Parts Five and Six of Seven Parts
Father Martin Stepanich, O.F.M., S.T.D.
[Editor's foreword: Although those who have been convinced that the distortion and misrepresentation of Catholic teaching on the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus made famous by the late Father Leonard Feeney is correct--and that all who disagree with it are execrable "heretics" who will be cast into Hell immediately upon their deaths, the truth is otherwise. Father Martin Stepanich, O.F.M., S.T.D., has been kind enough send me photocopies of seven articles that he wrote on the authentic Catholic teaching on the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. These articles appeared in The Remnant between November 3, 1973, and June 7, 1974. Those possessed of the false interpretation of the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus made the same arguments then, with the same demonic fury and pride, that are being made today by their successors.
[It is, therefore, with great joy that I present parts five and six of this series of articles for those who are open to learning the truth of Catholic teaching, and I thank Father Martin for his kindness in forwarding these articles to me.]
Part V: The "Heresy" of Invincible Ignorance, published on March 1, 1974
Ever since the appearance of the two-part article, "Outside the Church There Is No Salvation" (Remnant, Nov. 3 and Nov. 15, 1973), one thing that is increasingly clear is the intense dislike which those of the heretical Feeney persuasion have for such genuinely Catholic theological terminology as "invincible ignorance", "unconscious desire", "Baptism of desire", and the like. They apparently realize that the facts presented by such terminology are the death-blow to their heresy, and so their desire is to discredit it all by attributing it even to such monstrosities as modernism and Calvinism.
Not only Mrs. P. P., but scattered individuals from many sections of the country have taken violent exception to the truths represented by the above terminology--one of them presenting his protests with "righteous indignation", another scrawling "Shame on you!" on a Christmas card sent to the writer. In general, all of them use the same stereotyped reasoning, indicating that there is a common source of error to which they are drawn.
When they come face to face with any of the above terminology, or the concepts expressed by that terminology, either in papal documents or even in dogmatic declarations, they rashly presume to explain them away or brush them aside. Some of these critics have preferred to quote some particular writer's personal opinion as the "official teaching of the Church", even though the opinion be clearly at variance with papal teaching. Invincibly and inculpably ignorant non-Catholics, it has been alleged, can be saved only by such extraordinary means as that of an Angel from Heaven coming down to them to instruct and baptize them! And this is passed off as the "official teaching" of the Church!
In addition to this, a "knowledgeable theologian" (? ? ?) has been cited to the effect that the reward of invincibly and inculpably ignorant non-Catholics dying without Baptism of water is, simply stated, a more lenient punishment in hell!
As if that were not bad enough, there is also this: That the position taken in our November "Salvation" article is "identical to the interpretation given the dogma by Calvin at the time he broke from the Church". (!) This could only mean that the Popes quoted in the article are guilty of Calvinism! Of course, the truth is that Calvin represents the same kind of merciless rigorism that is manifest in the Feeney heresy, nor would he be in the slightest degree interested in the correct interpretation of the "Salvation Outside the Church" dogma that we have been upholding.
What stands out perhaps more than anything else in the protest letters received on the subject, is the unfortunate ignorance of the writers, a good percentage of whom are supposedly converts. One particular individual, who obviously has no idea just what "heresy really is, has charged that we are guilty of the "heresy" of invincible ignorance and that, moreover, a quack theologizer has "clearly" proven this to be so. The editor of The Remnant has also been admonished, in a sort of hush-hush, "let me tip you off" manner, of his responsibility to rectify this "terrible mistake".
Another critic, after firing off at us a somewhat incoherent statement as to what we, as Catholics, are obliged to believe and accept, suddenly concludes his broadside on this note: "Can you tell me in which Council or in which Ex-Cathedra statement you find 'Baptism of desire' or 'invincible ignorance'?"
As for "Baptism of desire", which will come up again in another article, all the reader in question has to do is to read--this time attentively!--the Nov. 15th part of the "Salvation article (p. 15) to see what the Ecumenical Council of Trent says about it.
It should be necessary to explain that a Council or an Ex Cathedra statement by a Pope need not, and would not be expected to, define as an article of faith the fact of "invincible ignorance" among non-Catholics before it can be considered in connection with authentic Catholic teaching. Since it was an encyclical letter that Pope Pius IX spoke of the possibility of "invincibly ignorant" non-Catholics being saved, it should suffice to recall here the following from the encyclical Humani Generis (1950) of Pope Pius XII:
Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me"; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine.
In view of such a clear-cut declaration by the Holy Father, who will be so brash as to by-pass the ordinary teaching of the encyclical and seek refuge in some more solemn declaration of a Council, or even an Ex Cathedra definition by a Pope? Heretics have tried this kind of escape maneuver before.
An emotionally disturbed soul, confessing confusion regarding the Church's salvation doctrine, warns: "Unless you come right out and tell us what constitutes 'invincible ignorance' . . . . you are putting more confusion on this most important mater,"--and then comes the unfinished sentence (exactly as the writer put it): "Unless you come out and specify what you mean by 'invincible ignorance' and 'unconscious desire'."
The charge of adding more confusion to this issue by using such an expression as 'invincible ignorance" is, of course, really directed at the Pope who used it--not to to mention the numerous traditional theologians of the past who have all made use of it in propounding genuine Catholic doctrine.
If it is necessary that we "come right out" and give the elementary explanation of what is meant by "invincible ignorance", then let us by all means come right out and say that it is a type of ignorance that cannot be so easily overcome or removed. and let us come right out and add that some of the well-known reasons for this kind of ignorance are: faulty upbringing, and education, lack of opportunities to learn, the disadvantages of the place where one lives, the deficiencies of the persons with whom one regularly associates, slowness of comprehensions, etc.
As for ignorance of the True Faith and the True Church, this varies so greatly among men--from the most uneducated heathen in a totally non-Christian environment to the fairly well-informed non-Catholic Christian--that it is impossible for man to say how much, if at all, any one individual is to blame for such ignorance. Only the all-knowing God can know this perfectly ad He alone can pass correct judgment on all without exception, so it is not for man to intrude into this domain. It is not for man t determine just which ones will be saved or lost, or to suggest the percentage of saved or lost, or to set limits to the Divine Power and Goodness and Mercy, or to specify what particular means the Lord may or may not use in saving souls.
In speaking of non-Catholics who are "invincibly ignorant of our Holy Religion", Pope Pius IX was stressing the fact that such persons are not be held automatically culpable before God for their invincible ignorance of the True Faith and the True Church when the do not wilfully contribute to that ignorance. These, he said, can merit eternal life despite their ignorance, provided that they persevere to the end in observing God's "Natural Law and its precepts", from which no one can be excused, and provided that they are "disposed to obey God" in whatever the may learn to be His Holy Will, and provided that they "lead an honest and upright life . . ."
The Holy Father could go no further than to make this general statement of principle in regard to the salvation of those who are not visibly and externally members of the One True Church. he had to leave the final decision as to the state of soul of each individual non-Catholic to the Most High, Who alone has "perfect knowledge, examines and judges the minds, the souls, the thoughts and deeds of all men .."
The saintly Pope did not condemn outright to eternal hellfire all those who are not visible members of the One True Church through Baptism of water, as the Feeneyites do. Rather, he gave credit to God's "sovereign Goodness and Mercy", which, as he said, "does not permit...any men not culpable of wilful sin to be punished with eternal torment." He did not tie down the Almighty Power of God, so as to make Him incapable of granting the graces of justification and salvation to those who may, through no wilful fault of their own, be prevented from knowing in full the True Faith and the True Church and from receiving Baptism of water.
In contradiction to the teaching of Pope Pius IX, the Feeneyites make a crucial mistake in rashly assuming that God does not take into consideration the invincible and inculpable ignorance of non-Catholics who die without Baptism of water, no do they respect the fact that, despite such ignorance, there are non-Catholics who nevertheless carefully observe the Natural Law and its precepts, are disposed to obey God, and lead an honest and upright life. The Feeneyites make the further mistake of giving God no other choice than to have such persons baptized with water--even if it be after death!--if He wishes to admit them into Heaven
Pope Pius IX was not, of course, excusing those who wilfully keep themselves ignorant of the True Faith and of the True Church, or who are not interested in seeking the Truth nor in obeying God's Will nor in leading an honest and upright life. He was not excusing those--whether non-Catholic or Catholic--"who knowingly rebel against the teaching authority of the Church". He was not excusing those Catholics who "wilfully separate themselves form union with the Church of the Roman Pontiff", thus placing themselves in the company of culpable non-Catholics.
Furthermore, the Holy Father was not excusing those Catholics who, while apparently accepting the rest of the Faith, nevertheless reject or distort one or the other of its Dogmas. He could not excuse those who are told over and over and over again of the correct interpretation of the dogmatic statement, "Outside the Church there is no salvation", and who are provided with evidence from papal documents, yet who persistently and wilfully refuse to listen and refuse to accept the correct understanding of the Dogma.
When Pius IX spoke of those non-Catholics who are "disposed to obey God", he was implying that such persons have the genuine desire and good will to know the Truths which God has revealed and to accept them, even if they do not fully understand them. He was implying that such persons are genuinely prepared to obey the Will of God whenever it is made known to them.
Pope Pius XII (quoted in our Nov. 3rd article) was speaking of precisely the same favorable dispositions of soul in certain non-Catholics when he said that "by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer".
Since we have been challenged to "come right out" and tell what is meant also by "unconscious desire", we again proceed to come right out and say that such a desire--a real desire, and not just a whimsy--is directed towards something of which one is not as yet fully or consciously aware. Thus, to get right to the point, non-Catholics of good will have in their souls the genuine desire to fulfill God's Will in all things, though they are not as yet aware of the specific details of the One True Faith which God requires them to accept. Their disposition of soul is such that they are prepared to accept whatever they find out God wants them to accept, even if they eventually find out that this is to accept the Catholic Faith and to be baptized, and thus become members of the One True Church, which they learn to be none other than the Roman Catholic Church. This genuine desire for the Truth is precisely what has led so many true converts into the One True Church.
It is merciless cruelty, as well as an awful and blasphemous insult to God, to insist that such persons, so well disposed to God, should be cast by Him into the eternal torment of hell if they die before they can learn the True Faith and be baptized in the Catholic Church.
Part VI: Those Three "Ex Cathedras," published on April 16,1974
The adherents of the Feeney heresy like to boast that they have incontrovertible proof for their erroneous position regarding salvation outside the Catholic Church in three declarations of the Popes are technically called "Ex Cathedra: declarations. "Ex Cathedra (pronounced CATH-e-dra) literally means "from the chair"-and, in this case,it means "from the Chair of Peter". A declaration of a Pope coming from the "Cathedra" or "Chair" of Peter is understood to mean a formal and official dogmatic declaration that is infallible and cannot be lawfully denied or rejected.
There are three "Ex Cathedra" declarations by three different Popes that the Feeney disciples triumphantly, though futilely, cite in their own favor, imagining that here they have evidence to show that their erroneous contention regarding the damnation of non-Catholics is the correct one.
We wish first to quote those three "Ex Cathedras" as they are presented in certain small pieces of pro-Feeneyism literature, sometimes in one arrangement, sometimes in another, and under such headings as "Ark of Salvation" and "Magisterium Ecclesiae" (in English: the Magisterium or Teaching Office of the Church).
Here, then, are those three "Ex Cathedras":
1. Ex Cathedra: "There is ut one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one can be saved."--Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.
2. Ex Cathedra: "We declare, say, define, and pronounce that 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", 1302.
3. Ex Cathedra: "The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart "into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church."--Pope Eugene IV, the Bull "Cantate Domino," 1441.
Before the Feeneyites can even begin to boast that here is proof for their heresy, they must first clearly and precisely state their own position, without taking refuge in generalities that can be interpreted to suit their purposes.
We have found the Feeneyites very reluctant to make any clear and precise definition of their real position. They will say, for example, that the words "Outside the Church there is no salvation" mean exactly what they say, yet they show that they do not want to understand what that dogmatic statement of the Church really does say. They take the word "outside" in an entirely shallow and external and naturalistic sense, seeing only the outer surface of the word, while failing to understand the supernatural Mystery of Grace to which the word refers. They scoff at the notion that the word is being used in connection with the Divine Treasure of Grace. They fear the deathblow to their heresy if they admit that "outside the Church" in this case is equivalent to "outside the Church's Treasure of Grace", so that anyone outside the Treasury of Grace, possessed solely by the One True Church, cannot be saved.
That is why it is useless for them to quote in their own favor the "Ex Cathedra" statement of Pope Innocent III, for they do not want to understand its real meaning. And it is particularly incongruous for them to use the "Ex Cathedra" of Pope Boniface VIII for their own purposes, because the glaring truth shining in their faces is the fact that their own founder and leader refused "to be subject to the Roman Pontiff" when he disobeyed repeated summonses to appear in Rome by January 31, 1953, where his case was to be examined and adjudged by the Holy Office. As a result of his disobedience, he incurred the threatened penalty of excommunication for his refusal to subject himself to the will of the Roman Pontiff.
The decree of excommunication for disobedience to the repeated summons of the Holy See is dated February 13, 1953, after it had been approved by Pope Pius XII on the previous day, February 12, 1953. This decree was published in the Vatican's official organ, called the Acta Apostolicae Sedis ("Acts of the Apostolic See"), vol. 45, issue of Feb. 16, 1953, page 100.
Whether, or when, this particular excommunication was lifted by competent authority is entirely independent of the central issue, namely, the correct understanding of the Church's Dogma, "Outside the Church there is no salvation". Even if Fr. Feeney was possibly absolved from this excommunication, the fact is that never did give up his erroneous interpretation of the Dogma of Salvation, as is evident from his writings on the matter in recent months. He has never accepted the official explanation of the Dogma as expounded by the Holy Office in a letter to Archbishop Cushing, dated August 8, 1949, which had been approved by Pope Pius XII on July 29, 1949. Thus, it is also in this case that he refused "to be subject to the Roman Pontiff". An English translation of the complete letter of the Holy Office was published belatedly (with the Latin version preceding it) in the "American Ecclesiastical Review", vol. 127, issue of October 1952, pp. 311-315.
The denial of the correct interpretation of a Dogma of the Faith is obviously equivalent to a denial of the Dogma itself, which is heresy. According to Canon law (Can. 2314, 1), one who contumaciously and openly teaches heresy automatically (or "ipso facto") incurs excommunication from the Church. Whether or not Fr. Feeney has incurred this excommunication--which holds as lon as one persists in heresy--is something that only the proper ecclesiastical authority would have to declare officially. We can limit ourselves here solely to stating these two facts: 1) that there is an automatic excommunication for open heresy, and that, as we have said, 2) a rejection of the correct interpretation of a Dogma of Faith is the equivalent to a rejection of the Dogma itself.
Since the Feeney followers like to shy away from exposing their true position clearly and precisely, let us do it for them, even using some of the authoritative language of Pope Boniface VIII to make it more emphatic--as follows:
"We of the Feeney persuasion declare, say, define and pronounce that all non-Catholics without exception who not visibly join the One True
Church before death, will be eternally lost; that all those who at death are not visibly and externally members of the One True Church through Baptism of water shall be condemned to hell; that there is no such thing as Baptism of Desire nor Baptism of Blood to save those who, through no wilful fault of their own, cannot receive the sacramental Baptism of water before death; that no one outside the visible membership in the One True Church, not even a little child, is ever invincibly and innocently ignorant of the One True Faith; that God may not, and indeed cannot, impart the graces of salvation to men except through Baptism of water; that unbaptized infants, including today's countless victims of abortion, are condemned to the fire of hell forever."
The disciples of Feeneyism have shown themselves horror-stricken, and some have burst into flames of unrighteous indignation, at seeing such precise and undeniable statements of their heresy. And Charley even shouted "Libel!" when confronted with the truth that Feeneyism must of necessity condemn unbaptized infants to eternal hellfire if Baptism of water is absolutely and unconditionally necessary for salvation--yet he failed to say just where such infants do end up. What else could their false and mercilessly rigorous interpretation of "Outside the Church there is no salvation" mean but an eternal hell for unbaptized infants?
These modern rigorists, who have taken such liberties with the Dogma of Salvation, have shown themselves unable to see anything but two extremes--that is, either ou must insist that all non-Catholics, whether or bad will or of good will, are automatically headed for eternal hellfire, or else you must of necessity maintain that all men can equally be saved. They apparently cannot or do not want to see the fact that ONLY those non-Catholics can e saved who are invincibly and innocently ignorant of the One True Faith and are properly disposed for it, and who, through no wilful fault of their own, are at death still outside visible membership in the One True Church.
To the "Ex Cathedra" of Pope Eugene IV the propagators of Feeneyism apply the same vague generalizations, that is, "It means just what it says", which they apply to the Dogma, "Outside the Church there is no salvation", but without reading it carefully in the light of the supernatural Mystery of Grace and in light of actual historical facts.
Thus, in order to protect this heresy, they are here again forced to give their own shallow interpretation to the Pope's words, "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". To them the expression, "existing outside the Catholic Church", can have only that same superficial and external meaning of theirs which does not recognize the supernatural and invisible workings of God's Grace in the souls of those non-Catholics whoa re in good faith and who genuinely desire and seek God's Truth and the fulfillment of His Holy Will.
Similarly, the conditional clause, "unless before death they are joined with Her", excludes for the Feeneyites the possibility of any invisible sanctification in the souls of those who are properly disposed for it. To the Feeneyites, the word "joined" means only a visible joining or union with the Catholic Church through Baptism of water, whereas the Catholic Truth is that properly disposed non-Catholics are invisibly joined to, or "related to", the One True Church through the grace of an invisible sanctification and, if they are thus at all properly disposed at death, they can be saved.
Speaking of "those who do not belong to the VISIBLE Body of the Catholic Church, Pope Pius XII said, in his Encyclical on the Mystical Body (Mystici Corporis, 1943), that "by an unconscious desire and longing THEY HAVE A CERTAIN RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MYSTICAL BODY OF THE REDEEMER" (emphasis added). This means that they are, through an invisible sanctification, "joined" to the Catholic Church, though not actual members of it, while the obligation remains to be baptized with water and to enter the One True Church formally and visibly.
The followers of Feeneyism have every reason to shudder if they thoughtfully read what Pope Eugene, in his "Ex Cathedra", says of the importance of the unit of the Catholic Church, and how "only those REMAINING within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation. . ." The know all too well that their own founder and leader failed to "remain" within the unity of the Catholic Church by rejecting the correct interpretation of her Dogma of Salvation and by refusing "to be subject to the Roman Pontiff" when ordered to come to Rome in 1953. According to their teaching, the word "remain" means just what it says. How can they consider themselves as "remaining" within the unity of the Church if the follow such a disobedient leader and if they accept his errors? How can they consider their "works of Christian piety" as worthy of "eternal recompense" if they "remain" in their errors? How can they presume to call themselves "Slaves of Mary" or "Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary", if they remain slaves of error and disobedience?
Pope Eugene adds even greater emphasis to the nee of "remaining within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church" by declaring that not even the most generous almsgiving or philanthropy, nor even martyrdom for the sake of Christ, can merit eternal salvation for one who separates himself from the Church through heresy. This tells us that there are genuine martyrs--that is, martyrs for the Truth--and there are false martyrs--that is, martyrs in defense of error. There is no merit for salvation in doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
So, then, it is evident that those three "Ex Cathedras" to which Feeneyites appeal are actually a condemnation of their errors.
It has been asked, "Just what is the REAL REASON why Father Feeney, who once taught the correct doctrine of salvation, suddenly switched to a rigorous and merciless interpretation of 'Outside the Church there is no salvation'? Was it possibly because of an intense hatred for certain groups of non-Catholics whom he could not stand seeing in Heaven?"
Whatever be the answer to these and other questions, the real reason for the sudden transfer form the correct Catholic doctrine to an intolerable rigorism could not possibly have been zeal for Truth. And we know that behind every heresy and every other kind of religious error lurks the shadow of the author of all heresy and error and lies and disobedience. It makes no difference to him what extreme of error be espoused by men, whether it be on the left or the right or in some other direction from the Truth, just as long as souls are ensnared in error and enslaved to him.
We can only hope that those who strangely call themselves"slaves" of Mary and her Immaculate Heart, while invincibly and innocently ignorant of the errors into which they have been misled, may show enough humility and good will so as to merit being led back to the Truth and to the Ark of Salvation by Our Lady, Destroyer of All Heresies. But they cannot merit this grace if they continue to close their eyes and ears and hearts to the Truth.