Monday, June 13, 2011

Salvation Outside the Church: Can Atheists Be Saved?

I was reading through my copy of 'An Encyclopedia of the Bible and Church' printed in 1958 by 'The Catholic Press' today. I read the article on 'No Salvation Outside the Church.' The article referenced the famous letter concerning the Feeney controversy. This is an important topic today since it seems that many Catholics today think that every religion or "Christian" denomination is as good as another. In fact, it seems that many believe that most non-Catholics will be saved regardless of what faith they hold and live by. This letter sent to the archbishop of Boston by the Vatican in 1949 sums up the teaching quite well it seems. It would seem to me that this teaching would exclude the possible salvation of an atheist, since it is clear that one cannot be saved without perfect charity, love for God and supernatural faith. It also seems probable that most outside the Church are in great danger of losing their souls, since most do not fall under the proper definition of "invincible ignorance", and even with this invincible ignorance a Protestant would still have to possess perfect charity in order to be saved. At least that is how I read the text. Only God knows how many possess this perfect charity. The teaching of this letter seems to be contrary to what many espouse today. The entire letter is below. I have underlined certain passages that I found to be important.


From the Headquarters of the Holy Office, Aug. 8, 1949.

Your Excellency:

This Supreme Sacred Congregation has followed very attentively the rise and the course of the grave controversy stirred up by certain associates of “St. Benedict Center” and “Boston College” in regard to the interpretation of that axiom: “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”

After having examined all the documents that are necessary or useful in this matter, among them information from your Chancery, as well as appeals and reports in which the associates of “St. Benedict Center” explain their opinions and complaints, and also many other documents pertinent to the controversy, officially collected, the same Sacred Congregation is convinced that the unfortunate controversy arose from the fact that the axiom, “outside the Church there is no salvation,” was not correctly understood and weighed, and that the same controversy was rendered more bitter by serious disturbance of discipline arising from the fact that some of the associates of the institutions mentioned above refused reverence and obedience to legitimate authorities.

Accordingly, the Most Eminent and Most Reverend Cardinals of this Supreme Congregation, in a plenary session held on Wednesday, July 27, 1949, decreed, and the august Pontiff in an audience on the following Thursday, July 28, 1949, deigned to give his approval, that the following explanations pertinent to the doctrine, and also that invitations and exhortations relevant to discipline be given:

We are bound by divine and Catholic faith to believe all those things which are contained in the word of God, whether it be Scripture or Tradition, and are proposed by the Church to be believed as divinely revealed, not only through solemn judgment but also through the ordinary and universal teaching office (, n. 1792).

Now, among those things which the Church has always preached and will never cease to preach is contained also that infallible statement by which we are taught that there is no salvation outside the Church.

However, this dogma must be understood in that sense in which the Church herself understands it. For, it was not to private judgments that Our Savior gave for explanation those things that are contained in the deposit of faith, but to the teaching authority of the Church.

Now, in the first place, the Church teaches that in this matter there is question of a most strict command of Jesus Christ. For He explicitly enjoined on His apostles to teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever He Himself had commanded (Matt. 28: 19-20).

Now, among the commandments of Christ, that one holds not the least place by which we are commanded to be incorporated by baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, and to remain united to Christ and to His Vicar, through whom He Himself in a visible manner governs the Church on earth.

Therefore, no one will be saved who, knowing the Church to have been divinely established by Christ, nevertheless refuses to submit to the Church or withholds obedience from the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.

Not only did the Savior command that all nations should enter the Church, but He also decreed the Church to be a means of salvation without which no one can enter the kingdom of eternal glory.

In His infinite mercy God has willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of those helps to salvation which are directed toward man’s final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when those helps are used only in desire and longing. This we see clearly stated in the Sacred Council of Trent, both in reference to the sacrament of regeneration and in reference to the sacrament of penance (, nn. 797, 807).

The same in its own degree must be asserted of the Church, in as far as she is the general help to salvation. Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing.

However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God.

These things are clearly taught in that dogmatic letter which was issued by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, on June 29, 1943, (AAS, Vol. 35, an. 1943, p. 193 ff.). For in this letter the Sovereign Pontiff clearly distinguishes between those who are actually incorporated into the Church as members, and those who are united to the Church only by desire.

Discussing the members of which the Mystical Body is-composed here on earth, the same august Pontiff says: “Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.”

Toward the end of this same encyclical letter, when most affectionately inviting to unity those who do not belong to the body of the Catholic Church, he mentions those who “are related to the Mystical Body of the Redeemer by a certain unconscious yearning and desire,” and these he by no means excludes from eternal salvation, but on the other hand states that they are in a condition “in which they cannot be sure of their salvation” since “they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church” (AAS, 1. c., p. 243). With these wise words he reproves both those who exclude from eternal salvation all united to the Church only by implicit desire, and those who falsely assert that men can be saved equally well in every religion (cf. Pope Pius IX, Allocution, , in , n. 1641 ff.; also Pope Pius IX in the encyclical letter, , in , n. 1677).

But it must not be thought that any kind of desire of entering the Church suffices that one may be saved. It is necessary that the desire by which one is related to the Church be animated by perfect charity. Nor can an implicit desire produce its effect, unless a person has supernatural faith: “For he who comes to God must believe that God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The Council of Trent declares (Session VI, chap. 8): “Faith is the beginning of man’s salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and attain to the fellowship of His children” (, n. 801).

From what has been said it is evident that those things which are proposed in the periodical , fascicle 3, as the genuine teaching of the Catholic Church are far from being such and are very harmful both to those within the Church and those without.

From these declarations which pertain to doctrine, certain conclusions follow which regard discipline and conduct, and which cannot be unknown to those who vigorously defend the necessity by which all are bound of belonging to the true Church and of submitting to the authority of the Roman Pontiff and of the Bishops “whom the Holy Ghost has placed . . . to rule the Church” (Acts 20:28).

Hence, one cannot understand how the St. Benedict Center can consistently claim to be a Catholic school and wish to be accounted such, and yet not conform to the prescriptions of canons 1381 and 1382 of the Code of Canon Law, and continue to exist as a source of discord and rebellion against ecclesiastical authority and as a source of the disturbance of many consciences.

Furthermore, it is beyond understanding how a member of a religious Institute, namely Father Feeney, presents himself as a “Defender of the Faith,” and at the same time does not hesitate to attack the catechetical instruction proposed by lawful authorities, and has not even feared to incur grave sanctions threatened by the sacred canons because of his serious violations of his duties as a religious, a priest, and an ordinary member of the Church.

Finally, it is in no wise to be tolerated that certain Catholics shall claim for themselves the right to publish a periodical, for the purpose of spreading theological doctrines, without the permission of competent Church authority, called the ““ which is prescribed by the sacred canons.

Therefore, let them who in grave peril are ranged against the Church seriously bear in mind that after “Rome has spoken” they cannot be excused even by reasons of good faith. Certainly, their bond and duty of obedience toward the Church is much graver than that of those who as yet are related to the Church “only by an unconscious desire.” Let them realize that they are children of the Church, lovingly nourished by her with the milk of doctrine and the sacraments, and hence, having heard the clear voice of their Mother, they cannot be excused from culpable ignorance, and therefore to them apply without any restriction that principle: submission to the Catholic Church and to the Sovereign Pontiff is required as necessary for salvation.

In sending this letter, I declare my profound esteem, and remain,

Your Excellency’s most devoted,

F. Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani.

A. Ottaviani, Assessor.

Holy Office, 8 Aug., 1949


ronconte said...

Pope John Paul II also spoke on this topic, that outside the Church there is no salvation: All Salvation Comes through Christ

Catholic Mission said...


Second Catholic priest in Rome affirms Cantate Domino, Council of Florence, on extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation)

A second priest in Rome within a few weeks affirms Cantate Domino, Council of Florence pointing out that there is no baptism of desire that we can personally know of.

A Rossiminian priest from South India Fr.George Puthoor said yesterday, Sunday morning, that there is no baptism of desire that we can know of.

He was speaking with me at the Basilica Santi Ambrogio e Carlo, Via del Corso, Rome where he was to offer Holy Mass in Italian at 12 p.m on Trinity Sunday.He gave me permission to quote him on this blog.

Since the cases of non-Catholic saved with the baptism of desire or in invincible ignorance are de facto unknown to us and can only be accepted in principle it does not contradict the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus he observed.

If there is no case of the baptism of desire or implicit faith that we know of then Vatican Council II does not contradict the dogma Cantate Domino.

The secular media hype and those of the liberals have claimed that Lumen Gentium 16, Vatican Council II has changed church teaching with refrence to extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Their claim is that every one does not have to enter the Church since there could be non Catholics saved with invincible ignorance or the baptism of desire.This is the claim of Wikipedia on the Internet, Catholic Answers and the Pontifical Universities and seminaries in Rome and abroad.They could quote Pope John Paul II on ‘silent apostasy’ in the Church, as if, they are not a part of it.

So when EWTN says everyone does not have to enter the Church to avoid Hell it is irrational. Since EWTN implies the baptism of desire is de facto known to us.

There is also no Magisterial text to support this position.

Since we do not know any case of a person saved in invincible ignorance Fr. George Puthoor is getting rid of another modernist sacred cow- the lie about a priest, Leonard Feeney.

Catholic Mission said...


When Fr.Leonard Feeney said that there is no baptism of desire (that we know of) he was correct. There is no de facto baptism of desire that we can know of because of the very nature of baptism of desire. It is de facto only for God and never de facto known to us.

Fr.Leonard Feeney taught: everyone needed the baptism of water (given to adults with Catholic Faith) for salvation – and there were no exceptions, de facto.

He was affirming Cantate Domino. So how could he be excommunicated for heresy?

The Letter of the Holy Office 1949 refers to ‘the dogma’, the ‘infallible’ teaching. The dogma Cantate Domino indicates all Jews in Boston ( and other non Catholics) need to convert into the Catholic Church to avoid Hell.

With Vatican Council II and Fr.Leonard Feeney ‘out of the way’ we are back to the centuries-old intrpretation of extra ecclesiam nulla salus.
The centuries old teaching of the popes and saints is affirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church 846.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 846(Outside the Church no Salvation) says all people need to enter the Church as ‘through a door’. This does not conflict with CCC846 also saying all those who are saved are saved through Jesus and the Church i.e. there are those 1) saved explicitly with Catholic Faith and the baptism of water and there are those saved 2) implicitly through the baptism of desire etc. and which is known only to God.

Fr. George Puthoor is the second Catholic priest in Rome who within a few weeks has affirmed Cantate Domino, which the Church has not retracted through any Magisterial document.. Earlier Fr. Francesco Giordano an Italian diocesan priest said the same.

Unlike these Catholic priests, the American sedevacantists Most Holy Family Monastery, NY, assume that the baptism of desire is known to us in the present times. They seem unaware that it can only be accepted in principle. It can only be a concept for us and real for God. So it does not contradict Cantate Domino. The sedevacantists reject the baptism of desire. This is heresy. They could be correct though, in saying that Catholic clergy, educational institutions and websites are in heresy and general apostasy on the issue of outside the church there is no salvation. .Since they deny Cantate Domino because they believe, like the sedevacantists, in a de facto baptism of deny known to us personally.
-Lionel Andrades

Catholic Mission said...


It’s a common error on the website of Peter and Michael Dimond. They assume that the Baptism of desire is de facto known to us in the present times. They make this error and criticize the Society of St.Pius X (SSPX). Here they assume that Pope John Paul II was wrong.

Pope John Paul II was correct there are those saved explicitly and others implicitly through Jesus and the Church.


Subject: Hi-EWTN exposed?
Who are you ? How can you say all of these things about the church and the Pope and EWTN? It is all so shocking? Why are you saying these things?

MHFM: … Here’s just one heresy from … John Paul II. This statement denies defined Catholic dogma. Again, this is just one of many:

John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio (#10), Dec. 7, 1990: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church.”

Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, dogmatic Athanasian Creed, 1439: “Whoever wishes to be saved, needs above all to hold the Catholic faith; unless each one preserves this whole and inviolate, he will without a doubt perish in eternity… But it is necessary for eternal salvation that he faithfully believe also in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ...”

Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence ,dogmatic Athanasian Creed is saying that everyone with no exception needs to be an explicit member of the Church to go to Heaven.

Pope John Paul too is saying that the ‘universality of salvation is granted to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church’. This is the same message as the Council of Florence.

Pope John Paul II also refers to those saved implicitly (baptism of desire, invincible ignorance etc), as taught in Mystici Corporis, Council of Trent, Vatican Council II etc. They also are saved. We must remember that those saved implicitly can only be known to God. They can never de facto known to us as we know the baptism of water. They can never be real and known and so they do not contradict the Council of Florence. Everyone explicitly needs to enter the Church for salvation and there are no known exceptions on earth. If there are any exceptions (invincible ignorance etc) it will be known only to God.

Those saved explicitly refer to de facto cases that we can know of. Those saved implicitly refer to de jure cases that we can only accept in principle and can only know as a concept.

Since one is de facto and the other de jure it does not contradict the Principle on Non Contradiction.

So there is no contradiction between the statements of Pope John Paul II and Pope Eugene IV.
-Lionel Andrades