EWTN Catholic Q&A
Pope Eugene IV, Cantate Domino, 1441
Question from James O'Reilly on 04-05-2002:

Dear Dr. Carroll, I have a question regarding a papal encyclical. I sometimes go to a Christian website (Carm.org), where they have discussion forums. There is a Catholic discussion forum there, where Catholics and non-Catholics discuss the Faith. Anyway, getting to the point, a Protestant Christian posted some papal encyclicals and asked the Catholics to explain. I'm not sure if the encyclicals given were legitimate, but they do look damaging (After having been to several Catholic websites that give links to encyclicals, I haven't found one that gives any from the 15th century - 1400s). Here is what was posted by the Protestant:

" The Church Teaches Ex Cathedra: "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 ever be partakers of eternal life, but that they are to go into the eternal fire "which was prepared for the devil, and his angels," (Mt. 25:41) 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 from the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and that they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, almsdeeds, and other works of Christian piety and 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 they abide within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church." (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441) "

The Protestant (and others who responded to the post of this document) zeroed in on the end, where it says "No one... even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved..."

If this document is authentic, how can I correctly understand it, in light of what is written in the new Catechism? Also, how am I to understand it in the correct context of the time and place it was written in?

Thanks and God bless, James

Answer by Dr. Warren Carroll on 04-06-2002:

This document is authentic. from the Council of Florence. Father Christopher Buckner of our diocese, commenting on it in an article, describes its historical context as follows: "The key to this passage is the four categories mentioned, pagans being listed first. They have received none of the message of salvation. The Jews have received only part of the message, that of the Old Testament. Third are the heretics who, although having received the complete message of salvation, seem to have lost some of it by way of a conscious separation from the Church. The fourth group is the one to whom the document is primarily directed, the schismatics. They have deliberately cut themselves off from the Church by a complete break from its head, the Pope. The reason for the strength of this statement was that it was hoped that it would bring the separated Eastern Churches back into unity with Rome. Such a strong statenebt was issued againnst the schismatics because of the relation between unity and charity. St. Thomas holds that unity is made by charity and therefore the schismatics are separating themselves from the unity and therefore the charity of the Church. The concern of the Council of Florence was pastoral; it was trying to bring back lost sheep." The Church has always taught that no soul is lost except by its own fault, its rejection of truth and charity. Simply adhering to another religion does not necessarily mean such rejection. - Dr. Carroll