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"Is Not the Truth the Truth?" Reconsidering the Doctrine of EENS

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

I may not be as classy a cut-up as Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff, or adept in pontificating when it comes to setting out the truth, but I am sincerely earnest and deadly serious when it comes to discussing the truths of our Catholic faith. That there are truths, defined doctrinally as dogmas that the Catholic Church puts forward by Popes and Councils for our belief, assertions proclaimed as necessary for salvation, no sane believer would deny. And yet, such is the case here: almost every priest and Catholic lay person I know disapproves of, argues against or holds serous mental reservations regarding the Church’s very unpopular official teaching: Outside the Church there is no Salvation (Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus).

Seriously, Fr. Jon? You believe that? My humble reply: I believe what the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church teaches. I am no better than Her, being but a member, and certainly am in no position to judge the Almighty Lord who providentially guides and directs the faithful through the lineage of St. Peter. So, let’s get down to it: what does the Church explicitly say?

“There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved.” (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.) [1]

“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.” (Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302.)

“The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.” (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.)

“Folks, thar she blows,” in all her volcanic charity from which modern man cannot distance himself quickly enough. But the fact is, the truth is, these dogmas are put forward as authentically divine teaching to which we are bound to accept in faith. Many argue, “how can we accept these teachings at face value?” I wonder, instead, how can we not--despite what Vatican II claims (as a pastoral council), viz., that “anonymous Christians” have a certain hope of salvation? I care not to discuss here the confusing issue that one pastoral council has raised criticism against solid tradition passed on by several doctrinal sources as worthy of firm adherence. Rather, my task is much more humble: I wish only to invite the reader to reflect with the help of St. Jerome and Scriptures [2], that what has been taught with authority by Holy Mother Church is not only presentable and acceptable, but desirable and worthy of all assent. (St. Jerome's homily follows in Italics; my comments pertaining to this study, interspersed in regular print.)


St. Jerome’s Homily on Psalm 42 to the newly baptized (found in the breviary today, Thirteenth Thursday in Ordinary Time):

I will go up to your glorious dwelling-place

Like a deer that longs for springs of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. Now just as those deer long for springs of water, so do our deer. Fleeing Egypt – that is, fleeing worldly things – they have killed Pharaoh and drowned all his army in the waters of baptism. Now, after the devil has been killed, they long for the springs of the Church: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Reflecting on a psalm of Scriptures, St. Jerome addresses the newly baptized (and all the baptized) urgent need for adhering to truth as revealed by God. Who does not long for truth? And under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, reflecting on the nature of Truth sets us free, knowing well that God cannot deceive or be deceived in his revelation.

We can find the Father described as a spring in Jeremiah: They have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, to dig themselves leaky cisterns that cannot hold water. About the Son we read somewhere: They have forsaken the fountain of wisdom. Finally, of the Holy Spirit: Anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will have a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life. Here the evangelist is saying that the words of the Saviour come from the Holy Spirit. So you see it very clearly confirmed that the springs that water the Church are the mystery of the Trinity.

A cursory knowledge of Salvation History is enough to confirm the fact that humanity has been derelict in its duty of seeking God’s wisdom, that eternal spring of grace which flows from the Trinity to the members of God’s chosen people, and applying the salve which heals our sinful wounds and restores us to a life of sanctifying grace. Either the Church is directed by God who cannot deceive or be deceived, or she is a patent liar not worthy of the mockery bestowed by Shakespeare on his beloved Falstaff.

These are the springs that believers long for. These are the springs that the souls of the baptized seek, saying My soul thirsts for God, the living God. The soul does not just feel like seeing God, it longs for him fervently, it is on fire with thirst for him. Before they received baptism, the catechumens spoke to each other and said, When shall I come and stand before the face of God? What they asked for has now been given them: they have come and stood before the face of God. They have come before the altar and been confronted by the mystery of the Saviour.

We come as beggars before God, children in All Hallow’s Eve garb, hoping for treats and not tricks. How do you think our gracious God would respond to His children, knocking, asking, seeking for truth that saves us? Would He mislead? Could He allow His Church to mislead? In the words of President Biden, “C’mon man,” get real!

Welcomed into the body of Christ and reborn in the springs of life, they confidently say: I will go up to your glorious dwelling-place and into the house of God. The house of God is the Church, the ‘dwelling-place’ where dwells the sound of joy and thanksgiving, the crowds at the festival.

What is at stake here? The veritable honor of God, first and foremost. But also, most crucially for us believers, Salvation! The Church passes on (She does not create) truths revealed by God. St. Thomas Aquinas notes that theology is the highest of sciences because it begins not with self-evident principles or experiential postulates, but on truth revealed by God. It is God who tells us, through the Church, that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Our Savior. Jesus did not argue with people who walked away from his teaching recorded in the gospels. Rather, he doubled down, “Truly, truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). And this is exactly how the Church addresses the faithful over the necessity of baptism: “We declare, say, define, and pronounce…” There is no room for error here. What follows is not suggested for our humble consideration. Rather, Popes and Councils have affirmed these truths, throughout history, establishing on divine authority that baptism and membership in the Church is necessary for salvation. Who are we to complain, query, quarrel or disregard? And yet, few living in modern enlightenment hold to these defined doctrines. Does that make them less forceful? By no means. On the contrary, I fear it shows that the faithful are not yet ready for meat, but only for milk (“I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” --St. Paul, 1 Cor. 3:2)

So then, you who have followed our lead and robed yourselves in Christ, let the words of God lift you out of this turbulent age as a net lifts the little fishes out of the water. In us the laws of nature are turned upside down – for fish, taken out of the water, die; but the Apostles have fished us out of the sea that is this world not to kill us but to bring us from death to life. As long as we were in the world, our eyes were peering into the depths and we led our lives in the mud. Now we have been torn from the waves, we begin to see the true light. Moved by overwhelming joy, we say to our souls: Put your hope in the Lord, I will praise him still, my saviour and my God.

St. Jerome almost exuberantly hails us, little fish that we are, to take up by the truths of faith and receive the salvation they signify in the sacraments. Of course, those aren’t his exact words nor his specific sentiment, but the applicable meaning is nonetheless present: put your faith in God, in Christ, in His Church, in her infallible teachings and pronouncements and believe! We are but small fish in a large pond; we may be ignorant and easily deceived, but God cannot be deceived and will not lie.

[1] One place you can find these dogmas is on this website,, though there are many other ways to verify that such are the official pronouncements of the Catholic Church. There are many more pronouncements to the same effect, but for that, you, dear reader, must investigate on your own.

[2] Psalm 42

As a deer longs for flowing streams,

so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God,

for the living God.

When shall I come and behold

the face of God?

My tears have been my food

day and night,

while people say to me continually,

“Where is your God?”

These things I remember,

as I pour out my soul:

how I went with the throng[a]

and led them in procession to the house of God,

with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,

a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God, for I shall again praise him,

my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;

therefore I remember you

from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,

from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep

at the thunder of your torrents;

all your waves and your billows

have gone over me.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,

and at night his song is with me,

a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock,

“Why have you forgotten me?

Why must I walk about mournfully

because the enemy oppresses me?”

As with a deadly wound in my body,

my adversaries taunt me,

while they say to me continually,

“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God, for I shall again praise him,

my help and my God.

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Deacon Schwerdt
Deacon Schwerdt
Jul 07, 2023

Mea culpa, Fr. Jon. Today in the Divine Office I prayed the optional memorial for St. Maria Goretti and skipped St. Jerome's sermon. Last month when we met you graciously gave me a card with a 3rd class relic of St. Gemma Galgani, and I have been reading her Diary, and watched a video this evening from Full Sheen Ahead on St. Maria Goretti.

Following is a schema of a working draft of the 2nd Vatican Council that I found some years ago. It's devoid of the ambiguity of Lumen Gentium, #16.






8. The Necessity of the Church for…


John Gist
John Gist
Jul 07, 2023

Excellent article, Father! Humans could be called the truth seeking animal and there can only be one absolute truth, not many. Revealed truth obviously trumps the subjective truths so popular today. Bravo!

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