living and dying in this world without God, they are
exposed to ultimate despair.
To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin,
the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his
Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must
rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world recon-
ciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by
the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.”
According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is
prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.
“Outside the Church there is no salvation”
How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated
by the Church Fathers?
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
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.
“Although in ways known to himself God can lead those
who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to
that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church
334 St. Augustine,
96, 7, 9: PL 38, 588; St. Ambrose,
18, 118: PL 16,
297B; cf. already
335 Cf. Cyprian,
73.21: PL 3, 1169;
PL 4, 509-536.
16; cf. DS 3866-3872.