This culminates the long tradition beginning with Cyprian (d. 258) and Augustine (d. 430) and gives the official authority of the Roman Catholic Church to Cyprian’s statement that there is only one true church, outside of which there is no salvation. It was later confirmed by the Council of Trent, as well as by Vatican I and Vatican II.

Thomas Aquinas (AD 1224–1274)

The angelic doctor held that “those who lack baptism in this fashion [by rejecting it] cannot attain salvation because they are neither sacramentally nor intentionally incorporated into Christ through whom alone salvation is possible.”15 And since baptism is a sacrament of the church, this would mean that salvation is not possible apart from what is ordained by the church.

However, Aquinas allowed for baptism by intention, as is indicated by the above phrase “intentionally incorporated into Christ.” Salvation is also possible by fire (i.e., by martyrdom) without water baptism. Aquinas also affirmed, “No one achieves eternal life if he is not free from all sin and debt of punishment. Such complete absolution takes place in the reception of baptism and in martyrdom.”16

Pope Boniface VIII (AD 1234–1303)

In 1302 the Roman pontiff Boniface VIII made a similar pronouncement on the unique claim of the Roman Church: “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

The Council of Trent (AD 1565)

“I acknowledge the holy catholic and apostolic Roman Church as the mother and teacher of all churches; and to the Roman Pontiff, the successor of the blessed Peter, chief of the Apostles and vicar of Jesus Christ, I promise and swear true obedience. . . . This true Catholic faith, outside of which no one can be saved, and which of my own accord I now profess and truly hold, I do promise, vow, and swear, that I will, with the help of God, most faithfully retain and profess the same to the last breath of life pure and inviolable.”17

Vatican I Council (AD 1870)

Here Pope Pius IX (1792–1878) said, “By faith it is to be firmly held that outside the Apostolic Roman Church none can achieve salvation. [Following Cyprian’s analogy, he added] This is the only ark of salvation. He who does not enter into it will perish in the flood.” But Pope Pius IX offered an important exception: “Nevertheless, equally certain it is to be held that those who suffer invincible ignorance of the true religion, are not for this reason guilty in the eyes of the Lord.”18

Vatican II (AD 1962–1965)

Despite the appearance of liberalizing the Roman Church, Vatican II held the same view as previous Catholic pronouncements. It declared: “The church is a saving institution” and “the Church is not only a communion between brother and sister, with Christ at its head, it is also an institution to which the universal mission of salvation has been entrusted.

. . . For this reason, the Church was presented by the Second Vatican Council as a reality . . . established as ‘the universal sacrament of salvation’ through the action of the Holy Spirit.”19

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (AD 1994)

Even in this most recent and highly heralded Catholic Catechism, the claim of the Catholic Church to being the one and only true church of Christ on earth remains. It speaks of “the one and only Church of Christ.”20 And in its “Decree on Ecumenism”21 it explains:

“For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.”