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Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

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The Latin phrase Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (often abbreviated EENS), literally meaning "outside the church there is no salvation", is used to describe the Roman Catholic doctrine that the Catholic church is the "barque of Peter" or vehicle of salvation.

Table of contents

Interpretations (in order of decreasing strictness)

  • Full membership within the Roman Catholic church before death is necessary for salvation.
  • One must be baptised before judgment to be considered for Heaven.
    • The above interpretations imply that all non-Catholics go to Hell, as do all Catholics who deny that all non-Catholics go to Hell, because denying that all non-Catholics went to Hell would be heretical.
  • The Church includes some that don't claim membership, therefore the above interpretations are too strict.
  • The Church must exist for those of "good will" to be able to get to Heaven. The phrase is therefore best interpreted as "without the church there is no salvation".

Beliefs by Group

Catholic Laity

It is impossible to say how many Catholics accept the various interpretations of EENS, or even how many Catholics know about EENS until someone conducts a poll on the matter. Certainly some do believe only Catholics can enter Heaven and they fit into two categories. One type is uninstructed in EENS, but has come to the conclusion for various reasons. For instance, the fact that all the canonized Saints have been Catholic could create such an impression. Converts are frequently in this group, which can explain their motivation for converting; why convert if it isn't necessary? The other group knows about EENS and has made a judgement on the strict side. They may or may not call themselves traditional, depending on their views on other issues. See Catholic traditionalists.

Catholic Theologians

Most modern Catholic theologians interpret the phrase as meaning that the Catholic church is God's chosen vehicle of salvation for those of "good will" regardless of religious beliefs. In order to allow non-catholics the use of the church as the vehicle of salvation, there are serveral mechanisms offered where non-members become pseudo-baptised members.

  • Baptism of blood
    • Baptism of blood is a pseudonym for martyrdom. Like baptism with water, it leaves an indellible mark on the soul, hence the reference. In recent times, theologians have the theory that if baptism of blood is applied without baptism of water, it would effect the grace of baptism of water as well. This is sometimes referred to as a 'combined effect' theory. It gained a lot of support among lay people in the late eighties due to publicity around several references to baptism of blood by various early Fathers of the Church. The references publicized could be read with either the orthodox or the 'combined effect' view but ultimately references that could only be understood with the orthodox interpretation put the publicity to rest.
  • Baptism of desire or 'the ignorant native theory'
    • In this mechanism for salvation a person who is unable to know the church because of a lack of missionaries but possessing an unspoken desire for harmony with God effects, through his desire, the grace of baptism without the form. There are various theories about how sin could be handled in a situation like this, one way would be a perfect act of contrition, another would be perfect life. In contrast, there are stories among the lives of the Saints that describe visits to far off lands through bilocation[?] for the express purpose of performing baptism, making this mechanism seem unnecessary.
  • Desire of baptism theory
    • Often confused with the baptism of desire, this theory is essentially the opposite of baptism of desire since the subject explicitly asks for baptism but dies before he can receive it. Recent suppositions include the theory that the grace of baptism is bestowed when asked for, making the actual ceremony unnecessary. Other theologians reply to this hypothetical construct with the opinion that as God has a plan by which all can be saved, this can not occur unless the catechumen delays the baptism.

It should be noted that modern Catholic theologians have been known to deny famous Catholic doctrines, including the prohibitions against abortion, divorce, contraception, homosexual relations, and female priests.

Catholic Clergy

The modern Catholic clergy are instructed to use the pulpit for uplifting homily and EENS does not fit well in that category. Reliable statistics about the beliefs of Catholic clergy are scarce and of dubious value since the clergy don't influence Catholic doctrine, and many of the clergy are theologians who may have denied doctrines at one time or another.


The debate often calls on these allegedly infallible but admittedly clear and insistent statements by three popes:

Pope Innocent III, A.D. 1198-1216: "One indeed is the universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved." (IV Lateran Council[?], A.D. 1215)

Pope Boniface VIII, A.D. 1294-1303: "We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is wholly necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. The Lateran, November 14th, in our eighth year. As a perpetual memorial of this matter." (Unam Sanctam, A.D. 1302)

Pope Eugene IV[?], A.D. 1431-1447: "It [the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church] firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that none of those outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but neither Jews, or heretics and schismatics, can 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 they have been added to the Church; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those abiding 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 practised, even if he has shed [his] blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has abided in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church." (Council of Florence[?], A.D. 1442)


See also:

External links

www.catholicism.org (http://www.catholicism.org) -- Site for supporters of Father Leonard Feeny

"Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus: Father Feeney Makes A Comeback" (http://www.petersnet.net/browse/963.htm) -- Essay arguing for a less rigorous interpretation of the papal definitions

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