" The Suprema haec sacra states explicitly that it is possible for a man to be saved if he has only an implicit desire of entering the Catholic Church. Thus it teaches that a man can attain the Beatific Vision without having had any definite and explicit knowledge of the Catholic Church during the course of his lifetime in this world."
This installment is a very essential installment explained by Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton that should be carefully studied. If you want to have the fullest and clearest teaching on the Church's necessity for salvation found in one authoritative document, this is the document to study. This is a good place to go if you want to clarify Church teaching for good-willed people of the Feeneyite bent. Of course you will need to explain that this is indeed an authoritative document which all good Catholics must give their assent. Thanks be to God that Father Fenton explains this below:
THE HOLY OFFICE LETTER
SUPREMA HAEC SACRA
By far the most complete and explicit authoritative statement of the ecclesiastical magisterium on the subject of the Church's necessity for salvation is to be found in the letter sent by the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office to His Excellency Archbishop Cushing of Boston. The letter was written as a result of the trouble occasioned by the St. Benedict Center group in Cambridge. The Suprema haec sacra was issued on August 8, 1949, but it was not published in full until the fall of 1952. The encyclical letter Humani generis was dated August 12, 1950. Thus, while actually composted after the Holy Office letter, it was published two years before the letter.
The Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office asserts, in the letter, that it "is convinced that the unfortunate controversy [which occasioned the action of the Holy Office] arose from the fact that the axiom 'outside the Church there is no salvation' was not correctly understood and weighed, and that the same controversy was rendered more bitter by serious disturbance of discipline arising from the fact that some of the associates of the institutions mentioned above [St. Benedict Center and Boston College] refused reverence and obedience to legitimate authorities."
The doctrinal portion of the letter follows.
Accordingly the Most Eminent and Most Reverend Cardinals of this Supreme Congregation, in a plenary session, held on Wednesday, July 27, 1949, decreed, and the August Pontiff in an audience on the following Thursday, July 28, 1949, deigned to give his approval, that the following explanations pertinent to the doctrine, and also that invitations and exhortations relevant to discipline, be given.
We are bound by divine and Catholic faith to believe all those things which are contained in the word of God, whether it be Scripture or Tradition, and are proposed by the Church to be believed as divinely revealed, not only through solemn judgment but also through the ordinary and universal teaching office (magisterium).
Now, among those things which the Church has always preached and will never cease to preach there is also contained that infallible statement by which we are taught that there is no salvation outside the Church.
However, this dogma must be understood in the sense in which the Church itself understands it. For Our Saviour gave the things that are contained in the deposit of faith to be explained by the ecclesiastical magisterium and not by private judgments.
Now, in the first place, the Church teaches us that in this matter we are dealing with a most strict precept of Jesus Christ. For He explicitly ordered His apostles to teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever He Himself had commanded.
Now, not the least important among the commandments of Christ is that one by which we are commanded to be incorporated by baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, and to remain united to Christ and to His Vicar, through whom He Himself governs the Church on earth in a visible manner.
Therefore, no one will be saved who, knowing the Church to have been divinely established by Christ, nevertheless refuses to submit to the Church or withholds obedience from the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.
The Savior not only gave the precept that all nations should enter the Church, but He also established the Church as a means of salvation, without which no one may be able to enter the kingdom of eternal glory.
In His infinite mercy God has willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of those helps to salvation which are directed towards man's final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when these helps are used only in intention or desire (ubi voto solummodo vel desiderio adhibeantur). This we see clearly stated in the Sacred Council of Trent, both with reference to the sacrament of regeneration and with reference to the sacrament of penance.
In its own way, the same thing must be said about the Church, insofar as the Church itself is a general help to salvation. Therefore, in order that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is required that at least he be united to it by intention and desire.
However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but, when a person is involved in invincible ignorance, God accepts also an implicit intention (votum) which is so called because it is included in that good disposition of the soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God.
These things are clearly taught in that dogmatic letter which was issued by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, on June 29, 1943, "On the Mystical body of Jesus Christ." For in this letter the Sovereign Pontiff clearly distinguishes between those who are really (in re) incorporated into the Church as members and those who are joined to it only in intention (in voto).
Discussing the members of whom the Mystical Body is composed here on earth, the same August Pontiff says: "Only those who have received the laver of regeneration, who profess the true faith, who have not miserably separated themselves from the fabric of the Body or been expelled by legitimate authority by reason of very serious offences, are actually to be counted as members of the Church."
Towards the end of the same encyclical letter, when most affectionately inviting to unity those who do not belong to the body of the Catholic Church (qui ad Ecclesiae Catholicae compagem non pertinent), he mentions those who are "ordered to the Redeemer's Mystical Body by a sort of unconscious desire and intention," and these he by no means excludes from eternal salvation, but, on the contrary, asserts that they are in a condition in which "they cannot be secure about their own eternal salvation," since "they still lack so many and such great heavenly helps to salvation that can be enjoyed only in the Catholic Church.”
With these wise words he reproves both those who exclude from eternal salvation all those united to the Church only by implicit desire and those who falsely assert that men can be saved equally (aequaliter) in every religion.
Nor must we think that any kind of intention of entering the Church is sufficient in order that one may be saved. It is requisite that the intention by which one is ordered to the Church should be informed by perfect charity; and no explicit intention can produce its effect unless the man have supernatural faith: "For he who comes to God must believe that God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him." The Council of Trent declares: "Faith is the beginning of man's salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and attain to the fellowship of His children." [The original Latin text and the official English translation of the Suprema haec sacra appeared in AER, CXXVII, 4 (Oct., 1952), 307-15. The part of the translation quoted above is on pp. 312-14.]
The rest of the letter contains the directions and exhortations spoken of in the first paragraph quoted above. They have no immediate bearing on the doctrine of the necessity of the Church for the attainment of eternal salvation.
This letter, known as the Suprema haec sacra, from the first three words of the Latin text, is of unique importance for the study of this section of sacred theology. It is an instruction of the Holy Office, sent out with the approval and at the bidding of the Sovereign Pontiff himself. As such, it is an authoritative, though obviously not an infallible, document. That is to say, the teachings contained in the Suprema haec sacra are not to be accepted as infallibly true on the authority of this particular document. Nevertheless, the fact remains that much of its teaching - indeed, what we may call the substance of its teaching - is material which has appeared in previous documents emanating from the Sovereign Pontiff himself and from Oecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church.
The great importance of the Suprema haec sacra is based on the fact that this letter sets forth in full explicitness some distinctions and explanations that had been clearly implied and forcefully taught in previous authoritative documents of the teaching Church, but which had never before been set forth in these authoritative pronouncements as explicitly as in the writings of the traditional Catholic theologians. Among these teachings are: (1) the statement that the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation with the necessity of means and with the necessity of precept; (2) the fact that when we describe an individual who is convinced that the Catholic Church has truly been established by Our Lord, and who still obdurately refuses to enter the Church, as being in a condition in which he cannot attain his eternal salvation, we are speaking of the Church's necessity of precept rather than of its necessity of means; (3) the explicit distinction between an explicit and an implicit will to enter the Church; (4) the outright assertion that a person who has merely an implicit will to enter the Church can be saved; and (5) the fact that no will or desire of entering the Church can be effective for the attainment of eternal salvation unless it is enlightened by true supernatural faith and animated by perfect charity.
Other teachings of the Suprema haec sacra, such as its insistence upon the fact that the doctrine of no salvation outside the true Church is a genuine dogma of the Catholic faith, had been stated explicitly many times in previous pronouncements of the ecclesiastical magisterium. Each one of the paragraphs cited above contains invaluable information about what the Church itself really understands and teaches about the dogma of its own necessity for the attainment of eternal salvation. It will be helpful to consider each one of them individually.
(1) The first paragraph we have cited tells of the authoritative character of the letter itself. The Cardinals of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office decreed that these explanations be given, and the Holy Father approved their decision. We are dealing, then, with an authoritative document. It would be wrong for any teacher of Catholic doctrine to ignore or to contradict the teachings contained in this Holy Office letter.
(2) The next paragraph repeats almost verbatim the statement of the Vatican Council in the third chapter of its dogmatic constitution Dei Filius, to the effect that "we are bound by divine and Catholic faith to believe all those things which are contained in the word of God, whether it be Scripture or Tradition, and are proposed by the Church to be believed as divinely revealed, not only through solemn judgment but also through the ordinary and universal teaching office." It is interesting to see, however, that where the Dei Filius uses the expression "either by solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal magisterium," the Suprema haec sacra says "not only by solemn judgment but also by the ordinary and universal magisterium." Its use of the "non tantum . . . sed etiam," instead of the "sive . . . sive," manifests its conviction that, in dealing with the explanation of the doctrine that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, it is dealing with a matter which had hitherto been set forth mostly in the ordinary magisterium of the Church.
(3) The previous paragraph had characterized the teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church as a doctrine "which the Church has always preached and will never cease to preach" and as an "infallible statement." This one states clearly that it is a dogma - in other words, one of the teachings which the Church finds in Scripture or in divine apostolic tradition, and which, by either solemn judgment or in its ordinary and universal teaching activity, it presents to the people as something they must believe as a part of divine public revelation. The Suprema haec sacra, then, leaves no room for any opinion that this teaching might be something merely connected with the deposit of divine revelation. This truth is a part of the supernatural message communicated by God through Jesus Christ Our Lord.
The Holy Office letter then proceeds to state explicitly and emphatically that the dogma means exactly and only what the Church understands and teaches it to mean. In other words the people who write to the effect that the viewpoints of men have widened in the course of recent history, and that thus we must seek out some new interpretation of the axiom that there is no salvation outside the Church are quite mistaken in their fundamental approach to the problem. Changing cultural attitudes have nothing whatsoever to do with the accurate and acceptable statement of what is meant by the teaching that there is no salvation outside the Church. Our Lord has not given this truth to men as something to be interpreted and explained freely and more or less generously by private teachers. It is definitely not something to be interpreted or explained in such a way as to make the Church appear more modern or up-to-date. What the people should be taught about this truth is its real and accurate meaning. And the only agency empowered and commissioned to perform this work of interpretation and teaching is the apostolic college, the Roman Pontiff and the Catholic bishops associated with him to form the doctrinal and jurisdictional hierarchy of the true Church of the New Testament.
In this matter it will be helpful to refer to the section of the allocution Si diligis, delivered by Pope Pius XII to the members of the hierarchy who were gathered in Rome for the ceremony of the canonization of St. Pius X.
Christ Our Lord entrusted the truth which He had brought from heaven to the Apostles and, through them, to their successors. He sent His Apostles, as He had been sent by the Father, to teach all nations everything they had heard from Him. The Apostles are, therefore, by divine right the true doctors and teachers of the Church. Besides the lawful successors of the Apostles - namely, the Roman Pontiff for the universal Church and the Bishops for the faithful entrusted to their care - there are no other teachers divinely constituted in the Church of Christ. But both the Bishops and, first of all, the Supreme Teacher and Vicar of Christ on earth, may associate others with themselves in their work of teacher, and use their advice; they delegate to them the faculty to teach, either by special grant, or by conferring an office to which the faculty is attached. Those who are so called teach, not in their own name, nor by reason of their theological knowledge, but by reason of the mandate which they have received from the lawful teaching authority. Their faculty always remains subject to that authority, nor is it ever exercised in its own right or independently. [AER, CXXXI, 2 (Aug., 1954), 133 f.]
Over the course of the last few years, particularly, there have been some clever attempts to interpret the dogma of the Church's necessity for salvation. The only standard by which these attempts may properly be evaluated is that of the teaching of the ecclesiastical magisterium itself. It is this teaching which the Suprema haec sacra now begins to present.
An examination of the text of the Suprema haec sacra will show us from the very outset that the Holy Office did not intend to set forth anything like an exhaustive explanation of the dogma in its letter. Thus, for example, the document does not go into the nature of the Church or the nature of salvation itself. All that the Cardinals of the Congregation wished to do was to present a correct resolution of the particular point at issue in the controversy which occasioned the writing of the Suprema haec sacra.
(4) Thus the letter brings out the fact that the Catholic Church can be said to be necessary for salvation, in one way, because it is something which Our Lord has commanded, or given a precept, that all men should enter. It is His explicit order, given to us through His apostles, that His precepts should all be observed. Thus a man who teaches that non-members of the true Church should be let alone because, in his opinion, they are already in a position that is satisfactory with reference to Our Lord, is violating Our Lord’s precept directly.
(5) The next paragraph is an authoritative statement to the effect that we have a definite and highly important precept from Our Lord “to be incorporated by baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, and to remain united to Christ and to His Vicar, through whom He Himself governs the Church on earth in a visible manner.” It is highly important to understand how this command is contained in the sources of divine public revelation.
St. Matthew's Gospel shows how Our Lord commanded His apostles to teach His message and to administer His sacrament of baptism.
"And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to Me in Heaven and in earth.
Going therefore, teach ye all nations: Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" [Matt., 28: 18-20.]
The same idea is brought out in the last chapter of the Gospel according to St. Mark.
And He said to them: Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned" [Mark 16: 15-16.]
Baptism is, of course, the sacrament of entrance into the Church. Such is the force of the baptismal character that, unless it be impeded by public heresy or apostasy, schism, or the full measure of excommunication, it renders the person who possesses it a member of the true Church of Jesus Christ on earth. In issuing the command that His followers administer the sacrament of baptism, Our Lord was, of course, clearly imposing upon those who heard their preaching the obligation to receive this sacrament of regeneration.
The second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles shows that this was the way in which the Apostles themselves understood Our Lord's orders. When, at the end of the sermon by St. Peter on the first Christian Pentecost, his hearers asked the Prince of the Apostles what they should do, he ordered them to do penance and to be baptized.
"Now when they had heard these things, they had compunction in their heart and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles: What shall we do, men and brethren?
But Peter said to them: Do penance: and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" [Acts 2: 37-38.]
Thus St. Peter demonstrated in the most practical manner possible that he realized that Our Lord's teaching had contained a command that all men should be baptized and should thus enter the true kingdom of God of the New Testament. Obviously Our Lord's teaching had also contained prohibitions against heresy and schism. The teaching of the Suprema haec sacra is thus a statement of traditional Catholic doctrine.
(6) From the fact that the Church is necessary for eternal salvation with the genuine necessity of precept, the Holy Office letter draws the conclusion that "no one will be saved who, knowing the Church to have been divinely established by Christ, nevertheless refuses to submit to the Church or withholds obedience from the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth." It is to be noted that this conclusion is the practical expression of the meaning of the Church's necessity of precept. It is very definitely is not, either in itself or in its context in the Suprema haec sacra, an expression of the complete and ultimate meaning of the dogma of the necessity of the Church for salvation.
(7) The Holy Office letter is the first authoritative document to bring out in full explicitness the teaching that the Church is necessary for salvation both with the necessity of precept and with the necessity of means. A thing is said to be necessary for salvation with the necessity of precept when it has been commanded in such a way that, if a person disobeys this order, he is guilty of mortal sin. A means is necessary for salvation, on the other hand, is something which a man must have if he is to attain eternal salvation. This necessity holds even where there is no obdurateness on the part of the individual who does not possess the means. The Catholic Church, the true kingdom of God of the New Testament, is, according to the text of the Suprema haec sacra, a reality "without which no one may be able to enter the kingdom of eternal glory." This, and not the statement about persons obstinately refusing to enter the Church when they know that it is the true Church, is the explanation of the Church’s necessity of means.
(8) This paragraph brings out two truths about the Church as a necessary means to the attainment of eternal salvation. First, there is the fact that the Church is a means necessary for salvation only by divine institution and not by intrinsic necessity. Second is the fact that means necessary for salvation by divine institution can produce their effects, as the document says, "in certain cases" when there is only a will or desire to possess these things.
(8a) When the document classifies the Catholic Church as a means of salvation which is necessary only by divine institution and not by an intrinsic necessity, it likewise mentions two other realities which are also requisite for the attainment of salvation in this particular way. These are the sacraments of baptism and of penance. Both of these are necessary for salvation, and are necessary as means established by God for the attainment of this end.
In other words, there is no reason apart from the positive will of God why a washing with water performed while the person administering the sacrament is uttering a definite formula should be necessary for the attainment of the Beatific Vision. There is no reason apart from the positive will of God why a man who is guilty of mortal sin committed after baptism cannot have this sin forgiven except by means of a judicial absolution pronounced by an authorized priest. Neither the baptism nor the sacrament of penance is by its nature part of the supernatural life itself in the way that sanctifying grace and charity are.
Similarly, it is by the positive will of God that men must be within an organized society if they are to attain the forgiveness of their sins or final blessedness. Faith, hope, and charity are actually parts of the supernatural life. It is impossible to have the life of grace in this world, and thus, of course, impossible to pass from this world with the life of grace, apart from faith, hope and charity. The life of the Beatific Vision in Heaven necessarily involves charity.
This must be distinctly understood: in any event the men and women who accept the supernatural teaching of God with the act of divine faith, and who love God with the supernatural love of friendship which we call charity, would belong to the kingdom of God on earth. These people would be, in any event, the individuals who subjected themselves to God's supernatural law, and thus would belong to His supernatural kingdom in this world. But, as a matter of fact, God has willed that His supernatural kingdom should be a fully organized society. In His mercy He has decreed that there is no other social unit which can in any way properly be called His kingdom, or His ecclesia. If a man is going to belong to God's supernatural kingdom on earth at all, he is thus going to belong in some way to the visible Catholic Church, the religious society over which the Bishop of Rome presides as the Vicar of Jesus Christ.
(8b) The Suprema haec sacra then brings out the fact that, in the merciful designs of God's providence, such realities as the Church itself and the sacraments of baptism and penance can, under certain circumstances, bring about the effects which they are meant to produce as means necessary for the attainment of eternal salvation when a man possesses them only in the sense that he desires or intends or wills to have or to use them. Obviously the text cannot be understood unless we realize what the "certain circumstances" mentioned in the text really are.
Basic among these circumstances is the genuine impossibility of receiving the sacraments of baptism or of penance or of entering the Church as a member. It is quite clear that if it is possible for a man to be baptized, to go to confession and to receive sacramental absolution, or really to become a member of the true Church, the man for whom this is possible will not attain to eternal salvation unless he actually avails himself of these means. But, on the other hand, should the actual employment of these means be genuinely impossible, then the man can attain to eternal life by a will or desire to employ them.
Here, of course, we must distinguish sedulously between the order of intention and the order of mere velleity. What is required here is an effective desire, an effective act of the will, as distinct from a mere complacency or approval. A non-member of the Church can be saved if he genuinely wants or desires to enter the Church. With that genuine and active desire or intention, he will really become a member of the Church if this is at all possible. If it is not possible, then the force of his intention or desire will bring him "within" the Church in such a way that he can attain eternal salvation in this company. An inherently ineffective act of the will, a mere velleity, will definitely not suffice for the attainment of eternal salvation.
As the text of the Suprema haec sacra reminds us toward the end of its doctrinal section, the desire or intention of using the means established by God can be effective for the attainment of eternal salvation only when this act of the will is enlightened by true supernatural divine faith and animated by genuine charity. This, of course, holds true, not only for the intention of entering the Church, but also for the desire of the sacraments of baptism and penance - which desire may suffice for the forgiveness of sin when the sacraments themselves are not available.
(9) The expression "a general help to salvation (generale . . . auxilium salutis)" applied to the Catholic Church in the text of the Holy Office letter describes the Church as something which, by God's Own merciful decree, is a means of salvation meant for and necessary for all men without exception. It is definitely not necessary for salvation only to those who have heard of it. It is not necessary merely for those who seek to live in the higher levels of the spiritual life. It is a means and a help meant for and requisite for all men without exception.
Thus, in the words of the Holy Office document, "in order that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually (reapse) as a member, but it is required that he be united to it at least by intention and desire (voto et desiderio)".
(10) Previous paragraphs of the Holy Office letter had brought out the validity of two distinctions, long contained in the traditional works of Catholic theology, but never before stated so explicitly in an authoritative document of the Holy See. The first was the distinction between the necessity of means and the necessity of precept. The second was the distinction of belonging to the Church in re and in voto. This second distinction is used, in theology and in the text of the Suprema haec sacra, in explaining how the Church is a means genuinely necessary for all men for the attainment of eternal salvation.
The present paragraph explains the distinction between the explicit and the implicit votum of entering the true Church, and teaches that even the implicit votum can be effective for the attainment of eternal life. It teaches that "this desire [of entering the true Church as a member] need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but, when a person is involved in invincible ignorance, God accepts also an implicit intention, which is so called because it is included in that good disposition of the soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God."
It is to be noted here that, according to the language of the Suprema haec sacra and of all the other authoritative documents which have dealt with this matter, the desire of entering the Church does not give a man anything like "a real though incomplete membership in the Church." [Cf. Henry St. John, O.P., Essays in Christian Unity: 1928-1954 (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1955), p. 139.] Those who, like Father St. John, speak in this way, simply fail to take the meaning of the expressions in the Church's documents into consideration. A man who intends or wills to enter the Church is really not a member of it in any way whatsoever. If he were already a member, his desire would be absurd.
The Suprema haec sacra describes an explicit desire of entering the Church as something found in catechumens. The catechumen is the adult preparing to enter the true Church of Jesus Christ through the reception of the sacrament of baptism. His desire is said to be explicit because he has a clear and distinct (though not necessarily in any way adequate) knowledge of the society he seeks to enter. In other words, he is a man who knows that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ and who wants to become a member of that Church through the reception of baptism.
On the contrary, a man has only an implicit desire when he wants a thing but does not realize definitely what it is that he desires. The word "implicit" has the sense of something "folded in". When a man desires an objective which cannot be obtained without the attainment of something else, and does not have any clear and distinct awareness of this other thing, he is said to have an implicit desire of this latter.
The Suprema haec sacra states explicitly that it is possible for a man to be saved if he has only an implicit desire of entering the Catholic Church. Thus it teaches that a man can attain the Beatific Vision without having had any definite and explicit knowledge of the Catholic Church during the course of his lifetime in this world.
(11) In this paragraph the Holy Office document cites the passage in the encyclical Mystici Corporis dealing with membership in the Church, the genuine supernatural kingdom of God of the New Testament. In this context it is interesting to note that the text of the Mystici Corporis does not imply that there is some other sort of real though incomplete membership possessed by persons who do not have the qualifications mentioned here. The encyclical is teaching about those who actually (reapse) are to be counted as members of the Church. It insists that only these people who have the qualifications mentioned are to be enumerated reapse as members. All others, then, simply are not members.
Furthermore, this does not by any means imply that the word "reapse" in the text of the Mystici Corporis is a mere redundancy. If this were so, words like "genuinely" and "truly" would not be part of any real vocabulary. Moreover, the word "reapse" as it is used here connects this teaching of Pope Pius XII with the traditional doctrine of the Catholic theologians who distinguished between belonging to the Church "in re," that is, as a member, and belonging to it "in voto," that is, by a desire or intention to enter it as a member.
(12) The following paragraph shows that the Mystici Corporis had taught very clearly that there is a possibility of salvation for those non-members of the Catholic Church who desire to enter this company with a desire that is merely implicit. In the encyclical, the Holy Father had stated that these people could not be secure about their own eternal salvation, and had given reasons to justify this assertion. Obviously, then, he had unmistakably implied that there really is a possibility of eternal salvation for these individuals.
(13) The Suprema haec sacra shows that the text of the Mystici Corporis, particularly those sections of the encyclical mentioned in the Holy Office letter, reproves two mutually opposed errors. The first error condemned in the Mystici Corporis is that according to which a man who has merely an implicit desire of entering the Catholic Church is in a situation in which it is impossible for him to attain to his eternal salvation. The second error proscribed is that which holds that men can be saved equally in every religion. Those who taught either error after the publication of Mystici Corporis were guilty of ignoring or defying the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, teaching in his ordinary doctrinal activity or magisterium.
Most of the translations of the Suprema haec sacra render "aequaliter" into "equally well". I do not consider these two expressions exactly equivalent in the context of the Holy Office letter. The Mystici Corporis teaches by clear implication and the Suprema haec sacra teaches quite explicitly that men may be saved only "within" the Catholic Church. They can be "within" this society so as to obtain salvation in it either as members of this organization or as people who seek truly, even if only implicitly, to join it. There is no other religion "within" which men may attain the Beatific Vision. It would be a gross understatement to say that men cannot be saved "equally well" in every religion. The only one within which they can attain their ultimate supernatural end is that of the Catholic Church. Thus, it would seem that the meaning of the Latin "aequaliter" in its context in the Holy Office letter, is best expressed in English by the term "equally," rather than by "equally well".
(14) In some ways this last paragraph in the doctrinal section of the letter Suprema haec sacra contains its most important contribution to the section of sacred theology that deals with the Church's necessity for the attainment of eternal salvation. Here the Holy Office insists that it is a mistake to think "that any kind of intention of entering the Church is sufficient in order that one may be saved." It states that no desire of entering the Church can be effective for the attainment of eternal salvation unless it be animated or informed by perfect charity and enlightened by supernatural faith.
The expression "perfect charity," here in the context of the Suprema haec sacra, means a genuine and supernatural love of friendship for God based on the awareness of divine faith. It is, in other words, a love of God known as He has told us about Himself in the content of divine public revelation. In the love of charity, as distinct from the merely natural love of God which definitely does not suffice for the attainment of eternal salvation, there is a love of friendship for God known, at least in a confused way, in the Trinity of His Persons.
This charity is distinct from the supernatural affection of hope, in which man loves the Triune God as man's own ultimate Good. It is distinct from the initial love of which the Council of Trent speaks, in that this charity is a love of benevolence and of friendship, founded on a common possession. This common good is the divine nature itself, which is the Godhead, and which is shared by the person who lives the life of sanctifying grace.
The Holy Office letter also teaches that "no implicit intention can produce its effect [of eternal salvation] unless the man has supernatural faith." Here it is imperative to remember that the document speaks of that faith which is defined by the Vatican Council as "the supernatural virtue by which, with the impulse and aid of God's grace, we believe the things He has revealed to be true, not because of their intrinsic truth, seen in the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself revealing, Who can neither be deceived nor deceive." This is the faith which the same Vatican Council described as "the beginning of human salvation".
In the text of the Suprema haec sacra we are reminded that the need for this supernatural faith holds true even where there is merely an implicit desire to enter the Church. In other words, it is possible to have a man attain salvation when he has no clear-cut notion of the Church, and desires to enter it only insofar as he wills to do all the things God wills that he should do. The desire to enter the Church can be implicit in the desire to please God and to achieve salvation. But, at the same time, there must be some explicit supernatural truth, actually revealed by God and actually accepted as true on the authority of God revealing, on the part of every man who attains eternal salvation.
When the desire is merely implicit, then a man's faith in the divinely revealed truths about the Church is likewise implicit. The point made here by the Holy Office letter is precisely that there must be some definite and explicit content to any act of genuine supernatural faith. If a man is to be saved, he must accept as true, on the authority of God revealing, the teaching which God has communicated to the world as His public and supernatural message.
The following, then, are the explicit lessons brought out in the text of the Suprema haec sacra:
(1) The teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church is a dogma of the Catholic faith.
(2) This dogma has always been taught, and will always be taught, infallibly by the Church's magisterium.
(3) The dogma must be understood and explained as the Church's magisterium understands and explains it.
(4) The Church is necessary for salvation with both a necessity of precept and a necessity of means.
(5) Because the Church is necessary for salvation with the necessity of precept, any person who knows the Church to have been divinely instituted by Our Lord and yet refuses to enter it or to remain within it cannot attain eternal salvation.
(6) The Church is a general and necessary means for salvation, not by reason of any intrinsic necessity, but only by God's Own institution, that is, because God in His merciful wisdom has established it as such.
(7) In order that a man may be saved "within" the Church, it is not always necessary that he belong to the Church in re, actually as a member, but it can sometimes be enough that he belong to it as one who desires or wills to be in it. In other words, it is possible for one who belongs to the Church only in desire or in voto to be saved.
(8) It is possible for this desire of entering the Church to be effective, not only when it is explicit, but also (when the person is invincibly ignorant of the true Church) even when that desire or votum is merely implicit.
(9) The Mystici Corporis reproved both the error of those who teach the impossibility of salvation for those who have only an implicit desire of entering the Church, and the false doctrine of those who claim that men may find salvation equally in every religion.
(10) No desire to enter the Church can be effective for salvation unless it is enlightened by supernatural faith and animated or motivated by perfect charity.
Any rational Catholic who is capable of reading and understanding the above chapter from Monsignor Fenton will be thoroughly convinced that the Feeneyites commit a grave error on the Church's teaching on salvation. Dear sweet Jesus, please assist the Feeneyites to embrace the fullness of truth.
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