September 21, 2009
vol 20, no. 264

Nascent Feeney

Reply to A Reply to a Liberal

    Instead of imitating Christ, Who seeks to save all by whatever means the Son of God may choose (even if we mortals cannot guess them as we are so wont to do), the Reply piece by the Feeneyites instead seeks to find and multiply all the possible reasons for a person to be damned. Get the idea that perhaps they don't want too much company in Heaven? Even the innocent can be damned, by their reasoning!

      "Only finally, at the last, does the Reply piece finally arrive at addressing directly the question with which this series is concerned. All the rest has been mere preamble, a way to introduce a most pessimistic concept of salvation by surrounding it with a sea of similarly pessimistic attitudes against the salvific prospects of as many categories of persons as possible. While it is true that at that time when the Reply piece was written not all of Fr. Feeney's subsequent position on BOB and BOD had fully matured into its final form, we have already seen that there was enough in this Reply piece for the Holy Office to have seen the direction that Fr. Feeney and the St. Benedict's Center was taking so as for them to condemn him rightly - Installment 11a."

    We now arrive at the Third part of the Reply piece, that which deals directly with BOB and BOD. It starts right off with a header that reads "Baptism is Absolutely Necessary for Salvation." Of course it would be correct if by "Baptism" one meant baptism by any of the three known means, the sacrament, BOB, or BOD. After wasting some verbiage insulting and taking a swipe at Fr. Donnelly, it then accuses him of misrepresenting Trent (which he doesn't, in fact) on the idea that a person could intend to be baptized while not as yet aware of the process of baptism.

    This gets to a really deep issue as to whether, and in what sense if any, a person could "refuse" baptism while in some deeper reality as seen by God the person is actually desiring it. It sounds rather contradictory, but I think there is a way to illustrate how it might not be so in some unusual case.

    First of all, let's look at the real point of Baptism. Sometimes one can get the idea (from reading St. Benedict Center and like-minded materials) that it's all about getting baptized itself, about having some water come in contact with a person under certain terms and conditions, as though it were some sort of magic spell, or some hoop to jump through or some scalp to collect on one's belt. But Baptism is really about joining the Church, which in turn is really about officially placing oneself at the service of, and in obedience to, God. The reason for its being "official" with a visible sign (the Sacrament performed with water) is for accountability. Otherwise, a person would just interiorly decide for God, and that's good of itself, but then if later on he changes his mind, he just does so and no one need be any the wiser, either of his initial dedication to God, or of his subsequent rejection of God. Official accountability is about surrounding the person with other persons who now know that this person has chosen to dedicate himself to God and to serve God, and who will call him back to repentance should he fail to live up to this dedication. But it's about joining the Church to serve God. That's what important here.

    Explicit BOD comes when a person who knows of the Church and its role in the economy of salvation chooses to join the Church, and he knows that this is to be done by having himself baptized. Implicit BOD then means that a person chooses to serve God (or at least his Creator Whom he does not as yet know), and though having made that choice, is unaware of the facts of there being a Church, or of what it takes to join it. Without that desire to serve at least the Creator, there can be no BOD, implicit or explicit. With that desire (or choice or decision, to be more accurate), implicit BOD is all about that person's learning curve as to what they must do to serve their Creator, Who He is, and what Church He has established for the express purpose of gathering and organizing those who choose to serve Him.

    But now go back to the earliest parts of this learning curve. The person has made a decision to serve his Creator, but he knows not the name of the Creator, let alone that the Creator has established a Church, let alone which Church that is, let alone what means one actually joins that Church, let alone all the other things one's membership in that Church will oblige him to. At that point, someone coming along and saying to him, "Hey, get baptized" might as well be saying, "Hey, come and join the Kiwanis" for all his ability to recognize such a grand opportunity to do as he has already committed to do. Is he expected to do everything anyone comes along and proposes to him? Or else should he just reject it all no matter what? By what criteria can he know whose invitation to accept, versus whose invitation to ignore or reject?

    Picture it this way. Joe Blow has already told you to expect a visit from him, but you don't want to talk to him. So when the knock comes at your door you don't answer but remain quiet, ignoring that knock. Eventually Joe Blow either decides that you are not home or else figures out that you don't want to talk to him, and he wanders away. He should feel rejected or slighted, whether he actually does or not. But then one day there is a knock at the door, and again you ignore it until whoever it is goes away, which you again assume to be Joe Blow. But this time it wasn't Joe Blow but Jim Smith who you actually would have liked to see and invite in for company. So Jim Smith knocks and there is no answer so eventually he just goes away.

    In that case, did you reject Jim Smith? Well, in practice, yes, for he came and knocked and you did not answer though it was within your power to do so. But did you intend it? No. Should he feel slighted or insulted? Once he should come to know the full facts, that you did want to see him, that you really thought the person at the door was Joe Blow who you didn't want to see, that you are sorry that you didn't answer his knock, there really is no valid basis for Jim Smith to feel slighted or insulted at all. From your standpoint, you have not ever rejected Jim Smith at all.

    God, Who sees and knows all, knows what was intended, and judges thereby. If God sees in you a desire to seek and serve Him, and your refusal of an invitation to be baptized is only a result of your failure to recognize the difference between that opportunity versus an opportunity to join the Kiwanis, then like a Jim Smith, but one who is omniscient and knows all, He can see that even in your declining to be baptized you have not truly rejected baptism any more than the person rejected Jim Smith at the door.

    Now, how likely or common is that situation? God alone knows. In all of human history it could be as common as getting the latest swine flu, or as rare as winning the Kremer prize. But it indisputably IS theoretically possible.

    But in the Reply piece, the possibility of such an accidental "rejection" (as Fr. Donnelly intends) is ignored, or assimilated into the culpable and/or deliberate rejection which of course would be sinful and would exclude one from the Kingdom of Heaven. And here then comes a most criminal misrepresentation of the Catholic teaching, as expressed by Fr. Donnelly and all since who have written against the Fr. Feeney position: "The remainder - who refuse [to be baptized or join the Church], but not contumaciously and obstinately, - will be justified and saved." He never said anything like that. The proper thing to say is that "The remainder - who refuse, but neither contumaciously nor obstinately, - can be justified and saved."

    Who would ever have been so criminally stupid as to claim that mere ignorance actually assures one of salvation? Yet that is precisely what they accuse Fr. Donnelly of teaching. This is no mere insinuation on his part; Raymond Karam has just stated it straight out right here. Then, this is the straw man the remainder of the Reply piece devotes itself to refuting:

that a person can be said to have a desire for baptism while being totally ignorant of the Catholic Faith and ignorant of the baptism of water; that a person can be said to have a desire for baptism while knowing the Catholic Church and the Catholic Faith and refusing both; that a person can be said to have a desire for baptism while knowing the baptism of water and refusing to receive it.

    Of course, none of the quotes to follow would agree with that series of straw man arguments. But all of them agree with the authentic Catholic doctrines of BOB and BOD as expounded throughout this series, to the extent that they descend to such detail about these finer points of the doctrine of Baptism. Many of these quotes (or quotes similar to them from the same sources) we have seen before, and others are obvious as to be in no need of further comment, but let us briefly review them:

    We have already seen how the Church has always tempered John 3:5 with Matthew 16:25 (for BOB) and Matthew 10:32 (for BOD) - Installment 5. And we also have seen St. John Chrysostom's (and St. Gregory Nazianzen') discussion of how those who consciously abuse the teaching by BOD to refraining from being baptized until practically the end of life in no way attacked the doctrine itself but only the abuse - Installment 10b. And we have seen how St. Ambrose's famous "who shall ascend" quote is shortly followed with mention of some sort of mercy for those not guilty. - Installment 10a.

    When Pope Leo the Great said, "no one can be set free from the state of the old Adam save through Christ's sacrament of baptism," he was not talking about what it takes to be baptized nor was he exploring such details as to whether the sacrament of baptism must actually have been procured or whether the mere seeking of it might have sufficed in the cases of those who do not live long enough to attain it.

    We have already seen how Tertullian has spoken at length about BOB, and even hinted at a possibility of BOD - Installments 9 and 10a. And we have also seen what St. Thomas Aquinas had to say about BOB and BOD at length, despite the presence of some other quotes from him that, not getting into the details of BOB and BOD, would be used in the Reply piece to imply that he denied BOB and BOD - Installment 7. And of course it is obvious that Pope Benedict XIV and St. Robert Bellarmine are both defending the necessity of baptism in general, without breaking it out into baptism of water, BOB, and BOD, in exactly the same sense that the Council of Trent said that Baptism is necessary for salvation, but not "the sacrament of Baptism" alone specifically, as falsely claimed by Peter Dimond - Installment 12c.

    Now as we know, children who die before attaining the use of reason and without the sacrament of Baptism, apart from the Holy Innocents and what few if any others in all of history might somehow belong to that same category, cannot see the Beatific Vision. It is this teaching of the Church that the Reply piece had just finished talking about when it then stated that "what St. Robert says about children applies to adults as well, for, even though some of them could die unbaptized because they never heard of Christ, and hence without being guilty of this ignorance, yet these will perish eternally because they have original sin and because of their actual sins." Now some have wondered, if infants who die innocent of any sin can be deprived of the Beatific Vision, why or how should it be at all possible that adults (who being born sinners will necessarily not be without sins of their own, at least venial ones) could ever be permitted a Baptism of Desire? But the answer is quite simple, since the "Baptism of Desire" is no mere passive lack of sin (or at least of any serious sin), but a positive choice made, as a choice such that only one with the use of reason would be capable of it, namely to seek to serve their Creator.

    Immediately after this, the holy sainted Doctor Thomas Aquinas is accused of advancing such a doctrine as is claimed for St. Robert as quoted above. A footnote in the Reply piece points to the Summa, Part 2 of Part 2, question article 1. In that article, St. Thomas expresses his actual position thus:

I answer that, Unbelief may be taken in two ways: first, by way of pure negation, so that a man be called an unbeliever, merely because he has not the faith. Secondly, unbelief may be taken by way of opposition to the faith; in which sense a man refuses to hear the faith, or despises it, according to Isaiah 53:1: "Who hath believed our report?" It is this that completes the notion of unbelief, and it is in this sense that unbelief is a sin.

    If, however, we take it by way of pure negation, as we find it in those who have heard nothing about the faith, it bears the character, not of sin, but of punishment, because such like ignorance of Divine things is a result of the sin of our first parent. If such like unbelievers are damned, it is on account of other sins, which cannot be taken away without faith, but not on account of their sin of unbelief. Hence Our Lord said (John 15:22) "If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin"; which Augustine expounds (Tract. lxxxix in Joan.) as "referring to the sin whereby they believed not in Christ."

    Note first of all the clear distinction between unbelief by way of pure negation, which is not a sin, versus unbelief by way of opposition to the faith, which most certainly is a sin, and a most serious one at that. The tendency of such writers as Fr. Feeney and his followers to role the two different categories into one, as we their opponents were actually defending unbelief by way of opposition to the faith, is frankly a most dishonest one. All of our talk of implicit BOD only applies to those whose unbelief is by way of pure negation.

    Second of all, let us look closer at that mention of unbelief by way of pure negation having the character of punishment. The punishment mentioned here is not referencing one of Purgatory or Hell, but the punishment in this life of being deprived of the Truth, of not knowing in this life the reason for our being, and that punishment is what results from Adam's sin. Finally, note the significant first word here: "IF such like unbelievers are damned, it is on account of other sins." Obviously, such phrasing allows for the possibility that some such might not be damned, if they have managed to avoid all mortal sin.

    "All the children who die unbaptized and all the adults who die ignorant of baptism, or who, having been drawn to it by God's Providence, refuse it, are not predestinate, but will perish eternally," the Reply piece says. And that alone is sufficient reason for the Holy Office to have censured the St. Benedict's Center and Fr. Feeney for their non-Catholic teaching.

    The answer to the St. Fulgentius quote is far simpler. He stated that "even children who either begin in their mother's wombs and die there, or who, being already born of their mothers, pass from this world without the sacrament of holy baptism ... will be punished with the torment of everlasting fire." Yes he did say that. However the Church does not follow his opinion. The whole teaching of the Limbo of the Infants is so widely and universally accepted as to be included even in the Church's most basic Catechisms. Even if there is room to question whether this Limbo is fully an established teaching of the Church, the belief is widely accepted, and the alternative presented by St. Fulgentius has never been seriously advanced since his own time. What is especially ironic however is the way the Reply piece attempts to use that quote as a basis, not to deny Limbo, but rather to deny Baptism of Desire! It really doesn't relate to that at all. And the St. Bonaventure quote from his Breviloquium merely clarifies the way the Church has interpreted the opinion of St. Augustine (upon which St. Fulgentius' opinion had been based) as being not one of actual pain of sense to those in the Limbo of the Infants, but only of the loss of the Beatific Vision to them.

    The Reply piece then moves on into the question of whether baptism (in water) is of itself sufficient for salvation. Even here it first takes a small side trip to explore the various possibilities for a person who, having gone through the motions of being baptized, may nevertheless fail to have been baptized due to some defect of form, matter, intent, or minister of the Sacrament, and especially the point of how in the case of intent where an adult is being baptized, the defect could even be on either side, of either the one baptizing or the one being baptized. Of course, in the case where a person mistakenly thought themselves to be baptized, but in fact were not due to some defect (as in the case of the Jew who attempted to baptize himself, as spoken of by Pope Innocent III), they again proceed not with any actual baptism of water, but with BOB or BOD.

    However, there is no room to deny that water baptism, of itself, is most certainly insufficient for salvation, owing to the possibility of subsequent fall into mortal sin. And mortal sins here would not only include such things as murder or unchastity, but even more so, heresy or schism. Even the baptism itself would be valueless towards salvation if performed under the auspices of, and in the interests of, some heretical sect, unless the person should subsequently repent and be joined to the Church. Baptism is not meant to be some "magic charm" to ensure salvation, but one's official entry into the Church of the Most Holy God. Quotes to prove this are easy to find, for that is in accord with Catholic teaching.

    But in the Reply piece, nearly all quotes given for this section pertain, not to the necessity of avoiding sin once baptized, but are being used in support of a claim that all of those validly baptized outside the Church are all necessarily damned, unless (apparently) they can complete a joining to the Church. But given the teaching of BOD, both implicit and explicit, let us posit the situation of a validly baptized Protestant, now questioning his Protestant religion and seeking something more "Catholic" (whether he thinks of it by that name or not), is genuinely seeking to find and serve his Lord and Savior more closely and to find His Church. By this point he could well have at least as much as many who would be counted as having an implicit Baptism of Desire. As God sees his heart, if that man is truly seeking to serve Him, he will, if he lives long enough, eventually join the Church. And again, should this process of conversion (provided it is at least started in his heart) should be cut off early by a premature death, who would dare to consign that soul to hell for not having quite made it in? Or again, further on this one-time Protestant has finally found the Catholic Church and come to believe that it is God's own Church, and is now taking the necessary lessons for joining it. But these lessons are still in progress and the Church has not as yet officially "welcomed" him into it, permitting the Sacraments and so forth quite yet. But in this state he again is prematurely cut off by death. Who would dare to consign that soul to hell for not having quite made it all the way in?

    Well, apparently the members of the St. Benedict's Center would! There is never explained the difference between a baptized person outside the Church culpably remaining thus versus a baptized person outside the Church but clearly headed towards the Church, having made at heart that fundamental choice for God and against their own previous opinions. It may sound a little odd to speak of a validly baptized person having an implicit (or even explicit) BOD, but here the case would really be more properly spoken of as an implicit (or even explicit) Penance of Desire. Such a soul is already united in charity to the Church, in that he no longer shuns it but now seeks it, and furthermore subjects himself to the pope to the extent that he is aware of what moral and doctrinal demands the Church makes of him, so in no way can such a soul be presently found guilty of schism. Likewise, though his belief structure may well still be in a state of transition from his former heretical beliefs to his coming new orthodox belief, even here he is open to the orthodox teachings where his instruction has not yet arrived at the relevant topics or else he has not as yet integrated them into his understanding of the Faith though he is trying to. So whatever heresy he might as yet still have is only material, not formal, and as such no guilt applies to it.

    It really does seem that the St. Benedict's Center really do seek to find as many ways as possible for "God" to damn the innocent: Oops, he died on the way to the baptismal font - he's damned! Oops, this person's baptism was defective in some detail and therefore sacramentally invalid though he never knew - he's damned! Oops, this person never heard of the doctrine of transubstantiation, due to some accident on someone of the Church's part for which this person was plainly not guilty, but since he did not believe in the doctrine - he's damned! Oops, he died validly baptized by heretics and even though he had decided to become a Catholic he hadn't quite completed his training to be officially accepted into the Church - he's damned! Oops, this pagan did all that he could to seek and serve his Creator Whose name was never spoken in his hearing, he successfully avoided anything contrary to the Natural Law he nevertheless had written upon his heart, but the Church never got to him and so he died having done all in his limited power to find and gain God's salvation but having not found it - he's damned! Oops, this infant died unbaptized, perhaps even as a victim of abortion or even a bona fide martyrdom, and as St. Fulgentius says (who knows better than the Church of later ages), even the innocent infant who dies unbaptized is to be punished eternally in the fires of Hell - he's damned, and not to Limbo but to hellfire! Is there anything else to be gleaned from this little "syllabus" of teachings they so hideously accuse the Church of having ever fostered:

  • that no adult can be saved if he does not, whether through ignorance or obstinacy, explicitly confess the Catholic Faith;
  • that no adult can be saved who dies ignorant of the Catholic Church, or who, having known the Church, refuses to become one of her members;
  • that no adult can be saved who dies ignorant of baptism or who, having heard of it, refuses to receive it;
  • that no adult can be saved who is baptized into a heretical or schismatical church, unless before he dies he joins the Catholic Church;
  • that no adult can be saved if he does not explicitly confess the Catholic Faith, or if he denies one truth of the Faith, or if he does not submit fully to the authority of the Roman Pontiff;
  • that no child who dies unbaptized can be saved.
  •     If that had been the teaching of the Church, then by that everyone is damned. For had they been true, then everyone who either did not know, or else if knowing did not believe or accept all these "syllabus" items would have to be damned. However, Pope Pius XII and the Holy Office had already long since rejected these very claims, so to "submit fully to the authority of the Roman Pontiff" one is obliged to abandon the very beliefs one is also obliged to accept. So, it is damned if you do, and damned if you don't, and there is no way for anyone to be saved at all. I guess that when no one can be saved under any circumstances whatsoever, one then has nothing to lose, so maybe this was why Fr. Feeney had no fear of being himself "outside the Church" as a result of his excommunication in 1953. For by his rationale, even an unjust excommunication puts one visibly outside the visible unity of the Church, and as such would damn a person who dies thus. And forget about the poor sap whose excommunication was just, but who subsequently abandoned his errant course and whatever cause occasioned his excommunication in all due repentance, and was now seeking to be readmitted to the Church, but who had the misfortune to die just before the Church had a chance to declare the excommunication sentence to be officially lifted - he's damned!

        Only finally, at the last, does the Reply piece finally arrive at addressing directly the question with which this series is concerned. All the rest has been mere preamble, a way to introduce a most pessimistic concept of salvation by surrounding it with a sea of similarly pessimistic attitudes against the salvific prospects of as many categories of persons as possible. While it is true that at that time when the Reply piece was written not all of Fr. Feeney's subsequent position on BOB and BOD had fully matured into its final form, we have already seen that there was enough in this Reply piece for the Holy Office to have seen the direction that Fr. Feeney and the St. Benedict's Center was taking so as for them to condemn him rightly - Installment 11a.

        This third and final portion of the third chapter of the Reply piece begins by kicking up a small dust cloud around the translation of the Latin phrases "baptismus flaminis," "baptismus in voto," and "votum baptismi," complaining of their translation with the phrase "Baptism of Desire." Of course any real and salvific "Baptism of Desire" would in fact be a "baptism in purpose" of "will for baptism." But that has always been taken as a given and understood by the theologians and catechists who use the phrase and teach on it. At this point, we have one quote from St. Ambrose and two from St. Thomas Aquinas. They are:

    St. Ambrose, De Mysteriis, Ch. IV, n. 20: And thus you have read that three testimonies in baptism are one, water, blood and the Spirit; since, if you remove one of these, the sacrament of baptism does not stay. For what is water without the Cross of Christ? A common element, without any effect of sacrament. Nor again is the mystery of regeneration without water; for "unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Now, a catechumen also believes in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by which he also signs himself, but unless he be baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, he cannot receive remission of his sins, nor can he receive the gift of spiritual grace.

        St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part III, qu. 66, a. 11, In Corp. Cf. also a. 12, In Corp: The baptism of water has its efficacy from the passion of Christ, to which someone conforms himself through baptism, and ultimately from the Holy Spirit as from a first cause.

        St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part III, qu. 62. a. 5, In Corp: A sacrament, in causing grace, works after the manner of an instrument. Now, an instrument is twofold; the one, separate, as a stick, for instance the other, united, as a hand. Moreover, the separate instrument is moved by means of the united instrument, as a stick by the hand. Now, the principal efficient cause of grace is God himself, in comparison with Whom Christ's humanity is as a united instrument, whereas the sacrament is as a separate instrument.

        The most interesting is that of St. Ambrose, from which we can draw the right conclusion as to what all of these quotes are actually about. St. Ambrose is speaking here specifically about the Sacrament of Baptism, which indeed would not be complete without water, as it would neither be complete without Christ's sacrifice on the Cross having occurred or without proper form (which names the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) and intention (which admits these Three, including the Holy Ghost, to the proceedings). And we have already seen how the catechumen, though not possessing the "sign" of baptism on his soul, is nevertheless "signed" in some lesser manner, though he is not admitted to the other sacraments, neither Penance by which sins are remitted, nor the others by which other gifts of spiritual grace are imparted - Installment 3 and Installment 4 and Installment 10a.

        As we have already seen in depth (back in Installment 7), St. Thomas Aquinas' position on this question is quite clear, and in no way opposed to BOB or BOD. The "conclusion," offered shortly after providing these quotes, can only be described as absurd, as it simply does not follow from these quotes or even from what is said of them. It states that "All three, namely, the Spirit, the blood of Christ, and water are, consequently, indispensable, and no one can be sanctified if one of the three is missing." But obviously of course, all these quotes pertain to the normal and expected means of grace, namely water baptism. Indeed, the second Aquinas quote comes from a discussion of how the sacraments play an integral role in the application of God's grace to souls. Elsewhere (by other writers) the illustration of the distinction between the hand and the stick would be used in discussion of how baptism can be performed validly by other sects (the stick without the hand, as it were), though to no benefit.

        Next follows a short section with relatively little to complain of. In this section I note only one rather interesting quote from St. Thomas Aquinas, this time not from the Summa, but from his Commentary on the Gospel of St. John. In this passage the sainted Doctor uses the phrases for BOB and BOD to apply even to those who are already baptized in water, but who have since sinned, and whose martyrdom or perfect contrition can serve as a kind of BOB or BOD, respectively. In this sense then, it would be appropriate to speak of the validly baptized Protestant (or other heretic) who now seeks to join the Catholic Church, but who is martyred or otherwise dies before his process of return to the Church can be finalized. While there is nothing wrong with this quote itself, the fact remains that it is only brought in at this point as a subtle suggestion that the Church's terms for BOB and BOD might really be only references to this sort of post-baptismal series of events. This makes it a bit easier to explain away the Church's frequent use of these terms as the Reply piece at last begins to pose the St. Benedict's Center then current official public take on BOB and BOD.

        When it comes to BOB, the Reply piece clearly cannot deny it, and doesn't. One has to admit that this particular denial would come later in Fr. Feeney's thinking. Several ancient Fathers are even quoted in support of BOB, especially those few whose quotes are most useful for admitting only BOB and not BOD, since they speak of the necessity of being baptized in water and mention only the exception of the martyrs. We have already seen how it is that some few such quotes might arise, and why it has no bearing on the question of BOD at all - Installment 10a. However, St. Augustine is plainly misquoted in the following:

    Martyrdom is a substitute for the baptism of water only in case of a catechumen who has the Catholic Faith and confesses Christ and His Church, and who, because of his apprehension by pagans or heretics, is unable to receive the baptism of water. Thus, St. Augustine, in the City of God, says that these martyrs will be saved "because they willed rather to die in confessing Christ than to deny Him." Therefore, martyrdom can replace Baptism only in the case of a man who cannot receive the Sacrament of Baptism because he is dying for Christ.

        Thus, it is clear that even a catechumen who dies confessing Christ cannot be saved if he refuses the baptism of water, or if he does not try to receive it, knowing that he is going to be martyred.

        But let us look at what St. Augustine actually said in this relevant passage from the City of God. Let us simply look at the complete sentence in which he wrote what was provided in the Reply piece: "For those who have been baptized when they could no longer escape death, and have departed this life with all their sins blotted out, have not equal merit with those who did not defer death, though it was in their power to do so, but preferred to end their life by confessing Christ, rather than by denying Him to secure an opportunity of baptism." So you can see that where St. Augustine praised most highly those who had a chance to renounce Christ so as to live for another day (in which they could be water baptized) but who instead chose to die confessing Christ though they themselves were unbaptized. But Raymond Karam writes that those who did what St. Augustine just praised could not be saved, for in choosing to die now for Christ (thus losing any subsequent opportunity for water baptism) they "refuse the baptism of water."

        In minimizing the possible scope of BOB as much as he felt he could at the time, the claim is hinted that one must be "in the Catholic Church," suggesting (again without saying) that one must be "in the Church," i. e. an actual member (which means he has to have already been baptized), or at the very least a catechumen not only in good standing but fully ready to be baptized any minute now anyway. But this flies in the face of such cases of BOB saints who obviously decided on the spot to die for Christ (a Christ they barely even knew) instead of living in a world capable of persecuting Him (in His Mystical Body). This includes such saints as the Fortieth Martyr of Sebaste, the man first appointed to execute St. Alban, the Prefect Maximus who died together with St. Cecilia's husband and husband's brother, the unbaptized pagan priest Evilasius, and the actors Saints Ardalion and Genesius.

        So, when the Council of Florence says that "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," clearly that is not mean to exclude the BOB saints I have just named but, as evident from the Florence Council passage itself, those who were fully joined to the Church, residing in the "bosom and unity of the Catholic Church," but who subsequently departed from the Church, and in that departed state were martyred. The same obviously applies to the St. Bellarmine and St. Cyprian quotes then given.

        Now arriving at where it speaks directly on BOD, the Reply piece inconsistently states that "the Holy Spirit cannot possibly effect sanctification in a man apart from any sacrament or visible sign." Given such a statement, one has to wonder what all the subsequent talk about justification before baptism, as spoken of in the Council of Trent, would be all about. For with that statement, Raymond Karam has just ruled even that out, thus going even further than Fr. Feeney.

        Having first denied the possibility of even any grace prior to water baptism, the Reply jumps promptly over to seeming to admit the orthodox Church teaching, when it states:

    But there could be a case when a man, together with the explicit intention of receiving a sacrament, and with the profession of the Catholic Faith and of the Catholic Church, would make an act of perfect charity, even before the actual reception of the sacrament. In that case, the man can receive sanctifying grace before the sacrament, if he firmly intends to receive the sacrament at the earliest possible opportunity.

        But this appearance of orthodoxy is only window dressing. It doesn't say that the sanctifying grace so received before the actual reception of the sacrament would be sufficient for the salvation of the person receiving it should they promptly die thus, that is just something that any ordinary reader would take as an assumed, and in this he would be wrong. For later on, the Reply piece goes on to state that "sanctifying grace can be received ahead of the Sacrament of Baptism, and in that case it is sufficient for justification, but this does not mean that it is sufficient for salvation if the actual Sacrament of Baptism is not received."

        "But who can presume to affirm about any man that he has received sanctifying grace before the actual reception of a sacrament, seeing that it is impossible to know whether or not he was able to make a perfect act of love?" the Reply piece then asks. And yet (to turn its own words against it) this is what St. Ambrose dared to do in the case of Emperor Valentinian II, even naming him as someone who had sanctifying grace before his baptism! Did Chesterton and Newman have grace before their full coming to the Church? I admit it was an inappropriate wording to suggest that "they rejected certain Catholic doctrines" as a more accurate thing to have said was that "they had not as yet accepted certain Catholic doctrines." But clearly they did have some sort of grace, at the very minimum, an actual grace which they did not reject, since having not died but lived they indeed came to the Church and died as faithful Catholics. So while one could argue that the "letter recently received by one of our staff from a liberal theologian" should have been worded more clearly, surely, once understood as it can and should be meant, it most certainly cannot be criticized thus: "Nothing can be more opposed to the Catholic Faith than a statement of this kind."

        The Reply piece summarizes its author's thoughts on justification and salvation, stating, "It is also clear that Father Donnelly, in quoting the Council of Trent, was confusing justification with salvation. The Council of Trent in this text was defining justification and not salvation. Everyone knows that a man justified is not yet saved, but has to fulfill certain other conditions for salvation." It is as if they want the reader to assume (but they never say, and could even deny if pressed on this point) that before water baptism, one can only be justified, but after water baptism one is now saved. But this is a false dichotomy. I agree that before water baptism a soul can only be justified. However, even with water baptism and thereafter a soul can still only be justified. It is only with one's death in the state of being justified that one will be saved.

        In presenting the case regarding Cornelius, a false implication is drawn from the fact that though Cornelius had the Graces of God operative in his soul before he ever sought Peter, he nevertheless was obliged to seek Peter in order to be saved. The Reply piece presents it thus:

    St. Augustine who, in his treatise On Baptism: Against the Donatists, asks us "not to depreciate a man's righteousness should it begin to exist before he joined the Church, as the righteousness of Cornelius began to exist before he was in the Christian community," also says in the same sentence that this righteousness "was not thought worthless, or the angel would not have said to him, 'Thy alms have been accepted and thy prayers have been heard;' nor did it yet suffice for his gaining the kingdom of Heaven, or he would not have been told to send for Peter," in order to be baptized by him.

        It is clear, therefore, that Cornelius, who was already in the state of sanctifying grace even before the actual reception of baptism, would not have been saved if he had not sent for Peter to be baptized by him, or if, having sent for him, he had refused to be baptized with water.

        No, it is clear from what St. Augustine said a few sentences earlier, namely that "Cornelius, however, would have been convicted of contempt for so holy a sacrament, if, even after he had received the Holy Ghost, he had refused to be baptized," that Cornelius' obligation to be baptized was in the presence of the opportunity to be baptized by Peter. Given that opportunity to be baptized, the only way for him to have not been baptized would have been for him to have spurned the Sacrament, which would terminate the work of Grace within his soul. There is no way to glean from this passage by St. Augustine the idea that another "Cornelius," physically separated from the Church (e. g. in the Americas at that time) would have been damned for not attaining the Sacrament, for in that case he would have had nothing to spurn.

        There is no way to have claimed however that the water baptism itself would have been superfluous since it did have the positive effect of opening him up to reception of all the other Sacraments, of serving God, of achieving everlasting good through the works that do not expire in value, and also to removal of all purgatorial punishment for his past sins up to that point. And in the case that any of his friends or family or other household members might have had only an imperfect charity, then for them their water baptism really would be their passage from certain damnation to the everlasting life of God. So now, instead of getting to Heaven quite probably alone out of all his circle of friends and family and household members, he now will be bringing them all with him to Heaven, excepting only any who subsequently fall into serious sin and die unrepentant in it.

        Rather surprising at this point comes the admission that sanctifying Graces can be received prior to one's becoming a member of the Church, or joining it. But of course that is the Graces received ahead of the Sacrament as spoken of in Trent, as we saw back in Installment 5.

        So when it finally gets right down to it, is it possible for there to be a soul who is saved despite not being baptized in water and not being a martyr? Two things are to be noted in addressing this question. One is that everything is done to minimize the possibility of there being any more than the barest handful of such souls. Look at this lengthy list of requirements, or thresholds one must have somehow passed, against all odds, some of which are exaggerated to be as stratospherically rare as possible, and other are requirements that can only be applied to those living in a Christian culture that presumes certain basic doctrines and within which it is practically impossible not to know the basic doctrines, short of being an infant or mentally deficient:

    It says that they must:

      1) Have the Catholic Faith (though how much must be known as a bare minimum seems difficult to clarify)

      2) Have explicit will or desire to receive the Sacrament (though the Church has always accepted a clear resolution to serve God (avoiding sin), where one does not know about God's Church, or of the Sacrament of Baptism, to be possibly a case of an implicit Baptism of Desire)

      3) Have perfect charity (while true enough, the degree of perfect charity needed here is fully and directly comparable to the level of perfect charity to obtain forgiveness of sins committed after baptism in the absence of a confessor).

      4) Have an explicit will to join the Church (assuming he knows which Church happens to be God's), and

      5) Be dying (though a prolonged separation from the necessary conditions of water and someone to baptize could theoretically happen, such as being stranded all alone on a desert island or in a prison cell, or physically prevented from baptism by his persecutors, etc.)

        The second thing done here, as pointed out before, is to make a big song and dance about here departing from infallibly defined dogma and relying now merely on supposedly non-universal teachings of certain prominent Fathers and Doctors, as though they were merely speculating and could one day be ruled false by some dogmatic action of the Church through the Pope or a Council. But as has been shown, the Popes have consistently ruled in favor of these Fathers and Doctors whenever it came to these exact questions, thus demonstrating BOB and BOD to be firmly entrenched within the eternally irrevocable and infallible aspects of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church - Installment 6.

        Does this clear and universal teaching of the Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Councils in some way undermine the teaching of the Incarnation? I really don't see how. All of these issues deal with the means and manner of one's joining the Church, and of the steps taken in the process, and of what emergency provisions kick in should that process be interrupted. The Church remains clearly Visible, One, Catholic, and Incarnational, despite some having to become actual members only in death (through BOB or BOD) instead of in life (through water baptism). Because in Heaven (and also in Purgatory, though at present this can only do them the good of giving them a promise), all are open and explicit and visibly members of the Church, visible to God, but also visible to each other, or at least to all those in Heaven.

    Griff L. Ruby

    Griff's book is available from Books for $26.95 or can be read on-line at We at The Daily Catholic strongly urge you to share it with all you can for that could be the gentle shove that moves your friends back to where the True Faith resides forever, rooted in the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church as Christ intended and promised.

    Griff Ruby's STRAIGHT STUFF Tuesday, September 21, 2009, Volume 20, no. 264