So we learn from Father Feeney, in contradistinction to the infallible teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, that justification and sanctifying grace are meaningless unless they have been baptized with water. The Dimond brothers, who evidently know more than the obstinate and erroneous Father Feeney despite their lack of learning and lack of fluency in Latin also know more than the Catholic Church. They are able to translate the Council of Trent in the original Latin better than Father Feeney and all Catholic scholars since the Council of Trent and come away understanding that the Council of Trent when teaching that one can be saved by the desire for Baptism means the precise opposite i.e. one most definitely cannot be saved by the desire for Baptism.
These seemingly obvious errors would not be so bad had not a large number of people fallen for them. I hope that the Catholic Church’s teaching on Salvation, presented here by Monsignor Clifford Fenton, will help make that number of people who are on the wrong side of the issue dwindle:
MYSTICI CORPORIS CHRISTI
Certainly one of the most important statements of the ecclesiastical magisterium to have appeared during the course of the twentieth century is the encyclical letter Mystici Corporis Christi, issued by Pope Pius XII on June 29, 1943. In many ways this document has given prodigious help to that portion of sacred theology which studies the necessity of the Catholic Church for the attainment of eternal salvation.
Three sections of the encyclical are particularly pertinent to our thesis. The first of these deals directly with the nature of membership in the Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Jesus.
Only those who have been baptized, who profess the true faith, who have not miserably separated themselves from the fabric of the Body and who have not, by reason of very serious crimes, been expelled by legitimate authority, are actually to be counted as members of the Church. The Apostle says: "For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free." Therefore, just as, in the true assembly of Christ's faithful, there is only one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, and one baptism, so there can be only one faith. Consequently, the one who would refuse to hear the Church is, by the Lord's command, to be considered as the heathen and the publican. Hence those who are in various ways separated [from the Church] in faith or rule cannot be living in one Body of this kind and cannot be living by its divine Spirit. [Denz., 2286; AAS. XXXV, 202 f.]
In this passage the Roman Pontiff has set forth the conditions or factors which, taken together, constitute a man as a member of the true Church of Jesus Christ. They are:
(1) The possession of the baptismal character.
(2) The profession of the true faith.
(3) The profession of willingness to be subject to the legitimate authorities within the Church, and thus to be associated with the society of Our Lord's disciples.
(4) The fact of not having been excommunicated, in the full meaning of the term.
This was in substance the teaching on membership in the true Church of Jesus Christ which was given in the writings of Dominic Banez. [Cf. Banez, Scholastica Commentaria in Secundam Secundae Angelici Doctoris D. Thomae (Venice, 1588), col. 153, 262.] It was developed and popularized by St. Robert Bellarmine in his book De ecclesia militante. [The second chapter of St. Robert's De ecclesia militante contains his teaching on membership in the true Church, embodied and crystallized in his classical definition of the Church. The following eight chapters are devoted to the explanation and the defense of this teaching.] Many of the very prominent and able ecclesiologists who were contemporaries of Banez and of St. Robert disagreed with them rather sharply on this issue. Over the course of the years, however, the teaching now set forth in the Mystici Corporis Christi came to attain the status of commonly accepted doctrine among the scholastic ecclesiologists. The statement of this teaching in the encyclical of Pope Pius XII constituted its official acceptance and promulgation by the Church's magisterium as Catholic doctrine.
Thus it is the teaching of the Catholic Church itself that all of the four factors just mentioned, and only these four factors, are required to constitute a man as a member of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Since the concept of membership in the true Church is intimately and essentially connected with the thesis that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, it is quite obvious that this statement in the Mystici Corporis Christi gives us tremendously valuable aid for the explanation of this section of sacred theology.
According to the meaning the term bears today, a member of the true Church of God is one of the men or women who compose the society which is today, has been since the time of Our Lord's death, and will be until the end of time, the true and only supernatural kingdom of God in this world. The central and basic truth of ecclesiology is the fact that, in the dispensation of the New Testament, the social unit within which men may attain salvific contact with God in Jesus Christ, the group of men in this world designated in the Scripture as God's kingdom and as the Body of Christ, is the organized religious society in communion with and subject to the direction of the Bishop of Rome. Any organized or real society and social unit which can be called a society in the strict sense of the term, is composed of individual human beings who manifest their willingness to work together for the attainment of the purpose the society was instituted to achieve, and to work for it under the direction of those endowed with legitimate authority within this society. These individual human beings are designated as members of society. And, according to the present usage of the term, the individual human beings who together go to make up the religious society over which the Roman Pontiff rules as Our Lord's Vicar on earth are called the members of the true Church or of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ on earth.
Incidentally, it is helpful here to specify that this holds true according to the meaning which has been attached to the term "membrum ecclesiae" since the latter part of the sixteenth century, and thus, according to the meaning which the expression "member of the Church" bears today. In earlier treatises on the Church, as, for instance in Cardinal John de Turrecremata's classical Summa de ecclesia, a membrum ecclesiae is a Catholic in the state of sanctifying grace. [Cf. Turrecremata, Summa de ecclesia (Venice, 1561), c. 57, p. 69r. In this passage Turrecremata appeals to and cites the teaching of St. Thomas in the Summa theologica, IIIa, q. 8, a. 3, although his teaching is rather a modification than a mere repetition of that of St. Thomas.] The term employed by such earlier theologians to designate what we call today a member of the Church was "pars ecclesiae."
The reason for this discrepancy in wording is to be found in the fact that the earlier writers on the Church preferred to employ the term "member" in line with the Scriptural metaphor of "the Body of Christ" as a name of the Catholic Church. In this context the term "body" (the Greek "σωμα" and the Latin "corpus") was obviously understood as referring primarily to a living physical body, a body of a living man. In what is still its primary meaning as indicated by some dictionaries of the English language, and in what originally appears to have been its only proper significance, the term "membrum" had an anatomical connotation and served to indicate a living part of a physical body.
In their explanations of the fact that the Church can be described accurately under the metaphor of Christ's Body, the older authors of treatises de ecclesia were faced with the question as to how people who are spiritually dead can be within the living Body which is the Church. They tended to answer by distinguishing between Catholics in the state of grace, who are in the Church as living parts of a living Body, and those in the state of mortal sin, who are actually parts of the Church and contained within it, but who do not share in the supernatural life of this community. The first group, the Catholics in the state of grace, could be designated metaphorically as "members" of the Church. The second group were parts of this society, but, according to their metaphorical use of the term, could not be called members at all.
Later, however, "member" in common parlance came to mean in a proper, and not merely in a metaphorical way, one of the individuals composing a society. In accordance with this tendency, and particularly through the influence of prominent theologians like St. Robert Bellarmine and Francis Sylvius, the Catholic schools came to abandon the practice of restricting the meaning of the term "membrum ecclesiae" to Catholics in the state of grace and to use it to signify also what had previously had be designated as "pars ecclesiae." [Cf. Fenton, "Membership in the Church," in AER, CXII, 4 (April, 1945), 294.] This change, originally made to avoid any ambiguity or confusion that might have followed from the earlier use of the term, was accepted everywhere. So it is that the "members of the Church," spoken of in the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, are all of the individual human beings who together constitute the organized society which is, in fact, the true and only supernatural kingdom of God on earth in the dispensation of the New Testament. When, in this book, the term "member of the Church" is employed, it is always and everywhere used with this meaning.
Now from the very beginning of the Church, Catholic controversy against the spokesmen for the various heresies that have arisen has centered around the closely connected notions of membership in the Church and the Church's necessity for salvation. As long as they made any pretense at all of being followers of Our Lord, the defenders of the heresies (and particularly the early Protestant leaders) never ventured to question the fact that there exists in this world a social unit of some kind within which alone men may achieve salvific association with Our Lord. They, like the Catholics themselves, were completely certain and insistent that there is a true Church and that outside of that true Church there is no salvation. On this point there was one, and only one, basic issue in dispute between the Catholics and the heretics, the question as to exactly what the status of this supernatural kingdom of God is in this world.
The Catholic answer to that question was the assertion of the divinely revealed truth that, in the status of the New Testament dispensation, the organized religious society over which the Bishop of Rome presides is the supernatural kingdom of God on earth. It insisted upon the fact that the social unit headed by the Roman Pontiff is the very same reality which is designated as the supernatural kingdom of God or the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ in this world.
On the other hand, the various types of heretics all contended in one way or another that the social unit known as the true ecclesia or the true supernatural kingdom of God on earth was not an organized society at all, but the sum-total of all the good people, or all the predestined people, or all the people of good will in the world.
The heretical thesis had all the specious and disarming simplicity which characterizes so many errors. For one thing, it did away with any difficulty about the difference between being a member of the Church and being "within" the Church in such a way as to be able to attain salvation in it. If the New Testament kingdom of God on earth is depicted as an unorganized group, and as a social unit to which one belongs only by reason of the possession of spiritual gifts undetectable with certainty by other men, then a man would belong to it or be within it through his possession of those gifts. Thus, to belong to the group and to be living the life of grace would be one and the same thing. If a person dies in the state of grace, he will attain the Beatific Vision. He will be saved for all eternity. Thus the heretical position was basically and deceptively simple. According to that teaching, persons who die in the state of grace die as belonging to the supernatural kingdom of God on earth in the only way anyone can possibly belong to it.
The only trouble with the heretical position was that it was completely at variance with what Our Lord had taught about His kingdom on earth. According to the contention of the heretics, Our Lord would have been mistaken, for instance, in His description of the purification of His kingdom which is to be effected at the time of the general judgment. As they described God's kingdom, it never could have been purified in any way. The only people who composed it, even in this world, were people in the state of grace, people loving God with the supernatural affection of divine charity.
The Catholic truth on this point is comparatively complicated. On the one hand, there is the fact that the New Testament kingdom of God on earth actually is the organized society called the Catholic Church, the religious organization within which the Bishop of Rome is the supreme visible leader. On the other hand, it is no less a fact that a man can die as one of the individuals who compose the Catholic Church and can still be lost for all eternity and that a non-member of the Church can die as being "within" the Church in such a way as to attain to the Beatific Vision.
In order to explain this set of divinely revealed truths about the Church militant of the New Testament, the theologians of the Catholic Church have traditionally employed a distinction between two different sets of factors which bind us to Our Lord in His Mystical Body. This distinction was first brought out in the anti-Donatist writings of St. Augustine. It was elaborated by the first group of counter-Reformation theologians, particularly by the Louvain writers, James Latomus and John Driedo. St. Robert Bellarmine summarized and popularized it in his masterpiece, the book De ecclesia militante. [Cf. De ecclesia militante, c. 2.] Since the time of St. Robert this distinction has formed an integral part of traditional or scholastic ecclesiology. The encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi utilized this distinction and thus gave it the sanction of the ecclesiastical magisterium.
And since, as We have said above, the social Body of Christ, according to the intention of its Founder, ought to be something visible, the union (conspiratio) of all its members must likewise be outwardly manifested by the profession of the same faith, the communion of the same sacraments, the sharing of the same sacrifice, and finally by the actual observance of the same laws. Moreover, it is entirely necessary that there should be a supreme head, visible to all, by whom the mutually helpful labors of all may be effectively directed to the attainment of the end proposed [for the society]. We call this visible head the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth. For, just as the Divine Redeemer sent the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, to take care of the invisible government of the Church, He likewise commissioned Peter and his successors to conduct the visible government of the Church in His Name.
But to these juridical bones, which are sufficient in their own line (quae iam ratione sui sufficiunt), in such a way that they far surpass the bonds of any other human society, even the highest, it is necessary to add another factor of unity by which we are most intimately joined together among ourselves and which God by reason of the three virtues, Christian faith, hope, and charity. [AAS, XXXV, 227.]
The declaration of the Mystici Corporis Christi on the nature of membership in the true Church of Jesus Christ is, in the last analysis, a statement of the fact that these outward or juridical bonds alone suffice to constitute a man as a member or a part of the organization which is actually the supernatural kingdom of God according to the dispensation of the New Testament. Thus in a final and intensely practical way the encyclical insisted on the truth that the visible society known as the Catholic Church actually is the community called the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. It did this precisely by showing that the Mystical Body is a true organized society, a visible association whose members can be known by externally recognizable characteristics.
Those who are at all acquainted with the popular literature of ecclesiology prior to the issuance of the Mystici Corporis Christi do not need to be told how badly this teaching was needed. During the early part of our century there had developed a tendency on the part of some Catholic writers to attempt an over-simplified explanation of the Church's necessity for the attainment of eternal salvation. According to these men, any person who is saved dies as a member of the Catholic Church.
They insisted that many of those who are saved pass from this life as members of non-Catholic religious communities or without any religious affiliation at all. Yet they contended that these same individuals were really through invisibly members of the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Thus, according to their doctrine, the visible society which the world knows as the Catholic Church, the religious society in communion with and subject to the Roman Pontiff, was not completely and exactly the same thing as the Mystical body of Christ, outside which no one can attain eternal salvation. By direct and necessary implication their teaching led to the inference that the true Mystical Body of Christ was not an organization or a society at all, since they held that this social unit could have true and genuine members who were not in any way recognizable as members or parts of the community directed by the Bishop of Rome.
The section of Mystici Cororis Christi that deals with the requisites for membership in the Church ends with the warning that "those who are in various ways separated [from the Mystical Body of Christ] in faith or rule cannot be living in this Body and cannot be living by its divine Spirit."
To live by the divine Spirit of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ is to live the life of sanctifying grace. Thus it is the teaching of this encyclical that people who are separated from the Church in belief and in rule cannot be living the life of sanctifying grace and cannot possess the virtue of charity. Of course this teaching implies that all the people who are living the life of sanctifying grace and who are motivated by the love of charity are in some way joined or united to Our Lord's true Church in its faith and in its government.
The Church, in its teaching about its own necessary connection with eternal salvation, has always taken cognizance of the fact that non-members of the Mystical Body of Christ can possess the life of sanctifying grace and can elicit the act of charity. At the same time, however, it has always insisted upon the fact that no person who is truly separated from it in faith and in charity can be living the supernatural life of sanctifying grace. Hence the theologians of the Church have set out to explain how an individual who is not a member of the Church could be united with it in such a way as to possess this life of grace. Since the time of Thomas Stapleton and St. Robert Bellarmine, scholastic ecclesiology has explained this salvific union with the Church on the part of a non-Catholic in terms of a sincere desire or intention on the part of the non-member of the Church to enter this society and to remain within it. They showed that a person who seeks and prays for the favor of incorporation into the true supernatural kingdom on earth cannot be said to be truly separated from that society in its faith and in its rule.
The Catholic Church and its theologians had likewise taught that a sincere desire to enter and to remain within the Church could be effective for the attainment of eternal salvation even when that desire was merely implicit, that is, not based on a clear and distinct notion of the Church itself. Previous statements of the ecclesiastical magisterium, like the Singulari quadam and the Quanto conficiamur moerore had taken cognizance of this teaching, without, however, distinctly mentioning any implicit desire. The encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, in referring explicitly to this factor, thus advanced the study of that portion of sacred theology which deals with the true Church of Jesus Christ. It made that contribution in a section in which it points to the possibility of salvation for a person who is joined to the Church only by an implicit but sincere and genuine desire of entering it, and, at the same time, indicates the spiritual insecurity that characterizes the position of such an individual.
As you know very well, Venerable Brethren, from the beginning of Our Pontificate, We have entrusted even those who do not belong to the visible structure (compagem) of the Catholic Church to the heavenly protection and direction, solemnly asserting that, following the example of the Good Shepherd, We wanted nothing more than that they should have life and have it more abundantly. Begging the prayers of the entire Church, We wish to repeat Our solemn declaration in this encyclical letter in which We have praised the great and glorious Body of Christ, most affectionately inviting each and every one of them [those who are not members of the Church] to co-operate generously and willingly with the inward impulses of divine grace and to take care to extricate themselves from that condition in which they cannot be secure about their own eternal salvation. For even though they may be directed towards the Redeemer's Mystical Body by a sort of unconscious desire and intention (etiamsi inscio quodam desiderio ac voto ad mysticum Redemptoris Corpus ordinentur), they still lack so many and such great heavenly helps and aids that can be enjoyed only in the Catholic Church. [Ibid., 243.]
The people whom the Holy Father describes as not being "secure" about the affair of their own eternal salvation are non-members of the Church who have no clear or explicit intention of entering this society. This is evident from the context itself. He is speaking of "those who do not belong to the visible structure of the Catholic Church (qui ad adspectabilem non pertinent Catholicae Ecclesiae compagem)," and of people who may be ordered or directed to the Church by a kind of unconscious intention and desire. Thus the conditions he sets down are such as to exclude both members of the Church and non-Catholics who are clearly aware of the Church and explicitly desirous of joining it.
At this point, incidentally, it is well to point out the misleading and somewhat inaccurate character of the expression "visible body of the Catholic Church," employed in this place by many published translations of the encyclical. The Latin term here rendered as "body" is the word "compages." Actually this has the sense of a joining together, a structure, or a composition. Furthermore, in view of the eccentric terminology which has sometimes been employed in popular religious works treating of the Church as Our Lord's Mystical Body and dealing with the dogma of the Church's necessity for the attainment of eternal salvation, it was somewhat unfortunate that people should be led to believe that the encyclical itself spoke of a visible body of the Catholic Church. There was always the danger that people might be misled, through the influence of unscientific treatises written before the publication of the Mystici Corporis Christi, to imagine that such a terminology permitted them to hold that there could be such a thing as an invisible body of the true Church of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Father, in the encyclical, brings out the fact that, from the very beginning of his pontificate, he has been praying to God for the eternal salvation of non-Catholics, as well as for the salvation of the members of the true Church. He has begged God to take care of all of them, and to grant that they might have life and have it more abundantly. In acting thus, the Sovereign Pontiff was acting according to the commission he had received from God. He is the Vicar of Christ on earth. Our Lord, whose Vicar he is, had said, in defining the basic aim of His own mission: "I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly" [John, 10: 10].
Now, the text of the Mystici Corporis Christi makes it quite clear that the Holy Father knows and teaches that this supernatural life of sanctifying grace can be possessed only by those who are in some way "within" or in vital contact with the Catholic Church. The non-members of the Church who have no explicit intention of joining or entering in can have the life of grace, but only if they are ordered or disposed toward the Church by a certain unconscious intention or desire. By the clearest sort of inference, then, the teaching of the Roman Pontiff thus implies that non-members of the Catholic Church who have not even an implicit desire or intention to enter the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ are not in a position in which they can possess the supernatural life of sanctifying grace. This, of course, is the very teaching brought out so effectively by Pope Boniface VIII in the Unam sanctam, when he declared that there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins outside the Catholic Church.
In the Mystici Corporis Christi Pope Pius XII asserts true Catholic doctrine by teaching that a non-member of the Church who is within the Church only in the sense that he has an unconscious or implicit desire of entering it as a member can possess the supernatural life of sanctifying grace. At the same time, however, he brings out a lesson much needed by some of the writers of our generation when he points out the fact that people who are within the Church only by an unconscious desire cannot be secure about the affair of their eternal salvation precisely because they "still lack so many and such great heavenly helps and aids that can be enjoyed only in the Catholic Church."
Here the expression "in the Catholic Church" obviously means "in the membership of the Catholic Church." Manifestly the Holy Father is referring to the incomparable spiritual advantages which a man may enjoy ("licet frui," in the words of the Latin text of the encyclical) as a member of the Catholic Church which are not and cannot be available to him if he is "within" the Church only in the sense that he has an implicit desire to enter it and to remain in it. These advantages are such as to give the man who possesses them a kind of relative security about the affair of his eternal salvation. Any person who does not enjoy membership in the true Church cannot possibly possess such security.
The encyclical speaks of non-members of the Church who have a true and sincere, though merely implicit, desire of entering it as being in a situation "in which they cannot be secure about their eternal salvation (in quo de sempiterna cuiusque salute secure esse non possunt)." Many of the published translations of the Mystici Corporis Christi employ the expression "in which they cannot be sure of their salvation" in rendering this clause into English. This terminology is both inexact and seriously misleading. In our language "sure" is one of the synonyms of the word "certain". They Holy Father quite definitely did not mean to imply, in denying that people who are within the Church only by way of an explicit desire or intention are "secure" about their own salvation, that members of the true Church may be certain that they are predestined by God to the glory of Heaven.
As a matter of fact, the Council of Trent, in its famous Decree on Justification, has warned us solemnly on this subject.
And no one, as long as he is living in this mortal condition, ought to be so presumptuous on the subject of the hidden mystery of divine predestination as to decide with certainty that he is wholly in the number of the predestined, as if it were true that the man who has been justified were to be either unable to sin again or, if he should sin again, ought to promise himself a repentance that is certain. For, except by way of a special revelation, it cannot be known whom God has chosen unto Himself. [Denz., 805.]
Sureness or certainty of eternal salvation is one thing. The Church, through the Council of Trent, has told us that this certainty is unavailable other than by way of a special revelation from God Himself. But security in the line of eternal salvation is something else again. This is a favor which men may have as members of the Catholic Church, and only in this way. Such is the teaching of Pope Pius XII in the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi.
Such security in the line of eternal salvation is, by its very nature, available only to the man who is in a position to enjoy and to utilize the various aids to the attainment of eternal life which God offers to men in His supernatural kingdom or ecclesia. Most of the content of the Mystici Corporus Christi is, as a matter of fact, devoted to the enumeration and the description of these factors which give security in the way of salvation to the man who is privileged to be a member of the true Church of Jesus Christ. In the light of the teaching of this encyclical, the advantages which are available only to members of the Catholic Church, and which are such as to afford a man a genuine security in the line of his own eternal salvation, may be summed up in terms of the outward bond of unity with Our Lord in His ecclesia. The factors of this so-called "outward bond" are, as a matter of fact, the qualities by which alone a man is constituted a member of the Church.
As we have seen, the Mystici Corporis Christi teaches us that "only those who have been baptized, who profess the true faith, who have not miserably separated themselves from the fabric of the Body and who have not, by reason of very serious crimes, been expelled by legitimate ecclesiastical authority, are actually to be counted as members of the Church". This is quite in accord with the teaching of St. Robert Bellarmine, who defines the Church militant of the New Testament as "the assembly of men united in the profession of the same Christian faith and in the communion of the same sacraments, under the rule of legitimate pastors, and in particular, that of the one Vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman Pontiff." [St. Robert, loc. cit.]
According to the teaching of the great Doctor of the Church, as expressed in the encyclical of Pope Pius XII, the constituents of this outward bond of unity by which men are made members of the true Church are: the Catholic profession of faith, the communion or communication of the ecclesiastical sacraments, and subjection to the rule of legitimate ecclesiastical pastors, and ultimately that of the Bishop of Rome. The advantages by which members of the true Church of Jesus Christ may be secure about the matter of their salvation are then to be found under these three headings.
The first and the most fundamental of these advantages is that of the Catholic profession of the divine faith. The member of the Catholic Church is a part of the society within which the message Our Lord taught and preached as supernatural divine revelation is guarded and proposed infallibly. This message is the body of truth which men are meant to accept with the assent of divine faith. It is the body of divine public revelation. It is the teaching which God has given to man to guide and direct him toward the eternal possession of the Beatific Vision.
The member of the Catholic Church is in a position to receive this divine teaching in an adequate and accurate manner. The Church of which he is a member always has preached this message infallibly and will continue to preach and expound it infallibly until the end of time. As a matter of fact, the Church is the instrument of Christ the Teacher, who lives and instructs in the Church, which is His Mystical Body. One of the most beautiful and enlightening passages of the Mystici Corporis Christi brings out this truth very clearly. For, after assuring us that "Christ enlightens His whole Church, as numberless passages from the Sacred Scriptures and the holy Fathers prove," the encyclical tells us:
And for us today, who linger on this earthly exile, He is still the Author of our faith as, in our heavenly fatherland, He will be the One who completes it. It is He who imparts the light of faith to the faithful. It is He who enriches pastors and teachers, and above all His Vicar on earth, with the supernatural gifts of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, so that they may loyally preserve the treasury of the faith, defend it vigorously, and explain and confirm it with reverence and devotion. Finally it is He who, though unseen, presides over the Councils of the Church and guides them. [AAS, XXXV, 216.]
It may, of course, be objected that the Church does not state that each and every one of its authoritative doctrinal pronouncements is presented precisely as an infallible proposition. Catholic theology takes cognizance of the fact that some of the doctrinal statements of the Church's ordinary teaching activity are not designated as infallible, although they certainly demand acceptance by the faithful with a true and inward act of assent. Does this fact, the existence within the body of the doctrinal acts of the Catholic Church, of statements which, while fully authoritative, are not covered by a guarantee of doctrinal infallibility, detract in any way from the advantage that accrues to the member of the Church from the point of view of the accuracy of the presentation of divinely revealed doctrine?
The answer is that it does not. The entire teaching activity of the universal Church of God on earth is covered by what the theologians, after Cardinal Franzelin, call the guarantee of "infallible security" as distinct from that of "infallible truth". [Cf. Franzelin, De divina traditione et Scriptura (Rome, 1875), pp. 127 ff.] The primary objective of the Church's responsibility and authority in the doctrinal field is the accurate presentation and effective defense of the teaching which the Apostles handed over to the Church as divinely revealed. Such is the meaning conveyed in the [First] Vatican Council's declaration of the Church's function with regard to divine faith.
But since "without faith it is impossible to please God" and to attain to the fellowship of His children, it follows that justification never comes to any man without it [the faith], nor will anyone obtain eternal life unless he shall have preserved in it until the end. But in order that we may satisfy our obligation of embracing the true faith and persevering in it constantly, God, through His only-begotten Son, has established the Church, and has equipped it with manifest signs of the fact that He has instituted it, so that it may be acknowledged by all as the guardian and the teacher of the revealed word. [Denz., 1793.]
Thus, according to the [First] Vatican Council itself, one of the basic reasons for the existence of the true Church of God in this world is to make it possible for us to accept the divine faith and to persevere in our belief. The Church works in two different ways for the accomplishment of this, its doctrinal mission. First, it issues statements and definitions to which the faithful must assent either by divine and Catholic faith or by what is sometimes called merely ecclesiastical faith. Again, it issues doctrinal decisions which are authoritative, that is, which must be received by the faithful with a true and inward act of religious assent, but which the Church itself does not propose as infallible. The first class of acts, those which can be rejected only at the cost of heresy or doctrinal error, have the infallibility of truth. The second class of statements or decisions, which can be rejected only at the cost of a sin of rashness against the faith or of doctrinal disobedience to the Church, have the guarantee of the infallibility of security. They are issued by the Church, not primarily as statements of truth to be accepted for its own sake, but rather as measures of security for the protection and the security of the divine faith. Our Lord, the Head of the Mystical Body, sees to it that these decisions accomplish the objective they were intended to attain. They really do protect the purity and the security of the faith itself.
Thus, in the field of the profession of the true Christian faith, the member of the Catholic Church has the indescribably important advantage of belonging to a society within which the revealed message of God is preserved, taught, and defended in such a way that the purity and the integrity of the faith is always protected. The person who is not a member of the true Church, but who is "within" it only by the force of an implicit desire or intention to enter it, has no such advantage. He has no visible and reliable immediate norm of belief whatsoever.
If such an individual is a member of a heretical religious organization, he is actually placed at a tremendous disadvantage along this line. The organization to which he pertains is one which presents, as the object of its own belief, a body of teaching quite distinct from that which God has revealed to mankind through His divine Son. It is of course true that the doctrinal message of the individual non-Catholic religious organization contains some statements which actually form a part of God's revealed teaching. It is possible for a man to make an act of divine faith by the acceptance of such teachings as certain on the authority of God who has revealed them. But the purity and the integrity of his belief is always threatened by the presence in the doctrinal assertions of the institution of which he is a member of statements at variance with the content of divine public revelation. And, given the fundamental necessity of the faith for the living of the supernatural life and for the attainment of eternal salvation, it is easy to see that the man who is not a member of the Catholic Church is at a tremendous disadvantage when compared with a Catholic.
What is true with regard to the profession of the Christian faith is likewise true with reference to the guidance God gives us through the government of the Catholic Church. The rule or government of the Catholic Church is, in the last analysis, a way in which Our Lord Himself guides and directs souls to the attainment of the Beatific Vision. When the Mystici Corporis Christi has finished speaking about the invisible direction or government God gives to men by direct action on the individual souls, it adds: "But we must not think that He rules only in a hidden or extraordinary manner. On the contrary, our Divine Redeemer also governs His Mystical body in a visible and normal way through His Vicar on earth." [AAS, XXXV, 210.]
The directions given by Our Lord Himself come not only through the rule of the Roman Pontiff over the universal Church militant of the New Testament, but also through the government of the individual local Churches by the residential Bishops to whom they have been assigned. The encyclical states: "What We have thus far said of the Universal Church must be understood also of the individual Christian communities, whether Oriental or Latin, which go to make up the one Catholic Church. For they too are ruled by Jesus Christ through the voice of their respective Bishops." [Ibid., 211.]
The government of the universal Church by the Holy Father has a kind of practical infallibility attached to it, in the sense that it would be quite impossible for a man to lose his soul through obedience to the legislation of the universal Church militant of the New Testament. [Cf. Billot, De Ecclesia Christi, 5th edition (Rome, 1927), I, 477-82.] As the beneficiary of this favor, and as one who is guided and directed by Our Lord Himself through the government of the Church, the Catholic has again a tremendous advantage in the living of the spiritual life. The religious direction which is visibly offered to a non-member of the Catholic Church by officials of the sect to which he may belong is definitely not in the same class with the visible rule and government of the true Church of Jesus Christ.
We must also realize that, in having access to the sacramental life of the Catholic Church, the Catholic enjoys another series of great advantages in the spiritual life. Most of those who are not members of the Church have not the benefit of any sacrament at all. The minority who are validly baptized do not usually have access to the Eucharist, or to the sacraments of penance, confirmation, and extreme unction. And we must not forget that, even in those dissident communities in which a valid priesthood has been retained and in which, as a consequence, the members may receive the Eucharist, they are approaching the sacrament and the sacrifice under circumstances definitely and objectively opposed to the expressed will of God.
It remains true that by reason of invincible ignorance, some of the members of these dissident and schismatical communities may receive the Eucharist and take part in the Eucharistic sacrifice fruitfully. Nevertheless the fact remains that this is possible only in terms of inculpable ignorance. The Eucharist is the sacrifice and the sacrament of charity. Objectively it belongs only within the confines of God's Own supernatural kingdom. It is definitely not at home in any community distinct from and opposed to God's one true Ecclesia here on earth. It is easy to see that the person who has even the valid Eucharist in a religious community apart from and opposed to the Catholic Church is at a great disadvantage compared with a member of the true Church.
The great advantages in the possession of members of the Catholic Church and not available to people who are in the Church only by the force of an implicit desire or intention to enter it can thus be summed up under the headings of the authorized and infallible teaching of divine public revelation, the guidance by Our Lord through the government of the true Church, and the sacramental and liturgical life within the Mystical body of Jesus Christ. With these go the various blessings and prayers and indulgences which, together constitute a benefit beyond price for those who seek to serve God in the true Church of His Divine Son.
The non-member of the Catholic Church is comparatively insecure with regard to the affair of his salvation precisely because he lacks these benefits. Even though he should be in the state of grace and even though he should implicitly intend to enter the true Church, he has not the benefit of a visible and living magisterium which can speak to him with the voice and by the power of Our Lord Himself. He is not the beneficiary of a visible rule in which Our Lord Himself directs and guides His Church. And he cannot live, until he actually enters the Church as a member, the sacramental life within the Mystical body of Jesus Christ.
The encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi does more than indicate the insecurity of the man who is "within" the true Church only by reason of an implicit desire of entering it as a member. It also shows that the prayer of the Roman Pontiff and of the Church itself, expressing God's Own will on this subject, is that such people actually become members of the Catholic Church. The encyclical continues:
May they then enter into Catholic unity, and, united with us in the one association (compagine) of the Body of Jesus Christ, may they hasten to the one Head in the society of the most glorious love. With persevering prayer to the Spirit of love and truth, with open arms We wait for them to come back, not to a stranger's house, but to the house of their own Father.
But while We want this unceasing prayer that all of those who have wandered away may enter as soon as possible into one fold of Christ to rise up to God from the entire Mystical Body, yet We declare that it is absolutely necessary that this be done freely and without compulsion, since no one may believe unless he wills to believe. Hence they are most certainly not genuine Catholics (Christifideles) who, not believing, are forced to enter a Church building, to approach the altar, and to receive the sacraments, for the faith “without which it is impossible to please God” is an entirely free service of intellect and will. [AAS, XXXV, 243.]
This section of the Mystici Corporis Christi brings out the sometimes forgotten fact that it is always a good and desirable thing for a man who is "within" the Church only by desire actually to become a member of the Church. Prior to the issuance of this encyclical there was a tendency on the part of some Catholic writers in the field of ecclesiology to speak as if non-membership in the Church were, under certain circumstances at least, an acceptable thing for people who desired membership. This erroneous teaching was generally set forth by men who were deceived by the false oecumenicism against which Pope Pius XII protested in the encyclical Humani generis. Men of this type followed the teachings and adopted the attitudes of unbelievers who always rejected individual conversions to the Church in favor of some illusory corporate reunion.
In point of fact, however, as the encyclical shows so well, the status of a person who desires to enter the Church, even when that desire is merely implicit, is objectively a condition of strain or tension. The force of divine charity impels a man to will that he actually become and remain a part or member of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. As long as he remains without that membership, his desire is thus frustrated. In itself, the visible Catholic Church is the kingdom and the city and the household of God Himself. It is the one proper place for those who are the adopted children of God through the life of sanctifying grace. The power of God's command and the force of their own desire push the non-members of the Catholic Church who enjoy the life of sanctifying grace toward union with the Catholic Church and with Our Lord by means of the external bonds of unity, the factors which constitute a man as a member of the true and only kingdom of God on earth.
By far the greatest contribution made in the Mystici Corporis Christi to the proper understanding of the dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church is made indirectly, in the basic teaching of the encyclical to the effect that the visible Roman Catholic Church is actually definable as the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Prior to the issuance of the Mystici Corporis Christi, and, unfortunately, even for a short time after it had appeared, there was a tendency on the part of some Catholic popular writers on religious subjects to depict the visible Catholic Church as in some way distinct from and less than the genuine "Body of Christ" spoken of in the epistles of St. Paul. Some of these writers described the Mystical body as a kind of "invisible Church," and even spoke of affection for the visible Church as something which could detract from and be opposed to love for the true Mystical Body. There were others who, in various ways, refused to the visible Catholic Church the prerogatives and the dignity of the Kingdom of God or the City of God.
In every such case the dogma of the necessity of the true and visible Church of Jesus Christ for the attainment of eternal salvation was obviously and necessarily misinterpreted. In the minds of the men who wrote in this manner, the only social unit which could be described as genuinely necessary for the attainment of man's eternal salvation was represented as something in some way distinct from the society which men know as the Catholic Church. As Catholics, these writers, for the most part, were unwilling to reject the statement that there is no salvation outside the Church. Yet, in line with their position about the existence of an "invisible Church," they tended to explain the dogma away and to reduce it to an empty or vain formula.
The encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi rendered such teaching inexcusable after its appearance when it boldly stated that: "If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ - which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church - we shall find no expression more noble, more sublime, or more divine, than the phrase which calls it 'the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.'" [Ibid., 199.]
In this statement Pope Pius XII repudiated the one great and basic obstacle to a proper acceptance and understanding of the teaching that there is no salvation to be attained outside the visible Catholic Church. The great truth he enunciated had been contradicted by men who had done, on the ecclesiological level, something like what the heretics of the early Church had done with regard to Our Lord Himself. In those ancient times, the heretics were not at all averse to admitting the existence of God and even the existence of a consubstantial Word of God. They refused, however, to see in a Man Who had hung bleeding and dishonored on the Cross of Calvary the Person Who is the true and natural son of God.
So it was that in the later years there were individuals who were perfectly willing to admit the existence of a Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. They were definitely not willing, however, to admit that the visible Church in which they came in daily contact, the religious society with bad members intermingled among the good, could actually be this Mystical Body of the Redeemer. Thus, in the light of this fundamental misconception, they could never really appreciate the fact that, in the actual designs of God's providence, this visible society is genuinely necessary for the attainment of man's eternal salvation.
The following points are brought out in the Mystici Corporis Christi:
(1) The conditions for being "within" the Church in such a way as to be able to attain salvation in it are not objectively and completely identical with the conditions requisite for membership in this society.
(2) It is possible for a man to attain salvation "within" the Church if he has merely an implicit desire to be in it.
(3) The condition of a man who is "within" the Church merely by desire is strikingly inferior to that of a man who is actually a member of the true Church.
(4) It is the duty of all members of the Church to work and to pray for the conversion to the Church of all who are not members.
(5) The visible Roman Catholic Church is identical with the social unit designated as the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.
A man who is justified is within the Church and in a state of sanctifying grace even if he is not a member of that Church. Please read Justification for the teaching on justification and for the teaching on sanctifying grace:
Pray the good Lord that all men of good will can accept the constant, clear, authoritative and infallible teaching that people who desire to enter the Church, even when that desire is implicit, can be saved within the Church. Pray further that those of bad will may have their hearts melted and molded into the Heart of Christ so that their perfidious obstinacy in error my end once and for all.