Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cardinal Newman on Salvation Outside the Church

I have collected various texts from Cardinal Newman concerning the teaching "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus," which I plan to reproduce over the next few posts. My comments are in blue.

"As to the condemnation of propositions all she tells us is, that the thesis condemned when taken as a whole, or, again, when viewed in its context, is heretical, or blasphemous, or impious, or whatever like epithet she affixes to it. We have only to trust her so far as to allow ourselves to be warned against the thesis, or the work containing it. Theologians employ themselves in determining what precisely it is that is condemned in that thesis or treatise; and doubtless in most cases they do so with success; but that determination is not de fide; all that is of faith is that there is in that thesis itself, which is noted, heresy or error, or other like peccant matter, as the case may be, such, that the censure is a peremptory command to theologians, preachers, students, and all other whom it concerns, to keep clear of it. But so light is this obligation, that instances frequently occur, when it is successfully maintained by some new writer, that the Pope's act does not imply what it has seemed to imply, and questions which seemed to be closed, are after a course of years re-opened. In discussions such as these, there is a real exercise of private judgment and an allowable one; the act of faith, which cannot be superseded or trifled with, being, I repeat, the unreserved acceptance that the thesis in question is heretical, or the like, as the Pope or the Church has spoken of it. [This is clear. When the Church issues a condemnation, or in fact any kind of decree, she has a certain intention in doing so. In order for her proclamation to accomplish what the Church intends, it must be understood in light of her intention, which can only be grasped either by her explanation, or the circumstances and context of the decree.]

In these cases which in a true sense may be called the Pope's negative enunciations, the opportunity of a legitimate minimizing lies in the intensely concrete character of the matters condemned; in his affirmative enunciations a like opportunity is afforded by their being more or less abstract. Indeed, excepting such as relate to persons, that is, to the Trinity in Unity, the Blessed Virgin, the Saints, and the like, all the dogmas of Pope or of Council are but general, and so far, in consequence, admit of exceptions in their actual application,—these exceptions being determined either by other authoritative utterances, or by the scrutinizing vigilance, acuteness, and subtlety of the Schola Theologorum.

One of the most remarkable instances of what I am insisting on is found in a dogma, which no Catholic can ever think of disputing, viz., that "Out of the Church, and out of the faith, is no salvation." Not to go to Scripture, it is the doctrine of St. Ignatius, St. Irenæus, St. Cyprian in the first three centuries, as of St. Augustine and his contemporaries in the fourth and fifth. It can never be other than an elementary truth of Christianity; and the present Pope has proclaimed it as all Popes, doctors, and bishops before him. But that truth has two aspects, according as the force of the negative falls upon the "Church" or upon the "salvation." The main sense is, that there is no other communion or so called Church, but the Catholic, in which are stored the promises, the sacraments, and other means of salvation; the other and derived sense is, that no one can be saved who is not in that one and only Church. But it does not follow, because there is no Church but one, which has the Evangelical gifts and privileges to bestow, that therefore no one can be saved without the intervention of that one Church.[By "intervention" Cardinal Newman means external intervention, while leaving open the possibility of some spiritual intervention, as will become clearer in the next paragraph.]

Anglicans quite understand this distinction; for, on the one hand, their Article says, "They are to be had accursed (anathematizandi) that presume to say, that every man shall be saved by (in) the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature;" while on the other hand they speak of and hold the doctrine of the "uncovenanted mercies of God." The latter doctrine in its Catholic form is the doctrine of invincible ignorance—or, that it is possible to belong to the soul of the Church without belonging to the body;[Newman here repeats the same phrase used by St. Robert Bellarmine; the Catechism of Pius X makes this same distinction. It is clear from this that Newman recognizes that some sort of spiritual union with the Church is always necessary for salvation.] and, at the end of 1800 years, it has been formally and authoritatively put forward by the present Pope (the first Pope, I suppose, who has done so), on the very same occasion on which he has repeated the fundamental principle of exclusive salvation itself. It is to the purpose here to quote his words; they occur in the course of his Encyclical, addressed to the Bishops of Italy, under date of August 10, 1863.

"We and you know, that those who lie under invincible ignorance as regards our most Holy Religion, and who, diligently observing the natural law and its precepts, which are engraven by God on the hearts of all, and prepared to obey God, lead a good and upright life, are able, by the operation of the power of divine light and grace, to obtain eternal life."

Who would at first sight gather from the wording of so forcible a universal, that an exception to its operation, such as this, so distinct, and, for what we know, so very wide, was consistent with holding it?"


  1. Could you please give citations for Newman's texts.

  2. http://www.newmanreader.org/works/anglicans/volume2/gladstone/section9.html

    As I mentioned in a previous comment, all the works that I cite which are online can be easily found with a simple google search.