Robert Hutchinson

A Comparison of Catholic and Reformed Views on the Salvation of Non-Christians

“God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right, is welcome to him.” — Acts 10: 34-35

In Lumen Gentium, the Decree on the Church in the Modern World, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council forever committed the Roman Catholic Church to a belief in the possible salvation of non-Christians — even, apparently, of non-theists.

“Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his church, yet, sincerely seek God, and moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do his will as it is know to them through the dictates of conscience,” the Fathers declared. “Nor does divine Providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life, thanks to his grace.”

Many evangelicals, and not a few conservative Catholics, believe this teaching of Vatican II represents a dramatic change in official Catholic doctrine — a concession, perhaps, to the liberal theology of Karl Rahner or to an ecumenical movement gone berserk. They may be surprised to learn, however, that the roots of this teaching are entrenched in magisterial (that is, “official”) Roman Catholic pronouncements, go back through Trent, St. Thomas Aquinas and the medieval scholastics to Justin Martyr (c. 150) and ultimately to the New Testament itself.

Put simply: Centuries of reflection on the Biblical testimony as a whole gradually led the Catholic Church to develop a theory of salvation (explicitly rejected by the early Reformers) in which persons are saved or lost depending upon whether they trust in God (whether consciously acknowledged or not) and follow the dictates of their conscience to the best of their ability. Incredible as it sounds, the rudiments of this teaching are explicitly stated in the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent.

The New Testament clearly and explicitly teaches that those who have faith (“Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” Acts 16: 30) and/or are baptized (“And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you,” 1 Peter 3: 21) will be saved. And the New Testament also clearly teaches no human being will be saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. But does it necessarily follow from these texts that those who do NOT have faith and are not baptized are damned? Does the New Testament teach that? Some careful readers of the New Testament are doubtful.

While it’s true that if you rob a bank you’ll be rich… it doesn’t follow logically that if you refuse to rob a bank you’ll end up poor. In other words, while it’s true that no person may be saved apart from the redemptive work of Christ, it doesn’t follow that every person must be aware of that work and have explicit faith in it. And while it’s true all those who are baptized and believe in Jesus will be saved, it’s doesn’t follow logically that all those who are not baptized and do not believe will not be saved.

Nevertheless, as a result of numerous scriptural texts that seem to emphasize the necessity of the sacraments (“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” John 6: 53), the early Fathers of the Church believed that a person could only be saved within the context of the Christian community. It was only within the body of the church that a person had access to the sacraments (baptism and Eucharist), true doctrine based on the unbroken Tradition of the apostles, and knowledge of the life and teaching of Jesus.

For that reason, the early Fathers of the Church believed that membership in the body of the Church was quite obviously necessary for salvation. Augustine, ever willing to follow the “hard sayings” of the Gospel to their logical conclusions, believed that there was no salvation for unbelievers — even for those who had never had a chance to hear the Gospel preached. Augustine was aware (unlike many Christians) that there were, as he put it, “countless barbarian tribes among whom the Gospel has not been preached,” yet he believed (as would John Calvin centuries later) that a strict adherence to the teaching of the New Testament (particularly Mark 16) required the belief that all unbaptized persons were lost. Later, Augustine sought to justify this seemingly harsh view by appealing to his interpretation of the doctrine of Original Sin: All human beings stand justly condemned, even infants; and so God is not unjust if those who die without having had a chance to accept the Gospel are punished.

Medieval scholasticism and the official decrees of the Catholic Church, however, had a more nuanced view. St. Cyprian’s slogan extra ecclesiam nula sallus was given dogmatic force by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and Pope Boniface VIII’s bull Unam Sanctam (1302), but various “loop holes” were proposed for how an all-merciful God, whom scripture teaches desires “all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3),” could save even those outside the “visible” boundaries of the church and therefore who did not have access to the sacraments. Among these theoretical proposals were the concepts of “implicit faith,” “invincible ignorance” and “baptism by desire.”

St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) comes very close to Karl Rahner’s idea of the anonymous Christian in discussing the “implicit” faith of Cornelius, the Roman centurion who is saved (Acts 10). Thomas taught that belief in Christ is necessary for salvation, but, because of God’s universal salvific will, God would somehow ensure that all persons had the opportunity to believe. St. Thomas wrote: “If anyone were brought up in the wilderness or among brute animals, provided that he followed his natural reason in seeking the good and avoiding evil, we must most certainly hold that God would either reveal to him, by an inner inspiration, what must be believed, or would send a preacher to him, as he sent Peter to Cornelius (De Veritate, q. 14, a. 11, ad 1.)” What is more, St. Thomas and later Catholic magisterial teaching would affirm that, while “without baptism there is no salvation for anyone” (Summa III, q. 68, a. 1), that baptism does not have to be the literal sacrament of water. There is a “baptism of repentance” just as there is a “baptism of blood” as well:

Consequently, a man may, without Baptism of Water, receive the sacramental effect from Christ’s Passion, in so far as he is conformed to Christ by suffering for Him. Hence it is written (Apoc. 7:14): “These are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” In like manner a man receives the effect of Baptism by the power of the Holy Ghost, not only without Baptism of Water, but also without Baptism of Blood: forasmuch as his heart is moved by the Holy Ghost to believe in and love God and to repent of his sins: wherefore this is also called Baptism of Repentance. Of this it is written (Is. 4:4): “If the Lord shall wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall wash away the blood of Jerusalem out of the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.” Thus, therefore, each of these other Baptisms is called Baptism, forasmuch as it takes the place of Baptism (Summa III, q. 66, a. 11).

The early Reformers — including Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin — were not impressed by these scholastic subtleties. They all taught that non-Christians were predestined for eternal damnation. For the Reformers, saving faith by its very nature includes an explicit acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is one’s personal Lord and Savior and a firm commitment to him. For Calvin, there mere fact that someone has not had the opportunity of hearing the Gospel is proof that God has predestined him or her for eternal damnation:

“Those, therefore, who He has created for dishonor during life and destruction at death, that they may be vessels of wrath and examples of severity, in bringing to their doom, he at one time deprives of the means of hearing his word, at another by the preaching of it blinds and stupifies them the more (Institutes III, 24, 12).”

The Reformation doctrine of total depravity meant that human beings were incapable, without an explicit faith in Christ, of fulfilling even the minimal requirements of the moral law. In the Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther taught that the works of the righteous are, in fact, mortal sins. “Human works appear attractive outwardly, but within they are filthy, as Christ says concerning the Pharisees in Matt 23,” Luther wrote. “For they appear to the doer and others good and beautiful, yet God does not judge according to appearances but searches ‘the minds and hearts.’” (Cf. Timothy F. Lull, editor, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, p. 34.) Luther added that “the person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty.” (Ibid., p. 41)

It was precisely this view of human nature — that human beings are utterly incapable of doing anything good before justification — that the Council of Trent explicitly rejected. In Canon 7 of the Sixth Session, the Council Fathers declared: “If anyone says that all works done before justification, in whatever manner they may be done, are truly sins, or merit the hatred of God; that the more earnestly one strives to dispose himself for grace, the more grievously he sins, let him be anathema.”

Of course, both Trent and the Reformers affirmed that human beings are saved by grace through faith, and they agreed that there is nothing human beings can do to “earn” salvation from God. As the Council of Trent put it, “the sinner is justified by God by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Decree on Justification, Session 6, Chapter 6 ) The Council added that “we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. For, ‘if by grace, it is not now by works, otherwise,’ as the Apostle says, ‘grace is no more grace.’” (Ibid., Chapter 8) Where the Catholic Church differed with the Reformers was on the question of whether it is by faith in Christ “alone” that that human beings are saved. In the Catholic view, faith was a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for salvation: There was also, as St. Paul taught, hope and love.

Not all the figures of the Reformation, of course, subscribed to the Lutheran/Calvinist view of sola fide and double predestination. James Arminius (d. 1609), and his Remonstrants followers, rejected Calvin’s views on predestination and the damnation of the unevangelized. How could a just God condemn people who had no opportunity to hear the Gospel? he asked. Later, John Wesley (d. 1791), the founder of Methodism, was even more forceful in his rejection of Calvin’s “double predestination,” which he even called a “blasphemy.” “I would sooner be a Turk, a Deist, yea an atheist, than I could believe this,” Wesley wrote.

The Tridentine teaching on justification, that it is ultimately a “cooperation” with divine grace, ultimately led the Catholic Church to adopt the view that non-Christians can be saved. This view is hardly “new” or the result of ecumenism. All this explains why, nearly 900 years after St. Thomas, and 20 years before Vatican II, the Catholic Church would officially condemn the teaching of Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J. in the 1940s in Boston. Feeney, who left the Jesuits and was officially excommunicated, taught a rigorous literal interpretation of extra ecclesiam nula sallus that insisted on the damnation of all non-Catholics. In rejecting Fr. Feeney’s interpretation of this dogma of the Church, the Vatican’s Holy Office (now renamed the more politically correct Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) declared that “this dogma is to be understood as the Church itself understands it.” That understanding, the Holy Office declared, is this: “To gain eternal salvation it is not always required that a person be incorporated in reality (reapse) as a member of the Church, but it is required that he belong to it at least in desire and longing…. When a man is invincibly ignorant, God also accepts an implicit desire, so called because it is contained in the good dispositions of soul by which a man wants his will to be conformed to God’s will.”

This remains the official teaching of the Catholic Church: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments (CCC 1257).” In his encyclical Quuanto conficiamur moerore, promulgated in 1863, Pope Pius IX simultaneously affirmed the doctrine extra ecclesiam nula sallus (“outside the church, no salvation”) and taught that those “invincibly ignorant” of the Christian religion, but who cooperate with divine grace, can arrive at justification and eternal salvation. More than 100 years later, the current pontiff, Pope John Paul II, would make the identical point in his encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to know or accept the Gospel revelation or enter the Church…. For such people, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the church… This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.”

In conclusion, it is apparent that the teaching that non-Christians can be saved is not an innovation in Roman Catholic theology, the result of radical ideas adopted by the Second Vatican Council or a misplaced ecumenical zeal. The roots for this teaching lie deep in Catholic tradition and go back all the way to the New Testament. It took centuries for the Catholic Church to think through the implications of its teaching on grace, freedom and the role of faith in the journey of salvation, but ultimately Catholicism affirmed a quite liberal understanding of how God’s grace works in the world. This view is quite opposed to the Reformation teaching on sola fide, which is that only persons with an explicit faith in Jesus Christ can be saved.

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5 thoughts on “A Comparison of Catholic and Reformed Views on the Salvation of Non-Christians

  1. Donald E. Flood

    Sir,

    It the Catholic Church (albeit, in a non-infallible way) at the “Vatican Council forever committed the Roman Catholic Church to a belief in the possible salvation of non-Christians…and (has) officially condemn(ed) the teaching of Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J. in the 1940s in Boston” why are the followers of Father Feeney in full communion with Rome:

    http://catholicism.org/our-status-in-the-church.html

    Why, also was Father Feeney fully reconciled to the Church in 1972 without being required to recant his “heretical” beliefs? And, why do some of his followers see no irreconcilable conflict between the Second Vatican Council and the already solemn pronouncements of the Church:

    http://www.marycoredemptrix.com/CenterReview/3_2005_Vatican2.pdf

    1. Robert

      I have friends who are “Feeneyites” (followers of Leonard Feeney) and they have tried to explain to me, in late-night sessions at the pub, precisely how their position, the Church’s historical teaching and the teaching of Vatican II can all be reconciled. For a simple beach philosophizer such as myself, the logic escapes me. What is clear to me, however, is the biblical teaching that God “desires all men to be saved” and that, in his infinite mercy, he provides the means to do so. It is also clear to me, at least, that the official teaching of the Catholic Church is not now and never has been that all non-Christians are damned. The Church has clearly rejected the Augustinian doctrine of “double predestination” (that God created most human beings only to damn them) that was embraced enthusiastically by John Calvin and his latter-day disciples, such as John Piper.

  2. Lionel Andrades

    Thursday, December 8, 2011
    CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF ENGLAND AND WALES AGREE THAT THERE IS NO VISIBLE BAPTISM OF DESIRE : breakthrough in salvation dogma, back to centuries old interpretation.

    Daphne McLeod’s statement over time to reverberate throughout Catholic Church

    The Conference of Catholic Bishops of England and Wales (CCBEW) agree there is no visible baptism of desire, it is learnt, they are not to issue a denial.They are in agreement with the statement of the English school teacher. Daphne McLeod said that there can be those saved in invincible ignorance and the baptism of desire and this does not contradict the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus.She was not talking theology but making a simple common sense observation.The English bishops have no clarification to issue on her statement and neither on that of the Southwark Vocation Director Fr.Stephen Langley.It follows that implicit baptism of desire and those saved in invincible ignorance are not exceptions to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

    In the Letter of the Holy Office 1949 to the Archbishop of Boston ,Pope Pius XII referred to ‘the dogma’, the ‘infallible teaching’.The dogma indicates all non Catholics need to convert into the Catholic Church for salvation (to avoid Hell). The dogma does not mention any exceptions such as the baptism of desire or invincible ignorance.Since they are implicit and not visible to us they cannot be defacto exceptions.

    So Lumen Gentium 16 (invincible ignorance/good conscience) is not an exception to the dogma.It does not contradict the centuries-old interpretation of outside the church there is no salvation.

    In principle (de jure) it is accepted that there can be people saved with the baptism of desire, invincible ignorance, good conscience, imperfect communion with the church, ‘the seeds of the Word’(Vatican Council II). De facto we do not know any such case and so they do not contradict the dogma.They do not contradict the interpretation of the popes, saints and Fr.Leonard Feeney of Boston, who was not excommunicated for heresy. The excommunication of this courageous priest, was lifted during his lifetime without him having to recant.He was disobedient to the Archbishop of Boston who suggested that there was an explicitly-known baptism of desire which was an exception to the dogma.

    The Archbishop rejected the traditional defacto-dejure analysis of magisterial texts and used an irrational defacto-defacto philosophical model.

    In principle (dejure) we can accept that ‘God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments (CCC 1257).’ and ‘ the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament ‘(CCC 1258) can be there. These cases are not explicitly known to us. De facto we do not know any such case on earth.

    In principle,dejure we can accept that ‘the Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptized are baptized by their death,’(CCC 1258) in reality only God can judge these cases. They are de facto known only to God.

    Catechumens in principle can receive salvation which ‘ they were not able to receive through the sacrament’ if they die before receiving the baptism of water’(CCC 1259). We accept this dejure. De facto we do not know any case so it does not contradict the dogma or Ad Gentes 7 which says all need to enter the Church with Catholic Faith and the baptism of water.

    In principle, dejure ‘every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved ‘(CCC 1260). De facto the ordinary way of salvation is Catholic Faith with the baptism of water (Ad Gentes 7, Lumen Gentium 14).

    In principle we do not exclude from salvation ‘ all united to the Church only by implicit desire’ (Letter of the Holy Office 1949) and ‘reprove…those who falsely assert that men can be saved equally well in every religion’ i.e every one with no exception needs to convert into the Catholic Church for salvation and there are defacto no exceptions.(Letter of the Holy Office 1949, (cf. Pope Pius IX, Allocution, , in , n. 1641 ff.; also Pope Pius IX in the encyclical letter, , in , n. 1677).

    Nowhere in the Letter of the Holy Office is it said that the baptism of desire is visible and so an exception to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus.Neither does Vatican Council II or the Catechism of the Catholic Church make this claim.

    The Letter is affirming ‘the dogma’, the ‘infallible statement’i.e the ‘strict interpretation’ of outside the church there is no salvation. It was defined ex cathedra and so it is ‘infallilble’. The Letter also affirms implicit baptism of desire. If implicit baptism of desire is considered explicit and known to us, then the Letter would contradict itself.This would be an irrational defacto-defacto analysis.

    Similarly Lumen Gentium 14 says everyone needs to enter the Church, ‘the necessity of faith and baptism’.Lumen Gentium 15 and 16 refer to those saved implicitly and who are not formal members of the Church. They can be saved of course in principle and are defacto not known to us.Specific cases are known only to God. Since they are not explicitly known to us they do not contradict Lumen Gentium 14.Here we are using the defacto-dejure analysis.

    If you considered implicit salvation as explicitly known to us then Lumen Gentium 15-16 would contradict Lumen Gentium 14. This would be the defacto-defacto reasoning.

    Fr.Leonard Feeney was saying that every one de facto needs to enter the Church for salvation and in principle we do not know any exceptions of the baptism of water etc.

    The English Cardinals and bishops recognize that every one needs to enter the Church for salvation and there are no visible cases of the baptism of desire. So those saved with the baptism of desire or in invincible ignorance are not exceptions to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus.
    -Lionel Andrades
    December 8, 2011. Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
    http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2011/12/conference-of-catholic-bishops-of.html

  3. Lionel Andrades

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011
    WIKIPEDIA’S ENTRY ON SALVATION MISREPRESENTS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
    According to Wikipedia the Catholic Church does not teach exclusive salvation any more and Lumen Gentium 16 (invincible ignorance) refers to the ordinary means of salvation.(See Salvation, Wikipeida).

    It says “…all salvation comes through Christ.” never mentioning the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus and the need for all people to enter the Church.

    Wikipedia says :’For Catholicism, Christ provides the Church with “the fullness of the means of salvation which [the Father] has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession.” Then surprisingly the encyclopedia states:’To Catholic thinking, this does not mean that only Christians can enter heaven, for “By his death (Jesus, the Son of God) has conquered death, and so opened the possibility of salvation to all .”

    This is false.We know that the ordinary means of salvation is Catholic Faith and the baptism of water (Ad Gentes 7,Lumen Gentium 14). If there is anyone saved in invincible ingnorance or the baptism of desire it would be known only to God so this is not the ordinary means of salvation nor even an issue. This is an error on Wikipedia. If they could make such a fundamental error here one does not know if there are similar errors on information provided on salvation in other religions.

    Wikipedia states: ‘Thus, the Catholic Church clearly teaches that, although Christ is the Saviour of the human race, it is not necessary to know Him personally to be saved.’False. In general, it is necessary to know Jesus personally, to believe in Him and to be a member of the Catholic Church to be saved.

    Wikipedia continues: ‘This is because Catholicism believes that the salvation, and reconciliation, of humanity took place when Christ died and rose again, and that this salvation applies to all people whether or not they realise this fact.’ This is false. Salvation is open to all people however to receive it they need to enter the Catholic Church .(Dominus Iesus 20).

    Wikipedia states: ‘This in no way means that Catholicism believes that all religions are equal..’.The Church teaches not only that all religions are not equal but that other religions are not paths to salvation. Wikipedia continues,’but merely that not everyone knows of Christ and that even those who do may have had the Gospel presented in such manner as to have turned them away (e.g. by missionaries who were poor examples of the Christian life).’

    We do not know of any case on earth of someone saved who has not heard the Gospel preached to them, so why does Wikipedia make this an issue.?

    In its Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis humanae, the same Vatican II also stated:

    ”This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

    Catholics allow others their right to religious freedom and also ask for the right to affirm their own faith, the Catholic Faith.They also ask that others not represent the Catholic Faith falsely as in the case of Wikipedia. Vatican Council II (AG 7,LG 7) says all people need to enter the Catholic Church for salvation (to avoid Hell).The followers of other religions are oriented to Hell.Wikipedia also needs to mention this passage in Vatican Council II.
    Also those who know about the Jesus and the Church and yet do not enter cannot be saved.(Ad Gentes 7). This would include millions of educated non Catholics including the writers on Wikipedia.This too needs to be mentioned.

    Catholics have the right to affirm this teaching and not be forced to accept the politically accepted one, thrust on us via Wikipedia and other media.

    Wikipedia says. ‘The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right”

    Catholics also need to have their dignity recognized and their religious beliefs correctly reported and not have political propaganda forced on them.

    It is reported on Wikipedia that salvation comes from the Jews. This means it needs to be clarified that it comes from the Promised Jewish Messiah, Jesus.So in this sense it comes from the Jews. Catholics are now the new Chosen People of God. The people of the everlasting Covenant.Salvation was won for them, who believe in Jesus and are in the only Church Jesus founded.It was won through Jesus’ Supreme Sacrifice for those who responded and converted into the Church. This Sacrifice is continued in the Holy Mass.
    Salvation is available in the Sacraments of the Catholic Church and not defacto in other Christian communities.This is the official teaching of the Catholic magisterium in magisterial texts not quoted by Wikipedia.
    -Lionel Andrades
    http://eucharistandmission.blogspot.com/2011/12/wikipedias-entry-on-salvation.html

  4. Lionel Andrades

    Thursday, December 15, 2011
    CAN YOU DIRECT ME TO THE TRACT OR ARTICLE IN WHICH FR.LEONARD FEENEY DENIES THE FAITH? “NO WE CANNOT”. THEY QUOTE OTHER SOURCES
    The Bread of Life was published after the excommunication. He was excommunicated for disobedience and not heresy. The excommunication was lifted without him having to recant or change any of his writings.

    Whatever be ones opinion on Fr. Leonard Feeney we can all agree that there is no visible baptism of desire and implicit baptism of desire is not an exception to the dogma outside the church there is no salvation.

    People have different opinions about Fr. Leonard Feeney and they usually repeat what others have said or written about him. They are unable to provide any text written by him which is heretical.

    The excommunication was for disobedience to Church authority. He refused to go to Rome when called, he refused to accept a transfer and he called the Archbishop Cardinal Richard Cushing a heretic. It was unbelievable at that time that a cardinal could teach heresy. Today, we have the example of Cardinal Walter Kaspar, Cardinal Carlo Martini S.J etc.

    The Archbishop believed those saved in invincible ignorance and the baptism of desire were exceptions to the dogma and to Fr. Leonard Feeney’s traditional interpretation. For him the baptism of desire would be visible for it to be an exception to the dogma. This is the rejection of the dogma which says all need to convert into the Church for salvation. The Archbishop rejected the dogma, with his exceptions, which Pope Pius XII called the ‘infallible statement’ in the Letter of the Holy Office 1949. The Letter was addressed to the Archbishop and not Fr.Leonard Feeney. The pope was telling the Archbishop that all non Catholics in Boston need to convert into the Catholic Church to avoid the fires of Hell. The ‘dogma’ mentioned in the Letter did not mention any exceptions like the baptism of desire. This was an issue raised by Cardinal Richard Cushing and the Jesuits in Boston and which was then inserted in Vatican Council II . The Archbishop did not know the Faith or did not want to profess it.

    The Church has accepted the baptism of desire (Council of Trent etc) but to claim that it is not implicit but explicit and is an exception to the dogma is heresy.

    Fr. Leonard Feeney and the St. Benedict Center were disobedient as the Letter of the Holy Office 1949 mentions. They were disobedient but not heretical.

    De facto everyone needs to enter the Church, as taught by the dogma. De jure a person can be saved with implicit baptism of desire and it would be known only to God. The baptism of water and teaching someone the Catholic Faith is explicit. The baptism of desire is never explicitly known to us.

    So we accept the baptism of desire (Letter of the Holy Office, Council of Trent) and also the possibility of non Catholics being saved in invincible ignorance (Lumen Gentium 16) however we do not imply that they are exceptions to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus. -Lionel Andrades

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