The Unam Sanctam "Problem" Resolved

Can Non-Catholics Be Saved?

FILE: UnSanc / DATE: June-July 1997 / CONFERENCE: FidoNet RCatholic

CONTENTS: Response to the common charge by some friendly Evangelical Protestants of FidoNet (Jeff Doles and Robert McKay quoted in red) that there is a contradiction between the papal bull Unam Sanctam (1302) of Pope Boniface VIII which states the necessity of submission to the Pope for salvation, and the teaching of Vatican Council II (for example, see Decree on Ecumenism 3) on the possibility of salvation for non-Catholics, the historical context of the bull and the teaching "No Salvation Outside the Church" (Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus) is discussed, evidence from current documents and the Church Fathers are presented -- I have to give credit and thanks to the contributers to this discussion: Lionel Bruce Binnie, Sean M. Brooks, Michael Brazier, and others for giving me some ideas how to deal with this issue.

"That there is only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church we are compelled by faith to believe and hold, and we firmly believe in her and sincerely confess her, outside of whom there is neither salvation nor remission of sins.....Furthermore we declare, state and define that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of all human beings that they submit to the Roman Pontiff."

POPE BONIFACE VIII Unam Sanctam (November 18, 1302 AD)


"OUTSIDE THE CHURCH THERE IS NO SALVATION" [from the Catechism of the Catholic Church]

846. How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? [cf. St. Cyprian, Ep 73:21; PL 3:1169; De Unit PL 4:509-536] Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

"Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it." [Vatican II LG 14]

847. This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

"Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience -- those too may achieve eternal salvation." [Vatican II LG 16]


"Don't bother trying to find any documentation for something if you are not willing to deal with the logical difficulties of the things you have already documented. Otherwise it will look like you are being evasive....You need to face up to it, Phil. You need to deal head on with what 'absolutely' means. It allows for no exceptions. You cannot claim infallibility for the statement and then deny the meaning of one of its operative words. You can't have it both ways.

"Do I think there is a contradiction between Boniface's ill-chosen words and the teaching of the RCC elsewhere? Yes, I do."

JEFF DOLES to P, FidoNet RCatholic 6/18/97


"The third alternative is to turn around, break through the wall, and come away from the whole unresolvable situation. Forget papal infallibility. Forget Boniface's intolerant and plainly untrue absolute declaration. Forget trying to make the bull say something it clearly does not say. Forget trying to dance around words which have but one meaning, in order to establish a position which conflicts with that meaning....

"I didn't intend this to be so long. Nor did I intend for it to have the conclusion that it does; I never intended it to be a call for you to convert from Catholicism. But it did grow, and it did become what it now is. I just wish that I could afford the phone bill necessary to properly engage in the discussion that I think will result from this post."

ROBERT MCKAY to ALL, FidoNet RCatholic 6/18/97


Four Parts to this series:

(1) The Unam Sanctam "Problem" Resolved: My Brief Answer

(2) The Bull in Context: Pope Boniface VIII and King Philip IV

(3) No Salvation Outside the Catholic Church: Historical Teaching

(4) Primary and Secondary Sources Consulted



"That there is only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church we are compelled by faith to believe and hold, and we firmly believe in her and sincerely confess her, outside of whom there is neither salvation nor remission of sins.....FURTHERMORE WE DECLARE, STATE AND DEFINE THAT IT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY FOR THE SALVATION OF ALL HUMAN BEINGS THAT THEY SUBMIT TO THE ROMAN PONTIFF [Porro subesse Romano Pontifici omni humanae creaturae declaramus, dicimus, definimus, et pronunciamus omnino esse de necessitate salutis]."

POPE BONIFACE VIII, Bull Unam Sanctam (November 18, 1302 AD) as cited in The Christian Faith by Neuner/Dupuis, page 280-1


I will now strongly state and summarize the objection in my own words and answer it briefly, then go into further elaboration of my answer.

OBJECTION: The Bull Unam Sanctam states that submission to the Pope is "absolutely necessary for salvation" therefore all non-Catholics who do not submit are automatically damned and that contradicts modern Catholic teaching (e.g. Catechism of the Catholic Church).

ANSWER: This is a non sequitur in logic, it does not follow at all that "all non-Catholics are damned" for a number of reasons. The objection also displays a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching and takes the Papal Bull out of context from history and theology.

First, the Church, basing herself on the promises of Christ and His authority (Mt 16:18f; 28:18f; Lk 10:16; Jn 14:16f; 16:13), can and has infallibly defined the conditions of salvation but cannot and does not "damn" anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic. Only God can judge the heart of an individual and knows the state of the soul at death (which in Catholic theology requires for salvation that the person be in the "state of grace"). The Church has canonized Saints and has infallibly declared THEM to be in heaven but does NOT claim to damn any individual to hell; neither is excommunication an "automatic damnation" but a serious "cutting off" from communion with the one true visible Church (Matt 18:17; Rom 16:17; Titus 3:10).

Second, a non-Catholic CANNOT submit or be subject to the Pope, even if the person sincerely desired to obey the Pope in everything and believe all his teachings. Only CATHOLICS can submit to the Pope since one CANNOT submit to the Pope without being a member of the visible One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Christ as necessary for salvation of whom the Pope is the visible head. And that is precisely the point Pope Boniface VIII is making in

(1) There is only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church OUTSIDE OF WHICH there is neither salvation nor remission of sins

(2) It is absolutely necessary for that salvation IN THE CHURCH to submit (or be subject) to the Roman Pontiff

Salvation in Catholic understanding can only be in the true Church which is the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ as explained by Pius XII (Mystici Corporis) and "subsists" in the Catholic Church according to Vatican II LG 8.

In the context of the Bull itself, Boniface is making a statement about the true nature of the true visible Church, that it must have a visible head (see "The Bull in Context"). So when Boniface insists "all human beings" (Latin omni humanae creaturae) must be subject to the visible head for their eternal salvation, they must be members of the one visible Church for eternal salvation. The first and last sentences of the Bull must be taken together. While the last sentence is the only infallible definition in the Bull, the first sentence has also been infallibly defined (see "No Salvation Outside the Catholic Church: Historical Teaching").

Now it would follow from the above that those who do not submit to the Pope are not FORMAL members of the Catholic Church -- that is true. But it does not follow that all non-Catholics (for example, those BORN into Protestant or Orthodox Christian churches) are necessarily damned. Notice also that Boniface VIII does not define precisely MEMBERSHIP in the Church and the Bull is not a "be-all-end-all" statement on that subject since it does not stand alone. It has a context both in Church history and Catholic theology. Further distinctions can and have been made by later Popes (especially those of the 19th and 20th centuries).

So in answer to the specific question : Can an Orthodox, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, pagan or atheist be subject to the Pope? No, not unless and until they become formal members of the Catholic Church.

The issue for Protestant Christians (who not only deny Papal authority but any number of defined Catholic doctrines) is how they RELATE TO that one true visible Church (for example, see Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism 3).

For more on this issue, see Are Protestants Christians?


Third, in making the objection, the last sentence of the Bull must be taken out of context from its historical setting and Catholic theology.

(1) The objection ignores the immediate context of the Bull, written to French CATHOLICS in the 14th century who were not submitting to the Pope. This will be covered in detail under "The Bull in Context."

(2) The objection ignores the broader context of Catholic theology, especially on salvation, Baptism, and the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.

The Bull simply CANNOT be applied to (for example) modern Protestant Christians (who did not exist in the 14th century and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Bull) without carefully considering the WHOLE teaching of the Church on salvation and the Body of Christ. To so misapply the Bull is to show contempt for Church history, Papal documents, and Catholic theology in general.

The final statement of Unam Sanctam must be understood in light of the first statement about membership in the Church for salvation since ONLY Catholics can submit to the Roman Pontiff. The question that needs to be asked and answered is

"What is the RELATIONSHIP to that Church, the original One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of whom the Pope is the visible head and 'OUTSIDE OF WHOM THERE IS NEITHER SALVATION NOR REMISSION OF SINS' to those non-Catholics who are outside of her visible communion?"

Jeff Doles to P, FidoNet RCatholic 7/2/97

JD> But, Bruce Binnie has suggested that Unam Sanctam was addressed to Catholics and should be understood in that context and, as I understand Bruce, the point of absolute necessity should be withstood wholly within that context and not referring to anything outside of that context. I.e., subjection to the Roman pontiff is absolutely necessary for the salvation of Roman Catholics (but not for anybody else).

JD> I have conceded that possibility -- with a provision and a question. I accept that possibility provided that it refers completely and only to Roman Catholics and not at all to anybody else in the world. In such a case, it does not necessarily present a contradiction to RCC teaching....

Jeff Doles has conceded the possibility that the last sentence of the Bull should be limited to Catholics and I will support that when I discuss the Bull in its historical setting in the conflict between Pope Boniface VIII and the Catholic king of France, Philip IV.


THE BULL IN CONTEXT: Pope Boniface VIII and King Philip IV

Jeff Doles to P, FidoNet RCatholic 6/18/97

JD> But if what Boniface said about subjection to the pontiff is true and it is *absolutely* necessary for salvation, then it is just as true for the time of the Protestants as it was when Boniface first declared it. IOW, if it was infallible when he first stated it, it did not cease to be true when the Protestants came along.

PP> We need to understand what is the whole context of the situation at the time Boniface wrote. I hope to get into that.

JD> The context is that people were not subjecting to the Pope. And the effect of Boniface's statement is that those who do not subject are not saved. His statement seems quite clear and direct and quite sensical taken in the plain sense.

Unfortunately, both Jeff Doles and Robert McKay have ignored the historical context of Unam Sanctam which is crucial to a proper understanding of the Bull. My main source here is the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) but I have also checked the facts with the Church historians Hughes, Boase, Riviere, Schaff and Kelly.

As a historical document, Unam Sanctam must be set among the major events of the second crisis (1300-1303) between Pope Boniface VIII and the Catholic king of France, Philip IV (also called "Philip the Fair") and read as a series of letters sent by Boniface to Philip:

Recordare Rex Inclyte (July 18, 1300)

Secundum Divina, Salvator Mundi, Ante Promotionem Nostram

Ausculta Fili (AF) and its French version Deum Time (Dec 4-5, 1301)

Unam Sanctam (November 18, 1302)

Nuper ad Audientiam (August 15, 1303)

The struggle began in 1296 when Philip IV of France and Edward I of England needed to finance their war over feudal disputes and commercial rivalries. They both decided to tax the clergy with unusual severity. Pope Boniface issued a Bull Clericos Laicos to end the taxation. Philip struck back by forbidding all export of treasure and negotiable currency from France and this created great financial embarrassment for the Pope who relied on revenues from the French Church.

"In September 1296 Boniface sent an indignant protest to Philip (Ineffabilis Amor), declaring that he would rather suffer death than surrender any of the liberties of the Church; but he explained in conciliatory fashion that his recent bull had not been intended to apply to customary dues from the feudal lands of the Church.

"He added that Philip was being deluded by evil counselors and that he was rash to pick a quarrel with the papacy, especially when the pope was the rightful judge of the political disputes in which Philip was involved -- for the King's enemies alleged that Philip had sinned against them, and judgment on matters of sin belonged to the Roman see." (NCE, article "Boniface VIII" page 672)

After the "Jubilee Year" of 1300, Boniface and Philip resumed their dispute. The occasion this time was Philip's treatment of a French bishop of Pamiers, Bernard Saisset. In 1301, Philip had the bishop arrested, tried and thrown into prison for treason. By so doing, Philip was asserting total sovereignty over the persons and property of the French episcopate and in defiance of the universal jurisdiction of the Pope over all bishops. Boniface protested in December 1301 with the Bull Ausculta Fili (which means "Give ear, my son") and accused Philip of subverting the whole state of the Church in France.

"Let no one persuade you that you have no superior or that you are not subject to the head of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, for he is a fool who so thinks." (Boniface in AF from NCE, page 672)

As Catholic historian Philip Hughes explains the purpose of the Bull --

"In many ways this letter hardly differs from the remonstrances which Boniface had already sent to the king. It tells him that his sins, as a Catholic ruler oppressing the rights of the Church, are notorious and a bad example to all Christendom....

"The Church has but a single head, Boniface reminds the king, and this head is divinely appointed as a shepherd for the whole flock of Christ. To suggest, then, that the King of France has no earthly superior, that he is not in any way subject to the pope is madness, is indeed, the prelude to infidelity. This doctrinal note is to appear again, and still more strikingly, in the controversy." (Philip Hughes, A History of the Church, volume 3, page 78)

At the end of 1301, Boniface commanded the French bishops to attend a council to be held November 1302 in Rome to consider the badly needed reform of the French Church. Philip forbade them to attend and in April 1302 organized an assembly of his own in Paris, of nobles, burgesses, and clergy to denounce the Pope and accuse him, based on a crude forgery of AF titled Deum Time (which means "Fear God"), of being "feudal overlord" of France. The French clergy, while addressing Boniface as Pope, protested against Boniface's "unheard of assertions." The Pope denied he ever claimed to be feudal overlord of France but was prepared to depose Philip if necessary, as he reminded them previous popes had done to three French kings.

Philip still refused to permit his bishops to attend the Pope's council in Rome. When the council did finally meet in November 1302, fewer than half of the French bishops attended and no measures for reform were agreed upon. Immediately after this abortive council, Pope Boniface VIII issued the famous Bull Unam Sanctam (Nov 18, 1302).

In light of the above history, we can see the dispute between Boniface and Philip had nothing to do with "Protestants" (they did not exist), it had nothing to do with pagans or any non-Catholic as such (although the Bull Unam Sanctam does mention the Greek Orthodox obliquely).

The controversy was over the Pope's right to intervene when the Catholic king of France refused his Catholic bishops certain liberties and even denounced the Pope who everyone knew had universal jurisdiction in the Catholic Church. The Pope could judge kings when a matter of sin was involved. Boniface denied he intended to take over temporal jurisdiction; his purpose was to correct abuses -ratione peccati- (i.e. in as far as the morality of human acts was concerned).

"We declare that in no way do we wish to usurp the jurisdiction of the King...And yet, neither the King nor anyone else of the faithful can deny that he is subject to us where a question of sin is involved."

(Boniface VIII De Consideratione ad Eugenium III, IV, 3 cited from The Catholic Catechism by John Hardon, page 247)

In this sense the kings are "subject" to the Pope. Catholics are still subject to the Pope in religious matters and this is how the last line of Unam Sanctam should be understood and applied today. How a non- Catholic can be saved "outside the Church" is another question entirely and should be resolved in the context of Catholic theology as a whole, not by taking a line or two out of context from a 14th century document.

UNAM SANCTAM: So What's New?

Now let's take a look at the Bull Unam Sanctam itself. It must first be noted that the Bull said nothing particularly novel. Here I will quote a few of the Church historians, Catholic and Protestant, that speak to this issue. From the old Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) --

"The Bull also proclaims the subjection of the secular power to the spiritual as the one higher in rank, and draws from it the conclusion that the representatives of the spiritual power can install the possessers of secular authority and exercise judgment over their administration should it be contrary to Christian law.

"This is a fundamental principle which had grown out of the entire development in the early Middle Ages of the central position of the papacy in the Christian national family of Western Europe. It had been expressed from the eleventh century by theologians like Bernard of Clairvaux and John Salisbury, and by popes like Nicholas II and Leo IX. Boniface VIII gave it precise expression in opposing the procedure of the French king. The main propositions are drawn from the writings of St. Bernard, Hugh of St. Victor, St. Thomas Aquinas, and letters of [Pope] Innocent III." (CE, "Unam Sanctam" page 126)

From decidedly anti-Catholic historian Philip Schaff, who says that Boniface was "controlled by blind and insatiable lust of power" and in Unam Sanctam "the arrogance of the papacy finds its most naked and irritating expression," nevertheless admits:

"There was no assertion of authority contained in the bull which had not been before made by Gregory VII and his successors, and the document leans back not only upon the deliverances of popes, but upon the definitions of theologians like Hugh de St. Victor, Bernard and Thomas Aquinas." (Schaff, volume 6, page 20)

While Schaff calls the last line of Unam Sanctam about subjection to the Roman Pontiff as a condition of salvation a "startling declaration," the introduction to the commentary on the Bull by French scholar Jean Riviere states to the contrary:

"Frequently a document's intended meaning is misconstrued by those reading it. Such was the case, argues Jean Riviere (1878-1946), with -Unam Sanctam-. In what amounts to a line by line analysis of its provisions Riviere attempts to show that the pope's ideas were largely traditional and not very startling. If accepted, this view would greatly modify one's understanding of Boniface's motives and ambitions. Riviere was a French abbe and professor at the University of Strasbourg, best known for his work on medieval and patristic theology." (from Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII edited by Charles T. Wood, page 66)

I shall get to Riviere's own commentary shortly. Philip Hughes states that "Riviere is no doubt, as Boase says, the best modern commentator" (vol 3, pg 81) so his work on the Bull will be specially considered.

From the scholarly volume Boniface VIII (1933) by T.S.R. Boase --

"As has repeatedly been pointed out, it contains little new. It is a careful statement of the claims of the papacy to final sovereignty, and bases the claim on the divine origin of that power, not on any practical necessities, nor even historical precedents, for there is no mention of the transference of the empire or the deposition of the last Merovingiam. It is as an 'order established by God' that it must be obeyed: it is a power formally revealed by Christ to St. Peter, and as such it is an article of faith, necessary for salvation. This is the primary case for the papal power; it had often been stated before and the bull's greatest novelty is its absence of involved proof. Amid the controversial literature of the period it sounds a note of solemn and eloquent certainty." (Boase, page 318)

Finally, the best modern commentator on the Bull, Jean Riviere --

"From the strictly theological point of view, the case presented in the bull Unam Sanctam contains nothing very disturbing, or even anything very special....the strong personality of Boniface VIII and the boldness of his actions must not lead to a misunderstanding of the fact that his doctrine is, for the most part, fashioned from traditional elements. One finds, of course, nothing essentially new in the first half of the bull, which is pure dogma: the unity of the Church and the necessity of belonging to it in order to be saved were affirmed in formal the third century; the primacy of the Roman pontiff goes back in multiple strands to the oldest of eccle- siastical history. As for the powers of the Church whose exposition makes up the second part of the bull, not only the foundations, but even the wording is borrowed from older authors...." (Wood, page 70)

All the historians acknowledge that Boniface said nothing new but was deriving his teaching from previous sources, in particular St. Bernard, Hugh of St. Victor, and St. Thomas Aquinas among other theologians.


The text of the entire Bull is reproduced both in its original Latin and in English translation in volume 6 of Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church. For Catholic sources, there is Denzinger.

The basic teaching of Unam Sanctam can be summarized as follows:

(1) There is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church outside of which there is neither salvation nor remission of sins.

(2) The Church represents the Mystical Body whose head is Christ and in which there is one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism (Eph 4:5); therefore this one visible Body on earth has one head, Christ (who is the invisible head) and His vicar, St. Peter and his successors (the visible head). This is not two heads (like a "monster") but one. And if anyone says that he is not subject to the vicar of Christ, Peter's successor he necessarily declares he is not of Christ's sheep (i.e. he is not in the Catholic Church).

(3) In the power of the Church are "two swords," (from Luke 22:38 and Matt 26:52 interpreted allegorically), the spiritual and the temporal, to be used by and for the Church. The first is in the hand of priests; the second is in the hand of kings and knights, but is to be used at the direction and permission of the priest (ad nutum et patientiam sacerdotis).

(4) It is fitting that the temporal power be subject to the spiritual since the latter excels the former in diginity and nobility as spiritual things are superior to temporal things. The spiritual power can establish (instituere) the temporal power and judge it if it is "not good" (i.e. when it does evil or a matter of sin is involved, taken directly from Hugh of St. Victor, De Sacramentis, II,2,4). If the supreme spiritual power errs, it will be judged not by man but by God alone since the authority although given to men and exercised by them, is not human but divine. Unlike the Manichean heretics who argue for two original principles of power, there is only one.

(5) Finally, in its only infallible definition the Bull concludes that it is absolutely necessary for salvation (omnino esse de necessitate salutis) for all human beings (omni humanae creaturae) to be subject (subesse) to the Roman Pontiff (quoting from St. Thomas Aquinas, Contra Errores Graecorum, Part II, Chapter 38).


It has been my contention that the last sentence of Unam Sanctam about subjection to the Pope should be understood in an absolute sense of Catholics and interpreted in conjunction with the opening that membership in the Church is also a necessary condition of salvation. Further, I have contended it is impossible to retroject back into the Bull and misapply it by declaring all non-Catholics "damned" without a careful consideration of the whole of Catholic theology on salvation and the Mystical Body of Christ. I credit Lionel Binnie with helping me see this (after re-reading a ton of past posts dating back to mid-June 1997) but also found it in the commentaries I have studied on Boniface VIII and the Bull.

From Jean Riviere, in the chapter "Boniface's Theological Conservatism" in the book Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII by Charles T. Wood --

"It is evident above all that Boniface VIII wanted to place the rights of the Roman pontiff before the Catholic conscience. The final formula, where the last word of this thought is expressed, refers to the conditions necessary for salvation, affirming that submission to the pope enters in as an essential qualification:


"The supernatural order has been determined by Christ and no one then contested that it had been concentrated in the Church. As a result, it became a question of placing the role of the pope in this scheme of things in relief. Underlying the bull Unam Sanctam, therefore, is a theology of the Church and its mission which constitutes the doctrinal framework within which the function of the Sovereign Pontiff, its head, is inserted. The whole is related to the divine plan by means of the various resources that exegesis and philosophy offered to the minds of the time....

"Nothing more remained to be done beyond drawing the conclusions called forth by these considerations. To resist a power ordained by God is to resist God Himself, unless one wants to revive Manichean dualism. Furthermore, the same 'necessity for salvation' that binds all men without exception to the Church equally imposes on them the strict duty of submission to the Roman Pontiff. Such is the doctrine that Boniface VIII sanctioned with every rigorous clause that characterized the acts of his supreme doctrinal magistracy....

"...the final clause, which alone carries the weight of the [doctrinal] definition, affirms nothing more than a general and absolutely indefinite duty of submission to the Roman pontiff...It is a definition that would perhaps be sufficiently safeguarded, if not in spirit at least in the letter, simply by understanding that spiritual power alone is meant, and the conclusion of the bull would thereby be bound to the dogmatic statements of the first part." (Jean Riviere, cited in Wood, page 66ff)

After quoting the last line in Latin, T.S.R. Boase comments:

"It is on the divine charge to Peter that finally the papal power rests. It is a matter of revelation and of faith. And now, in the midst of so much theorising and criticism, men are reminded of the fundamental basis of that which they are questioning. To this point had Boniface arrived: the supreme spiritual power can be judged by no man, but by God alone: his acts are under divine direction and based on a divine charge: no earthly power can claim an existence independent of him, and inasmuch as every act has a moral implication, it is submitted to his judgment....

"It is the claim of Ausculta Fili and of the speech in consistory; and there is nothing in the bull to contradict Boniface's earlier recognition of the right of the state to conduct its own business, to draw up right regulations. The Gelasian position must be maintained: spiritualia can be differentiated from temporalia : and there will be no intervention in temporalia as long as the moral law is not broken. But of that latter the papacy is the sole interpreter, judge and codifier, and to question this is to deny divine revelation. The creature may have some will and rights of its own, but it cannot question the creator.

"In no earlier statement had Boniface stressed the view that all temporal power must come through and from the spiritual. Marshalling his arguments, forestalling new lines of attack, he drew aside the veil from before the full splendour of the Holy See, and exposed its inner mystery to a world that now could only worship or rebel. There was to be no more accommodating doctrine: the light was now too strong for any patchwork of compromise to pass unnoticed." (T.S.R. Boase, Boniface VIII page 322-323)

Catholic historian Philip Hughes comments on the last line as follows:

"For although those who wield this spiritual power are but men, the power itself is divine, and whoever resists it strives against God. Whence it follows that to be subject to the Roman Pontiff is, for every human being, an absolutely necessary condition of his salvation: which last words -- the sole defining clause of the bull -- do but state again, in a practical kind of way, its opening phrases,

'We are compelled by the promptings of faith to believe and to hold that there is one holy Catholic Church...outside which Church there is no salvation, nor any remission of sins...'

"The bull Unam Sanctam then is a document which contains a definition of the pope's primacy as head of the Church of is a re-statement of the reality of the Church's divinely-given right to correct the sins which kings commit as kings; but the bull does not set out this right in detail...except in so far as it is included in the general definition with which the bull ends." (Philip Hughes, volume 3, page 82-83)

Here Philip Hughes connects the first sentence of the Bull -- there is one visible Church outside of which there is no salvation -- with the last sentence of the Bull -- that it is absolutely necessary to be subject to the Pope. I have contended that only CATHOLICS can submit to the Pope for this very reason: to be subject to the Pope one must be a formal member of the Catholic Church, and one condition for membership is being obedient to legitimate Church authority (including the visible head). Three more Catholic sources also understand the Bull the same way: that to be subject to the Pope is to be a member of the Church, and vice versa.

"The Bull lays down dogmatic propositions on the unity of the Church, the necessity of belonging to it for the attainment of eternal salvation, the position of the pope as supreme head of the Church, and the duty thence arising of submission to the pope in order to belong to the Church and thus to attain salvation." (Catholic Encyclopedia [1913], article "Unam Sanctam" page 126)

"We must immediately distinguish between defined doctrine and ordinary papal teaching. Only the final sentence, as italicized, was solemnly defined and represents traditional Catholic dogma on the Church's necessity for salvation." (Fr. John Hardon, The Catholic Catechism, page 247)

"The other statements quoted (before and after the words about the two swords) regarding the need to be subject to the Pope for salvation, refer to the obligation to believe the teaching of the Pope on morals -- which Boniface VIII himself pointed out. The statements also express that there is 'no salvation outside the Church.' Actually, the very wording of the last sentence that says men must be subject to the Pope comes word for word from St. Thomas Aquinas [Contra Errores Graecorum, Part II, Chapter 38]. Considering the context of St. Thomas' statement it is just a statement of no salvation outside the Church." (Fr. William Most, Catholic Apologetics Today, page 171)

Now when I tried equating the first sentence and the last sentence that "membership in the Church" = "subjection to the Pope" our Protestant friend Jeff Doles gave the following response (6/17/97)

JD> If the two phrases are equivocal and interchangable, then it would mean that those who do not subject to the pope are not actually in the Church after all -- and again, that precludes salvation for Orthodox, Protestants, and anybody else who does not subject to the pope. Also, equating the two phrases would tend to make, not baptism, but subjection to the pope the sign of membership in the Church.

JD> But if you equate "membership in the Church" with "subject to the pope" then you cannot turn around and say that those who do not subject to the pope are actually members of the Church at all.

JD> If the two phrases are equivalent, then a person who does not subject to the pope is NOT a member of the Church, even though he be baptized.

I must admit that logically it follows that a non-Catholic Christian who does not (indeed cannot) submit to the Pope is not a FORMAL member of the Catholic Church. This much is true but I have contended all along that ONLY Catholics CAN submit to the Pope. There are further distinctions in the relationship of non-Catholic Christians to the Catholic Church that must be taken into account, including the acceptance of the Baptism of these Christian communions (Baptism in the name of the Trinity by Christian heretics and schismatics has always been accepted as valid).

These important distinctions are discussed in later papal encyclicals of 19th and 20th century Popes as well as the teaching of Vatican Council II on salvation, membership in the Church, and the Mystical Body of Christ and its relation to non- Catholics. Again, while it follows that a non-Catholic is not a FORMAL member of the Catholic Church, it does NOT follow that all non-Catholics are automatically damned, as I have explained previously. There are other factors that must be considered in the possibility of salvation.

Nevertheless, the Catholic dogma EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS ("No Salvation Outside the Church") has been infallibly defined by numerous Councils and Popes. It is an issue that must be reckoned with in the discussion of the possibility of salvation for non-Catholics. Books and articles are listed below that further explain this teaching.

For more see the excellent articles at Matt's Catholic Apologetics

See also Are Protestants Christians?



The following is a De Fide teaching of the Catholic Church:


(from Ludwig Ott Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma page 312)

According to Catholic scholar Ludwig Ott, this teaching has been solemnly defined by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and affirmed by the Union Council of Florence, by Popes Innocent III, Boniface VIII, Clement VI, Benedict XIV, Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius XII (among others).

It is also the "unanimous conviction" of the Church Fathers that salvation cannot be achieved outside the Church.

(references found in The Faith of the Early Fathers by Jurgens, in The Christian Faith edited by Neuner/Dupuis, and "The Necessity of the Church for Salvation" by Peter A. Kwasniewski from The Catholic Faith magazine, July/Aug 1997)



"Those, indeed, who belong to God and to Jesus Christ -- they are with the bishop. And those who repent and come to the unity of the Church -- they too shall be of God, and will be living according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren: if anyone follow a schismatic, he will not inherit the Kingdom of God. If any man walk about with strange doctrine, he cannot lie down with the passion." (Letter to the Philadelphians 3:2-3)

ST. IRENAEUS (c. 180 - 199 AD)

"The preaching of the Church truly continues without change and is everywhere the same, and has the testimony of the Prophets and the Apostles and all their disciples...That in which we have faith is a firm system directed to the salvation of men; and, since it has been received by the Church, we guard it....

"In the Church, God has placed apostles, prophets and doctors, and all the other means through which the Spirit works; in all of which none have any part who do not conform to the Church. On the contrary, they defraud themselves of life by their wicked opinion and most wretched behavior. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God, there the Church and every grace. The Spirit, however, is Truth." (Against Heresies 3:24:1)

ORIGEN (c. 249 - 251 AD)

"If someone of that people wishes to be saved, let him come into this house [Rahab's house as a figure of the Church], so that he may be able to obtain his salvation....Let no one, then, be persuaded otherwise, nor let anyone deceive himself: outside this house, that is, outside the Church, no one is saved. For if anyone go outside, he shall be guilty of his own death." (Homilies on Josue 3:5)


"The Bride of Christ cannot be defiled. She is inviolate and chaste. She knows but one home, and with a chaste modesty she guards the one bedchamber. It is she that keeps us for God, she that seals for the kingdom the sons whom she bore. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress is separated from the promises of the Church; nor will he that forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is an alien, a worlding, and an enemy. He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his Mother. If anyone outside the ark of Noah was able to escape, then perhaps someone outside the pale of the Church may escape....

"Does anyone believe that in the Church this unity which proceeds from the divine stability and which is welded together after the heavenly patterns, can be divided, and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? Whoever holds not fast to this unity holds not to the law of God; neither does he keep faith with the Father and the Son, nor does he have life and salvation." (The Unity of the Catholic Church 6)

"If the Baptism of public witness and of blood cannot profit a heretic unto salvation, because there is no salvation outside the Church, how much the more worthless is it for him, in secret places and in the caves of robbers, dipped in the contagion of adulterous water, not merely not to have put off his former sins, but even to have added new and greater ones!" (Letters 73:21, c. 255 AD)

LACTANTIUS (c. 304 - 310 AD)

"It is, therefore, the Catholic Church alone which retains true worship. This is the fountain of truth; this, the domicile of faith; this, the temple of God. Whoever does not enter there or whoever does not go out from here, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation....Because, however, all the various groups of heretics are confident that they are the Christians, and think that theirs is the Catholic Church, let it be known: that is the true Church, in which there is confession and penance, and which takes a salubrious care of the sins and wounds to which the weak flesh is subject." (The Divine Institutions 4:30:11,13)


"The Church is called Catholic, then, because it extends over the whole world, from end to end of the earth; and because it teaches universally and infallibly each and every doctrine which must come to the knowledge of men, concerning things visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings every race of men into subjection to godliness, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals every class of sins, those committed with the soul and those with the body; and it possesses within itself every conceivable form of virtue, in deeds and in words and in the spiritual gifts of every description....And if ever you are visiting in cities, do not inquire simply where the House of the Lord is -- for the others, sects of the impious, attempt to call their dens the Houses of the Lord -- nor ask merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the name peculiar to this holy Church, the Mother of us all, which is the Spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God." (Catechetical Lectures 18:23,26)

ST. JEROME (c. 374 - 379 AD) Letter to Bishop of Rome, Pope Damasus

"I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but Your Blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the Rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah [the Church] will perish when the flood prevails..." (Letters 15:2)


"Sara said: 'Cast out the bondwoman and her son; for the son of a bondwoman shall not be heir with my son Isaac' [Genesis 21:10]. And the Church says: 'Cast out heresies and their children; for heretics shall not be heirs with Catholics.' But why shall they not be heirs? Are they not born of Abraham's seed? And have they not the Church's Baptism? They do have Baptism; and it would make the seed of Abraham an heir, if pride did not exclude them from inheritance. By the same word, by the same Sacrament you were born, but you will not come to the same inheritance of eternal life, unless you return to the Catholic Church." (Sermons 3, c. 391 - 430 AD)

"A man cannot have salvation, except in the Catholic Church. Outside the Catholic Church he can have everything except salvation. He can have honor, he can have Sacraments, he can sing Alleluia, he can answer Amen, he can possess the Gospel, he can have and preach faith in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; but never except in the Catholic Church will he be able to find salvation." (Discourse to Church at Caesarea 6, c. 418 AD)


"Anyone who is outside this Church, which received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, is walking a path not to heaven but to hell. He is not approaching the home of eternal life; rather, he is hastening to the torment of eternal death. And this is the case not only if he remains a pagan without Baptism, but even if, after having been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he continue as a heretic....For he is saved by the Sacrament of Baptism, whom the unity of love holds within the Catholic Church up to his passing from this present life." (The Forgiveness of Sins 1:19:2, c. 512 - 523 AD)

"From that time at which our Savior said: 'If anyone is not reborn of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven' [John 3:5], no one can, without the Sacrament of Baptism, except those who, in the Catholic Church, without Baptism pour out their blood for Christ, receive the kingdom of heaven and life eternal. Anyone who received the Sacrament of Baptism, whether in the Catholic Church or in a heretical or schismatic one, receives the whole Sacrament; but salvation, which is the strength of the Sacrament, he will not have, if he has had that Sacrament outside the Catholic Church.

"He must, therefore, return to the Church, not so that he might receive again the Sacrament of Baptism, which no one dare repeat in any baptized person, but so that he may receive eternal life in Catholic society, for the obtaining of which no one is suited who, even with the Sacrament of Baptism, remains estranged from the Catholic Church."

"Hold most firmly and never doubt in the least that no person baptized outside the Catholic Church can become a participant of eternal life if, before the end of this life, he has not returned and been incorporated in the Catholic Church." (The Rule of Faith 43, 80 c. 523 - 526 AD)


Psuedo-Athanasian Symbol Quicumque (c. end of fifth century)

"Whoever wishes to be saved must, first of all, hold the Catholic faith, for, unless he keeps it whole and inviolate, he will undoubtedly perish for ever. Now this is the Catholic faith: We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity....Thus, in all things, as has already been stated above, both unity in the Trinity and Trinity in the unity must be worshipped. Let him therefore who wishes to be saved think this of the Trinity.... For his eternal salvation it is necessary, however, that he should also faithfully believe in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here is the right faith....This is the Catholic faith. Unless one believes it faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved." (also known as The Athanasian Creed)

FOURTH LATERAN GENERAL COUNCIL (Symbol of the Lateran, 1215 AD)

"There is indeed one universal Church of the faithful outside which no one at all is saved [Una est fidelium universalis Ecclesia, extra quam nullus omnino salvatur], and in which the Priest Himself, Jesus Christ, is also the Sacrifice [idem ipse sacerdos est sacrificium Jesus Christus]. His Body and Blood are truly contained in the Sacrament of the Altar under the appearances of bread and wine, the bread being transubstantiated into the Body by the divine power and the wine into the Blood, to the effect that we receive from what is His in what He has received from what is ours [ut...accipiamus ipsi de suo, quod accepit ipse de nostro] in order that the mystery of unity may be accomplished."


POPE INNOCENT III (1198 - 1216 AD)

"There is only one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all can be saved."


"We are compelled to believe and to hold...that there is One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, outside of which there is neither salvation nor remission of sins."

POPE ST. PIUS V (1566 - 1572 AD)

"He who reigns on high, to whom is given all power in heaven and on earth, has entrusted His Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, outside of which there is no salvation, to one person on earth alone, namely, to Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and to Peter's successor, the Roman Pontiff, to be governed by him with the fullness of power."

POPE LEO XII (1823 - 1829 AD)

"If any man be outside the Church, he will be excluded from the number of sons, and will not have God for a Father since he has not the Church for a Mother."

POPE GREGORY XVI (1831 - 1846 AD)

"Preach the true Catholic faith; he who does not keep it whole and without error will undoubtedly be lost....Encourage union with the Catholic Church, for he who is separated from her will not have life."

POPE PIUS IX (1846 - 1878 AD)

"By Faith it is to be firmly held that outside the Apostolic Roman Church none can achieve salvation. This is the only ark of salvation. He who does not enter into it will perish in the flood. Nevertheless equally certainly it is to be held that those who suffer from invincible ignorance of the true religion are not for this reason guilty in the eyes of the Lord."

"The Church is One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman: unique, the Chair founded on Peter...Outside her fold is to be found neither the true faith nor eternal salvation, for it is impossible to have God for a Father if one has not the Church for a Mother."

POPE LEO XIII (1878 - 1903 AD)

"All who wish to reach salvation outside the Church are mistaken as to the way and are engaged in a futile effort....Christianity is, in fact, incarnate in the Catholic Church; it is identified with that perfect and spiritual society which is the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ and has for its visible head the Roman Pontiff.... By God's commandment, salvation is to be found nowhere but in the Church."

POPE ST. PIUS X (1903 - 1914 AD)

"Where is the road which leads us to Jesus Christ? It is before our eyes: the Church. It is our duty to recall to everyone, great and small, the absolute necessity we are under to have recourse to this Church in order to work out our eternal salvation."

POPE BENEDICT XV (1914 - 1922 AD)

"In Holy Mother Church lies all hope of eternal salvation.... If anyone is outside of the ark of Noah, he will perish in the overwhelming flood."

POPE PIUS XII (1939 - 1958 AD)

"If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ -- which is the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church -- we shall find no expression more noble, more sublime or more divine than the phrase which calls it 'the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ' ....

"The Church has received in totality all the means of salvation left by the Redeemer...Christ has entrusted His Church with all truth and all grace."

POPE JOHN XXIII (1958 - 1963 AD)

"It is impossible to be joined to God except through Jesus Christ; it is impossible to be united to Christ except in and through the Church which is His Mystical Body."

POPE PAUL VI (1963 - 1978 AD)

"We believe that 'the Church is necessary for salvation. For, Christ, who is the sole Mediator and the one way to salvation, makes Himself present for us in His Body which is the Church' [Vatican II LG 14]. But the divine design of salvation embraces all human beings; and those 'who without fault on their part do not know the Gospel of Christ and His Church but seek God with a sincere heart, and under the influence of grace endeavour to do His will as recognised through the prompting of their conscience,' they too in a manner known only to God 'can obtain eternal salvation' [LG 16]."

POPE JOHN PAUL II (1978 - present)

"The mystery of salvation is revealed to us and is continued and accomplished in the Church, and from this genuine and single source it reaches the whole world....We have to be conscious of and absorb this fundamental and revealed truth, contained in the phrase consecrated by tradition: 'There is no salvation outside the Church.' From her alone there flows surely and fully the life-giving force destined, in Christ and in His Spirit, to renew the whole of humanity, and therefore directing every human being to become a part of the Mystical Body of Christ."

"It is a revealed truth that there is salvation only and exclusively in Christ. The Church, inasmuch as it is the Body of Christ, is simply an instrument of this salvation...People are saved through the Church, they are saved in the Church, but they always are saved by the grace of Christ....This is the authentic meaning of the well-known statement 'Outside the Church there is no salvation.'"



Articles from the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967)

"Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus" "Salvation, Necessity of the Church for" "Infidel, Salvation of the" "Unam Sanctam" "Boniface VIII, Pope" "Membership in the Church" "Mystici Corporis" "Baptism" "Ignorance" "Teaching Authority of the Church (Magisterium)" "Votum" [Desire] "Mediation of the Church" "Necessity of Means" "Necessity of Precept"

Articles from the old Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)

"Unam Sanctam" "Boniface VIII" "Necessity" "Church" "Infidels"


Books on the Papacy and Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

THE CHRISTIAN FAITH in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church edited by J. Neuner and J. Dupuis, SJ (1996 edition)

FUNDAMENTALS OF CATHOLIC DOGMA by Ludwig Ott (Tan Books, 1974)

THE CATHOLIC CATECHISM by John A. Hardon, SJ (Doubleday, 1975)


CATHOLIC APOLOGETICS TODAY: Answers to Modern Critics by Fr. William G. Most (Tan Books, 1986)

THE FAITH OF THE EARLY FATHERS (3 volumes) by Fr. William A. Jurgens


Taped Debate: Gerry Matatics, et al versus St. Benedict Center "Feeneyites" "Do Only Baptized Roman Catholics Go To Heaven?" (early 1996)


Books on Pope Boniface VIII and Unam Sanctam (US)

BONIFACE VIII by T.S.R. Boase (London, 1933)

PHILIP THE FAIR AND BONIFACE VIII : State vs. Papacy edited by Charles T. Wood (1967), including two commentaries on US

"The Pope's Political Dynamite" by T.S.R. Boase (excerpts from book)

"Boniface's Theological Conservatism" by Jean Riviere

A HISTORY OF THE CHURCH by Philip Hughes (1947), Volume 3

HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH by Philip Schaff (1910), Volume 6



Articles from The Catholic Faith magazine (July/August 1997)

"The Church as the Mystical Body of Christ" by John A. Hardon, SJ

"The Necessity of the Church for Salvation" by Peter A. Kwasniewski


Other Recommended Books by Catholics and Non-Catholics

THE BOSTON HERESY CASE in View of the Secularization of Religion: A Case Study in the Sociology of Religion by George B. Pepper (1988)

(History of Fr. Leonard Feeney and the St. Benedict Center)

THE SALVATION OF THE UNBELIEVER by Riccardo Lombardi, SJ (translated from the Italian by Dorothy M. White, The Newman Press, 1956)

(Scholarly study covering all the tough issues and questions involved)

MORE THAN ONE WAY? Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World edited by Evangelicals Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips with chapters and responses by John Hick, Clark H. Pinnock, Alister E. McGrath, R. Douglas Geivett and W. Gary Phillips (Zondervan Publishing, 1995)

THE GAGGING OF GOD: Christianity Confronts Pluralism by Evangelical D.A. Carson (Zondervan Publishing, 1996) [640 pages]

For more see the excellent articles at Matt's Catholic Apologetics

See also Are Protestants Christians?

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