THE CATHOLIC DOGMA, by Father Michael Mueller (a Book Review)

Extra Ecclesiam Nullus omnino Salvatur
by Father Michael Mueller, C.SS.R.

When I read an old edition of this myth-shattering book about twenty-five years ago, I was convinced that it could inspire every earnest Catholic with an evangelical zeal that would be grounded in sound doctrine. I feel that way even more so today. I believe that not only the members of the Church universal, but those outside the Church as well, indeed all mankind, is ready for a strong message from our pope and our Catholic hierarchs – a message that would scatter the false illusions of liberalism like the rays of the rising sun do the morning fog. That message, so ably defended by the Redemptorist Father Michael Mueller, is the subtitle of his book: Extra Ecclesiam Nullus omnino Salvatur (Outside the Church there is positively no Salvation). Twenty-five years ago, however, no publisher wanted to touch this book, not even TAN. It was “too much like Father Feeney’s doctrine,” was always the excuse when some enthusiast lobbied for it. Thanks to Catholic Authors Press it is finally, after one hundred and twenty-five years, back in print.

First published in 1888, this very powerful disputatio could prove an even more potent course adjuster for the “disoriented” Church of our time than it did in a time when the assaults from the Church’s enemies came more from the outside than from within. Dealing, as it does, with one doctrine of the Faith – and that doctrine not so much inspiring devotion as it is an invitation with everlasting life and death consequences – one would think that it would be a rather dry presentation filled with authoritative quotes from scripture, popes, councils, saints, doctors of the Church, and respected theologians. And one would be right – about the plenitude of doctrinal quotations, that is. But, although it is polemical, this is definitely not a dry book. The author is a gifted writer as well as a skillful and precise theologian. He had written numerous best sellers, published by Benziger Brothers, on devotional and theological subjects, including among others: The Blessed Eucharist: Our Greatest Treasure, The Sinners Return to God: the Prodigal Son, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and a nine volume series, God The Teacher Of Mankind.

Setting the Stage

In The Catholic Dogma there is no mistaking, from the Preface on, that this German Redemptorist has an ax to grind in the name of Catholic orthodoxy. The doctrinal soundness of his earlier catechetical work, Familiar Explanation of Christian Doctrine, had been not only called into question by a writer for a prominent Catholic newspaper, the Buffalo Union and Times, but ridiculed as well. The antagonist of our author is identified by the Union’s editor, Father Cronin, as “the most prestigious priest in the United States,” otherwise nameless. His critique of Father Mueller’s catechism is titled “Queer Explanation of Christian Doctrine.” In this rebuttal of that critique, Mueller addresses him as “Sir Oracle.” Oddly enough – and the prolific Father Mueller does not fail to exploit the fact – Sir Oracle never mentions the name of the author he is attacking. All of this is grist for the mill in the hands of our Redemptorist’s merciless onslaught against what Brother Francis dubbed “sentimental theology.” Sir Oracle, and other Catholic priests who had authored similar attacks on the salvation doctrine (Paulist Father Alfred Young is cited), were simply buried in three hundred pages of well-reasoned arguments and authoritative citations. Liberal Catholicism, as far as this foundational doctrine was concerned, was left without a leg to stand on. With the resurrection of this great book, for too long ignored even in traditional Catholic circles, that victory over liberalism and false ecumenism could happen again. It is our duty, in this most important work for the salvation of souls, to promote this prolific writer’s greatest contribution to this timely cause of the Church militant.

Zeal for Thy House (the Church) has Consumed Me

Father Mueller’s style is aggressively confrontational, full of crippling wit and holy sarcasm (yes, there is such a thing), devoid, however, of bitter vitriol (even though defending himself from charges of heresy), and, in some places, just plain hilarious. And he is not even Irish, although one can see how his heart bleeds for that race in his moving account (pgs. 106-109) of the suffering of their martyrs at the hands of English heretics. To appreciate the sentiments that motivated our author to pen such a devastating rebuttal to the liberal attack on the Church’s doctrine of salvation, and to his own orthodoxy, we need only to note that Father Mueller emphasized that his order’s founder, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, once said that he would welcome any cross God sent him except that of being called a heretic.

The author of “Queer Explanation” considered Father Mueller’s defense of the literal meaning of the thrice-defined dogma, No Salvation Outside the Church, to be “heretical.” And though Father Mueller had many prominent allies in his day, he still would end up, like Father Feeney, being muzzled as a writer by his own order’s superiors, even though his “controversial” catechism, Familiar Explanation of Christian Doctrine, had been granted an imprimatur by Archbishop Roosevelt Bailey of Baltimore and his Provincial and fellow Redemptorist Bishop Jos. Helmpraecht, and had been lauded by numerous theologians and bishops, many of whose testimonials are supplied by Mueller in the pages of The Catholic Dogma.

The Catholic Dogma

Note the degree of importance Father Mueller attaches to the salvation dogma: The Catholic Dogma. It is not the greatest dogma; one must go to the great mysteries of Faith for that supereminence: The Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, the Holy Eucharist, and the Mystical Body. Nevertheless, it is the most important dogma. Mueller quotes the renowned Jesuit scriptural commentator, Cornelius a Lapide, to this effect when he speaks of genuine Catholic theologians: “They will propose each dogma, especially the all-important dogma, ‘out of the Church there is no salvation,’ in the words of the Church . . . they are most careful not to weaken in the least the meaning of this great dogma . . .” He calls Pius IX for testimony, in that pope’s reference to extra ecclesiam nulla salus as “the great dogma of our holy religion” and again this “great and fundamental truth.” (Allocution of Dec. 9, 1854) Finally, Scottish Archbishop George Hay, in a treatise he had written nearly a century before in defense of the salvation dogma, refers to it as “the great and fundamental truth, the very fence and barrier of the true religion.” What did these men see that so few others saw, or, at best saw, but did not understand how destructive any compromise to this all-important dogma would be for the Church? They saw that it was both a foundation and a hedge. It supported the integrity of the whole body of Catholic doctrine; it was the bulwark that every dogma stood on. Without it, every doctrine was reduced to a mere formula; one could take it or leave it, if one could be saved without it. “He that breaketh a hedge,” writes the author of Ecclesiastes, “a serpent shall bite him” (10:8).

Our author utilizes Saint Thomas Aquinas more than any other authority in this dispute. And well he should. In the Summa Saint Thomas provides a thorough examination into the nature of the sin of heresy, of those who author the heresy, and those who are educated in it from youth. He also examines the question of ignorance, culpable and inculpable, in the light of what is necessary for salvation. Following the clear teaching of the angelic doctor, Mueller uses him to interpret the true meaning of what the zealous Pope Pius IX actually did teach regarding “invincible ignorance” in the one encyclical, Quanta Conficiamur (1863), which liberals persistently exploited (and still do) for their own purposes. Citing Pope Pius’s own words, our author demonstrates that nothing roused the righteous indignation of this blessed pontiff more than the liberals’ unwarranted misinterpretation of his own teaching in order to support what the pope called their “most pernicious error[s].”

SSPX Just Can’t Leave it Alone:
Baptism of Desire

Now that I have introduced Saint Thomas, I cannot leave without comment a caveat in the SSPX Angelus Press’s ad copy concerning The Catholic Dogma, which they are carrying. Certain priests in the SSPX, as you know, are very diligent in making sure that the good traditional Catholics whom they minister do not become tainted with what they call “Feeneyism” – that “proximate heresy” so “offensive to pious ears” to quote some typical jargon. The ad copy states that Father Mueller’s “refutation is not a pro-Feeneyite catechism.” And “by strengthening his arguments against his critics, however, he has written a convincing positive treatment to illuminate those disbelieving in baptisms other than by water.” The ad copy is very brief as it is, just five or six sentences; reading it one would think Father Mueller’s book was all about baptism of desire. So, the SSPX editorial department found it necessary to throw in this paternal caveat lest any innocent reader be led into thinking that “Hey, isn’t this what Father Feeney taught?” So, to assure them beforehand that Father Mueller would never have tolerated Father Feeney’s opinion regarding the absolute necessity of baptism of water, the ad copy stresses that the author’s treatment of the subject will help to “illuminate” those who disbelieve in baptism in desire or blood.

How deceptive! In the one or two places where Father Mueller speaks of baptism of desire, in reference to catechumens, he is quoting Saint Robert Bellarmine and Orestes Brownson. In the relevant text, Bellarmine clearly states that baptism in desire is in the area of opinion. In fact he opts in favor of baptism in desire as against an opposing opinion that was presented in a well-known Theological Manual widely used in his time. The Manual, which rejected Saint Augustine’s opinion on baptism of desire (he, not Saint Ambrose, being the first doctor to propose the theory as such), was being used in theology classes after the Council of Trent. That would hardly have been the case if Trent “defined” baptism of desire as some contend. Since every doctor of the Church who accepted the possibility of baptism in desire as salvific for catechumens cites Saints Augustine and Ambrose for their authority, it may surprise those familiar with this issue to know that the African doctor changed his opinion from being for to being against baptism in desire in his later anti-Pelagian writings. I quote, of all people, Karl Rahner. Liberal that he was, one still must grant that he was a scholar:

“…we have to admit…that the testimony of the Fathers, with regard to the possibility of salvation for someone outside the Church, is very weak. Certainly even the ancient Church knew that the grace of God can be found also outside the Church and even before Faith. But the view that such divine grace can lead man to his final salvation without leading him first into the visible Church, is something, at any rate, which met with very little approval in the ancient Church. For, with reference to the optimistic views on the salvation of catechumens as found in many of the Fathers, it must be noted that such a candidate for baptism was regarded in some sense or other as already ‘Christianus’, and also that certain Fathers, such as Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa deny altogether the justifying power of love or of the desire for baptism. Hence it will be impossible to speak of a consensus dogmaticus in the early Church regarding the possibility of salvation for the non-baptized, and especially for someone who is not even a catechumen. In fact, even St. Augustine, in his last (anti-pelagian) period, no longer maintained the possibility of a baptism by desire.” ( Rahner, Karl, Theological Investigations, Volume II, Man in the Church)

Yes, sometimes liberals are more honest than traditionalists.

Una Fides:
Defined dogmas are “irreformable” by their very nature (Vatican I)

Why do I bring this up in this book review? Because it is pertinent to the defense of Father Feeney, who, without realizing it, resurrected Father Mueller’s crusade in the mid-twentieth century. If Father Mueller were alive in the 1940s is it even conceivable that this champion of the doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus would not have been an ally of Father Feeney? Or, maybe Father Feeney’s critics would imagine that Mueller would have sided with Archbishop Cushing, whose heretical teaching was never censored by Pius XII’s Holy Office: “No salvation outside the Church,” he once publicly bellowed, “Nonsense!”

If the Angelus Press ad copy writer wanted to give full disclosure he would have issued another caveat in his ad copy; namely, that Father Mueller’s book is not a “pro-Lefebvreite catechism.” Did Archbishop Lefebrve ever publicly recant his own errors on the salvation doctrine? The Catholic Dogma is a direct refutation of some of the Archbishop’s clearly stated opinions.

Here are a couple (and there are more) of the Archbishop’s own aberrations on the subject, which, to be fair, were probably held in similar form (and still are) by practically every bishop in the world.

“The Church is necessary; the Church is the one ark of salvation; we must state it. That has always been the adage of theology: ‘Outside the Church there is no Salvation’ . . . [now comes the take back] This does not mean that none among other religions may be saved. But none is saved by his erroneous and false religion. If men are saved in Protestantism, Buddhism, or Islam, they are saved by the Catholic Church . . . perhaps through the practice of their religion, perhaps of what they understand in their religion, but not by their religion . . .” (1972 address in Rennes, France)

“We are Catholics; we affirm our faith in the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ; . . . we think that Jesus Christ is the sole way, the sole truth, the sole life, and that one cannot be saved outside Our Lord Jesus Christ and consequently outside His Mystical Spouse, the Holy Catholic Church. No doubt the graces of God are distributed outside the Catholic Church; [here it comes again] but those who are saved , even outside the Catholic Church, are saved by the Catholic Church, by Our Lord Jesus Christ, even if they do not know it, even if they are not aware of it . . .” (1976, from a sermon in Geneva at the first Mass of a newly ordained)

Is such rationalizing not called heresy in The Catholic Dogma? Enough said.

In Treating the Effects One Cannot Neglect the Cause

Back in the seventies ardent Catholics were fighting the good fight just as they are today, but their righteous indignation was focused on the effects of the revolution within the Church rather than the cause. The collapse happened so fast after Vatican II that most traditional Catholics blamed the Council for everything: insipid liturgical fabrications, Communion in the hand, false ecumenism, the flight of priests and religious from the consecrated life, the dissolution of discipline, abandonment of religious habits, and the consequent corrosion of morals in monasteries and convents, nuns turned feminists, the social gospel and liberation theology, sex ed., contraception, easy annulments, immodesty, and the secularization and corruption of Catholic schools and colleges. The Council, however, did not create liberal shepherds. No, the cardinals and bishops who pushed this liberal agenda were liberals long before 1962. The younger among them, in fact, were chosen for their posts by Pius XII.

One day in the mid 1940s, when Father Feeney was in his popular prime at Saint Benedict Center in Cambridge, he called to his office the two other teachers at the Center, historian Catherine Clarke, and philosopher Dr. Fahkri Maluf. He spoke with great gravity and told them that he had put his finger on the reason that the Church in America was not winning the battle against the forces of evil. He had begun to see why, even though the seminaries were full, they were not producing saints, but mere administrators. Furthermore, producing saints was a laughable idea in the Catholic universities, where the only thing that mattered was producing professionals, men who, for the most part, ended up being pragmatists and skeptics. It is because the prelates and clergy no longer believe that there is no salvation outside the Church, that we are seeing this cynicism and lack of faith in the young generation, Father said. The fact that Father Feeney did believe it and, even if he had not put it in so many words, taught it, was the reason why he had two hundred converts during a few years of tenure among college students in the heart of America’s academia. In Father’s mind, one cannot really love the truths of the Faith if one believes you can be saved denying even one of those truths.

Long before Father Feeney began his defense of the defined dogma “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” at least two other champions of the Faith (in addition to Father Mueller) were putting their writing talents at its service: Archbishop George Hay of Scotland (d. 1811) and the great American convert, Orestes Brownson (d. 1876), both of whom are quoted at length throughout Mueller’s work. As one can see from the author’s uncompromising disputation with “the most prominent priest in the United States”* and others, liberalism was very much alive in the nineteenth century, American Church even though Blessed Pope Pius IX had tried so aggressively to eradicate it. One can sense the frustration of the Holy Father, noted by Mueller, in the following exhortation given by him to a delegation of French clergy in 1871: “That which I fear is not the Commune of Paris, those miserable men, those real demons of hell . . . no, that which I fear is liberal Catholicism . . . I have said so more than forty times, and I repeat it to you now . . . the real scourge of France is liberal Catholicism.” The essence of liberal Catholicism is the affirmation that salvation can be had outside the Church by way of sincerity of conscience.

A Catholic America

Father Michael Mueller wanted to convert America. That is why he wrote The Catholic Dogma. Near the end of his book the author lists eight American bishops, then presiding over various Sees, all of them converts. After this he lists about thirty more prominent American converts: priests, religious, university presidents and professors, judges, doctors, writers (both men and women) and generals. America was on its way to becoming Catholic. But there were not enough priests like Father Mueller and the Belgian Jesuit, Father Arnold Damen (d. 1890), the latter of whom converted twelve thousand American Protestants. [Interesting aside: Father Damen was recruited to the American mission by Father Pierre De Smet. Fifty years and two hundred days a year on the Jesuit mission tour throughout America, Damen was also the pastor and founder of Holy Name parish and St. Ignatius College (later Loyola University) in Chicago.]

I finish by posting the following exhortation from our valiant champion of Catholic orthodoxy. With these words the theologian yields to the priest.

Father Michael Mueller:

“[L]et us love our countrymen too much to be ingenious in inventing excuses for them, to strain the faith in their behalf until it is nearly ready to snap. Let us, from a deep and tender charity, which, when need is, has the nerve to be terribly severe, thunder, or, if we are no Boanerges, breathe in soft but thrilling accents, in their ears, in their souls, in their consciences, those awful truths which they will know too late at the day of judgment. We must labor to convince them that they are dead in trespasses and sins, and condemned already, and that they can be restored to life, and freed from condemnation only by the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is dispensed through the Church, and the Church only.”


Extra Ecclesiam Nullus omnino Salvatur

Michael Mueller, C.SS.R.

* Paulist Father Walter Elliot. Elliot had written in French the biography of Father Isaac Hecker, the founder of his order, because Hecker was well known among the liberal clergy in France, having spent a good number of years in their circles. After writing The Catholic Dogma, Father Mueller engaged in other polemical battles with Fathers Young and Elliot in the pages of the Buffalo Union and Times. After Father Mueller was silenced (within a year from the time his book was published), Elliot was given the last word with a scathing attack on The Catholic Dogma.