Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Vol. 24, no. 205

The Dogma of Salvation in Official Pronouncements of the Church
First Part

    Prior to Vatican 2 and the occupiers who slithered in as imposters with the intent to slowly but surely destroy the Church, the true magisterium ordinarium et universale determined that one must believe what the Church has decreed. It is not open to opinion if it is de fide. While there are some discussions and dissent on theological opinions, such as the stance of sedevacantism, there is no discussion as to who is saved outside the Church. That would be no one! However one need not be a member of the Church per se to be saved, though one can only be saved through the Catholic Church. That is de fide, set in stone, as Monsignor Fenton so deftly explains in identifying the very documents that lock this in with no room for discussion. Yes, Feeneyites, it's an open and shut case. Oh, and those in the Recognize-and-Resist camp, compare the orthodoxy and no-nonsense doctrine Fr. Fenton presents to the excessive verbage and progressive pabulum the robber barons have been spewing for the past 50 years.

        "As authoritative statements of the teaching Church, all of these pronouncements of the Holy See and of Oecumenical Councils must be accepted with true internal consent by all Catholics. What they teach on the subject of this dogma is what all Catholics are bound in conscience to hold. It is definitely not enough for Catholics to receive these declarations with what has been called 'respectful silence.' It is not sufficient that they merely refrain from overt statements rejecting what has been taught in these authoritative documents of the ecclesia docens. Every Catholic is strictly bound in conscience to make what the Church has taught in this way his own view, his own conviction, on this subject. And, as a result, it is objectively wrong for any Catholic to hold an explanation of the Church's necessity for salvation which is in any way incompatible with what the Church has taught authoritatively about this dogma."

    As we go through the teachings of the Church pertaining to salvation it is important that we understand the vitalness of Catholics accepting infallible teachings in encyclicals and in other authoritative documents as will be made clear by Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton below. Some have an aversion to the fact that no one at all can be saved outside the Catholic Church. Others have an aversion to the fact that non-members can be saved within the Catholic Church. Neither understands the Dogma Outside the Church there is no Salvation as the Church Herself understands it.

    A sheep is a docile and accepting creature. The same is true of good Catholics. When you see an authoritative document that presents a teaching contrary to what you have always believed the initial Catholic response is to doubt your belief rather than to naturally conclude that the authoritative document has erred.

    We will see that Saint Augustine makes the same point I have been making, or I guess I'm making the same point he made, when I say that it is God Who cleanses the soul of Original Sin, not the water:

        Augustine says (Super Levit. lxxxiv) that "some have received the invisible sanctification without visible sacraments, and to their profit; but though it is possible to have the visible sanctification, consisting in a visible sacrament, without the invisible sanctification, it will be to no profit." Since, therefore, the sacrament of Baptism pertains to the visible sanctification, it seems that a man can obtain salvation without the sacrament of Baptism, by means of the invisible sanctification.

    The sacrament or Baptism may be wanting to someone in two ways. First, both in reality and in desire; as is the case with those who neither are baptized, nor wished to be baptized: which clearly indicates contempt of the sacrament, in regard to those who have the use of the free-will. Consequently those to whom Baptism is wanting thus, cannot obtain salvation: since neither sacramentally nor mentally are they incorporated in Christ, through Whom alone can salvation be obtained.

    Secondly, the sacrament of Baptism may be wanting to anyone in reality but not in desire: for instance, when a man wishes to be baptized, but by some ill-chance he is forestalled by death before receiving Baptism. And such a man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism, which desire is the outcome of "faith that worketh by charity," whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly. Hence Ambrose says of Valentinian, who died while yet a catechumen: "I lost him whom I was to regenerate: but he did not lose the grace he prayed for."

    As it is written (1 Samuel 16:7), "man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart." [I have tried to make this point many times as well. J.G.] Now a man who desires to be "born again of water and the Holy Ghost" by Baptism, is regenerated in heart though not in body. Thus the Apostle says (Romans 2:29) that "the circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God."

    No man obtains eternal life unless he be free from all guilt and debt of punishment. Now this plenary absolution is given when a man receives Baptism, or suffers martyrdom: for which reason is it stated that martyrdom "contains all the sacramental virtue of Baptism," i.e. as to the full deliverance from guilt and punishment. Suppose, therefore, a catechumen to have the desire for Baptism (else he could not be said to die in his good works, which cannot be without "faith that worketh by charity"), such a one, were he to die, would not forthwith come to eternal life, but would suffer punishment for his past sins, "but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire" as is stated 1 Corinthians 3:15.

    The sacrament of Baptism is said to be necessary for salvation in so far as man cannot be saved without, at least, Baptism of desire; "which, with God, counts for the deed" (Augustine, Enarr. in Ps. 57).

    Now if your immediate reaction is to doubt Saint Augustine rather than yourself you need to change your thinking. Hit the beads hard man, and pray for sincerity, humility and the grace to know Truth as presented and understood by the Church. Then read the following as we continue with Monsignor Fenton's book - "The Catholic Church and Salvation":

        There are several documents issued by the Church's supreme teaching authority which deal with the revealed doctrine that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. The latest editions of Denzinger's Enchiridion symbolorum carry upwards of twenty citations directly pertinent to this dogma, taken from different official documents issued by the Holy See and by Oecumenical Councils. If a man wants to learn exactly how the Catholic Church itself understands and teaches this revealed truth, he can best obtain this information by reading and studying these official and authoritative statements of the ecclesiastical magisterium.

        Actually, however, it is not necessary to study every one of these statements individually. It so happens that there are eight of these official pronouncements which, taken together, bring out every aspect of Catholic teaching on this subject that the Church has included in its authoritative documents. Hence an examination of these eight statements will show us every aspect and facet of the Church's official and authoritative teaching about its own necessity for the attainment of eternal salvation.

    The eight documents in which these pronouncements are contained are:

      (1) A profession of the Catholic faith issued by the Fourth Lateran Council, the twelfth in the series of Oecumenical Councils, in 1215, during the pontificate Pope Innocent III.

      (2) The Bull Unam sanctam, published by Pope Boniface VIII, on November 18, 1302.

      (3) The decree for the Jacobites, the Bull Cantate Domino, published by Pope Eugenius IV on February 4, 1442, and included in the Acta of the Council of Florence, the seventeenth among the Oecumenical Councils.

      (4) The allocution Singulari quadam, delivered on December 9, 1854, the day after the solemn definition of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception, by Pope Pius IX, to the Cardinals, Archbishops, and bishops gathered in Rome for that definition.

      (5) The encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore, addressed by Pope Pius IX to the Bishops of Italy on August 10, 1863.

      (6) The encyclical letter Mystici Corporis Christi, published on June 29, 1943, by Pope Pius XII.

      (7) The letter Suprema haec sacra, sent by the Holy Office, at the command of Pope Pius XII, to His Excellency the Most Reverend Archbishop of Boston, on August 8, 1949.

      (8) The encyclical letter Humani generis, issued by Pope Pius XII on August 12, 1950.

        Each of the eight chapters that go to make up the first part of this book will consider the teachings of one of these documents on the necessity of the Catholic Church for the attainment of eternal salvation. The documents will be studied in chronological order.

        As authoritative statements of the teaching Church, all of these pronouncements of the Holy See and of Oecumenical Councils must be accepted with true internal consent by all Catholics. What they teach on the subject of this dogma is what all Catholics are bound in conscience to hold. It is definitely not enough for Catholics to receive these declarations with what has been called "respectful silence." It is not sufficient that they merely refrain from overt statements rejecting what has been taught in these authoritative documents of the ecclesia docens. Every Catholic is strictly bound in conscience to make what the Church has taught in this way his own view, his own conviction, on this subject. And, as a result, it is objectively wrong for any Catholic to hold an explanation of the Church's necessity for salvation which is in any way incompatible with what the Church has taught authoritatively about this dogma.

        The first three of the eight documents studied in this book limit themselves, mainly, to the assertion as a dogma of the Faith of the teaching that no man can be saved outside the Catholic Church. A dogma is a truth which the Church finds in Scripture or in divine apostolic tradition and which, either in solemn judgment or in its ordinary and universal teaching activity, it presents to its people as a doctrine revealed by God and as something which all are obligated to accept with the assent of divine and Catholic faith. Since the teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church is a dogma, men are obligated in conscience to believe it as certainly true on the authority of God Himself, who has revealed it. Objectively the refusal to believe this teaching with an act of divine faith constitutes heresy. The public denial by a Catholic of this or any other dogma of the Church is something that carries with it a loss of membership in the true Church. [Something for non-sedevacantists to chew on. J.G.]

        The first three of these pronouncements are contained in documents of the Church's solemn teaching activity. The other five belong to the ordinary magisterium of the Holy See. Four of these, the teachings contained in the allocution Singulari quadam and in the encyclical letters Quanto conficiamur moerore, Mystici Corporis Christi, and Humani generis, were issued by the Sovereign Pontiff himself. The other statement treated in this book, that of the Holy Office letter Suprema haec sacra, is an act of a Roman Congregation. Thus, according to the rule set forth in canon 7 of the Codex iuris canonici, it must likewise be considered and described as an act of the Holy See.

        All of these statements of the Church's ordinary magisterium are authoritative. Pope Pius XII spoke of the Holy Father's own ordinary teaching power in the encyclical Humani generis, in a passage which has special reference to the teaching set forth in encyclical letters.

          Nor must one think that the truths proposed in encyclical letters do not demand assent by themselves (assensum per se non postulare), since in writing such letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their teaching authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me"; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in encyclical letters already appertains to Catholic doctrine for other reasons. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their Acta take the trouble to issue a decision on a point hitherto controverted, it is obvious that this point, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, can no longer be considered a question open to discussion among theologians. [The Latin text of Humani generis is carried in The Americal Ecclesiastical Review, CXXIII, 5 (Nov., 1950), 383-98. The paragraph here quoted is n. 20, p. 389. Subsequent references to The American Ecclesiastical Review will use the abbreviation AER.]

        The following passage, taken from the letter Tuas libenter, written by Pope Pius IX on December 21, 1863, to the Archbishop of Munich, gives a clear view of the doctrinal authority of the Holy See's statements, including pronouncements issued by the Congregations of the Roman Curia.

          Even in the matter of that subjection which must be given in the act of divine faith, it should still not be restricted to those things that have been defined in the obvious decrees of the Oecumenical Councils or of the Roman Pontiffs or of this See, but must also be extended to that which is taught as divinely revealed by the ordinary magisterium of the entire Church spread throughout the world and which, as a result, is presented as belonging to the faith according to the common and constant agreement of the Catholic theologians.

          But, on the matter of that subjection to which all Catholics who are engaged in the work of the speculative sciences are obliged in conscience, so that, by their writings, they may bring new advantages to the Church, the members of this assembly [a convention of German theologians] must take cognizance of the fact that it is not enough for them to receive and to venerate the above-mentioned dogmas of the Church, but that it is also necessary that they subject themselves to the doctrinal decisions of the Pontifical Congregations and to those points of doctrine that are considered by the common and constant agreement of Catholics as theological truths and conclusions which are so certain that opinions opposed to these points of doctrine still merit some other theological censure, even though they may not be designated as heretical. [Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 30th edition (Freiburg-im-Breisgau: Herder, 1954), nn. 1683 f. Further reference to the Enchiridion symbolorum in this volume will use the abbreviation Denz.]

        The directions given almost a hundred years ago by Pope Pius IX are just as valid and necessary now as they were when the Tuas libenter was first written. It is and it always will be the duty and the privilege of the Catholic to accept and to enjoy the body of truth given to the faithful in the official declarations of the ecclesiastical magisterium. [For a more extensive treatment of this subject cf. Fenton, "The Humani generis and the Holy Father's Ordinary Magisterium," in AER, CXXV, 1 (July, 1951), 53-62.] And, from a study of the eight documents cited in the first part of this book, we can see exactly what the Catholic magisterium has taught about the necessity of the Church for the attainment of eternal salvation.

    We are all bound to accept authoritative documents by the magisterium. And to reinforce this I will share an article by Monsignor Fenton that was devoted to this topic alone:

Monsignor Fenton

There is one section of the Holy Father's encyclical Humani generis which has aroused a special deal of attention in our own country. It is the following paragraph, the one numbered "20" both in the NCWC translation and in the Latin text which was printed in last November's issue of AER.

    Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their teaching authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me"; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians. [This paragraph is found on p. 10 of the NCWC translation. The Latin original of this paragraph in printed in AER, CXXIII, 5 (Nov. 1950), 389.]

Each sentence of this paragraph contains an important theological truth. The first expresses a sometimes obscured fact about the Holy Father's teaching activity. The second sentence brings out a truth which has not hitherto been set down very frequently in that section of theological writing dealing with the Holy Father's teaching power. It constitutes a striking contribution to theological literature. The third stands as a necessary inference from the first and second sentences. It has definite and intensely practical implications for present day theologians.

The first statement of this paragraph condemns any minimizing of the authority of papal encyclicals which might be based on the subterfuge that the Holy Father does not use the fullness of his doctrinal power in such documents. The teaching of the encyclicals postulates an assensum per se, an acceptance by Catholics precisely because it is the teaching of the supreme doctrinal authority within the universal Church of Jesus Christ on earth. It demands such acceptance even when the Holy Father does not use supremam sui Magisterii potestatem. In other words, Catholics are bound to tender, not merely a courteous acknowledgment, but a genuine and sincere inward acceptance, to teachings which the Holy Father sets forth with a note or qualification less than de fide or even doctrina certa.

It is impossible to see the full meaning of this teaching without having an accurate understanding of what constitutes the suprema magisterii potestas of the Roman Pontiff. Here two distinct misconceptions must be avoided. The suprema magisterii potestas is in no way limited to the solemn teaching activity of the Holy Father, to the exclusion of the doctrinal pronouncements he makes in the ordinary manner. Neither is it in any way restricted to the primary object of the Church's doctrinal competence, to the exclusion of those truths which lie within what is known as the secondary object of the Church's infallible teaching power. The Holy Father actually exercises his suprema magisterii potestas whenever he issues an infallible or irrevocable doctrinal decision or pronouncement binding upon the universal Church militant. The mode or manner of such a pronouncement may be either solemn or extraordinary or ordinary. He may speak within the field of the primary object of the Church's infallible teaching power, or within that of the secondary object. In any case, where the decision is final and is addressed to and binding upon the universal Church militant, the utterance is an exercise of the suprema magisterii potestas. This holds true, we must remember, whether the statement be one of the solemn judgment or the ordinary magisterium.

The first declaration presupposes that documents or statements in which the Holy Father uses his suprema magisterii potestas demand acceptance by all Christians, and that such acceptance is due to these pronouncements by reason of the authority or weight of the pronouncements themselves. To this presupposition it adds the declaration that the papal encyclicals (and similar writings or oral statements addressed by the Holy Father directly or indirectly to the universal Church militant) demand a genuine acceptance on the part of Christians even where the suprema magisterii potestas is not employed.

In other words, the Humani generis here renews the Church's teaching that the Holy Father is empowered, not only to obligate the disciples of Jesus Christ to accept, on faith or as certain, statements within the sphere of the Church's doctrinal competence, but also to impose the duty of accepting other propositions within this same sphere as opinions. The Roman Pontiff's commission and responsibility in the doctrinal line within the true Church are such as to demand the power to command doctrinal assent from the faithful for propositions which he teaches as less than certain, or as less than de fide. It lies within the power, and sometimes within the duty of the Roman Pontiff to command his people to assent to propositions which he himself presents as statements which eventually could be abandoned.

Basically, there is nothing new in this concept. The Sovereign Pontiffs have frequently stigmatized statements with a doctrinal censure less severe than that of heresy, and less severe than that of error. It has always been recognized as a fact that Catholics are obliged in conscience to accept these condemnations, and to reject the proscribed propositions inwardly and sincerely. In the last analysis, this process involved the command to adopt an opinion, since the Church, in designating a proposition merely as something rash or ill sounding (to mention only two of these doctrinal censures inferior to those of heresy and error), has not given a definition or completely definitive judgment on the matter in question. The irrevocable decision is to be found only the definitions properly so called, the designation of some propositions as de fide or as certain. Where the declaration is not irrevocable, it is not a definition in the strict sense at all. Properly speaking, such declarations call for an assent which is at once obligatory and opinionative in nature.

The Humani generis thus reasserts the right of the Roman Pontiff to command such an opinionative assent. When, in his encyclicals, or in any other documents or utterances of his doctrinal office, he imposes a teaching upon the members of the universal Church militant with anything less than his suprema magisterii potestas, he is calling for such an opinionative judgment. The faithful must, if they are to be loyal in their following of Christ, accept this opinionative judgment as their own. The obligation imposed by the encyclicals is not satisfied when a man merely allows that the teaching set forth in a non-infallible papal pronouncement is a respectable opinion. The followers of Christ, guided by the teaching of Christ which comes to them in the declarations of His Vicar on earth, are bound to take that opinion as their own.

The day may come when that opinion will have to be modified. The Church allows for this possibility when it presents this teaching by other than an irrevocable pronouncement. When that day comes, the ecclesia docens within which Our Lord lives and teaches will realize that the holding of this opinion as it has hitherto been set forth is no longer requisite for the purity of the true faith in the actual circumstances then existent. Unquestionably the labors of the theologians and the other Catholic scholars throughout the world will have contributed to the formation of that judgment. But, when that judgment comes, it will inevitably be the work, not of separate scholars within the Church, but of the ecclesia docens itself. The voice of Christ the Teacher within His Church comes to us through the ecclesia docens, and never in opposition to it.

Actually, it is quite impossible to grasp the meaning of this first statement in the twentieth paragraph of the Humani generis unless we take direct cognizance of the fact that Our Lord remains always as the Supreme Teacher within His Church. The authoritative definitions and the declarations of the Catholic Church are not like the resolutions of some mere learned society or professional group. They are the continual doctrinal directions given by Our Lord, through the instrumentality of the ecclesia docens, within His kingdom on earth. They serve to enlighten and guide the disciples of Christ during their period of pilgrimage on this earth in such a way that they may arrive safely in the Church's patria of Heaven. Frequently it would happen that, in an existent status of science or of culture, the acceptance of some opinion or the rejection of another opinion would endanger the integrity of the faith itself among the people of God. It is in such cases that Our Lord, through the instrumentality of His servants in the ecclesia docens, commands His followers to adopt one opinion or to reject another, precisely as an opinion. The modification of these declarations, when and if such modifications ever comes, in no way violates the infallibility of the Church since the doctrine in question was never presented as irrevocable and infallible teaching.

The second sentence in this twentieth paragraph of the encyclical has great importance for modern students of sacred theology. It affirms that the encyclicals are organs of the Holy Father's magisterium ordinarium, and that the promise Our Lord made to His apostles (and through them to their successors in the ecclesia docens) that "He who hears you, hears Me," [Luke, 10: 16.] applies to the magisterium ordinarium just as truly as it applies to the solemn judgments issued by the Holy Father himself or by the ecclesia docens as a whole. This same sentence likewise adds the comment that most of the statements which the faithful are obligated to accept from the encyclicals have already been allocated within the field of Catholic doctrine on some other title. In other words, the Humani generis takes cognizance of the fact that no individual pontifical letter is composed entirely (or even in great part) of assertions which have never before been set forth authoritatively by the ecclesia docens.

In a general way, the theological literature dealing with the Church's infallible and authoritative teaching power has tended to restrict the term "ordinary and universal magisterium" to the teachings of the residential bishops of the Catholic Church scattered throughout the world and united with the Roman Pontiff. The terminology of these volumes left little room for any study of the ordinary magisterium of the Roman Pontiff himself. Occasionally we encounter some theological writer careless enough to deny that the Holy Father can teach infallibly other than by solemn judgment or definition. [One writer on theological subjects who made this mistake is Antoine Chevasse, in his essay, "La véritable conception de l'infaillibilité pontificale," in the symposium Église et unite (Lille, 1948), pp. 80ff.] For the most part, however, there is very little comment at all about the Roman Pontiff's magisterium ordinarium. Hence the declaration of the Humani generis to the effect that teaching presented authoritatively (that is, in such a way that Catholics are obliged in conscience to accept it and to adopt it as their own) in the papal encyclicals comes to us by way of the magisterium ordinarium is definitely a contribution to modern theological thought.

The Vatican Council had taught that a dogma of the faith is a truth which the Church finds contained in either of the two sources of divine revelation and which it presents as divine revelation that men must accept as such. It specified that this presentation might be made either in a solemn judgment or by the Church's ordinary and universal magisterium. Most of the manuals took this term "universal" to mean the teaching of the apostolic college of the Catholic Church as it is scattered throughout the world. In other words, they considered the word as applying to a magisterium that was universal in the sense that it was acting over the face of the entire earth at the same time. They acknowledged that such a magisterium universale et ordinarium could be the organ by which a dogma of the Catholic faith might be presented to the people of Jesus Christ, and they pointed to the dogma of the Church's own infallibility as a teaching that is proposed to the members of the Church militant in exactly that fashion.

Now it is a dogma of the Church, presented as such by the Vatican Council itself, that the Holy Father enjoys the same infallibility in defining doctrines about faith and morals that the universal Church (or the entire ecclesia docens) possesses. Thus, since the entire ecclesia docens (the residential bishops of the Catholic Church united with their head, St. Peter's successor in the See of Rome) can define a dogma either in a solemn judgment (when they are gathered together in an oecumenical council) or in an ordinary manner (when they are actually resident in their own dioceses throughout the world), it follows that the Holy Father himself can speak "ex cathedra" and define a dogma either in solemn judgment (as in cases of the definitions of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception and her glorious bodily Assumption) or by some ordinary means, as, for example, in an encyclical letter.

In such a case, the Holy Father's teaching is universal. He exercises, according to the divine constitution of the Church itself, a true and episcopal jurisdiction over every one of the faithful and over every one of the other pastors within the Church militant. Thus there is nothing whatsoever to prevent the magisterium ordinarium of the Holy Father from being considered precisely as a magisterium universale. It is de fide that the Church's magisterium ordinarium et universale can be the vehicle for the definition and presentation of a Catholic dogma. It is perfectly certain that this same magisterium ordinarium et universale can also be the vehicle or the organ of a definition within the field of the Church's secondary object of infallible teaching. The encyclicals of the Holy Father can be and actually are statements of this magisterium. Hence they can be documents in which a dogma is defined or a certain truth of Catholic doctrine (which, however, is not presented precisely as revealed) is brought to the people of God on earth. This is the truth upon which the Humani generis insists at this point. And, since the power to impose authoritatively what may be called an interpretatively conditional assent (an assent which is definitely below the order of real certitude and hence belongs within the field of the opinionative) necessarily accompanies the power to pronounce an infallible judgment, this statement of the Humani generis carries with it the necessary implication that the Holy Father can and does teach authoritatively in his encyclicals when he wishes to impose upon the faithful the obligation of accepting a proposition which he presents neither as de fide nor as theologically certain.

The Humani generis likewise adverts to the fact that, when a person hearkens to the authoritative teaching of the ecclesia docens, that person is actually hearkening to the voice of Our Lord Himself. Once again, it takes this means to remind us that the Church does not teach in this world other than as the instrument and the body of Jesus Christ. The man who quibbles about the Church's doctrinal authority is finding fault, in the last analysis, with the means by which Our Lord brings His divine truth to the children of men. There can be no intelligent appreciation about the Church's magisterium except where and insofar as this paramount fact is taken into consideration.

The last statement of the twentieth paragraph in the Humani generis contains one of the most valuable and important lessons of the entire encyclical. It answers a vitally basic question which must be considered before any practical appreciation of the Church's teaching can be given. The question is this: how can we tell that any statement in a papal encyclical (or in any other document of the Church's magisterium) is one which Catholics are bound in conscience to accept by reason of the authority of the document itself?

The Humani generis does not try to offer anything like a complete answer to this query. It contents itself here with pointing out one instance in which Catholics are definitely and obviously bound in conscience to give an inward assent to the teachings of a papal document. Such an instance occurs, according to the Humani generis, when the Holy Father takes the trouble to issue a pronouncement on a subject which has, up until the issuance of this particular document in which the pronouncement is contained, been considered as open to controversy.

Clearly nothing can be considered as open to question among Catholics where there has been a definite and direct word of the authoritative ecclesiastical magisterium on this subject. Hence the res hactenus controversa to which the Humani generis refers must be a question not as yet decided by the authority of the Holy See or of the ecclesia docens as a whole. The point established in the encyclical is that when the Holy Father, data opera, issues a statement on this matter, it can no longer legitimately be considered as still open to debate among theologians. This remains true even where the sententia pronounced by the Roman Pontiff is not put forward as irrevocable, where, in other words, the contradictory of the teaching asserted is to be condemned with a theological censure less than de fide or erronea.

All that is required in this instance is that the pontifical document should put forward a judgment on a question which has hitherto been considered as undecided, that it should make a definite statement (sententiam ferre) which would be contradictory to or incompatible with some of the opinions previously expressed on this question by theologians. Nothing is said about the necessity of any particular formulae. The intention of the Roman Pontiff to settle the question (either finally and irrevocably, by a declaration that this truth is de fide or at least that it is doctrina certa, or by an interpretatively conditional and opinionative judgment, according to which the contradictory of the teaching given would be qualified as temeraria), is established by the very fact that the Pontiff, in one of his official documents or declarations, takes the trouble to make a pronouncement on the subject. Nothing more is needed.

An example of this procedure is to be found in the treatment of the question about the immediate source of episcopal jurisdiction in the Holy Father's encyclical Mystici Corporis. Prior to the appearance of that document there had been many excellent theologians who had contended that the residential bishops of the Catholic Church receive their jurisdictional authority immediately from Our Lord. A greater number of theologians (and writers de iure publico ecclesiastico) held, on the contrary, that these men received their powers from Our Lord through the Roman Pontiff, in such a way that they came immediately from the Holy Father. In the Mystici Corporis, the Pope spoke of the residential bishops' ordinary power of jurisdiction as something "immediate sibi ab eodem Pontifice Summo impertita." That phrase was rightly taken as an indication that the controversy had been settled, once and for all. Where before the teaching that bishops received their power of jurisdiction immediately from the Roman Pontiff had been qualified as "communis," it now became known as "doctrina certa." [Cf. Msgr. Alfredo Ottaviani, in his Institutiones iuris publici ecclesiastici, 3rd edition (Rome: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1947), I, 413; and also the discussion on this point in AER, CXXI, 3 (Sept. 1949), 210.] The fact that the Sovereign Pontiff had, as it were "gone out of his way," or "taken the trouble," to speak out on a question which had hitherto been regarded as controversial, was taken as an indication that he wished to put an end to the discussion.

In this particular case, the Holy Father expressed himself categorically. Speaking of the bishops' ordinary power of jurisdiction, he qualified it unconditionally as something received immediately from the Sovereign Pontiff. Hence the resulting note was doctrina certa. It would also have been within his power to impose this same teaching as an opinionative judgment, and in this case the censure attached to the contradictory of this teaching would have been ad minus temeraria.

The fact that a question is thus treated by the Roman Pontiff is, according to the Humani generis, an indication that the Holy Father intends that this subject should no longer be considered as a question open to free debate among theologians. The theologians of the Catholic Church have always recognized the fact than an intention on the part of the Holy Father is requisite if the faithful are to be bound by the teaching contained in his official acta. Hitherto, however, there has been too much of a tendency to consider that such an intention would have to be manifested by some sort of formula, as, for instance, by the use of such terms as "define" or "declare." The Humani generis has put an end to this dangerous minimism. Henceforth Catholic theologians have no excuse for not recognizing the fact that a deliberate pontifical statement on a subject which has hitherto been rightly considered as open to debate, takes the matter treated out of this category and makes it a subject on which Catholic writers are bound to accept the judgment of Christ's Vicar on earth.

If the decision of the Holy Father be not irrevocable, the fact that the matter is no longer open to debate does not in any way prevent individual theologians from investigating the subject with a view of working towards a modification of the present Catholic position. There is always at least the absolute possibility that such investigation may eventually result in a modification of the opinion incumbent upon Catholics by reason of the authority of the Roman Pontiff. It is wrong, however, to teach or to advocate the now reproved position. If the decision is irrevocable, but only in the sense that the Holy Father has placed this teaching within the category of doctrina certa (but not doctrina de fide), then the theologian is free to argue about the possibility of a de fide or dogmatic definition of this point, but he is definitely not free to teach or to hold that the doctrine set forth by the Holy Father can be rejected or modified at all. No teaching is set forth as certain unless it has been defined as true, unless there is no possibility, no fear of danger, that the opposite may turn out to be true.

   The above source of Humani generis and the Holy Father's Ordinary Magisterium is taken from John Lane's Bellarmine Forums. Lastly I'll sum up with the end of another of Monsignor Fenton's articles, Magisterium and Jurisdiction in the Catholic Church:

    The great good that comes from an examination of this controversy is a realization of the fact that the teaching of the Catholic Church is authoritative in a unique sense. Ultimately it is Our Lord Himself who teaches within the Church, and the doctrines set forth in His name and by His authority by His ministers demand full acceptance on the part of all subjects of the Church. When the ecclesia docens acts, it inevitably binds the consciences of all Christians to accept its teachings and to manifest that acceptance. It forbids, by the very nature of its activity, any inaccurate statement about the doctrine which has been proposed, or any refusal to receive that doctrine as the personal tenet of the persons to whom it is addressed. The man who rejects that teaching, rejects Our Lord Himself.

    Ultimately, we must not allow ourselves to forget, the perfection of the Church's teaching authority is such that the Church itself does not need to add any other jurisdictional act to its authoritative condemnation of some teaching at variance with that doctrine in order to impose upon its subjects the obligation to accept that declaration with a true and inward assent, and in order to forbid, under penalty of offense against God Himself, any outward expression of opposition to what the Church has taught. The teaching power of the Church is inherently and essentially jurisdictional. The man who is subject to the authority of the Church has a duty before God of accepting the acts of the ecclesiastical magisterium with a sincere and genuine inward assent. He is obliged to manifest that acceptance, and to refrain from any oral or written opposition to or misinterpretation of what Our Lord, acting through the ecclesia docens, has proposed authoritatively for his guidance in His Church.

    The above also is from Bellarmine Forums. The Church has repeatedly used her teaching authority to express the fact that it is possible for non-members of the Catholic Church to be saved within that Church. If we refuse to accept this teaching we, in addition to putting ourselves in a dangerous position, put ourselves higher than the Church's magisterium in regards to having the authority to teach and explain divinely revealed truths.

John Gregory

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Vol. 24, no. 205