On May 25, 1995, Pope John Paul II promulgated the encyclical Ut Unum Sint. Paragraph 13 of that ecumenical document reads:
The same Document [Decree on Ecumenism] carefully draws out the doctrinal implications of this situation. Speaking of the members of these Communities, it declares: "All those justified by faith through Baptism are incorporated into Christ. They therefore have a right to be honored by the title of Christian, and are properly regarded as brothers and sisters in the Lord by the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church” (Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, 3)
With reference to the many positive elements present in the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, the Decree adds: "All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to him, belong by right to the one Church of Christ. The separated brethren also carry out many of the sacred actions of the Christian religion. Undoubtedly, in many ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community, these actions can truly engender a life of grace, and can be rightly described as capable of providing access to the community of salvation (Ibid.)
These are extremely important texts for ecumenism. It is not that beyond the boundaries of the Catholic community there is an ecclesial vacuum. Many elements of great value (eximia), which in the Catholic Church are part of the fullness of the means of salvation and of the gifts of grace which make up the Church, are also found in the other Christian Communities.
How different these words of that ecumenical pope from those penned by Cyprian of Carthage, sometimes referred to as the African Pope, in a letter (Epistle 73) to his brother Pompey in the middle of the 3rd century. In the opening paragraphs of this letter, Cyprian condemns Stephen, a Roman bishop, for his willingness to accept as valid baptisms performed outside the Church:
2. He forbade one coming from any heresy to be baptized in the Church; that is, he judged the baptism of all heretics to be just and lawful. And although special heresies have special baptisms and different sins, he, holding communion with the baptism of all, gathered up the sins of all, heaped together into his own bosom.--A. Roberts and J Donaldson, Edd., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, B o o k s F o r T h e A g e s, AGES Software:Albany, Version 2.0 © 1997, pp. 797-804
In this letter, Cyprian establishes a position that has been almost a mantra for the priestly hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church:
11. For it has been delivered to us, that there is one God, and one Christ, and one hope, and one faith, and one Church, and one baptism ordained only in the one Church, from which unity whosoever will depart must needs be found with heretics; and while he upholds them against the Church, he impugns the sacrament of the divine tradition. The sacrament of which unity we see expressed also in the Canticles, in the person of Christ, who says, “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a fountain sealed, a well of living water, a garden with the fruit of apples.” But if His Church is a garden enclosed, and a fountain sealed, how can he who is not in the Church enter into the same garden, or drink from its fountain? Moreover, Peter himself, showing and vindicating the unity, has commanded and warned us that we cannot be saved, except by the one only baptism of one Church. “In the ark,” says he, “of Noah, few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water, as also baptism shall in like manner save you.” In how short and spiritual a summary has he set forth the sacrament of unity! For as, in that baptism of the world in which its ancient iniquity was purged away, he who was not in the ark of Noah could not be saved by water, so neither can he appear to be saved by baptism who has not been baptized in the Church which is established in the unity of the Lord according to the sacrament of the one ark.--Ibid.
What is Cyprian declaring here? Why nothing less than, “There is no salvation outside the [Catholic] Church.”
In A.D. 1215, the 4th Lateran Council confirmed Cyprian's position:
One indeed is the universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved, in which the priest himself is the sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the species of bread and wine; the bread (changed) into His body by the divine power of transubstantiation, and the wine into the blood, so that to accomplish the mystery of unity we ourselves receive from His (nature) what He Himself received from ours. And surely no one can accomplish this sacrament except a priest who has been rightly ordained according to the keys of the Church which Jesus Christ Himself conceded to the Apostles and to their successors. But the sacrament of baptism (which at the invocation of God and the indivisible Trinity, namely, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, is solemnized in water) rightly conferred by anyone in the form of the Church is useful unto salvation for little ones and for adults. And if, after the reception of baptism, anyone shall have lapsed into sin, through true penance he can always be restored. Moreover, not only virgins and the continent but also married persons pleasing to God through the right faith and good work merit to arrive at a blessed eternity.--4th Lateran Council (1215), Confession of Faith (cf. Denzinger 430)
And there's more. In A.D. 1302, Pope Boniface VIII promulgated a bull in which he declared:
… For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: 'Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms' and the rest. Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: 'The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man' [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, 'Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven' etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff. --Boniface VIII, (cf. Denzinger 469)
Down through the centuries, at least since Constantine's Edict of Milan, which legitimized the Christian religion and made Rome the center of church power, with himself at its head, the bishops of Rome have been striving for supreme spiritual as well as temporal authority. Cyprian's concept that there is no salvation outside the Church was consistently interpreted by the RCC to mean there is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church. That is, until Vatican II.
Yet, while maintaining the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (EENS) (Outside the Church no one is saved) down through the centuries, the Roman cult has consistently maintained other doctrines that appear to be diametrically opposed to EENS. The way they get around the fact that a proper Catholic baptism is necessary if one's sins are to be forgiven and he might be admitted into the Body of Christ is by doing what Rome does so well: creating a way to work around troublesome dogmas, disciplines and practices. RCC fantasizers came up with new features for Catholic soteriology (the theological doctrine of salvation as affected by Jesus Christ).
The Fathers and theologians frequently divide baptism into three kinds: the baptism of water (aquć or fluminis), the baptism of desire (flaminis), and the baptism of blood (sanguinis). However, only the first is a real sacrament. The latter two are denominated baptism only analogically, inasmuch as they supply the principal effect of baptism, namely, the grace which remits sins. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that when the baptism of water becomes a physical or moral impossibility, eternal life may be obtained by the baptism of desire or the baptism of blood.--William H. W. Fanning, “Baptism,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II, © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company, Online Edition © 2007 by Kevin Knight; has Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur.
I don't know precisely when the Church in Rome came up with the idea that living a good life marked by contrition and charitable works can result in salvation in the Catholic style, but the concept was confirmed in the 4th chapter of the 6th Session and the 4th chapter of the 14th Session of the Council of Trent. The RCC points to John 14:21,23 as illustrations that “perfect” works of charity or contrition are rewarded with justifying grace. Such works, therefore, at least implicitly contain the desire for baptism. An early statement of this doctrine in action was provided when Ambrose of Milan (died A.D. 397) delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Emperor Valentinian II, who was a catechumen when he died. Ambrose's words clearly define the baptism of desire:
Did he not obtain the grace which he desired? Did he not obtain what he asked for? Certainly he obtained it because he asked for it.--Ibid.
The doctrine of the baptism of blood essentially declares that those who suffer martyrdom because of their faith receive what Catholicism calls the grace of justification. The RCC grounds this doctrine on Christ's words as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:
Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.--Matthew 10:32
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.--Matthew 10:39
This doctrine, likely had its origin in intermittent persecutions of the early Christian church. It is mentioned several times in the patristic writings.
For the Bible-believing Christian, the RCC dogma of baptismal regeneration in any of its permutations is heretical. The baptism of blood seems particularly strange when compared to the biblical teaching of salvation by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8,9). After all, if a person has received the gift of saving faith in Christ, and is willing to die rather than gainsay that faith, then he surely is saved, washed in the Blood of the Lamb. What need has such a person to be saved a second time. Even if that were possible?
The strange co-existence of the seemingly conflicting doctrines of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, Vatican II's teaching that “all those justified by faith through baptism” are saved, and baptisms that don't involve water was made more confusing by recent mutterings from the Vatican.
On September 5, 2000, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published a document that shook the foundations of ecumenism. Paragraphs 21 and 22 of this document contain wording that caused a minor firestorm in some corners of non-Catholic Christianity:
Furthermore, it cannot be overlooked that other rituals, insofar as they depend on superstitions or other errors (cf. 1 Cor 10:20-21), constitute an obstacle to salvation…If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.-- Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus (On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church), August 6, 2000, paragraphs 21-22
Comments in paragraph 17 added fuel to the flames:
The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”. In fact, “the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities”. “Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been 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 Catholic Church.--Ibid., Paragraph 17
The language in this and the preceding paragraphs is so obscure that a number of so-called Protestants and members of the press understood it to be saying that, as had Cyprian of Carthage, Boniface VIII, the 4th Lateran Council and others, only Catholics can go to Heaven. And there was a public outcry, which could have been prevented had Ratzinger but mentioned that the statement concerning “defects” in non-Catholic churches was a quotation from the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism, which was widely praised for being progressive back in 1965.
Protestant outrage also might have been prevented had Dominus Iesus referred to John Paul II's encylical Ut Unum Sint, in which the pontiff clearly stated that “Protestants” are not saved by the Catholic Church per se, but by the one, holy Church that Jesus Christ founded and which, Catholicism teaches, subsists within the RCC.
To the extent that these elements [of sanctification and truth] are found in other Christian communities, the one Church of Christ is effectively present in them. For this reason the Second Vatican Council speaks of a certain, though imperfect communion--John Paul II, encyclical Ut Unum Sint, May 25, 1995, para. 11
But Ratzinger's declaration hadn't included those clarifying references and Rome's march toward establishing a world church suffered a temporary setback.
John Paul II made a move to set Rome's ecumenical gears in motion again during his general audience on December 6, 2000. In an address before some 30,000 pilgrims assembled in St. Peter's Square, the pontiff said that:
… all who live a just life will be saved even if they do not believe in Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church.--Religion News Service, Pope says even unbelievers can be saved, Dallas Morning News, December 9, 2000
And with this declaration by the reigning monarch of the Catholic Empire, this strange doctrine has come full circle. It began with Christ's declaration in Matthew 10 that all who confess Him before men He would confess before the Father, got morphed into Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, picking up confusing baptismal regeneration doctrines along the way, thence to just about anyone can be saved, through lots can be saved but it will be difficult, all the way to anyone can be saved and it isn't necessary to believe in either Christ or the Catholic Church. This last position was stated by JP2 in these words:
All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and His Church, contribute under the influence of grace to the building of the kingdom.--Religious News Service, Op. cit.
With these words, John Paul seemed to be making an approach to the salvation issue that is far more inclusive than Ratzinger's Dominus Iesus. I
After reading through the above, which presents only a small portion of the patristic and doctrinal statements having to do with soteriology, it should be apparent that very few, if any, Catholics can truly know what the definitive position of their church is concerning salvation of anyone. Is it any wonder that non-Catholics have trouble as well?
Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.--Isaiah 45:22