The Catholic Church and Salvation
All Catholics know and believe what was defined at the Lateran Council IV in 1215, namely that, “One indeed is the universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved.” We must believe that there is baptism of water, and the desire for that baptism, plus baptism of blood. We are greatly indebted to Monsignor Joseph Fenton for proper terminology to explain this dogma of the faith.
In his wonderful book entitled, “The Catholic Church and Salvation,” Msgr. Fenton analyzes “Suprema Haec Sacra,” a letter from the Holy Office issued on August 8, 1949 to Archbishop Cushing of Boston in response to the problem at St. Benedict Center at Cambridge. There, baptism of water alone was accepted as being within the Catholic Church.
Here is a thumbnail sketch of the document “Suprema haec sacra:”
- The teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church is a dogma of the Catholic faith.
- This dogma has always been taught, and will always be taught, infallibly by the Church’s magisterium.
- The dogma must be understood and explained as the Church’s magisterium understands and explains it.
- The Church is necessary for salvation with both a necessity of precept and a necessity of means.
- Because the Church is necessary for salvation with the necessity of precept, any person who knows the Church to have been divinely instituted by Our Lord and yet refuses to enter it or to remain within it cannot attain eternal salvation.
- The Church is a general and necessary means for salvation, not by reason of any intrinsic necessity, but only by God’s own institution, that is, because God in His merciful wisdom has established it as such.
- In order that a man may be saved “within” the Church, it is not always necessary that he belong to the Church, actually as a member, but it can sometimes be enough that he belong to it as one who desires or wills to be in it. In other words, it is possible for one who belongs to the Church only in desire to be saved.
- It is possible for this desire of entering the Church to be effective, not only when it is explicit, but also (when the person is invincibly ignorant of the true Church) even when that desire is merely implicit.
- The Mystici Corporis reproved both the error of those who teach the impossibility of salvation for those who have only an implicit desire of entering the Church, and the false doctrine of those who claim that men may find salvation equally in every religion.
- No desire to enter the Church can be effective for salvation unless it is enlightened by supernatural faith and animated or motivated by perfect charity.
“Within” or “Outside” the ChurchLet us consider number (7) above. Here Father Fenton give us the word “within.” The dogma of faith says, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” Here we have two important words as wonderful tools to work with. They are, “within” and “outside” the Catholic Church.
In his most important encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi, Pope Pius XII defined what membership in the Church meant. It means that one is baptized with water, has the true faith, is subject to the true Pope and is not excommunicated. Here, the key word is “member.” A member, of course, is “within” the Church.
Now we have two more steps to make. One can be “within” the Church as a member and by true desire. Next we consider two important words of number (8) above, namely, “explicit” desire and “implicit” desire. Both these conditions of soul put one “within” the Catholic Church. In such a state of soul, one can receive forgiveness of sin and receive sanctifying grace.
“Explicit” and “Implicit” Desire to Enter the ChurchWe shall explain what “explicit” desire means. When a catechumen knows about the Church, about baptism and the like, he then has the choice to desire to enter the Church by baptism of water or not. If he turns with the help of grace to God and His Church in such a desire, he is then “within” the Church, with what we call an “explicit” act of desire. With that desire in his heart, he can make an act of perfect contrition. The result would be that he is freed from his sins, and he receives sanctifying grace. In that state he is ready for heaven.
Next, we explain the term “implicit” as it is found in number (8) above. Note that the term is modified by the word merely. Many thought that “implicit” desire to enter the Church was not enough. Let us explain the meaning of “implicit” desire to enter the Church. It means that a person who knows and believes explicitly the four things necessary for salvation is already in a state of soul which is pleasing to God. Let us say that the person is taken away after that instruction to a prison camp. There, no one will give him any more instruction. However, he desires the instruction with all his heart. Hence, his ignorance of the other truths of the faith is an invincible ignorance. He sincerely wants the knowledge and the reality Christ’s true Church has for him. With that desire and with the movement of actual grace that man or woman can make an act of perfect contrition. The effect of that act of perfect contrition will be that he or she will receive forgiveness of sins and also sanctifying grace. Again, in that state one is ready for the everlasting joys of heaven.
Four Things Necessary for SalvationLest some persons reading this be confused about the four things necessary for salvation, I shall say what they are in just four words:
Efficacious Desire to Enter the ChurchWe must consider another very important factor. The desire, whether it is explicit or merely implicit, must be truly efficacious. Let us take a simple example of an efficacious desire. A person desires to go to Australia. He gets a passport, a visa, a ticket, a flight reservation, and so forth. Even though he is not yet in Australia, he has an efficacious desire to get there, known by all the preparations.
Another person with an in-efficacious desire is a person who merely wants to go to Australia, but he does nothing about it at all. He has the money, and he has the time, but he does nothing about getting ready.
Now apply this to people in the world in regard to our holy religion, the Catholic Church. Many, yes very many desire to be in the true Church that Christ founded. However, not all of them have an efficacious desire, and unless the desire is efficacious, the act of contrition will not effect forgiveness of sins and the obtaining of sanctifying grace. Once again, “Outside the Church there is no salvation,” no forgiveness of sin, and there will be no obtaining of sanctifying grace.
A Caution from Pope Pius IXWe have another caution to give, and it is not mine but it is from Pope Pius IX. In “The Sources of Catholic Dogma” by Denzinger, we read some very sharp words from that holy pontiff. In number 1647, the pope chides those who go too deeply into the practical order. Who has that desire? What are the hidden workings of grace? The last words of that paragraph are, “it is unlawful to proceed further in inquiry.” Pope Pius IX then goes on to tell us to work and pray that all men may come to the knowledge of the true Church and lovingly join that true Church.
The Age of Reason - Decision TimeI urge those who have Fr. Fenton’s wonderful book to read it and re-read it. On pages 71 - 72, we find a wonderful study on un-baptized persons coming to the age of reason. When such a person reaches the age of reason, he must make a decision to enter the divine order (the kingdom of Heaven) or to go contrary to the kingdom of Heaven, namely to enter the kingdom of Satan. As stated above, his efficacious desire takes away original sin and gives him sanctifying grace. The opposite desire (rebellion) puts into his soul his first mortal sin.
Work and Pray for All Mankind
While we thank God for our faith and presence “within” the Church, we must work and pray that all men may find and live “within” the one ark of salvation, the Holy Roman Catholic Church.