For centuries, the Catholic Church has held to a rather strict doctrine: extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. For non-Latin speakers, “Outside of the Church, there is no salvation.” For Catholics of a certain age, it was a statement that was uttered often and defined the way Catholics related to non-Catholics, treating people of other faiths with respect, but sorrowfully looking upon their souls as lost.
And then all of the sudden, the phrase disappeared from our common language. Now, you would almost never hear such a statement spoken in a mainstream Catholic Church. It just seems so… politically incorrect, right? In a world where everyone is free to choose what to believe and can’t be judged by it, we would never say something so arrogant.
Well… it might surprise people that the Church has not abandoned this long-held stance. In fact, it has reaffirmed it even after the Second Vatican Council and up through Pope John Paul II’s papacy. If you read the Catechism, you will find this stance, quite literally “on the books.”
And yet, as some in the Church—responding to what they perceive to be a softening of the Church due precisely because of a desire to be politically correct—are bringing back this language in their everyday speech, it is important to know the history of such a phrase and how it doesn’t mean the same thing today as when it was first uttered. As Catholics, we may still hold to the teaching, but the teaching is much more nuanced than what is understood at face value.