Gianna Jessen and Brownson’s ‘Smallest Peg’

Meet Gianna Jessen. She’s not a Catholic. She identifies as a Christian. She says she only wants Jesus.

Before I go on with this, let me say that I, too, hate reading news stories (or anything else on the Internet) peppered with Twitter tweets. I will try to be sparing in my selection of embedded tweets. But, as this concerns something that happened on Twitter, I will not avoid them outright.

Continuing with our subject, Gianna Jessen is a pro-life activist, a singer, and a lady who was born with cerebral palsy. Having overcome much in her lifetime, she is cognizant of her status as a challenge to the eugenic plank of the pro-abort platform that allows such “undesirables” to be dispatched with in-utero. And for all that, good for her!

What exactly led to it is unknown to me, but Gianna was recently bothered enough by Catholics telling her to convert that she put up a Twitter poll asking Catholics if she had to be a Catholic in order to be saved. Here it is:

As is so often the case in a democratic (or pseudo-democratic) exercise — e.g., the one before Pilate — the truth lost. I would have expected it to lose by a wider margin, so I was somewhat heartened — not that I put much stock in this poll.

Not surprisingly, she received some very substandard remarks, including from priests:


Not all the responses were bad. As can be seen, Ce Gzz, below, spelled it out (correctly) in Latin.

Lots of Catholics tried to convert her. Funny thing is that she kept deflecting these efforts, and repeating her question, accusing some of the hedging Catholics of dishonesty:

So, how would we reply to her?

Brief reply, I know, but this is Twitter: 140 character limit. Besides, she wanted a straight answer, and had been given much else to think about.

We need to shoot straight with non-Catholics. But in order to do that, we have to get the Faith right ourselves. And indifferentist ecumenism has confused most Catholics today. The denial of extra ecclesiam nulla salus is not the only, but I say the most fundamental, reason the Church is in a mess today. In 1874, Orestes Brownson, the great convert and apologist, wrote this:

There can be no more fatal mistake than to soften, liberalize, or latitudinize this terrible dogma, ‘Out of the Church there is no salvation’ … If we wish to convert Protestants and infidels we must preach in all its rigor the naked dogma. Give them the smallest peg, or what appears so, not to you, but to them; — the smallest peg on which to hang a hope of salvation without being in or actually reconciled to the Church by the sacrament of penance, and all the arguments you can address to them to prove the necessity of being in the Church in order to be saved will have no more effect on them than rain on a duck’s back. [“Answer to Objections,” Brownson’s Quarterly Review (July 1874), pp. 413, 414; cited in Brother Thomas Mary’s “The Smallest Peg.”]

Take out those pegs!

Take out those pegs!

I would like to end with two other excerpts from Brownson, but first let me make a point about some of Gianna Jessen’s various remarks on Twitter. She said multiple times that she is not interested in any institution, but in “Jesus only” … “only Jesus.” Perhaps I am not the only one who noted the strange omission of the other two Divine Persons. It seems to me to be part of the reductionism inherent in the Protestant system, a reductionism that leads Protestants do divorce what God has joined together (faith and works, scripture and tradition, justification and merit, grace and sacraments, Divine will and human cooperation, etc.). Here, the Trinity Itself has been divided, at least implicitly.

I do not say that it is her conscious intention to throw two Persons of the Trinity out of her religion; I assume she is being merely rhetorical (or Twittorical, as the case may be). My point is this: When one takes “Jesus only,” and dispenses with those things that are joined to Jesus, either substantially (the Father and the Holy Ghost), or accidentally and by His Divine will (His Church, His Law, His Mother, His Sacraments, etc.), one ends up throwing out the Divine Babe with the bathwater.

And that’s bad.

Here is the first quote from Brownson I promised, from a piece entitled “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” in Brownson’s Quarterly Review for April, 1874):

With regard to the several Protestant sects in whose good faith we know them too well to believe, we do not judge individuals, for judgment has not been committed to us; and we dare not say when a Protestant dies that he is assuredly lost, for we know not what passed between God and his soul at the last moment when the breath left the body; but this we do dare say, that, if one dies a Protestant, and the presumption, if he remains an adhering Protestant up to the last moment, is that he does so die, he is most assuredly damned, that is, forever deprived of heaven and will never see God as He is. Protestantism is an open and avowed revolt against the church of God, a total rejection, in principle, of Christ and His authority, therefore of Christianity itself and Protestants exhibit in their lives no virtues of a supernatural order, or that strength. If, in infancy, they have been elevated above the natural order, they have fallen back to its level, and not seldom below it. If they can be saved in their heresy, or apostasy, the divine plan, as we have learned it, is false and delusive.

And here is the second, from part II of “The Great Question” in Brownson’s Quarterly Review for October, 1874; part I is here):

We speak not now in relation to other ages or countries. We are discussing the question in its relation to our own countrymen, the great practical question of salvation, as it comes up here and now. We have no concern with distant or merely speculative cases, or with scholastic distinctions and qualifications which have and can have no practical application here. The question is, What are we authorized and bound by our religion to proclaim to all those of our countrymen whom our words can reach? Here are the great mass out of the Church, unbelieving and heretical, careless and indifferent, and it is idle to expect to make any general impression upon them, unless we present the question of the Church as a question of life and death, unless we can succeed in convincing them, that, if they live and die where they are, they can never see God. This is the doctrine and the precise doctrine needed. Is it true? Yes or no? Is it denied? By those out of the Church, certainly, and hence the great reason why they are content to live and die out of the Church. Is it denied by those in the Church? What Catholic dare deny it? To what individual or class of individuals are we authorized by our holy faith to promise even the bare possibility of salvation, without being joined to the visible communion of the Church of God?

Please join me in praying for Gianna Jessen.