Perry Mowbray wrote:

Outside the Church there is no salvation

Hi, guys —

I was intrigued by the above phrase quoted on the CPATS web site.

  • What is the story?

Being a converted Protestant, I'm not overly interested in political issues. I would rather get on with my relationship with Jesus and the Church but I have heard the word Separated Brethren used several times.

  • Is this, or was this, ever a doctrine of the Church?

Best Regards,

God bless and keep up the good work,


  { Is this, or was this ever, a doctrine of the Church: Outside the Church there is no salvation? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Perry —

Thanks for your inquiry. The doctrine of "Outside the Church there is no salvation" is one that must be carefully understood in context, and it has, in recent years, been subject to much misinterpretation. The first place I would point you to is the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church, which you can trust as an authoritative statement of Catholic doctrine:

Outside the Church there is no salvation

846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? (cf. Cyprian, Ep. 73.21:PL 3,1169; De unit.:PL 4,509-536)
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.

(Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 14; cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5)

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.

(Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 16; cf. DS 3866-3872)

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." (Vatican II, Ad Gentes 7; cf. Hebrews 11:6; 1 Corinthians 9:16)

This paragraph quotes Second Vatican Council, the document Lumen Gentium. Paul VI incorporated it into his Credo of the People of God:

August 10, 1968:

22. Recognizing also the existence, outside the organism of the Church of Christ, of numerous elements of truth and sanctification which belong to her as her own and tend to Catholic unity, and believing in the action of the Holy Spirit who stirs up in the heart of the disciples of Christ love of this unity, we entertain the hope that Christians who are not yet in the full communion of the one only Church will one day be reunited in one flock with one only Shepherd.

23. We believe that the Church is necessary for salvation, because Christ who is the sole Mediator and Way of salvation, renders Himself present for us in His Body which is the Church. But the divine design of salvation embraces all men; and those who without fault on their part do not know the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but seek God sincerely, and under the influence of grace endeavor to do His will as recognized through the promptings of their conscience, they, in a number known only to God, can obtain salvation.

On the other hand, it must not be interpreted too strictly. In 1949, a priest by the name of Leonard Feeney was rebuked by the predecessor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the chief guardian of doctrine at the Holy See, for holding that no one who wasn't literally a member of a Catholic parish could be saved:

Letter Of The Holy Office To The Archbishop Of Boston, August 8, 1949.

This letter, proposed on July 27 and approved the next day by the Supreme Pontiff, is directed against that rigorism by which certain members of the institutions "St. Benedict's Center" and "Boston College" interpret the saying "Outside the Church there is no salvation" to mean that all non-Catholics — catechumens having the explicit intention of entering the Catholic Church excepted — are excluded from eternal salvation. One of these rigorists, Leonard Feeney, unmoved by the warning of Church authority, was excommunicated on February 4, 1953. [See Mike's comment below on this excommunication.]

3866.......Among those things which the Church has always proclaimed and never leaves off proclaiming is contained the infallible proposition by which we are taught that "outside the Church there is no salvation."

3868 Nevertheless, this dogma must be understood in the sense in which the Church itself understands it. For our Savior did not give the contents of the deposit of faith to private judgments, but to the magisterium of the Church. The Church does in fact teach how this most severe precept of Jesus Christ is to be interpreted. For He Himself charged His apostles to teach all nations to carry out all the things which He had commanded. Moreover, not the least among the commandments of Christ is that by which Christ orders us to be incorporated by baptism into the mystical body of Christ, that is, the Church, and to cling fast to Christ and to His vicar, through whom He governs the Church on earth in a visible manner. Therefore no one will be saved, who knowing the Church to be divinely instituted by Christ, nevertheless refuses to subject himself to the Church or denies obedience to the Roman Pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth.

3868 Indeed, Christ did not simply command that all nations should enter the Church, but He also set up the Church as the means of salvation, without which no one is able to enter the kingdom of heavenly glory.

3869 Concerning the aids given for salvation, which are ordered to the ultimate end by divine institution alone and not by any intrinsic necessity, God in his infinite mercy willed that in certain circumstances the effects necessary for salvation may be obtained when these aids are clung to only by a wish or desire. In the most holy Council of Trent, we see this enunciated in clear words first concerning the sacrament of regeneration and then concerning the sacrament of penance.

3870 The same can be said about the Church, since she herself is a general aid to salvation. Thus for a person to obtain eternal salvation, it is not always demanded that he really be incorporated as a member of the Church, but it is at least required that he adhere to it by wish and desire. It is proper that this wish not always be explicit, as happens with catechumens; on the contrary, when man labors under invincible ignorance God also accepts an implicit wish, called by this name because it is found in that good disposition of the soul by which man wishes to conform his will to the will of God.

3871 These things are clearly taught in Pius XII's encyclical letter on the mystical body of Jesus Christ. [ Commentary ] In this letter the Supreme Pontiff distinguishes clearly between those who are really incorporated as members of the Church, and those who adhere to the Church by wish alone. . . ."Among the members of the Church those alone must be numbered who have received the washing of regeneration and profess the true faith, and have neither separated themselves miserably from the structure of the Body nor, on account of a most serious crime, have been severed from it by legitimate authority." Near the end of the same encyclical letter, inviting to unity with a most loving spirit those who do not belong to the structure of the Catholic Church, he remembers those "who by an ignorant desire or wish may be ordered towards the Mystical Body of the Redeemer," whom he excludes not at all from eternal salvation, although he asserts that in such a state they are tossed about from every side, "and cannot be sure of their own eternal salvation . . . for they lack so many and so great heavenly gifts and aids, of which one may have the benefit only in the Catholic Church."

3872 With these wise words he reproves as much those who exclude from eternal salvation all who adhere to the Church by an implicit wish only, as those who falsely claim that men can be saved in every religion equally. Nor must it be thought that any wish whatsoever of entering the Church suffices for the salvation of man. For it is required that a wish, by which someone is ordered toward the Church, be formed in perfect charity; nor can an implicit wish have effect unless a man has supernatural faith.

I hope this helps you to understand this doctrine in the correct light!

Yours in Christ,

Eric Ewanco

Mike replied:

Hi, Perry —

I have to preface my comments with a personal bias. For years on end, I made weekly visits and annual Holy Week retreats at the Abbey. I was very close to the fathers, brothers and monks who knew Father Leonard very well.

Two objective facts must be made known to anyone familiar with the Father Feeney case:

  1. Father Leonard was not excommunicated for doctrinal reasons, but for discipline
    or lack of obedience
    , like Archbishop Lefebvre.

  2. Before passing away to his particular judgment, Father Feeney was
    [exonerated|vindicated] by Rome.

    These two points usually don't get mentioned when this matter is talked about.

At the time, the newspapers were confusing the issue, so Rome requested that Father Leonard go to Rome to explain his views. [back to Eric's reply.]

Sadly, he did not. When Peter calls from Rome, we should listen and act!

Although, as my colleague Eric stated, one has to interpret this Teaching correctly, the heading that precedes paragraph 846 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is a testament to the importance of this teaching of the Church. The Church thinks this teaching is just as important today, as it did during the start of the Church; read the quotes from the Early Church Father below for more.

Want the whole scoop on this issue? Check out Abbot Gabriel's book.

Separated Brethren describes our relationship with many, many believers who call themselves Christian, but are not Catholic Christian. They are Brethren by their valid baptism in Christ, but Separated due to are different body of beliefs.


The Early Church on this issue

Ignatius of Antioch:

"Be not deceived, my brethren: If anyone follows a maker of schism [i.e., is a schismatic], he does not inherit the kingdom of God; if anyone walks in strange doctrine [i.e., is a heretic], he has no part in the passion [of Christ]. Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of his blood; one altar, as there is one bishop, with the presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons" (Letter to the Philadelphians 3:3–4:1 [A.D. 110]).

Justin Martyr:

"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" (First Apology 46 [A.D. 151]).


"In the Church God has placed apostles, prophets, teachers, and every other working of the Spirit, of whom none of those are sharers who do not conform to the Church, but who defraud themselves of life by an evil mind and even worse way of acting. Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace" (Against Heresies 3:24:1 [A.D. 189]).

"[The spiritual man] shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God, and who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who for trifling reasons, or any kind of reason which occurs to them, cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ, and so far as in them lies, destroy it—men who prate of peace while they give rise to war, and do in truth strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel. For they can bring about no ‘reformation' of enough importance to compensate for the evil arising from their schism. . . . True knowledge is that which consists in the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place [i.e., the Catholic Church]" (ibid., 4:33:7–8).

Clement of Alexandria:

"Before the coming of the Lord, philosophy was necessary for justification to the Greeks; now it is useful for piety . . . for it brought the Greeks to Christ as the law did the Hebrews" (Miscellanies 1:5 [A.D. 208]).


"[T]here was never a time when God did not want men to be just; he was always concerned about that. Indeed, he always provided beings endowed with reason with occasions for practicing virtue and doing what is right. In every generation the wisdom of God descended into those souls which he found holy and made them to be prophets and friends of God" (Against Celsus 4:7 [A.D. 248]).

"If someone from this people wants to be saved, let him come into this house so that he may be able to attain his salvation. . . . Let no one, then, be persuaded otherwise, nor let anyone deceive himself: Outside of this house, that is, outside of the Church, no one is saved; for, if anyone should go out of it, he is guilty of his own death" (Homilies on Joshua 3:5 [A.D. 250]).

Cyprian of Carthage:

"Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress [a schismatic church] is separated from the promises of the Church, nor will he that forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is an alien, a worldling, and an enemy. He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother" (The Unity of the Catholic Church 6, 1st ed. [A.D. 251]).

"Let them not think that the way of life or salvation exists for them, if they have refused to obey the bishops and priests, since the Lord says in the book of Deuteronomy: ‘And any man who has the insolence to refuse to listen to the priest or judge, whoever he may be in those days, that man shall die' [Deuteronomy 17:12]. And then, indeed, they were killed with the sword . . . but now the proud and insolent are killed with the sword of the Spirit, when they are cast out from the Church. For they cannot live outside, since there is only one house of God, and there can be no salvation for anyone except in the Church" (Letters 61[4]:4 [A.D. 253]).

"When we say, ‘Do you believe in eternal life and the remission of sins through the holy Church?' we mean that remission of sins is not granted except in the Church" (ibid., 69[70]:2 [A.D. 253]).

"Peter himself, showing and vindicating the unity, has commanded and warned us that we cannot be saved except by the one only baptism of the one Church. He says, ‘In the ark of Noah a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. Similarly, baptism will in like manner save you" [1 Peter 3:20-21]. In how short and spiritual a summary has he set forth the sacrament of unity! In that baptism of the world in which its ancient wickedness was washed away, he who was not in the ark of Noah could not be saved by water. Likewise, neither can he be saved by baptism who has not been baptized in the Church which is established in the unity of the Lord according to the sacrament of the one ark" (ibid., 73[71]:11).

"[O]utside the Church there is no Holy Spirit, sound faith moreover cannot exist, not alone among heretics, but even among those who are established in schism" (Treatise on Rebaptism 10 [A.D. 256]).


"It is, therefore, the Catholic Church alone which retains true worship. This is the fountain of truth; this, the domicile of faith; this, the temple of God. Whoever does not enter there or whoever does not go out from there, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation. . . . Because, however, all the various groups of heretics are confident that they are the Christians and think that theirs is the Catholic Church, let it be known that this is the true Church, in which there is confession and penance and which takes a health-promoting care of the sins and wounds to which the weak flesh is subject" (Divine Institutes 4:30:11–13 [A.D. 307]).


"Heretics bring sentence upon themselves since they by their own choice withdraw from the Church, a withdrawal which, since they are aware of it, constitutes damnation. Between heresy and schism there is this difference: that heresy involves perverse doctrine, while schism separates one from the Church on account of disagreement with the bishop. Nevertheless, there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church" (Commentary on Titus 3:10–11 [A.D. 386]).


"We believe also in the holy Church, that is, the Catholic Church. For heretics violate the faith itself by a false opinion about God; schismatics, however, withdraw from fraternal love by hostile separations, although they believe the same things we do. Consequently, neither heretics nor schismatics belong to the Catholic Church; not heretics, because the Church loves God; and not schismatics, because the Church loves neighbor" (Faith and the Creed 10:21 [A.D. 393]).

"[J]ust as baptism is of no profit to the man who renounces the world in words and not in deeds, so it is of no profit to him who is baptized in heresy or schism; but each of them, when he amends his ways, begins to receive profit from that which before was not profitable, but was yet already in him" (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 4:4[6] [A.D. 400]).

"I do not hesitate to put the Catholic catechumen, burning with divine love, before a baptized heretic. Even within the Catholic Church herself we put the good catechumen ahead of the wicked baptized person . . . For Cornelius, even before his baptism, was filled up with the Holy Spirit [Acts 10:44–48], while Simon [Magus], even after his baptism, was puffed up with an unclean spirit [Acts 8:13–19]" (ibid., 4:21[28]).

"The apostle Paul said, ‘As for a man that is a heretic, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him' [Titus 3:10]. But those who maintain their own opinion, however false and perverted, without obstinate ill will, especially those who have not originated the error of bold presumption, but have received it from parents who had been led astray and had lapsed . . . those who seek the truth with careful industry and are ready to be corrected when they have found it, are not to be rated among heretics" (Letters 43:1 [A.D. 412]).

"Whoever is separated from this Catholic Church, by this single sin of being separated from the unity of Christ, no matter how estimable a life he may imagine he is living, shall not have life, but the wrath of God rests upon him" (ibid., 141:5).

Fulgentius of Ruspe:

"Anyone who receives the sacrament of baptism, whether in the Catholic Church or in a heretical or schismatic one, receives the whole sacrament; but salvation, which is the strength of the sacrament, he will not have, if he has had the sacrament outside the Catholic Church [and remains in deliberate schism]. He must therefore return to the Church, not so that he might receive again the sacrament of baptism, which no one dare repeat in any baptized person, but so that he may receive eternal life in Catholic society, for the obtaining of which no one is suited who, even with the sacrament of baptism, remains estranged from the Catholic Church" (The Rule of Faith 43 [A.D. 524]).

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