What is the teaching of the Church on "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus"?
This doctrine finds one of its most famous expression in the profession of faith given in the eleventh session of the council of Florence.
"It firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the catholic church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the catholic church before the end of their lives; that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only for those who abide in it do the church's sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia produce eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed his blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and the unity of the catholic church."
This teaching of the council of Florence is one of the most misinterpreted texts of the Church on EENS. Some extremists go so far as to hold that it teaches that unless one receives baptism of water, he cannot be saved. Others, more moderate, hold that it teaches that those who do not have at least a desire of entering the Church, together with explicit faith in Christ and the Trinity, cannot be saved.
As we shall see, both of these positions fall short of the constant teaching of Holy Mother Church.
The Church teaches in an absolute way that "there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church." Nevertheless, the Church also teaches that those who are outside the visible Church through no fault of their own, may still be united to her by a mysterious means known to God alone. This union can be attained on the part of the one who is invincibly ignorant even without any explicit faith in Christ or even any knowledge of the Church.
In my next few posts, I will begin to show that this is the official teaching of the Church on this matter.