March 20th, 2013
(Latin, “outside the church, no salvation”)
This phrase has a long theological history, being coined by Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in the third century, but its meaning today is debated among scholars. While it expresses the belief that the church is necessary for salvation, this does not speak to the issues raised by the multiple divisions within the church that followed through the Middle Ages and into the Reformation and what is meant, in light of such, by the word “church.” All traditions of Christianity – Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox – can claim this phrase as substantially correct, but all three traditions would define it with a particular nuance which would be rejected by the others. Protestants would define “church” as the universal or invisible body of Christ that is not necessarily represented by one visible expression, tradition, or denomination. Both Catholics and Orthodox would claim that their tradition is the true representation of the “church” today, outside of which there is no salvation. However, one might find themselves within this “church” without knowledge of his or her membership.