How is there no salvation outside of the Church?

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Question: The Catholic Church says in Unam Sanctum (A.D. 1302), “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” But Lumen Gentium (A.D. 1963) says, “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God.” How are these differences reconciled? 

John Clubine, Etobicoke, Ontario

Answer: The Church is the Body of Christ, the living active presence of Jesus Christ in the world today. Jesus still teaches us, heals us, feeds us, forgives us and perfects us through his body, the Church. Therefore, no one can knowingly reject the need for the Church in salvation. And this is what Unam Sanctam rightly reiterates from the doctrines of the early Church: Nulla salus extra ecclesiam (“There is no salvation outside the Church”). 

Lumen Gentium, however, addresses those who do not knowingly reject the Church. Some have not heard or understood this need to accept the Church. Others may have heard, but something prevented this requirement from being effectively conveyed to them. This is not a blank check for all outside the Church. But God, who knows the hearts of all and is just, will surely consider this. 

Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at Send questions to