Alleged Catholic Magisterial Contradictions & St. Thomas Aquinas’ Views
St. Thomas Aquinas: detail from Valle Romita Polyptych (c. 1400), by Gentile da Fabriano (1370-1427) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
(31 July 2003)
The following is based on an exchange with an Anglican, which took place on the Catholic Online forum. He has complained about posting his words, and my editing, and stated that the forum policy forbade such use. I obliged by removing his words (which were formerly posted here), and paraphrasing his thoughts. Later I heard that he had become a Catholic.
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I thought I would reply to some of the points you have made in this thread, if you don’t mind. I don’t particularly want to get into minutiae of Councils and so forth. For now (and generally speaking), I am much more interested in presuppositions, premises, and assumptions underlying people’s arguments, as you’ll quickly discover, if we interact much. Whole systems are built on axiomatic principles, but if those are suspect or erroneous, then the system built upon them is only as good as they are (it might indeed be a house built on sand).
Councils cannot contradict one another on faith and morals. You must realize, though, that infallibility is not a sort of verbal inspiration, akin to biblical inspiration, so that individual words are not the focus of infallibility, but rather, doctrines. Doctrines can be expressed in different ways (and Vatican II stresses presentation of orthodoxy in terms that modern man can understand).
My opponent claimed that the notion of “outside the church no salvation” was understood by the medievals in a way contradictory to the modern Catholic understanding, and cited the Council of Constance’ condemnation of the statement, “It is not necessary for salvation to believe that the Roman church is supreme among the other churches.”
This is a non-issue, because, in fact, the mediævals did indeed possess such an understanding. That is where your error lies (and hence, the creation of the alleged difficulty). The lack of subtlety and nuance (and supposed contradiction, as you argue) in this instance lies in your wooden, overly-literalistic interpretation, not in the theological and ecclesiological self-understanding of the mediæval Catholic Church (nor the Church subsequently, for that matter).
The late Fr. William Most, wrote about the sense in which these sorts of texts must be understood, in his online paper, “Is There Salvation Outside the Church?” — documentation of sources can be found there; I won’t bother with them here.
. . . RESTRICTIVE MAGISTERIUM TEXTS
There are several Magisterium texts that seem quite stringent. The Profession of Faith prescribed by Pope Innocent III in 1208 A.D. for the Waldensians says: “We believe in our heart and confess in our mouth that there is one Church, not of heretics, but the holy Roman Catholic apostolic Church, outside of which we believe no one is saved.” 
Similarly, the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 A.D. defined, against the Albigensians and Cathari: “There is one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved.”
Pope Boniface VIII in his famous Unam sanctam of Nov. 18, 1302 spoke strongly: “Outside of which (the Church) there is neither salvation nor remission of sins. . . . But we declare, state and define that to be subject to the Roman Pontiff is altogether necessary for salvation.”
The texts of Innocent III and IV Lateran do not go farther than the patristic texts we have seen. But the second sentence from Boniface VIII does raise a further question. However, the difficulty is easily handled; for the critical line is quoted from St. Thomas, Contra Errores Graecorum: Ostenditur etiam quod subesse Romano Pontifici sit de necessitate salutis  (“It is also shown that to be subject to the Roman Pontiff is necessary for salvation.”) But in the context, shown by the two quotes St. Thomas gives at this point, it means merely that there is no salvation outside the Church. In that sense one must come under the jurisdiction of the Pope.
An Epistle of Clement VI, of Sept. 29, 1351, makes just a simple statement: “No man . . . outside the faith of the Church and obedience to
the Roman Pontiff can finally be saved.” The sense is as above. Finally, the Decree for the Jacobites from the Council of Florence in 1442 seems specially vehement:
It firmly believes, professes and preaches, that none who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can partake of eternal life, but they will go into eternal fire . . . unless before the end of life they will have been joined to it (the Church); and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body has such force that only for those who remain in it are the sacraments of the Church profitable for salvation, and fastings, alms and other works of piety and exercises of the Christian soldiery bring forth eternal rewards (only) for them. “No one, howsoever much almsgiving he has done, even if he sheds his blood for Christ, can be saved, unless he remains in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.”
The internal quote at the end is one we saw above from Fulgentius. Does the Council endorse all the implications of Fulgentius? Hardly. As we saw, Fulgentius also teaches the damnation of unbaptized infants, and seems to contradict the teaching of Pope St. Stephen on baptism given by heretics. But, more importantly, we can see from the vehemence of Patristic attacks on heretics, e.g., St. Cyprian Ad Demetrianum, that the Fathers have in mind those who are in bad faith, who culpably reject the Church. They do not seem to think of those who inculpably fail to find the Church. So from this point on, it becomes largely a question not of doctrine but of objective fact: how many are culpable?
Nor was this truth “discovered” in the Middle Ages. The Bible teaches it (Romans 2) and so do the Fathers. Philip C. L. Gray, in his article, “Without the Church There Is No Salvation,” points out:
Many people who claim that God restricts salvation to baptized Catholics cite the Fathers of the Church to prove their assertions. While space does not allow an exhaustive analysis of the Fathers, there are several necessary points to keep in mind. First, the Fathers must be understood in the context of their writings, not in the context of the one quoting them. The majority of the Fathers who wrote on this topic were concerned about those who had once believed or had heard the truth, but now rejected it. Many of them believed the entire world had heard the Gospel. Their words were not directed at those who, by no fault of their own, did not know the Gospel of Christ.
The Fathers do affirm the inherent danger in deliberately rejecting the Church . . . On the other hand, many of the Fathers did write about those who were invincibly ignorant of the Gospel. Of these, the Fathers accepted that salvation was open to them, even if in a mysterious way. The Fathers recognized that the natural law of justice and virtue is written on the hearts of all men. Those who respect this law respect the Lawgiver, though they do not know Him. As St. Justin Martyr wrote in the second century:
We have been taught that Christ is the first-begotten of God, and we have declared Him to be the Logos of which all mankind partakes (Jn. 1:9). Those, therefore, who lived according to reason [logos] were really Christians, even though they were thought to be atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates, Heraclitus, and others like them . . . those who lived before Christ but did not live according to reason were wicked men, and enemies of Christ, and murderers of those who did live according to reason, whereas those who lived then or who live now according to reason are Christians. Such as these can be confident and unafraid (First Apology 46).
In the third century, St. Clement of Alexandria wrote:
Before the coming of the Lord, philosophy was necessary for justification to the Greeks; now it is useful for piety . . . for it brought the Greeks to Christ as the Law did the Hebrews (Miscellanies 1:5).
There was never a time when God did not want men to be just; He was always concerned about that. Indeed, He always provided beings endowed with reason with occasions for practicing virtue and doing what is right. In every generation the Wisdom of God descended into those souls which He found holy and made them to be prophets and friends of God” (Against Celsus 4:7).
In the fifth century, St. Augustine wrote:
When we speak of within and without in relation to the Church, it is the position of the heart that we must consider, not that of the body . . . All who are within the heart are saved in the unity of the ark” (Baptism 5:28:39).
Karl Adam, in his wonderful 1924 book, The Spirit of Catholicism, wrote on p. 176 in the Doubleday Image edition:
The Jansenists in the seventeenth century…..advocated the…..principle that ‘outside the Church there is no grace’ (extra ecclesiam nulla conceditur gratia). But again it was Rome and a pope that expressly rejected this proposition.
And on page 182, Adam states:
The Church expressly distinguishes between “formal” and “material” heretics. A “formal” heretic rejects the Church and its teaching absolutely and with full deliberation; a “material” heretic rejects the Church from lack of knowledge, being influenced by false prejudice or by an anti-Catholic upbringing. St. Augustine forbids us to blame a man for being a heretic because he was born of heretical parents, provided that he does not with obstinate self-assurance shut out all better knowledge, but seeks the truth simply and loyally (Ep. 43,1,1). Whenever the Church has such honest enquirers before her, she remembers that our Lord condemned Pharisaism but not the individual Pharisee, that He held deep and loving intercourse with Nicodemus, and allowed Himself to be invited by Simon.
It was at the Council of Trent that the dogma of baptism of desire was defined. This reiterated that literal membership in the Catholic Church was not required for salvation.
St. Thomas Aquinas, who died some 140 years before Constance, shows that invincible ignorance and relative culpability were concepts alive and well in the early Middle Ages. Fr. Alfredo M. Morselli summarizes St. Thomas’s teachings in this regard in a paper I have hosted: “A Defense of the Ecumenical Gathering at Assisi ( Ecumenism in St. Thomas Aquinas)”:
I call up here a distinction by St.Thomas:
a) “Unbelief by way of pure negation” (infidelitas secundum negationem puram) in case a man may “be called an unbeliever merely because he has not the faith” “in those who have heard nothing about the faith”; this Unbelief is not a sin -and
b) “Unbelief by way of opposition to the faith” (infidelitas secundum contrarietatem ad fidem) when “a man refuses to hear the faith” (S.Th II II, 10,1 c); this Unbelief is a sin.
The fact that “unbelief by way of pure negation” is not a sin, is not only a Thomist concept, but it’s also a verity of faith: St. Pius V condemned the proposition Infidelitas pure negativa in his quibus Christus non est predicatus peccatum est (D +1068) (=Purely negative unbelief, in those whom Christ was not preached to, is a sin).
In fact St. Thomas teaches that “Nobody would believe if he doesn’t see he must believe” (non enim crederet nisi videret ea esse credenda – S.Th., II II, q. 1, a. 4 ad 2).
The prayer of Cornelius was a false worship, but it has been made a good prayer by faith; an implicit faith:
S Th. II II q. 10 a. 4 ad 3 (in some editions ad 4)
With regard, however, to Cornelius, it is to be observed that he was not an unbeliever, else his works would not have been acceptable to God, whom none can please without faith. Now he had implicit faith, as the truth of the Gospel was not yet made manifest: hence Peter was sent to him to give him fuller instruction in the faith.
For further extensive analysis on this issue, regarding the closely-related, “infamous” Papal Bull, Unam Sanctam, see, The Unam Sanctam “Problem” Resolved: Can Non-Catholics Be Saved?, by Catholic apologist and friend Phil Porvaznik.
Thus, your objection collapses due to its factually erroneous premise (that the mediæval Church did not understand invincible ignorance, baptism of desire, implicit desire and suchlike), and is therefore no proof at all of a contradiction between Ecumenical Councils, nor between mediæval and current-day Catholic theology.
It is only the simplistic reading of a document in isolation from its theological and cultural context (not to mention without the faith of a Catholic who approaches the same document), that causes so-called “problems,” and is part and parcel of the faulty liberal methodology of both biblical exegesis and jaded interpretation of conciliar and papal documents.
Perhaps an analogy of the Bible and its interpretation will be helpful at this point. Christians believe that the Bible is inspired and infallible (therefore self-consistent and non-contradictory). That is a tenet held in faith. Yet we come to the Bible to study it with all the usual, helpful academic and intellectual tools at our disposal. We attempt to get behind the text (exegete rather than eisegete) and to harmonize it with biblical thought elsewhere. This is done (or should be done) in the overall framework of Christian faith. In so doing, obviously, there will be differing opinions held by sincere men in good faith. Those contradictions do not in any way, shape, or form, overthrow biblical infallibility or inspiration.
Likewise (though in a somewhat lesser fashion), statements of Ecumenical Councils are not immediately suspect as non-infallible simply because some differences of interpretation may exist, or because, prima facie (prior to any in-depth analysis at all), they might appear to clash with some other Catholic teaching. Protestants can’t even agree on something so central to biblical thought as baptism (with five major contradictory camps), yet manage to believe that Scripture is perspicuous and able to be understood in the main by someone with an average intelligence. So far be it from them to wax eloquent about alleged Catholic conciliar contradictions. “People in glass houses . . . ” But I digress . . .
There is nothing wrong whatever with delving into historical context of theological pronouncements, anymore than we would do with, for example, analysis of the thoughts and intent behind something like the US Constitution (e.g., The Federalist Papers, or the correspondence of Jefferson, Madison, etc., or political precursors in Locke or Montesquieu). One might do the same with the Magna Carta, and even with such things as great works of art and music.
I’m a great admirer of Beethoven. And one thing Beethoven-lovers (and even students of history in general) know about is his Heiligenstadt Testament (1802), in which he agonized about his impending deafness. The music critic takes that into account in analysis of Beethoven’s wonderful Third (Eroica) Symphony of 1803. This is an elementary point, it seems to me. And so, in a discussion on the meaning of conciliar statements, one is well-advised to look at prior thought and theological development on the same theme.
With regard to this “salvation outside the Church” red herring, one need go no further than St. Thomas Aquinas, though there is much more relevant material to be brought to bear. But you didn’t do that. You insisted on analyzing a bald text in complete isolation.
You seem, then (though I don’t know you that well yet), to possess a measure of the usual modernist animus against the mediæval period, complete with the obligatory stereotypes of “pitchforks and molten lead.” I submit that you have (willingly or not — probably not) distorted the mediæval fully-thought-out position on this and opted for secular-type caricatures. Shame on you. You ought to embrace the mediæval Church as part of your own heritage and seek to understand it better, and take to heart G. K. Chesterton’s words:
There is something odd in the fact that when we reproduce the Middle Ages it is always some such rough and half-grotesque part of them that we reproduce . . . Why is it that we mainly remember the Middle Ages by absurd things? . . . Few modern people know what a mass of illuminating philosophy, delicate metaphysics, clear and dignified social morality exists in the serious scholastic writers of mediaeval times. But we seem to have grasped somehow that the ruder and more clownish elements in the Middle Ages have a human and poetical interest. We are delighted to know about the ignorance of mediaevalism; we are contented to be ignorant about its knowledge. When we talk of something mediaeval, we mean something quaint. We remember that alchemy was mediaeval, or that heraldry was mediaeval. We forget that Parliaments are mediaeval, that all our Universities are mediaeval, that city corporations are mediaeval, that gunpowder and printing are mediaeval, that half the things by which we now live, and to which we look for progress, are mediaeval.
(“The True Middle Ages,” The Illustrated London News, 14 July 1906)
We can study background assumptions, and study the history of dogmatic theology and doctrinal development. We even have records of many of the deliberations of these Councils. You simply conveniently assume that defenders of the Catholic orthodoxy of Constance (in this one statement) — those who think it is not in disharmony with other Councils or present-day Catholic theology — are special pleading and making up some “loophole” as we go along.
I think the truth (if we must argue in this rather shallow way) is much more likely to be the contrary. In thumbing your nose at proper and necessary historical inquiry into the background of this statement and the thoughts contained therein, you are the one who cuts off the possibility of a true understanding from the outset. That works for you because without the background, you can simply impose your preconceived notions and circular reasoning to the text and abracadabra! — you “win” the discussion, and Catholicism is hopelessly contradictory, and so forth, therefore not worthy of allegience. That won’t do. You’ll have to do better than that, for Pete’s sake (no pun intended).
Rather than look into the actual background of how those of other religions were in fact viewed by the Church in that period (as I have done, presenting plenty of documentation for you), you simply make your wooden and erroneous, wrongheaded interpretation of one line in the Council and conclude that a contradiction is present.
You don’t seek to understand it as possibly in harmony with prior Catholic teaching. In my opinion, that is simply a “polemical” methodology, rather than a truly fair-minded attempt to approach it on its own terms (agree or disagree). No one expects you to become a Catholic overnight, I’m sure, but we hope that you can admit that no internal contradiction in Catholicism (with regard to this particular) is present, when shown that this is indeed the case.
Now you have the background thought to contend with, and it seems to me that it annihilates your premise, in which case you must concede your entire argument against one statement in Constance being a flat-out contradiction to Catholic teaching prior or since, and move onto something else.
My opponent then characterized the “conservative method” of interpretation of Church documents, as the refusal to take into account the intentions of the drafters of the dogma, and playing around with definitions to make them mean whatever one wants them to mean., in an effort to special plead and “explain away.”
Apparently, for you, the word conservative is the equivalent of dishonest. Curious definitions of words . . . You use the word conservative like I would use anti-intellectual (or, perhaps, sophist). The anti-intellectual is not trying to “conserve” anything other than his refusal to use his head and to bring proper reasoning to the table. I am interested only in orthodoxy or the mind of the Church. Perhaps we agree on that in principle, if not in application, in this instance.
I shall paraphrase my opponents’ words henceforth [in blue]:
If “outside the Church no salvation” was simply another way of saying “invincible ignorance,” that might be a reasonable explanation.
Like everything else, this question underwent development. Since the Church doesn’t proclaim anyone damned (not even Judas), obviously, it is not assuming that entire classes of people are damned. You are simply wrong on the facts on this. The Fathers mulled over this question, and were not as “legalist” or willing to damn people who are simply ignorant, as you seem to assume. St. Thomas Aquinas has a quite nuanced and sophisticated approach to the topic. So for you to assume that bishops at Constance had no inkling of that is a quite a stretch (to put it mildly).
The Council of Constance makes this view an impossible one to take.
No; rather, your false and razor-thin interpretation makes you wrongly think that the fatal blow has occurred, when it has not at all. You interpret the council’s words wrongly. I love how you blithely dismiss the only sensible option of the three that you pose as the comprehensive choices, and then cynically conclude that Catholic dogmatic theology is either 1) contradictory, or 2) a wax nose which special pleaders can form in whatever way they like. Very cute. One has to hand it to you for chutzpah, if nothing else.
The bottom line is that the Catholic believes in papal, ecclesial, and conciliar infallibility in faith. These are not airtight propositions, able to be proven beyond all doubt, like a geometric axiom or something. That said, it does not follow that we are talking about sheer fideism or irrationality. In my reply, I used reason and showed, I think, how there is a sensible, plausible way to interpret Constance which is in accord with orthodox Catholic theology before and since. If you consider it special pleading, feel free to refute it. I think what you are doing is engaging in rather shoddy and shallow methods of interpretation, and a massive begging of the question.
Granted, we can’t prove that councils are infallible anymore than one can “prove” that the Bible is inerrant and inspired. Both propositions obviously require faith. But we can demonstrate through reason and historical analysis that something is not immediately (and self-evidently) contradictory, as you are claiming.
We can, in other words, disprove the negative charge. The positive assertion will always require faith. You don’t possess that faith in infallible councils (which we believe are protected by God from error, not the wisdom of men) — we understand that, but you have failed in your attempt at establishing internal inconsistency in this case.
You only bring out [in a citation of an argument from St. John Chrysostom] one category of people in a state of invincible ignorance: that of people who were before Christ and could not possibly have known about Him. But, logically speaking, this does not disallow the same reasoning as applied to those who lived after Christ.
Quite the contrary: ignorance is ignorance, no matter what time period one lives in. A nominally-Muslim, uneducated, illiterate peasant on the steppes of central Asia today may not know Jesus Christ anymore than he knows about Grover Cleveland or Captain Kangaroo. What does time period have to do with it? He is ignorant. Therefore, the principle is the same whether one lived before or after Christ, and I think your objection is lightweight and of no particular significance.
Beyond that logical point, you are simply incorrect once again as to the facts (trying to imply that the Fathers only talked about those before Christ), and I will document that now. First, more material from Fr. Most (I only cited his examinations of the late-medieval period before):
. . . the Fathers of the first centuries, on closer study, reveal the start of a way out of this impasse. They did not, it seems, reach the complete solution, but they pointed in the right direction . . .
. . . We find . . . two sets of assertions, very often by the same writers. One group of statements speaks very strongly, and almost stringently, about the need of membership; the other group softens this position by taking a remarkably broad view of what membership consists in . . .
St. Irenaeus, as we saw, has one passage which might be considered restrictive. But in many other places he takes a very broad view:
There is one and the same God the Father and His Logos, always assisting the human race, with varied arrangements, to be sure, and doing many things, and saving from the beginning those who are saved, for they are those who love God, and, according to their age (genean) follow His Logos.
We note Irenaeus speaks of the human race, of the various time periods, of various arrangements, not just of the Hebrews and the arrangement God made with them. Further, although Irenaeus was not fond of speculation, yet he wrote that those who follow the Logos are saved. This of course sounds like Justin’s First Apology, 46 cited above . . .
In the same vein, we also read in Irenaeus:
For the Son, administering all things for the Father, completes (His work) from the beginning to the end. . . . For the Son, assisting to His own creation from the beginning, reveals the Father to all to whom He wills. 
And similarly, as if answering Celsus:
Christ came not only for those who believed from the time of Tiberius Caesar, nor did the Father provide only for those who are now, but for absolutely all men from the beginning, who according to their ability, feared and loved God and lived justly. . . and desired to see Christ and to hear His voice. 
Clement of Alexandria has many statements of a broad nature:
From what has been said, I think it is clear that there is one true Church, which is really ancient, into which those who are just according to design are enrolled. 
Before the coming of the Lord, philosophy was necessary for justification to the Greeks; now it is useful for piety . . . for it brought the Greeks to Christ as the law did the Hebrews. 
. . . It is Origen who gives us the objection of Celsus:
Did God then after so great an age think of making just the life of man, but before He did not care? 
To which Origen replies:
To this we will say that there never was a time when God did not will to make just the life of men. But He always cared, and gave occasions of virtue to make the reasonable one right. For generation by generation this wisdom of God came to souls it found holy and made them friends of God and prophets.
Similarly, in his commentary on Romans 2:14-16 Origen said that the law written on hearts was not the law about sabbaths and new moons, but:
that they must not commit murder or adultery, not steal, not speak false testimony, that they honor father and mother, and similar things . . . and it is shown that each one is to be judged not according to a privilege of nature, but by his own thoughts he is accused or excused, by the testimony of his conscience. 
The remark about the “privilege of nature” means that it does not matter whether they be Jews or not. There is no respecting of persons with God.
. . . We found broad texts much more widely. Only three of the above ten Fathers who have restrictive texts lack broad texts: St. Cyprian, Lactantius, and St. Fulgentius. All others, plus many more, do have them.
Broad texts are found in: First Clement, St. Justin, Hermas, Second Clement, St. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hegemonius, Arnobius, Eusebius of Caesarea, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Prosper, St. Nilus, St. Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret, St. Leo the Great, St. Gregory the Great, Primasius, and St. John Damascene. We added two samples of later writers with broad texts: Haymo and Oecumenius.
We find many of the Fathers specifically answering the charge of Celsus (why did Christ come so late)–St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, Origen, Hegemonius, Arnobius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine (though not all explicitly mention Celsus).
Very many speak of the Church as always existing: Hermas, Second Clement, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, St. Augustine, St. Leo, St. Gregory, St. John Damascene . . .
Modern experimental anthropology concurs; pagans do know the moral law surprisingly well. How do they know it? It seems to become known in some interior way, though not by mere reasoning. That interior way, even though the pagans did not recognize what it was, is God, or the Spirit of God, or the Spirit of Christ, or the Logos–all mean the same. St. Paul clearly has this thought, for in Rom 2:15 he obviously echoes Jeremiah 31:33 (prophecy of new covenant): “I will write my law on their hearts.”
So God did and does indeed write His law on the hearts of men. Objectively, this is done by the Spirit of God, the divine Logos, as we said. As Justin says, those who follow the Logos were and are Christians.
Now if we add still other words of St. Paul in Romans we can go further. In Rom 8:9: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ, does not belong to Him.” So, those who do have the Spirit of Christ, and follow the Logos as He writes the law on their hearts, do indeed belong to Christ. But still further, according to the same Paul, to belong to Christ means to be a member of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:27). Again further, to be a member of Christ, is also to be a member of His Church for the Church is the Body of Christ.
So we seem to have found the much needed solution: Those who follow the Spirit of Christ, the Logos who writes the law on their hearts, are Christians, are members of Christ, are members of His Church. They may lack indeed external adherence; they may never have heard of the Church. But yet, in the substantial sense, without formal adherence, they do belong to Christ, to His Church.
They can also be called sons of God, for Romans 8:14 adds: “All who are led by the Spirit are sons of God.” As sons, of course, they are coheirs with Christ (Rom 8:17), and so will inherit the kingdom with Him.
We can even add that objectively–though probably those who drafted the text or voted for it did not realize it–Vatican II taught the same thing: “For all who belong to Christ, having His Spirit, coalesce into one Church.” 
In saying this, we are not contradicting the teaching of Pius XII (Mystical Body Encyclical). He spoke of some as being ordered to the Church by a certain desire which they did not recognize. We admit that. To add to truth is not to deny truth . . .
. . . finally: some would say that the Fathers and the Magisterium speak only of people before Christ–after He came, formal entrance into the Church is necessary. We reply: First, the Magisterium texts speak in the present tense, not the past. Thus, Pius IX: “God by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments. . . .” And the Holy Office said: “It is not always required. . . .” Vatican II similarly: “They who without their own fault . . . can attain eternal salvation.” Second, the statements of the Fathers show a basic conviction that God must have made provision for men before Christ: the same thinking applies to those after Christ. Further, St. Paul in Romans 5:15-19 insists strongly and over and over again that the redemption is more abundant than the fall. But if the coming of Christ caused countless millions to lose in practice all chance of salvation, then the redemption would not be superabundant–it would be a tragedy, a harsh tragedy for these persons. And God would not act as if He were their God–as St. Paul asserts in Romans 3:29-30.
Furthermore, I already noted material before that contradicts this silly assertion that the Fathers were only talking about those before Christ and not after:
Those, therefore, who lived according to reason [logos] were really Christians, even though they were thought to be atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates, Heraclitus, and others like them . . . those who lived then or who live now according to reason are Christians. Such as these can be confident and unafraid. (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 46; emphasis added)
I see nothing in my prior quotes from St. Thomas Aquinas, either, that restricts his observations to those before Christ. Your objection is much ado about nothing, and you are only digging yourself in deeper.
Also, from the above-mentioned article by Fr. William Most:
Haymo, Bishop of Halberstadt (died 853), in his commentary on Romans 2:14-16, says that the words of Paul that the gentiles show the work of the law written on hearts can be understood in two ways. First:
They show surely that they have the natural law written on their hearts, and they are the law for themselves: because they do the things that the law teaches, even though it was not given to them. For example, the Saracens who have neither the law of Moses nor of the Gospel, while by nature they keep the law, do not commit murder, or commit adultery, or other things, which the law written within them contains; they are a law to themselves. . . . In the second way: When the gentiles . . . naturally do the things . . . because they have the same law of Moses written on their hearts by the inspiration of Almighty God . . . “their conscience bearing witness to them, and their thoughts in turn accusing or even defending.” And when will this be? “On the day when the Lord will judge the hidden things of men” according to my Gospel.” 
So, Haymo thinks even some Saracens of his day are being saved!
Now, lest [my opponent] attempt to place the Saracens before the time of Christ (Haymo spoke in the present-tense of present-day Saracens, but the overly-skeptical mind finds “loopholes” one way or another . . . ), I will nip that possibility in the bud by noting that my Encyclopaedia Britannica (1985 ed., vol. 10, p. 445), defines a Saracen as: “in the Middle Ages, any person — Arab, Turk, or other — who professed the religion of Islam.”
Islam having begun in the 7th century, I think we can safely conclude without fear of contradiction that Haymo is referring to a group of people after the time of Christ. He even expressly states that they are without “the Gospel.” It couldn’t be more clear than it is.
Yet [my opponent’s] dubious contention is that the Fathers thought one could be saved before the time of Jesus without being members of the Church, but not after Jesus. Elsewhere he applies this supposed universal (“one voice”) state of affairs to the medieval Church. Taint so! St. Thomas Aquinas alone disproves that . . .
Ya looks at the facts and ya makes yer choice . . . .
[My opponent] has repeatedly asserted that neither the Fathers nor the medieval Church possessed a notion of invincible ignorance [I documented how he did this eight times, on eight different dates: January 3,6,8, 11, 13, 16, 21, 23]. As for the Fathers supposedly not teaching this, St. Irenaeus fits the bill, I think (or something closely approximating it, at any rate):
Christ came not only for those who believed from the time of Tiberius Caesar, nor did the Father provide only for those who are now, but for absolutely all men from the beginning, who according to their ability, feared and loved God and lived justly. . . and desired to see Christ and to hear His voice.
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) states in its article on “Ignorance”:
Invincible ignorance, whether of the law or of the fact, is always a valid excuse and excludes sin. The evident reason is that neither this state nor the act resulting therefrom is voluntary. It is undeniable that a man cannot be invincibly ignorant of the natural law, so far as its first principles are concerned, and the inferences easily drawn therefrom. This, however, according to the teaching of St. Thomas, is not true of those remoter conclusions, which are deducible only by a process of laborious and sometimes intricate reasoning. Of these a person may be invincibly ignorant. Even when the invincible ignorance is concomitant, it prevents the act which it accompanies from being regarded as sinful.
“Remoter conclusions” would include, of course, the notion that the Catholic Church was necessary for salvation, since that is clearly a matter of revealed truth and (like the Holy Trinity) not accessible in the natural law that all men have knowledge of, according to St. Thomas.
St. Thomas Aquinas writes, in his Summa Theologica: First Part of the Second Part, Question 76, Article 2:
Whether ignorance is a sin?
Objection 1. It would seem that ignorance is not a sin. For sin is “a word, deed or desire contrary to God’s law,” as stated above (71, 5). Now ignorance does not denote an act, either internal or external. Therefore ignorance is not a sin.
Objection 2. Further, sin is more directly opposed to grace than to knowledge. Now privation of grace is not a sin, but a punishment resulting from sin. Therefore ignorance which is privation of knowledge is not a sin.
Objection 3. Further, if ignorance is a sin, this can only be in so far as it is voluntary. But if ignorance is a sin, through being voluntary, it seems that the sin will consist in the act itself of the will, rather than in the ignorance. Therefore the ignorance will not be a sin, but rather a result of sin.
Objection 4. Further, every sin is taken away by repentance, nor does any sin, except only original sin, pass as to guilt, yet remain in act. Now ignorance is not removed by repentance, but remains in act, all its guilt being removed by repentance. Therefore ignorance is not a sin, unless perchance it be original sin.
Objection 5. Further, if ignorance be a sin, then a man will be sinning, as long as he remains in ignorance. But ignorance is continual in the one who is ignorant. Therefore a person in ignorance would be continually sinning, which is clearly false, else ignorance would be a most grievous sin. Therefore ignorance is not a sin.
On the contrary, Nothing but sin deserves punishment. But ignorance deserves punishment, according to 1 Cor. 14:38: “If any man know not, he shall not be known.” Therefore ignorance is a sin.
I answer that, Ignorance differs from nescience, in that nescience denotes mere absence of knowledge; wherefore whoever lacks knowledge about anything, can be said to be nescient about it: in which sense Dionysius puts nescience in the angels (Coel. Hier. vii). On the other hand, ignorance denotes privation of knowledge, i.e. lack of knowledge of those things that one has a natural aptitude to know. Some of these we are under an obligation to know, those, to wit, without the knowledge of which we are unable to accomplish a due act rightly. Wherefore all are bound in common to know the articles of faith, and the universal principles of right, and each individual is bound to know matters regarding his duty or state. Meanwhile there are other things which a man may have a natural aptitude to know, yet he is not bound to know them, such as the geometrical theorems, and contingent particulars, except in some individual case. Now it is evident that whoever neglects to have or do what he ought to have or do, commits a sin of omission. Wherefore through negligence, ignorance of what one is bound to know, is a sin; whereas it is not imputed as a sin to man, if he fails to know what he is unable to know. Consequently ignorance of such like things is called “invincible,” because it cannot be overcome by study. For this reason such like ignorance, not being voluntary, since it is not in our power to be rid of it, is not a sin: wherefore it is evident that no invincible ignorance is a sin. On the other hand, vincible ignorance is a sin, if it be about matters one is bound to know; but not, if it be about things one is not bound to know.
Reply to Objection 1. As stated above (71, 6, ad 1), when we say that sin is a “word, deed or desire,” we include the opposite negations, by reason of which omissions have the character of sin; so that negligence, in as much as ignorance is a sin, is comprised in the above definition of sin; in so far as one omits to say what one ought, or to do what one ought, or to desire what one ought, in order to acquire the knowledge which we ought to have.
Reply to Objection 2. Although privation of grace is not a sin in itself, yet by reason of negligence in preparing oneself for grace, it may have the character of sin, even as ignorance; nevertheless even here there is a difference, since man can acquire knowledge by his acts, whereas grace is not acquired by acts, but by God’s favor.
Reply to Objection 3. Just as in a sin of transgression, the sin consists not only in the act of the will, but also in the act willed, which is commanded by the will; so in a sin of omission not only the act of the will is a sin, but also the omission, in so far as it is in some way voluntary; and accordingly, the neglect to know, or even lack of consideration is a sin.
Reply to Objection 4. Although when the guilt has passed away through repentance, the ignorance remains, according as it is a privation of knowledge, nevertheless the negligence does not remain, by reason of which the ignorance is said to be a sin.
Reply to Objection 5. Just as in other sins of omission, man sins actually only at the time at which the affirmative precept is binding, so is it with the sin of ignorance. For the ignorant man sins actually indeed, not continually, but only at the time for acquiring the knowledge that he ought to have.
In Summa Theologica: Third Part, Question 68, Article 2, St. Thomas (citing St. Augustine) espouses the baptism of desire that was made dogma at the Council of Trent:
Whether a man can be saved without Baptism?
Objection 1. It seems that no man can be saved without Baptism. For our Lord said (John 3:5): “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” But those alone are saved who enter God’s kingdom. Therefore none can be saved without Baptism, by which a man is born again of water and the Holy Ghost.
Objection 2. Further, in the book De Eccl. Dogm. xli, it is written: “We believe that no catechumen, though he die in his good works, will have eternal life, except he suffer martyrdom, which contains all the sacramental virtue of Baptism.” But if it were possible for anyone to be saved without Baptism, this would be the case specially with catechumens who are credited with good works, for they seem to have the “faith that worketh by charity” (Gal. 5:6). Therefore it seems that none can be saved without Baptism.
Objection 3. Further, as stated above (1; 65, 4), the sacrament of Baptism is necessary for salvation. Now that is necessary “without which something cannot be” (Metaph. v). Therefore it seems that none can obtain salvation without Baptism.
On the contrary, Augustine says (Super Levit. lxxxiv) that “some have received the invisible sanctification without visible sacraments, and to their profit; but though it is possible to have the visible sanctification, consisting in a visible sacrament, without the invisible sanctification, it will be to no profit.” Since, therefore, the sacrament of Baptism pertains to the visible sanctification, it seems that a man can obtain salvation without the sacrament of Baptism, by means of the invisible sanctification.
I answer that, The sacrament or Baptism may be wanting to someone in two ways. First, both in reality and in desire; as is the case with those who neither are baptized, nor wished to be baptized: which clearly indicates contempt of the sacrament, in regard to those who have the use of the free-will. Consequently those to whom Baptism is wanting thus, cannot obtain salvation: since neither sacramentally nor mentally are they incorporated in Christ, through Whom alone can salvation be obtained.
Secondly, the sacrament of Baptism may be wanting to anyone in reality but not in desire: for instance, when a man wishes to be baptized, but by some ill-chance he is forestalled by death before receiving Baptism. And such a man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism, which desire is the outcome of “faith that worketh by charity,” whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly. Hence Ambrose says of Valentinian, who died while yet a catechumen: “I lost him whom I was to regenerate: but he did not lose the grace he prayed for.”
Reply to Objection 1. As it is written (1 Kgs. 16:7), “man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart.” Now a man who desires to be “born again of water and the Holy Ghost” by Baptism, is regenerated in heart though not in body. thus the Apostle says (Rm. 2:29) that “the circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God.”
Reply to Objection 2. No man obtains eternal life unless he be free from all guilt and debt of punishment. Now this plenary absolution is given when a man receives Baptism, or suffers martyrdom: for which reason is it stated that martyrdom “contains all the sacramental virtue of Baptism,” i.e. as to the full deliverance from guilt and punishment. Suppose, therefore, a catechumen to have the desire for Baptism (else he could not be said to die in his good works, which cannot be without “faith that worketh by charity”), such a one, were he to die, would not forthwith come to eternal life, but would suffer punishment for his past sins, “but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire” as is stated 1 Cor. 3:15.
Reply to Objection 3. The sacrament of Baptism is said to be necessary for salvation in so far as man cannot be saved without, at least, Baptism of desire; “which, with God, counts for the deed” (Augustine, Enarr. in Ps. 57).
Lastly, in his Commentary on Sentences II, d. 22, q. 2, a. 2, c, he writes (emphasis added):
One kind of ignorance completely excuses from wrongdoing; another kind, however, partially excuses; and yet another kind excuses neither completely or partially. To clarify this, let us reflect upon the threefold division of ignorance.
First, on the part of the knower himself: the agent can know some things, and ignorance of these is called vincible or affected; and there are other things that he cannot know, and this is called invincible ignorance . . .
All this in St. Thomas alone, yet [my opponent] astonishingly contends that it is very difficult to find support for the notion of invincible ignorance “anywhere” in the Church of the Middle Ages, and that there was “virtually no evidence” in that period for this notion. Yet St. Thomas Aquinas was quite “mediæval.” He lived in the 13th century, and died 140 years before the Council of Constance, and exercised a wee bit of influence on the Catholic Church and her theology, I submit. But [my opponent] would have us believe that the Council bishops knew nothing of his teaching on these matters, and that the very notion of invincible ignorance was absent at that time from the mediæval Church.
That falsehood can be laid to rest once and for all. And since it is the erroneous foundation of [my opponent’s] argument, his argument collapses with it. I don’t question his sincerity (I fought infallibility myself with great vigor in the year preceding my conversion in late 1990, marshalling resources from George Salmon, Dollinger, Hans Kung, and all the usual suspects who oppose the doctrine). But he needs to now concede this particular matter and move on to something else that has more substantive proofs than his faulty interpretations of the intent behind Catholic conciliar statements (entirely neglecting the context of historical theology and doctrinal development), arguments from silence (which really aren’t, once all the relevant facts are in), and his own unsubstantiated bald statements.
We all make mistakes. There is no shame in admitting that, and I admire anyone who can do so very much. I’m sure I am not alone in that opinion.
Your original argument tried to show conciliar or magisterial contradictions, using one statement from Constance. Your argument was that it couldn’t possibly be interpreted in a way other than rigid and woodenly literal. It has now clearly been shown that that was untrue. Your premise was incorrect from the outset. So I can see why you would want to set aside Constance at this point. :-)
You made sweeping claims that the notion of invincible ignorance was not known by the medieval Church or even the early Church. That, too, was shown to be false.
You tried to evade various patristic quotes which countered or overthrew your claims with the argument that their words were only applied to those before Christ and not anyone after. I produced a rebuttal to that, too. You make my job easy when you set forth grandiose claims that are able to be disproven by a single counter-example!
You claimed that no one in the early Church would have taught a broad notion of salvation for those “outside” the Church. I produced Irenaeus (d.c. 202) and Justin Martyr (d.c. 165) to put that false assertion to rest.
All we had to do was to refute your charges and show that invincible ignorance and things like implicit desire and baptism of desire were indeed present before the 15th century (and indeed they were taught long before). The Church has always had a sophisticated “psychology of unbelief.” It developed, of course, but it was already nuanced in Holy Scripture itself (Romans 2 / Peter and the Gentiles) and in the teaching and behavior of our Lord Jesus (the woman at the well, the Roman centurion, etc.). This is the mind of the Church. This topic has been sufficiently dealt with, for the purpose of bolstering the faith of Catholics who may have been teetering under your critiques for three weeks, and starting to doubt Catholic dogmas or authority.
What has been demonstrated is quite enough for the person who has faith in God with regard to His protection of the Catholic Church. It will never be enough for one (like you) who has not such faith (with regard to Catholicism). I learned a long time ago that it is pointless to go round and round with those of a skeptical bent, on any given topic. They always come up with another obection; another “difficulty.” But what they see as a “difficulty” is often factually incorrect or simply implausible to the eye of faith. This is one such instance. I do think it is worthwhile, however, to cover each particular argument at least briefly, to demonstrate that it has far less power and cogency than its proponents claim for it.
I post from work and this places limits on the time I spend in this forum.
This issue is only one example of many of Christian paradox and complexity. We can’t always figure everything out with finality. This is one of those subjects (like, e.g., predestination vs. free will). No one knows who will actually be saved in the end. All we can do is speculate on the relationship of various beliefs or lack of beliefs, or lack of knowledge of same, to salvation and individual culpability. It’s not a simply-understood issue, so one can easily find opposing strains of thought or emphases in the Fathers.
Your objections have already been anticipated and overcome. I have no interest in a detailed patristic study along these lines. Your argument — which you stated repeatedly and vigorously here for three weeks — has (with all due respect) been defeated at all major points, in my opinion.
By the way, do you have any objection to my posting of these dialogues (and others to come) on my website? I can add your name and e-mail if you like.
[he never replied one way or the other, until 30 July 2003, some six months later, when he objected to my editing]
There is a logical difference comparing one who lived before Christ and another who lived during and after His lifetime, and knew of Him and His teaching.
But there is no logical distinction in terms of ignorance and invincible ignorance between two people B.C. and A.D. if the latter has never heard of Christ. The Fathers (in the quotes I have seen) are discussing the first scenario, not the second. You are making an issue out of the second scenario when there is none, because ignorance is ignorance whenever one lives. It is a thoroughgoing non-issue.
The distinction described above was made because it would have application to the first scenario above, and also have to do with what it means to be saved by Christ before He was incarnated. In fact, those who are saved before Christ are a perfect parallel to those after Christ who are saved, never having heard about Him or the gospel, because the principle is the same: they’re judged by what they know, their hearts, and adherence to the moral law which is in all of us (Romans 2). Anyone who is saved is saved by grace and Jesus Christ, whether they are aware of that fact or not. And all who are saved are Catholics, whether they know that or not (another sub-meaning of “no salvation outside the Church).
So when the Fathers talk about those before Christ being saved by Him, they are logically and conceptually discussing the same matter as those saved after Christ who haven’t heard the gospel. Those before Christ were obviously invincibly ignorant, yet could be saved. So there is your concept of invincible ignorance again.
My opponent then cited 1 Peter 3:18-20.
Sure, this is the “Limbo of the Fathers,” a purgatory-like state. These people were saved and awaiting Jesus’ victory so they could go to heaven. In the KJV and some other versions, the Greek Hades, or the nether world (Heb. Sheol) — which is what this place is –, is translated hell, leading to much confusion. These people had faith. They were saved because they followed God acording to what they knew, and were saved by grace and Christ just as we can be today. We are in the Church Age now. Now one goes to hell, purgatory, heaven (with all in purgatory eventually headed for heaven); or limbo.
God can clearly save someone from 500 BC before Christ, or an ignorant person from 500 AD, after Christ. That is biblical and Catholic teaching, and indeed, that of virtually all Christians who think much about it.
To whom much is given, much is required. Let not many of you become teachers . . . for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1; RSV)
The more you know, the more you are accountable for what you know, and whether you accept and follow the teaching (and Jesus) or not. God also has middle knowledge (scientia media, an emphasized aspect of Molinist soteriology with regard to predestination, which is my own particular belief), of potentialities and conditionals. He knows what any given person would do if they were presented with the gospel and claims of Christ (when in fact they have not been), and — having that knowledge — is fully able to judge them fairly according to a single criteria applied to all mankind, not double standards according to what knowledge one was literally familiar with.
Unbelievers can make it to heaven, depending on what they do with the knowledge and faith they possess (Romans 2:12-17). They can have any sin that anyone else commits, and they also have original sin in their soul, and are worthy only of damnation, like all of us, BUT for God’s grace.
Original sin is capable of damning one. But God can see what everyone would or would not do and how they would respond to the gospel if given a chance (even, I believe, a merely theoretical person who never existed; God could create such a person in an instant and then know how he would act his whole life because God is out of time and experiences no sequence or future or past like we do). We even have explicit biblical proof of middle knowledge: Matthew 11:20-24, where Jesus taught that the cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have repented if they had witnessed His works. And God is merciful and loving, so we can be sure that everyone has an equal chance and that there is no unfairness with God. Sodom and other cities were judged, but it doesn’t follow that every individual in them was damned.
The damnation might not be all that painful [cites Summa Theologica Appendix 1, question 1].
Limbo is not damnation. The latter is utter separation from God, and direct punishment and torment, eternally. Limbo is a state of natural happiness and relationship with God, such as we can attain on this earth to a large extent. It is deprivation from the Beatific Vision. Apples and oranges. “Damnation” can only refer to hell.
What Aquinas states about the baptism of desire is the orthodox position! Any alleged difficulty you continue to have is dealt with particularly in his words:
If, however, 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, . . .
St. Thomas is obviously not talking about atheists here, but about those who consciously, willingly believe in God and His providence, by means of the knowledge they have from natural law. According to the Bible — technically speaking –, there are no atheists in fact (i.e., down deep, after their intellectual pretensions are stripped away), because all men know that there is a God (Romans 1:18-23).
When Catholics talk about invincible ignorance (with regard to salvation), they are generally referring to ignorance of the gospel or the Christian revelation. St. Thomas is speaking of those without such revelation and explaining how their implicit faith — based in natural law; cf. Romans 1 — was related to the Jesus they did not know. Again, we see, you are trying to create a difficulty or contradiction where there is none at all. When will you give this up? Your arguments are suffering now from the law of diminishing return: you have to put out a lot more stuff to get even a tiny return from it (if any return at all).
The medievals are simply not as dumb as you previously thought (and I think you are sharp enough to have figured that out — thus rendering this entire thread unnecessary and fundamentally wrongheaded, since you had some acquaintance with St. Thomas Aquinas and could have easily deduced or discovered that he would have thought about this). And the medievals don’t contradict modern Catholic thought on salvation “outside” the Church; they were simply less-developed, which is altogether to be expected. St. Thomas lived over 725 years ago, and the Holy Spirit is constantly guiding His Church. We’ve learned many things since his time. But the acuity of his mind has perhaps never been surpassed, which is a testament to his extraordinary intellectual and theological achievement at a relatively early period in Church history.
St. Augustine wrote of these matters in his Nature and Grace (chapter 2):
Therefore the nature of the human race, generated from the flesh of the one transgressor, if [as the Pelagians falsely contend] it is self-sufficient for fulfilling the law and for perfecting righteousness, ought to be sure of its reward, that is, of everlasting life, even if in any nation or at any former time faith in the blood of Christ was unknown to it. For God is not so unjust as to defraud righteous persons of the reward of righteousness, because there has not been announced to them the mystery of Christ’s divinity and humanity, which was manifest in the flesh. For how could they believe what they had not heard of; or how could they hear without a preacher? For “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” But I say (adds he): Have they not heard? “Yea, verily; their sounds went out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” Before, however, all this had been accomplished, before the actual preaching of the gospel reaches the ends of all the earth – because there are some remote nations still (although it is said that they are very few) to whom the preached gospel has not found its way, – what must human nature do, or what has it done – for it has either not heard that all this was to take place, or has not yet learned that it was accomplished – but believe in God who made heaven and earth, by whom also it perceived by nature that it had been created, and lead a right life, and thus accomplish His will, uninstructed with any faith in the death and resurrection of Christ? Well, if this could have been done, or can still be done, then for my part I have to say what the apostle said in regard to the law: “Then Christ died in vain.” For if he said this about the law, which only the nation of the Jews received, how much more justly may it be said of the law of nature, which the whole human race has received, “If righteousness come by nature, then Christ died in vain.” If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by any means be justified and redeemed from God’s most righteous wrath – in a word, from punishment – except by faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ.
I used the word “dumb” to describe your view of the mediævals with regard to this question. Now, granted, it was a bit rhetorically and polemically excessive as a synonym of the word ignorant, because it really isn’t one, as a check of my dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus revealed.
So I retract that word and instead claim that you previously argued that the mediævals were virtually utterly ignorant of the notion of invincible ignorance. That has been shown to be false, without a doubt. So my point stands, even though I used one unfortunate word. I now rephrase my unfortunate comment as: “The mediævals are simply not as ignorant as you previously thought.”
Do you now agree with that sentiment?
To quote Shakespeare: “methinks thou doth protest too much.”
And our Lord Jesus: “. . . straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:24).
Now [my opponent] is at a place well-familiar to lawyers who have no case, but who have to put up some sort of defense for their clients: when you don’t have the facts on your side, you have to sling around as much nonsense as you can and hope that the jurors won’t notice that it has nothing to do with the matter at hand. In debate, we call this obfuscation, sophistry, or obscurantism. And this is what [my opponent] is doing. I will now proceed to demonstrate exactly how (in my opinion) he is doing this:
The first thing [my opponent] does is set up a false dilemma, by assuming without argument his false premises once again (that have long been proven to be incorrect and wrongheaded). A short while ago, [my opponent] implied that St. Thomas wasn’t even aware of the concept of invincible ignorance. Having been shown otherwise, now he tinkers around the edges of St. Thomas’s treatment of the subject and still pretends that it somehow contradicts Constance. Of course, as we have been arguing, Constance presupposes all of these “loopholes” concerning people “outside” the Church, because that had already been part of the mind of the Church since the beginning, and is easily shown in Holy Scripture itself. I showed that early on by citing William Most, discussing a similar statement and showing how it was cited from St. Thomas, and that his citation was, in turn, clear from context as to its exact meaning. But never mind . . . like the cynical lawyer defending a guilty person, [my opponent] continues on, as if none of this has been demonstrated.
Bishops can be cruel and “nasty” just like anyone else. Bishops were mostly at fault in the widespread adoption of the Arian heresy. Today they (at least some of them — as opposed to the laity) bear much of the blame for the priestly molestation scandal. And we know that only one bishop (St. John Fisher) was faithful to received Christian Tradition when Henry VIII established a separate church in England ( [my opponent’s] own) by means of butchery and treachery. But despite all that, God protects the decrees of Councils from error. The fact remains that the Church always held that those outside the Church could be saved if certain criteria were met.
* * * * *
Meta Description: Detailed discussion of the controversial issue of the relationship of the Catholic Church to salvation.
Meta Keywords: salvation outside the Church, baptism of desire, ecumenism, ecumenical, St. Thomas Aquinas, Catholic Church & salvation