The Church in Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Outside the Church there is no salvation", 846, has re-formulated positively "Outside the Church there is no salvation", often repeated by the Church Fathers to mean that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body.

Looking at St. Vincent of Lerins' description for what is truly and properly 'Catholic', in The "Vincentian Canon", AD 434 (3) "Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.", it would appear that the Church would be very hesitant and reluctant to re-formulate any of its doctrines especially when it was often repeated by the Church Fathers.

The question is what has the Church stated as the advantages or reasoning or prompting to the re-formulation?


2 Answers 2


This re-formulation is nowhere stated to supersede the "Outside the Church..." formulation. It is a rephrasing which the Catechism uses to explain the original formula. An obvious advantage of having two reformulations is that it allows one to understand a single truth in multiple ways. Thus, there is the original formulation which you state, which certainly brings to mind the last sentence of paragraph 846, to which you link:

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.

This is a re-translation of a quote from the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium:

In explicit terms [Christ] Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

This last sentence sounds somewhat similar to "No salvation outside the Church"; the difference of course is that it allows that people who are outside the Catholic Church, and who have no knowledge of it but haven't actually rejected it outright, might be saved. This is not necessarily incompatible with older statements; for example Pope Pius IX's 1863 encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerere reads, in part:

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.

The previous sentence to this quote reads:

Eternal salvation cannot be obtained by those who oppose the authority and statements of the same Church and are stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff.

It appears, then, that Pius IX was aware of these two aspects of Extra Ecclesia Nulla Salus, and did not feel they were contradictory. Nor does the Church now feel that they are contradictory:

it must be firmly believed 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 (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door". This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); "it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for this salvation"

Dominus Iesus (a declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith); the quotes cited are respectively from Lumen Gentium, a document of Vatican II, and Redemptoris Missio, an encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II

It's thus not truly clear whether this was completely a re-formulation, or simply a re-emphasis of a neglected part of Catholic teaching. There are no specifically published justifications that I can find for it; it seems to have been around for quite some time.

  • Matt, the question has been edited, and t least the last portion of your answer isn't relevant any more. You may want to come back and edit this to be more in line with the current question. Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 1:32
  • @MattGutting "There are no specifically published justifications that I can find for it; it seems to have been around for quite some time". Makes sense.
    – user13992
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 21:32

See the Vatican II document called LUMEN GENTIUM, which is classified as a "DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH" which makes it infallible according to Catholic rules, "SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI", which makes it Ex Cathedra, "ON NOVEMBER 21, 1964." (The all caps is because I copied that text from the Vatican website which I linked to, and it was in all caps there.)

This document very plainly states:

Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.

The justification (such as it is) for this position is given the same paragraph, actually preceding what I quoted above:

Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126)

That's the justification for the RCC's new position or notion that Jews can be saved outside the church. Now for the Muslims:

But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128)

Then immediately follows the first sentence I quoted.

So much for extra ecclesiam nulla salus; this document officially tosses that aside so far as Catholicism in communion with the Roman See is concerned. Anyone who disagrees with this but seems to continue in communion with Rome is functionally a Sedavanticist (one who believes the Vatican II popes are fake popes), whether they publicly claim to be such or not.

This also functionally obliterates the notion in the old Catholic traditions about infants who die unbaptized either going to hell or to limbo, since, if people outside the Catholic church can be saved by living according to their conscience, why should infants who die prematurely not also be? This is undoubtedly why the most up to date Catechism shies away from the old doctrine of limbo and merely expresses hope for the salvation of unbaptized infants. For example, see another document on the Vatican website, THE HOPE OF SALVATION FOR INFANTS WHO DIE WITHOUT BEING BAPTISED (this one doesn't have the same magesterial officialness as the other, as it is merely from an INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION, but I quote it here only because of how it explains the Catechism's position on unbaptized infants):

This theory [the theory of limbo], elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium, even if that same Magisterium did at times mention the theory in its ordinary teaching up until the Second Vatican Council. It remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis. However, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), the theory of limbo is not mentioned. Rather, the Catechism teaches that infants who die without baptism are entrusted by the Church to the mercy of God, as is shown in the specific funeral rite for such children.

Immediately after this, the reason for the change is described:

The principle that God desires the salvation of all people gives rise to the hope that there is a path to salvation for infants who die without baptism (cf. CCC, 1261), and therefore also to the theological desire to find a coherent and logical connection between the diverse affirmations of the Catholic faith: the universal salvific will of God; the unicity of the mediation of Christ; the necessity of baptism for salvation; the universal action of grace in relation to the sacraments; the link between original sin and the deprivation of the beatific vision; the creation of man “in Christ”.

  • What does the Church state as the advantages/ reasoning to the Church's re-formulation or what prompted it? Similarly what does the Church/Pope Paul VI state as the advantages/reasoning of Dogmatic Constitution or what prompted it? E.g. the Church will condemn a heresy when a heresy arises. The heresy arising is the prompting.
    – user13992
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 4:42
  • I added a few more quotes that get into that a little. Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 5:01
  • Is this what you are trying to convey, that the Church gets it from Pope Paul VI, and the Pope is declaring how 'those outside the Church' can now be saved in the face of the ancient document, and the simple reason to please them? Not to agitate them?
    – user13992
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 6:17
  • I wonder whether you could add into your answer a discussion of how the section you quote from Lumen Gentium ("Those also can attain to salvation") can be reconciled with the section I quote ("Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church"). Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 14:41
  • @Matt Gutting, Very simple, nobody knows any such thing. How could anyone claim that they do? Just because you tell someone something doesn't mean they "know" it, because if they don't believe it, they don't know it but view it as a lie. That quote is saying if someone believes the Catholic Church is necessary and yet refuses to enter, they're damned. It doesn't save the hierarchy from having just said Jews and Muslims et al can be saved outside not only the RCC but Christianity in general. Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 18:53

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