Saturday, March 21, 2009

Implicitum votum

"Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life." (Lumen Gentium, No. 16).

Followers of the late Fr. Leonard Feeney have initiated a discussion thread at the Holy Cross Cardinal Newman Society website with an article written by Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., and entitled "Can an 'implicit faith' in Christ be sufficient for salvation?"*

The answer is: yes. Let's hear from Avery Cardinal Dulles on the subject: "The Magisterium of the Church has gradually clarified its position regarding the possibilities of salvific faith for the unevangelized. From patristic times until our own century the axiom 'Outside the Church no salvation' was often stated in terms that seemed to make explicitly Christian and Catholic faith an absolute condition for salvation. For example, the Council of Florence in its Decree for the Jacobites (1442) asserted: '[The Holy Roman Church] firmly believes, professes, and preaches that none of those who exist outside of the Catholic Church - not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics - can become sharers of eternal life; rather, they will go into the eternal fire 'that was prepared for the devil and his angels' [Mt 25: 41] unless, before the end of their lives, they are joined to that same Church.' (DS 1351).

This position was nuanced in the mid-nineteenth century. In an allocution given on the occasion of the definition of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin in 1854, Pope Pius IX reminded the assembled bishops of the error of thinking that Catholics 'can well hope for the eternal salvation of all those who have in no way lived in the true Church of Christ.' But then he added that God in his justice and mercy will never impute guilt to those who innocently err. We must not presume to judge the limits of invincible ignorance, 'taking into account the great variety of peoples, lands, native talents, and so many other factors.'

In an encyclical of 1863 the same pope again repudiated the extremes of rigorism and latitudinarianism. He wrote:

'It is once again necessary to recall and censure the very serious error in which some Catholics are unfortunately involved, that of believing that it is possible to attain eternal life although living in error and in a state of alienation from the true faith and from Catholic unity. This view is utterly contrary to Catholic teaching. You know also that people who are invincibly ignorant of our holy religion, provided that they sincerely keep the precepts of the natural law, who are prepared to obey God, and who live honorable and upright lives, can, by the efficacious power of the light and grace of God, attain eternal life; for God, who fully beholds, scrutinizes, and knows the minds, hearts, thoughts, and dispositions of all, in his supreme mercy will by no means permit anyone who is not guilty of voluntary fault to suffer eternal punishments.'

Under Pius XII the salvation of 'nonbelievers' was discussed in connection with the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to be saved. The encyclical Mystici corporis (1943), after declaring that the Catholic Church alone is the Mystical Body of Christ, spoke of the possibility of belonging to it not by formal membership but 'by a kind of unconscious desire and intent' (inscio quodam desiderio ac voto, DS 3821). The pope seemed to imply that this latter type of belonging, even though it did not give the full benefits of incorporation in the visible organization of the Good Shepherd, might suffice for salvation in the case of persons inculpably ignorant of the true faith.

In 1949 the Holy Office, in a letter to the Archbishop of Boston, declared that an 'implicit intent' (implicitum votum) could suffice, provided that it was accompanied by supernatural faith and perfect charity (DS 3870-72). These texts, while not dealing directly with the kind of faith required for salvation, implied that explicit faith in Christ and the Church would not be necessary in the case of the unevangelized....

As late as the mid-twentieth century Leonard Feeney , S.J., and his followers at St. Benedict Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, proclaimed that no one could be saved without joining, or explicitly intending to join, the Roman Catholic Church. Feeney's pessimistic position was, however, rejected by the Roman Congregation of the Holy Office, which asserted, as already mentioned, that a merely implicit desire to join the Catholic Church, if accompanied by faith and informed by perfect charity, could suffice." (The Assurance of Things Hoped For: A Theology of Christian Faith, pp. 259-260, 262).

Fr. Brian W. Harrison has no authority to contradict the Teaching Magisterium of the Church. Neither do the followers of the late Fr. Leonard Feeney. As Richard B [a Catholic apologist from the Worcester Diocese] explained at the Holy Cross Cardinal Newman Society website:

"Theologians are not in any way the Teaching Magisterium. Fr. Feeney or any of his followers are in error to think that they can, in any measure, take on the charism of the Teaching Magisterium and thereby proclaim what the dogma [Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus] is all about...Only Peter, by himself alone, or with the Bishops, who are one with Peter, have the charism to proclaim the content of this dogma."

Well said Richard. This situation is very serious. Followers of the late Fr. Leonard Feeney who are defending his rejected interpretation of the dogma are continuing to sow the seeds of dissent from the Church's authentic teaching on the subject. This situation needs to be addressed in a meaningful way by Church authorities.

Related reading here and here.

* The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in its 1990 Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, distinguishes clearly between questions which theologians may raise about authoritative but noninfallible teachings (nos. 24-31) and dissent from such teachings (nos. 32-41). The document judges that questioning can be compatible with the "religious submission" required (see Lumen Gentium, No. 25), but it firmly and unequivocally rejects dissent from such teachings as incompatible with this "religious submission" and irreconcilable with the theologian's vocation. Dissent from infallibly proposed teachings (such as the Church's understanding of the dogma "Outside the Church no salvation") is a fortiori excluded. This teaching is outlined quite clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which Pope John Paul II says, " a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church's Magisterium." (Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, No. 3). In this same Apostolic Constitution, Pope John Paul II states that the Catechism " the result of the collaboration of the whole Episcopate of the Catholic Church." (No. 2).

Theologians such as Fr. Brian Harrison are not "pastors" within the Church. They have not been given the mission from the Lord Jesus to instruct the faithful in "all that serves to make the People of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith" (Dei Verbum, No. 8). This mission has been entrusted exclusively to the Magisterium of the Church, i.e., the Pope and those Bishops who remain united with him.

Dei Verbum of the Second Vatican Council teaches that, "the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed." (No. 10).


Stewart said...

And Avery Dulles was a brilliant theologian and Cardinal of the Church. Fr. Brian Harrison is simply not in his category. More importantly, the Church's Magisterium has spoken.

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

The dogma "Outside the Church no salvation" has to be reconciled with another de fide proposition Stewart. That which declares that Christ died for all men without exception. It is a Revealed Truth that God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

Richard is absolutely right. As Pope John Paul II reminded us in his Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, No. 113: "Dissent, in the form of carefully orchestrated protests and polemics carried on in the media, is opposed to ecclesial communion and to a correct understanding of the hierarchical constitution of the People of God. Opposition to the teaching of the Church's Pastors cannot be seen as a legitimate expression either of Christian freedom or of the diversity of the Spirit's gifts...Never forgetting that he too is a member of the People of God, the theologian must be respectful of them, and be committed to offering them a teaching which in no way does harm to the doctrine of the faith."

John Ansley said...

Vatican II teaches, in its Decree Ad Gentes, No. 7, that, "God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6), yet a necessity lies upon the Church (1 Cor. 9:16), and at the same time a sacred duty, to preach the Gospel. And hence missionary activity today as always retains its power and necessity."

The Feeneyites have no case. The Magisterium has rejected their view. It's time to move on.

Alzina said...

I'm curious as to whether or not the communities in Still River really accept the Church's understanding of the dogma. I'm beginning to get the feeling they do not. I hope I'm wrong.

Ellen Wironken said...

Outside the Church There is no Salvation

by Jim Seghers

The statement, "Outside the Church there is no salvation," seems to affirm that formal or card-carrying membership in the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation. This would imply that non-Catholic Christians, so say nothing of non-Christians, have no possibility of salvation unless they officially join the Catholic Church.


This incorrect understanding is based on several errors. The first is related to the unfortunate translation of the Latin word extra in the expression extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which is better translated "Without the Church there is no salvation," instead of "Outside the Church there is no salvation."

Extra is translated as "outside" or "beyond" when it is used to describe a spatial relationship, e.g. Shannon is outside working at her desk. When extra is used as a preposition to describe an abstract relationship it is translated as "without", for example, Without a microphone it is difficult to be heard. Thus the proper understanding of the translation, clarifies many of the difficulties with the statement. Regardless of this little Latin lesson, it is important to understand that the translation, "Outside the Church there is no salvation," is deeply imbedded in Catholic literature." 1

The Nature of the Church.

A deeper difficulty many have with this statement stems from an inadequate understanding of the nature of the Church. If the Catholic Church were merely a religious organization not substantially different from other Christian churches, then the statement, "Outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation," would appear unreasonable and arrogant. However, the reality of the Catholic Church is radically different from any other structure or organization.

The Catechism properly speaks of the Church as an "inexhaustible mystery."2 The Catechism develops this idea in paragraphs 770-810. The Church is a visible society with a hierarchical structure.3 Jesus gave his followers the command to convert the world baptizing in his name.4 The ordinary means of by which God's life is transmitted, nurtured and restored are the sacraments.

However, vital to the nature of the Church is its spiritual dimension in the Person of Jesus Christ.5 Jesus is the Head of the Church, which is his Body. Because of this unique relationship with Christ, the members of the Church form the People of God because they are one with him.

Clearly in this context the whole Christ, that is, the man-God and his Mystical Body are the essential means through which all man can be saved.6 Thus the Catechism speaks of the Church as the "universal Sacrament of Salvation."7 Citing the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism adds: "She [the Church] is taken up by him also as the instrument for the salvation of all," "the universal sacrament of salvation," by which Christ is "at once manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God's love for men."


"Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council [Vatican II] teaches that the Church, . . is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it." 9

"This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church."10 Ignorance is not itself a sufficient excuse. Each person has an obligation to discover and follow God's directives. However, many men of good will cannot overcome their ignorance even when using diligence. Consider the Catechism's instruction on this important point: "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."11

In this context the Church has always upheld the necessity of baptism.12 "God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, but He Himself is not bound by His sacraments."13 In addition the Church has also recognized the efficaciousness of martyrdom, baptism of blood, and baptism of desire. Furthermore, the distinction is also made between explicit and implicit baptism of desire. Explicit baptism of desire occurs when one intentionally and consciously desires to be baptized but is prevented from doing so. Implicit baptism of desire is achieved when someone does not know of the obligation to be baptized, but by surrendering to the grace to please God by leading a moral life, he implicitly desires to do anything required to please God including the reception of baptism.


It must be emphasized that the statement, "Outside the Church there is no salvation," does not mean that Protestants or non-Christians cannot be saved. Fr. Leonard J. Feeney, S.J, taught that error. Archbishop Cushing on April 18, 1949 suspended him, so he could not use his priestly faculties. Subsequently, the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office condemned Feeney's doctrine and that of "the Cambridge group" on August 8, 1949. Archbishop Cushing again suspended Feeney and placed the St. Benedict Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts under interdict. In October 1949 Feeney was dismissed from the Jesuits. On February 13, 1953 the Holy See excommunicated him.

His followers are called Feeneyites. They are a small group still adhering to the same error. Fr. Feeney reconciled with the Church before his death.

Finally, it must be remembered that the Church's decrees are directed toward its members, not those outside the Church. Catholics are to be guided by the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church by Christ. Catholics do not have the moral freedom to pick and choose what they must believe or how they must behave.

1 It is so translated in the paragraph heading in the Catechism of the Catholic Church above paragraph 846.
2 # 753; See also: Eph 1:22; Col 1:18; and Lumen Gentium 9.
3 #'s 771, 779; Mt 16:18-19.
4 Mt 28:18-20.
5 Col 1:18; 2:19; Jn 15:1-1; Catechism #'s 779, 790, 791, 792, 793, 794, 795, 805, 807.
6 Catechism #'s 781, 782, 783, 784, 785, 786, 806, 807.
7 #'s 774, 775, 776.
8 # 776.
9 Catechism # 846 citing: Lumen Gentium 14; Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5.
10 Catechism # 847; ref. Lumen Gentium 16.
11 Catechism # 848; ref. Ad gentes 7; Heb 11:6; 1 Cor 9:16.
12 Catechism # 1257.
13 Catechism # 1258.

Amanda said...

Gaudium et Spes, 22 says "since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery."

This teaching from an Ecumenical Council also suggests that implicit faith in Christ can suffice.

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