"Now, the Council teaches that a man must be in some way 'within' the Church of the faithful in order to be saved. It does not, however, in any way teach or even imply that no one other than one of the fideles can actually attain to the Beatific Vision. And, for that matter, no other authoritative declaration of the Church issues such a teaching or supports any such implication. It is not, and it has never been, the teaching of the Catholic Church that only actual members of the Church can attain eternal salvation. According to the teaching of the Church's own magisterium, salvation can be attained and, as a matter of fact, has been attained by persons who, at the moment of their death, were not members of this Church. The Church has thus never confused the notion of being 'outside the Church' with that of being a non-member of this society."
Hopefully in this series we are all learning something. Not only those of us who believed that it is absolutely impossible for a non-member of the Church to obtain salvation but others who had a broadened view of who the members are and or what the Church is. The Church teaches with the utmost clarity what the requirements are for membership and she teaches as well with utmost clarity what the Church is. There can be no mistake made about either of these definitions for one who wishes to understand the Church's teaching of the Dogma No Salvation Outside the Church as the Church Herself understands it. Mistaken notions regarding membership being taught in approved Catholic manuals and even some few Catechisms have led many of good will to conclude that their interpretation of the solemnly declared Dogma, No Salvation Outside the Church, means that it is impossible for non-members to be saved. Such people see the error on the teaching about membership in the Church and the definition of the Church itself and conclude from this that non-members cannot be saved. After all, according to some who have witnessed these errors, if highly regarded theologians err in their definition of "membership" and "Church" they certainly can err on who can be saved and who cannot. These highly regarded theologians did not err when teaching that non-members can be saved or in teaching baptism of blood and baptism of desire, but they did err in their definitions of membership and or in their definitions of the Church (some made other less obvious errors that have been and or will be addressed in this series) such as when they taught that those who authentically desire to enter the Church are actually members of that Church or when they taught that the soul of the Church is composed of those who do not partake of the Sacraments, profess the Faith and or submit to legitimate ecclesiastical authority.
We have learned and will continue to learn that a member must partake of the Sacraments, profess the Faith and submit to legitimate ecclesiastical authority, and that none of these requirements can be lacking for one to be a member of the Church. We have also learned that the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same. There is no invisible Church on earth distinct from or broader than the Roman Catholic Church Militant on earth within which one can be saved. Members of the Church share invisible traits such as the theological virtues with non-members who can be saved within the Church but those non-members are in fact non-members even if they be Catechumens with their Baptism only minutes away. Many Feeneyites would agree with all of this. The one thing that has not been made clear to them and to many other good willed Catholics is that non-members can be saved within the Church. This is what we are trying to make clear in this series through the infallible teaching of the Church Herself. With that let us continue with Monsignor Fenton's book "The Catholic Church and Salvation":
THE FOURTH OECUMENICAL COUNCIL
OF THE LATERAN
In the Firmiter, the first chapter of the doctrinal declarations of the Fourth Lateran Council, we find the following declaration: "There is, then, one universal Church of the faithful (una . . . fidelium universalis ecclesia), outside of which no one at all is saved (extra quam nullus omnino salvatur)." [Denz., 430.]
This formula bears a singular resemblance to one contained in the profession of faith prescribed by Pope Innocent III in 1208 for the Waldensians who wished to return to the Catholic Church: "We believe in our hearts and we profess orally that there is one Church, not that of the heretics, but the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic [Church], outside of which we believe that no one will be saved." [Denz., 423.]
Each of these documents presents three distinct statements as truths actually revealed by God, and consequently as doctrines which men are obliged to accept with the assent of divine faith itself. By immediate and necessary implication, they condemn as heretical the teachings contradictory to these three dogmas of the Catholic faith. The assert that:
(1) It is a divinely revealed truth that there is only once true ecclesia or Church of God.
(2) It is divinely revealed truth that this one true ecclesia is the Roman Catholic Church, the social unit properly termed "the universal Church of the faithful."
(3) No one at all, according to God's own revelation, can be saved if, at the moment of his death, he is "outside" this society.
As a result, according to the teaching of these documents, it would be heretical to imagine that there is more than one social unit in this world that can be designated as God's true ecclesia, that the Roman Catholic Church is not this true ecclesia, or that any person could attain to salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church.
In a study like ours, the special value of these two documents is to be found in the fact that they place the dogma of the Church's necessity for the attainment of salvation against its proper background, and that they, particularly the statement of the Lateran Council, bring out clearly the real and complete necessity of the Church according to the actual designs of God's providence.
These two declarations of the teaching Church during the pontificate Pope Innocent III set the dogma of the Church's necessity for the attainment of eternal salvation in its only proper perspective precisely because they state this teaching against the background of the divinely revealed truths that there is only one true supernatural kingdom of God (or ecclesia) in the world, and that this ecclesia is the Roman Catholic Church. The true supernatural kingdom of God on earth, God's ecclesia, is something definable and understandable in terms of its necessity for the attainment of the Beatific Vision. If we are to understand the terminology of the teaching set forth by the Fourth Council of the Lateran, we must realize that the men who drew up this profession of faith and all the men of the thirteenth century, both Catholics and heretics, were well aware of the fact that "the social unit outside of which no one at all is saved" and "the true Church or kingdom of God" are objectively identical. The heretics denied that the social unit over which the Bishop of Rome presides as visible head is actually the true ecclesia of God described in the Scriptures. But they certainly would not and did not question the fact that, wherever it was to be found, this true ecclesia is the company outside of which no one at all may attain the possession of the beatific Vision.
For all of these men, Catholics and heretics alike, the genuine Church of God was the company of His chosen people, the people of His covenant. It was the company of those who professed their acceptance of the divine and supernatural law by which God directs men to the attainment of the one ultimate and eternal happiness available to them, the happiness which is to be obtained only in the possession of the Beatific Vision. The true Church was the beneficiary of God's promises. It was the repository of His supernatural revelation. It dwelt in this world as in a place of pilgrimage, awaiting the glory of the fatherland of heaven.
They knew that the Church triumphant in heaven was to be the continuation and the flowering of the Church militant now existing on this earth, and that the people of the Church triumphant were, in point of fact, the people who had passed from this life "within" the Church militant and living the life of sanctifying grace. Thus they saw that the Church militant was actually something understandable in terms of necessity for the attainment of eternal salvation.
The profession of faith of the Fourth Lateran Council and the formula which the returning Waldensians were obliged to accept both insisted upon the unity and the unicity of the Church outside of which no one can be saved. Both asserted that this ecclesia, definable and understandable as the social unit outside of which no one can attain eternal salvation, is the religious society over which the Bishop of Rome presides. The profession of faith for the returning Waldensians states that this ecclesia of God is not the Church of the heretics, but that it is "the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic" Church. The Firmiter teaches exactly the same thing when it asserts that this one ecclesia outside of which no one at all is saved is the "one universal Church of the faithful."
The term fidelis had and still has a definite technical meaning in the language of Christianity. The fideles, or the faithful, are not merely the individuals who have made an act of divine faith in accepting the teaching of God's public and Christian revelation. They are actually those who have made the baptismal profession of faith, and who have not cut themselves off from the unity of the Church by public apostasy or heresy or schism and have not been cast out of the Church by the process of excommunication. In other words, according to the present terminology of sacred theology, the fidelis is simply the Catholic, the member of the Catholic Church. Thus the Church of the faithful, the universalis ecclesia fidelium, is nothing but the visible Catholic Church itself. And the formula of the Fourth Council of the Lateran tells us that this ecclesia fidelium is the one supernatural kingdom of God on earth, the company outside of which no one at all can attain eternal salvation.
Actually, in the traditional language of the Church, the term christianus itself had a wider application than the word fidelis. A catechumen might be designated as a christianus, but never as a fidelis. [Cf. Duchesne, Origines du culte chretien (Paris, 1898), p. 281; and Fenton, "Faith and the Church," in AER, CXX, 1 (Jan., 1949), 60.] A man gained the dignity and the position of a fidelis through the reception of the sacrament of baptism. This sacrament is precisely the sacrament of the faith. By the force of the character it imparts, it incorporates the person who receives it into that community which is the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. The effect of that incorporation is broken only by public heresy or apostasy, by schism, or by the full measure of excommunication. The man in whom the incorporating work of the baptismal character remains unbroken is the fidelis, the member of the Catholic Church. The social unit composed of these fideles is, according to the teaching of the Fourth Lateran Council, the true Church, outside of which no one at all is saved.
Now, the Council teaches that a man must be in some way "within" the Church of the faithful in order to be saved. It does not, however, in any way teach or even imply that no one other than one of the fideles can actually attain to the Beatific Vision. And, for that matter, no other authoritative declaration of the Church issues such a teaching or supports any such implication. It is not, and it has never been, the teaching of the Catholic Church that only actual members of the Church can attain eternal salvation. According to the teaching of the Church's own magisterium, salvation can be attained and, as a matter of fact, has been attained by persons who, at the moment of their death, were not members of this Church. The Church has thus never confused the notion of being "outside the Church" with that of being a non-member of this society.
Thus the Fathers of the Fourth Lateran Council and all the other churchmen who have drawn up authoritative statements of the Church's teaching on the necessity of the Church for the attainment of eternal salvation were well aware of what St. Augustine had taught about men who suffered martyrdom for the sake of Christ before having had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of baptism. In his De civitate Dei, St. Augustine taught that "whosoever dies for Christ, not having received the laver of regeneration, has this avail him for the forgiveness of sins as much as if these sins had been forgiven in the sacred font of baptism." [De civitate Dei, XIII, 7. MPL, XLI, 381.] Since the forgiveness of mortal or original sin is accomplished only in the infusion of the life of sanctifying grace, the person whose sins are forgiven is in the state of grace. If such a person dies in the state of grace, he will inevitably attain to the Beatific Vision. He will be saved, as having died "within" and not "outside" the true Church.
Furthermore, they knew that there is no such thing as real membership in the Church militant of the New Testament, the true and only ecclesia fidelium, apart from the reception of the sacrament of baptism. Thus, when the Fathers of the Fourth Oecumenical Council of the Lateran, and the other authoritative teachers of the Catholic Church, followed St. Augustine in holding that a man could be saved if he dies as a martyr for Our Lord while still unbaptized, they were clearly showing that, in their declarations that no one can be saved outside the Church, they did not mean that only members of the Church may obtain the Beatific Vision. The unbaptized martyr for Our Lord passed from this life "within" the ecclesia fidelium, despite the fact that he died without having attained the status of fidelis.
Again, the Fathers of the Fourth Oecumenical Council of the Lateran were well aware of the fact than an unbaptized man could be saved even if he did not die a martyr's death. All of them accepted as Catholic doctrine the teaching St. Ambrose had set forth in his sermon De obitu Valentiniani:
But I hear that you are sorrowing because he [the Emperor Valentinian II] did not receive the rites of baptism. Tell me, what else is there in us but will, but petition? Now, quite recently it was his intention to be baptized before coming into Italy. He let it be known that he wanted to be baptized by me very shortly, and it was for that reason, above all others, that he decided to have me sent for. Does he not, then, have the grace he desired? Does he not have what he prayed for? Surely, because he prayed for it, he has received it. Hence it is that "the soul of the just man will be at rest, whatever kind of death may overtake him." [De obitu Valentiniani, 51. MPL, XVI, 1374.]
St. Ambrose was speaking of an instance in which a man who had been a catechumen had died before he had an opportunity to receive the sacrament of baptism. He had passed from this life, then, as a non-member of the ecclesia fidelium. At the moment of his death he was not one of the fideles. Yet, according to St. Ambrose, this man had died a good death. He had prayed for the grace of baptism, and God had given him this answer to his prayer. [Cf. Fenton, "The Necessity of the Church and the Efficacy of Prayer," in AER, CXXXII, 5 (May, 1955), 336-49.] He had passed from this life "within" rather than "outside" the Church of the faithful. He had been able to attain eternal salvation.
Such was the doctrinal background against which the Fathers of the Fourth Lateran Council issued their teaching on the necessity of the Catholic Church for the attainment of the Beatific Vision. They believed that non-members of the Catholic Church could achieve salvation. Thus, when they taught that no one at all could be saved "outside" the one Church of the faithful, they obviously did not mean to say that being outside of the Church was equivalent to being a non-member of this social unit.
On the other hand, they just as obviously did not mean that being a member of the Church, or even desiring to enter the Church, constituted any absolute guarantee of salvation. It is unfortunately possible to have a man die as a member of the true Church, and die in the state of mortal sin. It is likewise possible to have a man actually desire to enter the Church, and die before he has the opportunity to be baptized, and to have that man lose his soul through some other offense against God. In other words, it is possible for a man to lose his soul if he dies "within" the Church. The Fourth General Council of the Lateran brought out the fact that it is absolutely impossible to attain to eternal salvation if a man passes from this life "outside" the true Church.
Thus, according to the infallibly true teaching of this section of the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council, we may draw the following conclusions:
(1) At the moment of death a man must be in some way "within" the Catholic Church (either as a member or as one who desires and prays to enter it) if he is to attain to eternal salvation.
(2) There is absolutely no exception to this rule. Otherwise the statement that "no one at all (nullus omnino)" is saved outside of the one universal Church of the faithful would not be true. And that statement is true. It is an infallible dogmatic pronouncement of an Oecumenical Council of the Catholic Church.
(3) Any attempt to explain the Church's necessity for salvation by claiming that it is only the "ordinary" means, or by imagining that it is requisite only for those who are aware of its dignity and position, is completely false and unacceptable
These installments are for those of good will. They are for those confused about the Catholic theology on salvation. Though the Feeneyites of bad will are most noticeable and condemn everything from Trent to Jesus to foist their terrible error or heresy on us, I am convinced there are some in their ranks that are of good will and just want the truth. We must not assume that all who hold their error are perfidious in their error. Additionally, I am convinced that there are some on the fence between the Feeneyism and Catholicism and I believe these will benefit greatly from a study of these installments. May God grant us the sincerity to seek the truth and the humility to accept the fact that we can be wrong on various issues.
Contrary to the beliefs of the Feeneyites who are of bad will or confused, the Doctors and Saints who teach what is being presented in this series did not contradict themselves when they taught that there is no salvation outside the Church and that non-members can be saved. Nor did they contradict themselves when they taught the Divine precept that one must be baptized in order to be saved and that BOB and BOD could replace water Baptism. It is the Feeneyites who contradict themselves when they accept what the Doctors and Saints teach when they agree with it and claim the Doctors and Saints contradict themselves when they disagree with what they teach. The Feeneyites contradict themselves when they accept one half of the Catholic teaching on salvation while denying the other half.
I apologize in advance to the Feeneyites of bad will for presenting a series you will neither like or accept, as it teaches the Catholic Dogma (as opposed to the Feeneyite "Dogma") on salvation. Perhaps when you are no longer bad willed you will accept the Catholic teaching on salvation as well. The Truth will set you free from the grave error that claims that no one at all can be saved apart from Water Baptism.
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