No one will be saved unless all are saved


There is a branch of Christian theology, called theology of religions, which examines the plurality of religions, and is working to develop a Christian theology of religious pluralism1, is open to inter-religious encounters2 or comparative studies of religions3.

The phrase in exergue, “no one will be saved unless all are,” is taken from Rasā’il Iḫwān al-Ṣafā, the Epistles of the Brethren in Purity. This is a sum of 52 “philosophical” epistles, divided into four volumes4, dating from the late 9th century (Abbasid period) and probably originating from Iraq, possibly written by the great Pythagorean philosopher Aḥmad b. al-Ṭayyib al-Sarakhsī (833-899), disciple of al-Kindī (801-873).

This phrase echoes a French public craze for the idea that “we’ll all go to heaven”5 and interests us, a priori, in that it resonates harmoniously with our work on man’s eschatological outlook 6, although for our part we are more suggestive than categorical.

Theological Positions on the Plurality of Religions

Metaphysically, with regard to the multiplicity of religions and their commonalities, one will discuss the transcendent unity of religions, or their immanent unity, or their analogical unity (Jean Borella)7 and we must be careful not to endow theoretical metaphysics (Guénon) with any spiritual operativity8 nor to confuse a religio perennis (Schuon), a simple “concept of religion in general” without operationality, with “the saving and deificating efficacy that belongs only to instituted religion” (Jean Borella)9.

In the theology of religions, and especially after Nostra Ætate10 and the intensification of Western multiculturalism, “religious pluralism tends to become the horizon of 21st-century theology”11.

Since then, clear-cut positions have been established in terms of salvation12 summarized as follows:

  • Exclusivism through ecclesiocentrism; typically the formula: “Outside the Church no salvation”13. A “Koranocentrism” (“No salvation outside Islam”14.
  • Inclusivism15 by Christocentrism: Christ’s universality crosses all boundaries!
  • Pluralism through theocentrism (God the Creator) or mystical pneumatocentrism (“participation of the human spirit in the divine Spirit”)16. This pluralism can be seen as “mutualism”17 constructive (the other reveals the one18 or a pure “diversialism”19 rather neutral, if not indifferent.

Note: it is worth mentioning an interesting alternative according to four models of theology of religions20 which differs, but without major divergences, from the three positions previously summarized:

  • the “Replacement” model (Christianity will eventually replace all other religions); that is an exclusivism that becomes inclusive through a provisional pluralism ;
  • the “Fulfillment” model (God reveals Himself to all, including those outside the Church’s borders, cf. Karl Rahner, Gavin D’Costa, Jacques Dupuis); that is an integral inclusivism;
  • the model of “Reciprocity” (religions are on an equal footing); this is the model of plurality with its three gateways: historical-philosophical (cf. John Hick), mystical (cf. Raimon Panikkar) or ethical-practical (cf. Michael Amaladoss); that is mutualist pluralism;
  • that of “Acceptance“, where the “incommensurability” of traditions does not prevent dialogue; that is a diversialism!21

An Axiomatic to be Completed?

The missing axiomatic (“unexplained” previously)22 that we can associate with these positionings is as follows:

  1. Axiom of salvation. God wants everyone to be saved.
  2. Axiom of the path. He has traced a path of salvation.
  3. Axiom of truth. Whoever does not follow this path cannot be saved.

Thus, inclusivism renounces the third axiom, exclusivism the first and pluralism the second23.

Guillaume de Vaulx d’Arcy’s idea was to be able to supplement this axiomatic with teaching by the Brethren in Purity.

The Thesis of the Iḫwān al-Ṣafā.

Neither strict pluralism -thanks to a hierarchization of paths- nor strict mutualism à la Knitter -because the perspective is the salvation, not of the individual, but of the whole-, the thesis of the Iḫwān al-Ṣafā is that of a complementarism, that of individuals as well as that of a genuine openness to all doctrines :

For our point of view and our doctrine encompass all doctrines, bring together all sciences, for the reason that they consist in the study of all beings without exception, sensible and intelligible, from the first to the last, apparent or interior, manifest or hidden, according to the truth insofar as all derive from a single principle, a single cause, a single world, a single soul that encompasses its different substances, divergent kinds, varied species and variable parts (epistle 45, IV 41-42).

“The complete man is only the collective man, the individual is only a blind man or a legless man, as the parable illustrates” (epistle 31, III 156-160)24. Individual finitude calls for the reunion of individuals “in the affection of their hearts” (epistle 45, IV 60), and friendship between all (individuals, groups, nations) frees us from natural individual differences (qualities, aptitudes, skills…) as well as socio-cultural and economic differences. “It is therefore human brotherhood alone that gives access to the beyond”25.

Thus, the axiom of the presupposition of the other three positions is added:

4. Axiom of presupposition. God agrees to save only some.

This axiom, which sums up what exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism implicitly accept, of course expresses what the Brethren in Purity refuse to believe according to the evidence of complementarianism. In particular, when applied to axiom 2 (“He has traced a way of salvation”), complementarianism means any traced way. This position has only the appearance of pluralism, for the approach of the Brethren in Purity is not to accept the various paths as such, but to integrate them (not syncretically, but hierarchically). In this respect, it should be remembered that the doctrine of the many special and hidden paths to salvation has always remained in force in the Catholic Church.

Of course, there may be some who are excluded, but these are the ones who exclude themselves: die-hard atheists (in line with man’s intrinsic, constitutional freedom26 and fanatics (because they are egocentric and selfish)27.

A Hierarchy of Axioms and a Perspective of Salvation

The integration of the Brethren in Purity point of view into a properly Catholic theology of religion is justified by the universality of the “radical compassion embodied in Christ”28.

More generally, the following considerations seem to us to allow us, rather than classifying opinions, however theological, to converge towards a common position within Christianity, which cannot overlook what St. Paul says: “God is the Saviour of all men, and especially of the faithful” (1 Tim. IV, 10) – and therefore of the others too.

A Hierarchy of Axioms.

It seems to us that the proposed axioms should be placed in a hierarchy.

Metaphysics. The Axiom of Salvation (God wills the salvation of all) is the most essential, the most metaphysical, and the very foundation of Creation. It is illustrated by the notion of “friendship” or “fraternity”, universally discovered in the West from Pythagoras to Fourier29, via Plato and the Brethren in Purity mentioned here. This is the foundation of Christianity, in which “God is love” (1 Jn IV, 8), and the first two commandments are “similar”30 and, specifically, do not only love your neighbor as yourself (Mt XXII, 39), but also love your enemies (Mt V, 44).

Anthropological. The Axiom of the presupposition (God consents to save only some) is anthropological, reminding us simply that the freedom given to man allows him to refuse the invitation, the call to which all can respond31. This, we believe, is the only acceptable interpretation.

Cosmological. With the Axiom of the Way (He has traced a path of salvation), we leave the properly metaphysical, for its diffraction or dispersion in the cosmological, in human existence. The constituted Church is certainly the mystical body of Christ, but Christ is far vaster than it: He contains all creation, He came to save all men, He is our only neighbor and the destiny of the world. “Christ belongs not only to Christianity, but to the whole world”, said Gandhi (Secrets about Christianity, n.d.). The Creation of the world is first and foremost a universal reality, whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, agnostic or atheist… This Creation precedes religions: these “condescensions” (sugkatabasis) of God towards the different parts of humanity (Origen). Thus, within humanity, “the Church is, in Christ, in a certain sense the sacrament, that is to say, both the sign and the means of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race32.

Tempo-topographic“. As for the Axiom of Truth (He who does not follow this way cannot be saved) or the old formula, now taken out of context: “outside the Church there is no salvation”, we are in the “tempo-topographic”, that hic et nunc which varies in time and space and which was, at the time of this famous phrase, the simple request of S. Cyprian of Carthage to the bishop of Rome about the need to re-administer the sacrament of baptism to repentant heretics who had previously left the Church and were asking to be readmitted33

This is because “the Spirit of Truth operates beyond the visible frontiers of the Mystical Body”, as Pope John Paul II pointed out34. So, even if this formula “outside Christ, no salvation” is well understood in its geo-historical context, it presents a fundamental flaw: theologically and metaphysically, there is nothing outside Christ, so why speak of such an outside?

The Prospect of Salvation

This “unity of the whole human race”, recalled in Lumen gentium, echoes John’s formula for Christian eschatology: “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us” (XVII, 21), or “that they may be one as we are one, I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfectly one” (XVII, 23). In short, “salvation is in Christ” (collectively), whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not. And if not everything is decided in the course of one’s earthly existence, we can assume that the question will arise at the eschatological moment of death (see the article “The Christological Hologram or the Hologramic Christ”, on this website). For those who miss this moment, it has been said that eternal damnation is not scriptural and therefore “that all shall be saved”35, so that, put another way, “no one will be saved unless all are saved”.


  1. cf. Jacques Dupuis, Vers une théologie chrétienne du pluralisme religieux (“Towards a Christian theology of religious pluralism”), Cogitatio Fidei n° 200, Paris: Cerf, 1997, 655 pages or, more succinctly, Jean Borella, “Problématique de l’unité des religions” (“Problematic of unity of religions”), afterword to Bruno Bérard, Introduction à une métaphysique des mystères chrétiens, en regard des traditions bouddhique, hindoue, islamiques, judaïque et taoïste (“Introduction to a metaphysics of the Christian mysteries, with reference to the Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Judaic and Taoist traditions”) Paris: L’Harmattan, 2005, imprimatur of the Diocese of Paris.[]
  2. For example Maurice Bellet, Le meurtre de la parole, ou l’épreuve du dialogue (“The murder of words, or the test of dialogue”) Paris: Bayard, 2006, or even, a little old, but still an essential reference: Un moine d’Occident (“A Monk of the West”) (Elie Lemoine), Doctrine de la non-dualité (Advaita-vâda) et christianisme. Jalons pour un accord doctrinal entre l’Église et le Vedânta (“Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism”, trans. Alvin Moore Jr.), Préface de Jean Tourniac, Paris : Dervy-Livres, 1982.[]
  3. Such as Pierre Gisel’s Les monothéismes. Judaism, Christianity, Islam (“Monotheisms. Judaism, Christianity, Islam”), Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2006.[]
  4. Mathematics (17 epistles), natural sciences (14), psychological and rational sciences (10), theological sciences (11). []
  5. famous song by Michel Polnareff (1944-) released in 1972 (lyrics by Jean-Loup Dabadie), immediately entered the hit parade, and taken up by “les Enfoirés” as the anthem for the tenth anniversary of Restos du Cœur.[]
  6. see Bruno Bérard and Aldo La Fata, Christian Words, Misunderstanding and Truth (forthcoming, 2024), particularly the chapters “Outside the Church No Salvation” and “There Are Many Called, But Few Chosen” ; the article “The Christological Hologram or the Hologramic Christ” (on this website) or, in Métaphysique du paradoxe, t. 2, chapter VII. Paradoxe et eschatologie, l’au-delà de l’être (“Paradox and eschatology, the beyond of being”.[]
  7. Cf. “Problématique de l’unité des religions”/“The problem of unity of religions”, afterword to Bruno Bérard, Introduction à une métaphysique des mystères chrétiens/“Introduction to a metaphysics of the Christian mysteries”, op. ct.[]
  8. This is why contemporary metaphysicians, Guénon, Schuon, Coomaraswamy, Burckhardt, Schaya, Borella… are all of a particular faith: Islam, Hinduism, Christianity.[]
  9. “La religio perennis n’est pas une religion”/“The religio perennis is not a religion”, René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon, Héritages et controverses (“René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon, Heritages and Controversies”), L’Harmattan, 2023.[]
  10. Declaration adopted in 1965 by the Catholic Church recognizing what is “true and holy” in other religions, which “often reflect a ray of the truth that enlightens all men” (§ 2).[]
  11. Claude Geffré, “La théologie des religions ou le salut d’une humanité plurielle”(“The theology of religions or the salvation of a plural humanity”), Raisons politiques 4, 2001, pp. 104-120.[]
  12. A long-standing synthesis in Alan Race, Christians and Religious Pluralism, London, New York: SCM Press, Orbis Books, 1983.[]
  13. This adage, this “falsely clear axiom” (Yves Congar, Essais œcuméniques, Centurion, 1984, p. 85), “outside the Church, no salvation” is found in Cyprian of Carthage (3rd century) in the form: “Salus extra ecclesiam non est” (Epistula 4, 4 and Epistula 73, 21, 2) and in Origen: “outside the Church, no one is saved” (“extra Ecclesiam, nemo salvatur“, Homélies sur le Livre de Josué/Homeliae in librum Jesu nave, III, 5, Patrologie Grecque (Greek patrology), t. XII, col. 841-842). See Christian Words, op.cit., comments 5-8.[]
  14. Cf. Emmanuel Pisani, “Hors de l’islam point de salut ? Eschatologie d’al-Ghazālī” (“No salvation outside islam? Eschatology of al-Ghazālī”), MIDÉO 30, 2014, p. 139-184.[]
  15. Cf. Karl Rahner (1904-1984), Traité fondamental de la foi. Introduction au concept du christianisme (“Fundamental treatise on faith. Introduction to the concept of Christianity”), Paris: Le Centurion, 1983.[]
  16. Guillaume de Vaulx d’Arcy, ”Nul ne sera sauvé si tous ne le sont. Le complémentarisme des Iḫwān al-Ṣafā. Contribution à la théologie des religions” (“No one will be saved unless all are saved. The complementarianism of the Iḫwān al-Ṣafā. Contribution to the theology of religions”), MIDÉO 33 | 2018, 137-181.[]
  17. Such as the “Mutuality Model” by Paul F. Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions, Maryknoll, Orbis Books, 2002, p. 110. Knitter mentions the “Mystical bridge” (“passerelle mystique”, cf. Raimon Panikkar), making this mutualism possible.[]
  18. Even the avaita-vedānta of a Guénon “awakening” Christianity or, at any rate, Christians).[]
  19. Cf. George Arthur Lindbeck (1923-2018), The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1984.[]
  20. Knitter, op. cit.[]
  21. cf. Geneviève Comeau, “Théologie des religions” (“Theology of religions”), Recherches de Science Religieuse 2007/2 (t. 95), pp 317-318.[]
  22. here we follow Guillaume de Vaulx d’Arcy, op. cit.[]
  23. Guillaume de Vaulx d’Arcy, op. cit., pp. 137-139.[]
  24. Guillaume de Vaulx d’Arcy, op. cit., pp. 151-153.[]
  25. Guillaume de Vaulx d’Arcy, op. cit., pp. 161.[]
  26. See the section “To be free is to obey” in the article “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”[]
  27. Cf. Epistle 38, III, 312, “the pious man stunned to be damned”![]
  28. Guillaume de Vaulx d’Arcy, op. cit., pp. 171.[]
  29. Charles Fourier (1772-1837) was a French philosopher, an influential early socialist thinker, and one of the founders of utopian socialism[]
  30. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is similar: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments contain the whole of the Law and the Prophets (Mt XXII, 35-40; Mk XII, 28-31; Lk X, 25-28).[]
  31. Cf. “Many are called and few chosen”, Christian Words, Misunderstanding and truth (to be published in 2024[]
  32. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (1964), ch. I, § 1.[]
  33. Aldo La Fata, Christian Words, Misunderstanding and truth, p. 48 (?), to be published in 2024.[]
  34. Redemptoris hominis, n°6, Documentation Catholique, t. 76, 1979.[]
  35. Cf. All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation (Yale University Press, 2019), by Orthodox philosopher and professor of religious studies David Bentley Hart (1965).[]