My purpose in sharing the writings of Monsignor Fenton is to inform those of good will who are confused on the issue of salvation, by clarifying the infallible teaching that there is no salvation outside the Church, and that non-members of that Church can be saved. This will be shown by the infallible teaching of Popes throughout the history of the Church. For it is much better to go by the greatest orthodox theologian of the 20th century, Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton's interpretation of the infallible teaching of Popes than our own.
Another goal of mine when presenting the Church's teaching on salvation is to show what is probably already obvious, and that is that salvation is not guaranteed to formal members of the Church as damnation is not a sure thing for all who are not formal members of the Church. We are distinguishing the minimal requirements necessary as pertaining to membership in the Church, and in belonging to and being within that Church, at least in desire, in regards to the infallible teachings on salvation. Members of the Catholic Church who die in a state of mortal sin are Satan's greatest catch because Jesus had them in the Ark but they jumped out and Satan, playing the role of shark, snatched them right up. Better to be in the state of grace with a living faith and charity, though not a member of the Church, than to be a member in mortal sin. The catechumens and even the excommunicated can die in a state of sanctifying grace. Being joined to the Church in desire is like being in the ocean while holding on to the Ark as it is heading to its destination. It is much easier for those in the Ark [members of the Church] to reach their destination [be saved] than it is for those holding on. People in the Ark can kill themselves or "jump out" [mortal sin] and not reach their destination, and people outside the Ark can be attached to it at the moment of death and be saved [be a member of the Catholic Church Triumphant (Heaven), though those enjoying the benefit of baptism of desire may have to join the Church Suffering (Purgatory) first].
There is no such thing as an invisible member of the Church Militant, though there can be one on the path of salvation who is not a member of the visible Church, but attached to it in desire. Non-members of the Church, who join the Church Suffering or Church Triumphant at death do not achieve their salvation independently of the Catholic Church, they are not and cannot be saved by a false religion. They cannot be saved outside the Catholic Church. They are saved by the Catholic Church. Baptism, validly ministered, is the Catholic Church's Sacrament. Sanctifying grace is infused in souls through the Catholic Church. The treasury of graces merited by Christ can be applied to non-members of the Church as actual graces nudging them towards salvation. These graces are not obtained from outside the Church but from the Church of Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, and applied by God through His Church to non-members who are rightly disposed to accept them.
In theology manuals, you will see again and again, how it is not a sinful life that expels you from the visible Church, or prevents you from legitimately holding ecclesiastical office, but public heresy, infidelity (being an infidel) or apostasy. People today have difficulty distinguishing between the sinful life, versus a departure from the Church; one pertains to salvation, and the other to membership in the Catholic Church. Note here that salvation and membership are not always a package deal, nor is damnation and non-membership. Membership puts one in a much better position to be saved and non-membership makes salvation incredibly difficult, but in both cases they are not irrevocably linked. Those attached to the Church are not members. We cannot assume that all those who appear of good will are attached to the Church and we should not assume such to be the case. Just because the possibility exists for non-members of the Church to become members at death, as a result of their attachment to Her in this life, does not mean this is the general rule rather than an exception.
The non-members of the Church, who have faith and charity, as many catechumens do and some excommunicates may, can be said to be part of the soul of the Church but not the body. Members of the Church, who profess the faith, partake of the Sacraments and are subject to the Roman Pontiff but are culpable of unrepentant mortal sin can be said to be members of the body of the Church but not the soul. But we have to be careful when speaking of the "body" and "soul" of the Church. It will be authoritatively shown that those who are in state of sanctifying grace, but do not have the requisites for membership, are within the Church but not members. This is what analogically is spoken of by some theologians as being members of the "soul" of the Church. But in fact they are not members at all but only attached to the Church in desire and longing.
The only actual members of the Church Militant are the visible members, who profess the faith, partake of the Sacraments and are subject to the Supreme Pontiff, regardless of the states of their souls. Those who have supernatural faith and charity but have not been baptized, or are not subject to the Supreme Pontiff, through no fault of their own, are not formal members of the Church. Technically they are not members of the Church at all, but only attached to it, yet they can be saved, while the formal members can be damned. The concept is simple but it has been confused by modern, self-proclaimed theologians who have taken their cue from Father Feeney, who was not submissive to the Roman Pontiff after his grave error (or heresy) became manifest. Those influenced by these self-proclaimed theologians must understand that those who accept the doctrine of Baptism of Blood and Baptism of Desire, do not redefine membership of the Church, or claim that other religions save. We have not invented a new Church which goes beyond the bounds of the visible Catholic Church. We merely accept the fact that those who die legitimately attached to the Catholic Church and are in a state of sanctifying grace can be saved.
I hope to clarify further from authoritative writings in future installments that one can belong to the Church or be within it without being a member. One's salvation or damnation is dependent upon sanctifying grace, not upon a perceived or actual technicality. Sanctifying grace is obtained through Mystical Body of Christ which is the Catholic Church. If you die in a state of sanctifying grace you are saved. If you do not you are damned (those in Limbo are deprived of the Beatific Vision but do not suffer pain of sense, and enjoy a perfect state of natural happiness. Better to be in Limbo than not exist. Better not to exist than to suffer the pain of sense in Hell for eternity). In a sense, every other part of the equation is relative.
Let us read the article by Father Fenton on membership in the Church:
Ever since the end of the sixteenth century, theological writing on the basic concept of the Catholic Church has revolved around the last four paragraphs of the second chapter in St. Robert Bellarmine's De ecclesia militante. Most of the authors who have dealt with this particular section of sacred doctrine have tried to explain and to develop the teachings set forth in these paragraphs. Others, rather numerous during the course of the last half century, have challenged these teachings.
The four paragraphs with which we are concerned contain St. Robert's statement and justification of his definition of the true Church of Jesus Christ.
But we teach that there is only one Church, and not two, and that the one and true Church is the assembly (coetum) of men bound together by the profession of the same Christian faith and by the communion of the same sacraments, under the rule of legitimate pastors, and especially of the one vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman Pontiff. From this definition it is easy to infer which men belong to the Church and which ones do not belong to it. This definition has three parts, the profession of the true faith, the communion of the sacraments, and subjection to the Roman Pontiff, the legitimate pastor. By reason of the first part, all infidels, both those who never have been in the Church, such as Jews, Turks, and pagans, and those who have been in it, but have left, such as heretics and apostates, are excluded. By reason of the second part, catechumens and excommunicated persons are excluded, since the former have not as yet been admitted to the communion of the sacraments, while the latter have been expelled from it. By reason of the third, schismatics, who have the faith and the sacraments, but who are not subject to the legitimate pastor, and who consequently profess the faith and receive the sacraments outside [the Church], are excluded. All others are included, even though they be reprobates, hardened sinners, and impious men.
Now there is this difference between our teaching on this and all the others [the four heretical notions of the Church previously listed in this chapter]. All the others hold that internal virtues are requisite in order that a man may be constituted in the Church, and therefore they consider the true Church as invisible. On the other hand, although we believe that all the virtues, of faith, hope, charity, and the rest, are to be found in the Church, we do not think that any internal virtue at all, but only the outward profession of faith and the sensibly manifest communion of the sacraments are required in order that a man may be judged absolutely to be a part of the true Church of which the Scriptures speak. For the Church is as visible and palpable an assembly of men as the assembly of the Roman people or the kingdom of France, or the republic of Venice.
We should note that, according to Augustine, in his Breviculus collationis, where he is dealing with the conference of the third day, that the Church is a living body in which there is a soul and a body. The internal gifts of the Holy Ghost, faith, hope, charity, and the rest, constitute the soul. The external profession of the faith and the communication of the sacraments are the body. Hence it is that some are of the soul and of the body of the Church, and thus joined to Christ the Head both inwardly and outwardly. Such men are most perfectly of the Church, for they are like living members in a body. Still, even among these, some partake of this life in a greater, and others in a lesser, degree, while some have only the beginning of life and, as it were, sensation without movement, like those who have faith alone, without charity. Again, there are some who are of the soul and not of the body [of the Church], like catechumens or excommunicated persons, if they have faith and charity, as they may very well have. Finally, there are some who are of the body but not of the soul, as those who have no inward virtue, but who still profess the faith and receive the sacraments under the rule of the pastors by reason of some temporal hope or fear. These are like hairs or fingernails or evil liquids in the human body.
Therefore our definition takes in only this last way of being in the Church since this is required as a minimum in order that a man may be said to be a part of the visible Church. Now we must demonstrate in an orderly fashion that the unbaptized, heretics and apostates, excommunicated persons, and schismatics do not belong to the Church, and that those not predestined, the imperfect, sinners, even those whose offenses are manifest, and occult infidels do belong to the Church if they have the sacraments, the profession of faith, the subjection, and the rest. [De ecclesia militante, chapter 2. The translation is my own, as are the various translations of passages from Fr. Journet's book cited in this article.]
During the first half of our century there were some notable efforts to challenge St. Robert's teaching "that there is only one Church, and not two." Some rather fashionable writers in the field of sacred theology tried to prove the coexistence of an in visible Church along with the visible one. Others, while not explicitly denying the essential visibility of the true Church, held that the boundaries of this society are quite indistinct and thus, by implication, tried to rob the concept of visibility of much of its meaning. Still others were repelled by the forthrightness of St. Robert's teaching, and tried to show that some sort of true and sincere faith was actually necessary for membership in the true Church.
It is noteworthy that much of the opposition to St. Robert's teaching was discredited by the content of the encyclical Mystici corporis. According to this encyclical, "only those who have received the laver of regeneration and who profess the true faith, and who have neither unhappily separated themselves from the fabric of the Body or been cast out by legitimate authority by reason of most serious offenses are to be numbered as members of the Church." [AAS, XXV, (1943), 202.] Thus it presented the teaching of St. Robert as the doctrine of the Catholic Church, set forth officially by Christ's Vicar on earth.
Last year, however, there appeared in France what seems to be one of the most radical challenges to St. Robert's teaching in all modern theological literature. Fr. Charles Journet, professor in the major seminary at Fribourg in Switzerland, last year published one section of his extensive and erudite treatise L'Eglise du Verbe Incarne. [L'Eglise du Verbe Incarne, Essai de theologie speculative. II Sa structure interne et non unite catholique, by Charles Journet. The book is published by Desclee, De Brouwer et Cie. Of Paris and is a part of the Bibliotheque de la Revue Thomiste. The first part is already written, according to the author, but at the time of this writing it has not yet been published. The projected third and fourth sections have not as yet been completed. The volume with which we are concerned runs to xlviii + 1393 pages.] In this book the author takes issue with the basic procedures and the main contentions of the second chapter in St. Robert's De ecclesia militante. Fr. Journet objects to St. Robert's action in defining the true Church without including a mention of faith or charity in the definition. He also finds the Saint's statement that "the Church is as visible and palpable an assembly of men as the assembly of the Roman people, or the kingdom of France, or the republic of Venice" quite unacceptable. Here is what Fr. Journet has to say on this subject.
St. Bellarmine seeks to define the Church without mentioning either charity or the supernatural virtue of faith. In the heat of the controversy, preoccupied with the task of opposing the Catholic truth of the visible Church to the Protestant error of the invisible Church, he forces himself to put in parentheses as much as possible whatever belongs to the realm of the mysteries within the Church: grace, the infused virtues, and the three Divine Persons, to leave only a husk. [He goes] to the point of forgetting momentarily what, being a Saint, he knew better than anyone else, the fact that, if the Church is visible, it is not so in the manner of a natural society or of the republic of Venice, it is [visible] as what it is, a supernatural society and the very body of Christ.
After giving a French translation of most of the section of St. Robert's book which this article carries in an English version, Fr. Journet makes this observation.
One may say that, in this unfortunate chapter De definitione ecclesiae, Bellarmine himself realizes that he is making a bad job of it (se rend compte qu'il s'est mal engage). After all, that which he had defined at the very beginning as the only true Church, that is, the community in which the faith is professed in an exterior manner, the sacraments are received in an exterior manner, the government obeyed in an exterior manner; this is the very reality which he now says represents truly only the body of the Church. The interior gifts of the Holy Ghost, faith, hope, and charity, constitute the soul of the Church. Thus the soul and the body of the Church would be separable, in such a way that a man could be of the body of the Church without being of its soul, of its soul without belonging to the body, etc.
In line with these views, Fr. Journet denies one of the central contentions in St. Robert's De ecclesia militante. Fr. Journet believes that "neither complete hypocrites nor occult heretics belong to the Church."
The author of L'Eglise du Verbe Incarne has given evidence of extraordinary erudition in his book. Unfortunately, however, he has not shown himself a particularly discerning student of St. Robert Bellarmine. He seems completely to misunderstand the type of definition St. Robert worked to elaborate in the second chapter of his De ecclesia militante. He certainly misjudges the use St. Robert made of the terms "soul" and "body", when he applied them to the Church in this particular chapter. And he certainly does the magnificent Doctor of the Church a serious injustice when he suggests that, in the heat of controversy, important truths about the Church of Jesus Christ were misstated or forgotten in the composition of the De ecclesia militante.
In the first place, any close examination of the text itself will show very clearly that St. Robert never intended to formulate any essential definition of the only true Church of Jesus Christ in the second chapter of his De ecclesia militante. Throughout the entire chapter, and, for that matter throughout the eight subsequent chapters, St. Robert is concerned only with conditions requisite for membership in the one true Church. His definition of the Church is a description of this society in terms of the minimum requirements for membership in it. It was never intended to be anything else.
St. Robert Bellarmine was engaged in controversy against opponents who agreed with him about the basic concept of the one true Church of Jesus Christ. All of the participants in this dispute were in perfect accord about the existence of a community or group of men within which alone salvific contact with Our Lord was to be found. [ Note from J.G. - we have "salvific contact" with Our Lord in the governing Church, through the infallible teachings of the Church, and most especially in the Sacraments.] The point at issue was the identity of this community. The Protestant writers had renewed, with some modifications of their own, the old heretical teaching that this community was not an organized society over which the Bishop of Rome presides as the visible head. The Catholic writers were firm in their insistence that the true Church, the Mystical body of Christ, the one kingdom of God on this earth, was that very organization. When these men declared that the true Church is visible, they meant that the kingdom of God on earth, the only assembly within which men have salvific contact with Christ, is a society, including in its membership both good and evil men, both the reprobate and the predestined. When, on the other hand, the Protestant writers defended the concept of an invisible Church, they meant that the assembly of the Saints was not an organized social group at all, and that salvific contact with Our Lord could be achieved independently of any organization.
The Catholic truth, in other words, is the teaching that the Mystical body of Jesus Christ on this earth is an organized society, and hence a community in which men possess membership by reason of certain definitely recognizable or visible factors. St. Robert, and Becanus after him, were perfectly justified in appealing to the parallel of the political groups extant in their own times. By the favor of divine providence, [Note from J.G. - We have lost that favor of divine providence due to our neglect of the faith, sloth in studying it, indifference towards it, and our sins. Because the Faith was taken for granted, as was common in the 1950's, it was taken away from all but a faithful remnant, with the result being that the Church is no longer as easily seen as she was before the death of Pope Pius XII.] the true and only Church of Jesus Christ on earth is as visible and manifest an organization as the republic of Venice or the kingdom of France ever were. St. Robert did not "forget" anything when he insisted upon this truth.
Furthermore, he was perfectly faithful to Our Lord's own teaching about His Church when he left charity and the supernatural virtue of faith out of the formula which he meant to express the minimum requisites for membership in that Church. One of the main themes in Our Lord's parables of the kingdom is the warning that on the last day the Church will be purified by the permanent expulsion of those members who have passed from this world without the supernatural virtues. The obvious implication of this warning is that here on earth men who are devoid at least of charity can retain their membership in His Mystical Body.
One of the central errors about the constitution of Our Lord's Church has always taken the form of a certain ecclesiastical Docetism. Just as the Docetists long ago were unwilling to admit that a real man, who really suffered and was really repudiated and crucified, could actually be the Son of God, so, in more recent times, there have always been individuals who were repelled by the thought that this organization, with its bad members intermingled with the good, is really the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. They have been too delicate to accept the fact that God wills us to find our salvific contact with Our Lord in an organization, anyone of whose members or even superiors may not be living the life of divine grace at all. It was precisely against this tendency that St. Robert wrote his book, De ecclesia militante. Unfortunately, it is this tendency which would designate his chapter on the definition of the Church as "cet infortune chapitre."
When Fr. Journet objects against St. Robert's omission of the factors which, for him, constituted the "soul" of the Church from his definition in terms of membership, he betrays a serious misconception of St. Robert's procedure and habitual terminology. Fr. Journet, as a matter of fact, builds his central concept of the Church around the notions of "soul" and "body". He distinguishes sedulously between the uncreated Soul of the Church and its created soul. For him, as we shall see, the "souls" and the "body" go together to form the Church itself.
St. Robert, on the other hand, employed the terms in quite a different way. The first statement in the all-important paragraph in which he first employs this distinction in the De ecclesia militante is the declaration that "the Church is a living body, in which there is a soul and a body." Saint Robert attributed this teaching to St. Augustine, and Fr. Journet, incidentally, tells us that he has gone through the Breviculus collationis, the work of St. Augustine mentioned in this reference, without finding the text in question.
Actually there is no passage which contains this explicit statement in the entire Breviculus collationis at all. Later in the De ecclesia militante, in the ninth chapter to be exact, St. Robert indicates the text to which he had reference. It is the paragraph in which St. Augustine speaks of the homo interior and the homo exterior, using an expression employed by Saint Paul himself [The expression "interiorem hominem" occurs in Rom. 7:22; and in Eph. 3:16. The term "homo exterior" is not found in the Vulgate.] In this ninth chapter, St. Robert speaks of good Catholics as quasi anima ecclesiae and of bad ones as quasi corpus.
The following paragraph is important because there is no small debate on the concept of the Church having a body and soul, and how you can be a member of one but not the other. Some, otherwise good theologians of high repute, took this concept or analogy too far and the Feeneyites have had legitimate issue with some interpretations of this analogy. Others, less reputable have made the "soul" of the Church seem like a wider body than the formal Catholic Church and this was the type of thinking that led to the "subsists in" in Lumen Gentium where the Mystical Body of Christ was wrongly defined as something more than the Catholic Church.
It is perfectly obvious, then, that St. Robert never took the terms "body" and "soul" of the Church as seriously as does Fr. Journet. In the same volume, the Saint designates the Church itself, the factors which earlier Catholic controversialists had called the outward or bodily bond of union within the Church, and bad Catholics, as a "body." He uses the term "soul" to indicate both the inward bond of union within the Church and good Catholics themselves. He obviously never intended to have the terms employed strictly, according to all exigencies of the hylemorphic theory. In his mind, the Church was certainly not an entity made up of this "body" animated and actuated by what he designated in his famous second chapter as the "soul."
Actually Fr. Journet's use of the terms "body" and "soul" with reference to the Catholic Church is such as to imply that the Church is not really a coetus hominum, an assembly or group of men at all. "It is easy," he tells us, "to define the body of the Church from the point of view of the Church's efficient, formal, or final cause. We shall say that it is the visible and outward bearing of men (le comportement visible et exterieur des homes) - that is, their visible being, their visible activity, their visible working." This is the reality which is moved by the motion of the Holy Ghost and of Our Lord Himself, informed by the outpouring of His capital grace, and raised to the very final cause of the economy of grace.
It is important to note that it is not the men themselves, but their conduct or activity which is said to be the "body" of the Catholic Church, the element which, together with the "soul" and vivified by that "soul," makes up the Church itself. Fr. Journet's further elucidations show that he takes this concept very seriously. He tells us "that there are sinners in the Church but that they do not bring their sin into it. The Church is not without sinners but it is without sin, 'glorious, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish. [Cf. Eph., 5:27.] Its boundaries run across our heart to divide the light there from the darkness." [Journet, op. cit., p. 1103.]
The language used by Fr. Journet in this connection is figurative in the extreme. In itself, and in its context, it is incompatible with the notion that the Church is properly and definitely a coetus hominum. And, if the ideas underlying this language be completely acceptable, then it would seem to follow that the old definition of the Church as the congregation or convocation fidelium could never have been more than approximately accurate. A congregation or society is a reunion of men and not simply a summation of their conduct.
Moreover, in his book, Fr. Journet tends to represent the Church more as an institution towards which good men tend automatically than as a society with a genuine and really urgent universal missionary commission. He seems to depict it primarily as a center towards which the supernatural life of grace in the world is meant to converge more or less of its own accord.
In the order of salvation, gathered close to Christ who favors it with his contact, it is the point of condensation of an immense cloudiness, the solid center which, moreover, attracts, sustains and draws into its wake more or less closely millions of men scattered like atoms throughout space and time. [ibid., p. 1102.]
The missionary commission of the Catholic Church is certainly understressed in this concept, [Note from J.G. - No need to convert others. Sound familiar?] and in the one brought out in the following paragraph, which forms the conclusion to Fr. Journet's treatise on the necessity of the Church.
So the Church, the Church of Christ entrusted to Peter, is at the same time more pure and more extensive than we realize. It is more pure because it is without sin, though not without sinners, and the faults of its members never deface it. It is more extensive, because it gathers about itself everything that is saved in the world. It knows that, from the depths of space and of time, there are attached to it by desire, in an initial and hidden way, millions of men who are prevented by invincible ignorance from knowing it, but who have not refused, in the midst of the errors in which they live, the grace of living faith which, in the secret of their hearts, God who wills that all men should be saved and should come to the knowledge of the truth offers to them. [The Church] itself does not know them by name, but it feels their innumerable presence around itself and sometimes, amidst the silences of prayer, it hears in the night the confused sound of their walking. [Ibid., p. 1114.]
This concept of the Church, surrounded and, as it were cushioned, in this world by millions of its unknown and unknowing adherents may seem to be reassuring, but actually it has nothing like any adequate backing in the content of God's revelation about His Church. It is a dogma of the Catholic faith that the true Church is necessary for salvation. It is likewise perfectly certain, an article of Catholic doctrine, that a man may be attached to the Church in such a way as to be saved, and to obtain membership in the Church triumphant, without ever having been a member of the Church militant here on earth. Such has been the case with those whom the Church honors and venerates as martyrs because they gave their lives for the faith before they had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of baptism, without which membership in the Church militant of the New Testament is impossible. Such is the case with catechumens who die before they can be baptized, as the familiar teaching of St. Ambrose assures us. [Cf. De obitu Valentiniani.]
Furthermore, it is certain likewise that a man may have true and vital faith even if he does not have explicit knowledge of the Catholic Church. The theologians who have worked on the truths which a man must believe explicitly as an absolute minimum if he is to be saved have never included the teaching about the Church itself as one of these truths. Hence we must hold that a man can be saved, and thus be attached to the Church militant in this world by desire, without having an explicit knowledge of this Church. There is such a thing as an effective implicit desire of the Church.
But it is one thing to assert this Catholic doctrine, and quite another to teach that the purity and the extension of the Church are increased by the attachment to the Church of millions who are unknown to the Church and unconscious of their attachment. The Catholic Church is not any larger by reason of people who want to enter it, even when their desire is quite explicit. A man who is attached to the Church in desire is precisely one who is not a member of it. And it is at best confusing to insist that a visible and visibly holy society is rendered more holy by reason of the virtues of men whom it does not recognize as members and who do not themselves acknowledge the society.
There is a tremendous amount of very fine teaching in L'Eglise du Verbe Incarne. Especially to be commended is the author's success in joining up the concept of Our Lord's capital grace with the notion of the Church itself. Nevertheless, despite its numerous excellent sections and its qualities of erudition, there is a definite danger that the volume may engender more confusion than light among its readers, particularly the younger ones.
The book is a systematization of and an advance in one line of ecclesiological teaching. Unfortunately this line is not the one laid down by St. Robert Bellarmine, the greatest of the Doctors of the Church in the field of ecclesiology. It is the one taken by writers like Adam and Karrer, and, in later days, Congar. It is honest in its declared opposition to the central tenets of St. Robert in his De ecclesia militante. At the same time, however, it adduces no evidence whatsoever which should influence students and teachers of sacred theology to forsake the doctrine of St. Robert on the visibility of the Catholic Church. ([Monsignor] JOSEPH CLIFFORD FENTON, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D. C. November, 1952) (Note from J.G. - This is not a link to Fenton's article but rather describes his qualifications as an outstanding theologian)
I would add my two cents here, but the three bolded paragraphs - especially all those in red - above say all that needs to be said don't they?
"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