I wish I had a dollar for every time some Catholic apologist or clueless know-it-all has told me that a centuries-old dogma is either no longer in effect or that I simply do not understand its meaning. The dogma in question?
Extra Ecclesiam Nullus Salus
Translated, this dogmatic statement reads: “Outside the church there is no salvation” The first formal appearance of this idea, to my knowledge, is in the Athanasian Creed. (Denzinger 39, 40) The Athanasian Creed cannot be precisely dated, but it seems to have originated early in the 6th century.
In 1215, the 12th ecumenical council wrote of the Catholic faith that:
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 — 4th Lateran Council, The Trinity, Sacraments, Canonical Mission, etc., Chapter 1, The Catholic Faith (Denzinger 430)
In 1302, a reigning pope promulgated a document that included these words:
With Faith urging us we are forced to believe and to hold the one, holy, Catholic Church and that, apostolic, and we firmly believe and simply confess this (Church) outside which there is no salvation nor remission of sin… -- Bull Unam Sanctum, promulgated by Pope Boniface VIII on November 18, 1302 (Denzinger 468. 469)
Pope Eugenius IV convened the 18th Ecumenical Council in 1438, which continued until 1445. One of the documents produced by this council informs:
It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels [Matt 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.—A Decree in Behalf of the Jacobites, from the Bull Cantata Domino, February 4, 1441 (Denzinger 714)
Pope Pius IX promulgated his Syllabus of Errors on December 8, 1864, in which he identified these “errors” in Section III:
16. In the worship of any religion whatever, men can find the way to eternal salvation, and can attain eternal salvation
17. We must have at least good hope concerning the eternal salvation of al those who in no wise are in the true Church of Christ (Denzinger 1716, 1717)
Mama Church often tells us that dogmatic statements, once delivered, cannot be deleted or modified—only further explained. The new catechism appears to confirm what earlier popes and council had declared:
1129 The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. "Sacramental grace" is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.—Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.
The Romish Church is well known for her ability to provide escape clauses from just about any dogmatic rule by using loosely worded statements that might be used to ‘get around’ dogmatic declarations. For example:
1258 The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament—Ibid.
A contemporary Catholic source holds with the earliest understanding that membership in and involvement with Mama Church and takes issue with the liberal trends in today’s ecumenical Catholic Church. Referring to Extra Ecclesiam Nullus Salus, the writer declares:
It's a stark sentence. Some Catholics even love its shock value, waving the doctrine like a flag in the face of their enemies. Other Catholics flatly refuse to believe it, and claim that this teaching was repudiated by the Second Vatican Council. Both groups are wrong.
Despite what some may think, this dogma is infallible, and all Catholics are required to believe it. This was repeated clearly at Vatican II, which said: "Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation."—Kevin Knight, Catholic News Agency writer, Extra Ecclesiam, in his column Our Faith, March 5, 2006, All Rights reserved. Catholic News Agency 2003
I believe that all visitors to this board might find Mr. Knight’s brief article to be an eye-opener. I encourage all to take a minute or two to read what he has to say on this subject.
[All references to Denzinger are to the 30th Edition of his Enchiridion Symbolorum, Roy J. Deferrari, Trans., © 1958 B. Herder Book Co. – Has Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur)