnt interpret the dictionary one accepts the definition or rejects it.


Rather then re-invent the wheel I invite interested readers to this discussion on the matter which I think is very informative and certainly the defination I grew up with!


There are number of related other papers on the subject here (some of which are shorter - but to tackle a theological problem you need depth!)


This is the guy who almost (not quite!) single handedly helped me close the cafeteria. He says better than I can and is better qualified!


Thanks for the links but he seems to repeat many of the mistakes ive often read on these forums on this subject eg. That Trent defined baptism of desire. There was no explicit definition in Trent. Desire was mentioned in passing, that desire can give sanctifiying grace ie justification but there was no mention in Trent that desire for baptism was saficiant for salvation.
No soul entered heaven till Jesus opened the gates of heaven. All those souls were in Sanctifiying grace but still waited in the limbo of the father’s tillthe gates were open, so there may be more to going to heaven then JUST sanctifying grace.


I don’t think you read the piece correctly. I think you will find that what Armstrong is arguing is that Baptism of Desire was ASSUMED in the Papal and conciliar documents. I also don’t think that Dave argues that souls were redeemed prior to the resurrection.

Perhaps, though, you would like to engage with him? Send an email. Dave Armstrong promises to ALWAYS respond to a critique of his papers. It may make an interesting piece for parties here to read.


I know gormon wans’t the most appealing source, but those three article he linked to above are really, really good. You have to read the first two together, however. If you just read the first without the second, you’ll get the wrong idea.


I do admire the work Dave Armstrong has done on the internet but i find his style long winded, to say the least. He is also a big advocate of Cardinal Newman’s “Developement of Doctrine” theory. Newman was a very confused thinker even admitted by Newman expert Ian Carr. Newman’s theory of development is really the starting basis of many of the problems in theology today. He, simular to Decates, tryed to defend Christianity and ended up attacking its foundations. I believe there is development in our understanding of doctrine but not the way Newman spells it out in his book.Newman is relivant to the "no salvation outside the Church’ becuase he believed in dogmas evolving.

The article written by Father Most, sited in the link artcle, is also weak. Father Most says in one place that we are only to take the WORDS of any council not their intentions. Then later contradicts himself and says that a council was pointing to Thomas Aquinas when no mentioin is in the WORDS of the council about Aquinas. Most writes:
Before going ahead we need to notice one more principle of interpretation. It is this: the only things guaranteed in statements of the Magisterium, and protected in lesser ways in the works of the Fathers, are the things explicitly set down on paper. We may indeed know historically that certain thoughts, more extensive, were in the minds of the writers. Yet Divine Providence has committed itself to protect only the explicitly written texts, not what is merely in the mind and unexpressed.
Then he goes on to contradict his above criteria by reading into the WORDS of the council by putting in St.Aquinas in place of the council of th “real” meaning the Poes had. when the council or Pope never mentions Aquinas. now he put Aquinas over the Pope or council for the “real” meaning telling us what they were THINKING not what they WROTE:
The texts of Innocent III and IV Lateran do not go farther than the
patristic texts we have seen. But the second sentence from Boniface VIII does raise a further question. However, the difficulty is easily handled; for the critical line is quoted from St. Thomas, “Contra Errores Graecorum”: “Ostenditur etiam quod subesse Romano Pontifici sit de necessitate salutis”[23] (“It is also shown that to be subject to the Roman Pontiff is necessary for salvation.”) But in the context, shown by the two quotes St. Thomas gives at this point, it means merely that there is no salvation outside the Church. In that sense one must come under the jurisdiction of the Pope.[24]
Most of Fr. Most I have loved but he appoaches this issue with preconcieved ideas not just open to were the truth may lay.


Look, I’m not going to argue with you. My life is too busy to into the level of theological reading you are doing. All I am suggesting is you send Dave an email or post on his blog and engage with the man there. If you want an answer to your question - if you think DA is mistaken then take him on. Maybe his papers are long but you can engage with him directly.

If you think Newman is in error than bring that up. Dave I am SURE would LOVE to engage with you on that one it being his A1favourite subject! Dave has responded to critics in term os his paper length but he does short pieces as well. Also, it woul dbe a dialogue. Here you are not likely to get people to engage with you in the level oyu require so take it up with someone who can.

Beyond that I go no further.


I think yes, that is what the Fathers meant; salvation could only occur in and through the Catholic Church. This was affirmed by a number of councils and Papal statements which effectively stated everyone outside of the boundaries of the Church is going to hell, with unbaptised infants going to limbo.

Vatican II softened the line a bit by opening the possibility for salvation of those outside the Church, but many Catholics still firmly believe in “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” in its most strong sense (no hope for those outside of the Church), from what I’ve seen and encountered here.

Perhaps the most negative formulation is that of Eugene the IV:

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

The most positive is in the CCC:

"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"



The difference here is that, unlike the Party in 1984, the Church claims she is guided by the Holy Spirit. If this is true, she has not been wrong in teaching on faith and morals.

Does that mean that each and every Church Father or Doctor of the Church or Saint or Cardinal or Pope had the fullness of truth in his mind? Certainly not – only the Church has that fullness. This isn’t doublethink, and to characterize it as such is abit uncharitable, don’t you think?



Actually anyone who lives a good life and never hears about the Catholic Church is welcomed into heaven by the RCC.

The RCC is not needed by its own statements. It is contradicts itself.


Bunk…you misrepresent what the Catholic teaching really is.

As long as you’ve been around CAF you outght to know better.:mad:

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.