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The Latin phrase extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (meaning "outside the Church [there is] no salvation" or "no salvation outside the Church")[1][2] is a phrase referring to a Christian doctrine about who is to receive salvation.

The expression comes from the writings of Saint Cyprian of Carthage, a Christian bishop of the 3rd century. The phrase is an axiom often used as shorthand for the doctrine that the Church is necessary for salvation. It is a dogma in the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, in reference to their own communions. It is also held by many historic Protestant churches. However, Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox each have a unique ecclesiological understanding of what constitutes "the Church". For some, the church is defined as "all those who will be saved", with no emphasis on the visible church.[1] For others, the theological basis for this doctrine is founded on the beliefs that Jesus Christ personally established the one Church, and that the Church serves as the means by which the graces won by Christ are communicated to believers.

Scriptural foundation

The doctrine is based largely on Mark 16:15–16:[3][4]

He said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned."


First appearance

The original phrase, "Salus extra ecclesiam non est" ("there is no salvation outside the Church"), comes from Letter LXXII of Cyprian of Carthage (died 258). The letter was written in reference to a particular controversy as to whether it was necessary to baptize applicants who had been previously baptized by heretics. In Ad Jubajanum de haereticis baptizandis, Cyprian tells Jubaianus of his conviction that baptism conferred by heretics is not valid.[5] Firmilian (died c. 269) agreed with Cyprian, reasoning that those who are outside the Church and do not have the Holy Spirit cannot admit others to the Church or give what they do not possess.[6]

Early Church Fathers

Justin Martyr

The concept was also referred to by Origen in his Homilies on Joshua, but neither he nor Cyprian were addressing non-Christians, but those already baptized and in danger of leaving the faith, as that would involve apostasy.[7] Earlier, Justin Martyr had indicated that the righteous Jews who lived before Christ would be saved. He later expressed a similar opinion concerning Gentiles. Those who act pleasing to God, while not "being" Christian are yet in some sense "in" Christ the Logos.[8]: 10 

Each one [...] shall be saved by his own righteousness, [...] those who regulated their lives by the law of Moses would in like manner be saved. [...] Since those who did that which is universally, naturally, and eternally good are pleasing to God, they shall be saved through this Christ in the resurrection equally with those righteous men who were before them, namely Noah, and Enoch, and Jacob, and whoever else there be, along with those who have known this Christ.[9]

Gregory of Nazianzus took a rather broad view in his understanding of membership in the body of Christ. In the funeral oration for his father's death in 374, Gregory stated: "He was ours even before he was of our fold. His manner of life made him one of us. Just as there are many of our own who are not with us, whose lives alienate them from the common body, so too there are many of those outside who belong really to us, men whose devout conduct anticipates their faith. They lack only the name of that which in fact they possess. My father was one of these, an alien shoot but inclined to us in his manner of life". In other words, by their charity of life, they are united to Christians in Christ, even before they explicitly believe in Christ.[10] Fulgentius of Ruspe took a much stricter view: "Most firmly hold and never doubt that not only pagans, but also all Jews, all heretics, and all schismatics who finish this life outside of the Catholic Church, will go into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels".[11]

Jerome wrote: "This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails".[12] Bede continues this theme: "And according to this sense the ark is manifestly the Church, Noah the Lord who builds the Church".[13]

Augustine of Hippo made numerous remarks in response to adversaries, often on opposite sides of this issue, once saying: "Whoever is without the Church will not be reckoned among the sons, and whoever does not want to have the Church as mother will not have God as father".[14] He could also pick up on the sayings of the Fathers, and be completely inclusive in his assessment: "All together we are members of Christ and are his body [...] throughout the world [...] from Abel the just until the end of time [...] whoever among the just made his passage throughout this life, whether now [...] or in the generations to come, all the just are this one body of Christ, and individually his members".[8]: 30 

Other views

Novatian (200–258) says that the church is not for salvation, but that is a congregation of saints.[15]

Eastern Orthodox

Kallistos Ware, a Greek Eastern Orthodox bishop, expressed this doctrine as follows:

"Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. All the categorical strength and point of this aphorism lies in its tautology. Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church" (G. Florovsky, "Sobornost: the Catholicity of the Church", in The Church of God, p. 53). Does it therefore follow that anyone who is not visibly within the Church is necessarily damned? Of course not; still less does it follow that everyone who is visibly within the Church is necessarily saved. As Augustine wisely remarked: "How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!" (Homilies on John, 45, 12) While there is no division between a "visible" and an "invisible Church", yet there may be members of the Church who are not visibly such, but whose membership is known to God alone. If anyone is saved, he must in some sense be a member of the Church; in what sense, we cannot always say.[16]

Roman Catholic

Writing while still a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI (died 2022) commented that Cyprian was not expressing a theory on the eternal fate of all baptized and non-baptized persons.[17]

The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church explained this as "all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is His Body".[18]


Papal letters

Pope Boniface VIII's bull Unam sanctam of 1302 was promulgated during an ongoing dispute between Boniface VIII and Philip IV of France.[28] In it, Boniface declared, "We are compelled in virtue of our faith to believe and maintain that there is only one holy Catholic Church, and that one is apostolic. This we firmly believe and profess without qualification. Outside this Church there is no salvation and no remission of sins". The bull notably extends what had been ecclesiastical dictum into relations with temporal powers. According to Robert W. Dyson, there are some who hold that Giles of Rome might have been the actual writer of the bull.[29] It claims: "We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff".[30]

Pope Pius XI, in his 1928 encyclical Mortalium Animos, quotes from Lactantius: "The Catholic Church alone is keeping the true worship. This is the font of truth, this is the house of faith, this is the temple of God; if any man enter not here, or if any man go forth from it, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation". The Pope then specifies: "Furthermore, in this one Church of Christ, no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors".[31]

Second Vatican Council

Pope John XXIII

In calling the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII noted a distinction between the truths of faith and how those truths are conveyed. In the 1973 declaration Mystertium Ecclesiae, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recognized that the articulation of revealed truth would necessarily be influenced by historical factors.[8]: 10 

The Second Vatican Council declared that the Christian communities that are not in full communion, but only in "partial communion"[32] with the Catholic Church, "though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church". It explained that "some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ".[33]

These elements, it said, "as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward Catholic unity". The Council identified Christ's Church on earth with the Catholic Church, saying: "This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church".[34] The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated in a later doctrinal note that the term "subsistit in" and "is" are interchangeable, so that the "one true Church" is and subsists in the Catholic Church, according to Catholic teaching.

The Second Vatican Council also declared that "it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one body of Christ into which all those must be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God".[33]

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the phrase, "Outside the Church there is no salvation", means, if put in positive terms, that "all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body", and it "is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church".[35] At the same time, it adds: "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".[36] The Catechism also states that the Catholic Church "is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter", and that "those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways".[37]

Dominus Iesus

The 2000 declaration Dominus Iesus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states that "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". It then adds that "for those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is [...] communicated by the Holy Spirit; it has a relationship with the Church, which, according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit".[38]

Inculpable ignorance

Main article: Vincible and invincible ignorance

In its statements regarding this doctrine, the Church expressly teaches that "it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, will not be held guilty of this in the eyes of God", and that "outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or salvation unless he is excused through ignorance beyond his control". It also states 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 life, can, by the operating power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life".[36]

Strict interpretation

See also: Feeneyism

Some traditionalists called Feeneyites (such as the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of New Hampshire) believe that only Catholics baptized with water can be saved. They reject the concept of baptism by desire and baptism of blood, and say that only a properly performed rite with the use of water and the requisite words is sufficient.[39]

Other or related views

See also: Jacques Dupuis (Jesuit) and John Courtney Murray

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Lutheran interpretation

Martin Luther, the foremost leader of the Protestant Reformation, spoke of the necessity of belonging to the church (in the sense of what he saw as the true church) in order to be saved:

Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church. How should we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did not know where his believers are? And he who would know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he must go to the Church, attend and ask her. Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach; they surely have Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.[40]

Modern Lutheran churches "do agree with the traditional statement that 'outside the catholic church there is no salvation', but this statement refers not to the Roman organization but to the Holy Christian Catholic and Apostolic Church, which consists of all who believe in Christ as their Savior".[41]

Reformed interpretation

The Genevan reformer John Calvin, in his Reformation-era work Institutes of the Christian Religion, wrote: "beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for".[42] Calvin wrote also that "those to whom He is a Father, the Church must also be a mother,"[43] echoing the words of the originator of the Latin phrase himself, Cyprian: "He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother".[44]

Reformed scholastics accepted the phrase so long as the church is recognized by the marks of the church, which they defined as proper administration of the Word and sacrament, rather than apostolic succession.[45]

The idea is further affirmed in the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 that "the visible Church [...] is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation".[46]

Methodist interpretation

The Methodist tradition, inclusive of the holiness movement, holds that the office of the keys is exercised when the Church baptizes an individual and pronounces them saved.[47] The office of the keys is furthermore exercised in the Church "binding and loosing", being able to excommunicate individuals from the sacraments as "ordinarily, no one is saved outside the visible church".[47] The purpose of this is to allow individuals to repent and come into full communion with the Church so that they might receive "final salvation".[47]

See also


  1. ^ a b An Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies, (Orlando O. Espín, James B. Nickoloff, eds.), Liturgical Press 2007, ISBN 978-0-8146-5856-7, p. 439
  2. ^ Pohle, Joseph. "Religious Toleration." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 15 February 2016
  3. ^ Martin, Ralph. "And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd." John 10:16 Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 2012 pp. 57 et seq. ISBN 978-0802868879
  4. ^ Mark 16:15–16
  5. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: Epistle 72 (Cyprian of Carthage)". Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  6. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: Epistle 74 (Cyprian of Carthage)". Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  7. ^ Kasper, Walter. The Catholic Church: Nature, Reality and Mission, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015 ISBN 9781441117540
  8. ^ a b c Sullivan SJ, Francis A. Salvation Outside the Church?: Tracing the History of the Catholic Response, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002 ISBN 9781592440085
  9. ^ Justin Martyr (1884). "Dialogue with Trypho, XLV". In Roberts, Alexander; Donaldson, James (eds.). Ante-Nicene Christian Library. Vol. II. Translated by Reith, George. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark..
  10. ^ Jurgens, William A., The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 2, Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1979, p. 29
  11. ^ Fulgentius of Ruspe, "De fide, ad Petrum" 38 (79) (Migne, Patrologia Latina (PL 65:704)
  12. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: Letter 15 (Jerome)". Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  13. ^ Anlezark, Daniel. Water and fire: The myth of the flood in Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 75 ISBN 9781526129659
  14. ^ Augustine of Hippo, De symbolo ad catechumenos (On the Creed: A Sermon to Catechumens), Book. 4, chap. 13
  15. ^ " Novatian and Novatianism (Mid Third Century)". Retrieved 2021-09-22.
  16. ^ Ware, Kallistos (1993). The Orthodox Church. Penguin. pp. 247–248. ISBN 9780140146561.
  17. ^ "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (Outside the Church there is no salvation) | EWTN". EWTN Global Catholic Television Network. Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  18. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church §§846-848, 851 Archived April 7, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "Sources of Catholic Dogma 200-300 ::". Retrieved 2020-02-16.
  20. ^ "Denzinger EN 396". Retrieved 2020-02-16.
  21. ^ Pope Gregory I. Moralia, sive Expositio in Job, 16.5
  22. ^ "Summo Iugiter Studio". Papal Encyclicals. 1832-05-27. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  23. ^ "Pope Leo XII 5 May 1824 on his assuming the Pontificate". 2004-06-20. Archived from the original on 2004-06-20. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  24. ^ "Library : The Leonard Feeney Quarrel and Pius IX on Invincible Ignorance". Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  25. ^ "Bourne, Francis. True Religious Unity, Catholic Truth Society, No. Pe1928a (1933)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-03-30. Retrieved 2019-07-07.
  26. ^ Denzinger, no. 802
  27. ^ Denzinger, no. 1351
  28. ^ Kirsch, Johann Peter. "Unam Sanctam." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 5 March 2016
  29. ^ Giles of Rome (2004) [1986]. Giles of Rome's On ecclesiastical power: a medieval theory of world government. Records of Western civilization. Translated by Dyson, Robert W. New York: Columbia University Press. p. xx. ISBN 9780231128032.
  30. ^ "Unam Sanctam". Papal Encyclicals. November 18, 1302. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  31. ^ "Mortalium Animos (January 6, 1928) | PIUS XI". Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  32. ^ "The Holy See - Vatican web site". Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  33. ^ a b Unitatis redintegratio, 3 Archived March 6, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ Lumen gentium, 8 Archived September 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 846-848 Archived April 7, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^ a b Catechism of the Catholic Church, 848
  37. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 838-839
  38. ^ Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Dominus Iesus Archived April 11, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  39. ^ Correspondent, DAMIEN FISHER Union Leader (8 January 2019). "NH-based 'only Catholics go to heaven' group sanctioned by Church; aspiring nun allegedly held against her will". Archived from the original on 5 August 2020. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  40. ^ Sermon for the Early Christmas Service Archived 2006-10-28 at the Wayback Machine; Luke 2:15-20 (1521-1522). Luther's Works, American Ed., Hans J. Hillerbrand, Helmut T. Lehmann ed., Philadelphia, Concordia Publishing House/Fortress Press, 1974, ISBN 0-8006-0352-4 (Sermons II), vol. 52:39-40
  41. ^ "No Salvation Outside Catholic Church - Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS)". Archived from the original on 2009-09-27. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  42. ^ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter i, Section.iv
  43. ^ Calvin, Institutes, Book IV, Chapter i, Section.i.
  44. ^ The Unity of the Catholic Church, ch. 6
  45. ^ Muller, Richard (2006). Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology. Baker Book House. p. 112. ISBN 978-0801020643.
  46. ^ "Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter XXV - Of the Church". Retrieved 2020-07-03.
  47. ^ a b c Arnold, Johnathan (13 October 2021). "The Church's Authority and Responsibility to Forgive Sins". Holy Joys. Retrieved 31 January 2022.

Further reading