A ‘Quiet Affirmation’ from the New Catechism

Progressives sometimes claim that the Church’s magisterium has made various “quiet repudiations” of the doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Whatever the basis of these claims, it may be replied that de fide definita dogmatic formulations are not subject to repudiations of any sort, but are of a definitive character.

All that aside, a friend has just pointed out a “quiet affirmation” of the dogma in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. (CCC #1035)

Reference 617 refers us to the following footnote:

617 Cf. DS 76; 409; 411; 801; 858; 1002; 1351; 1575; Paul VI, CPG § 12.

DS 1351, which I have emboldened for emphasis, is the Denzinger-Schönmetzer reference number for the document, Cantate Domino, from the Council of Florence, which I quote here:

She [“the Holy Roman Church”] firmly believes, professes, and preaches that “none of those who are outside of the Catholic Church, not only pagans,” but also Jews, heretics, and schismatics, can become sharers of eternal life, but they will go into the eternal fire “that was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Mt 25:41] unless, before the end of their life, they are joined to her. And the unity of the Church’s body is of such great importance that the Church’s sacraments are beneficial toward salvation only for those who remain within her, and (only for them) do fasts, almsgiving, and other acts of piety and exercises of Christian discipline bring forth eternal rewards. “No one can be saved, no matter how many alms he has given, and even if he sheds his blood for the nae of Christ, unless he remains in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.” [Besides the passage from Saint Mathew’s Gospel, the two quoted passages in this paragraph are excerpted from a work of Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe, as noted in DS.]

Dare we say, Roma locuta causa finita?

A note about the reference work: Henry Denzinger was a member of the German Positive School of theology, which emphasized the importance of the Church’s magisterium in formulating theology. To advance this purpose, he compiled his famous Enchiridion Symbolorum et Definitionum (Handbook of Creeds and Definitions). His original work is still available as Sources of Catholic Dogma, but has subsequently undergone substantial revision and augmentation under the editorship of Adolf Schönmetzer, S.J. — thus the change from the older “Denz.” reference nomenclature to the newer “DS.” (It is sometimes a source of confusion that, since this work is in chronological order, and since material from various eras of Church history have been added to it, the numberings of Denz and DS are different, necessitating a chart to coordinate the two.)

The current edition — the 43rd — has been even more substantially revised and augmented under the editorship of Peter Hunermann. The Latin/English edition of this new gigantic work is published by Ignatius Press and is known as Enchiridion Symbolorum: A Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations of the Catholic Church. It is from that work that I typed the above translation of the passage from Cantate Domino. In this new edition, it seems that the “DS” numberings have been retained, and that the added material comes from more recent pontificates, including such things as Pope John Paul II’s Dominus Jesus and Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum.


  • There was an attempt to vitiate EENS by Vatican II, e.g paragraphs 15 and 16 of Lumen Gentium. You have to massage the text a bit. I am not saying V2 abrogated the doctrine, just that it created confusion and allowed V2nistas to claim it had. Couple this with the practical ecumenism on the parish level and most people think EENS is a dead letter, if they think of it at all.

    As an aside, perhaps you could do a piece on converts and EENS. We suffer from the idea that our loved ones who are not Catholic are doomed to Hell. And I mean something beyond the usual “Who knows what God might do in any given situation?”

  • Robert Swanson

    No pope or anybody else can repudiate the phrase itself, but the CCC explains these words as meaning that “All salvation comes from Christ,” (846, 847) rather than the traditional and straightforward meaning of the words, “No salvation outside the church.” Kudos to those who track down the footnotes, but the average man in the pew is likely to take the more palatable “updated” explanation.

  • And that is the crux of the matter. Simple formulations have been replaced until a poor Bear does not know if, at any given time, Church documents are referring to the Church constituted in human society, or a broader Church of Christ that extends salvific tendrils into Protestant ecclesial communities and even into the souls of Atheists and pagans. By changing definitions, they imagine they can avoid rejection of the doctrine. It will remain, but only as the dogma that dare not speak its name, or perhaps as an irrelevancy, because the Church turned out to be a lot bigger than we imagined, praise the Lord!

    This business of being saved “through the Church” while remaining outside it entirely misses the essential response and obedience of coming into the Church. It would be the rare person, at least in the West, who does not know of the Church, and further has the resources to easily learn more. What do we say if one will not even do that?
    It elevates works to replace faith entirely. (And as a practical matter, this is not 1964. Atheists are galvanized by professionals like Dawkins to hate God and disrupt faith and prayer whoever possible. Moslems, who certain Council Father insisted on treating as friends with a legitimate religion sharing similar aims as the Church, often hate the Church even more than the Atheists.

    Right now, many believe a person need not do anything. The Summerland of Spiritualists awaits us all when we die. The Church generates a kind of field that wraps the planet in salvation energy. True, you can’t be saved without it, but it is accessible to all persons except people of historic evil. Almost everyone is saved on a kindly God’s grading curve. Hitler, Osama bin Laden at one end, saints at the other and the vast majority who are good enough somewhere in the middle.