"The key truth in all of this portion of sacred theology is the fact that the Catholic Church is actually the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. In order to be saved from the condition in which we place ourselves by our own mortal sins, we must be in salvific contact with our Divine Redeemer. And the one and only social unit within which this salvific contact can be made is the institution which St. Paul designated as the body of Christ, the society we know as the Catholic Church."
In this chapter it will be reiterated by further explication more than by redundancy that a non-member can be saved within the Church by being effectively joined to her in a proper theological sense. Additionally, we will come to understand that the Church's teaching in regards to her necessity for her salvation is the teaching of Christ rather than a "rigorist" dogma that she made up on her own.
Monsignor Fenton in his scholarly way will clearly explain the necessity of the Church for salvation. One cannot be saved apart from salvific contact with Christ and salvific contact with Christ can only be obtained through His Mystical Body on earth which is the Catholic Church. Actual graces can be obtained outside the Church but these graces are designed to help move one within the Church. Sanctifying grace cannot be obtained outside the Church. Actual grace nudges one to do what is necessary to be saved such as learning God's will and doing it. For instance a person outside the Church may feel the inclination to learn which Church it was that Christ founded. This is an actual grace from God that, if cooperated with, will help lead to one's ultimate salvation. If he cooperates with this grace he will actually try to find out which Church that is.
Actual graces also move those within the Church to get back into a state of sanctifying grace. Actual grace will move a non-member who is within the Church by desire to get baptized. Actual grace will move a member of that Church to go to Confession and have his mortal sin(s) forgiven. Sanctifying grace, obtained only within the Church, is obtained through cleansing of Original Sin in Baptism and the remission of mortal sin in the Sacrament of Penance and is lost when one is guilty of mortal sin.
Additionally, as stated above, the Church's teaching on her own necessity for salvation does not originate from the Church but from Christ Himself as we will see in this chapter. Some people who do not conform to the moral law condemn the Church as if she arbitrarily forbids things just to be mean. The Church is God's instrument on earth used to convey Divine Revelation. One who claims he does not like what the Church teaches in regards to marriage or any other moral teaching really does not like what God has revealed on the issue. It is quite unfortunate that some will not realize or acknowledge this fact until after they die and their eternal fate has already been sealed.
Now to Fenton:
The seventeenth in the series of Oecumenical Councils was that of Florence. It was a gathering called to end some longstanding separations of Oriental dissident groups from the true Church. One of its acts was the famed decree for the Jacobites, included in the dogmatic Bull Cantate Domino, issued by Pope Eugenius IV on February 4, 1442. The following paragraph is found in this decree.
It [the sacrosanct Roman Church, established by the voice of Our Lord and Savior] firmly believes, professes, and teaches that none of those who do not exist within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but Jews, heretics, and schismatics, can become partakers of eternal life; but that they are going into the everlasting fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they become associated with it (nisi . . . eidem fuerint agregati) before they die. And [it firmly believes, professes, and teaches] that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is of such value that the Church's sacraments are profitable unto salvation, and that fastings, almsgivings, and the other duties of piety and exercises of the Christian militancy, bring forth eternal rewards only for those who remain within it [the unity of the ecclesiastical body]: and that, however great his almsgiving may be, and even though he might shed his blood for the name of Christ, no one can be saved unless he remains within the embrace and the unity of the Catholic Church. [Denz., 714.]
Actually this declaration of the Cantate Domino simply makes more explicit the lessons brought out in the Fourth Lateran Council and in the Bull Unam Sanctam. First of all, it mentions and classifies those who are outside of the true Church. These include the pagans, who do not accept any part of divine public revelation; the Jews, who accept the Old Testament as God's message; the heretics, who accept certain parts of the teaching contained in the New Testament; and finally the schismatics, who have not rejected any portion of the divinely revealed message, but who simply have cut themselves off from communion with the true Church. It insists that none of these people can attain to eternal life unless they enter the true Church before they pass from this world. In issuing this teaching, the Cantate Domino simply repeated, with a little more explicitness about the individuals who are "outside" the Church, what previous documents had already taught about the necessity of the Catholic Church for the attainment of eternal salvation.
This is plain in both the first and the second parts of the teaching on this subject set forth in the Cantate Domino. The first part asserts that the various classes of individuals "outside" the Catholic Church not only cannot become partakers of eternal life, but also that "they are going into the everlasting fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels" unless they become united to the Church before they pass from this world. In this assertion, which, incidentally, has been designated as "rigorous" by opponents of the Church and by some badly instructed Catholics. Pope Eugenius IV merely took cognizance of the reality of Our Lord's work of redemption.
Now, the alternative to being saved is being lost. The person who is saved is, in the ultimate and perfect sense, the one who finally attains to the Beatific Vision through the salvific power of Our Lord's sacrificial death. The person who is not saved is inevitably one who is debarred for all eternity from the possession of the Beatific Vision, in which alone the ultimate and eternal end of man is to be found. The individual who attains the one and only ultimate end available to man will have been a shining success for all eternity, whatever sufferings and humiliations he may have been called upon to undergo during the period of his preparation and trial in this world. On the other hand, the person who does not attain to that end will have been a failure for all eternity, despite any success and pleasure he may have had during the course of his earthly life.
Furthermore, no one is excluded from the everlasting possession of the Beatific Vision except for reasons of sin. In the case of an infant who has died without receiving the sacrament of baptism, that sin is not personal, but is original sin, the aversion from God which is consequent upon the offense committed by Adam himself. Obviously, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, an infant who dies in that state will not be punished by the all-just and all-merciful God for some sin which he did not personally commit. But, for such an infant, the Beatific Vision is a good to which the infant is not entitled and which he will not receive.
The adult who dies in the state of mortal sin, whether his original sin has been remitted in the sacrament of baptism or not, will not only be excluded from the possession of the Beatific Vision, but will also be punished for his unrepented offenses against God. And, since there is no forgiveness of sin apart from the Catholic Church, the Mystical body of Jesus Christ, there is no salvation for the individual who passes from this life "outside" the Catholic Church. The person who dies with unremitted mortal sins against God will not only be excluded from the Beatific Vision (thus suffering the penalty of loss), but will also receive the punishment due to the sin for which he has not repented (the penalty of sense).
Our Lord is our Divine Savior precisely because, through His sacrificial death on Calvary, He has earned for us the salvation from our sins, both original and actual. Now, the salvation which He merited for us was precisely a rescue from our sins and from the effects consequent upon them. Those effects are principally the loss of God's friendship; subjection to Satan, the prince of this world; the eternal loss of the Beatific Vision; and the punishments of hell. Our Lord did not suffer the tortures and the ignominy of the most horrible of deaths to win any unimportant favor for us.
The key truth in all of this portion of sacred theology is the fact that the Catholic Church is actually the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. In order to be saved from the condition in which we place ourselves by our own mortal sins, we must be in salvific contact with our Divine Redeemer. And the one and only social unit within which this salvific contact can be made is the institution which St. Paul designated as the body of Christ, the society we know as the Catholic Church.
The people who do not come into salvific contact with Our Lord do not avail themselves of the salvation which is in Him alone. As a result they are not saved, and they remain in the condition in which they have come into the world, or in the condition in which they have placed themselves through their own personal and mortal sins. If they die in this condition, they inevitably receive the effects which follow upon their condition. They are excluded from the Beatific Vision and, if they pass from this life guilty of mortal sin for which they have not been repentant, they suffer the pain of hell forever.
This is the section of Catholic doctrine which is most sharply opposed to the spirit of the times in which we live. The enunciation of this truth seems always to be designated as "rigorous" or as something worse by those who are animated by the spirit of the world, whether they are openly enemies of the Church or not.
Yet, if we examine the mentality of this sort of opposition, we find that it is directed ultimately, not against the teachings about the competence and the necessity of the Catholic Church, but actually against the redemptive work of Jesus Christ Our Lord. What is obviously back of objection to this portion of Catholic teaching is the conviction, or at least the claim, that eternal happiness is in some way the native right of all human beings without exception, or at least something within the field of competence of these same human beings.
A man who feels in this way is inevitably inclined to look upon the effects of Our Lord's redemptive sacrifice as in reality either non-existent or quite unimportant. If the best man can obtain is something to which he is entitled by the very fact of being a man, or something which he is competent to obtain through the exercise of his own natural powers, then of course it is hardly more than a mere verbalism to speak of a redemption. And if God is going to give everlasting life to any man, without regard for any contact with Our Lord, then the most Our Lord could have done has been to obtain some extra and accidental advantages in the supernatural order for those who come and stay in contact with Him.
Such, however, has not been the case, and any system of thought which bases itself on such false assumptions is completely and fatally unrealistic. As a matter of fact, all mankind, all the progeny of Adam, absolutely needed the forgiveness of sin and the liberation which actually came only through the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ Our Lord. If man's sins had remained unforgiven by God, then man would have been justly and necessarily shut away from the Beatific Vision forever. If man's personal mortal sins had not been forgiven, man would have been justly and necessarily subject to everlasting punishment for those sins.
In reality the only motive force for the forgiveness of man's sins is to be found in the redemption by Jesus Christ. And the only possible way for a man to have his own sins remitted is to come into contact with Our Lord and with His salvific power in the one and only social unit which has been divinely constituted as His Mystical body. This means being within His Church as a member or at least by a sincere, even though perhaps only an implicit, desire or intention. The man who is not thus in contact with Our Lord cannot have the remission of sin. And he cannot have the effects that follow upon that remission of sin.
Once again, if we are to look upon this section of Catholic teaching accurately and objectively, we must take the trouble to realize that Our Lord did not die the terrible death of the Cross for the attainment of any paltry or merely accidental objective. He died to save men from sin and from the penalties of sin. He died to save men from servitude to Satan, the leader of all who are turned against God, and to save them from everlasting exclusion from the Beatific Vision. He died to save them from the everlasting penalties of hell. No one can have this gift of salvation apart from Him.
Moreover, we must not lose sight of the fact that all men stand in need of redemption. There is absolutely no one who can come to the love and friendship of God by his own unaided natural powers. All men need the remission of sin, which is to be found only in the redemptive sacrifice of Our Lord. The infusion or granting of the supernatural life of grace is the positive aspect of the remission of original or mortal sin, and this life of grace is a sharing of the divine life, a sharing which is not to be obtained apart from the Incarnate Word of God. Since the sin of Adam there never has been and there never will be the remission of sin or the granting of the life of sanctifying grace to any human being apart from the force of Our Lord's redemptive sacrifice.
It is a further fact that, in the designs of God's providence, men come into salvific contact with Our Lord in His kingdom or His Mystical Body. Such, as a matter of fact, is the basic concept of God's kingdom even here on earth, for it is inherently the community of God's chosen people. The kingdom of God on earth is the social unit or the company of those who are "saved" in the sense that they are removed from the dominion of the prince of this world. It is the society within which Our Lord dwells and over which He presides as the true and invisible Head. And, in God's Own dispensation, this society, in the period of the New Testament, is the Catholic Church.
Some of those who have written with what seems to be the avowed intention of weakening or obscuring this section of Catholic doctrine have admitted (as anyone who claims to be a Catholic must admit) that there is no salvation apart from Our Lord's redemption, but have likewise taught that we do not know the direction of those graces which God gives, through Our Lord, to those who are outside the Catholic Church. This assertion is definitely untrue.
All of the supernatural aids granted by God to any man tend to lead him to the eternal possession of the Beatific Vision. They likewise direct him toward those realities which, either by their very nature or by God's own institution, are requisite for the attainment of the Beatific Vision. One of those realities is the visible Catholic Church, the religious society over which the Bishop of Rome presides as the Vicar of Christ on earth. The graces which God grants to any man outside the Church will inevitably guide him in the direction of the Church.
If a man continues faithful to the graces given him by God he will certainly attain to eternal salvation. And he will just as certainly obtain that salvation "within" the true Church of Jesus Christ. God's grace will lead a man in the direction of justification, according to the pattern set forth in the teaching of the Council of Trent. It will direct him to believe God's revealed message with a certain assent based on the authority of God Himself revealing. It will lead him in the direction of salutary fear and of hope and of initial love of God and of penance. Ultimately it will lead him to a desire of baptism, even though, in some cases, that desire may be only implicit in character. And baptism is of itself the gateway to the Church, the Mystical body of Christ, within which the life of grace and salvation are to be found. In the case of a man who is already baptized, the preparation for justification includes an intention (at least implicit) of remaining within the kingdom of God to which baptism itself is the gateway.
It is both idle and misleading to characterize the teaching of the Cantate Domino as in any way "rigorous" or exigent [demanding - J.G.]. This doctrine, which is standard Catholic teaching, is only the expression of what God has taught about the place of His Son's Mystical Body in the economy of man's salvation. Neither the Catholic Church itself nor the teachers of the Church have made the Church something requisite for the attainment of the Beatific Vision. When the Church makes the sort of statement that is found in the Cantate Domino, it is acting merely as the teacher of what God Himself has revealed. As the Mystical Body of Christ, the society within which Our Lord Himself is the supreme Teacher, the Church could not do otherwise.
Disagreeable as the task may seem to some individuals, the Catholic Church has to face the facts. Basic among those facts is the truth that, apart from the redemption which is in Jesus Christ, all men would inevitably have been excluded for all eternity from the possession of the Beatific Vision, in which alone the ultimate and eternal end and happiness of man may be attained. Another fact is that the punishment for unforgiven mortal sin (sin which the guilty party has not repented) is the everlasting penalty of hell, a penalty which includes both the poena damni and poena sensus. Still another fact is that the forgiveness of sin and the infusion of the life of grace is available by the power of Christ only "within" His kingdom, His Mystical Body, which, in this period of the New Testament, is the visible Catholic Church. Such, in the final analysis, is this teaching of the first section of our citation from the Cantate Domino.
The second sentence in the portion of the document translated at the beginning of this chapter brings out the fact that acts which would otherwise be most conducive to salvation are deprived of their effect if they are performed "outside" the bond of unity of the Catholic Church. It teaches that even the reception of the sacraments cannot be "profitable unto salvation," that is, cannot produce their effects in the life of divine grace for those who are outside of the unity of the ecclesiastical body. Furthermore it asserts that no work which of its very nature ought to be salutary can be profitable in the line of salvation unless these works are performed "within" the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Now, the sacraments produce grace of themselves, ex opera operato, as the technical language of sacred theology says. They bring about this effect except where there is some disposition on the part of the recipient which is incompatible with the reception of the life of sanctifying grace. According to the terminology of the Cantate Domino, such an obstacle exists in a person who is "outside" the unity of the ecclesiastical body, the Mystical body of Jesus Christ.
Once again, at this point it is absolutely imperative to remember that being "within" the Church is not exactly the same as being a member of this social unit. A man is a member of the Church when he is baptized, and when he has neither publicly renounced his baptismal profession of the true faith nor withdrawn from the fellowship of the Church, and when he has not been expelled from the company of the disciples by having received the fullness of excommunication. But a man is "within" the Church to the extent that he can be saved "within" it when he is a member or even when he sincerely, albeit perhaps only implicitly, desires to enter it. The condition requisite for profiting from the reception of the sacraments or from the performance of acts which should be salutary is being "within" the Church.
Now, while it is possible to have a desire to be within the Church, and, indeed even to be a member of the Church, without having the love of charity for God, it is quite impossible to have charity without being within the true Church, at least by an implicit desire to dwell in it. The love of charity is, by its very nature, a sovereign affection. It is definable in terms of intention rather than of mere velleity [a slight wish - J.G.]; and it necessarily embodies an intention, rather than a mere velleity, to do what Our Lord actually wills we should do. And Our Lord wills that all men should enter and remain within the one society of His disciples, His Kingdom and His Mystical body in this world.
An intention, incidentally, is an act of the will which is expressed by the statement that I am actually setting out to do a certain thing; a velleity, on the other hand, is an act of the will expressed in the declaration that I would like to do a thing. If I really intend to do a certain thing-to take a definite trip, for example-that intention necessarily affects all the rest of my plans and my conduct at the time. The man who really intends to take a plane to New York certainly will not make any plans or enter into any agreements incompatible with the taking of the trip he has set out to make. The mere velleity, on the other hand, has no such effectiveness. If I say I would like to take a trip to New York, this statement and the act of the will of which it is the expression have no influence whatsoever on the rest of my plans. The velleity is a mere complacency in an idea. It involves no actual preparation to accomplish its objective.
The love of charity is essentially something in the line of intention rather than of mere velleity. The man who loves God with the true affection of charity actually intends, insofar as it is possible for him to do so, to do the will of God. It is definitely the will of God that all men should enter and live within the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. It is impossible for a man who really loves God with the affection of divine charity not to be within the Church as a member or at least to desire with a sincere and effective, even though perhaps only an implicit, intention to enter this company.
Hence, if a man is not "within" the Church at least by a sincere desire or affection, he has not the genuine love of charity for God. In such a case there is some intention which runs counter to God's will acting as the guiding and the motivating force of his life. If that intention persists, it remains incompatible with the love of charity and with the life of sanctifying grace, which is inseparable from the love of charity. The man with such an intention is not in a position to profit from the sacraments or from a work which, of its very nature, ought to be salutary. The life of sanctifying grace is impossible for a man who possesses an intention incompatible with the intention of charity itself. The man who is outside the Church, in the sense that he does not even have an implicit desire to enter the kingdom of God on earth, obviously acts as moved by such an intention.
Thus the Cantate Domino brings out very clearly the following facts which were previously set forth in a more implicit manner in previous declarations of the Church.
(1) All of those outside the Church, even individuals who have committed no sin against the faith itself, are in a position in which they cannot be saved unless they in some way enter or join the Church before they die.
(2) The alternative to eternal and supernatural salvation is deprivation of the Beatific Vision. In the case of those who are guilty of mortal sin which remains unrepented, this includes both the penalty of loss and the penalty of sense in hell.
(3) The spiritual condition of one who is not "within" the Church at least by an act of implicit desire is incompatible with the reception of the life of sanctifying grace.
Furthermore, a study of the Cantate Domino should make it apparent that the dogma of the Church's necessity for the attainment of eternal salvation is not directed "against" any individuals or any societies. This dogma is only a statement by the Church of the truth which God has revealed and which He has confided to the Church. According to God's own message, men in this world stand in need of genuine salvation, and, in His goodness and mercy, God has made His supernatural kingdom on earth the company in which alone this salvation is to be achieved.
It is well to remember that the teaching of the Cantate Domino is not that men must actually become members of the Church in order to attain to eternal salvation. The document insists that pagans, Jews, heretics, and schismatics will not be saved unless, before the end of their lives they are joined (aggregate) to the one true Church. It is Catholic doctrine now, and it was Catholic doctrine when the Cantate Domino was written, that a man who is in the Church in the sense that he sincerely, even though only implicitly, desires to live within it, is in a position to be saved if he should die before he is able to attain membership in the Church.
There is no such thing as neutrality towards God. A person can claim to love and really believe he loves God but be woefully disappointed on the day of his particular judgment because in reality he does not love God with a supernatural charity which is always accompanied by sanctifying grace. Let me give you an example. Growing up I always claimed to love God and most sincerely thought I loved God. But I had no idea what authentic love was. I am not sure who came up with the phrase, "Actions speak louder than words", but that is a most awesome and theologically precise phrase. I claimed to love God and really believed I loved God despite doing things, I at least subconsciously believed He disapproved of. I, subconsciously at the very least but quite probably very consciously thought to myself, "I know that God does not like this but I am going to do it anyway." This was true for any number of things.
When the Church teaches that one must have a perfect charity before one can be saved, the Church is talking about authentic charity. Not a mushy or even very sincere feeling that we actually love God. It is also very important to understand that perfect charity includes the desire to do good to others i.e. to love others for the love of God. As we have seen, non-members of the Church can have this perfect charity and die in a state of sanctifying grace.
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