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,


Gregg said...

Dear Prof. Romero,

This - the correct interpretation of "extra ecclesiam" - is a question I have been trying to tackle for a long time.

It seems to me that there are two schools of theologians on this matter. The first school holds that explicit faith in Christ is necessary for salvation, and that if God chooses to save a person, by his Providence, that person will always come to know explicitly at least the four essential truths.

The second school holds that explicit faith is not strictly necessary and implicit faith of some kind suffices.

The appearance one can get, and I know of course that it is only an appearance, is that the Church Fathers, Medieval theologians and magisterial statements tend to point towards the "explicit faith" school, while modern (late 19th-century and onward) theologians and magisterial statements tend to point towards the "implicit faith" school. Obviously, there is no contradiction (at the very least, between the Magisterial statements), but my questions are:

1) Are both positions still tenable?

2) If not, which position is tenable?

3) If both are tenable, which do you think is theologically preferable?


Don Paco said...


I have not studied the history of the question, but I believe you will find a harmonious synthesis of these apparently diverging "schools" in the teaching of Aquinas. He teaches that:

1) Ordinarily, explicit faith in the basic articles of the faith, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, etc. (and implicit faith in everything else) is necessary for salvation.

ST II-II.2.5, Whether Man is Bound to Believe Anything Explicitly: "We must, therefore, say that the direct object of faith is that whereby man is made one of the Blessed, as stated above (1, 8): while the indirect and secondary object comprises all things delivered by God to us in Holy Writ, for instance that Abraham had two sons, that David was the son of Jesse, and so forth.

Therefore, as regards the primary points or articles of faith, man is bound to believe them, just as he is bound to have faith; but as to other points of faith, man is not bound to believe them explicitly, but only implicitly, or to be ready to believe them, in so far as he is prepared to believe whatever is contained in the Divine Scriptures. Then alone is he bound to believe such things explicitly, when it is clear to him that they are contained in the doctrine of faith."

2) But he admits that some of the gentiles have been saved by having "implicit faith through believing in Divine providence."

ST II-II.2.6 ad 3, Whether It is Necessary for the Salvation of All that they should Believe in the Mystery of Christ: "Objection: ... it would seem that the gentiles had neither explicit nor implicit faith in Christ, since they received no revelation. Therefore it seems that it was not necessary for the salvation of all to believe explicitly in the mystery of Christ.

Reply: If... some were saved without receiving any revelation, they were not saved without faith in a Mediator, for, though they did not believe in Him explicitly, they did, nevertheless, have implicit faith through believing in Divine providence, since they believed that God would deliver mankind in whatever way was pleasing to Him, and according to the revelation of the Spirit to those who knew the truth, as stated in Job 35:11: "Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth."

In Domino,

Donald Goodman said...


I've attempted what I think is a pretty thorough analysis of the Thomistic writings on this subject:
My readings (the translations are a bit blocky, as I'd rather be inelegant than inaccurate) correspond entirely with the above.

Don Paco said...

Dear Mr. Goodman,

Thank you for your comment and for the link to your article.

I, too, have a problem with the expression "baptism of desire." That expression exists only in some of the vernacular languages (English, Spanish), and is a fundamental mistranslation of its Latin counterpart, votum baptismi (lit., "the desire of baptism"). The translation reverses the meaning and gives the impression that we literally believe in three baptisms, which is heretical ("confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum"). This opens itself to the objections of the Feenyites, which, to the uneducated layman, will seem reasonable. So I commend you for pointing out that the term is grossly inadequate.

However, your term "baptism of penance," though perhaps theologically accurate, would be a bit of a novelty. My belief is that the Church, at least at this point in its history, really does not need any more novelties, especially novelties of the theological/linguistic sort. What I believe we need to do is to return to our traditional understanding of dogma as it has been always expressed (in the original Latin, especially). So I think that, instead of creating a new language (however accurate and orthodox), we should re-translate the Latin into "the desire of baptism" and stick to that formula, rather than create new ones. Or, better yet, let's do theology in Latin, and forget about the theological/linguistic inadequacies of the vernacular!

Of course, I'm sure we agree on the doctrines; the question is how best to express it. My hunch is that theological precision is not the only thing required by orthodoxy; adopting the traditional theological language--at least the Scholatic Latin--is part of it as well.

Donald Goodman said...


Thanks for your comments. I'm curious as to why you consider the term "baptism of penance" (baptismus poenitentiae) a novelty, however. St. Thomas himself used it almost exclusively, though occasionally he'd say "baptismus flaminis." This, to me, indicates its conformity with your well-stated principle: "[T]heological precision is not the only thing required by orthodoxy; adopting the traditional theological language--at least the Scholatic Latin--is part of it as well."

I'll certainly grant you that it's not the common way it's referred to, and might be perceived as a novelty, but that perception would be incorrect, and a little catechesis (necessary on this issue already anyway) would quickly solve the problem.

I don't believe any definitive statement of the Church has employed any term for the phenomenon; Trent, of course, referred to the "votum," but there it was only stating that one must be baptized either by water or by the desire for baptism by water, not naming the doctrine itself. Can you enlighten me if I'm incorrect about this, so that I can update the book with this new information?

In Sacratissimo Corde Iesu,

Don Goodman

Don Paco said...

So you're saying Aquinas uses the term "baptismus poenitentiae" almost exclusively? I wasn't aware of that. If that's the case, then it wouldn't be a novelty.

Now, when I say we should keep the traditional Scholastic language, I don't just mean we should keep the language of the Magisterium. The magisterium does not have much to say on this.

I mean we should keep the langauge of the ecclesiastical theologians (i.e., the authors of the traditional scholastic manuals). They used the term "votum baptismi" or "baptismus flaminis" (usually mentioned in conjunction with "baptismus fluminis"). Those are the terms that I suggest we keep.

Donald Goodman said...


In my reading, whenever St. Thomas gave it any name at all, he called it "baptismus poenitentiae," or occasionally "baptismus flaminis" (though this second was generally mentioned only as an alternative to the first). I don't pretend to have exhausted the sources, however.

Saying "votum baptismi" seems fine to me, though incomplete, and also slightly ambiguous; "baptismus flaminis" is, of course, perfectly fine from either of our views.

I think we'll both agree that more important than terms is catechesis on the subject. Even the standard "baptism of desire" is acceptable if people actually understand what is meant by it, instead of making it means what they want it to mean. Too many people take "desire" and make it so "implicit" that everybody except Hitler gets in (though why Hitler is excepted I'm not sure). That's why I liked "baptismus poenitentiae" best; it shows more of what is necessary for the effects of the sacrament to be imparted.

In Sacratissimo Corde Iesu,

Don Goodman

n8pzo said...

I was just wondering if you are an adherent to the Catholic Church or the Vatican II Church.

Don Paco said...

Both. I am one of those who think the pre-VII and post-VII Church are identical (i.e., the same, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church), at least in essence--even if many of the accidents have changed (for the worst).

Catholic Mission said...

Friday, October 7, 2011
Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, University Pontifical Regina Apostolorum, Rome in his office today morning said he was familiar with the text of the dogma Cantate Domino and he would endorse it in public.

Fr. Rafael Pascual said he and other Legionaries of Christ priests took an oath in Church to be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church and he showed me on his computer the text of this oath.

He took exception to a report (1) I e-mailed him which indicated that the Legionaries of Christ priests have not affirmed the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

Fr. Pascual who is the Director of the Master of Science and Faith Institute knew that the dogma on extra ecclesiam nulla salus, Cantate Domino (2) was in accord with Vatican Council II (LG 14,AG 7) (3), Dominus Iesus 20 (4) and other Magisterial text.