The Fathers of the Church on Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

Let us examine how “the Church over the centuries” has explained the dogma, Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus . This study will not only give us the “context of the entire teaching of the Church on this matter,” but will also enable us to pinpoint the exact point in time when revisionists began “to explain it” differently.

The following quotations are presented in chronological order so that the continuity of the Church’s understanding of the dogma may be clearly shown. (In the interest of space, we give only general source references.)

First, we will hear from some of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and various saints:

Saint Irenaeus (died A.D. 202): “[The Church] is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account we are bound to avoid them… We hear it declared of the unbelieving and the blinded of this world that they shall not inherit the world of life which is to come… Resist them in defense of the only true and life giving faith, which the Church has received from the Apostles and imparted to her sons.” (Against Heresies , Book III)

Origen (died A.D. 254): “Let no man deceive himself. Outside this house, that is, outside the Church no one is saved.” (In Iesu Nave homiliae )

Saint Cyprian (died A.D. 258): “He who has turned his back on the Church of Christ shall not come to the rewards of Christ; he is an alien, a worldling, an enemy. You cannot have God for your Father if you have not the Church for your mother. Our Lord warns us when He says: `he that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth.’ Whosoever breaks the peace and harmony of Christ acts against Christ; whoever gathers elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ.” (Unity of the Catholic Church )

“He who does not hold this unity, does not hold the law of God, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation.” (Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Latina , Father Migne)

“Nay, though they should suffer death for the confession of the Name, the guilt of such men is not removed even by their blood…No martyr can he be who is not in the Church.” (Ancient Christian Writers )

Bishop Firmilean (died A.D. 269): “What is the greatness of his error, and what the depth of his blindness, who says that remission of sins can be granted in the synagogues of heretics, and does not abide on the foundation of the one Church.” (Anti-Nicene Fathers )

Lactantius (died A.D. 310): “It is the Catholic Church alone which retains true worship. This is the fountain of truth, this is the abode of the Faith, this is the temple of God; into which if anyone shall not enter, or from which if anyone shall go out, he is a stranger to the hope of life and eternal salvation.” (The Divine Institutes )

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (died A.D. 386): “Abhor all heretics…heed not their fair speaking or their mock humility; for they are serpents, a `brood of vipers.’ Remember that, when Judas said `Hail Rabbi,’ the salutation was an act of betrayal. Do not be deceived by the kiss but beware of the venom. Abhor such men, therefore, and shun the blasphemers of the Holy Spirit, for whom there is no pardon. For what fellowship have you with men without hope. Let us confidently say to God regarding all heretics, `Did I not hate, O Lord, those who hated Thee, and did I not pine away because of Your enemies?’ For there is an enmity that is laudable, as it is written, `I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed.’ Friendship with the serpent produces enmity with God, and death. Let us shun those from whom God turns away.” (The Fathers of the Church )

Saint Ambrose (died A.D. 397): “Where Peter is therefore, there is the Church. Where the Church is there is not death but life eternal. …Although many call themselves Christians, they usurp the name and do not have the reward.” (The Fathers of the Church )

Bishop Niceta of Remesiana (died A.D. 415): “He is the Way along which we journey to our salvation; the Truth, because He rejects what is false; the Life, because He destroys death. …All who from the beginning of the world were, or are, or will be justified – whether Patriarchs, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or Prophets, whether Apostles or martyrs, or any others – make up one Church, because they are made holy by one faith and way of life, stamped with one Spirit, made into one Body whose Head, as we are told, is Christ. I go further. The angels and virtues and powers in heaven are co-members in this one Church, for, as the Apostle teaches us, in Christ `all things whether on the earth or in the heavens have been reconciled.’ You must believe, therefore, that in this one Church you are gathered into the Communion of Saints. You must know that this is the one Catholic Church established throughout the world, and with it you must remain in unshaken communion. There are, indeed, other so called `churches’ with which you can have no communion. …These `churches’ cease to be holy, because they were deceived by the doctrines of the devil to believe and behave differently from what Christ commanded and from the tradition of the Apostles.” (The Fathers of the Church )

Saint Jerome (died A.D. 420): “As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is, with the Chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the Church is built. …This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. …And as for heretics, I have never spared them; on the contrary, I have seen to it in every possible way that the Church’s enemies are also my enemies.” (Manual of Patrology and History of Theology )

Saint Augustine (died A.D. 430): “No man can find salvation except in the Catholic Church. Outside the Catholic Church one can have everything except salvation. One can have honor, one can have the sacraments, one can sing alleluia, one can answer amen, one can have faith in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and preach it too, but never can one find salvation except in the Catholic Church.” (Sermo ad Caesariensis Ecclesia plebem )

Saint Fulgentius (died A.D. 533): “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.” (Enchiridion Patristicum )

St. Bede the Venerable (died A.D. 735): “Just as all within the ark were saved and all outside of it were carried away when the flood came, so when all who are pre-ordained to eternal life have entered the Church, the end of the world will come and all will perish who are found outside.” (Hexaemeron )

Saint Thomas Aquinas (died A.D. 1274): “There is no entering into salvation outside the Church, just as in the time of the deluge there was none outside the ark, which denotes the Church.” (Summa Theologiae )

Saint Peter Canisius (died A.D. 1597): “Outside of this communion – as outside of the ark of Noah – there is absolutely no salvation for mortals: not for Jews or pagans who never received the faith of the Church, nor for heretics who, having received it, corrupted it; neither for the excommunicated or those who for any other serious cause deserve to be put away and separated from the body of the Church like pernicious members…for the rule of Cyprian and Augustine is certain: he will not have God for his Father who would not have the Church for his mother.” (Catechismi Latini et Germanici )

Saint Robert Bellarmine (died A.D. 1621): “Outside the Church there is no salvation…therefore in the symbol [Apostles Creed] we join together the Church with the remission of sins: `I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins’…For this reason the Church is compared with the ark of Noah, because just as during the deluge, everyone perished who was not in the ark, so now those perish who are not in the Church.” (De Sacramento Baptismi )

This list is not exhaustive, but our point is made. It is clear that, throughout her 2000-year history, the Church has constantly and consistently taught that, if a man does not accept the faith of Christ and enter into His Church and subject himself to the authority of the Roman Pontiff, he cannot be saved. The language used to express this doctrine has always been simple, direct and unequivocal – no “if”s, “and”s or “but”s. This is the true “context of the entire teaching of the Church on this matter” down through the centuries.