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Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

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 Roman Catholic Church is the vehicle of salvation. It is particularly associated today with Catholic traditionalists like the followers of the Jesuit priest Leonard Feeney.


Interpretations (in order of decreasing strictness)

  • Only Roman Catholics who are baptized visibily with water in the sacrament of baptism are true members of the Roman Catholic Church, and as such only they may enter heaven;
  • Only baptized members of the Roman Catholic Church can enter heaven, but they may be baptized in three ways, the baptism of water, the baptism of blood (ie. being killed for their belief in the Roman Catholic Church), and Baptism of Desire (ie. those desiring to be baptized but who die before they can);
  • The Roman Catholic Church has the power to save even those who don't belong to it, but if the Roman Catholic Church did not exist salvation wouldn't be possible. This interpretation translates the Latin phrase as "Without the church there is no salvation". Those who follow this interpretation have varying ideas about how many and who are saved by this power of the church (it should be noted that those with this view may not claim that this reasoning has always been used by the Roman Catholic Church, but would argue for it as part of their larger belief in the evolution of dogma over time).

Beliefs by Group

Roman Catholic Laity

Without a poll it is impossible to say how many Roman Catholics accept the various interpretations of EENS or even how many Roman Catholics know about EENS. Certainly some, falling into two groups, do believe only Roman Catholics can enter Heaven. One group is uninstructed in EENS, but has come to the conclusion for various reasons: for instance, the fact that all the canonized Saints have been Roman 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 Roman Catholic traditionalists.

Catholic Theologians

Most theologians have held the middle ground, that baptism is necessary for salvation but one might be baptized in three different ways, one visible and two invisible:

  • Normal Baptism by water
  • Baptism of blood
    • Baptism of blood is a baptism of desire received through martyrdom. Like baptism with water, it leaves an indelible mark on the soul, hence the reference. This is considered by many theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas to be the most superior form of baptism.
  • Baptism of desire
    • The exact definition of Baptism of desire is more debated amongst theologians, especially the modern ones. The most strict interpratation is that baptism of desire takes place when one fully intends to be baptized in the Roman Catholic Church but is for example killed before that is possible. On the other end of the range, some modern theologians believe anyone who desires good is baptized invisibly.

The Jesuit Father Leonard Feeney and his followers rejected Baptism of Blood and Desire, arguing it was not taught by the Fathers of the Church, nor the Roman Catholic Church herself. Non-Feenyites believe that these three ways of being baptized were alluded to by the Fathers and taught officially by the Roman Catholic Church and theologians later on. Feenyites claim that the Council of Trent addressed desire clearly as effecting justification only, not salvation. However, many well known Saints, and even popes have written, as private theologians, things which brought about the basis for these two theories, which were addressed by the Council of Trent, which stated in the CANONS ON BAPTISM:

Canon 2. If anyone says that true and natural water is not necessary for baptism and thus twists into some metaphor the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, let him be anathema.
Canon 5. If anyone says that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.
Canon 7. If anyone says that those baptized are by baptism made debtors only to faith alone, but not to the observance of the whole law of Christ, let him be anathema.
Canon 8. If anyone says that those baptized are free from all the precepts of holy Church, whether written or unwritten, so that they are not bound to observe them unless they should wish to submit to them of their own accord, let him be anathema.

The "Catechism of the Catholic Church", which summarizes the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council, mentions "baptism of blood" and "desire for baptism" (#1258), but makes clear that these are not sacraments in themselves. It strongly stresses the importance of Baptism: "The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are 'reborn of water and the Spirit'. God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (#1257).


The debate often calls on three Ex Cathedra statements defining the matter:

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) But see "Baptism of Desire" above.
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)

The Church's Interpretation

The term "barque of Peter," or "Peter's vessel," is used to figuratively describe the role of the Church as a vehicle of salvation, following the legacy of the first pope and greatest pastor, Saint Peter.

The Roman Catholic Church's interpretation is in the opinion of many Roman Catholics the only interpretation that really matters. Its teaching is clear on the matter of interpretation. Doctrines and Laws are to be understood as the author or lawmaker understood them. In other words, in their original sense.

In its original sense, EENS means that those who are not Roman Catholic at the time of death, cannot attain salvation; and that a non-catholic may, just before death, convert in his/her heart to the Roman Catholic faith and attain salvation. But in either case the doctrine holds true.

This is not to say that all Roman Catholics go to Heaven. According to Roman Catholic Church teaching, one must be Roman Catholic and in the state of sanctifying grace to enter Heaven.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that EENS is a Dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, meaning it is revealed truth which every Roman Catholic must accept to even be considered Roman Catholic.

See also

External links

Last updated: 08-22-2005 19:17:35
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