Catholic Teaching


Sir, - Father Tom Stack (July 28th) is "puzzled" that Nuala O'Faolain could have been taught that there was no salvation outside the Catholic Church, and quotes Sheehan's Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine in support of his case.

But the very portion of Sheehan that he quotes from is headed "Outside the Church there is no Salvation". And the whole tone of this section of Sheehan to my mind is - yes, it is possible for those outside the Catholic Church to be saved, but it will be much more difficult for them than for Catholics; and few will succeed. For example, Sheehan says "He [God] will not condemn those who through inculpable ignorance are unaware of His precept, who serve Him faithfully according to their conscience who have a sincere desire to do His will, and therefore implicitly, the desire to become members of His Church". And again: "In view of the fact that the Church stands plainly before the eyes of all men like a city on a mountain-top, that the words of her ministers have gone forth to the ends of the earth, we do not venture to say that such cases as these are typical of large numbers."

But even this limited admission indicates a major shift in the Church's position from its earlier, and seemingly unequivocal, position of no salvation outside the Church. Here is what Hans Kung has to say on the subject (On Being a Christian, p.97):

"It was 50 years before the discovery of America when the Council of Florence (1442) defined what had become, from the time of Origen and particularly Cyprian, the traditional teaching of "no salvation outside the Church." The council in fact made use of the strong words of Augustine's disciple, Fulgentius of Ruspe: "The holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and proclaims that none of those who are outside the Catholic Church - not only pagans, but Jews also, heretics and schismatics - can have part in eternal life, but will go into eternal fire, `which was prepared for the devil and his angels,' unless they are gathered into that Church before the end of life." That is to say: all those outside are a massa damnata, an abandoned heap, excluded from salvation.

Five hundred years later and certainly none too soon, the Second Vatican Council conceded freedom of religion and belief. In a specified declaration on the subject it commended the world religions and in the Constitution on the Church acknowledged that all men of good will - that is, Jews too, Muslims, adherents of other religions, and even atheists ("who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God") - "can attain to everlasting salvation." at least in principle. Formerly it was thought that only baptised and practising Christians gained salvation. Then it was admitted that individual non-Christians had a chance of salvation. Now apparently the religions as such are also regarded as possible ways to salvation." - Yours, etc.,

J. N. Tansey,

Avoca Avenue,


Co Dublin.