Why did the church change its doctrine on Salvation outside the church.

Its my understanding that before Vatican II, it was believed that one must be Catholic in order to attain salvation. Then after Vatican II They changed it to that people can be saved by God’s grace working with what they know. Why did this change? Thinking about the “World Day of Prayer for Peace” in Assisi, in which Catholics gathered and prayed with not only non Catholic Christians, but with non Christians as well such as Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and Hindus, etc. That seems like something the early church fathers would strongly oppose, since Pagans are in essence worshiping demons.

I thought the church can’t change its doctrine. So why did this change?

Your understanding is not correct. The doctrine has not changed. The only thing that has changed are the words used to explain it.

The doctrine did not “change” as you are using the term.

When the Church teaches that one cannot be saved without baptism, that teaching ever remains true. What modern, untheological eyes do not always realize is that when the Church acknowledges a baptism of desire or baptism of blood, they are not teaching something “in addition” to a water baptism. Rather, the Church acknowledges that there are other means by which God may effect the equivalence of grace imparted at baptism by the soul’s desire or martyrdom. By the same token, God is free to effect the graces of baptism onto a “formally” unbaptized infant. So in effect, such an infant will have been baptized by God in an extenuating way even if the formal rite was not performed on the infant. Thus, in all cases (the normal rite of baptism, baptism of desire, baptism of blood, or an extenuating “baptism” of an infant in a way known only to God) the person remains, indeed, baptized and cannot be saved without it. This is what is evidenced in the Catechism:
*CCC#1257 The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.*In all cases, however, the saved person is indeed joined to the one Church outside of which there is no salvation. What we are talking about here are extenuating means by which God may unite a person to the Church, effecting the grace of normative baptism to someone else. This may involve invincible ignorance, or baptisms of desire or blood. Though the Church does not know any other way of salvation, the Church does not conclude God therefore has no other way.

Bottom line - there is no salvation outside the Church, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

One Fr. Feeney pushed a very hard line no salvation outside the Church policy in the states in the 1950’s and was severly rebuked(excommunicated and eventually reconciled) by Rome and the Holy office as it was then for his stance. The Doctrine has not and will not change

Yes, Father Feeney was rebuked, but he never had to renounce his stand that there is no salvation outside the church.

This is incorrect. While some Priests and Layity may have interpreted things in this sorta black n white manner. This was a misrepresentation of the church’s actual teaching on the matter. The terms “outside of the church” I think were misconstrued by many. It also likely, served non-Catholics to interpret the terminology in the most severe fashion, as it strengthened their arguments against the church. - That last part is speculation on my part.but it would make sense.

What Vatican II did do… was clarify the terminology used and update things. Vatican II didn’t change any Doctrines/Dogmas of the church… if anything, it re-affirmed them, that in this modern time, the same principles still applied.

One should ask a Bishop what “through the church” or “outside the church” means. SINCE the Catholic church sees itself as Christ’s Church and the first Christian church… to be joined with Christ in heaven is to be PART of his church and because the CC is Christ’s church that he founded… to be in communion with Christ in heaven is to be a member of his church (The Catholic Church)

Again, nothing changed… Salvation has always been by God’s grace and Man accepting/cooperating with the gift of salvation. It was NEVER merely based on ‘membership’ in some club or church. The Church never taught that purely by being a catholic either in name or action instantly and assuredly meant one would go to heaven. It was always taught that Salvation was through Grace.
However, Christ bestowed ALL of the gifts, (called the "fullness of the faith) on the Catholic church. All other Churches, ecumenical congregations, and individual Christians share in part, in the graces given to the Catholic church… to some degree or another.

So in a manner of speaking, they are still “members” (for lack of a better term) in Christ’s Church, even if they aren’t in FULL communion and only share in part of it.

Someone once made an analogy of a large Boat traveling across the sea. Some of the passengers get off the boat and into life boats. Still, none the less, be it in the main boat or a smaller life boat… ALL of them are going in the same direction.
In this analogy the Catholic church is the large boat (the fullness of the faith) and the other denominations are smaller life boats. The smaller boats came from the bigger one, so they are still partaking in the larger craft, but to a lesser degree. And regardless they are all rowing in the same direction. The smaller boats have a harder go of it and are rocked by more waves… some are capsized. Some decide to get back on the larger boat.

And maybe they would have. The Early Church Fathers were not infallible. There is no doctrine or dogma that says one cannot extend an olive branch to non-believers NOR nothing that says we can not join them for a single event and celebrate what we have in common.
A world day of prayer does not mean that the church is agreeing with all of their beliefs.
For instance, participating in a Whole Earth Festival, which is a secular event, doesn’t mean that I agree with Atheists or that I am violating my own beliefs/conscience.

Prayer comes from the greek ‘precari’ which means ‘to sincerely petition’ Prayer is a form or communication, NOT worship. We can definitely use prayer to worship God, but the Catholic church does not corner the market on prayer. We can ALL pray for peace, pagan, Buddhist, or Muslim, alike.


It should be added that Father Feeney was excommunicated for disobedience, not for heresy. He therefore had nothing to recant or renounce.

There are several religious communities who hold and teach the same understanding of No Salvation Outside the Church as Father Feeney and they are in good standing with the Church.

The dogma No Salvation Outside the Church is still dogma. Vatican II did not change this, and this is an example of persons claiming things from Vatican II without actually reading the Conciliar texts themselves.

Vatican II did not change any teaching.

Here is from Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) — 100 years before Vatican II.

Denzinger #1647 (Pope Pius IX “Singulari quadem”, Dec. 9, 1854)
"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. …

Denzinger #1677 (Pius IX encyclical, “Quanto conficiamur moerore”, August 10, 1863)
“…It is known to Us and to you that they who labor in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion and who, zealously keeping the natural law and its precepts engraved in the hearts of all by God, and being ready to obey God, live an honest and upright lifge, can,m by the operating power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life, since God who clearly beholds, searches, and knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men, because of His great goodness and mercy, will by no means suffer anyone to be punished with eternal torment who has not the guilt of deliberate sin. But, the Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church is well-known; and also that those who are obstinate toward the authority and definitions of the same Church…”


Nor did it change even before Pope Pius IX:

“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.” (St. Justin Martyr, c. 150 AD)

Thanks nuntym. Would like to have a reference so I can note it down – which work of Justin and the chapter number, if you have it.


Got it here: catholic.com/tracts/salvation-outside-the-church

Its just confusing since once Catholics were forbidden to participate in protestant events. Now we are allowed to as long as we don’t receive communion, and we still attend Catholic Mass.

Protestants used to be called “heretics” Now they are called “separated brethren”


The Church doctrine has not changed.

Who can be saved?

The Church teaching:

  • Baptism is necessary for salvation (but does not ensure it as you must die in a state of grace).

  • There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church.

So how can you be baptised and Catholic/deemed to be Catholic? There are 4 ways:

  • Sacramental Baptism as a Catholic
  • Baptism of Blood (non-Catholic dying for the Catholic Faith)
  • Baptism of Desire - Explicit (e.g. a catechumen going through RCIA)
  • Baptism of Desire - Implicit (invincible ignorance which means those who through no fault of their own do not know Christ, His Gospel, or His Church but still live a life according to the teachings of Christ in that ignorance)

You can debate who may or may not be included under invincible ignorance but outside the above 4 there is no salvation.

Not all Catholics go to Heaven but everyone in Heaven is Catholic.

Your understanding is incorrect. The Church did not change any doctrines. What’s more, Vatican II issued no new doctinal declarations.

Nothing changed. The Truth doesn’t change.

Muslims believe in the same God as Catholics, although I would argue that they have a flawed understanding of Him (since they reject the Trinity). “Allah” is the Arabic word for God, and since Muslims believe that Arabic is the holy language, they often refer to God as “Allah.” Muslims do not worship Mohammed or any thing other than God; they believe that to do so would be idolatrous. Hindus have thousands of supernatural beings in whom they believe, but it is wrong to call them “gods,” although many people do. They are more like angels in the western traditions. For Hindus, all created things are manifestations of one “Brahman,” a “thing than which no greater can be conceived.” Therefore Brahman is the Hindu version of what we would call God, and though it is a bit different from the Catholic understanding of God, yet it is certainly not a demon (demons are not uncreated, greater things than demons can be conceived, you cannot be united to demons by good deeds or by spiritual growth; Hindus believe all these things about Brahman). Buddhists do not worship the Buddha, but revere him as a spiritual teacher. Buddhists do not necessarily believe in any God, although most Buddhists believe in the Brahman of the Hindus. None of these religions worship demons. Instead, insofar as they promote good works and virtue, they worship the true God. There is nothing wrong with praying to God. True and righteous prayer, no matter what your religion, should not be merely “condoned;” it should be encouraged and praised.

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