QUAERITUR: Salvation outside the Church… again…

From a reader:

in one of your recent post, concerning “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus”, you have discussed an option, that actually, one might be saved outside the Catholic Church. Your proposition was also based on Augustin. Recently, however, I have found the following quotation from St. Augustin, which, as if contradicts your saying. It sounds as
follows: Extra Ecclesiam catholicam totum potest praeter salutem.
Potest habere honorem, potest habere Sacramenta, potest cantare Alleluia, potest respondere Amen, potest Evangelium tenere, potest in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus sancti fidem habere et praedicare:
sed nusquam nisi in Ecclesia catholica salutem poterit invenire (St.
Augustin, Sermo ad Caesareensis ecclesiae, Patrologia Latina, t. 43, kol. 695.). Could you comment once more the issue. Thank you in advance.


First, that sermon of Augustine is spurious.  It was attributed to Augustine, but it isn’t by him.

This is something people have to pay attention to when they pull up quotes, especially from older sources, and especially when they refer back to PL.  Some sermons attributed to Augustine over the centuries have been determined not to be his.  The very style of the Latin is the first clue.  Then when you check this against what is accepted in the authentic collection of Augustine’s sermons, it is not to be found.

Augustine didn’t write that.  We don’t care who wrote it.

Next question?

Seriously, I will say what I said clearly elsewhere.  God can save whom it pleaseth God to save.  How He does that apart from the sacraments and formal membership of the Church is a mystery to me.  All I know is that if someone can be saved at all, he is saved solely through the merits if Christ’s Sacrifice.  The merits of Christ’s Sacrifice, all graces, everything for our salvation is mysteriously mediated through the Church Christ founded, the Catholic Church.  Any person who doesn’t belong to the Church but comes to salvation nevertheless receives whatever was sufficient through the mysterious mediation God has willed through the Catholic Church.  In that sense, outside the Church there is no salvation.

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  1. danphunter1 says:

    “God can save whom it pleaseth God to save. How He does that apart from the sacraments and formal membership of the Church is a mystery to me.”

    So Father, would it be correct to say, one should never presume on Almighty Gods mercy and remain outside the Church, if he has knowledge of the Church, since it has not been revealed to man how it pleaseth Almighty God to save man, outside the Church.
    Its a bit of a gamble isn’t it?

  2. *Sigh*…I hope I can articulate this without veering into heresy…
    but, really;
    if you believe in the Catholic Church as the one founded by Jesus Christ, you are bound, in conscience and truth, to persevere until death as a son or daughter of the Church.
    If, for some reason (which God Alone can know and sort out), you don’t believe that the Church is the only means of salvation, you still are saved ultimately by the merits of our Lord and the sanctifying office of the Church; ‘outside’ of Her, yet not without Her. And then by the merciful love of the Lord because you do not reject Truth as you can know it.
    Sometimes I get the sense that Catholics who think that those “outside of the fold” get to have all the fun, do whatever they want, and get a “free pass” into eternity.
    Oh no! Not at all.
    Why would you be envious of those outside of the Church in this life, who maybe seem to get to do whatever they want, when this makes them miserable, deforms their souls, and places them in peril?
    I don’t know if that makes sense…but I still am amazed that those who do believe somehow think that those who cannot, do not or will not acknowledge Christ and His Church somehow are better off than those of us who do believe, struggle mightily in this life for eternal life and deny ourselves the “things of this world”, which is supposed to make us spiritually stronger and happier.
    Just some random thoughts.

  3. It isn’t a conscious “gamble” if a person doesn’t know about or know much about the Catholic Church. There are people who, through no fault of their own, have no formal relationship with or much knowledge of the Church.

    But if one knows and then rejects …

    I wouldn’t want to be in that person’s shoes.

  4. Maltese says:

    I think Michael Davies and the FSSPX believe baptism by desire remains a possibility; this is also the view of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Remember, everyone validly baptized begins, in a sense, his faith journey in the Catholic Church, whether he is Baptist, Presbyterian etc., and a valid baptism means you begin this journey with a “clean slate,” i.e. free from sin. The problem lies when you begin to sin. Only Catholic reconciliation can free you from the stain of sin. And Christ’s sacrifice should tell you a little something about how serious sin is. So, I shudder to think of the toll that sin takes on those who are not members of Christ’s One Church. Our Lady of Fatima, in fact, showed little children horrific images of souls tormented in everlasting hell; and that, too, should tell us something. So, in the final analysis, although a non-Catholic may be saved, one should not presume that that is likely.

  5. RickMK says:

    What about the dogma that says: ” Porro subesse Romano Pontifici omni humanae creaturae declaramus, dicimus, diffinimus omnino esse de necessitate salutis.” (“Unam sanctam”, Denziger 469) [I rarely know what to do with questions beginning “What about…?” and then trail off. We are nearly always compelled to return “Okay, what about it?”]

  6. ChronicSinner says:

    This topic often confuses me, but the analogy I have found helpful in understanding it I have heard described on RealCatholicTV.com and Fisheaters.com. Specifically, the analogy of playing with a loaded gun. In theory, the gun may misfire and not harm you, just as one may in theory be saved purely by God’s pleasure, outside of the conventional Sacramental method. The flip side is that , of course, the gun usually goes off with deleterious effect.

  7. jcons114 says:

    I’m sorry, Father can you give us a translation of that? I can only read up to the ” sed nusquam.”

  8. Phil_NL says:

    I must say I’m always baffled by people who seem quite anxious to condemn others to Hell because this or that condition has (not) been met – I really don’t see what good it does.

    For starters God is almighty. It is in His hands, not in ours, who never know even half the relevant stuff. We hardly even understand what we should do in / with our (own) lives. It is already a considerable grace that, through the Saints, he has given us the assurance that some concrete persons, men and women who walked among us, are indeed in Heaven. Do we really also need to know who is in Hell? Isn’t it better to leave that one to God?

    Secondly, it can be a great source of grief for those still here on earth, while I don’t see one soul be saved from replacing the possibility of Hell by the certainty. The possibility is just as bad for the person concerned, I’d say.

    Thirdly, hardly as important as the other two, but still: it is a continuing source of people trying to square rethorical circles, find loopholes to explain the lives of Saints and otherwise engage in sophistry. Maybe with the best of intentions, but I firmly believe there are some aspects of the faith we as humans simply cannot comprehend, and that failure to accept that notion is in itself a source of hubris which does no-one any good.

    If you are of the opinion that an interpretation cf. Fr Feeney is the right one, fine. But please stop demanding that the matter must be settled here and now and/or for the entire Church. It can’t, in all likelihood, nor will the demand be beneficial.

  9. Servant of the Liturgy says:

    The fact of the matter is: don’t try to limit the Almighty with our own ruminations.

  10. TJerome says:

    Phil_NJ, concur with your thoughts. It seems most of us simply do not have the historical or theological insights to make an informed judgment. However, if we believe in an all merciful God, it makes no sense to condemn to hell everyone who is not a Catholic.

  11. Tim Ferguson says:

    What I find most perplexing is why those who hold to a most stringent view of the doctrine “outside of the Church there is no salvation” are not out in the streets doing everything they possibly can to bring everyone they know into the Catholic Church. How do they even have time to comment on blogs?

  12. Fr. Basil says:

    Dear Fr. John,

    Even though Eastern theology doesn’t speak in terms of “merits,” I think you articulated this point eloquently and concisely.

    May I suggest an analogy (and yes, they all fall apart when you press them too far).

    Florescent light tubes will emit light if held underneath high tension power lines. The only explanation is the power emanating (sometimes called “leakage”) from these lines gets the lights to glow. Think how much more efficiently and brightly they would burn if connected properly to the power grid!

    In either case, the power still comes through the lines.

  13. Maltese says:

    Great comments all! I think this a topic well worth delving into. I think on this subject (not a dogma of the Church) it is interesting to turn to two minds, contrary to each other:

    “[A] man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism, which desire is the outcome of ‘faith that works by charity,’ whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly. Hence Ambrose says of Valentinian, who died while yet a catechumen: ‘I lost him whom I was to regenerate: but he did not lose the grace he prayed for.'” St. Thomas Aquinas, Cf. Summa Theologica III, q68, a 2

    And then there is Father Leonard Feeney, SJ who was, amazingly, literary editor for America magazine! He was first excommunicated for his rigorist approach to the Church’s dogma that outside of the Church there is no salvation (“Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus.”) But then, interestingly, was allowed rapprochement with the Church, without having to abandon his belief that, literally, no one who is not a visible member of the Church can be saved (since the only dogma on the topic tended to support Fr. Feeney.) If he were a mere crackpot, that would not be noteworthy, but Fr. Feeney, by all accounts, but drop-out brilliant; and so this stirred-up quite a bit of controversy.

    Though I tend to believe St. Aquinas on this topic, I do find Fr. Feeney’s position interesting in light of the vision of hell given to the children at Fatima.

  14. Elly says:

    Something I don’t understand is what kind of person would know salvation comes through the Church but refuse to join? That must be a rare person. Surely most protestants do not know this or they would be Catholic. Or am I missing something?


  15. Rich says:

    Oh, God, does it even matter anymore what one says to ultra-conservatives who think you have to be a baptized, practicing member of the Catholic Church in order for God to be able to save you? It doesn’t matter what a an infallible council has taught, what the magisterium has clarified over and over again, they will pull up some quote like this from some saint (or perhaps some other spurious story about Padre Pio), which, interpreted a certain way, may prove their case, and meanwhile, they don’t even process the words you write or say to them. God bless those who use their time and effort to respond to them.

  16. Maltese says:

    Rich, I hear what you are saying my man. I used to be an atheist myself; and it just seems so “mean” to promenade about proclaiming only Catholics can be saved. But, of course, some Christians have suffered the most for their beliefs, and, in fact, today 60 Catholics were killed in a church in Baghdad.

    But, according to this finely penned piece, the Catholic Church has declared salvation in the Church on three different occasions, but never contrariwise. And, St. Aquinas also was against the Immaculate Conception, another dogma; so, Saints can be wrong. Therefore, if you are Catholic, it is best to remain such, and if you are not, I would suggest you consider Christ’s Church. But, either way, I remain, respectfully, your friend, as a fellow peruser on this fine blog!

  17. Roman says:

    I like the way the catechism of St Pius X explains.

    “29 Q: But if a man through no fault of his own is outside the Church, can he be saved?

    A: If he is outside the Church through no fault of his, that is, if he is in good faith, and if he has received Baptism, or at least has the implicit desire of Baptism; and if, moreover, he sincerely seeks the truth and does God’s will as best he can such a man is indeed separated from the body of the Church, but is united to the soul of the Church and consequently is on the way of salvation.”

  18. gambletrainman says:

    When I was in grade school, one of the nuns who taught us made the remark that she thought some people outside the Catholic Church had a chance for salvation. Being as our town had, at that time, a large percentage of Jewish people, she used the analogy that, supposing a Jewish person (who hated Catholics so much that he was in danger of having a stroke because of it) were in a horrible automobile accident, and died instantly. To us it would seem he died instantly, because we are in time. Yet, in that instant, just before his soul left his body, he was infused with enough knowledge of who exactly Christ is, and what He wants from us, and accepted that, then she BELIEVED he would have died in the arms of Christ, and therefore was saved. With God, all things are possible, and, as mere mortals, we cannot say for certain whether a person actually has been saved or not.

  19. Melody says:

    My personal interpretation of this quandary is everyone will be Catholic in heaven, even if some of them weren’t on earth.
    Imagine you were a devout Protestant Christian. Upon finding yourself in Purgatory what would you conclude? The Catholic Church was right!

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