We maintain that Orestes Brownson (1803-1876) is the greatest apologist for the Faith which this country has ever produced. No serious student of theology, or intelligent Catholic should fail to read at least some of his essays, which appeared in the Brownson Review between the years 1845 and 1875. It can be said in passing that Brownson left Protestantism, of which he had above average personal knowledge, without excuse. Here we quote a few appropriate paragraphs at random, beseeching the reader to exert whatever effort he finds necessary to read more.
"We do not recollect one of these popular works which ever ventures to say, 'Out of the Church there is no salvation,' and there stop, as does the Church Herself, as does our holy Father, Pius IX, in his encyclical letter: but all of them, whenever they have occasion to introduce this dogma, are careful to accompany it with an explanation, which, in our age and country, eviscerates it of all its Catholic significance for the people at large, whether within or without. Thus, in the second work on our list, we read: 'We know that out of the Church there is no salvation; but many are they who, by want of opportunity of learning the truth, innocently adhere to error, and thus are in spirit members of the Church.' Here the qualification to the general reader negates the dogma and makes the assertion appear a mere rhetorical flourish. There are few people, not versed in the distinction and subtleties of the schools, who in these latitudinarian times can read this qualification, expressed here in its least exceptionable form, and not gather from it a meaning wholly repugnant to faith. The conclusion the author draws, moreover, is not warranted by his premises. Undoubtedly men may innocently adhere to error, but it does not therefore follow that they are in spirit members of the Church; for a man, though not in sin by reason of his error, may yet be in error by reason of his sin. It may be, that, if he had complied with the graces given him, and which are given to all men, he would have had the opportunity of being enlightened and brought to the knowledge of the truth. It is possible, then, that the reason why a man is not an actual member of the Church is his own fault, not, indeed, that fault of not knowing what he had no opportunity of learning, but of not complying with the graces given him and with which he was bound to comply, and we presume no one will pretend that he is in spirit a member of the Church, who through his own fault is not an actual member.
We are, indeed, authorized by our religion to judge no one individually, and we never have the right, without a special revelation, to say of this or that man that he is eternally lost; but faith declares that out of the Church there is no salvation. We are all commanded to hear the Church, and Almighty God gives to all the grace needed to obey His commands; and the presumption is, therefore, always against all who live and die out of Her visible communion. Certainly no one will ever be condemned for not doing what it was never in his power to do, or for not believing the truth he never had the opportunity of learning; but, since the providence of God in this matter must count for something, and we are never at liberty to take the simple human element alone, it is not easy to say precisely what is or is not the extent of the possibilities in the case. In no case is the opportunity of learning the truth ever furnished except by the providence of God, and it costs Him nothing in furnishing it whenever and wherever He sees that it will be accepted. You must suppose the man prepared in his interior disposition to embrace the truth as soon as it is presented to him, or you cannot claim him as a virtual member of the church, but when you have supposed the disposition, are you sure that you have the right to suppose the nonpossibility of the opportunity? If the opportunity is withheld, can you say it is not withheld because there was no disposition to profit by it? Can you adduce a case of a man having the disposition and dying without the opportunity? Such a men, you say, had no opportunity of hearing of the church, and yet he had the disposition. How know you that he had the disposition? From his own statement, and the fact that the missionary found him with it. The missionary found him, then? Then the opportunity was furnished, and your case is not in point. But if the man had died before the missionary came. How
know you, that supposing his
good disposition to remain, it was possible in the providence of God for
him to die before the missionary came? It may be that God would not let
him die before, any more than he would holy Simeon before he had seen his
salvation, and that he would not is presumable from the fact that he did
not. You say there are large numbers of schismatical and heretical communions
who are not guilty of the sin of schism or heresy. Be it so. But how know
you that God will ever in his providence suffer any of these to die without
an opportunity of being formally reconciled to the Church, or that, if
he suffers one to die in those communions, without such opportunity, is
it not because he is in mortal sin?
As Catholics, we know nothing of the fiction of an invisible church, for which heretics in our day contend, and which is composed of the elect of all communions, the subterfuge to which they were driven, when pressed to tell where their church was before Luther and Calvin. The Church which Catholics believe is a visible kingdom, as much so as the kingdom of France or Great Britain, and when faith assures us that out of the Church there is no salvation, the plain, obvious, natural sense of the dogma is, that those living and dying out of that visible kingdom cannot be saved. This is the article of faith itself, what we are bound to believe under pain of mortal sin; it is what the fathers taught. Habere non potest Deum patrem, says St. Cyprian, qui ecclesiam non habet matrem (He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his Mother); and where this is concealed or explained away, as in the grand duchy of Baden, for instance, faith becomes weak, charity languishing, and Catholicity hardly distinguishable from one of the sects."
ST. JOHN VIANNEY AND THE PROTESTANT
The Cure of Ars once gave a medal to a Protestant who visited him, who exclaimed: "Dear sir, you have given a medal to one who is a heretic, at least I am a heretic from your point of view. But although we are not of the same religion, I hope we shall both one day be in Heaven." The holy priest took the gentleman's hand in his own, and giving him a look which seemed to reach his very soul, answered him, "Alas! my friend, we cannot be together in Heaven, unless we have begun to live so in this world. Death makes no change in that. As the tree falls so shall it lie. Jesus Christ has said, 'He that does not hear the Church, let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican.' And He said again, 'There shall be one fold and one shepherd,' and He made St. Peter the chief shepherd of His flock." Then, in a voice full of sweetness, he added, "My dear friend, there are not two ways of serving Jesus Christ; there is only one good way, and that is to serve Him as He Himself wishes to be served." Saying this, the priest left him. But these words sank deeply into the good man's heart, and led him to renounce the errors in which he had been brought up, and he became a fervent Catholic.
THE DOGMA OF FAITH
"There is only one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all can be saved." (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215)
"We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Pope Boniface VIII, in the bull, Unam Sanctam, 1302)
"The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes, and teaches, that none of those who are not within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but Jews, heretics and schismatics, can ever be partakers of eternal life, but are to go into the eternal fire 'prepared for the devil, and his angels' (Mt. 25:41)., unless before the close of their lives they shall have entered into that Church; also that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is such that the Church's sacraments avail only those abiding in that Church, and that fasts, almsdeeds, and other works of piety which play their part in the Christian combat are in her alone productive of eternal rewards; moreover, that no one, no matter what alms he may have given, not even if he were to shed his blood for Christ's sake, can be saved unless he abide in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church." (Mansi, Concilia, xxxi, 1739; Pope Eugene IV, in the bull, Cantate Domino, 1441).
The implications of these pronouncements, taken together, are as follows:
1. All three of these statements are ex cathedra definitions of the Church and of the Pontiffs who made them. (Ex cathedra means that these are infallible teachings of the Church which all persons must believe in order to be saved. These teachings are not subject to change as the popes in making these declarations of faith were guided by the Holy Ghost, Who is unchangeable.)
2. Let the reader accept the reasonable fact that the Pontiffs who pronounced these decrees were perfectly literate and fully cognizant of what they were saying. If there were any need to soften or qualify their meanings, they were quite capable of doing so. They were not regarded as heretics or fanatics at the time of their pronouncements, and have never been labeled such by the Church to this very day. It is an easy thing for the people of this "enlightened" age to fall into the modern delusion that the men of former times, especially those of the Middle Ages, were not as bright as we are, so that they sometimes said they know not what.
3. Since the aforementioned formula (Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus) is a doctrine of Catholicity, it is the standard of orthodoxy on the subject of salvation; which is to say, all writers, whether they be saints and/or Doctors, of old or of late, all popes and theologians, of whatever era, and their pronouncements are reliable in their treatment of this subject, if they accept and support it. Their testimony or opinions are useless (at best), if they do not, this regardless of any other contribution they may have made to Catholic erudition. The same must be said of the works of all Catholic writers.
4. Such a dogmatic statement is not to be colored, or reduced, or altered, by reference to the Sacred Scriptures. On the contrary, it
is in terms of such a statement that all the Scriptures are to be read and understood.
5. The doctrine determines who has good will and who has bad will. Those who have bad will are in the state of sin. In rejecting God's accredited word and work, they reveal their true selves: They choose not to be among those of whom Christ spoke when he said: "I know mine, and mine know me." (Jn. 10:14). When it is responded that certain individuals do not know that what they are hearing is God's word, the reply is: What is being said demands that careful inquiry be made. If the inquiry is made with the disposition of humility, integrity, and courage, the inquirer will find that the word cannot be denied. No argument or evidence has ever been discovered which will leave the honest man free of the revealed word's imperative.
6. It is important that the reader who thinks he disagrees with the literal reading of these decrees not throw his hands up in indignation and put this paper aside. It should be obvious that the reason Catholics regard heresy with such horror and alarm is this very doctrine. For if there is salvation outside the Church, what difference does it make whether one is in the Church or out of It, whether one is a heretic in the judgment of the Church or not? Really, if to deny this doctrine is not heresy, there is no such thing as heresy, and it would have been pointless, as well as illogical, for the Church to attach such severe censures to the denial of this or any other doctrine.
7. This dogma rules out the possibility of simple invincible ignorance concerning the matter of salvation; those who die in ignorance of the Church as the only course of salvific grace must be adjudged to have been culpably so. In a word, they did not know because they did not want to know.
Quoted below are three worthy statements in support of this Dogma of the Faith:
"It is a sin to believe that there is salvatin outside the Catholic Church."
- Venerable Pope Pius IX
"There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Anyone who resists this truth perishes."
- St. Louis Maria de Montfort
"We must believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church; hence they who are out of our Church or they who are separated from it, cannot be saved."
- St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church