Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, 1441, ex cathedra:

“The… Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the Devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Church before the end of their lives; that the unity of this ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only for those who abide in it do the Church’s sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia produce eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

Pope Eugene IV's qualification "even if he has shed blood in the name of Christ" seems to imply that to shed blood in the name of Christ is a work of piety of such value that some parishioners might expect should allow a person to be saved.

This might be confusing to the modern reader, since in modern English, the idiom "to shed blood" usually means to kill another, especially in an act of violence. The non-Catholic might read this as a commendation of those participating in violent acts associated with the Catholic church like the crusades or the execution of heretics.

What does it mean to "shed blood in the name of Christ"?

Do any other Catholic documents use these words to describe an act of piety?

  • I could be wrong, but could it be talking about killing (shedding blood) in the name of Christ? Like the Crusades and militia/military men that go into combat in the name of the Lord?
    – Jesse
    Jul 11, 2014 at 1:38
  • @Jesse That's what I suspect, but I could be wrong too, which is why I asked. I'm very interested in the more recent statements by the Catholic church on this topic.
    – Andrew
    Jul 11, 2014 at 1:49
  • Fair enough :) I could be wrong too! Eager to see what becomes of this question.
    – Jesse
    Jul 11, 2014 at 1:50
  • Its obviously a Catholic reaction to someone taking up the concept of martyrdom punching you an automatic ticket to heaven as a defense of non-Catholic Christians who are martyred going to heaven, and this is saying "no, martyrdom doesn't count unless you're Catholic." Jul 11, 2014 at 2:43
  • @davidbrainerd If it's that obvious, I don't think you'll have any trouble composing a well supported answer to that effect.
    – Andrew
    Jul 11, 2014 at 2:48

3 Answers 3


In modern language 'shed blood' usually means someone else's, but language has changed a lot in 500 years. (read Shakespeare or the KJV).

The sense of the passage is clearly "no matter what good works you do, if you are outside the Church that counts for nothing". It is clearly building up a list of greater and greater deeds - fasting, alms, works of piety - and so literary sense would be that the last item would be the biggest sacrifice of all, conveying the sense that even if you give absolutely as much as you possibly can, still it avails you nothing.

The biggest sacrifice of all would, of course, be giving of your own life for Christ, and I would understand that this is the sense that "shed blood in the name of Christ" is meant. It means to shed your own blood.

  • 2
    +1 for providing some clarity for the most of it (to me, anywho). I could see "shed blood in the name of Christ" being giving your own life, probably in much better context than my Crusades allusion to "killing someone" as the shedding of blood. Thank you.
    – Jesse
    Jul 11, 2014 at 2:10
  • Language was quite an important topic of the council! I'm assuming that the original document wasn't composed in English, so if you can appeal to the original language that'd be preferable. Also to a Christian pacifist, shedding the blood of another may be a greater personal sacrifice than shedding one's own. I think any answer is woefully incomplete without referring to some Church documents, in addition to recent statements, for which the question clearly asks.
    – Andrew
    Jul 11, 2014 at 2:34
  • @Andrew To a Christian pacifist the shedding of blood of another would be a mortal sin, and so not in the same category as the other items in the list. Jul 11, 2014 at 3:11
  • The original was composed in Latin and Greek. I wouldn't be able to understand the Greek; I might be able to get access to the Latin. Jul 11, 2014 at 3:24
  • @MattGutting I think that would be very helpful.
    – Andrew
    Jul 11, 2014 at 3:28

and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

Its a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:3 where "love" (or "charity") is replaced by "must be Catholic":

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3)

That combined with the fact that early proponents of martyrdom basically taught that martyrs go straight to heaven (e.g. the baptism of blood concept), and its obvious its a reference to martyrdom.

Thus the real problem is not that this quote calls for violence (which I don't think it does) but rather that it has replaced charity with a rigid legalism (quite literally)!


No, I wouldn't consider my answer the "official Catholic answer," as I doubt there is some official document that officially interprets this official document, but I think its informed by up-to-date information on Vatican II Catholicism.

As to modern Catholic references to the "shedding of blood in Christ's name", Benedict apologized for the crusades a few years back (source), so you're not going to find any modern Catholic saying (from the hierarchy) praising the shedding of blood in the sense of other peoples' blood. You'll probably not find martyrdom being referenced under those exact terms either, but you will find it being praised. For example, from this news article:

The strength to give one's life comes from "profound and intimate union with Christ," Benedict XVI clarified, "because martyrdom and the vocation to martyrdom are not the result of human effort, but the response to an initiative and a call from God, they are a gift of his grace, which makes one capable of offering one's life for love of Christ and of the Church, and thus of the world."

And so far from agreeing with the quote from Florence, modern popes, like John Paul II, praise Protestant martyrs.

  • Is this the answer the official Catholic perspective? It would be nice if you could support your answer. Also some more historical context about "early proponents of martyrdom" would be nice, in addition to a modern Catholic source that uses these words, which is what the question asks for. Thanks.
    – Andrew
    Jul 11, 2014 at 3:02
  • @Andrew It's about the meaning of words. There is no "official Catholic perspective' on that. Jul 11, 2014 at 3:10
  • @DJClayworth The answer contains the words "I don't think it does." A good answer would illustrate the difference in the "meaning of the words" used in the English translations of ecumenical councils when referring to martyrdom as opposed to "holy war" and not merely present the opinion of the answerer. There is certainly official English translations that can be cited in an argument as well as official statements on martyrdom and "holy war" to illustrate why the "meaning of words" must be one and not the other.
    – Andrew
    Jul 11, 2014 at 3:22

I do see at least one instance of the phrase "shedding of blood" used to speak of martyrdom. In the encyclical letter Invicti Athletae, published by Pope Pius XII in 1957, he notes:

There is always a bit of martyrdom in [Christian] virtue. ... not only by shedding of blood is the witness of our faith given to God, but also by courageous and constant resistance to the lure of evil...

The Latin original from which this was translated reads

Cui quidem virtuti, si reapse volumus ad christianae vitae perfectionem cotidie magis contendere, semper aliquid martyrii inest; quandoquidem non solum profuso sanguine fidei nostrae testimonium Deo praebetur, ...

The phrase "non solum profuso sanguine" could be more literally translated as "not only by means of blood poured forth", which leaves the question open of whose blood is being poured forth by whom.

On the other hand, there are uses like that of Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Redemptoris missio:

Without an openness to the Absolute, what does man become? The answer to this question is found in the experience of every individual, but it is also written in the history of humanity with the blood shed in the name of ideologies ...

In this instance, the Latin phrase translated "blood shed" is "sanguine effuso", meaning "blood poured out". I haven't done enough research to tell whether this is a distinction universally used by the Vatican; and I have no access, unfortunately, to the Latin text of the documents of the Florentine Council, to see what their original wording was.

(emphases added)

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