I was notified by a friend that I should respond to Mark Shea's article regarding the dogma “No Salvation Outside the Church” because he seems to be popular in conservative Catholic circles. Mr. Shea, being an enthusiastic convert to the Catholic Faith, is most likely troubled by a sentimental empathy for those still outside the bark of Peter, particularly Protestants, which we cradle Catholics at Catholic Vox share as well. The difference lies in the fact that here at Catholic Vox we actually believe the dogma “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” for what it says.
Just Exactly Where is the Church?
Unam Sanctam is the sort of document that gives our Protestant brothers and sisters a real jolt, primarily because it looks at first blush as though it teaches that Catholics cannot have Protestant brothers and sisters. Written by Pope Boniface VIII in 1302, this papal bull concludes with this shocking dogmatic definition:
"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."The average modern reader concludes these words mean: "We know exactly where the Church both is and is not. It's in the visible Catholic communion and only members of the visible Catholic Church go to Heaven." After this basic assumption has been made, most people go on to assume it is simply a matter of deciding what you think about that proposition. Generally, people fall into one of the following groups:
1. Those nice people who say hopefully, "That statement was not dogma, but just Boniface's opinion."
2. Those Progressive Dissenting Catholics who say, "That statement used to be narrow-minded Catholic dogma but Vatican II thankfully contradicts all that. How the Church has grown!"
3. Those anti-Catholics say derisively, "That statement used to be unbiblical Catholic dogma but Vatican II reversed all that. How the supposedly infallible Church has flatly contradicted the Bible and itself!"
4. Those Reactionary Dissenting Catholics who say, "That statement used to be glorious Catholic dogma but Vatican II betrayed all that. How the Second Vatican Council has corrupted the One True Faith!"
5. Those orthodox Catholics who say, "Unam Sanctam's definition is still dogma and the teaching of the Second Vatican Council does not contradict it or the Bible. Rather, the Council develops the Faith of the Church infallibly taught since the apostles, a faith which has never demanded we believe that "The Church is found solely in the visible Catholic communion, nor that only members of the visible Catholic Church can go to Heaven."Mr. Shea should have pointed out the most important members of group #5: the members of the Benedictine Monastery of Still River and the religious of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (both men and women). They hold the so-called “rigorist” understanding of the dogma as well as the Second Vatican Council. If this were not true how could all three groups (descendants of Fr. Leonard Feeney) be approved under the Bishop of the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts? [OSB(Still River), MICM(St. Anne's House -women/Imm. Heart School-men) link here; explanatory letter link here]