"When all of these names and titles had been explained, the Church was clearly shown to be the social unit outside which no one at all can be saved. The divine message summed up under these various designations made it completely evident that, by reason of God's Own institution, there is no salvation whatsoever to be attained outside the visible Catholic Church. It has been most unfortunate that contemporary ecclesiology has failed to give explicit and clear consideration to the content of all these names of the Church and of its members."
Monsignor Clifford Fenton has been reputed as the greatest theologian of the 20th century yet some Feeneyites dismiss him as they would a fellow lay blogger. The reason why I would not so readily dismiss Monsignor Clifford Fenton as the greatest theologian of the 20th century is because of his extensive reading of the works of the theologians, Fathers, Doctors, Popes and Saints in their own language. As was seen in installment number two Monsignor Clifford Fenton laid out in great detail what the Church officially taught on the topic of salvation and what the great theologians have written upon it. With great precision he gets to the crux of where some theologians were slightly thrown off on teaching the doctrine precisely and adequately since the time of Bellarmine and how that lead to more grievous errors in the past two centuries.
Don't believe me when I say Monsignor Clifford Fenton deserves consideration for the 20th century? Let us review the writings he quotes in passing during his explanation of the origin of the Dogma and how our understanding of that progressed, got slightly thrown off, and eventually led to the point where orthodox theologians were expressing Catholic teaching on salvation in clearly erroneous ways. The writers and or writings he quotes are as follows:
Peter the Lombard's Libri sententiarum, St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa theologica, Gratian's Decretum, Lombard's, Four Books of Sentences, Moneta of Cremona's controversial work against the Waldensians and the Cathari or the Commentary on the Apostles' Creed by St. Thomas, De regimini christiano by James of Viterbo, Summa de ecclesia, written by the Dominican Cardinal John de Turrecremata, Michael Vehe's Assertio sacrorum quorundam axiomatum, John Eck's Enchiridion locorum communium, Peter Soto's Assertio catholicae fidei circa articulos confessionis nomine illustrissimi Ducis Wirtenbergensis oblatae per legatos eius Concilio Tridentino, Thomas Stapleton, Principiorum fidei doctrinalium demonstration methodica, John Wiggers, Commentaria de virtutibus theologicis, Melchior Cano, Francis Suarez, St. Robert Bellarmine, De ecclesia militante, Gregory of Valencia, Dominic Banez, Adam Tanner.
Then there are Francis Sylvius, Controversiarum Liber Tertius, John Driedo, De ecclesiasticis scripturis et dogmatibus, James Latomus, Ad Oecolampadium responsio and De ecclesia et humanae legis obligatione, John of St. Thomas, the Salmanticences, Tournely, Praelectiones theologicae de ecclesia Christi, Billuart, Augustine, Breviculus collationis cum Donatistis & In epistulam Ioannis ad Parthos, John Polman, the Breviarium theologicum, Charles du Plessis d'Argentre, D'Argentre, Elementa theologica
Also Heinrich Kilber, Theologia Wirceburgensis, Louis Legrand, De ecclesia and Doctrinale antiquitatum fidei ecclesiae catholicae, Migne's Theologiae cursus completes,
Thomas Netter of Walden, Bonal, Institutiones theologicae ad usm seminariorum, Vigue, in the symposium Ecclesia, Karrer, Religions of Mankind, (1) a profession of the Catholic faith issued by the Fourth Lateran Council, the twelfth in the series of Oecumenical Councils, in 1215, during the pontificate Pope Innocent III, (2) The Bull Unam sanctam, published by Pope Boniface VIII, on November 18, 1302, The decree for the Jacobites, the Bull Cantate Domino, published by Pope Eugenius IV on February 4, 1442, and included in the Acta of the Council of Florence, the seventeenth among the Oecumenical Councils, The allocution Singulari quadam, delivered on December 9, 1854, the day after the solemn definition of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception, by Pope Pius IX, to the Cardinals, Archbishops, and bishops gathered in Rome for that definition, The encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore, addressed by Pope Pius IX to the Bishops of Italy on August 10, 1863, The encyclical letter Mystici Corporis Christi, published on June 29, 1943, by Pope Pius XII, The letter Suprema haec sacra, sent by the Holy Office, at the command of Pope Pius XII, to His Excellency the Most Reverend Archbishop of Boston, on August 8, 1949, The encyclical letter Humani generis, issued by Pope Pius XII on August 12, 1950, and, of course, the Bible.
Man was that a mouthful; let me catch my breath.
What is interesting is that the vastly qualified theologian does not present his personal opinion but presents what the Church teaches herself:
SALVATION AND THE BASIC CONCEPT
OF THE CHURCH
In the previous chapter we studied what God's revealed message has to say about the nature of salvation. We found that this concept, as God Himself has described it, is that of a transfer, effected by the grace God gives men by reason of Our Lord's sacrificial death, from the state of spiritual death to that of the spiritual life of sanctifying grace. We saw that ultimately it terminates in the everlasting possession of the life of grace in Heaven.
It was likewise apparent, however, that, in the divine message, salvation is depicted as something which has a social as well as an individual aspect. It is not only a passage from the state of sin to the life of grace in its everlasting perfection: it is also, and essentially, a transitus from the social unit described as the kingdom of Satan into the true and supernatural kingdom of God.
The social unit properly called the true and supernatural kingdom of God lives at home, in its proper and everlasting environment, only in the glory of Heaven. It also lives, in a transitory and preparatory status, in this world. It is an essential part of the divinely revealed teaching about salvation that no one enters into the Church triumphant, the kingdom of God in Heaven, unless he has departed this life "within" the kingdom of God on earth. In the dispensation of the New Testament, which will endure until the end of time, the Roman Catholic Church is completely identified with the supernatural kingdom of God on earth. Hence no one will attain the Beatific Vision unless he dies "within" the Catholic Church.
This lesson is one element of the basic theological proof of the necessity of the Catholic Church for the attainment of eternal salvation. The other element is obviously to be based on an examination of the way in which the Church itself is described as God's kingdom in the content of divine public revelation. This is the business of the present chapter.
An adequate examination of what God's revealed message tells us about the Catholic Church in its capacity as His supernatural kingdom in this world will show clearly that this society has been instituted by God Himself as the social unit which one must enter and "within" which one must die if he is to attain to the Beatific Vision. But, if this objective is to be achieved, the examination must be truly adequate. All of the elements of the description of the Church given in the deposit of the divine public revelation must be taken into account.
It would be highly imprudent and unrealistic, incidentally, to take it for granted that all educated Catholics have an explicit cognizance of all the elements which enter into the concept of the Church contained in God's supernatural revealed message. There has been, as the result of events definitely ascertainable in the history of sacred theology, a kind of impoverishment of the notion of the ecclesia in recent theological literature and in the popular Catholic mind. The net effect of this impoverishment has been a tendency to envision some of the real components of the notion of God's supernatural kingdom on earth in an obscure and imperfect manner.
A somewhat crude but genuinely enlightening index of this impoverishment can be found in the average Catholic's explanation of the statement: "The Roman Catholic Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ."
This sentence is a truth, a dogma of the Catholic faith. It contains within itself the plentitude of divinely revealed truth about the status and the dignity of the religious society over which the Bishop of Rome presides. Yet when most Catholics are asked what it means, they seem to restrict themselves to the facts that this is the one Church actually established by Our Lord, and the one society of which He is the Head. Actually there are other elements essential to an adequate concept of "the true Church of Jesus Christ" or "God's supernatural kingdom."
Older ecclesiologists, like the Dominican Cardinal John de Turrecremata, brought out all the elements included in the revealed description of the true Church when they explained the various names applied to this company and to its members in Scripture and in tradition. Thus they showed what God had told us about the Church when the term (Greek word), the Greek name of which the English "Church" is the translation, was applied to it. They likewise pointed out what was taught about the nature of this society by reason of the fact that it was indicated as the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the Father, as Christ's Own kingdom, as the city of God and as the household of the faith. They showed that what is contained under the metaphorical names of the temple of God and the Body of Christ is rightly applied to the Catholic Church. Furthermore, they brought out the connotations of the titles of "the called," "the chosen," and "the disciples," applied to the members of the Church. [For a brief explanation of these titles, see Fenton, "New Testament Designations of the Catholic Church and Its Members," in Catholic Biblical Quarterly (January - April, 1947), 127-46; 275-306.]
When all of these names and titles had been explained, the Church was clearly shown to be the social unit outside which no one at all can be saved. The divine message summed up under these various designations made it completely evident that, by reason of God's Own institution, there is no salvation whatsoever to be attained outside the visible Catholic Church. It has been most unfortunate that contemporary ecclesiology has failed to give explicit and clear consideration to the content of all these names of the Church and of its members.
Thus, in our own time, we have become accustomed to think of the word "Church" as properly applicable to any religious society, or at least to any religious society which claims to be composed of followers of Our Lord. In the writings of men like Turrecremata, on the other hand, the point is made that the Greek word "ekkAnoia" (Latinized as ecclesia) is used in Sacred Scripture, and particularly in the New Testament, to designate the chosen people of God, the society of the covenant. It was the name given at the time of Our Lord's public ministry to the people of Israel considered precisely as the people of God. Hence, in point of fact, the name "Church" is properly applicable now only to the chosen people of the New Testament, to the religious society over which the Bishop of Rome presides as the supreme visible head. This is the community within which God Himself is the supreme Ruler and Teacher. [Cf. Fenton, "The Meaning of the Name 'Church,'" in AER, CXXXI, 4 (Oct., 1954), 268-76] It is the company within which alone the authorized sacrifice of the New Testament is offered.
The supernatural kingdom of God is the company of men and women who profess to accept the divine law by which God directs us to the attainment of the Beatific Vision. God, of course, is the supreme Ruler of the universe. Thus, in a sense, the entire created universe, with all the rational and non-rational creatures within it, may be said to constitute His kingdom. Properly speaking, however, the term "kingdom of God" is applied to a social unit within which God Himself is the Supreme Lawgiver.
Understood in this proper sense, the kingdom is the social unit of men and women who subject themselves to the direction God gives them so as to bring them to the attainment of their one ultimate and eternal end. Now, the only ultimate and everlasting happiness available to men, as a matter of fact, is to be found in the possession of the Triune God in the clarity of the Beatific Vision. The law which directs men to the attainment of this ultimate end must be something supernatural, since the end itself is supernatural. Because that law is supernatural, it is definitely not something which men can observe through the use of their merely natural faculties of knowledge. It is something which can be known only through the process of divine revelation here on earth.
Hence the people who make up the kingdom of God on earth are those who accept as certain, on the authority of God Himself revealing, the message in which God's supernatural law is incorporated. They are the congregation of the faithful or of the believers. The social unit to which these people have belonged has always been the one and true ecclesia.
This supernatural kingdom of God on earth passed through various stages during the Old Testament times. At the time of the Incarnation, it was practically or nearly identical with the Israelitic religious commonwealth. This situation continued until the moment of Our Lord's death on the Cross.
At that moment, the old Israelitic commonwealth, the Jewish nation, definitely rejected Our Lord and His teaching. By the force of that rejection, it automatically and completely lost its status as the congregation of the faithful. It was no longer the kingdom of God on earth, God's ecclesia.
But, at that same moment, the society of the disciples which Our Lord had gathered and organized around Himself during the course of His public life on earth began to exist as the true ecclesia. This new society, which Our Lord had originally formed within the fabric of the old Jewish community, became completely identified with the supernatural kingdom of God on earth. It thus began to possess a perfection which the older community had never enjoyed. It was the true Israel, the Israel of God. Its people were the people of the new covenant. It was, and it will remain until the end of time, the one congregation of the faithful in this world.
According to Our Lord's Own teaching, however, the true supernatural kingdom of God exists and lives on this earth only in a preparatory and transitory status. Its real patria or homeland is in heaven, where it is meant to exist and where it will exist forever in the glory of the Beatific Vision. In the cities of this world it lives only in pilgrimage. Here it is the ecclesia militans, fighting against the forces that oppose it and that will render its operations difficult until the end of time. In Heaven it will be the ecclesia triumphans, having overcome these opposing forces completely and forever.
For the understanding of this section of Catholic doctrine it is imperative to remember that the social unit which is now the Church Militant is the very same community which will one day be the Church Triumphant. Our Lord taught us this lesson in His explanation of the parable of the cockle in the field, one of the great parables of the kingdom.
Who made answer and said to them: He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man.
And the field is the world. And the good seed are the children of the kingdom. And the cockle are the children of the wicked one.
And the enemy that sowed them is the devil. But the harvest is the end of the world. And the reapers are the angels.
Even as the cockle therefore is gathered up and burnt with fire: so shall it be at the end of the world.
The Son of man shall send his angels: and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals and them that work iniquity.
And shall cast them into the furnace of fire. There, shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then shall the just shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. [Matthew 13: 37-43.]
On the day of judgment, according to Our Lord Himself, His kingdom will be purified. Those who have lived and died in that kingdom as "the children of the wicked one" will be removed from it forever. These are the Catholics who have passed from this life in the condition of mortal sin, working for objectives other than the love of God and objectives in defiance and contempt of God. Such individuals have set themselves definitely to work for the objectives of the kingdom of Satan.
Within the kingdom there will remain, to be glorified forever, those who have died in the state of grace either as members of this kingdom on earth or as people who sincerely and genuinely desired to be members despite the fact that in this world they could not actually enter the Church as members. The desire which this latter group expressed to God in the form of prayer will be answered. God will give them what they have asked. The kingdom of God, thus purified and glorified, will exist forever as the Church Triumphant.
The community which exists in this world as the ecclesia militans will be the Church Triumphant despite the changes in its condition that will be effected on the last day. After its purification and glorification it will no longer be plagued by the disloyal and sinful members who have impeded its work here on earth. It will no longer be subject to persecution and suffering inflicted by opposition from the outside. Finally, and this is most important, it will be no longer subject to the internal conditions which are attached to it precisely by reason of its earthly sojourn.
Thus the entire human government of the Church will no longer have to function in the ecclesia triumphans. There will be no more need for the sacraments, which are essentially signs, in the Church when that company possesses the Good of which the sacraments are the signs. It is to the Church, in its final and triumphant status, that these words of the Apocalypse apply:
And I saw no temple therein. For the Lord God Almighty is the temple thereof, and the Lamb.
And the city hath no need of the sun, nor of the moon, to shine in it. For the glory of God hath enlightened it: and the Lamb is the lamp thereof.
And the nations shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it.
And the gates thereof shall not be shut by day: for there shall be no night there.
And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.
There shall not enter into it any thing defiled or that worketh abomination or maketh a lie: but they are written in the book of life of the Lamb.
This citation from the Apocalypse speaks of the Church Triumphant as a city. The term "city," however, is employed in the writings of the older ecclesiologists to bring out still another aspect of the divine teaching about the concept of the true Church. These earlier writers spoke of the Church as the City of God precisely insofar as it is a social unit set against and opposed by the kingdom of Satan. They summarized under the heading of "the City of God" that portion of divine doctrine about the Church set forth in the opening lines of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Humanum genus.
According to this part of Catholic doctrine, the entire human race since the sin of Adam has been divided into two distinct and mutually opposed communities. The one is the kingdom of Satan, the domain of "the prince of this world." The other is the kingdom of God, the true Church of Jesus Christ. During the entire course of history these two communities have struggled against one another. They will continue to do so until the day of the final judgment.
Essential to this section of Catholic doctrine is the truth that every human being who has lived since the sin of Adam has belonged to one of these two societies. The conflict between them is the basic conflict of human history. There never has been, there is not now, and there never will be any group of human beings not contained within one or the other of these two groups.
The kingdom of God is composed of those who profess to accept His supernatural law, incorporated into His revealed message. Its work is the accomplishment of God's glory through the sanctification and the salvation of men.
The work of salvation is the work of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ Our Lord. The kingdom of God, then, is the company of those who have been incorporated into Christ, who compose the Body of which He is the Head. It is, in this state of the New Testament, the visible Catholic Church.
The kingdom of Satan, then, embraces all of those who have not been incorporated into Christ, and those who have left or been cast out of His community. Since the sin of Adam, every person who has been born, with the exception of Our Lord and of Our Blessed Mother, has entered this world in the state or original sin. As such, they have begun their lives within the kingdom of Satan, since it is one of the consequences of sin or aversion from God that it inevitably carries with it a kind of subjection to the leader in the work of sin, the foremost among the enemies of the living God.
Hence, according to this Catholic teaching, there is no such thing as entrance into the kingdom of God except by way of a transfer from the kingdom of Satan. And, on the other hand, no man leaves the kingdom of Satan except to enter the true and supernatural kingdom of God. Thus it is only within the city of God that salvation from sin and from the eternal death of sin is to be attained.
When the older ecclesiologists described the Church as the household of the faith, they brought out the relation to God and to Our Lord and to each other which has been granted to those within the kingdom. Those who live within the true ecclesia are those who have received Our Lord. They are the people thus described in the Gospel according to St. John:
He was in the world: and the world was made by him: and the world knew him not.
He came unto his own: and his own received him not.
But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.
Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. [John, 1: 10-13.]
Our Lord Himself described these people, His disciples, as His own family. Thus it is recounted in the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
And one said to Him: Behold Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, seeking Thee.
But he answering him that told Him, said: Who is My mother and who are My brethren?
And stretching forth His hand towards His disciples, He said: Behold My mother and My brethren.
For whosoever shall do the will of My Father that is in Heaven, he is My brother, and sister, and mother. [Matthew 12: 47-50.]
The household of the faith has its own family repast, the Eucharistic banquet, the reality which is the sacrifice of the true ecclesia of the New Testament. Those who belong to it are the friends and the intimates of the Lord.
When we consider the Church as our Lord's Body, we are led to see how He is its Founder and sustainer and Sanctifier. As the Head of His Mystical Body, He rules and teaches those within it. They cooperate, each in his assigned station, in a work which is His Own. They act as His instrument in His accomplishments for God's glory.
As the Temple of God, the Church is the community within which the Blessed Trinity resides, in an indwelling appropriated to the Holy Ghost. It is the company to which Our Lord's promises were made and in which they are fulfilled.
THE FOUR DIMENSIONS
If we are to sum up the teachings about the Church contained in divine revelation, we can do so quite effectively if we consider the concept of the ecclesia according to four dimensions.
First, the Church bears a relation to the Triune God, to the sacred humanity of Christ, to Our Lady, and to the saints. This we may call the upward dimension.
Second, the Church militant of the New Testament cannot be properly or adequately described apart from reference to the kingdom of God, the ecclesia of the Old Testament. This is the historical dimension of the concept of the true Church.
Third, the Church Militant of the New Testament cannot be adequately conceived or described apart from reference to the Church Triumphant. This is the para-historical dimension.
Fourth, this Church cannot be adequately conceived and described apart from reference to the kingdom of Satan, the social unit which is unalterably opposed to it and within which all of those who are not incorporated into the Church are contained. This is the background of the Church. [Cf. Fenton, "The Church in Adequate Perspective," in AER, CXXXIII, (Oct., 1955), 258-74.]
There is no such thing as an adequate examination of the divinely revealed teaching about the nature of the true Church unless all of these four dimensions are taken into consideration explicitly. Our awareness of God's supernatural kingdom on earth would be quite imperfect and subject to serious confusion were we not to take cognizance of these four distinct sets of relations.
It goes without saying that we could never begin to appreciate the nature and the dignity of the Church if we failed to consider the fact that it is genuinely God's one and only supernatural kingdom, that it is the Church and the Mystical Body of Christ, and that it is the realm over which Our Lady reigns as Queen. Any neglect along this line would result in a failure to appreciate the powers and the activities of the Church itself. And, in the same way, it is impossible to know the Church as God has actually constituted and described it unless we are clearly aware of the fact that this society of the disciples, established directly and immediately by Our Lord during the course of His earthly life, is the continuation and the final state on this earth of the supernatural kingdom of God in Christ which has been in existence since the time of our first parents.
In exactly the same way, the nature of the ecclesia cannot be understood apart from an explicit realization of the fact that the ecclesia militans existing and contending against opposition here on earth is the very same society which will one day reign in heaven as the ecclesia triumphans. Our Lord, in His parables of the kingdom, made it abundantly clear that the company which will enjoy the Beatific Vision forever is not a newly constituted group, but the kingdom which has lived in this world and which will be purified and prepared on the last day.
Finally, it is an integral part of the revealed teaching about the Church that this society is one of the two social units into which the entire human race has been divided since the time of Adam's sin. This, incidentally, is the doctrine on which St. Peter's command to his hearers on the first Christian Pentecost obviously depends. He exhorted his hearers on that day to save themselves from this "perverse generation." The text of the Acts of the Apostles asserts that those who "received his word were baptized: and there were added in that day about three thousand souls." [Acts 2: 41.]
The "word" which these people received was clearly St. Peter's exhortation to the people to save themselves from this "perverse generation." This "perverse generation" was obviously the kingdom of Satan, the domain of "the prince of this world." The individuals who "received" this word were the people who obeyed him and who actually took themselves out of the domain of God's spiritual enemy.
This salvation from the kingdom of Satan was accomplished in the only way possible, by entrance into the true and only kingdom of God. The people who were saved were added to the group already in existence, the group which, according to the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles had counted about one hundred and twenty men of voting age immediately after Our Lord's ascension into Heaven. The people who, obeying St. Peter's command, saved themselves from the kingdom of Satan, did not set up any new social group, but "were added" to this already existent congregation which had begun to exist as the ecclesia, the one and only kingdom of God on earth, at the moment of Our Lord's death on the Cross.
Now, the adequate concept of the Church, the one which takes explicit cognizance of all four of the requisite dimensions, is such as to bring out with matchless clarity and certitude the doctrine that there is no salvation for anyone outside the Catholic Church. First of all, it assures us that these four dimensions of the supernatural kingdom of God on earth belong to the visible and organized religious community over which the Bishop of Rome presides as the Vicar of Christ on earth. The social unit which is the kingdom of God, the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, and the realm of Our Lady, which is the continuation and the final status of the ecclesia in this world, which is the Church triumphant in its preparatory and sojourning stage, the ecclesia in pilgrimage awaiting its call to its eternal patria, which is the one kingdom of God embracing all those who are not in the "perverse generation" that is the dominion of "the prince of this world," is the visible Roman Catholic Church.
Then it shows us that salvation is possible only by union with Our Lord and by removal from the domain of the spiritual enemy of God. This is to be effected by, and only by, a transfer from the kingdom of Satan into the true Church of Jesus Christ. And, since the Church triumphant is only the continuation of the Church militant, the ecclesia which lives now here on earth, the people who attain the Beatific Vision in the Church triumphant are and can only be the individuals who have passed from this life "within" the Church militant. That is the true Catholic doctrine, and the clear teaching of the parables of the kingdom.
Obviously the first of these "dimensions" is the one upon which all the force of the teaching on the Catholic Church's necessity for the attainment of eternal salvation ultimately rests. The Church is that outside of which no one at all can be saved because it is the ecclesia, the community which constitutes the one and only supernatural kingdom of the living God, and because it is the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Divine Redeemer. And this necessity for the attainment of salvation is a property of the Catholic Church because God, in His goodness and wisdom, had decreed that this visible society should be His supernatural kingdom of the New Testament. When we look at the Church in terms of the four dimensions, it becomes immediately apparent that this society can be described and identified precisely in the light of its necessity for the attainment of eternal salvation. This, as a matter of fact, was the procedure employed by St. Augustine. His statement in a sermon delivered to the people of the Church at Caesarea is an exact expression of Catholic teaching.
Outside of the Catholic Church one can have anything except salvation. One can have honor. One can have the sacraments. The "Alleluia" can be sung. The response "Amen" can be given. One can hold to the Gospel, and can have and preach the faith in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. But one can never find salvation except in the Catholic Church. [St. Augustine, Sermo ad Caesariensis ecclesiae plebem, 6. MPL, XLIII, 695]
Thus, when the divinely revealed teaching is viewed at all adequately, the true Church of Jesus Christ is seen as the social unit within which alone man has access to salvation. The process of salvation involves a transfer from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God, which is Our Lord's true Church. The attainment of the Beatific Vision, the ultimate and perfective salvation of man, involves dying "within" the Church Militant. The Church militant of the New Testament is, by God's Own institution, the visible and organized society we know as the Roman Catholic Church.
SALVATION AND MEMBERSHIP IN THE CHURCH
The authoritative documents of the teaching Church cited in the first part of this book, particularly the Holy Office letter Suprema haec sacra, have made it abundantly clear that, according to God's revealed message, it is not necessary to be a member of the Catholic Church at the moment of death in order to attain to the Beatific Vision. We know that under certain circumstances a man may be saved if, at the moment of his death, he is not actually a member of the Church but only one who intends or wills to be within it. We know also that this desire or intention of entering the Church can be effective for the attainment of eternal salvation even when it is only implicit.
The Suprema haec sacra explains this truth in terms of the fact that the Catholic Church, like the sacrament of baptism, is requisite for the attainment of the Beatific Vision, not by any intrinsic necessity, but by reason of God's Own choice or institution. Now, when we are considering the adequate concept of the Lord's true ecclesia in terms of its necessity for the attainment of salvation, we should examine this portion of the Catholic doctrine about it.
A thing is said to be necessary for salvation with an intrinsic necessity when this thing is an essential element or factor in the life of sanctifying grace to which the Beatific Vision Itself belongs. Thus divine charity is intrinsically necessary for salvation. The affection of charity is the love of friendship for God as He is known supernaturally, in the Trinity of His Persons. Thus the love of charity is essentially a part of the life of the Beatific Vision both in heaven and here in this world. Where such a love does not exist, the life of the Beatific Vision, the life of sanctifying grace, does not exist.
Genuine supernatural faith, that virtue by which we accept the truths God has revealed as perfectly certain precisely on His authority, is an essential part of the life of sanctifying grace during its preparatory status in this world. There can obviously be no such thing as a supernatural life with reference to God, known in the Trinity of His Persons, apart from an awareness of Him in this way. In the patria of heaven, those who belong to the Church triumphant understand the Triune God in the Beatific Vision itself. But the Beatific Vision is precisely the reward of, the thing merited in, the life of grace in this world. The possession of the Beatific Vision is incompatible with the status of one in the Church Militant.
The Beatific Vision is the direct, intuitive, and clear understanding of the Blessed Trinity. And, apart from the Beatific Vision itself, the only certain knowledge or apprehension of the Blessed Trinity and of the supernatural order that centers around the Blessed Trinity is to be found in the acceptance of a supernaturally revealed message about the realities of this order. The certain acceptance of that body of revealed truth, made possible by the gift of God's grace, is the assent of divine faith. Thus faith is absolutely requisite for the living of the supernatural life of grace in its preparatory status in this world. And, because only those who have passed from this life living the life of sanctifying grace can attain to the Beatific Vision, faith is absolutely necessary for the attainment of eternal salvation.
As as [sic] result, there can be no such thing as any substitute for the actual possession of faith and hope and charity as requisites for the attainment of the life of Heaven. A man could not be saved if he were to have faith and charity merely in desire or intention at the moment he passed from this life. A desire or willingness to believe with the act of faith or to love God with the affection of charity definitely would not and could not take the place of faith and charity themselves. If a man is to attain eternal salvation he must possess genuine supernatural faith and the true and supernatural love of charity at the moment of his death.
Now, faith and hope and charity are factors or elements entering into the composition of the Catholic Church itself. Together they constitute what the older theologians called the inward or spiritual bond of unity within the Church, joining men to God and to each other within this company. Furthermore, they are intrinsically or absolutely necessary as components of God's supernatural kingdom on earth. There could be no such thing as the ecclesia, the people of the Covenant, the company of men and women who subject themselves to the divine law directing them to the supernatural end of the Beatific Vision apart from the acceptance of that supernatural message in faith and obedience to it in charity.
Furthermore, faith, hope and charity are completely inseparable from the ecclesia as factors uniting those who belong to the supernatural kingdom of God on earth with one another. There could be no such thing as a social unit identifiable as the true Church of Jesus Christ apart from the inward or spiritual bond of union of faith and hope and charity.
In the composition of the Church militant of the New Testament there are, however, two distinct bonds of unity, two sets of forces tending to unite men to God and to each other in Jesus Christ. Besides this inward or spiritual bond, there is another, designated by some of the classical theologians as the outward or bodily bond of unity within the true Church. This outward bond consists in the baptismal profession of the faith, access to or communion in the sacraments, and subjection to the legitimate pastors of the Church.
This second or outward bond of union within the true Church is something made necessary in the supernatural life only because of God's free choice. None of its elements, taken in themselves, are necessarily parts of the life of sanctifying grace. There could have been an ecclesia, a supernatural kingdom of God on earth, in which these elements would not have entered. And, as a matter of fact, during its various Old Testament stages, God's ecclesia on this earth did not contain the factors which go to compose the outward bond of ecclesiastical unity in the Church militant of the New Testament.
These factors actually belong to the composition of the true ecclesia in its final status in this world only because God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, freely decreed that they should do so. He established His supernatural kingdom of the New Testament as a visible and organized society. He constituted it with this definite set of factors which go to make up the outward or visible bond of unity within it. He formed His Church of the New Testament in such a way that membership in it depended entirely on the possession of that outward bond of ecclesiastical unity.
Because the factors that enter into membership in the Church Militant of the New Testament belong to the composition of the true ecclesia only by reason of God's free choice, and not because they enter into the actual life of sanctifying grace, it has pleased God in His goodness and mercy to allow men to have the benefits of this membership when it is really impossible for them to attain the membership in itself and when they sincerely desire to enter and to remain within His ecclesia. If there is a sincere and supernatural will to come and to stay within the true Church of Jesus Christ, the man who has that desire will realize that the good he seeks is something only God will be able to give. The expression of that desire to God in the form of a petition is the act of prayer.
Now prayer, the act of worship which consists in the petition of fitting things from God, is infallibly efficacious, according to Our Lord's Own promise. [Cf. Mark 11: 24; John 16: 23.] It is infallibly effective for the attainment of the individual benefits sought in it when certain conditions have been fulfilled. The prayer must be said for one's self, and must seek either eternal salvation of something necessary for the attainment of salvation if it is to obtain its effect without fail. It must also be pious, that is, enlightened by true divine faith and motivated by the theological act of hope and by some supernatural love of benevolence for God. Finally, it must be persevering, that is, it must be the expression of a genuine desire or will of the person offering the prayer. [Cf. Fenton, The Theology of Prayer (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1939), pp. 206-15.
When a man desires or prays for entrance into the true Church of Jesus Christ, even when this objective is apprehended only in an implicit way by the person praying, the first two of these conditions are necessarily fulfilled. The prayer is offered for the person himself, and it seeks a good which is truly requisite for the attainment of eternal salvation. In order that this prayer for entrance into the Church may be effective for salvation, the prayer and the intention behind it must be enlightened by faith and motivated or animated by charity. And it must also be a persevering prayer.
If a person who is praying in this way should die before he can actually become a member of the Church, then by the very force of his prayer, he will die as one contained "within" the Church by will or desire. And if the person who is praying in this way dies loving God and his neighbor with the love of charity, that person leaves this world "within" the true Church of Christ on earth and will remain in the Church Triumphant for all eternity.
It must not be imagined that such an individual has his prayers answered only by the granting of a fictitious connection with the true ecclesia. The individual who accepts God's supernatural revelation with the certain assent of faith and who loves God with the affection of charity is actually and necessarily ordering his conduct in accord with the corporate activity of the true Church itself. We must never lose sight of the teaching about the nature of the true Church set forth in the opening passage of Pope Leo's encyclical Humanum genus if we are to understand this section of Catholic doctrine. According to that document, the kingdom of God, which is the true Church of Jesus Christ, "steadfastly contends for truth and virtue" in such a way that "those who desire from their heart to be united with it so as to gain salvation must of necessity serve God and His only-begotten Son with their whole mind and with an entire will." [The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII, p. 83.]
Now, it is the basic contention of that part of Catholic doctrine presented in this passage of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical that this work of God's supernatural kingdom in this world is continuously and bitterly opposed by the kingdom of Satan. The non-member of the Church who has faith and charity and who sincerely desires to enter the Church has organized his life to fight on the side of the ecclesia for the objectives which the ecclesia seeks.
It must be remembered that God's supernatural kingdom here on earth has no corporate allies in its warfare against the kingdom of "the prince of this world." There is not, and there never will be, another social unit fighting alongside the true Church for the attainment of those ends for which the Church contends. If a man really fights for truth and virtue, if he really works to serve and to glorify the Triune God, then he is fighting on the side of, and in a very real sense "within," the true Church itself.
And, if a man really has divine charity, he is actually fighting this battle for the Church. The virtue of charity is the ultimate motivating force in the life and conduct of the man who possesses it. It is something intensely and essentially active. If a man really loves God with the affection of charity, his activity is necessarily directed toward the objective of pleasing God. If, on the other hand, a man is not working to please God, to glorify and serve Him, this man does not truly love God with the love of charity.
The situation of the person who is not a member of the Church, but who is "within" it by intention, desire or prayer, can be understood best in comparison with the condition of a Catholic in the state of mortal sin. Despite the fact that he is a member of the society which "steadfastly contends for truth and virtue," this individual's will is turned away from God and strives for objectives opposed to those sought by the Church. He is one of those "who refuse to obey the divine and eternal law, and who have many aims of their own in contempt of God, and many aims also against God." In other words, in spite of his membership in the supernatural kingdom of God on earth, he is actually working and fighting for the things the kingdom of Satan seeks.
The ultimate orientation of a man's activity comes from the supreme intention of his will. For the man in the state of grace, this supreme intention is the love of charity. It is the desire to please God in all things. The man in the state of mortal sin has some other supreme objective. There is some end he seeks in contempt of God. Even though some of his acts are good in themselves, ultimately his life is directed to the attainment of that end, which is the purpose of the kingdom of Satan.
If a member of the Church should die in the state of mortal sin, he will be condemned forever to hell, the homeland of Satan's kingdom. He will, in other words, be assigned forever to the social unit in which and with which he was fighting at the moment of his passage from this life. In exactly the same way, the non-member of the Church who dies believing God's message with the assent of faith, loving God with the affection of charity, and sincerely willing and praying to enter God's ecclesia, will live forever in the social unit within which he willed and prayed to live and for which he was fighting at the moment of his death.
Once upon a time there was a great number of Catholics who erred gravely on the salvation issue, who quite possibly, due to their vocalness on the issue, were heading toward their own condemnation. These Pharisees of Catholicism held their personal opinions above the infallible teachings of holy mother Church while condemning those who accepted all the Church teaches and understood that teaching as the Church understands it as being liberal and or heretics. The axiom that fit the Pharisees also fit those of the Feeney bent.
The accusers stood accused. But the orthodox Catholics who did not think themselves more qualified than all the Fathers, Doctors, Saints, Popes and theologians of the Church instead of being offended for being accused of being heretics by those who erred gravely, decided to pray for all the Pharisuetical Feeneyites everyday.
Then one shiny Eureka Eve the Feeneyites began to warm up to the idea that maybe looking to Ambrose, Augustine, Bernard, Saint Thomas, Bellarmine, Alphonsus, Puis IX and Pius XII instead of Feeney and the Dimonds to resolve controversial subjects pertaining to Catholic theology was not such a bad idea after all.
One by one those of the Feeneyite persuasion began to embrace the Catholic teaching on salvation as the prayers of the sound Catholics worked much like all the King's horses and all the King's men restoring the Feeneyites to proper thinking again. Now, Ambrose! Now, Augustine! Now, Bernard, and Aquinas! "On, Bellarmine! On, Alponsus! On, Pius and Pius! Catholic Church with your infallible and authoritative teachings so bright, won't you guide the Feeneyites into truth this life?
We can hope that once we enter the Christmas of eternity that the finally repentant stubborn, bad-willed, intellectually dishonest, mean-spirited Feeneyites along with all those of good will shall be found rejoicing with us. That will be a great Epiphany!
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