‘The Church of Salvation’ by Brother Leonard Mary, M.I.C.M.

First published in 1984, and more recently updated, Brother Leonard Mary’s analytical commentary and reference book, The Church of Salvation, is back in print. As a loyal and original disciple of Father Feeney, and, actually, of all the members of the order of Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Sister Catherine excepted) the one who knew Father the longest, Brother Leonard Mary has acquired an abundance of knowledge in his sixty years of religious life and seventy year association with Saint Benedict Center. He relocated to California with one other brother a few years after the death of Father Feeney (1978) and founded what he delighted to call the “Saint Benedict Center, West Coast.” There are now three brothers at that house, and they do excellent work for the Faith.

The Church of Salvation is packed, cover-to-cover, with over one hundred pages of insightful commentary and a plethora of authoritative quotations from scripture, popes, the fathers and doctors of the Church, doctrinal councils, and solemn magisterial definitions, all in defense of the necessity of being a member of the one, true, Catholic Church for salvation.

The first chapter’s twenty-one pages, “Today’s Problems,” give the reader a background as to the progressive causes that, beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing until today, undermined the Church’s foundational dogma, extra ecclesiam nulla salus (No salvation outside the Church). Brother Leonard Mary subtitles this introductory chapter, “Beware of False Prophets.” He shows how the popes of these last two centuries fought the false prophets whose writings and lectures were besieging the Church and all Christendom with false subjectivist philosophy, false theology, false ecclesiology, and a false soteriology à la Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin. Having lost his Catholic bearings as a young theologian, with his fanatical support of Darwinian evolution, Chardin crowned his errors with his cosmic epiphanies about the universal salvation of all men and angels in the final triumph of the “Omega Christ.”

One of Brother’s most salient points is the effect false philosophy and theology had on Father Karl Rahner, who was a disciple of Martin Heidegger, a lapsed Catholic turned modernist philosopher. Heidegger was also the inspiration behind Protestant biblical critics Paul Tillich and Rudolph Bultmann. No theologian did more to undermine the salvation dogma, Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, than the German Jesuit Karl Rahner. Brother Leonard devotes a number of pages to Rahner because of the vast extent of his influence upon Catholic thought in the twentieth century. Rahner admitted that he took from Heidegger his “style of thinking.” Orthodox Jesuit theologian, Father Paul Crane, in his Christian Order magazine, wrote concerning Chardin and Rahner, “It would be difficult to say which of these two men is responsible for the most damage” to Catholic doctrine.

Brother Leonard sifts the most audacious speculations of the German Jesuit from his 1976 book Theological Investigations; most of the passages provided as exhibits were taken from the chapter “On the Church.” The climax of Rahner’s new theology of “existential” optimism regarding salvation is his invention of the “anonymous Christian.”

“Merely in passing, it may be remarked that we might actually apply the term ‘anonymous Christian’ to every individual who, in virtue of God’s universal will to save and thereby in virtue of the ‘supernatural existential’ is inescapably confronted with the offering of God’s self-bestowal and is totally unable to escape from the situation. In other words according to this terminology absolutely every man is an ‘anonymous Christian.’”

Rahner, our author notes, was astonished that the fathers at Vatican II did not oppose this new theology of optimism. “For when we consider the officially received theology concerning all these questions, which was more or less traditional right down to the Second Vatican Council, we can only wonder how few controversies arose during the Council with regard to these assertions of optimism concerning salvation, and wonder, too, how little opposition the conservative wing of the Council brought to bear on this point, how all this took place without any setting of the stage or any great stir even though this doctrine marked a far more decisive phase in the development of the Church’s conscious awareness of her faith than, for instance, the doctrine of collegiality in the Church, the relationship between scripture and tradition, the acceptance of the new exegesis, etc.”

Brother follows this up with a quote from Pope John Paul II in an address he gave on October 4, 1981, to the Franciscans gathered in Rome to celebrate Saint Francis’ feast day, and also to commemorate the eight hundred anniversary of his birth in the year 1281.

“Like Brother Francis we have to be conscious of and absorb this fundamental and revealed truth, contained in the phrase consecrated by tradition: ‘There is no salvation outside the Church.’” (L’Osservatore Romano, 12 October, 1981, p. 6).

A few more pages are devoted to the Second Vatican Council, the influence of the Rhine bishops and their periti, and the authoritative statements of several popes concerning the nature of the Council and the degree of assent due to its decrees. This is followed by an interesting synopsis on the sources of ecclesiastical authority, vis-a-vis the ordinary and solemn magisterium, Roman catechisms, and even an explanation of Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum, as to exactly what is included in this source book.

After laying out the causes of the modern assault on the Church’s foundational dogma, Brother fills the next eighty pages with authoritative quotations in defense of the salvation doctrine, infallibility, inerrancy of scripture, and the necessity of the act of Faith. This is the real meat of this book. And what a tremendous collection it is. To make it easier to use, Brother divides the subject matter into eleven chapters. They are:

  1. Theological Speculation. In this chapter warnings are provided from holy scripture, popes and councils, and the fathers, doctors, and saints regarding the danger of theological speculation run amok and the evil of promoting novelties.
  2. Unchangeable Dogmas. Using the same authorities and in the same hierarchical order (as he does throughout these chapters), Brother amasses many quotations in support of what Vatican I defined as the “irreformability” of defined doctrine and the immutability of revealed truth.
  3. The Narrow Gate: A sobering chapter to be sure. But the truth should be sobering. These testimonies are meant to assist us on the way to salvation and keep us on the straight and narrow. They have their source in the words of Christ Himself: “How narrow is the gate and how strait the way that leadeth to life, and few there are who find it” (Matt. 7: 14).
  4. A Clear Conscience. I would have suggested to the author that he add the word “Sincerity” to this chapter title. Many of these quotes deal with sincerity and a malformed conscience. What is testified to here, by so many Catholic authorities over the last twenty centuries, is that there is no such thing as “good faith” when “good faith” is explicitly opposed to divine and Catholic Faith. The act of Faith must have objective Catholic content, and it must be integral, whole, not picking and choosing what one wants to believe in.
  5. The Way to Heaven.  This chapter stresses the visible Church as the “way” to salvation. It identifies Christ with His Church, His Mystical Body. Powerful testimony.
  6. The True Faith. I have to say this is the best chapter of all. The title says it all.
  7. The Sacrament of Faith. This chapter deals with the necessity of the sacrament of Baptism for salvation.
  8. The Children of Unbelief. The quotations in this chapter are so opposed to what is generally held today that they would seem to issue from a different Church. They are an indictment against false ecumenism. The truths passed on here are the antidote to what Sister Lucia of Fatima called a “diabolical disorientation” in the Church.
  9. Built on the Rock. As the title suggests the quotes posted here are a testimony from every age to the supreme authority of the pope. Particularly important are those from the early Church and the ecumenical councils. Unfortunately, there is only one passage excerpted from an eastern father when there should have been more.
  10. O Saving Victim. A wonderful chapter with exquisite eulogia on the Magnum Donum, the Holy Eucharist.
  11. The Gate of Heaven. Brother saves the best for last, joining the Eucharist and Mary for a finale.

The material covered in these 108 pages is extremely valuable information for anyone serious about our doctrinal crusade. Not only are they a helpful reference, but, as I said about the first three chapters, a defender of the Faith must have a knowledge of the causes that brought on the present “crisis of faith” — to quote our present Holy Father. The excellent summation that launches this book from the start acquaints the reader with the personalities whose bad thinking did the most to undermine the salvation doctrine.

Other than a couple of pages on philosophy (103 and 104), where the author paints an uncomplimentary and somewhat exaggerated picture of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ attachment to Aristotle (and I am not going to open that subject up in this review), I highly recommend The Church of Salvation.

Published by Mancipia Press, Saint Benedict Center, Still River, MA 01467