Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.  Not to be republished without permission.
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No. 149 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program Nov 2010


by Brian W. Harrison

Part A. Who Is In Fact ‘Outside The Church’?


It is now over sixty years since the so-called “Boston Heresy Case” involving Fr. Leonard Feeney (1897-1978) shook the U.S. Church and sent more than a few tremors round other parts of the Catholic world. The case eventually influenced the doctrinal teaching of Vatican Council II’s principal document, the 1964 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. Dealing with the prospects for eternal salvation of those who are sincerely unaware of the truth of Catholicism, the Council references a rather low-key1 censure of Feeney’s doctrine, sent fifteen years earlier by the Vatican’s Holy Office to Archbishop (later Cardinal) Richard Cushing of Boston.2

The key point in this doctrinal ruling was that the ancient dogmatic formula, “No salvation outside the Church (Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus)”, must not be understood to exclude from salvation all those who die as non-Catholics (that is, without consciously professing the Roman Catholic faith). The reason is that some of these persons, the Holy Office affirmed, developing Pope Pius XII’s teaching several years earlier in the 1943 Encyclical Mystici Corporis,3 may in fact be joined to the true Church by a link – seemingly tenuous, but sufficient for salvation – that consists in a merely implicit and unconscious desire (implicitum votum Ecclesiae) to enter the Catholic fold. This desire, however, will have to be such as includes supernatural acts of faith and charity.4

In spite of Vatican II’s footnote confirming this Holy Office decision, the controversy which flared as a result of Fr. Feeney’s severe interpretation of the aforesaid dogma has never really been laid to rest. At least, not in the United States, where small but convinced and articulate groups of Catholics continue to defend and propagate Feeney’s distinctive teaching. This can be adequately summarized in the following proposition postulating two requirements for reaching eternal life:

To reach eternal salvation, it is necessary (though not sufficient): (a) to have been baptized sacramentally5; and (b) to die sincerely professing the Catholic faith and one’s own personal submission to the Roman Pontiff.

Most of those who adopt this position are, however, rather less insistent and uncompromising about (a) than they are about (b). That is, most would say (as Fr. Feeney himself did after 1952) that in their personal opinion there is no such thing as a saving ‘baptism of desire’ or ‘baptism of blood’; but that they would not condemn as certainly unorthodox the contrary opinion, to wit, the consensus of approved theologians and papally-endorsed catechisms over the last thousand years to the effect that these two substitutes for sacramental baptism can certainly be sufficient for salvation in determined circumstances. It seems that in recent debates over “Feeneyism” in traditional Catholic circles, the lion’s share of the cut-and-thrust has been devoted to issue (a) – that is, to arguing for or against the validity of ‘baptism of desire’ and ‘baptism of blood’,6 – even though, for Feeney’s followers, this has usually been the more ‘negotiable’ of the two key issues. The present essay, in focusing attention on (b), will seek to redress the balance somewhat.

While most Catholic traditionalists7 do not agree with Feeney’s distinctive doctrine, those who do include, amongst others, communities of male and female religious in New England and California operating in a certain institutional continuity with Fr. Feeney’s ‘Saint Benedict Center’ (hereafter ‘SBC’), which was originally located near Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The canonical status of these defenders of the rigorist understanding of ‘the salvation dogma’ varies. One or two such groups – not institutionally connected at all with the SBC communities – are at least materially schismatic, since they not only denounce various Vatican II teachings as heretical, but also deny that any of the post-conciliar Popes has been a true Successor of Peter. Others are canonically regularized or at least tolerated by Church authority. For the two-part doctrinal thesis placed in bold type above, while not in accord with the Church’s contemporary magisterium,8 has never been formally condemned as contrary to infallible Church teaching, and (presumably for that reason) is not being treated by the Vatican as an offence that excludes one from membership in the Church, or even from reception of the Sacraments.

This writer’s participation in many written and oral discussions over the years has left him with the impression that while only a minuscule proportion of Catholics accept Fr. Feeney’s thesis regarding ‘the salvation dogma’, very few of the remaining vast majority are well equipped to refute it. If they are aware of it at all, they most often dismiss it out of hand as being so obviously narrow-minded and incredible in the modern ecumenical age that it is not even worth two minutes’ serious consideration. I myself tended to take that attitude until a decade or so ago. Then, as a theology professor, I started to receive requests for help from one or two other priests who were being besieged by anxious lay people primed with ‘Feeneyite’ literature. These priests frankly admitted their uncertainty as how best to help reassure such perplexed Catholics that the arguments found in such literature are fallacious. The fact is, Fr. Feeney was definitely no fool. He had by the 1940s developed a reputation as one of America’s most brilliant and learned Jesuits, and for that reason was seen as well equipped to defend the faith at the liberal intellectual hub of the nation: Harvard University and its vicinity. Thus it is that those few modern mainstream Catholics who take time out to read carefully the case presented by Feeney and his present-day followers are often taken aback to find themselves much more challenged than they expected to be.

For instance, many modern Catholics assume that Feeney adopted the shocking view – clearly incompatible with explicit magisterial teaching from the time of Blessed Pope Pius IX onwards – that some people, including some who have never even heard of the Catholic Church, will be punished eternally by God for failing to comply with a divine command of which they are inculpably and invincibly ignorant. That is so flagrantly unjust that even a child would realize an all-good and merciful God could never act thus, right? Right, indeed. However, on reading what Feeney and his supporters actually say, one finds that this is a mere caricature of their position. They do not claim that those who die invincibly ignorant of Catholic truth will be sent to Hell as a punishment for failing to join the true Church. Rather, they say, all such invincibly ignorant persons will always in fact die with other unrepented mortal sins, committed with full knowledge and consent, on their conscience; and it will be for those sins that they are damned.

In the view of certain Catholics with a laudable desire to be strong papal loyalists, it would really not matter too much even if the magisterium had in fact contradicted itself over whether non-Catholics can be saved. I am referring here to those who incline toward a kind of naïve magisterial positivism, according to which we should all treat as certainly true, and thus as at least de facto infallible, whatever happens to be the latest doctrinal statement to emanate from Rome, regardless of who said it and regardless of the forum, type of document, and choice of words in which it was presented. Heedless of the teaching of Vatican II itself,9 such folks – often deficient in their formal theological training but now able to attract large audiences via Internet blogs and other modern media – tend to place on the same level of authority, for all practical purposes, ecclesiastical statements of quite varying degrees of weightiness. These can range all the way from pronouncements of an ecumenical Council down to isolated and unemphatic statements in minor post-conciliar papal allocutions, together with any statement that emanates from any Vatican dicastery, or is proposed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,10 or is found even in one of those recent papal theological treatises and book-length interviews which expressly disclaim any kind of magisterial authority. The default position for this sort of simplistic conservatism is basically that if someone in the modern Vatican said it or approved it, it’s true – and you’d better believe it! Roma locuta est! But (we may ask) what if it seems incompatible with the previous magisterium? “No problem!” – we will be assured. “Don’t you know that’s called ‘development of doctrine’? If there’s some real incompatibility, that just means the old pre-conciliar teaching is now superseded by the new one. We faithful Catholics must simply change step doctrinally when Holy Mother Church herself changes step!” (It was of course fundamental for Bl. John Henry Newman, who pioneered the theology of doctrinal ‘development’, that any genuine development must always be in harmony with, never contrary to, the Church’s already-existing, traditional doctrine.)

Well now (we might wonder), if the old teaching, taught for century after century, turned out to be so unreliable, why should we feel very confident that a new and contradictory teaching ‘superseding’ it will be more reliable? But (leaving that problem aside for the moment) Fr. Feeney and his disciples will now in any case press our modern magisterial positivists a little harder by asking how they will handle the situation if the old teaching fulfilled the requirements laid down by Vatican II itself (LG 25) for infallible – not just ‘authentic’ – doctrine? As, for instance, when the Pope and all the bishops, in a solemn profession of faith, propose something to be “firmly believed, professed and taught” by all Catholics? How about the following doctrinal assertion, for example, laid down in precisely those terms by the Ecumenical Council of Florence in 1442, in its Bull of Union for the Copts and Ethiopians, Cantate Domino?

None of those situated outside the Catholic Church – not only pagans but also Jews, heretics or schismatics – can become sharers in eternal life, but will go to the eternal fire ‘prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Mt. 25: 41) unless they become attached to her before the end of their life.11

By this point in the discussion, the modern mainstream Catholic (positivist or otherwise) will often be feeling a certain uneasiness, but will often reply along the lines that while, of course, we can never deny the dogma that “outside the Church there is no salvation”, we must now interpret it rather differently from the way our forefathers did, so as to mitigate its severity to some extent. His adversary, however, will certainly not concede defeat at this point, and will be quick to quote the doctrine – one which will come as a puzzling surprise to many mainstream Catholics, but was nevertheless infallibly defined by Vatican Council I – that Catholic dogmas simply cannot be ‘reinterpreted’ in this way. The Council declared, “If anyone shall say that, in accordance with the progress of science, it can happen that dogmas proposed by the Church must be given a meaning different from that which the Church has understood and still understands, let him be anathema”.12

In this case (our ‘Feeneyite’ friend will continue) we are looking at the dogma “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus”. And we learn from Florence that the meaning according to which “the Church has understood” (and therefore “still understands”) this dogma is that no one who dies as a pagan,13 Jew, heretic or schismatic can be saved. Now, what many mainstream Catholics are saying these days is, in effect, that “in accordance with the progress of science” – in this case psychological, historical, sociological and anthropological science – we now know that many wonderful and good people go right through life and die as totally sincere pagans, Jews, Muslims and non-Catholic Christians, and so simply could not be doomed to eternal torment by a good and merciful God. Therefore (says Mr. Mainstream) we must now reinterpret those four apparently harsh dogmatic words, “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus”, so as to allow that at least some who die as pagans, Jews, heretics or schismatics can in fact be saved. But surely (Mr. Feeneyite will conclude triumphantly) this benign “reinterpretation” of the dogma is a clear case of changing its previously accepted meaning! And that is precisely what is anathematized by Vatican I.

This is usually the point in the discussion at which it is Mr. Mainstream, rather than his adversary, who pulls out of the argument with a perplexed shrug of the shoulders. If he does not himself start to harbor gnawing doubts as to whether Fr. Feeney was perhaps right after all, in spite of the seemingly gloomy prospect his doctrine presents, he will turn his own attention to other matters, dismissing the problem as one to which someone else – maybe some orthodox post-conciliar theology professor? – can no doubt find a satisfactory solution. Perhaps he will actually refer the matter to one of those post-conciliar theology professors, asking for help. That is precisely how the issue started turning up intermittently in my own Inbox; and after several years I did not feel I could responsibly shrug it off by postponing it indefinitely, or by trying to shunt the problem still further down (or up) the line.

I. What was right, and what was wrong, in Fr. Feeney’s teaching?

So, rather than pass the buck, I shall bite the bullet. I will consider in this essay whether contemporary magisterial teaching, including John Paul II’s express negation of Fr. Feeney’s thesis,14 can be read in a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ with the severe teaching of Pope Boniface VIII and the Council of Florence, understanding this medieval teaching in the same sense as that intended by its authors and promulgators.

I believe it can be read thus, but not if we go by what seems to be the most popular interpretation of the 1949 Holy Office Letter, the Vatican II documents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and John Paul II’s Redemptoris Missio. All of these modern magisterial documents are inconclusive if we search them for an unambiguous answer to the following question: Is salvation possible for those who die not just as non-Catholics, but as non-Christians? That is, can someone reach eternal life who dies without any explicit belief in Jesus Christ as God and Savior? While these modern magisterial documents stop short of answering this question clearly, it cannot be denied that what they say, in conjunction with what they significantly fail to say, leans in the direction of an affirmative answer. However, after much study and reflection, I myself have come to think – in accord with the teaching of St. Thomas – that the correct answer to this question must be negative. And Leonard Feeney of course agreed with the Angelic Doctor on that point.

This raises the question of to what extent Fr Feeney’s stern (and therefore unpopular) views may have been well founded. It seems only fair to precede my criticism of his position by calling to mind certain points on which I think he was right. First, he deserves credit for protesting vigorously against the rising tide of indifferentism, which is now even more widely diffused than it was in his time. An apparently large majority of professing Catholics now see no urgent need at all to persuade or exhort others to join the original and true Church of Jesus Christ; for they appear to hold that those of any religion or none will reach Heaven by nothing more than just being sincere and decent-living folks. Our modern funerals – with white vestments expressing liturgical jubilation – take on the air of instant canonization ceremonies for all deceased Catholics, practicing or non-practicing, orthodox or dissident. The pains of Purgatory are ignored or glossed over, while Hell (if one believes in it at all) is presumed to be reserved for only a few monsters of iniquity: maybe the occasional Hitler, Stalin, drug lord or mafia don. Fr. Feeney certainly deserves praise for his loud and clear protest against that sort of mentality, especially in this age wherein a one-sided emphasis on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue has very often overshadowed good old-fashioned apologetics and evangelization.

Not many Catholics, however, apart from Fr. Feeney’s avowed disciples, will feel inclined to join me in the second accolade that I would award him – at least, not before reading my reasons for granting it, which – who knows? – may perhaps change some minds. I refer here to the vote of thanks which I think the late paladin of Saint Benedict Center deserves for his firm belief and insistence that nobody who dies as a non-Christian – that is, without at the very least an explicit (although perhaps only rudimentary) belief in the Trinity and in Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Lord and Redeemer – can be saved. As mentioned above, I have in recent years come to agree with this classical Thomistic teaching. However, to defend this thesis, which is now very unpopular (because at first sight shockingly pessimistic), and which some Catholics, indeed, are quick to pronounce contrary to modern magisterial teaching, would require another complete essay.15

The rest of this one will be dedicated to a different aspect of Feeney’s position, namely, what he taught about the eternal destiny of those dying as non-Catholic Christians, including those who have been validly, sacramentally, baptized. Here again, for the reader’s convenience, are his two main controversial doctrinal claims:

To reach eternal salvation, it is necessary (though not sufficient): (a) to have been baptized sacramentally; and (b) to die sincerely professing the Catholic faith and one’s own personal submission to the Roman Pontiff.

We have already explained in the Introduction that this essay will not address systematically the denial of ‘baptism of desire’ implied by claim (a). Enough ink has already been spilled over that issue, and so we shall turn instead to examine claim (b). This was always Fr. Feeney’s main bone of contention, and the one which prompted the 1949 Holy Office Letter to the Archbishop of Boston.

As is evident, the interpretation of ‘Outside the Church, no salvation’ expressed in (b) means not only that all who die as non-Christians go to the eternal fire, but also that the same grim fate awaits all those, no matter how apparently devout, who die as professing Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and other non-Catholic Christians, even if they are validly baptized.16 It was this thesis that the Holy Office was censuring when it insisted that an “implicit desire for the Church” – implicitum votum Ecclesiae – can sometimes be sufficient for the salvation not only of persons who never during their life formally enter the Church (i.e., who are neither raised Catholic nor ever ritually received into her fold as converts), but also of those who die without even consciously or explicitly intending to become Catholics and submit to the Pope. Here is the main passage of the Letter that Feeney objected to:

[In order] that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be actually incorporated into the Church as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by will and desire. However, this need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; for when a person is handicapped by invincible ignorance, God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God.17

It can readily be seen that Fr. Feeney’s requirement (b), as we have formulated it above, does not rule out as unavailing for salvation an explicit “will and desire” for the Church – for instance, on the part of a dying person who was validly baptized in a Protestant denomination and who wants to become a Catholic, but has no opportunity to go through the process of formal reception into the Church by a priest, complete with sacramental confession and first Communion. For it is clearly possible to profess the Catholic faith sincerely, and to make an inward commitment to be obedient to the Pope, prior to any such formal and sacramental reception; and Feeney would by no means have classified such a person as being “outside the Church” and doomed to Hell simply because these external (ceremonial and liturgical) procedures could not be carried out prior to death. But where he certainly drew a sharp line in the sand was in reaction to the Vatican’s insistence that even an implicit desire for the Church – a disposition excluding any conscious intention or desire whatsoever to accept distinctively Catholic doctrines or submit to the Pope – could be sufficient for salvation. He was never able to see how someone with that sort of disposition could plausibly or fairly be described as being located anywhere other than “outside the Church” – extra Ecclesiam– and therefore, according to the dogma, heading toward perdition.

Leonard Feeney therefore boldly branded this Holy Office teaching on the implicitum votum Ecclesiae as heretical. My purpose in this paper is to show that he was mistaken in doing so.

II. Defining our terms

In order to explain more completely my disagreement with Fr. Feeney, I will need to define the relevant terms as clearly as possible. The key expression needing clarification in this discussion is of course “Extra Ecclesiam”. (There is little or no controversy among Catholics as to what is meant by “nulla salus”.18) What exactly does it mean to be “outside the Church”? Or, more precisely, what did the Fathers of Florence mean by this expression, since it is their meaning, according to Vatican I’s anathema-laden definition, which must forever be maintained as the only true meaning of the dogma. SBC advocates19 often seem to assume that its meaning is self-evident, and so do not trouble to spell it out. One who does, however (although only in passing), is the late Brother Robert Mary, a tertiary (lay) member of SBC’s Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He tells us that “Father Feeney was preaching a defined dogma of the Church: the absolute necessity of visible membership in the visible Church for salvation”.20 Neither of the words “visible” or “membership”, however, occurs in the Florentine exposition of the dogma. The author has added them on his own initiative, assuming them to be obviously understood and intended by the Council. But once we begin to inquire a little more closely as to what, in the minds of the Florentine Fathers, are the necessary and sufficient conditions for being situated “outside the Church”, it soon becomes apparent that Bro. Robert Mary’s assumption is very questionable.

Indeed, so is another related assumption that appears to be taken for granted in SBC writing, namely, that every human person, at any given moment, is either inside or outside the Church. At first sight that seems to be just plain common sense; but I shall argue that in fact, the authentic tradition of the Church recognizes, at least implicitly, a third and intermediate status. Using an analogy with a physical church building, we can consider the plan of a great basilica such as St. Peter’s in Rome. When you pass from the square between the enormous stone columns of the façade you find yourself in a large portico, in front of the massive doors that lead into the nave of this mighty temple. Now, while you are standing in the portico, are you inside or outside St. Peter’s Basilica? The truth is that neither alternative accurately describes your position. You can’t really be said to be either inside or outside the Basilica, because its boundaries are not officially defined with sufficient sharpness for such a clear-cut judgment to be made. Likewise, one can be in a spiritual situation that is really neither “inside” nor “outside” the Church founded by Christ. From now on I shall refer to such persons as being located in porticu Ecclesiae – in the portico of the Church. And the reality of this intermediate ‘portico’ situation has an important logical consequence: the maxim “outside the Church there is no salvation” does not imply, as it seems to at first sight, that “only inside the Church is there salvation”.

Now, being “inside” the Church clearly means being one of her members. So let us consider this concept of “membership” in the Church. What exactly does it mean? And is it in fact an “absolute necessity . . . for salvation”? Significantly. the words “member” or “membership” occur nowhere in the relevant passage of Cantate Domino. However, there can be no doubt that the Florentine Fathers, along with the Church in all ages, understood that a necessary condition of membership in the Church during the present life21 is having received sacramental baptism – baptism of water. Pius XII, in his encyclical Mystici Corporis of 1943, confirmed this in giving an authoritative definition of what membership in the Church involves:

The only persons really to be included among the members of the Church are those who have received the washing of regeneration, who profess the true faith, and who have neither separated themselves wretchedly from the unity of the Body nor been cut off from her by legitimate authority for the commission of grave offences.22

This coincides with another classical account of what membership in the Church, that is, fully belonging to her, consists of. St. Robert Bellarmine defines the true Church as:

. . . the congregation of men bound together by the profession of the same Christian Faith, and by the communion of the same Sacraments, under the rule of the legitimate pastors and especially under the one Vicar of Christ in earth, the Roman Pontiff. From this definition it can easily be ascertained which men belong to the Church and which do not.23

Bellarmine goes on to point out that in virtue of the second element in the above definition (“communion of the same Sacraments”), “catechumens and excommunicates are excluded [from “belong[ing] to the Church”], because the former are not [yet] admitted to the communion of the Sacraments and the latter have been cut off from them”.24 In line with the same constant Tradition, Vatican Council II affirms “the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door”.25 (Once again, the analogy with St. Peter’s Basilica is helpful: only when you pass through those giant doors at the inner side of the portico are you truly inside the Basilica.)

Since this is the constant, ancient Catholic faith, it is clear that, for Pope Eugene IV and the Fathers of Florence, catechumens, who had not entered that ‘door’ of the Church which is baptism, could not be “included among [her] members”.

But does this mean that the Council of Florence judged all catechumens to be extra Ecclesiam exsistentes – “situated outside the Church”? If so, then it would be teaching that all who die as catechumens are certainly destined for the eternal fire, for this is precisely the fate infallibly proclaimed by the Council for all those who die extra Ecclesiam. But it would in fact be totally implausible to attribute such a severe teaching to the Council of Florence. By the time the Council met, there had been a consensus for many centuries that the desire for baptism on the part of a catechumen, if informed by theological faith and charity, will be sufficient for salvation if he/she dies unexpectedly before being able to receive the sacrament. Even more assuredly would a ‘baptism of blood’ save a catechumen who was martyred under persecution.26 This was already the common, approved teaching of theologians, including such great doctors as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. Indeed, Pope Innocent II, three centuries before Florence, in an official response to the Bishop of Cremona, had replied “without hesitation”, citing two great Fathers and Doctors, Saints Augustine and Ambrose, to the effect that desire for baptism could be sufficient to save.27 Then, in 1206, Innocent III responded to an inquiry from another bishop as to whether a certain Jew was validly baptized who, in danger of death, had tried to administer the sacrament to himself. While replying in the negative, the Pope affirmed that if such a Jew had died immediately after such an attempt, he would nevertheless be saved “because of faith of the sacrament” (propter sacramenti fidem), even though he had not truly received “the sacrament of faith” (fidei sacramentum).28 And in the century after Florence, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, promulgated by the authority of Pope St. Pius V, was to teach that, in regard to adults preparing for baptism, the Church does not regard the administration of this sacrament as being so urgent as in the case of newly-born infants, because:

. . . should any sudden accident render it impossible for adults to be cleansed in the saving water, their intention and determination to receive it, and their repentance from their previous ill-spent life, will suffice them to grace and justification.29

Given this context of long-standing, unanimous pre- and post-Florentine theological and magisterial teaching in favor of ‘baptism of desire’, it is clear that the Fathers of this Council must be presumed to have accepted this doctrine. The conclusion that they did so is corroborated by their own text: for catechumens are conspicuous by their absence from the Council’s list of those designated as being extra Ecclesiam. If the Fathers of Florence had wished to stigmatize such persons as being “outside the Church”, then that list, logically, should have read: “not only pagans but also Jews, heretics, schismatics and catechumens”. For this last group plainly does not fall into any of the previous four categories of persons who are said to be “outside the Church”.

The conclusion is clear. The Council of Florence certainly does not accept catechumens as being inside the Church – that is, as her members, persons who have ‘entered’ her and fully belong to her. But it is equally clear that the Council does not judge catechumens to be outside the Church, for that would imply they are all destined for the fires of Hell if they die while in their catechumenal state, and the Florentine Fathers neither believed nor taught that. In other words, the Fathers were tacitly accepting and implying the existence of the intermediate condition we are calling in porticu Ecclesiae – neither inside nor outside the Church. Being sacramentally unbaptized, therefore, is not a sufficient condition for being located extra Ecclesiam. Nor is it a necessary condition, since many validly baptized persons, namely, heretics and schismatics, are indeed extra Ecclesiam, as the Florentine profession of faith itself asserts.

However, it is clear that, for Florence, being in the state of sin is indeed a necessary condition for being outside the Church. For only those dying without sanctifying grace (and therefore without charity) will be excluded from Heaven; and the Council declares that all those dying outside the Church will be excluded from Heaven. On the other hand, the lack of sanctifying grace and charity is certainly not a sufficient condition for being outside the Church; for many of her baptized members – orthodox and practicing Roman Catholics – commit mortal sins and so lose grace without thereby placing themselves extra Ecclesiam.

III. What does it mean to be ‘outside the Church’?

Let us present these thoughts, and other related considerations, in the schematic form of a list of questions-and-answers that seek to discover what constitutes being “outside the Church” (in the sense that excludes from salvation)? What, according to Catholic theology, are the necessary and sufficient conditions for being ‘extra Ecclesiam’?

1. Being unbaptized? This is clearly not a necessary condition of being in this unfortunate state, since baptized persons can also be outside the Church. But neither is it sufficient; for after initial doubts and disputes among the Fathers, the ordinary magisterium has taught clearly since medieval times that salvation is possible for catechumens and other unbaptized folks who desire baptism. But their salvation would be impossible, according to the dogma we are studying, if they were outside the Church.30 So this (the state of being sacramentally unbaptized) is neither necessary nor sufficient for being ‘extra Ecclesiam’.

2. Being in the state of original or mortal sin (i.e., lacking supernatural charity)? This is certainly not a sufficient condition; for many persons in mortal sin remain within the Church. On the other hand, if you are outside the Church – and so, according to the dogma, are excluded from Heaven if you die at that moment – you certainly lack charity. For nobody dying with sanctifying grace and the charity that goes with it will be excluded from Heaven. So this (being in the state of sin) is necessary, but not sufficient, for being ‘extra Ecclesiam’.

3. Lacking supernatural faith? This is not necessary, because formal schismatics and excommunicated persons can be outside the Church while retaining the theological virtue of faith. However, since the Church is first and foremost the community of the Christian faithful – the Christifideles – anyone who lacks the virtue of faith (whether culpably or inculpably) is certainly outside that community. This is sufficient, but not necessary, for being ‘extra Ecclesiam’.

4. Being visibly unconnected (sacramentally or sociologically) to the Church’s organized structures? Not sufficient, because Catholic teaching has explicitly recognized ever since the third century that infants validly baptized in, and being raised in, heretical/schismatic communities are at least for a few years members of the true Church – although not visibly so. While a theologian will say they are Catholic, a sociologist would classify them as non-Catholic; for they are plainly and visibly part of the Methodist, Episcopalian, Greek Orthodox (or whatever) community where their parents take them to church. Indeed, I know a leading SBC member who also acknowledges that adult oriental Christians living in areas far away from Constantinople during the initial period after the formal East-West schism of 1054 would not really have been extra Ecclesiam if they were unaware that the churches they continued to attend were now part of a new denomination whose leaders had separated it from Rome. So this lack of a visible, organizational, connection to the Catholic Church is not in itself sufficient to place you outside of her. Nor is it necessary, because occult formal heretics and apostates, who secretly lack the supernatural virtue of faith, are really (in God’s sight) outside the Church even though they remain visibly (‘materially’) within her, perhaps hypocritically participating in – or even administering – the sacraments. This is neither necessary nor sufficient for being ‘extra Ecclesiam’.

5. Being unentitled to receive the (post-baptismal) sacraments? No, this is an effect, not a cause, of being outside the Church.

6. Lacking an explicit will to be subject to the Roman Pontiff? Not necessary, because a person excommunicated for certain offences could still have such a will. Neither is such a lack sufficient in itself to put you outside the Church. After all, baptized Catholic babies and inadequately catechized Catholics – children or adults – can lack this explicit will; yet not only are they not outside the Church; they are fully inside her, as true members. (The Holy Office ruled in 1703 that missionaries may baptize adults in danger of death provided they believe explicitly at least in the Trinity and Incarnation, i.e., even if they haven’t yet learned about the papacy.31) This too is neither necessary nor sufficient for being ‘extra Ecclesiam’.

Now, I believe Fr. Feeney would have agreed – at least at the time of the 1949 Holy Office censure32 – with my evaluation of the above six conditions and dispositions. But he would have parted company with me about the seventh, which touches the point the Holy Office was then most concerned about:

7. Having an explicit will not to be subject to the Roman Pontiff? This is not necessary as a condition for being outside the Church, for the same reason disposition #6 above is not necessary. But Fr. Feeney and his SBC supporters would claim that this disposition, which characterizes nearly all non-Catholics,33 is certainly sufficient to put you extra Ecclesiam. Now, while at first sight this claim may appear plausible, or even obviously true, things are not really so clear-cut. For a conscious, explicit and habitual disposition not to submit to the Pope can in itself be psychologically quite compatible with (though of course it is not always accompanied by) an implicit habitual disposition to submit to the Pope.

Here, I believe, we have finally unearthed the root of the discordance between Leonard Feeney’s view and the recently developed teaching of the Church’s magisterium. His unduly gloomy prognosis regarding the eternal destiny of all who die with an explicit will to remain independent of papal authority derives, I would suggest, from his failure to appreciate that this explicitly negative attitude is not in itself incompatible with a true, though implicit and unconscious – will to accept papal authority wholeheartedly. This implicit disposition necessarily exists in the heart of every believer in the Trinity and Incarnation who is explicitly, sincerely and habitually disposed to obey Jesus Christ wholeheartedly, even if, through anti-Catholic literature, preaching, catechesis or upbringing, that person has been misled into believing honestly that Christ is in fact telling his disciples to disregard the Pope’s claim to be his Vicar on earth. This disposition #7 can therefore sometimes be very close to #6; for in both cases we’re talking about persons who would be willing to submit to the Roman Pontiff consciously and explicitly if they knew that Christ himself wants them to do so. The difference is that the poorly catechized Catholics discussed in #6 are true members of the Church while the sincere non-Catholic Christians contemplated here in #7 are not. In any case, we may conclude (in this case without Fr. Feeney’s agreement) that disposition #7 is neither necessary nor sufficient as a condition for being outside the Church. While it is clear that nobody thus disposed can be inside the Church (intra Ecclesiam), some who are thus disposed can be in porticu Ecclesiae rather than extra Ecclesiam. For how could we plausibly presume that everyone with this attitude to papal authority is in mortal sin despite (a) being validly baptized, (b) believing with supernatural faith in the Trinity and Incarnation, and (c) being explicitly and wholeheartedly disposed to obey every precept of Christ? And as we have seen (cf. #2 above), being in the state of mortal sin is, for adults, a necessary condition of being extra Ecclesiam: nobody in the state of grace is outside the Church.

Does this mean the 1949 Letter is implying that at least some non-Christian theists – Jews, Muslims, etc. – may also be located in porticu Ecclesiae rather than extra Ecclesiam? Some might maintain that it would be arbitrary and inconsistent to stop short at affirming only the thesis of the italicized sentence in the previous paragraph. They might argue that the Holy Office’s appeal to an underlying ‘good will’ logically implies a similar but much broader thesis in which the words “every believer in the Trinity and Incarnation” in that sentence are replaced by “every believer in God”, with the words “Jesus Christ” and “Christ” likewise being replaced simply by “God”. In truth the Holy Office does not imply this kind of ‘big tent’ ecclesiology. But neither does it reprobate, implicitly or explicitly, that ecclesiology. Rather, it tacitly leaves the question open for further discussion. This is clear from the fact that the Letter goes on to teach that not every kind of implicitum votum Ecclesiae is salvifically efficacious, but only that which is informed by the theological virtue of charity and accompanied by supernatural faith.34 And whether any non-Christian can in fact possess these theological virtues is a separate and rather complex question which the Holy Office does not address in this document.35

8. Having an explicit and culpable will not to be subject to the Roman Pontiff? Here, finally, we can return to agreement with Feeney and the SBC by virtue of the two words that distinguish #7 from #8. Even though having the latter disposition is plainly not necessary as a condition of being outside the Church (for there are other defects that will produce the same result), it is most certainly a sufficient condition. And Fr. Feeney would of course be the first to agree. Indeed, on this point, the harmony is already transparent between the two councils, Florence and Second Vatican. The latter, in explaining the dogma Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, affirms: “Those could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter her [i.e., submit to the Roman Pontiff] or remain in her”.36 In short, disposition #8 is not necessary, but is indeed sufficient, for being outside the Church and, therefore, on the road to perdition.

The above eight-point analysis should make it clear enough that, contrary to what we might have expected a priori, it is not immediately obvious what exactly the traditional magisterium meant by being ‘outside the Church’. Our enquiry has shown that the position assumed tacitly by the Council of Florence in regard to catechumens is a chink, as it were, in Fr. Feeney’s armor. It punctures a hole in his iron-clad dichotomy, namely, his claim that, according to the traditional magisterium, all who are not members of the Church – i.e., baptized Roman Catholics in good standing – are ipso facto outside of her fold (and, for that reason, on the road to damnation). And once it is recognized that Tradition admits, at least implicitly, the existence of an intermediate condition that is neither ‘inside’ nor ‘outside’ the Church, the way has been opened logically for the more recent doctrinal development – legitimate (we would argue) and in substantial continuity with Tradition – which allows us to assign not only catechumens, but certain other non-members of the Church as well, to this theological locality we are calling the ‘portico’ of the Church. In short, the seed that has grown into Vatican II’s category of persons in “partial communion” with the Church had already been sown quietly at Florence.

Our analysis has also shown that there are two sufficient conditions for being extra Ecclesiam: 1) a lack (whether culpable or inculpable) of supernatural faith; and 2) an explicit and culpable will not to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. (Each of these two dispositions can exist either independently or together with the other.) Also, we have seen that there is one (and only one) necessary condition for being extra Ecclesiam, namely, lack of supernatural charity. A logically equivalent way of stating these conclusions is to say that all who are outside the Church lack charity, while all who lack theological faith, along with all schismatics who retain faith while culpably refusing subjection to the Roman Pontiff, are outside the Church.37

It is worth remarking, finally, that the foregoing discussion helps us to see that being truly separated from the Church of Christ – being outside her in the sense that excludes from salvation – is essentially an inner spiritual condition (though of course it can be outwardly manifested with words and deeds). It’s not something that any sociologist can easily and reliably discover empirically, using a simple yes-or-no question in an opinion poll. (“Excuse me, Sir/Ma’am: Are you a Roman Catholic?”) For some who answer ‘Yes’, even without consciously lying, will in God’s sight and in objective reality be outside the Church, namely, those who have lost supernatural faith, or who refuse to allow papal authority any impact on their own behavior, but who still identify to some extent with Catholicism for merely natural reasons (social convenience, family or cultural tradition, nostalgia, etc.). Conversely, some of those who truthfully answer ‘No’ to our opinion poll question will not really be outside the Catholic Church. Some of these explicit nay-sayers, unbeknown to themselves, will actually be in porticu Ecclesiae rather than extra Ecclesiam.

(To be continued in the next issue of Living Tradition)


1 Although approved by Pope Pius XII, the Letter was never published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.

2 Cf. note 19 to Lumen Gentium, 16. This 1949 Holy Office Letter is also referenced in no. 847 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

3 Cf. Denzinger (Dz) 2290, found in the more recent Denzinger-Schönmetzer (DS) as no. 3821.

4 Cf. DS 3869-3872. This Holy Office Letter is not included in any earlier edition of Denzinger.

5 Fr. Feeney’s position eventually became still more rigorous than that for which he was censured by Rome in 1949. From 1952 until his death he no longer held that “baptism of desire” could be sufficient for salvation, even in the case of a catechumen who dies during preparation for sacramental baptism with an explicit desire and intention to join the Roman Catholic Church. As regards “baptism of blood” – the violent death of a catechumen who voluntarily sacrifices his life for love of Christ and the faith during persecution – Feeney and his followers do not exactly deny that this would be sufficient for salvation. Rather, they deny that such a thing has ever happened in fact, or ever could happen. They argue that God’s Providence will infallibly see to it that any catechumen with such heroic faith and charity will always receive the waters of baptism prior to being slain by the persecutor. This of course requires them to explain away all testimonies of catechumens being martyred before baptism as historically unreliable, and in fact false. In the case of Fr. Feeney himself, this post-1952 severity regarding baptism – cf. (a) in our main text above – was held as a personal opinion, which he said he would be prepared to renounce if the Church expressly passed judgment against it. He consistently maintained, however, that the denial of requirement (b) above is heresy.

6 Cf., for instance, Thomas A. Hutchinson, Desire and Deception: Is the Church Necessary? (Arcadia, CA: Charlemagne Press, 1994); Fr. François Laisney, Is Feeneyism Catholic? The Catholic Meaning of the Dogma ”Outside the Church There Is No Salvation” (Kansas City, MO: Angelus Press, 2001); Bro. Robert Mary, M.I.C.M Tert., Father Feeney and the Truth About Salvation: a Critique of His Critics (Richmond, NH: Saint Benedict Center, 1995).

7 The word traditionalist is being used here, in accordance with its usual contemporary sense, to designate those believers who are distinguished from other Catholics by their dissatisfaction with official, as well as unauthorized, changes introduced into the Church as a result of Vatican Council II, and in particular, by their marked preference for the traditional Latin Mass (now called the “extraordinary form” or usus antiquior, of the Roman Rite) over the post-conciliar reformed Roman liturgy (the “ordinary form” or novus ordo).

8 Pope John Paul II, in an authoritative statement that is more explicitly ‘anti-Feeney’ than those found in either the Catechism or the conciliar texts, teaches in the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio that salvation “is not granted only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church” (art. 10). While this clearly contradicts both of the propositions (a) and (b) in bold type above, it does not contradict the following shorter proposition: “Salvation is granted only to those who explicitly believe in Christ”. While the latter thesis has also been very much out of favor in recent times, it expresses the view of nearly all the Fathers, St. Thomas Aquinas, many other approved theologians over the centuries, and (both last and least) the present writer. It is compatible with John Paul II’s assertion in RM, 10, because the falsity of proposition P, “Only those who fulfill conditions A and B are saved”, does not imply the falsity of P1, “Only those who fulfill condition A are saved”. For the falsity of P might be due exclusively to its being mistaken in asserting that one must always fulfill B in order to be saved – something which P1 does not assert.

9 Lumen Gentium states that in assessing the weight or binding force of statements made even by the Roman Pontiff when he is not speaking ex cathedra, we must, in order to discern correctly his “mind and intention”, take into account such factors as “the character of the documents in question, . . . the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, [and] the manner in which the doctrine is formulated” (art. 25).

10 In the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, John Paul II declares the Catechism to be a "firma regula" for teaching the faith (Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997, p.5). The standard English version translates firmam regulam as “a sure norm”. But “sure” is virtually synonymous with “certain”, which in turn suggests infallibility or a 100% guarantee of always being right. Neither classical nor ecclesiastical Latin dictionaries give “sure” or “certain” as one of the meanings of firmus. A less ‘absolute’ adjective such as “reliable” or “trustworthy” would be a better translation, since that would leave room for the possibility of there being a few debatable or questionable statements among the Catechism’s 2865 articles. In his little book Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger considered the question of the CCC’s doctrinal authority and pointed out that, as an essentially pastoral document – a compendium of already-existing Catholic doctrine – it does not have the inherent authority to hand down new magisterial judgments: "The individual doctrines which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess" (p. 26). It follows that any doctrinally novel affirmation that may be found in the CCC (such as the statement in #1261 encouraging us to hope for the salvation of infants who die without baptism) should not be seen as a new intervention of the authentic magisterium that would require the assent of all Catholics.

11[Sacrosancta Romana Ecclesia] firmiter credit, profitetur et praedicat, ‘nullos extra catholicam Ecclesiam exsistentes, non solum paganos’, sed nec Iudaeos aut haereticos atque schismaticos, aeternae vitae fieri posse participles; sed in ignem aeternum ituros, ‘qui paratus est diabolo et angelis eius’ [Mt 25: 41], nisi ante finem vitae eidem fuerint aggregati” (Dz 714 = DS 1351). A footnote in Denzinger indicates that Council is citing the above words “nullos . . . paganos” from a work by St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, a 6th-century North African Father of the Church.

12 Dz 1818 = DS 3043.

13 “Pagans” were evidently understood here to include Muslims, according to common 15th-century Christian terminology.

14 Cf. note 8 above.

15 Briefly, my position is not that the implicit faith in the Savior which sufficed for salvation before the coming of Christ suddenly lost this saving efficacy after his coming. Rather, I would argue that after the promulgation of the Gospel at Pentecost, implicit faith simply became extinct. That is, God no longer infuses the theological virtue of faith – a supernatural gift that goes beyond a merely natural knowledge of God – in a form that produces merely implicit acts of faith in the Redeemer. Rather, every act of theological faith is now an explicit and conscious act of faith in Jesus Christ. (Cf. Jn 17: 3: “This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”) I do not see how the contrary thesis can honestly be reconciled with the infallible Florentine teaching that all pagans and Jews are outside the Church and so are damned if they die as pagans and Jews. For if some of them had an implicit supernatural faith in Christ despite their explicit adherence to a non-Christian religion or philosophy, it would simply not be true to classify all of them as being outside the Church. But (it will be objected) does this not imply, intolerably, the certain damnation of all the countless millions of unevangelized people round the world who have lived and died after Pentecost, but before missionaries reached their lands? No, it does not imply that. Modern clinical observations and countless recent testimonies of ‘near-death experiences’ are teaching us that people can appear to bystanders to be totally unconscious or even dead (with zero brain activity registering on hospital instruments) while in fact they were in fact consciously undergoing very vivid and sometimes life-changing experiences. Such evidence is a remarkable reminder that Almighty God is perfectly capable, in a dying person’s last moments, of bestowing upon him/her graces and illumination that enable a saving act of explicit and repentant Christian faith (‘baptism of desire’) that may well be completely undetectable to bystanders at the deathbed. This should not be confused, of course, with the idea of “deathbed conversions” on the part of religiously indifferent loose-livers who have knowingly but carelessly been living gravely sinful lives. Sound spiritual writers have long warned us that the true last-minute repentance of such habitually immoral and presumptuous souls is an extraordinary grace that is probably quite rare. Rather, we are talking here principally about persons who have hitherto been in invincible ignorance of Gospel truth, but who have persevered to the end in striving to seek truth and follow the natural law in accord with their own conscience (cf. Rom. 2: 14-16). Even before receiving faith and justification, such persons will have been “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk 12: 34).

16 Nevertheless, a certain nuance is needed here. My understanding is that Fr. Feeney and his followers would exempt from the second part of requirement (b) – the need for personal submission to the Roman Pontiff – not only children who die before attaining a sufficient use of reason, but also such older persons as might die before having had a chance to learn enough about the existence and claims of the Roman Pontiff to be capable of making any conscious and responsible decision either to comply with those claims or to reject them. To take an obvious example, I am sure that no follower of Fr. Feeney would claim that the defectively catechized slaves baptized by St. Peter Claver would all go to Hell for failing to recognize papal authority. We read that this holy priest, zealous for the salvation of the many captives constantly arriving from Africa at the port of Carthagena, would usually have time only to give these wretched folk rudimentary catechesis about the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Savior’s redemptive death and resurrection. If they indicated belief in these basics of the Gospel and showed repentance from sin, he would then baptize them. But they would then usually be sold off and taken away from the port before there was time for any further catechesis. (See also Part B, section III, 6, over note 31.) Allowing for the salvation of St. Peter Claver’s slave converts, however, logically raises the question, for Fr. Feeney’s supporters, as to whether another similarly situated slave, catechized identically and validly baptized by, say, a Methodist or Lutheran rather than a Catholic missionary, could also be saved? It would surely be implausible to say that, of two people who die with identical spiritual dispositions, one will go to Heaven and the other to Hell just because the latter had the misfortune to be evangelized and baptized by the ‘wrong’ sort of missionary. But if Fr. Feeney’s disciple concedes that both slaves go to Heaven, he thereby also concedes in principle that some adults can be saved who (using words in their normal, accepted sense) die as Methodist or Lutheran Christians rather than Roman Catholics.

17Quandoquidem ut quis aeternam obtineat salutem, non semper exigitur, ut reapse Ecclesiae tamquam membrum incorporetur, sed id saltem requiritur, ut eidem voto et desiderio adhaereat. Hoc tamen votum non semper explicitum sit oportet, prout accidit in catechumenis, sed ubi homo invincibili ignorantia laborat, Deus quoque implicitum votum acceptat, tali nomine nuncupatum, quia illud in ea bona animae dispositione continetur, qua homo voluntatem suam Dei voluntati conformem velit” (DS 3870).

18 This writer has, however, read a theological proposal to ‘develop’ (reinterpret?) the concept of “salvation” itself by broadening it to include the natural happiness of Limbo. It is argued that this would enable us to harmonize the new Catechism’s allowance of hope for the “salvation” of unbaptized infants (cf. CCC, #1261) with the traditional Catholic doctrine that they are certainly excluded from the beatific vision. We would then, in effect, have a kind of division into first- and second-class salvation. The main trouble with this proposed solution to the problem in question is that the Council of Florence has defined that the souls of those dying with original sin only (souls which could only be those of unbaptized infants), also “go down to Hell”: “Diffinimus . . . Illorum autem animas, qui in actuali peccato mortali vel solo originali decedunt, mox in infernum descendere (Dz 691, 693 = DS 1302, 1306, emphasis added). And it would seem confusing, and possibly unorthodox, to try to redefine Limbo, traditionally understood to be the ‘edge’ or ‘border’ of Hell, as being in effect the ‘edge’ or ‘border’ of Heaven. Indeed, this proposed development of doctrine would involve the strange-sounding claim that one can attain “salvation” and be in “Hell” at the same time.

19 I shall avoid in the rest of this essay the pejorative terms “Feeneyism” and “Feeneyite” for those who subscribe to the Saint Benedict Center doctrinal thesis summarized in bold type in the Introduction and in section I above. For such labels are of course as annoying to those with whom I wish to be in dialogue here as the label “Lefebvrist” is to those of the Society of St. Pius X and their supporters.

20 Bro. Robert Mary, op.cit., p. 219 (emphasis added). (See note 6 above for first reference.)

21 All Catholics are agreed that in Heaven there are now many saints – at the very least, those righteous souls who lived and died before the promulgation of the New Law of Christ at Pentecost – who were never baptized.

22In Ecclesiae autem membris reapse ii soli annumerandi sunt, qui regenerationis lavacrum receperunt veramque fidem profitentur, neque a Corporis compage semet ipsos misere separarunt, vel ob gravissima admissa a legitima auctoritate seiuncti sunt” (Dz 2286 = DS 3802).

23 Cited in Robert Mary, op. cit., p. 145.

24 Ibid.

25 Lumen Gentium, 14 (emphasis added).

26 Some theologically naïve traditionalists claim that ‘baptism of blood’ for catechumens is actually ruled out by the same paragraph of the Florentine profession of faith when it affirms that even those “who shed their blood for Christ” will not be saved if they die outside the unity of the one Church. But of course, this claim begs the very question at issue, namely, whether catechumens are in fact “outside the Church”. It is clear from the literary context, and from the safe assumption that the Fathers of Florence accepted the centuries-old Catholic consensus in favor of baptism of blood, that those they refer to here are not catechumens who are killed out of hatred for Christ, but schismatics and heretics who are killed for that reason. For if the latter sacrifice their lives without contrition for their culpable rejection of Catholic faith and/or unity, their apparently laudable and salvific death will in reality be motivated by pride or some other merely natural motive, rather than supernatural charity. While we might think that such a scenario seems psychologically improbable, its possibility in principle is recognized by St. Paul, whose words the Florentine Fathers no doubt had in mind here: “And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (I Cor. 13: 3).

27 Cf. Epistle Apostolicam Sedem (c. 1140), Dz 388 = DS 741).

28 Cf. Epistle Debitum Officii Pontificalis, August 28, 1206 (Dz 413 = DS 788).

29 Part II, Ch. II, Q. 35. The Catechism here implicitly rejects Fr. Feeney’s post-1952 reading of Trent, to wit, his subtle but implausible view that while the Council undeniably allows a desire for baptism to be sufficient for justification, it does not allow that such desire can suffice for eternal salvation. He claimed that if a catechumen dies before baptism, that very fact should be seen as evidence that, while he may at an earlier stage have been justified (in the state of grace) through his desire for the sacrament, he certainly lost that grace by committing some new mortal sin which remained unrepented at death. It is true that the Catechism here speaks of the intention to receive baptism as sufficient for “grace and justification”, rather than for “salvation”; but the authors are clearly taking it for granted that the catechumen’s state of grace can last until death even without his ever receiving the sacrament. For the “sudden accident” they speak of – one which renders reception of the sacrament “impossible” – is obviously a fatal accident. And if they had agreed with Fr. Feeney’s position, they would plainly not have been teaching – as they do here – that the baptism of catechumens is a less urgent matter than that of infants.

30 Often heard coming from Fr. Feeney’s more theologically deficient disciples is an appeal to the Council of Trent’s fifth canon on baptism, which they mistakenly think teaches that the desire for baptism can never be sufficient for salvation. The canon asserts, “If anyone shall say that [sacramental] baptism is optional (liberum), that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema” (Dz 861 = DS 1618). Such folks misunderstand this canon, neglecting the crucial word “optional”. The canon anathematizes only those radical Protestants who were saying that true (sacramental) baptism is not necessary for salvation in any sense at all, not even by necessity of precept (cf. Part B, note 49). In other words, the anathema is aimed only at the Socinians and others who were saying that baptism is ‘free’ or ‘optional’ in the same way the sacrament of marriage is: i.e., that each Christian has the right to choose freely whether to receive it or not.

31 Cf. Dz 1349 = DS 2380-2381. Cf. also note 16 above.

32 As we have noted (cf. note 5 above), Feeney from 1952 onward departed further from common Church teaching by arguing against ‘baptism of desire’. So from that time onward he would not have agreed with our thesis (cf. #1 above) that being sacramentally unbaptized is not a sufficient condition for being outside the Church.

33 In order to avoid possible confusion, it seems opportune to recall and emphasize that the term “non-Catholic” is not being used here, and should never be used, as a synonym for “one who is outside the Catholic Church” in the theological sense intended by the Council of Florence. Rather, we are using “non-Catholic” in that ‘sociological’ or publicly verifiable sense in which the term is commonly understood today by those of any religious belief or none, i.e., as designating a person who does not profess to be a Roman Catholic, and who, therefore, is not joined to the Church in any visible or empirically detectable way. Clarity in the use of terms here is vital, because whether all non-Catholics (as we have just defined them) are in fact “outside the Church” in the sense intended in the dogma “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” is precisely the central point at issue between Fr. Feeney and SBC Catholics on the one hand, and recent explicit magisterial teaching on the other.

34 Cf. DS 3872.

35 See also note 8 and the second paragraph of section I above. Saying that an implicit desire for the Church can be sufficient for salvation by no means implies that a implicit faith in Christ is both possible and sufficient for salvation. If, as I would argue (cf. note 15 above), God, since Pentecost, no longer enables any merely implicit supernatural acts of faith in Christ, then the only implicit desire for baptism that suffices for salvation (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1260) will be that of those who by the moment of death have reached perfect contrition and an explicit faith in Christ, but are still inculpably ignorant of our Lord’s’ command that his followers be baptized.

36 Lumen Gentium #14 (emphasis added), quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, #846, under the heading “Outside the Church there is no salvation”.

37 Apart from these, the only persons truly outside the Church will be those who retain both supernatural faith and a habitual will to remain subject to the Pope, but who have committed with full imputability one or more sins punished by the Church with excommunication, and have neither been validly absolved of these offences in the confessional nor have repented of them extra-sacramentally with perfect contrition. Every other human being will be either intra Ecclesiam or in porticu Ecclesiae.

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