If Ecumenism is Bad, Indifferentism is Worse

In the March, 2017 issue of Catholic Family News (CFN) there is an article, written sometime after Vatican II (no date is given) by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre entitled “The Confusion Surrounding Ecumenism”. [I have since discovered that the article is taken from chapter 10 of his Open Letter to Confused Catholics, published by Angelus Press, 1985] In an otherwise magnificent issue of CFN this piece can easily add to “the confusion.” The Archbishop begins with several examples of outrageous abuses, all in the name of ecumenism, wherein Catholic churches in France and Italy hosted Moslem services and Buddhist celebrations on their grounds (in the latter case even in a Catholic church itself.) Examples of interfaith ceremonies with Protestants are also cited. Of course, we know that today, long after the Archbishop wrote these words, the situation is even worse, what with the fiasco recently dramatized in Lund with the pope himself ingratiating the Lutherans and rehabilitating Martin Luther. Archbishop Lefebvre cites these sacrilegious debacles, which occurred many years ago, as ecumenism gone amok.

All well and good. Sadly, however, the final message of Archbishop Lefebvre, although it does not contradict his indignation concerning false ecumenism and interfaith celebrations, it puts a doubt as to the literal meaning of the irreformable doctrine that “there is no salvation outside the Church.” I do not know, now with our friend, John Vennari, being very ill (he is said to be dying), who decided to put this particular article in CFN.  What he held on the salvation of non-believers in the early days after the Council may well have been considerably redacted later as his Society of Saint Pius X grew and matured in its theological defense of the salvation doctrine. I do not know. As noted above, the book was published in 1985, only six years before his death. We are fairly confident that Bishop Fellay and the priests we know from the SSPX would not want to identify with what was recorded from their founder in the March CFN. With all due reverence to the Archbishop, who is a hero of the Church to all of us — including to our late beloved mentor, Brother Francis, who met and conversed with him — the following words need to be addressed now that they have ended up in print.

After affirming that no grace is given to the world except through the Church, Archbishop Lefebvre adds: “Does that mean that no Protestant, no Muslim, no Buddhist, or animist will be saved? No, it would be a second error to think that.” He then goes on to expand upon the “formula” of Saint Cyprian “Outside the Church there is no Salvation.” Rather he had said “dogma of the Church,” since the truth expressed in that “formula” of Cyprian has been thrice defined. Clearly, Cantate Domino of the Council of Florence (1441) declared for all time, ex cathedra, that non-Catholics cannot be saved unless they come into the Catholic Church or, in the case of schismatics, return to the unity of the one, true Church.

The Archbishop maintains that these non-Catholics (even non-Christians) “are saved in their religion but not by it.” Prior to this, he says those non-Christians who “are men of good will” are saved by an “implicit” baptism of desire. “They receive,” he says, “the grace of baptism without knowing it, but in an effective way. In this way they become part of the Church.” (my emphasis)

I can testify that Brother Francis, when he personally spoke with Archbishop Lefebvre, in St. Marys, Kansas, back in the early 1980s, respectfully told him that one must not merely affirm that there is no salvation without the Church (which his excellency often emphasized) but that one must affirm that “there is no salvation outside the Church.” And that that is the Church’s explicit definition.

As to an “implicit baptism of desire,” for one who has never heard of Christ (for assuredly the Archbishop did not mean one who explicitly rejected Christ) there must first be a supernatural act of explicit faith in the Trinity, Christ, the Incarnate God and His Redemption. As many reading this column would already know, Saint Thomas Aquinas (in the light of Saint Paul to the Romans, 10:17) insists in his Summa Theologica on this necessity of explicit faith for all justification. What can be “implicit” after this could be acceptance of and determination to receive sacramental baptism once one is informed of its necessity. Thusly, too, the same can be said of all of the other dogmas of our holy Faith, for the act of Faith, as an act of the intellect illumined by grace with the assent of the will, is integral. In other words, denying one dogma of faith places one’s own personal subjective state of mind above God’s revelation through His teaching Church. If one can receive justifying grace without explicit faith in Christ, then it is merely a matter of degree before the doors of salvation will be open to Karl Rahner’s “anonymous Christians.”

I need not take this any further. I am certain that John Vennari and the SSPX would agree with my concerns here. A clarification would be helpful in the next issue of CFN.