In this first installment of "The Catholic Church and Salvation" from Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton, we start with his introduction to his book. This book shows from Scripture and Sacred Tradition the doctrinal fact that there is no salvation outside the Church and that non-members of the Church can be saved "within" that Church. In other words, this series will help us to understand the Dogma "No Salvation Outside the Church" in the very sense the Church understands it. Father Fenton not only goes into depth on how it is possible for non-members of the Church to be saved within the Church at the moment of death, but spends as much or even more time combating the errors which were becoming more and more prevalent in the Century before the death of Pius XII, mainly the one particular error which tried to classify the Catholic Church and "membership" in that Church as something broader than what has always been defined as the Catholic Church and how the Church defined "membership" in that Catholic Church.
What will be thoroughly explained in these installments is the fact that the Catholic Church and the Mystical Body of Christ are one and the same; thereby showing the teaching of the Vatican "2" document, Lumen Gentium, which taught that the Mystical Body of Christ was something broader than the Catholic Church, to be heretical. It is astonishing that the imposters who took over the formerly Catholic structures after the death of Pius XII would "officially promulgate" in 1964 the above mentioned heresy in contradistinction to what Pius XII clearly and authoritatively taught in 1950. What perhaps is even more astounding than that is the amount of clergy, and the resultant laity that also fell for the heresy "officially promulgated" by Vatican "2" fourteen years after the contrary was infallibly taught by Pius XII:
Some think that they are not bound by the doctrine set forth a few years ago in Our encyclical letter and based on the sources of revelation, [the doctrine] which teaches that Christ's Mystical body and the Catholic Roman Church are one and the same. Others reduce the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to attain to eternal salvation to an empty formula. [Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII, 1950]
But there were more insidious errors which Father Fenton was combating when he wrote this book in 1958. These errors related to Catholic theologians trying to justify the Dogma that there is no salvation outside the Church by making it seem as if one could be considered an actual member of the Church merely by being attached to the Church through desire or by being in a state of sanctifying grace or possessing the gifts of the Holy Ghost. In other words they sought to "relax" what the Catholic Church has infallibly taught regarding membership in the Church, namely that, at a bare minimum, one must partake of the sacraments, profess the faith, and submit to legitimate ecclesiastical authority in order to be a member of the Catholic Church, by doing this they sought to keep the appearance of the Dogma-No Salvation Outside the Church-intact by broadening the official definition of membership in the Church, thus reducing the Dogma to a meaningless formula. In effect they taught that those who desired to be members had obtained what they desired i.e. that one could become a member of the Church by desiring it. But one does not desire what one already has. This is why one who truly desires to do whatever is necessary to be saved can be saved within that Church, but not as a member of that Church until and unless he can be counted among those who partake of the Sacraments, profess the true faith and submit to legitimate ecclesiastical authority.
The key distinction that needed to be made by the Catholic theologians in the century leading up to the death of Pius XII was the fact that one could be saved "within" the Church without being a member of that Church. This doctrine will be proved throughout this series from numerous authoritative and infallible sources.
All those of good will who only want to understand the Dogma, No Salvation Outside the Church, as the Church understands it easily comprehend the fact that membership in the Church does not guarantee salvation. What seems less understood, if it is considered at all, is the equally true (though not equally resultant - I believe the number of non-members ultimately saved is much less than the number of members that are damned) fact that being a non-member of the Church does not guarantee or absolutely assure damnation. A non-member can "belong" to the Church by desire so long as the other requirements are present. Again, desire, no matter how legitimate, in and of itself, and apart from the other requisites is not enough.
Those who take the Dogma, No Salvation Outside the Church, to mean "No Salvation for non-members of the Church" do not understand the Dogma as the Church understands it, and as the Church has explained it on numerous occasions. The Church, as we will see, has repeatedly infallibly taught that non-members of the Church can be saved "within" the Church by desire, even an implicit desire, so long as the other requisites accompany that desire. This is not the same thing as teaching that desire is a Sacrament that saves or in and of itself cleanses the soul of Original and or Mortal Sin. The desire has to be animated by supernatural faith and perfect charity. The person who is invincibly ignorant of the true religion, and who sedulously
[with a diligent perseverance - J.G.]
obeys the natural law, lives an honest and upright life, and is prepared to obey God, can be saved
[within the Church - J.G.] through the workings of divine light and grace.
Such a person has already chosen God as his ultimate End. He has done this in an act of charity. He is in the state of grace, and not in the state of original or mortal sin. In this act of charity there is involved an implicit desire of entering and remaining within God's true supernatural kingdom. Such a person has had his sins remitted "within" the true Church of Jesus Christ.
[Fenton capsulizing the teaching of Quanto conficiamur moerore by Pope Pius IX. Emphasis mine as any bolded commentary throughout the series will be. - J.G.]
It is important to understand that "desire" and or "invincible ignorance" in and of themselves do not save. As has been stated, that "desire" has to be animated by a perfect charity, supernatural faith and the other requisites we will learn about in detail in this series. The sincere people who try their best to follow the natural law and do not purposely avoid truths that would be considered inconvenient to them, are, according to the Church itself (so long as all the other necessary requisites are included) "within" that Church with an unconscious yearning and desire. When they die, and look Jesus in the eyes they will not have guilt of conscience for being culpable of a mortal sin or for having purposely avoided the truth. They are those whom Jesus will look upon in admiration as having a faith not matched by many members of His household. Those who truly, even if only implicitly, desire to join His Church "have done more with less" in a manner of speaking and will be rewarded accordingly. By this I mean that they were not fortunate enough to be born into the Catholic faith or to have been taught it from their youth. Yet, by a special grace of God, they live a better moral life than many members of that Church. They do not willingly or knowingly cut themselves off from believing and doing what they suppose God would have them believe and do.
Those who insist that one must be a member of the Church in order for salvation to become even remotely possible might learn a lesson from the parable of the poor widow who put one penny in the poor box. She gave a less amount of money than all the others. She was outside the acceptable realm of the amount that should be given according to some who watched her. But Jesus saw what they did not. She did more with less. She gave all she had, while the others only gave out of their surplus. Jesus looks at those who are non-members of the Church through no fault of their own, who give Him all they have based upon their limited resources, with more admiration than many of those members of the Church who are coasting along taking the Sacraments for granted:
"And when He had entered into Capharnaum, there came to Him a centurion, beseeching Him,
And saying: 'Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, and is grieviously tormented.'
And Jesus saith to Him: 'I will come, and heal him.'
And the centurion making answer, said: 'Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof: but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.
For I also am a man subject to authority, having soldiers under me, and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth: and to another, Come, and he cometh: and to my servant, Do this, and he doth it.
And Jesus hearing this, marvelled, and said to them that followed him: 'Amen, I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel.
And I say unto you, that many shall come from the East and the West, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven:
But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
And Jesus said to the centurion: 'Go, and as thou hast believed, so be it done to thee.' And the servant was healed at the same hour." (Matthew 8: 5-13; Luke 7: 6-9)
Can the perfectly just and all-merciful Judge damn one He admires more than some actual members of His fold or kingdom? Would that be either just or merciful?
Those who insist that all non-members of the Church who are not guilty of mortal sin suffer the pain of sense for all eternity and cannot obtain the Beatific Vision insist on two things:
1. Those non-members of the Church not guilty of mortal sin are damned to eternal Hell-fire beyond any doubt whatsoever.
2. God is unable and or unwilling to cleanse a soul of one who is within the Church by desire and who follows the natural law to the best of his ability and would get baptized if he knew that was required for salvation (the cleansing of Original Sin). Can you picture Jesus, on the day of a soul's particular judgment saying, "Sorry Jack, though you did all you could do to please me, and though I have the capability of cleansing you of Original Sin, I won't because you did not jump through the right hoops which you were inculpably unaware that you needed to jump through. Despite the fact that I admire what you have done with the small portion of talents you have been given, more than I admire some saved members of my kingdom who did less with more talents, you will have to burn for all eternity."
God and His Church are not unreasonable. But those who insist on the damnation of the just as those who deny that it is possible for non-members to be saved within the Church do are unreasonable. At least when they are obdurate in their insistence that all non-members of the Church are damned no matter the circumstance in regards to culpability and sincerity despite all the Church's authoritative and infallible teaching to the contrary. These same have the attitude towards non-members as the Pharisees who looked down on the widow who gave one cent, the fellow laborers who judged those who only worked one hour and got the same reward as those who worked twelve, and the good brother who judged the Prodigal Son who came to his senses after a time of debauchery.
The centurion was a Gentile Roman soldier. He was not a member of the true Church as the believing Israelites were. But he had heard about Jesus and believed He could heal his servant, and not only that but he was humble enough to realize how unworthy he was to have Jesus near him. He may have believed Jesus was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity but that seems doubtful to me. But even if he did our Feeneyites, if they were around then would have said this Centurion was surely damned if he had not been circumcised and therefore was not an actual member of the Church, even if he intended to get circumcised but died before he could be circumcised or before he could have a fully Catholic understanding of Who Jesus actually was. If he died without being circumcised before the New Covenant, according to them, he would be damned, and if he lived long enough for the New Covenant to be established but had not yet been baptized through no fault of his own he would have be damned according to them. But is this what Jesus says?
God judges effort and sincerity more than results and many of us can be thankful for that. If you tried your best and did "D" work but put forth "A" effort you get an A. So long as you did not culpably slack off in any area. If you tried your best on most things and were highly successful in almost all areas but were culpably and unrepentantly sinful in one grave area, all your successful works are for not.
It cuts both ways. It is indeed possible for non-members to be saved.
But one only has to culpably fail in one area to be damned. God is perfectly just. He does not damn the innocent non-members or let wicked members slide in. One can do as much natural good as Mother Therese and be damned and one could do very little of the corporal works of mercy and still die in a state of sanctifying grace and be saved. It all comes down to, along with the other requisites necessary for baptism of desire, whether one dies unrepentant of what one knows or believes to be a serious sin or not. One who knows that baptism is necessary to be saved but needlessly puts baptism off is culpable of a serious sin and will die culpable of mortal sin and with Original Sin on his soul.
Would it be just or merciful for God to condemn one for something he was not culpable of? Of course not. But God is all just and all merciful. If given a choice would you prefer to die as a legitimate member of the Catholic Church guilty of mortal sin or as a non-member not guilty of mortal sin? Who do you think God looks upon more favorably on the Day of Judgment? When God judges souls He does not stand next to Saint Peter with His eyes to the ground blind to the state of a man's soul merely asking for proof of membership. "License and registration please." God is not a technical bureaucrat judging a man's eternal fate over a purported formality. He looks into the heart to see if one is guilty (committed that which he believed or knew to be a mortal sin and was not legitimately repentant of it) of a grievous sin or not.
Of course it can be reasonably assumed that some, many, perhaps the vast majority of all non-members, do not become members of the Catholic Church because of her moral teachings or for some other illegitimate reason and therefore are culpable for not becoming members. They disagree with her teaching, are not willing to change their lifestyles or are unwilling to believe Jesus is the second Person of the Holy Trinity because they need proof, and as a result are unwilling to look into the matter further. These people can neither be said to desire to enter the Church or to be inculpably ignorant of the necessity of the Church for salvation. They do not consider or care whether the Catholic Church is the true Church or not. They care about their lifestyles, refuse to believe what they cannot experience with their senses and are not going to let any Church tell them to the contrary. They have taken the place of God as the arbiters of truth and judgers of good and evil. Anyone who stops themselves from knowing truth or conforming to God's will willingly and persistently for the sake of convenience or any other illegitimate reason willfully maintain themselves outside the kingdom of God and from the possibility of salvation.
Keep in mind that these damned can do many natural good works such as feeding the poor, selfless service to the less fortunate and many other great acts that from a naturalistic and exterior perspective, put many who will be saved to shame. But they lack the one essential ingredient. Membership in the Church? No. Sanctifying grace. The sanctifying grace that God freely gives to the sincere and pure of heart not guilty of mortal sin. It is God Who cleanses the soul of Original sin in one who is baptized with water, blood or in desire. That is what God clearly teaches through His Church. But some insist on being disappointed that it is possible for the just to be saved if they are not members of the Church, even after the infallible teachings of the Church to the contrary are presented to them.
Understanding the Dogma, No Salvation Outside the Church, as the Church understands it makes sense to those who do not like to strain gnats (take a quote and have it mean something more or something different than what it actually means) and swallow camels (ignore or disassemble quotes that have a contrary meaning to their beliefs). Being saved "within" the Church is not as complicated as some would have it be, nor is it as simple as others would have it be. It simply comes down to the heart which only God, the Just and Merciful Judge can judge at the moment of death. It comes down to whether one dies in a state of sanctifying grace or not at the moment of death.
A non-member can die in a state of sanctifying grace but his sins are forgiven only through that Church that he is within by desire. Keep in mind that one who at least implicitly desires to be a member of the true Church is within that Church (so long as all the other requisites accompany that authentic desire) though not as a member. All of this does not undermine the grave necessity for all to seek the Truth and embrace it to the degree they are capable. Anyone who knows or reasonably should know that the Roman Catholic Church is necessary for salvation but refuses to become a member will be damned.
In his encyclical Humani generis Pope Pius XII referred to a statement by his great predecessor, Pope Pius IX, to the effect that the noblest function of sacred theology is that of showing how the doctrine defined by the Church is found in the sources of revelation-that is, in Sacred Scripture and in divine apostolic tradition-in the very sense in which the Church has proposed it. This book is the result of a laborious and humble effort to do this with reference to what the ecclesiastical teaching authority has taught and defined about the necessity of the Church for the attainment of eternal salvation.
Few dogmas of the Catholic faith have been commented upon and interpreted in twentieth-century theological and religious literature as frequently and extensively as that which teaches us that there is no salvation outside the true Church of Jesus Christ. Hence any new book on this subject ought at least to try to offer some theological advantage on this subject not already available in currently accessible Catholic literature. The author of this present work sincerely believes that its publication is justified for these three reasons:
(1) This book quotes, and quotes, at length, pertinent statements and definitions by the Holy See and by the Church's Oecumenical Councils on the necessity of the Church for the attainment of eternal salvation. It analyzes these pronouncements and brings out explicitly the Catholic teachings referred to and implied in them. Then it examines the dogma, as it has been stated and explained by the Church's magisterium, in the light of what the sources of revelation have to say about the nature of the Church and about the processes of salvation and sanctification. Thus it is able to show that what the Church itself has always taught and defined on this subject is precisely what the divine message, contained in Scripture and tradition, has to say about salvation and about God's supernatural kingdom.
Any person who is at all familiar with what the great mass of religious and theological writings of our times have had to say about this dogma is quite well aware of the fact that, in an overwhelming majority of cases, these writings have been mainly, almost exclusively, concerned with proving and explaining how this dogma does not mean that only members of the Catholic Church can be saved. This, of course, is perfectly true. The ecclesiastical magisterium, in teaching and guarding this dogma, insists that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church and at the same time likewise insists that people who die without ever becoming members of the Catholic Church can obtain the Beatific Vision.
But if we, for all practical purposes, limit our explanation of the dogma to an assurance that it does not mean that every man who dies a non-member of the Catholic Church is not necessarily lost forever-as so many modern writings on this subject seem to do-we tend to lose sight of the central mysteries of God's merciful dispensation in the supernatural order. For, let us not forget it, the revealed truths about the necessity of the Catholic Church for the attainment of eternal salvation belong to the order of the great supernatural mysteries. They belong with God's revealed doctrine about grace, about the process of salvation, the work of the Redemption, and the Blessed Trinity. In showing how the teachings of the ecclesiastical magisterium are contained in the sources of revelation in the very sense in which they have been stated and defined by the Church itself, we can see this dogma of the Church precisely as the accurate and authoritative expression of a revealed mystery.
(2) During the pontificate of the present Holy Father [Pius XII] three authoritative documents issued by the Holy See have instructed the members of the Church about the meaning of the dogma that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Two of these are encyclical letters, the Mystici Corporis Christi, issued June 29, 1943, and the Humani generis, dated August 12, 1950. The third is the Holy Office letter Suprema haec sacra, addressed by order of the Holy Father August 8, 1949, to the Most Reverend Archbishop of Boston. The doctrinal section of this last document is devoted exclusively to an explanation of this dogma. It is the most completely detailed statement of this teaching ever set forth in an authoritative document of the Church's magisterium.
There would obviously seem to be, not only room for, but an actual need of, a book that would present and analyze the teachings on this subject brought out in these three recent documents from the Holy See. And, in the lack of any other work in English devoted exclusively to the explanation of this portion of Catholic doctrine and written since the appearance of these three documents, the present book is humbly offered in the hope that it may satisfy that need.
(3) In the Humani generis the present Holy Father sternly rebuked some contemporary Catholic writers because, as he said, "they reduce to an empty formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to attain to eternal salvation." Actually this particular part of Catholic doctrine is unique in that an inaccurate interpretation or presentation of it by a Catholic writer does actually constitute, in most cases, the reduction of this teaching to an empty formula.
Furthermore the vagaries of some writers, particularly in the field of popular religious literature, on the subject, are in some way explicable in terms of the peculiar history of the tractatus de ecclesia within the body of scholastic theology. A sketch of this history is available in the present volume, since I believe that the man who knows something about the basis of some of the more colorful misinterpretations of the dogma will be in a better position to appreciate and to defend the genuine teaching of the Church in this field.
This introduction would not be complete without an expression of sincere gratitude to the Very Reverend Dr. Francis J. Connell, C. SS. R., for these last fourteen years my brilliant and faithful associate in the work of The American Ecclesiastical Review. He has been kind enough to read and to correct the manuscript of this book with the same charitable care he has given to the reading and the correction of all I have written for publication since our association began.
If you love Truth, this intro has you salivating a bit. The Catholic Church has no false agenda and God does not damn those who are not guilty [culpable] of mortal sin. We will see that it is possible for a non-member of the Catholic Church to die in a state of sanctifying grace much as it is quite possible for a member to be damned. The Dogma, No Salvation Outside the Church, is not about membership so much as it is about sincerity of heart and dying in a state of sanctifying grace i.e. being "within" the Church at least by an active, though even implicit desire that is leading one towards membership that may not be obtained until the moment of death. If you die in a state of sanctifying grace you die within the Church and instantaneously become a member of the Church Suffering or the Church Triumphant where no Protestants are allowed.
For Past articles by John, see Archives of John Gregory's FAITHFUL TO TRADTION features
"Catholics who remain faithful to Tradition, even if they are reduced to but a handful, they are THE TRUE CHURCH" Saint Athanasius, "Apostle of Tradition" AD 373