The Background of Rome’s Claims

Roman Catholicism, claiming unbroken lineage of apostolic succession since Peter, claims that through it alone can anyone receive the fullness of salvation. Such salvation supposedly comes about through the sacraments, through which one receives the actual body and blood of Christ, properly administered only through an ordained priest in the line of apostolic succession.

Cyprian (AD 259)

The bishop of Carthage in North Africa wrote:

“Can anyone water from the Church’s fountains who is not within the Church? But . . . they know that there is no baptism without, and that no remission of sins can be given outside the Church. For it is the Church alone which, conjoined and united with Christ, spiritually bears sons. But as the birth of Christians is in baptism, while the generation and sanctification of baptism are with the spouse of Christ alone, who is able spiritually to conceive and to bear sons to God, where and of whom and to whom is he born, who is not a son of the church, so that he should have God as his Father, before he has had the Church for his mother? But if His Church is a garden enclosed, and a fountain sealed [Cant. 4:12, 13], how can he who is not in the Church enter into the same garden, or drink from its fountain? Moreover, Peter himself, showing and vindicating the unity, has commanded and warned us that we cannot be saved, except by the one only baptism of one Church [by the ark illustration in 1 Pet. 3:20, 21].”6

Of course, at the time Cyprian’s statement had no creedal or ecumenical authority. However, it was picked up later by the more influential bishop Augustine of Hippo in North Africa, who did preside over a local council in his city (AD 410).

St. Augustine (AD 354–430)

Citing Cyprian, Augustine wrote: “‘Salvation,’ he says, ‘is not without the Church.’ Who says that it is? And therefore, whatever men have that belongs to the Church, it profits them nothing towards salvation outside the Church.”7 Indeed, Augustine said elsewhere, “The Catholic Church alone is the body of Christ, of which He is the Head and Saviour of His body. Outside this body the Holy Spirit giveth life to no one. . . Therefore they have not the Holy Ghost who are outside the Church.”8

Of course, Augustine does not take this absolutely, since he allows for baptism by martyrdom and by intent.9 He wrote, “That the place of baptism is sometimes supplied by martyrdom is supported by an argument by no means trivial,” namely, Jesus granting paradise to the dying thief without water baptism.10

“Imperial Edict” (AD 680)

This edict, following the Third Council of Constantinople, was posted in the church, warning, “No one henceforth should hold a different faith, or venture to teach one will [in Christ] and one nergy [operation of the will]. In no other than the orthodox faith could men be saved.”11

The Second Council of Nicea (AD 787)

The primacy of Peter and of apostolic succession are emphasized here: “For the blessed Peter himself, the chief of the Apostles, who first sat in the Apostolic See, let the chiefship of his Apostolate, and pastoral care, that his successors who are to sit in his most holy seat for ever.”12 It further speaks of “the holy Roman Church, which has prior rank, which is the head of all the Churches of God.”13

Fourth Lateran Council (AD 1215)

“One indeed is the universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved, in which the priest himself is sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the species of bread and wine; the bread changed into His body by the divine power of transubstantiation, and the wine into the blood. . . . And surely no one can accomplish this sacrament except a priest who has been rightly ordained according to the keys of the Church, which Jesus Christ Himself conceded to the Apostles and to their successors.” (Fourth Lateran Council, 1215)14