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                 July 18, 2008

Outside The Church There Is No Salvation

Parts One and Two of Seven Parts

by Father Martin Stepanich, O.F.M., S.T.D.

[Editor's foreword: Although those who have been convinced that the distortion and misrepresentation of Catholic teaching on the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus made famous by the late Father Leonard Feeney is correct--and that all who disagree with it are execrable "heretics" who will be cast into Hell immediately upon their deaths, the truth is otherwise. Father Martin Stepanich, O.F.M., S.T.D., has been kind enough send me photocopies of seven articles that he wrote on the authentic Catholic teaching on the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. These articles appeared in The Remnant between November 3, 1973, and June 7, 1974. Those possessed of the false interpretation of the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus made the same arguments then, with the same demonic fury and pride, that are being made today by their successors.

[It is, therefore, with great joy that I present this series of articles for those who are open to learning the truth of Catholic teaching, and I thank Father Martin for his kindness in forwarding these articles to me.]

Part I: The Church's Understanding of the Dogma, published on November 3, 1973


Many years have now gone by since the eruption of the scandalous Boston College controversy of the 1940s over the interpretation of the Catholic dogma, "Outside the Church there is no salvation". It has recently been said that the original advocates of a false interpretation of that Dogma have "mellowed" with the passing years--yet they have not given up their erroneous notions, but have only become somewhat less belligerent and less vociferous.

But, if it is true that a supposed "mellowing" process has quieted down the original promoters of heresy, this is by no means true of all their present-time followers in various places. The fact is that there are misinformed and half-informed and uninformed "Catholics" who have been quite active in zealously peddling their warped interpretations of the Church's dogma of salvation.

There are, for example, parents (who should know better) who have been bugging genuine teachers of traditional Catholic doctrine (yes, some of these still exist!) with pesky attempts to foist on these teachers their own false notions of the Dogma of salvation and of the closely-related Catholic doctrine of Baptism of water, desire, and of blood. Children of such misguided parents, like the blind being led by the blind, have also been harassing their teachers in the classrooms.

In the confusion stirred up by such parents and their children, other parents have mistakenly suspected the orthodox teachers themselves of being guilty of unorthodox doctrine, and some have angrily threatened to remove their own children from the schools in question.

But behind the scenes have been the hard-core pushers of an erroneous "no salvation outside the Church" doctrine. Among them are some who, curiously enough, have been labelled "knowledgeable theologians", though they are neither knowledgeable in the right things, nor are they by any means genuine theologians.

For the sake of those who have been unwittingly misled, like blind and innocent sheep, as well as for those who desire to know how to give correct explanations, we will now take up, though rather briefly, the Catholic dogma of "no salvation outside the Church," showing how the Church, in the person of some her Popes, has always understood and interpreted this dogma. In the second part of this article, we will consider the traditional Catholic teaching and practice regarding Baptism of desire and of blood, showing also the ominous implications of a rejection of this teaching.

Teaching of the Popes

For a correct understanding and interpretation of the Catholic dogma, "outside the Church there is no salvation", we must turn to the Pope, the guardians of Divine Truth. It will be sufficient for our purposes here to quote two great and saintly Popes--Pius IX (1846-78) and Pius XII (1939-58).

There is no need to pile up a mountain of quotations, as the false prophets like to do, showing that "outside the Church there is no salvation" is indeed a dogma of our Holy Faith and that it was repeatedly upheld, even in the strongest terms, by many of the Popes. What the false prophets fail to note, while quoting the Popes, are certain key words and expressions that the Popes have used in proclaiming the dogma, such as "invincibly ignorant", and "knowingly", "wilfully", etc. And those false prophets seem not to take notice of any of those statements in which the Popes have expressly shown how the Church interprets her dogma of salvation.

We will quote Pope Pius IX, because he both upholds the dogma itself and, at the same time, explains how those of good faith outside the Church stand with God.

Like so many other Popes, Pius IX was most emphatic--jarringly emphatic--in maintaining that outside the Church there is no salvation. An example of this teaching is found in his encyclical Quanto conficiamur Moerore ("With what sorrow We are consumed . . .") of August 10, 1863.He first condemns as "absolutely contrary to Catholic teaching" the notion that "persons living in error and outside of the True Faith and Catholic unity can reach eternal life".

This might, at first sight, seem automatically to exclude from salvation all those who are not visibly and externally members of the One True Church through Baptism of water, regardless of their good dispositions and despite their genuine desire and search for the Truth. But it is immediately evident, from his very next sentence, that he is speaking of those who are knowingly and wilfully "living in error and outside the True Faith and Catholic unity. . ."

Here is what the saintly Pope Pius IX immediately goes on to declare (and we add emphasis):

We know and you know that those who are INVINCIBLY IGNORANT of our most holy Religion, and who, carefully observing the Natural Law and its precepts, placed by God into the hearts of all men, and being disposed to obey God, lead an honest and upright life, CAN, with the help of Divine Light and Grace, MERIT ETERNAL LIFE; for God, Who has perfect knowledge, examines and judges the minds, the souls, the thoughts and the deeds of all men, and He does not permit, in His sovereign Goodness and Mercy, any men NOT CULPABLE OF WILFUL SIN to be punished with eternal torment."


After that most clear declaration, the Holy Father reverts once again, in his next sentence, to the dogma of "no salvation outside the Church", as follows (with emphasis again added): "But this Catholic Dogma is equally well known: That no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church, and those who KNOWINGLY rebel against the teaching and the authority of the Church cannot obtain eternal salvation, nor can those who WILFULLY separate themselves from union with the Church and with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, to whom the Savior has entrusted the safe-keeping of His vineyard."

From the way the Holy Father expresses himself, we can conclude that he is speaking of two Dogmas, for he says: "But this Catholic Dogma is equally well known. . ." This means that he regards it as a Dogma of the Faith that "outside the Church there is no salvation", and he likewise implies that it is a Dogma of Faith that those who are visibly outside the Church through "invincible ignorance" can be saved, if they have the proper dispositions.

One who does not grasp the distinction between these two Truths of Faith might be tempted to say that Pope Pius IX is contradicting himself--not just once, but twice. That is, he first tells us that outside the Church there is no salvation, then he says that outside the Church there is, or can be, salvation, and finally, he supposedly re-contradicts himself by saying once again that outside the Church there is no salvation.

But the Holy Father is NOT contradicting himself. What should immediately come to the mind of a thinking person is the obvious fact that the expression "outside the Church" must have a deeper and more mysterious meaning than at first suspected, and which an unthinking person would not detect. One should almost spontaneously ask: Just what is meant by that word "outside" in this particular case?

To be sure, the word "outside", in this case, cannot be taken in a mere visible and external and material sense. The word does not mean merely that a non-Catholic is standing outside the door of a Catholic Church. And it has a deeper meaning than the idea of standing outside visible membership in the Church.

We are face to face here with the Mystery of Grace. We are speaking here of one being"outside the means of grace"."

For a clearer view and understanding of the full picture of Divine Truth, we must bear in mind here these basic Dogmas of the Faith:

1) That there is One Redeemer of mankind;

2) That the One Redeemer of mankind founded One and only One True Church for the salvation of men;

3) That the One Redeemer established One and only One Treasury of Grace which He filled with the merits of His Sacred Passion and Death; and

4) That the One Redeemer entrusted His One Treasury of Grace to His One True Church.

Those who "wilfully separate themselves from union with the Church," also wilfully separate themselves from the Church's Treasury of Grace, as well as from the Redeemer Himself, and they cannot therefore be saved, because they have wilfully placed themselves "outside the means of grace."

It should now be clear that anyone who is not a visible and external member of the One True Church through Baptism of water, and who is living in the "invincible ignorance" of which Pius IX speaks, IS SAVED ONLY THROUGH THE GRACES WHICH THE CHURCH POSSESSES IN THE ONE TREASURY OF GRACE ESTABLISHED BY THE ONE REDEEMER. This means that such a person is not saved independently of the One True Church, but only through her.

So then, the Dogma, "outside the Church there is no salvation", could be worded in this way: "Independently of the Church, there is no salvation." Or, to express the fact even more fully, "Independently of the Catholic Church and of her divinely-given Treasury of Grace there is no salvation."

It should also be clear that those living in "invincible ignorance" outside visible membership in the Catholic Church are really NOT TOTALLY "outside" the Church. The fact is that they are in an invisible and mysterious way connected with the Church, or are "related" to her. They are "related" to the Church THROUGH GRACE, which the Most High can easily bestow on them, even without actual Baptism of water, provided that they are properly disposed. This is no problem for the Almighty.

It is precisely of this "relationship" with the One True Church that Pope Pius XII spoke in his encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ (Mystici Corporis) in 1943. In paragraph (of the NCWC 1943 edition), this saintly Pontiff of our own times speaks of "those who do not belong to the VISIBLE Body of the Catholic Church". (We deliberately give special emphasis to the all-important word "visible"). About half-way down the same paragraph, the Holy Father states (and we again add emphasis) that "by an unconscious desire and longing THEY HAVE A CERTAIN RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MYSTICAL BODY OF THE REDEEMER. . ."

The "unconscious desire and longing", of which the great Vicar of Christ speaks, is obviously the doctrine of Baptism of desire, which we will take up in the second and concluding part of this article on "salvation outside the Church".

The teachings of Pope Pius IX and Pius XII make it as clear as could be just how the Church understands her Dogma, "outside the Church there is no salvation". Any erroneous or twisted interpretation of this Dogma-or of any Dogma or the Church for that matter--is equivalent to a denial of the Dogma itself, whether consciously or unconsciously done. And the rejection of any Dogma of the Faith is HERESY.

By conscious and willful heresy, a Catholic is automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church, outside of which there is no salvation. And a Catholic living in conscious and willful heresy cannot worthily nor lawfully receive the Sacraments.

Part II: Baptism of Desire and of Blood, published on November 15, 1973

"Unconscious Desire and Longing"

As we noted in Part I of this article, Pope Pius XII, in speaking of those in good faith outside the "VISIBLE Body of the Catholic Church", declared that "by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer. . ."

The concept expressed here by the Holy Father is nothing else but the already ancient Catholic belief and teaching that eventually gave rise to the well-known expression, "Baptism of desire". The basic idea with Baptism of desire is that the grace of justification, or sanctifying grace, which is normally given by God through Baptism of water, can be, and is, given by Him to those who genuinely desire and strive to fulfill His will in all things, even though they may be as yet "unconscious", or unaware, of the One True Church and of the Sacraments, and of all the obligations connected with the True Faith.

This means that they have become pleasing to God already before receiving Baptism of water. Their "desire and longing" to do God's will in all things is what sets them out on the path to salvation, and this is what has led to countless converts into the True Church all through the centuries. Genuine converts to the True Faith have personal experience of this "desire and longing" which, by the grace of God, they have satisfied, despite great difficulties and obstacles and often long years of soul-searching and agony of heart.

But the expression, "Baptism of desire", is used especially in connection with those who are overtaken by death before they can attain to Baptism of water. Because of their genuine "desire and longing" to fulfill God's will in all things, including sincere repentance of their sins, they are saved by "Baptism of desire", and without Baptism of water, which is otherwise of strict obligation. As Pope Pius IX expressed it, such persons "merit eternal life" even though not belonging to the visible Body of the Catholic Church.

We do not say that such persons are saved "independently of" Baptism of water, but rather "without" Baptism of water. The fact is that their "unconscious desire and longing" to do God's will implicitly includes a desire for Baptism of water, even if they may not as yet know of it and of the strict obligation to receive it.

Heretics Reject Baptism of Desire


It is typical of heretics to defend their principal heresy with other errors and to reject truths that are closely connected with the main Truth of Faith which they are denying. And so it is no surprise that the advocates of a false salvation doctrine reject outright any idea of Baptism of desire. Why? Because it stands in the way of their heresy, of course! Some have even asserted, with juvenile brashness, that Baptism of desire is a "deplorable heresy", whereas they themselves are the ones who are in heresy.

The false prophets wrongly contend, among other things, 1) that the Catechism of the Council of Trent says nothing of Baptism of desire; 2) that there is no Scriptural basis for Baptism of desire; 3) that Baptism of desire is nothing but a modern invention and the product of the speculations of theologians; and, 4) that Baptism of desire and of blood make up to three Sacraments of Baptism.

Trent and Baptism of Desire

As for the Catechism of the Council of Trent, we must first warn the reader that the advocates of the false salvation doctrine (based with the so-called "Marian Publications", South Bend, Ind.) have published their own edition of that Catechism and have deceitfully added their own subversive appendix to it--an appendix that brazenly asserts that there is "No Baptism of Desire". Two letters of warning on that edition of the Trent Catechism appeared in the March 1, 1973, issue of The Remnant.

Taking an untampered McHugh-Callan edition of the Trent Catechism, we come upon the following clear statement of the concept of Baptism of desire, on page 179:

"Should any unforeseen accident make it impossible for adults to be washed in the salutary waters, their intention and determination to receive Baptism and their repentance for past sins, will avail them to grace and righteousness."


With that statement, the Trent Catechism plainly tells us, 1) that it is possible for a person not baptized in the "salutary waters" to be saved; 2) that through no fault of his own a person could be prevented from receiving Baptism of water after being prepared for it while having every intention and desire to receive this Sacrament; 3) that the proper dispositions which would save a person in such a case are his "intention and determination" to receive Baptism" and "repentance for past sins"; and, 4) that such a person receives "grace and righteousness" from God without Baptism of water.

Those who think that the Trent Catechism favors their errors either have not read what that Catechism says about Baptism or they did not know what they were reading, or they merely looked for the words, "Baptism of desire", without looking for the concept that gave rise to that expression. There is serious doubt that they know what Baptism of desire is--or even Baptism of water, for that matter!

The authors of the Trent Catechism well understood that Our Lord was laying down a strict obligation binding on all men to receive Baptism of water, when He said to Nicodemus: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God" (Jn 3, 5), yet they did not interpret this Divine Law so rigidly as to exclude from "grace and righteousness" those who do not receive Baptism of water because of some "unforeseen accident". They well understood that the Law of God requiring Baptism of water for salvation is a positive law, and not a precept of the Natural Law. Baptism of water is of obligation because of the express will of God, and not because the very nature of things demands it.

The use of the word "Baptism" in connection with "desire" and "blood" does not mean that there are two additional Sacraments of Baptism. There is only one Sacrament of Baptism, while the grace of that Sacrament is one and the same grace that is given by God, under certain circumstances, without the actual reception of the Sacrament.

The Trent Catechism, drawn up after the Council of Trent was over, teaches the doctrine of Baptism of desire because that is what the Council itself taught. In its 6th Session (Jan. 13, 1847), the Council of Trent described the justification of the sinner as a "translation from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, Our Savior".

And then the Council immediately declared (and we add emphasis): "This translation, however, cannot, since the promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the laver of regeneration, OR ITS DESIRE, as it is written: 'Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God'."

In view of this authoritative declaration of one of the greatest of the Ecumenical Councils, Baptism of desire, far from being a "deplorable heresy," is a solid and unquestionably Catholic doctrine. In fact, the Council gives us good reason to say that it is an Article of Faith or of Dogma.

Scripture and Baptism of Desire

The concept of Baptism of desire is well founded on Sacred Scripture and goes right back to the beginning. It may be difficult to say at just what moment Our Lord's Law of Baptism of water began to be binding, but it is clear from His own words, "Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much" (Lk. 7, 47), that Mary Magdalen was justified before she was baptized with water. The Good Thief on the cross was justified and saved without Baptism of water. Our Lord did NOT say to him: "This day you will be with me in Paradise, provided you can get someone to baptize you with water."

A classic Scriptural example of how a person can be acceptable to God already before Baptism of water is Cornelius the Centurion, to whom God sent St. Peter for Baptism. By divine revelation, Peter saw the state of Cornelius' soul before Baptism, and he exclaimed: "Now I really understand that God is not a respecter of persons, but in every nation he who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him" (Acts 10, 34-35).

If only the misguided lambs, prey to the heretics, could now humble themselves also and exclaim: "Now I understand. . .!" And let them quit listening to unknowledgeable non-theologians!

Among the Fathers of the Church, long before modern theologians could supposedly invent Baptism of desire, the 4th century St. Ambrose of Milan said this in reference to the Emperor Valentinian II, who died without receiving Baptism of water: "I hear you express grief because he (Valentinian) did not receive the Sacrament of Baptism. Tell me, what else is there in us except the will and petition? But he had long desired to be initiated (i.e,, baptized) before he came to Italy, and he expressed his intention to be baptized by me as soon as possible, and it was for this reason, more than any other, that he hastened to me. Has he not, therefore, the grace which he desired? Has he not received it because he asked for it"!

St. Augustine, who was baptized by St. Ambrose, once declared: "I do not hesitate to place the Catholic catechumen, who is burning with love of God, before the baptized heretics."

From ancient times we can also find good examples of "Baptism of blood". Some martyrs whom the Church has long honored as Saints were never baptized with water. Among the various names that could be mentioned, there is St. Emmerentiana, whose feast has long been on the traditional liturgical calendar (on Jan. 23). She was put to death because of the Faith, before she could be baptized with water, when she was caught praying at the tomb of St. Agnes.

And there is is Solder No. 40 of the famed Martyrs of Sebaste in ancient Armenia (Feast, March 10). One of the original 40 soldiers chickened out on the ice, so a pagan guard, while off duty, saw in a vision only 39 crowns brought down from Heaven by Angels. Struck by the grace of God, given to him, without Baptism of water, he declared himself a Christian and joined the 39, winning for himself the 40th crown. The Church honors also this unbaptized martyr as a saint.

A Monstrous Doctrine

And now, before we conclude, we must point out that the awful implications of the denial of Baptism of desire and blood

Just imagine a prospective convert, "burning with desire of God", intensely desiring Baptism and well-instructed in the True Faith, being overtaken by death through some "unforeseen accident"; before Baptism of water could be administered to him. He comes before the Judgment Seat of God, only to hear the Most High say to him: "I'm very sorry about that accident that kept you from Baptism of water. It was no nice of you to prepare for Baptism and for the True Faith with such great love for Me, but you weren't baptized with water, so down into hell you must go!"

Or, imagine someone like St. Emmerentiana coming before the Divine Judge, only to hear the same kind of bad news!

Can anyone with a properly functioning thinking apparatus fail to understand the blasphemous injustice and cruelty that the heretics must attribute to the All-Just and All-Holy God because of their false doctrines? Can anyone with a sane mind embrace such a monstrous doctrine as that peddled by the advocates of no salvation without Baptism of water? Isn't their doctrine about as revolting as the wrong kind of predestination doctrine, which makes God choose some for Heaven and some for Hell, without considering at all their good or bad deeds?

If those who have fallen for the false salvation doctrine of the Feeneyites haven't yet fainted on seeing the sickening implications of that doctrine, it's about time that they do so. And then, let them come to and repent, and return to the True Faith and to a worthy reception of the Sacraments. Let them get back inside the Church, for outside the Church there is no salvation for them!

Viva Cristo Rey!

Our Lady of the Rosary, us.

Saint Joseph, pray for us.


Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.

Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.

Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.

Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.

Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.

Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.

Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.

Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, pray for us.

Saint Camillus de Lellis, pray for us.

See also: A Litany of Saints


© Copyright 2008, Thomas A. Droleskey. All rights reserved.