Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Taking Jesus as Lord and Savior" is this Catholic? part-IV--Magisterial Ambiguity.

Magisterial Ambiguity

It seems that for Saint Thomas, the infidel of the age of the New Testament has a greater obligation than the gentile living in the time of the Old Testament. The question might well be raised: why isn’t the case of the gentiles of the old law the same as that of the new law unbeliever? In other words, isn’t implicit faith in Christ enough for the unevangelized of today as it was enough for the pagans of the Old Testament? The answer in the negative stems from the fact that a more perfect faith in the Incarnation is required by virtue of the more perfect revelation of the new law (p. 70). [Catholic Vox is working on a better explanation] Tyrrell has a footnote here indicating that this is the way Aquinas is understood by R. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., arguably the greatest Thomist theologian of the last century (cf. The Theological Virtues: Faith [St. Louis: Herder, 1965] p. 224). 


Garrigou disagrees mildly with Thomas, opining that what he says is right as a general rule, but that God may still accept implicit faith in exceptional cases. R. Lombardi (1956), M. Labourdette, R. Bernard (1950), and S. Harent (1927) all recognize that Thomas holds a strict view, even though all four disagree with him and take the more liberal view that implicit faith is still (after the coming of Christ) supernatural and salvifically sufficient for sincere pagans. J.F. Quigley, in an ‘Angelicum’ doctoral dissertation of 1984 on almost the same subject, also concludes that Thomas holds the strict view; but Tyrrell does not say whether Quigley personally agrees with it or not. The French Thomist T. Pegues (1915) recognizes that Thomas takes the strict view, and agrees with him without reservation.

 The only commentator Tyrrell could find who thinks Thomas might have accepted an ‘implicit faith’ as still sufficient to save unevangelized pagans living after Christ is T. O’Brien (1964), who argues, rather implausibly, that when Thomas says that “all men” (omnes) need an explicit faith in at least the Trinity and the Incarnation, he just means “all” who have been baptized in the Catholic Church. Apart from authorities quoted by Tyrrell, the great Spanish Thomist Antonio Royo Marín, O.P., whose theological manuals have been widely used in many Spanish-language seminaries round the world for the last halfcentury, recognizes both St. Thomas and St. Alphonsus as having taught the universal need for explicit faith in the Trinity and Incarnation, and comments that although “it is not proven with absolute certainty that explicit faith is necessary for salvation by necessity of means, this is the most probable opinion”
(Teologia Moral, vol. I, 7th edition, [Madrid: BAC, 1996], p. 285, my translation).

The very first Catholic theologians Fr. Sullivan can find who supported ‘implicit faith’ in Christ as still having a supernatural, salvific character after Pentecost, (in his book: "Salvation Outside the Church? Tracing the History of the Catholic Response") lived a full fifteen hundred years after Christ. They wrote in the mid-16th century, beginning with the Belgian theologian Albert Pigge (or Pighi) in 1542,17 who was soon followed by the Spanish Salamanca Dominican priests Melchior Cano and Domingo Soto. In 1547 Cano stretched the existing tradition to its limit by proposing that implicit faith could still, in the Christian era, suffice for justification – forgiveness of sins and the infusion of sanctifying grace in the present life – among unevangelized pagans like the American Indians.

However, Cano still just managed to keep within the limits set by the Council of Florence; for he insisted that, even after a pagan’s justification by implicit faith in Christ, this faith would still have to be ‘upgraded’ to the explicit level before death. If this did not happen, he would at some stage lose the sanctifying grace he had received, and so would be eternally lost. (St. Robert Bellarmine was to adopt essentially the same position as Cano half a century later. In spite of Sullivan’s professed uncertainty on this point, it seems clear to me from the context that the “greater light of faith” which St. Robert said the good pagan would still need to acquire after justification in order to reach eternal salvation could only be the “light” of an explicit knowledge of Christ. Given the theological state of the question at that time, there is really nothing else it could mean.)

A few years after Cano’s treatise, however, his colleague Fr. Domingo Soto followed Fr. Pigge in crossing the line into real doctrinal novelty. Pigge and Soto did not make Cano’s distinction between the faith-requirements for justification and eternal salvation respectively, and maintained that such a post-Pentecost pagan’s ‘implicit faith’ in Christ can be enough to get him all the way to heaven, provided that by the moment of death he at least believes consciously in God on the terms laid down in Hebrews 11: 6 and also possesses charity as a result of perfect contrition for his sins.

Before long, however, theologians still more ‘progressive’ were claiming that this position itself was still a half-way house – or maybe that Pigge and Soto had only succeeded in making it to first base. Indeed, the rest of Fr. Sullivan’s book could be roughly summarized as an account of how, in the succeeding centuries, other scholars –notably his own fellow-Jesuits – picked up this ball (to switch metaphors yet again!) and started running with it, extending step by step the concept of ‘invincible ignorance’ so as to make it cover ever more categories of non-Christians, as they reduced step by step the minimum explicit belief-content held to be necessary for the existence of the theological virtue of faith.

We read how that reduction finally descends to the point of absolute zero in the notorious ‘anonymous Christians’ theory of Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J. Rahner requires absolutely no particular explicit belief-content at all, since he claims that not only pantheists, polytheists and agnostics, but even outright atheists, can have 'implicit faith' in Jesus Christ. According to Rahner, the sincere atheist fulfills the Gospel’s faith requirement for salvation provided only that he “accepts a moral demand from his
conscience as absolutely valid for him and embraces it as such in a free act of affirmation”.

Never mind what one’s conscience tells one to do, it seems. Are we to suppose that the Aztec priest ripping out human hearts on the altar of the serpent God, the Hindu insisting on burning alive his friend’s widow, and the suicide bomber screaming praises to Allah as he rams a jet plane into a skyscraper – that all these ever-so-sincere chaps are really just expressing the divine gift of Christian faith – each in his own . . . highly creative way?

That “straight and narrow” path which our Lord says leads to salvation – adding that “few there be that find it” – now seems to have been wondrously transmuted into a broad and smooth highway that just about everyone will find. Fr. Sullivan freely acknowledges that, even three centuries before his own Society of Jesus had plumbed these rock-bottom depths of content-free ‘implicit faith’, it had already reached a radical level of theological novelty in the person of Fr. Juan De Lugo, S.J., who back in 1646 was already anticipating Rahner’s ‘anonymous Christians’ theory. He proposed openly that at least a monotheist such as a Jew or a Muslim, assuming he is sincere and therefore endowed with ‘implicit faith’, “should not be called a non-Christian, because, in the sight of God he will be reckoned with the Christians”.

Fr. Sullivan twice describes De Lugo’s innovation as “revolutionary”, justifying his use of such a strong word with the following comment: “After all, the Council of Florence had declared it to be a matter of faith to hold that all pagans, Jews, heretics and schismatics who died outside the Catholic Church would inevitably be damned to hell”.

Indeed it had declared precisely that! And I submit that the stark contrast between that Council’s solemn declaration on the one hand, and on the other, the “revolutionary” and now rampant contrary opinion that has become increasingly diffused throughout the Church for close to half a millennium, constitutes a serious challenge to the consistency, and, therefore, the credibility, of the Catholic religion. For, as we shall see shortly, the magisterium itself has gone through a phase of uncertainty or vacillation over the last 150years.

This revolutionary theology of Juan de Lugo that has now become very much mainstream invites us to ask this paradoxical riddle:

When is a Jew not a Jew?

Answer: “When he sincerely disbelieves Christianity and devoutly believes the Torah and Talmud”.

Now, that would certainly be astounding news to our Jewish brethren themselves. For the type of person they regard – very reasonably – as the archetypal Jew, the model Jew, is declared by Fr. De Lugo and his followers not to be a Jew at all! That leads to another conundrum:

Question: “If a Jew who sincerely disbelieves Christianity and devoutly believes the Torah and Talmud is not really a Jew, then what is he?”
And our modern sages assure us:

ANSWER: “He is really a Christian”.

Wouldn’t this strike Jews as still more condescending and insulting? Such an answer naturally prompts one more riddle:

Question: “Well, if sincere and devout Jews are all really Christians deep-down, then who are the real Jews?”

The only logical answer would of course have to be:

ANSWER: “The real Jews are those who are not sincere and devout. That is, insincere and religiously apathetic Jews”.

In other words, the only real Jew is a bad Jew, according to the liberal logic of today’s Jesuit-led school of thought! Let me emphasize once more: That conclusion, which I agree will justly offend every Jew, is nevertheless clearly implied, not by the conservative Christian position I am defending today, but by the liberal Christian position that I am attacking!

One well-known theologian – a defender of ‘implicit faith’ – to whom I showed the previous draft of this paper commented that I am over-simplifying De Lugo’s position here. According to him, the 17th-century Spaniard does not intend to affirm baldly and unreservedly the ‘Christian’ status of the sincere and devout Jew; rather, he is taking the more nuanced position that such a person is explicitly a Jew but implicitly a Christian.

In reply, I would note, first, that De Lugo’s own words – asserting that such a person “should not be called a non-Christian” – seem to me pretty categorical and un-nuanced. Secondly, even if we suppose that De Lugo’s position is in fact this more nuanced one, his contention that such a person can be saved is then exposed more obviously than ever as being irreconcilable with the teaching of Florence. How so?

Well, as all will agree, when the Council Fathers spoke of “Jews”, they had in mind the religious, not merely racial or ethnic, sense of the word. And the meaning they attached to that word was indisputably the same meaning that all others, Jews and gentiles alike, always have attached to it in this religious context – namely, those persons who profess Judaism. That is, the word “Jews” means, precisely and essentially, ‘those who are explicitly Jewish in their religion’. And the Council affirms categorically that no one who dies as such can be saved, since he will be dying outside the Catholic Church. In short, the Council of Florence, in opposition to Fr. De Lugo’s putatively ‘nuanced’ position, indisputably means to say that dying as an ‘explicit Jew’ is in itself a certain and sufficient condition for eternal damnation. The dictionary definitions of “Jew” (in the religious, not ethnic, sense) invariably express in one way or another the explicit, consciously followed, character of the beliefs in question. (Cf., for instance, The Concise Oxford Dictionary (OUP, 1964): “one who professes Judaism”)It follows logically that any ‘implicit’ disposition whatsoever that also happens to be harbored in the soul of such a Jew at the moment of death will do nothing whatsoever to alter that dreadful destiny. Mutatis mutandis, the same will hold for all those the Council Fathers qualify as “pagans”, a word they clearly understand to cover all the unbaptized who explicitly hold any religious (or irreligious) beliefs whatsoever other than Christianity or Judaism.

So, if De Lugo’s theory – claiming that devout and sincere Jews and Muslims are really, though ‘implicitly’, Christians – is now starting to sound to you like indefensible double-talk, then I agree entirely. Oddly enough, that is the way Rahner’s ‘anonymous Christians’ theory sounded to none other than the Rev. Hans Küng. For this theological luminary “summarily dismissed” Rahner’s theory as a “theological fabrication” which gives mere face-saving lip-service to the dogma Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. It is, says Küng sarcastically, “an elegant gesture which sweeps the whole of good-willed humanity into the back door of the holy Roman church”. In other words, it almost turns the old dogma into a new one that could be formulated as “Extra Ecclesiam nullus est” (“Outside the Church . . . nobody is!”). It is not, of course, that Küng differs from Rahner on the substantive issue of whether all those countless members of “good-willed humanity” will be saved, regardless of which religion (if any) they profess at the time of death. He, like Rahner, has no doubt that they will all breeze straight through the Pearly Gates. It is simply that Professor Küng tends to be more up-front and straightforward in propounding his errors and heresies than those in the more subtle Jesuit tradition.

So his point is simply that Rahner’s position, while purporting merely to “reinterpret” the ancient extra Ecclesiam dogma, is in fact quite incompatible with it; so it would be better and more honest, in Küng’s opinion, for us all to follow him in openly rejecting the Florentine dogma itself as simply false – as a monumental, thousand-year error on the part of Holy Mother Church. (This is a man, remember, who is notorious for dissenting from the fundamental dogma of the Church’s infallibility, and who for nearly years now has been officially categorized by Rome, for this and other reasons, as being “no longer a Catholic theologian”.)

Indeed, centuries before Rahner was born, his Jesuit predecessor De Lugo was, as we have seen, also engaged in playing the “reinterpretation” game: keeping the existing words of a Catholic dogma while changing their hitherto accepted meaning. This radical procedure perhaps had some excuse at the time, because even though such a hermeneutical ploy is self-evidently a potentially lethal threat to any and every Catholic dogma, the Church’s magisterium had not yet explicitly condemned it. However, in 1870, the sword of Damocles fell in no uncertain terms. Faced with modernistic theological currents that spoke of an “evolution” in the church’s dogmas whereby their meaning could be altered in the light of new human knowledge, Vatican Council I solemnly defined:

If anyone shall have said that it is possible that to the dogmas declared by the Church a meaning must sometimes be attributed according to the progress of science, different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema” (DZ1818)

I have never seen any attempt by the champions of ‘implicit faith’ to address seriously the objection that their theory runs up against this Vatican I anathema. Fr. Sullivan’s book nowhere even mentions it – not even in a footnote.

But are not these ‘progressive’ theologians doing precisely what it anathematizes?

Does the Council of Florence proclaim dogmatically that all dying as Jews and pagans are outside the Church and so will be damned?

Well, yes it does. So we shall ‘solve’ that problem by the simple expedient of re-defining ‘good’ and ‘sincere’ Jews and pagans as really being non-Jews and non-pagans! That is, a new and different meaning is to be given to the words “Jews” and “pagans” in the Bull Cantate Domino. Instead of signifying all those who profess the Jewish and pagan religions respectively, those two words are (according to the revisionists) to be taken henceforth as signifying only those who profess these religions insincerely or without conviction. Only those who die with this deep-down attitude of indifference to, or even willful rejection of, religious truth are (we are now assured) the “Jews” and “pagans” whom Florence consigns to the “eternal fire”; for their sincere and truth-loving co-religionists, being good Christians deep down (and so at least implicitly subject to the Roman Pontiff) are not really ‘outside the Church’ after all!

I submit that this is all simply nonsense.

Fr. Sullivan also fails to mention in his book another important magisterial decision supporting ECNS, dating from about half a century after De Lugo’s revolutionary theory. The Holy Office under Pope Clement XI in 1703 answered two questions from the Bishop of Quebec. The first is whether a missionary can baptize a perilously ill (moribundus) Indian who so far knows nothing of Christian truth, but who promises to take instruction in the faith in the event that he should recover from his illness.

The second question also has to do with such an emergency situation, but prescinds from whether or not any such promise to take instruction is given. This time it is simply postulated that the dangerously ill Indian’s explicit knowledge is limited more or less to that described in Hebrews 11: 6. That is, he knows only “of God and some of his attributes, especially his justice in rewarding and punishing”. In other words, any belief such an Indian might have had in Jesus Christ would so far be only implicit at best.

The response of the Holy Office is negative to both questions:

A missionary should not baptize one who does not believe explicitly in the Lord Jesus Christ, but is bound to instruct him about all those matters which are necessary, by a necessity of means, according to the capacity of the one to be baptized”.

Catholic theology distinguishes between two kinds of necessity:
necessity of means” and “necessity of precept”. “Precept” means a moral ‘necessity’, that is, moral
obligation, to obey a lawful command (precept) issued by God or a human authority. This obligation to obey begins only after the person has heard and understood the precept in question, so that invincible
ignorance of its existence (or of its lawfulness) completely excuses a person who fails to obey it.

But the kind of necessity specified here by the Holy Office in relation to explicit Christian belief – a “necessity of means” – is the kind of necessity which is not canceled out or rendered inapplicable by invincible ignorance. For it refers to a means which you simply need to have at your disposal in order to attain a certain end, just as you need access to a ship or a plane if you want to get to England from America.

So what the Holy Office was saying is that even if your total ignorance of Christ is invincible – like that of the pagan Indians the Bishop of Quebec was writing in about – you cannot be baptized, even in danger of these essential doctrinal matters are said to be the Trinity and the Incarnation. In other words, the magisterium was here upholding the teaching of St. Thomas and the ECNS consensus of the first fifteen Christian centuries. For, underlying this Holy Office decision, is the premise that an adult who does not explicitly believe in Jesus Christ lacks the theological virtue of faith – the first and most basic prerequisite for justification – and so cannot be baptized, even in grave danger of death.

Although Fr. Sullivan fails to mention this 1703 Vatican decision (which has never been rescinded) anywhere in his own historical survey, he does go on to acknowledge that it was mainly the Jesuits, in the two centuries or so after De Lugo, who promoted the contrary idea that non-Christians can be saved by a merely implicit faith in Christ; and he admits that, especially in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the Jesuits were temporarily suppressed, approved Catholic theologians followed the strict ECNS position of the Fathers and St. Thomas Aquinas.31 After the restoration of the Jesuits in 1814, however, the more liberal view made a strong comeback, especially through the prestige of the Roman theologian Giovanni Perrone, S.J.,32 whose views very probably influenced Blessed Pope Pius IX.33

Two interventions of this pontiff are now generally held to give the stamp of positive magisterial approval to the anti-Thomistic position, thereby paving the way for its further supposed confirmation at Vatican Council II. I would maintain, however, that Blessed Pius IX’s statements do not in fact rule out the ancient ECNS teaching. In the 1854 allocution Singulari Quadam, the Pope said:
Certainly we must hold it as of faith that no one can be saved outside of the apostolic Roman Church, that this is the only ark of salvation, that the one who does not enter this is going to perish in the deluge. But nevertheless we must likewise hold it as certain that those who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if that ignorance be invincible, will never be charged with any guilt on this account before the eyes of the Lord.

In fact, this statement is perfectly compatible with the ECNS position. For Augustine, Aquinas, and the mainstream pre-Jesuit tradition had never suggested that anyone invincibly ignorant of the true religion would be charged with guilt “on this account”, that is, on account of their ignorance itself. But this did not mean they could be saved if they remained in such ignorance of the Gospel right up until death. As we have already noted, patristic and medieval tradition held that such persons would be damned because of other unreprented sins; for all those who did repent of grave sins weighing on death, precisely because you are presumed not to have the theological virtue of faith which is an absolutely necessary prerequisite for justification and admission to Church membership.

Their own conscience, and who persevered in seeking after truth and righteousness, would never in fact be left in ignorance of the Gospel right until death. Indeed, the ECNS position seems more readily reconcilable with that of Pius IX than the ‘implicit faith’ theory. For in that same allocution the Pope not only insists that “no one can be saved outside of the apostolic Roman Church”, but describes as an “impious and deadly” error – one which he tells the bishops to “drive out of the minds of men” – the opinion “that the way of salvation can be found in any religion”.

But if there really existed people who died as good-willed and truth-seeking Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., and if such persons then reached eternal salvation, then would not every reasonable person then have to admit the truth of the opinion that “the way of salvation can be found in any religion”?

Nine years later, in the encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerere addressed to the Italian bishops, Pius IX made some similar observations, as follows:

Here we must again mention and reprove a most serious error in which some Catholics have unhappily fallen, thinking that men living in errors and altogether apart from the the true faith and Catholic unity can attain to eternal life. [Nevertheless] it is known to us and to you that those who labor in invincible ignorance concerning our most holy religion and who, assiduously observing the natural law and its precepts which God has inscribed in the hearts of all, and being ready to obey God, live an honest and upright life, can, through the working of the divine light and grace, attain eternal life; since God . . . [will] never allow anyone who has not the guilt of wilful sin to be punished by eternal sufferings. But it is also a perfectly well known Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church, . . .”

The Pope then goes on to stress that those who knowingly and obstinately reject her authority and separate themselves from her unity cannot be saved. He does not, however, say that such formal heretics, schismatics and apostates are the only persons to whom the dogma “outside the Church, no salvation” applies.

This 1863 document, admittedly, seems to lean rather more toward Perroni’s “implicit faith” thesis than the 1853 allocution did.

Nevertheless, it does not teach that thesis unequivocally. For nothing the Pope says implies that anyone who is still invincibly ignorant of Christ at the moment of death can be saved. By specifying those who are “zealously keeping the natural law and its precepts”, who are “ready to obey God”, and who “live an honest and upright life”, Pius IX shows that he is talking primarily about the habitual conduct of people during the normal, active period of their lives, prior to their last agony. And he is saying that such persons “can, by the operating power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life” (emphasis added).

These words are worth reflecting on. The Pope is saying that to be saved, they will need more than just “grace”; they will also need (and will in fact be offered) “divine light”. That of course means illumination of the mind. And the New Testament uses the analogy of “light” to mean precisely the knowledge of (i.e, explicit belief in) the Gospel, in contrast to the “darkness” of those still in Judaism or paganism (cf. Eph 5: 8, I Thess 5: 4-5; Col. 1: 12-13; I Peter 2: 9; 2 Cor. 4: 3-4; 2 Tim. 1: 10).

The last two passages are particularly expressive: “And even though our gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And: “. . . but now is made manifest by the illumination of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath destroyed death, and hath brought to light life and incorruption by the Gospel” (emphasis added). In short, the reference for the need for “light”, as well as “grace” to assist persons invincibly ignorant of the Gospel at least insinuates an ECNS position, although without unequivocally asserting it.

Some ‘implicit faith’ advocates object that if the Pope had wanted to teach the need for explicit faith in Christ, he would not have needed to include anything about good-willed non-Christians who are invincibly ignorant of the true religion. For (according to these objectors) it would seem practically redundant and trivial for him to issue a teaching that amounts to saying, “There is no salvation outside the Church; but those in invincible ignorance of the Church will, if they keeping striving for truth and goodness, eventually overcome that ignorance and so will be joined to the Church before death”.

But I do not concede that this papal gloss on to the ancient dogma is in fact redundant or trivial. On the contrary, it serves to obviate a false and superficial interpretation of the dogma which has in fact needlessly scandalized many over the centuries, namely, the interpretation of those who think extra Ecclesiam nulla salus implies an unjust, arbitrary and merciless God who eternally punishes multitudes of people merely for failing to obey a commandment of which they were invincibly ignorant. Pius IX’s two carefully worded interventions clearly rule out that distorted reading of the dogma.

Moreover, if, as Fr. Sullivan maintains, the Pope had been intending to teach positively the more liberal, ‘implicit faith’ view of Perroni, according to which “extra ecclesiam nulla salus refers only to those who are culpably outside the church”, then we would have the Supreme Pontiff hitting ridiculously at a mere man of straw – solemnly excoriating an error that no Catholic was in fact holding or propagating.

And it seems incredible that a Pope should have made such a misinformed blunder in his magisterial documents. There was certainly no Catholic theologian, and probably no Catholic writer or publicist at all, who was then promoting the idea that salvation awaits even those who die culpably outside the Church, i.e., those who know, or strongly suspect, that God wills their entry or re-entry into the Catholic Church but who consciously and finally refuse to obey their own conscience in this matter.

Indeed, even in the far more liberal post-Vatican II period, I have never heard of any Catholic author propagating such a preposterous opinion. But Blessed Pius IX, in insisting that there is no salvation outside the Church, clearly understands himself to be combating an error that is real and dangerously widespread, not a mere phantom.

In his 1854 allocution he describes as a “deadly” and “depraved” error – and one that “has entered the minds of very many Catholics” – the opinion that “they can well hope for the eternal salvation of all those who have in no way lived in the true Church of Christ.” That is, “those who have never given themselves to the Catholic faith”. Then, in the 1863 encyclical, he expresses the same concern, speaking of “a most serious error in which some Catholics have unhappily fallen, thinking that men living in errors and altogether apart from the true faith and Catholic unity can attain to eternal life.”

Clearly, the Pope wants to denounce as a “most serious” error not only the practically non-existent opinion that those who die culpably outside the Church can be saved, but also the much more popular and seemingly reasonable opinion that we can at least hope for the salvation of those who die inculpably separated from the true Church. (Pope Pius seems to have had in mind here the classical Augustinian/Thomistic view that such persons will always in fact be guilty of other unrepented sins, and that it will be these, rather than their ‘extra-ecclesial’ impious status as such, that will earn them eternal punishment.)

How, then, can we summarize Blessed Pius IX’s teaching in these two documents?

I would conclude that he was not intending to decide one way or the other the long-standing controversy between the Jesuit and Thomist schools as to whether or not an explicit faith in Christ at the moment of death was necessary in order to be joined minimally to the Church, and so be eligible for salvation.

Such a conclusion is supported by the fact that the Catholic theological community did not interpret these two papal interventions as constituting such a decision; for approved theological works in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries have continued to see the ‘implicit/explicit’ dispute as remaining just as open as it had been since Pigge, Cano and Soto began it in the 16th century, for instance the article “Infidèles (salut de)” in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique (vol. VII, cols.39),which recognizes the Thomistic ‘explicit faith’ view as quite legitimate, while coming down on the side of the sufficiency of implicit faith. But there were 20th century theologians such as Pegues and Royo Marín, who (like the present writer) have held out for the strict,‘explicit faith’ view which they find taught by St. Thomas.

Rather than attempt to adjudicate that dispute, the Pope was content simply to reaffirm and juxtapose two firm doctrinal principles – both well established by Tradition but in apparent tension with one another – without indicating how, precisely, they were to be reconciled. These two principles were, first, that there is no salvation outside the Church, and secondly, that invincible ignorance is never culpable and punishable in the sight of God, who will unfailingly provide the light and graces necessary for salvation to all those who persevere in seeking truth and goodness according to their conscience.

Nothing substantially different from Pius IX’s teaching on the eternal destiny of non-Christians issued from the magisterium for well over a century. I have found that it is a common mistake among both followers and opponents of Fr. Feeney to suppose that the 1949 Holy Office Letter to the Archbishop of Boston comes down clearly on the liberal side of the dispute left open by Pius IX’s somewhat ambivalent statements.

That is, they reason that this Letter, since it says an “implicit desire for the Church” can be sufficient for salvation, teaches definitely and positively that at least some who die as Jews, pagans and Muslims can be saved by virtue of a presumed ‘implicit faith’ in Christ. But this is a non sequitur. In reality, the Letter, while it is certainly open to this ‘implicit faith’ thesis, also remains open to the contrary ‘explicit faith’ thesis.

For the expression “implicit desire for the Church” clearly does not mean the same thing as “implicit faith in Christ”. Whether or not the latter – assuming it to be a species of the genus supernatural (‘theological’) faith, which is always necessary, along with charity, for salvation – is still infused by God into any human souls after Pentecost, is a question still left unadjudicated by the 1949 Letter. This becomes clear when we note that it also warns that “an implicit desire [for the Church] cannot have its effect unless a man has supernatural faith”. But the Letter says nothing one way or the other about whether non- Christians can in fact possess supernatural faith. The whole question that concerns us now is precisely whether or not the merely implicit or unconscious longing for Christ which is arguably present in the souls of good-willed Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians can in fact, after the coming of Christ, constitute supernatural faith – the first and most fundamental of the theological virtues. Nearly all Catholics today say “Yes”; but I, along with all the Fathers, St. Thomas, and the Council of Florence, am saying“No”. [ We at Catholic Vox appreciate the author's attempt to wrangle with this issue but we must say that the Church Fathers also equated “Divine Faith” and saving Faith as a gift (grace) given only by the Sacrament of Baptism]

Vatican Council II also really does little more than restate the open-ended position of Pius IX and the Holy Office Letter. For while the Council’s main text on this subject is certainly capable of being interpreted as meaning that some persons dying without any conscious knowledge of Christ as God and Savior can be saved, it neither spells out nor strictly implies that thesis. For Lumen Gentium, article 16, begins by referring globally to all the various groups of non-Christians as “those who have not yet received the gospel”. The word “yet” here leaves the whole of article 16 open to the possible reading that while such people, living in ignorance of Christ, can in some way prepare themselves for justification and salvation by cooperating with the actual graces God offers them (for it says they are “included in God’s plan of salvation”), they will not reach sanctifying grace (justification) until they do in fact “receive the gospel”. And in the other key conciliar passage, article 7 of the Decree on Missionary Activity, Ad Gentes, we find a similar ambiguity, although this time the text tends to favor the conservative ECNS position.

The Council insists here that evangelizing activity always remains a sacred right and duty of the Church, even though it is also true that “God, in ways known to Himself, can lead men who are inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11: 6)”.44 Now, since we would scarcely talk of “leading” a man to something he already possesses, or to a place or stage he has already arrived at, the most natural sense of the Council’s words would seem to be that those “men who are inculpably ignorant of the Gospel” (i.e., who do not believe explicitly in even Christian basics such as the Trinity and Incarnation) do not yet possess the theological virtue of faith. However, if one understands the words “inculpably ignorant of the Gospel” as referring to a condition that lasts right up till death, then the saving “faith” to which such persons are “led” would presumably be to a simple monotheistic belief in God as remunerator of good and evil. In short, the ambiguity remains unresolved by the Council.