Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Athanasian Creed, "Extra ecclesiam nulla salus", and Invincible Ignorance


This is Adam. I was hoping that you could explain invincible ignorance in light of the Athanasian Creed. Thank you very much!

Enjoy Oregon!

-Dear Adam,

The Athanasian Creed (aka, Quicumque vult) begins with the words: "Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all, keep the Catholic faith. For unless a person keeps this faith whole and entire, he will undoubtedly be lost forever. Now this is the Catholic faith..." Further, it continues with similar phrases such as: "Whoever wishes to be saved must have this conviction of the Trinity," and "It is furthermore necessary for eternal salvation truly to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ also took on human flesh." Finally, it concludes with the words, "This is the Catholic faith. Whoever does not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved."

You ask how invincible ignorance comes into play here. You mean how invincible ignorance is related to the dogma that there is no salvation outside the Church.

First it must be affirmed that there is absolutely no way of being saved outside the Church (and I mean the Catholic Church, which is the only Church). This dogma allows no exceptions. This dogma has been recently put into question and many people in the Church (especially members of the hierearchy, unfortunately) have been trying to soften, qualify, and even to "take back," the teaching, which the Church has held since its Divine Foundation. But the truth is that it has been always believed in the Church in its pristine, "exeptionless" form, not only by the Fathers (notably St. Augustine), the theologians (notably St. Thomas), and the faithful, etc. (i.e., the "Witnesses of Tradition") but it has also been taught by the Pope, as well as by the Magisterium, both in ordinary and extraordinary manner, by the Creeds (as does the Athanasian Creed), the liturgy, and many other sources. It is even in Scripture. It would, therefore, be impossible to give you a positive exposition of this dogma, but just to give you an idea of how convinced the Church is of its truth, simply listen to the words of the Council of Florence:

The holy Roman Church believes, professes, and preaches that no one remaining outside the Catholic Church, not just pagans, but also Jews or heretics or schismatics, can become partakers of eternal life; but they will go to the 'everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels' (Matt. 25:41), unless before the end of life they are joined to the Church. For the union with the body of the Church is of such importance that the sacraments of the Church are helpful to salvation only for those remaining in it; and fasts, almsgiving, other works of piety, and the exercise of Christian warfare bear eternal rewards for them alone. And no one can be saved, no matter how much alms he has given, even if he sheds his blood for the name of Christ, unless he remains in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church." (Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, 1438-45, From the Bull "Cantate Domino", February 4, 1441 (Florentine style) Decree for the Jacobites, Denz. 165.)

Now, to enter into the Church, one must receive baptism. Therefore, the Church affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. This is true with a necessity of means (a strict, metaphysical necessity, as in "Baptism is the only means to get there") and not merely a necessity of precept (a mere legalistic necessity, as in "Our Lord wants it to be that way, but he is ready to make exceptions because he is merciful"). So this is another matter in which the Church does not allow exceptions. You need baptism to be saved.

Now, despite what you may have heard from careless catechists, teachers, and even priests, we don't believe in three baptisms, but in one: Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum. "I confess one baptism for the remission of sins." However, the Church teaches that the graces of that one baptism, including sanctifying grace and the incorporation into the Church, can be participated by those who either give their life for the Catholic Faith even though they have not received baptism--commonly called "baptism of blood"--and by those who die with the desire of receiving the sacrament of baptism--a situation commonly known as "baptism of desire" but better translated simply as "the desire of baptism" (votum baptismi), so as not to give the impression that there are many "baptisms."

This truth, the possibility of receving the graces of baptism through the desire of the same, is exaggerated by modernists (they want to turn it into an open door for false religions to become "means of salvation"), denied by Feenyites (they want to affirm the dogma of "no salvation outside the Church" to such an extent that they want to obscure the other facets of the mystery), and little understood by the faithful today. However, it has been believed unanimously by the theologians of the Church, including St. Thomas (one unorthodox scholar in the middle ages, Peter Abelard, denied it, but he was attacked vehemently on this point by St. Bernard of Clairvaux), almost unanimously by the Fathers of the Church (one of them denied it), and by the faithful, as it is evidenced in a plethora of Catechisms and other catechetical material throughout the ages. It is even refered to by the liturgy of the Church and by the sacred monuments of Tradition. (Here is a good article on the subject--although I cannot agree with the author in other issues).

So there is no denying this doctrine, unless one wants to turn into a Protestant-like Feenyite who defends the false hermeneutical principle that what is not in Denzinger is heresy (although this is in Denzinger, namely D 796 [DS 1524] = the famous expression "re aut voto" in Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 4 and Sess. 7, Can. 4.) This Feenyite hermeneutical principle I like to call Sola Denzinger (reminiscent of the Protestant Sola Scriptura).

So here is where invincible ignorance comes into play. I will let the Supreme Pontiffs (notably those who predate Vatican II and, therefore, are beyond the Feenyites' reproof) to explain this doctrine:

Blessed Pius IX wrote in Quanto conficiamur moerore:

There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace since God who clearly beholds, searches, and knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men, because of His great goodness and mercy, will by no means suffer anyone to be punished with eternal torment who has not the guilt of deliberate sin."

Their situation is different from that of people "living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity … stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff."

He also admonishes us,

"the sons of the Catholic Church ... [that we] should always be zealous to seek them out and aid them, whether poor, or sick, or afflicted with any other burdens, with all the offices of Christian charity; and they should especially endeavor to snatch them from the darkness of error in which they unhappily lie, and lead them back to Catholic truth and to the most loving Mother the Church, who never ceases to stretch out her maternal hands lovingly to them, and to call them back to her bosom so that, established and firm in faith, hope, and charity, and 'being fruitful in every good work' (Colossians 1:10), they may attain eternal salvation."

Also, in his encyclical Mystici Corporis, Pope Pius XII said that:

Those who do not belong to the visible Body of the Catholic Church ... We ask each and every one of them to correspond to the interior movements of grace, and to seek to withdraw from that state in which they cannot be sure of their salvation. [Cf. Pius IX, Iam Vos Omnes, 13 Sept. 1868] For even though by an unconscious desire and longing have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer, they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church.

I hope this helps,

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