Friday, 16 July 2010

Who then can be saved? Traditionalist and modernist heresies and the scope for legitimate theological debate Part I.

One of the issues that keeps coming back in the context of modern theological debates is the question of how broad the scope of salvation potentially is. 

The debate

It is an important issue, because liberal promotion of the idea of almost universal salvation (encouraged by theologians such as von Balthasar and his concept of an empty hell) have served to completely undermine the idea that we must hold to and practice the Catholic faith and proclaim it to others.

But as ever, heresy holds sway at both extremes of the debate, with sede vacentists and other 'extreme traditionalist' heresies such as feeneyism also gaining ground in some circles.

Somewhere in the middle?

On the conservative side, some traditionalists want Vatican II teachings on the scope of salvation condemned.  A recent article on Romano Amerio's (of Iota Unum fame) latest book by Sandro Magister, for example, cites the idea that "the pagans to whom the Gospel is not proclaimed, if they follow the dictates of natural justice and try to seek God with sincerity, will go to the beatific vision" as an example of an error that they claim has long been condemned, and should now be condemned ex cathedra. 

That is certainly a position that stands in stark contrast with that taken in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The Compendium of the CCC, summarises the position as (No 262):

"Since Christ died for the salvation of all, those can be saved without Baptism... all those who, even without knowing Christ and the Church, still (under the impulse of grace) sincerely seek God and strive to do his will can also be saved without Baptism (Baptism of Desire)...."

Is the CCC's position reconcilable with tradition on this subject?

In fact I think it is.  The Roman Matyrology recognises many Old Testament figures as saints.  Dante placed some of the great pagan philosophers in heaven.  And fully traditional texts such as the Baltimore Catechism go so far as to allow that those who through their own grave fault do not know that the Catholic Church is the true Church can in fact be saved.

But this is an area where both traditionalist and modernist heresies currently run rife.  And one that it is difficult to get a good handle on because it is one of those areas of theology where there have been relatively few dogmatic teachings defined, and thus there is a large area for legitimate theological debate.

So I thought I'd have a go at sketching out some of the nuances of this debate over a couple of posts, not least to attempt to clarify my own thinking on the subject.  Feel free to leap in and correct me if you think I've got it wrong (or simply don't agree).

It is worth setting out first the outright errors.

'Traditionalist' heresies

There are more than a few 'extreme traditionalist' heresies and potentially erroneous opinions around on this subject, so let me set them out as a starting point, before I turn to the other end of the spectrum.

1.  The Church doesn't mean the institutional Church.  Actually this is one of those heresies that afflict the liberal end of the spectrum as well, but let's talk about the traditionalist version of it first.  Last week I got a message on my phone from some sede vacentist nutter (thanks so much to whoever gave him my name and/or number) that I at first took to be a comment on a post I wrote recently, because it started out with a firm admonition that 'outside the Church there is no salvation'.  But perhaps not, since he then went on to inform me that all those in the Vatican were heretics...

Of course it is possible that individual members of the curia could be heretics.  As Catholics though, we have to believe that the doctrine of the indefectability of the Church, of the protection accorded to the successors of Peter.  In particular, we need to believe that the indwelling of the Holy Ghost that enables the Church to teach (correctly, albeit within some limits), sanctify (ie the sacraments must be valid if performed in accordance with the decrees of Rome) and rule (govern) the faithful in the name of Christ (see the Baltimore Catechism no 3, no 143).

2.  Anyone not baptised and not a visible member of the Catholic Church cannot be saved (feeneyism): Feeneyism is another popular heresy on the extreme traditionalist side of the ledger. It is a heresy not least because it denies the notion of 'baptism of desire' (those who die before baptism but with a desire to receive it) and 'baptism of blood' (martyrdom for the faith on the part of the unbaptised). 

The real area of theological debate that I think does remain open to some legitimate debate alluded to in the Magister article mentioned above is just what constitutes baptism of desire - how explicit a knowledge of God, the Church and the faith, for example, is required, or can it be entirely implicit?  A sub-set of this debate goes to the question of whether the Islamic God is the same as as the Christian God - and hence whether Muslims can be saved.  I'll come back to these questions in a later post.

Modernist heresies

At the other extreme comes the idea that (virtually) everyone is saved.  The argument goes that Catholics have to believe in the concept of hell  (true) - but not that there is anyone in it (but doesn't that make the concept utterly meaningless?).  There are a number of variants on this that are worth setting out.

1) Von Balthasar's idea that hell is empty - which has been comprehensively demolished and shown to be heretical in a book by Alyssa Pitstick.  A great exchange on this subject in the journal First Things is alas no longer available online unless you have a subscription to that journal, but a useful explication of von Balthasar's arguments and why they are wrong can be found at New Oxford Review.

2) The almost empty hell - for example because everyone gets another chance to repent at or after the moment of death.  The Catholic teaching is that anyone who definitively persists in mortal sin (including rejection of the faith) will be condemned.  So some have conjured up the idea that we get one last chance to change our minds, thus no need even for the deathbed repentance.  A variant of this idea is that since God is outside of time and space, we can pray for those who might perhaps have been in a state of mortal sin at their death, and potentially change the outcome for them.  It's a comforting thought.  But there is absolutely no Scriptural or traditional basis for it, so you wouldn't want to depend upon it!  And while we can certainly pray for the dead in the hope that they are in purgatory and thus need our prayers - we are not God, and do live in time.  Once particular judgment has been passed, which occurs immediately after death, it is out of our hands!

3) Living a 'good life' is enough - Some take the view that one religion or denomination or another is as good as belonging to the Church, or even that no religion at all is fine so long as someone lives a 'good' life.  A famous variant of this idea is the theologian Karl Rahner's idea of  'anonymous Christians', potentially including even those who have explicitly rejected the faith.  That is clearly not the teaching of the Church in my view.  The Church does allow that God can give graces to those outside the (fullness of the) visible Church through no fault of their own.  But the fullness of the means of salvation belong to the Church, and the Church provides the safest means to achieving salvation.

More anon.

4 comments:

Catholic Mission said...

The dogma says everyone needs to be a visible member of the Catholic Church.

'...it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” (Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 302.). Ex Cathedra

'...none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation...

No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.” - (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.) Ex Cathedra

When people say that everybody needs to enter the Catholic Church except for those in invincible ignorance, with the baptism of desire and a good conscience it could be right or wrong depending on the interpretation.

1. It is WRONG if they mean that every one does not need to become a visible member of the church. Then this is a new doctrine and contrary to the Deposit of the Faith.

2. It is RIGHT if they mean every one does have to become a visible member of the Catholic Church to avoid Hell and if there is anyone with the Baptism of Desire, genuine invincible ignorance and a good conscience it will be known only to God.

(Note: Above I affirm the Baptism of Desire, invincible ignorance and a good conscience and I also affirm the dogma that everybody needs to be a visible member of the Catholic Church to avoid Hell.)

Extra eccleisam nulla salus means outside the Church there is no salvation. For Catholics, this Latin phrase expresses the official teaching of the Catholic Magisterium today . It says everyone, with no exceptions must be an explicit, visible member of the Catholic Church to go to Heaven and avoid Hell. So it is not just Feeneyism as you call it.


Vatican Council II Ad Gentes 7 repeats the same message.
In Ad Gentes 7 it is said all people need Catholic Faith and the Baptism of water for salvation. All means everyone with no exception.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Vatican has positively endorsed the ex cathedra dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus in Responses to Some questions regarding certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church in which it refers to ‘the traditional doctrine’, ‘according to Catholic doctrine’


The Catechism of the Catholic Church also says everyone needs to be a visible member of the Catholic Church.

To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood.-Catechism of the Catholic Church n.845



-Lionel Andrades

Terra said...

Lionel - I'm not sure whether or not we are really disagreeing?

You are correct in saying that the doctrine is that 'outside the Church there is no salvation'. But interpreting just what that means in practice is the issue, and out of context quotes from papal documents of varying levels of authority doesn't really help.

The issue may in part be over what we mean by 'visible' - by which I mean baptised, in communion with Rome and receiving the sacraments. If one read the phrases you have cited literally, catechumens are not part of the 'visible Church' - are you suggesting they cannot be saved? (I don't think you are, but I'm just checking). What about those who know nothing of the Church but genuinely seek God? The most difficult group I think is members of protestant sects that ended there through no real knowledge of catholicisim - do they suffer from invincible ignorance?

Terra said...

Ps A quote from the 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia may be helpful here:

"The doctrine is summed up in the phrase, Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. This saying has been the occasion of so many objections that some consideration of its meaning seems desirable. It certainly does not mean that none can be saved except those who are in visible communion with the Church. The Catholic Church has ever taught that nothing else is needed to obtain justification than an act of perfect charity and of contrition. Whoever, under the impulse of actual grace, elicits these acts receives immediately the gift of sanctifying grace, and is numbered among the children of God. Should he die in these dispositions, he will assuredly attain heaven...."

Catholic Mission said...

Terra,
Praised be Jesus and Our Lady.
By 'visible' - I also ‘ mean baptised, in communion with Rome and receiving the sacraments.’
This is what the ex cathedra dogma says. Everyone needs to be baptized, in communion with Rome and receiving the sacraments’ to avoid Hell and go to Heaven.
Let St.Pius XII help us out. It is clear and simple. In the Letter of the Holy Office 1949 he affirms ‘the dogma’ and calls it the ‘infallible’teaching. We agree the dogma says everyone needs to be a visible member of the Catholic Church for salvation.
So the Church is the ordinary means of salvation (Redemptoris Missio 55) and everyone on earth needs to enter it with no exception.
Then the Letter tells us that ‘in certain circumstances’ a person can be saved who is not a visible member of the Catholic Church but has genuine invincible ignorance or a ‘desire and longing’. Since it is known only to God in certain circumstances and unknown to us , for us, it is always a concept and can never be a reality. It is always implicit and can never be explicitly known and neither can it be repeated like explicit Baptism of water.So there is no de facto case of the Baptism of Desire that we know of and so it cannot contradict the infallible teaching that everyone needs to be a visible member of the Church for salvation.
Similarly St. Thomas Aquinas taught that everyone de facto needs to be a visible member of the Church to avoid Hell and as a concept(de jure) there could be the man in the forest(invincible ignorance).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1257 says everyone needs the Baptism of water (de facto) to avoid Hell and yet 1257 also says God is not limited to the Sacraments( Dejure as a concept it is possible. In reality we do not know any case. Everyone needs Catholic Faith which includes the Baptism of water for adults)
So Lumen Gentium 16 refers to those saved implicitly and so it does not contradict the ex cathedra dogma.
Ad Gentes 7 says all need to be a visible member of the Catholic Church, with Catholic Faith and the Baptism of water. The Catechism repeats the same message. This is affirming what the media criticizes as ‘the rigorist interpretation’ of the dogma.
So Vatican Council II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Letter of the Holy Office 1949 are in accord with the ex cathedra dogma, which is an infallible teaching for all time.
So the catechumen being saved is a dejure, concept and does not contradict the dogma.

Lionel