The Meaning of the Church's Necessity for Salvation


By Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton


The following is an exact reproduction of the American Ecclesiastical Review, February, 1951, pages 124-143, published by the Catholic University of America Press.



Three years ago The American Ecclesiastical Review carried a rather long article, entitled “The Theological Proof for the Necessity of the Catholic Church.” [1] This article contained a statement and an analysis of what the documents of the Church’s magisterium taught on the subject of the Church’s necessity for salvation. It listed and evaluated the various scriptural proofs and rationes theologicae employed by outstanding modern theologians in support of this thesis. It closed with a brief description of what the author considered, and still considers, to be the material from which the most effective theological demonstration of this thesis can and must be constructed.

As it is very title indicated, the article was concerned primarily with the process of theological demonstration. It took cognizance of the fact that an adequate theological proof carries with it necessarily an indication of the meaning of the thesis or conclusion supported by that proof. The immediate purpose of the article, however, prevented it from going into any detail on the statement of the thesis itself. It considered only indirectly and summarily the form into which the recent manuals and monographs had put the thesis on the Church’s necessity for salvation and the basic explanation of this thesis in current theological literature.

The appearance of the Holy Father’s encyclical Humani generis, with its reproval of those who “reduce to an empty formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation,” [2] has made it expedient to take up in some detail the question of the form and the fundamental explanation of the doctrine. The teaching of the Humani generis is of the utmost importance. The encyclical itself spoke of this importance, and the Holy Father referred to it again in his allocution Penitus commoto animo when he listed the teaching of Humani generis, “ad catholicam doctrinam integram et indemnem servandam,” among the concerns “quae summi quidem momenti Nobis cordi sunt.” [3] In view of the seriousness of this teaching, and because of the fact that the doctrine on the Church’s necessity for salvation is one of the theses that have been mishandled throughout the world and not merely in one particular region, a consideration of this thesis, particularly from the point of view of the recent encyclical, should prove advantageous.

Thus, in the present article, we shall first inquire into the meaning of the encyclical’s expression, “reduce to an empty formula.” We shall try to see what the expression means and look into its connotations as it is applied to the Catholic teaching on the necessity of the Church for salvation. This section of the article will be followed by a listing and an explanation of some presentations of the thesis found in current theological literature, some of which in one way or another certainly tend to reduce this doctrine to a vain and empty formula.

The second portion of this article will consider the background of the various inadequate presentations of this section of sacred theology. As it stands in modern theological textbooks, the teaching on the necessity of the Catholic Church for eternal salvation has a distinctive and somewhat unfortunate background, a history such as to make inadequate presentation of the material somewhat easier and more likely here than in other sections of sacred doctrine. Apart from this general consideration, some of the less laudable statements of the thesis have their own particular histories in the chronicle of sacred theology. These histories are such as to throw considerable light on the proper expression of the thesis itself.

The third and final portion of the article will be devoted to a consideration of the elements which must be brought into an adequate statement of this teaching. It will end up with the listing of the basic propositions that can serve as a faithful and unequivocal expression of the doctrine on the Church’s necessity for salvation.


In the Humani generis the Holy Father declared that some Catholics “reduce to an empty formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation.” The terminology he employed in this statement is a matter of particular importance. It would be impossible to use exactly the same expression in dealing with an inadequate or inaccurate handling of almost any other section of sacred theology. The teaching about the necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation is, in by far the greater number of current theological writers, inextricably bound up with a definite formula, the “extra ecclesiam nulla salus,” or “no salvation outside the Church.” There is no comparable situation existing in any other section of theological science.

Under various equivalent forms, this formula has been presented as a dogma of the Catholic Church many times during the course of ecclesiastical history. For this reason, no writer who claims the name of Catholic will ever presume to deny or to reject the formula outright. All the different types of explanation of the Church’s necessity for salvation presented in the literature of Catholic theology claim to set forth the real meaning of this formula. Thus the bare axiom of formula has always been retained, no matter how erratically it may have been interpreted by individual authors.

The first and the most objectionable method of mishandling the teaching of the Church’s necessity for salvation is to make the formula “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” mask or an excuse for disobedient and schismatical conduct towards legitimate ecclesiastical authority. Such unfortunately has been the procedure of a widely publicized group in our country during the past two years. At the hands of the spokesman for this group, the expression which is meant to crystallize the revealed doctrine on the Church’s place in the divine economy of salvation has become a rallying-cry for opposition, from outside the Church, to the ecclesia docens of the present day. It is hard to see how men can reduce this teaching to an empty formula more effectively than by employing the formula itself as an instrument to draw their fellows into an obstinate withdrawal from the Catholic community.

One also reduces the doctrine of the Church’s necessity for salvation to an empty formula when, professing to retain and to explain the assertion that there is not salvation outside the Church, he actually presents a teaching that runs counter to the obvious and primary meaning of this doctrine. The man who acts thus claims to hold the axiom “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” as an unquestioned statement of Catholic dogma while, at the same time, he holds that de facto people can save their souls even though they live and die outside the true Church of Jesus Christ.

There is still another way in which the usual statement of the Church’s necessity for eternal salvation can be reduced to a mere empty formula. This occurs when the assertion is explained in a way that is incompatible with the statement of this truth in the documents of the Church’s magisterium. It so happens that the Church’s official pronouncements on this subject are not and have not been couched in the very words “extra ecclesiam nulla salus.” Thus the profession of faith prescribed by Pope Innocent III for those who were returning to the Church after having lived for some time tin the heresy of the Waldensians, spoke of “the one Church, not that of the heretics but the holy Roman, Catholic and apostolic (Church), outside of which we believe no one to be saved.”[4] The first chapter of the dogmatic constitution Firmiter credimus, issued by the Fourth Oecumenical Council of the Lateran, under the same Pope Innocent III, states that “there is one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which on one at all is saved.” [5]

But, where these two documents had stated that no person could achieve salvation without being “inside” the Church, the Bull Unam sanctam issued by Pope Boniface VIII, employed the terminology which has become more usual in our own time. It referred to “the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church…outside of which there is neither salvation nor remission of sins.”[6] This type of formula expresses the Church’s teaching that salvation itself is something to be found only inside the Church. The other kind of proposition had set forth the other aspect of the same dogma, the truth that men themselves must be “inside” the Church if they are to obtain their eternal happiness in heaven.”

Eugenius IV, in his Bull, Cantate Domino, a document which stands as not only the declaration of the Sovereign Pontiff, but also as a decree of an oecumenical Council, that of Florence, teaches that “none of those not existing within the Catholic Church…can become partakers of eternal life, but that [such persons] are going to go into the everlasting fire ‘that is prepared for the devil and his angels’ unless, before the end of life, they become joined (aggregati) to that same [Church].”[7] Thus the Cantate Domino adopts the same sort of terminology as that previously employed by Innocent III himself and by the Fourth Council of the Lateran over which he presided.

Pope Pius IX habitually employed this same form in teaching about the necessity of the Church for eternal salvation. In his allocution Singulari quadam, he qualified as an exitiosus error the then widely disseminated opinion that we may well hope “for the eternal salvation of all those who have never any way lived within the true Church of Christ.”[8] In the same allocution he stated that “we must certainly hold on faith that no man can be saved outside of the apostolic Roman Church, that this is the only ark of salvation, that the man who does not enter into it is going to perish in the deluge.” [9] The same Pontiff repeated these formulae almost word for word in his encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore.[10]

In this last named document there is a rather complicated sentence which has occasioned a certain amount of confusion among some recent writers.

‘But it is also a very well known Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside of the Catholic Church, and that those who are contumaciously opposed to the authority and the definitions of that same Church, and who are obstinately separated from the unity of that Church and from Peter’s successor, the Roman Pontiff, to whom the guardianship over the vineyard has been entrusted by the Lord, cannot obtain salvation’. [11]

Certain Catholic publicists and not a few theologians have misinterpreted this passage by imagining the presence of the word “only” before the passage that begins “those who are contumaciously opposed.” Thus they wrongly consider the second portion of this proposition as a limitation of the first part, and represent Pope Pius IX as teaching that the expression “no one can be saved outside of the Catholic Church” means merely that the Church is necessary with a necessity of precept. Actually the statement asserts that the Church is necessary with the necessity of means and also with that of precept.

The assertion that “there is no salvation outside the Church,” or, to use the form in which it is presented in most ecclesiastical documents, that “no one at all can be saved outside the Church,” becomes merely a meaningless series of sounds or “an empty formula” in the hands of a Catholic teacher who presumes to interpret it in some manner incompatible with the manifest significance of any one of these declarations of the Church’s magisterium in which the assertion occurs, in one way or another.

Theological writers can reduce the teaching on the Church’s necessity for salvation to an empty or idol formula in this way when they take the declaration of Boniface VIII, for example, in his Unam sanctam, and state that the designation of the Catholic Church as the thing “outside of which there is neither salvation nor the forgiveness of sins” implies that all the means for supernatural salvation belong to the Church, in the sense that the individual who employs these means is actually, whether he knows it or not, availing himself of something which belongs to the Church, and then declare that the teaching on the Church’s necessity for salvation involves nothing more than this. The writers who adopt such a course leave that teaching a mere empty formula as it stands in those documents of the Church’s magisterium which obviously claim that an individual cannot be saved unless he himself is in some way “within” rather than “outside of” the true Church of Jesus Christ.

In short, the error deplored by the Holy Father in the encyclical Humani generis is to be found wherever the formula or, to be more exact, the formulae that tell of the Church’s necessity for eternal salvation must be considered as meaningless in some or in all of the contexts in which this teaching is to be found in the authentic documents of the Church’s magisterium. The same error is to be found wherever the explanation involves a notion of the Church or of salvation incompatible with the Church’s declarations on these subjects, and wherever the expressions “within” and “outside of” are explained in some manner that would exclude the ordinary meanings generally attached to these terms in speech or in writing.


It is imperative that we examine the various statements of the thesis on the Church’s necessity for salvation in current theological literature in order that we may see which among them can be said to fall under the censure of the Holy Father. An examination of the literature on this subject produced since the time of the Vatican Council shows that, while there are many definitely acceptable presentations of the thesis, and that while, among scholastic writers, these acceptable presentations manifestly outnumber those of lesser worth, there are still some statements and explanations of the Church’s necessity for salvation which lay themselves open to the charge that they reduce this teaching to an empty formula. Some writers on this subject have carried through their attempts to minimize the significance of this teaching to such an extent that, for all intents and purposes, they have left the statement that there is no salvation outside the Church void of all real meaning.

One group of writers and teachers who have set out to explain this thesis have offered what seems to be nothing more or less than an outright denial of the teaching they intended to interpret. Such is the case with Arnold Harris Mathew’s exposition of the formula “extra ecclesiam salus nulla” in the symposium he edited forty-five years ago.


‘Now the further question arises as to how far Catholics are bound to hold that for those outside the Roman Church there is no salvation. Catholics are not bound to hold anything of the kind. The question resolves itself into the other question, how far those who are outside the Roman Church are in good faith or not’. [12]

At the very beginning of Mathew’s brief article, he protests against the statement, attributed to some “leading Protestant divine,” to the effect that Catholics “are obliged by their creed to regard all who die outside the Roman Church as in hell.” [13] Mathew’s somewhat vehement retort states that his co-religionists “are not only not bound to hold any such opinion, but they are bound to hold exactly the opposite.” [14] It is difficult to see how the teaching on the necessity of the Catholic Church for eternal salvation could more effectively be reduced to a mere empty formula than by this type of “explanation.”

Because of the manifest incoherence of his teaching, and particularly because of his unfortunate defection from the Catholic Church during the latter phase of the Modernist crisis, Mathew as an individual never had any direct influence in the field of theological writing. Nevertheless, explanations of the Church’s necessity for salvation roughly similar to his have appeared in Catholic periodicals from time to time during the past half-century, produced by well meaning but ill informed individuals who were so intent upon the task of overthrowing charges of intolerance that had been levelled against the Church that they completely overlooked the bounds of doctrinal accuracy in their own statements. Sometimes this tendency to explain the doctrine of the Church’s necessity by what amounts to a denial of its practical import has assumed a less offensive though equally inaccurate form, as in the case of Otto Karrer’s Religions of Mankind, the thirteenth chapter of which is entitled “Salvation outside the Visible Church.” [15]

A second type of explanation of this thesis is to be found in Cardinal Newman’s last published study of this subject, a study incorporated into his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk. Mathew, who quoted the entire section in extenso, was convinced that the Cardinal had “dealt with the question in such a masterly way that it is impossible to improve upon what he says.” [16] As a group, the theologians of the Catholic Church have shown no disposition to share Mathew’s enthusiasm.

The great English Cardinal considered this teaching in his Letter, not directly for the sake of the doctrine itself, but primarily as an example of something which he believed could offer “the opportunity of a legitimate minimizing.” [17] Following this line, he held that the principle “out of the Church, and out of the faith, is no salvation,” admits of exceptions, and he taught that Pope Pius IX, in his encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore, had spoken of such exceptions. Newman quotes these words of Pius IX.


‘We and you know, that those who lie under invincible ignorance as regards our most Holy Religion, and who, diligently observing the natural law and its precepts, which are engraven by God on the hearts of all, and prepared to obey God, lead a good and upright life, are able, by the operation of the power of divine light and grace, to obtain eternal life’. [18]

Newman believed these words conveyed what he called “the doctrine of invincible ignorance – or, that it is possible to belong to the soul of the Church without belonging to the body.” [19] He concluded his treatment of this thesis by the following question: “Who would at first sight gather from the wording of so forcible a universal [Out of the Church, and out of the faith, is no salvation], that an exception to its operation, such as this, so distinct, and, for what we know, so very wide, was consistent with holding it?” [20]

It is hard to see how a universal negative proposition that admits of “distinct, and, for what we know, so very wide” exceptions can be other than an empty or meaningless formula. As we have seen, the statement on the necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation must be considered, not as a mere series of words taken out of all context, but precisely in the manner in which it stands in the various monuments of the Church’s official magisterium. As that teaching is found in, for instance, the Cantate Domino, it definitely does not admit of any “exceptions.” If Newman was right, and if persons in invincible ignorance can be saved other than in the Church, the teaching of Eugenius IV and of the Council of Florence is definitely inaccurate. And, on the other hand, if it be Catholic dogma that none of those who dwell outside the Church can be saved unless before they die they become joined to the Church, then there is certainly no room for any sort of “exception” to the rule of the Church’s necessity for eternal salvation.

It is interesting to note that Newman interpreted the doctrine of invincible ignorance as meaning that “it is possible to belong to the soul of the Church without belonging to the body.” [21] He was convinced that his citation from the text of the Quanto conficiamur moerore, the citation reproduced a few lines above, constituted an expression of this teaching. There is absolutely nothing in the statement of Pope Pius IX to give the impression that a man could be saved apart from those factors which some writers of the time designated collectively as the “body” of the Church, just as there is nothing to indicate that he considered the possibility of “exceptions” to the sovereign rule of the Church’s necessity for salvation.

There have been a few recent theologians who have attempted to explain the necessity of the Church exclusively, or at least primarily in terms of the “soul” of the Church. In this group we find the Spanish writer, Valentine Saiz-Ruiz, who insisted that the teaching “Outside the Church, no salvation,” could be considered as absolutely true and could be fully grasped only when it is understood with reference to the Church’s soul.[22] The Claretian, Michael Blanch, sets out to prove the thesis that “the Church is a necessary society, into which all men and all civil societies are bound to enter, and which they are bound to obey.” [23] When he comes to discuss what is usually termed the “necessity of means,” however, he speaks of “sanctifying grace, which is the soul of the Church,” and makes no adequate reference to the necessity of any factor designated as the “body” or the visible aspect of the Church. One of the most striking instances of this mentality, however, is to be found in the influential English manual of sacred theology which Wilhelm and Scannell based upon the “dogmatic” of Scheeben. These writers conclude that “not every member of the Church is necessarily saved; and, on the other hand, some who belong only to the soul of the Church are saved.” [24] The first portion of their conclusion is magnificently accurate. The second section, however, is inadequate in that it discounts the real necessity of the visible Church itself.

We find a somewhat similar approach to the question in the recent treatise of Fr. Riccardo Lombardi. He teaches that the means of salvation willed by God is the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church alone, in such a way that no man can be saved outside of it. He is convinced that the normal means of salvation is official membership in the visible Church. He also teaches, however, that there are many who belong to the soul of the Church who are not members of its body. [25] Thus, in the last analysis, it is the soul of the Church which is essential for salvation according to his doctrine.

Fr. A. J. Lutz also explains the Church’s necessity in function of the “soul,” but makes this metaphor refer to God the Holy Ghost. This writer holds that “the Protestant in the state of grace is in reality a Catholic,” by reason of what he considers the fact that “a person can be a member of the Church without being incorporated visibly into it.” He continues: “What difference does it make if he thinks differently from the Catholics! We do not belong to Christ primarily by reason of our thought, but through his spirit which gives us life.” [26]

It would appear that this type of explanation of the Church’s necessity serve to reduce this teaching to an empty formula. As it stands in the Cantate Domino, to take one example, the teaching on the necessity of the Church for salvation manifestly involves the fact that no one can attain to the beatific vision unless he attaches himself to the Church before the end of this mortal life. The teachings that stress the necessity of the Church’s “soul,” and which do not insist upon the necessity of the visible Church itself, leave on under the impression that union with or entrance into the visible and true Church need not be a matter of anxiety for anyone. Attachment to the Church is represented as something necessarily involved in the process of acquiring grace itself, and not as a matter of immediate urgency.

Some other strange methods of explaining the Church’s necessity for salvation have been employed during the first half of the twentieth century. For example, Sertillanges, followed by Lippert, Michalon, and to a certain extent by Heris, gave the impression that no man could be considered as completely outside the Catholic Church. [27] This teaching would certainly reduce the thesis on the Church’s necessity to an empty formula, since it would imply that no man had any particular reason to adhere to the Church before his death, since he is in it necessarily and always.

Henri de Lubac taught that infidels can be saved, though not in the normal way of salvation, by reason of the mysterious bonds that join them to the faithful. He considers these individuals as contributing to the good of the Church through their efforts in building up and maintaining the various cultures in which the Church is meant to live and to praise God. [28] Thus, he believed that these men “can be saved because they constitute an integral part of the humanity that will to be saved.” [29] It was his contention that God, who wills that all men should be saved and who, in practice does not permit all me to be visibly in the Church, has nevertheless decreed that all who answer His call should be saved in some way through the Church. [30]

Yves De Montcheuil has followed and developed De Lubac’s teaching. He has put on a level with the statement that there is no salvation outside the Church, the assertion that “no one anywhere, before or after Christ, will be condemned if he has not sinned against the light, if there is nothing culpable in the religious ignorance in which he finds himself.” [31] In line with that contention, he taught that some of those to whom the Gospel has been preached and who have not accepted it must not be considered to have been lacking in good will. [32]

Primarily, according to De Montcheuil, the formula “outside the Church no salvation” refers to the Church triumphant. [33] He has taught that non-believers, though not belonging visibly to the Church militant, must not be considered as absolutely without connection with it. They belong invisibly to the Church, not only because the grace by which they are saved is joined to the Church, but also because, even without knowing it, they are preparing the material of the Church in civilizations and in individuals. [34]

Another member of this same group, Jean Danielou, accepts and attributes to “most theologians” the belief that belonging to the visible Church is not an absolute necessary condition for salvation, and holds we can think that souls of good will outside the Church are saved. [35] It does not seem that this type of explanation can legitimately be employed since the appearance of the Humani generis.

With these statements we must class the teachings of other writers, who have interpreted the statement that there is no salvation outside the Church in terms of an invisible Church. Thus Edward Ingram Watkin wrote that “it is therefore only the invisible Church whose membership is absolutely and without qualification necessary, since incorporation into the invisible Church is one and the same thing as supernatural union with God.” [36] Astonishingly enough, Joseph Falcon, and apologist and theologian of deservedly high reputation, employs this terminology in the course of his own explanation of the Church’s necessity for salvation. According to Falcon, the statement that there is no salvation outside the Church can be understood as a law or as the assertion of a fact. In the first case it simply marks the Church as something which is necessary with the necessity of precept. In the second, it applies to an invisible Church, whose members are to be found both within and outside of the visible society. Those who live outside the visible society “are only deprived, by reason of their outward position, of the abundance of spiritual helps which are the privilege of this society.” [37]

A rather considerable number of theologians, in explaining the Catholic Church’s necessity for eternal salvation, employ the distinction between the “body” and the “soul” of the Church and state that it is necessary with the necessity of means to belong to the “soul,” while it is necessary only with the necessity of precept to belong to the “body” of this society. The manuals of Cardinal Camillus Mazzella, and those of Marchini and of Prevel all offer this type of explanation. [38] The theory, however, has become linked to the name of Edouard Hugon, the great theologian of the Angelico, who developed it at some length in his monograph, Hors de l’eglise, point de salut. Hugon speaks of the obligation of belonging to the body of the Church, and of the necessity of pertaining to its soul. [39] Tepe, MacGuinness, Tanquerey, Herve, Zubizarreta and Lahitton all employ the notions of “body” and “soul” in their explanations, but speak of attachment to both as necessary with the necessity of means. [40] They teach that salvation is possible only for those who are joined to the body of the Church either in re or in voto. Garrigou-Lagrange holds this same view, although his terminology agrees more in some respects with that of Hugon. [41]

An astonishingly large number of theologians explain that the formula extra ecclesiam nulla salus in itself signifies that the Church is requisite for salvation with the necessity of precept, even thought their own teaching on the Church’s necessity for salvation takes cognizance of a real necessity of means. Egger, Brunsmann, and Van Noort, among others, claim that historically the axiom that there is no salvation outside the Church has reference to the necessity of precept. [42] Hurter, Ottiger, Schouppe, Casanova, and Orazio Mazzella all insist upon the necessity of precept, and despite the comparative complexity of his explanation, Pesch centers his teaching on this thesis around the same notion of the necessity of precept. [43] Herrmann, Dorsch, Herve, and Calcagno all claim this as the meaning of the axiom, although they give a far stricter interpretation of the thesis itself. [44] Marengo interprets the axiom as signifying that those who belong in no way to the Church, or who do not belong to the body of the Church through their own fault, cannot be saved. [45] Michelitsch combines this teaching on the necessity of precept with the explanation that the Church is the ordinary means of salvation, [46] and the teaching of Bartmann on this thesis can be reduced to the same type of explanation. [47]

Among the ecclesiologists who have treated this question since the time of the Vatican Council, however, the group which is by far the most imposing, in numbers, in authority, and in the attention they have devoted to this thesis , is that of the men who have taught that the Church itself is necessary for salvation with the necessity of means. Franzelin and Hunter added the explanation that it is possible to belong to the visible Church invisibly. [48] Crosta spoke of the possibility of being in the Church either corde seu affective or corpore seu effective. [49] Most of the others have followed the example of Billot, Palmieri, Lambrecht, and Straub, and have explained that it is possible to be saved if one is within the Church in re or in voto. [50]

Casanova, Herrmann, Schultes, Egger, and Calcagno all base their explanation of the thesis on this form of teaching, although they weaken it to some extent by introducing other elements into it. [51] Among the great twentieth-century manuals of ecclesiology, those of Dieckmann, D’Herbigny, Bainvel, Lercher, De Guibert, and Felder insist that the Church itself is necessary for salvation with the necessity of means. [52] The teaching of Manzoni, though somewhat has developed, must also be interpreted in this sense. [53] The recent treatises of Vellico, Zapelena, Parente, Philips, and Graham are all explicit on this point. [54] The thesis developed in the same line in the special works of Bainvel, Caperan, and Dublanchy. [55] De Groot and Berry both speak of membership in the Church as necessary in re or in voto. [56]

The idea that a votum, that is a desire or an intention, of entering the Church can bring a man “within” the Church sufficiently to allow for the possibility of his salvation is one of the dominant factors in recent theological writing on the Church’s necessity. The notion itself is a part of Catholic doctrinal tradition, although this particular terminology, or, to be more exact, the application of this terminology to the thesis that there is no salvation outside the Church, goes back only to the latter part of the sixteenth century, to the time of Stapleton and St. Robert. [57] Now the idea, and to a lesser extent the terminology itself, is definitely a standard part of the scholastic treatment of this thesis.

Likewise, and by force of the very content of Catholic theology, it is standard scholastic teaching that the votum or desire of entering the Catholic Church may be merely implicit and still sufficient to bring a man “within” the Church so as to make his salvation possible. Salvific faith must be explicit on four points. No man can believe in God as he must believe in order to possess the life of sanctifying grace without distinctly acknowledging the existence of God as the Head of the supernatural order, the fact that God thus rewards the good and punishes evil, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and the mystery of the Incarnation. The mystery of the Catholic Church is not one of these facts which must be believed explicitly in salvific faith.

In the magazine From the Housetops, Mr. Raymond Karam wrote that, in order to be saved, a person “must have an explicit will to join the Catholic Church.” [58] If this statement were true, then it would follow that practically all that has been written in the literature of scholastic theology on the necessary explicit content of salvific faith since the question was first considered in the schools would be lamentably incorrect. What Mr. Karam presents as an expression of pure Catholic doctrine proves, upon examination, to be merely another tentative in opposition to received ecclesiastical teaching.

The statement that the Church (not merely the “soul” or the “body” of the Church) is necessary for salvation with the necessity of means in such a way that no man can be saved unless he is within the Church either in re or by either an explicit or an implicit votum must be considered as an accurate statement of the revealed teaching on the Church’s necessity for eternal salvation and as the standard terminology of most modern theologians on this subject. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that this mode of expression is not completely adequate, and this it does not entirely close off the possibility of a seriously erroneous perspective in this section of sacred doctrine. One example may suffice to show how this terminology may be abused.

When we assert that the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation with the necessity of means, in such a way that a man must belong to it in re or in voto if he is to attain to the beatific vision, there is a danger that we may be misunderstood and that people may consider the appurtenance to the Church in voto as the thing that really counts, and think of belonging to the Church in re, that is, actually being a member of the true and visible Church of Jesus Christ, as something more or less accidental in the schema of the supernatural order. Unfortunately there have been and there still are individuals who look upon the Church as really necessary only for the complete fulness of those revealed truths and other supernatural aids which, according to their teaching, can be obtained outside the Church and independently of it less perfectly, although still to an extent sufficient to make salvation possible. Obviously such an interpretation of the Church’s necessity for salvation reduces this teaching to a mere empty formula.

It remains now to consider briefly the explanations of the Church’s necessity which involve the use of the terms “soul” and “body” of the Church. There is a definite tendency among modern writers to recognize the radical inadequacy of this terminology. [59] Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the Holy Father, in his encyclical Mystici Corporis, did not employ it at all in his statements on the subject of the Church’s necessity. [60]

The terminology, it must be admitted, had the advantage of taking cognizance of the fact that the life of grace and of charity, and the activity of faith itself, really belong to the Church, and of inculcating the truth that the three theological virtues, together with the other infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, are actually the internal bond of union within the visible Church itself. It had, however, the tremendous disadvantage of leading to the inference that the internal bond of union within the Church could be regarded as requisite for salvation without any sufficient or adequate reference to the outward bond or to the visible Church itself. As it has been employed in the scholastic thesis on the necessity of the Church, this terminology has served to obscure the understanding of the divinely revealed truth on this subject, rather than effectively to explain it.

The assertion that the axiom “no salvation outside the Church” refers to the soul of the Church alone, and the teaching that the soul of the Church alone is necessary with the necessity of means, have contributed in large measure to the imperfect teaching on this subject which the Holy Father deplores and reproves in the Humani generis. The forthcoming section of this article will attempt to show, from the history of this treatise in scholastic theology, how such an effect has been achieved.

The Catholic University of America
Washington, D.C.

1. Cf. AER, CXVIII, 3, 4, and 5 (March, April, and May, 1948), 214-28; 290-305; 361-75.
2. In the NCWC edition, p. 12, n. 27.
3. In the Osservatore Romano, for Nov. 2, 1950.
4. DB, 423.
5. DB, 430.
6. DB, 468.
7. DB, 714.
8. DB, 1646.
9. DB, 1647.
10. Cf. DB, 1677.
11. Ibid.
12. Mathew, in his chapter, “Extra Ecclesiam Salus Nulla,” in the symposium Ecclesia: The Church of Christ, edited by Arnold Harris Mathew (London: Burns and Oates, 1906), p. 148.
13. Ibid, p. 146.
14. Ibid.
15. In Karrer’s Religions of Mankind (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1938), pp. 250-78.
16. Mathew, op. cit., p. 148.
17. In Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching (London: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1896), II, 334.
18. DB, 1677. Newman quotes this passage in op. cit., pp. 335 f.
19. Ibid., p. 335.
20. Ibid., p. 336.
21. Ibid., p. 335.
22. Synthesis sive notae theologiae fundamentalis (Burgos, 1906), p.328.
23. Theologia generalis seu tractatus de sacrae theologiae principiis (Barcelona, 1901), p. 346.
24. A Manual of Catholic Theology, 3rd edition (London: Kegan Paul 1908), II, 344.
25. Cf. La Salvezza di chi non ha fede, 4th edition (Rome: Civilta Cattolica, 1949), pp. 523, 574 f.
26. Jésus-Christ et les Protestants (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1939), p. 226.
27. Cf. Sertillanges, The Church (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1922), p. 225; Lippert, Die Kirche Christi (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1935), p. 271; Michalon, in his essay, “L’étendue de l’église,” in the symposium Église et unité (Lille: Editions “Catholicité,” 1948), p. 119; Héris, L’église du Christ (Juvisy: Éditions du Cerf, 1930), p. 21. Hétis teaches that all the souls susceptibles de recevoir la grâce belong visibly or invisibly to the Church as they do to Christ.
28. Cf. Catholicisme, 4th edition (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1947), pp. 193f.
29. Ibid., p. 194.
30. Cf. ibid., p. 195.
31. Aspects de l’église (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1949), p. 131.
32. Cf. ibid., p. 126.
33. Cf. ibid., p. 132.
34. Cf. ibid., pp135f.
35. Cf. Le mystère du salut des nations (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1946), p. 138.
36. In his essay, “The Church as the Mystical Body of Christ,” in the symposium, God and the Supernatural, edited by Father Cuthbert, O.S.F.C. (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1920), p. 266.
37. La crédibilité du dogme catholique (Lyons: Vitte, 1948), p. 488.
38. Cf. Card. Mazzella, De religione et ecclesia praelectiones scholastico-dogmaticae, 6th edition (Prato, 1905), pp. 394 f.; Marchini, Summula theologiae dogmaticae (Vigevano, 1898), pp. 47ff. ; Prevel, Theologiae dogmaticae elementa (Paris : Lethielleux, 1912), I, 188ff. ; 194.
39. Hors de l’église point de salut, 3rd edition (Paris : Téqui, 1927), pp. 153ff. ;266ff.
40. Cf. Tepe, Institutiones theologicae in usum scholarum (Paris: Lethielleux, 1894), I, 361; Tanquerey, Synopsis theologiae dogmaticae fundamentalis, 24th edition, revised by Fr. Bord (Paris: Desclée, 1937), p. 555; Hervé, Manuale theologiae dogmaticae 18th edition (Paris: Berche et Pagis, 1939), I, 342; Zubizarreta, Theologia dogmatico-scholastica ad mentem S. Thomae Aquinatis, 3rd edition (Bilbao : Elèxpuru, 1937), I, 333 ; Lahitton, Theologiae dogmaticae theses (Paris : Beauchesne, 1932), III, 129-37.
41. Cf. De revelatione per ecclesiam catholicam proposita, 4th edition (Rome: Ferrari, 1945), II, 407.
42. Cf. Egger, Enchiridion theologiae dogmaticae generalis, 6th edition, (Brescia, 1932), p. 517; Brunsmann-Preuss, A Handbook of Fundamental Theology (St. Louis: Herder, 1931), III, 328; Van Noort, Tractatus de ecclesia Christi, 5th edition by Fr. Verhaar (Hilversum: Brand, 1932), pp. 183f.
43. Cf. Hunter, Theologiae dogmaticae compendium, 2nd edition (Innsbruck: Wagner, 1878), I, 190: Ottiger, Theologia fundamentalis (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1911), II 261: Schouppe, Elementa theologiae dogmaticae, 22nd edition (Lyons: Delhomme et Briguet, 1861), I, 176; Casanova, Theologia fundamentalis (Rome, 1899), p. 254; Archbishop Orazio Mazzella, Praelectiones scholastico dogmaticae, 6th edition (Turin: Società Editrice Internazionale, 1944), I, 394
44. Cf. Herrmann, Institutiones theologiae dogmaticae, 7th edition (Lyons: Vitte, 1937), I, 377; Dorsch, Institutiones theologiae fundamentalis, 2nd edition (Innsbruck: Rauch, 1928), II, 539; Hervé, op. cit., p. 345; Calcagno, Theologia fundamentalis (Naples: D’Auria, 1948), p. 169.
45. Cf. Institutiones theologiae fundamentalis, 3rd edition (Turin: Salesian Press, 1894), II, 251.
46. Cf. Elementa apologeticae sive theologiae fundamentalis, 3rd edition (Graz: Styria, 1925), p. 278.
47. Cf. Bartmann, Précis de théologie dogmaticae (Mulhouse : Salvator, 1936), II, 166. Bartmann combines a teaching on the visible Church as necessary for salvation with a teaching on the absolute necessity of the “community of grace.”
48. Cf. Franzellin, Theses de ecclesia Christi (Rome, 1887), p. 424; Hunter, Outlines of Dogmatic Theology, 3rd edition (New York: Benzinger, 1894), I, 255.
49. Cf. Theologia dogmatica, 3rd edition (Gallarate, 1932), I, 195.
50. Cf. Billot, Tractatus de ecclesia Christi, 5th edition (Rome: Gregorian University, 1927, I, 117ff.; Palmieri, Tractatus de Romano Pontifice cum prolegomeno de ecclesia, 2nd edition (Prato, 1891), pp. 15ff.; Lambrecht, Demonstratio catholica seu tractatus de ecclesia (Ghent, 1890), p. 30; Straub, De ecclesia Christi (Innsbruck, 1894), pp. 233ff.
51. Cf. Casanova, op. cit., p. 254; Herrmann, op. cit., pp. 372ff.; Schultes, De ecclesia catholica praelectiones apologeticae (Paris: Lethielleux, 1931), pp. 267ff.; Egger, op. cit., pp. 514ff.; Calcagno, op. cit., 166ff.
52. Cf. Dieckmann, De ecclesia tractatus historico-dogmatici (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1925), II, 252f.; D’Herbigny, Theologica de Ecclesia, 3rd edition (Paris: Beauchesne, 1927), I, 149ff. X; Bainvel, De ecclesia Christi (Paris: Beauchesne, 1925), pp. 88ff.; Lercher, Institutiones theologiae dogmaticae, 2nd edition (Innsbruck: Rauch, 1934), I, 441ff.; De Guibert, De Christi ecclesia, 2nd edition (Rome: Gregorian University, 1928), pp. 155ff.; Apologetica sive theologia fundamentalis, 2nd edition (Paderborn, 1923), II, 18ff. Felder speaks of participation in the Church as the condicio sine qua nemo salvatur.
53. Cf. Compendium theologiae dogmaticae, 4th edition (Turin, 1928), I, 184.
54. Cf. Vellico, De ecclesia Christi tractatus apologetico-dogmaticus (Rome: Arnodo, 1940), pp. 457-64; Zapelena, De ecclesia Christi (Rome: Gregorian University, 1940), II, 152ff.; Parente, Theologia fundamentalis (Turin: Marietti, 1946), pp. 129ff.; Philips, La sainte église catholique (Tournai: Casterman, 1947), pp. 262ff.; Graham, “The Church on Earth,” in The Teaching of the Catholic Church, edited by Canon Smith (New York: Macmillan, 1949), II, 709f.
55. Cf. Bainvel, Is there Salvation outside the Catholic Church? (St. Louis: Herder, 1920), pp. 25ff.; Caperan, Le problème du salut des infidèles : Essai théologicae, 2nd edition (Toulouse : Grand Séminaire, 1934), pp. 103ff. ; Dublanchy, “Église,” in DTC, IV, 2166ff.
56. Cf. De Groot, Summa apologetica de ecclesia catholica, 3rd edition (Regensburg, 1906), p. 142; Berry, The Church of Christ, 2nd edition (St. Louis: Herder, 1927), p. 235.
57. Stapleton seems to have been the first to employ this terminology with reference to the necessity of the Church, in his Principiorum fidei doctrinalium demonstratio methodica (Paris, 1579), p. 314. St. Robert employed it in his De ecclesia militante, in the Ingolstadt edition of the Controversies (1586 edition), col. 1206.
58. Raymand Karam, in “Reply to a Liberal,” in From the Housetops, III, 3, (Spring, 1949), p. 61.
59. Cf. Caperan, op. cit., 104f.; Philips, op. cit., pp. 276ff.
60. The encyclical speaks of those non-members of the Church who are “within” it according to the sense of the axiom, not as belonging to the soul of the Church, but as ordered “inscio quodam desiderio ac voto ad mysticum Redemptoris Corpus.”