[This article was published in February, 1987 as a Res Fidei monograph. The Verbum in question (#24) is no longer available online. However, the offending article can be read here .]
An article appeared in the Winter 1986-87 issue of Verbum (a newsletter of the Society of Saint Pius X) bearing the offensive title “Father Feeney vs. Catholic Doctrine”. The article misrepresented the Catholic teachings of Father Leonard Feeney, our holy Founder, and distorted, and in effect denied the Catholic dogma “No Salvation outside the Church.” We are bound by duty to defend both.
What follows in this monograph is Brother Michael’s reply. Inserted also is a copy of the offensive article in full. Brother Michael addresses his response to Father Richard Williamson, Superior of Saint Thomas Aquinas Seminay in Ridgefield, Connecticut, under whose authority the article was published. Since, at the time this response was written, we were unaware of the identity of the author, and since Father Williamson refused to reveal his name when we requested it, it is not unfair to hold Father Williamson responsible personally.
In the interest of justice, I ask Father Williamson to send our rebuttal to his entire mailing list. His readers are entitled to read our defense of a holy priest, now deceased, and his teachings on Catholic doctrine. We will be willing, at no small cost to ourselves, to provide enough copies of our answer for this purpose.
Sincerely, in the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Brother Francis, M. I. C. M.
Dear Father (now Bishop) Williamson:
Bishop Richard Williamson
During the entire life of the Society of Saint Pius X, our order, the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, has always supported your admirable defense of liturgical orthodoxy. In the hope that you and the priests under your leadership might also understand the fundamental importance of protecting, and proclaiming without equivocation the dogma, many times defined, extra ecclesiam nulla salus , we have been more than happy to provide you with our publications and audio cassettes, and to welcome you to our home here in Massachusetts. That you now respond with the article, “Father Feeney vs. Catholic Doctrine” in the last issue of the Verbum (#24, Winter 1986-87) saddens us deeply. For not only does your attack against our heroic Founder, Father Feeney, indicate that you gained virtually nothing from our materials and from our repeated attempts to discuss the issue with the Society personally, but it has the enormous potential of leading souls away from desperately needed dogmatic purity.
Why could you not have studied the issue with the proper diligence before producing what frankness compels us to call a sophomoric diatribe? How easy it would have been for you to seek Father Leonard’s full theology by discussing with Brother Francis those points concerning which you think us at variance with ”the mind of the Church.” How easy it would have been for you to seek instruction from the increasing number of priests right here in the United States who would vouchsafe for Father Feeney’s orthodoxy — priests who have supported Archbishop Lefebvre and have, with great sacrifice, labored to help you. Instead, you have preferred to repay kindness with an arrogant display of error and misrepresentations. Your followers and the Church deserve better.
I do not think that your Founder, Archbishop Lefebvre, considers Father Feeney a “heretic.” If he did, he would have said so when Brother Francis discussed the doctrine and baptism with him at Saint Mary’s, Kansas seven years ago. Nor would the Archbishop personally have given Holy Communion, “the Sacrament of Union,” to a man whom he believed to be in heresy, as he did the day following the meeting, with scores of his priests present.
After having studied the Verbum article, “Father Feeney vs. Catholic Doctrine,” I am astounded that, in spite of all the information we supplied to you, you could be so ignorant of the facts concerning the case of our Founder. This is not the method of the saints you allege to defend. If you were familiar with their principles, you would know that Saint Thomas and Saint Robert Bellarmine considered it of supreme importance, when combating real heresy, to acquaint themselves fully with the controverted teaching. They thought more harm would be done to the Catholic cause by misrepresenting an opponent’s views than by keeping silent about them. And they were careful to read all that an accused heretic had to say. They did not like reactionary tactics of well meaning enthusiasts who confined their assaults to the contents of one dangerous book written by a doctrinal innovator, while they ignored a later book wherein that same author shed more light on his previous thought. And they, it must be stressed, were dealing with anti-Catholic, anti-papal heretics. You have not given even this simple courtesy to Father Feeney, a theologian whom many priests—traditional, as well as some still grappling with obedience with regard to the Novus Ordo — consider to be the greatest defender of the Faith from the period of the Second World War until his death in 1978. You say nothing positive at all about Father Feeney’s accomplishments. Such omissions, Father Williamson, stand to discredit the Society before those on your mailing list who know better.
When Father was fighting the liberals and converting hundreds of students in Cambridge, you were just a youngster in England. How would you know anything about Father Feeney unless you truly desired to be instructed? True, you have read Bread of Life , but there is obviously a marked difference in the way you read the book from the way scores of other priests did. I believe the difference is that these other priests see the big picture, as Lucia expressed it at Fatima. They nourish those holy desires necessary in apostles who want to save souls. It now seems that you are preoccupied with establishing the prestige of your Society at the expense of other Catholic groups. That defense of dogma should be the casualty seems not to matter to you.
I can only call it shameful, that your recent visit to the Center, a visit we had looked forward to so much, was made post factum . Your offensive article was already typeset and ready for printing (if not off the press) when you came for that brief chat this past January 2nd. Nor did you come to learn. You came merely to have verified from our own mouths that we did in fact reject the baptism of desire. Having ascertained what you came to ascertain, you displayed no interest at all in hearing the arguments for our position.
The Verbum article that so purposively misrepresents the theology of our Founder is unsigned. Since you are the Superior under whose jurisdiction it was published, I address the following comments to you.
“Again and Again”
When you state that Father Feeney recalled “again and again” that “outside the Church there is no salvation,” are you attempting to depreciate his stand? Why else do you make such a point? Don’t you think that Saint Athanasius had to recall ”again and again” that Christ Our Lord was truly God? When a dogma is under attack, a priest is obliged to put emphasis on it, especially if it concerns the one dogma referred to by theologians in the ages of Faith as “the dogma of Faith,” “the Catholic dogma,” and ”the all-important dogma.” Extra ecclesiam nulla salus by its very nature is foundational. Without it, the Church surrenders all her authority, and the Cross of Christ is made vain. Yes, Father Feeney did recall “again and again” that there is no salvation outside the Church, preferring to preach it as he did all dogmas—without diminution. That three-letter shibboleth of heterodoxy—”BUT!!!”—was never found on his lips. And you should know perfectly well that, were it not for Father Feeney, the salvation doctrine would be far more completely buried today than it is. Every book written on the subject after 1949 was written in direct response to the controversy Father raised. Had he not raised the issue, one can legitimately wonder if the “adage” would even have been known in succeeding generations. During my own tour of Catholic parochial schools (1957-1970), I never heard once, from any sister or brother, that there even was such a doctrine.
Furthermore, Father Feeney did much more than just repeat the formula — as his antagonists conveniently accuse him of doing. They like to say that Father was a monomaniac on that salvation doctrine, repeating it ad infinitum as if it were a mantra. Lies can be made to sound very credible when they are targeted against ‘extremists’ on the right side. I doubt that even Joe McCarthy was calumniated more than Father Feeney. Father created a school of Catholicity at Saint Benedict Center that has withstood many trials. When it comes to the study of theology, philosophy and history, the loyal followers of Saint Benedict Center, both religious and lay, continue with a program of education that never stops. Anyone who visits us knows that. While we study every facet of our beloved Faith, we definitely stress defense of the salvation dogma and its importance to our plan to convert America. Many priests who have come here with Good will have left convinced that our crusade was not at all founded on a heresy, but was in fact based on a correct — and most sorely needed — adherence to Church teaching.
“Father Feeney went so far as to exclude baptism of desire…”
You state that Father Feeney excluded baptism of desire and blood as “means of salvation.” This he did. In his attempt to stop the liberals from de-Incarnationalizing the Catholic religion, he saw the necessity of attacking subjectivism at its roots. And Father rightly saw that the roots of the problem lay in the theory of baptism of desire. He considered the rejection of this “theological expression” — which is how Father referred to the theory (page 116, Bread of Life ) — to be necessary in this age in which God placed him, because liberals were taking the legitimate use some saints had made of the in voto theory and extending it to heretical extremes. Father was perceptive enough to see that, during the many centuries of debate over this question of whether the desire for baptism can suffice for the salvation of the justified, the defining Councils all refrained from making the opinion de fide . Rather, through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the pronouncements they issued defined the necessity of baptism of water with such strong terminology that the theological deduction of the sacrament’s absolute necessity for all became more difficult to avoid.
Now, I grant that if the Church had intended to condemn the “expression” baptism in desire (not of desire), she would have done so specifically. That she did not is only a negative argument. On the positive side, it is a fact that the Fathers of Trent did not adopt Saint Thomas’ theology about baptism in desire. Notice too, that Father Feeney (who, in the words of his Provincial, was considered “the greatest theologian in America by far”) refrained from labeling as heretical the expression as it was used in its traditional sense. The Verbum article misses this point completely. On the other hand, if the Church had defined the baptism in desire as a doctrine of the Faith, you could accuse Father Feeney of heresy. She never has so defined! But as Father Feeney shows in the Bread of Life her words lean rather heavily towards his view, not that of Saint Thomas. Note the two de fide Canons from the Council of Trent which read as follows:
If anyone saith that Baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation, let him be anathema. (Canon #5)
If anyone saith that true and natural water is not of necessity for Baptism, and on that account, wrests to some sort of metaphor those words of Our Lord Jesus Christ : “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost,” let him be anathema. (Canon #2)
Why does the Council of Trent bother to make so scrupulous an insistence upon the absolute necessity of the sacrament of Baptism of water, laboring with such exactness over the proper essence of the matter of the sacrament, if the desire to receive it is all that matters? Why the fuss? If a careless priest baptized an adult, using alcohol instead of water, why worry? The man intended rightly! Have we arrived at the point where God must accept the desire for the act? In truth, the Council’s words seem rather superfluous if water is quite dispensable in certain “extraordinary” cases outside of God’s particular providence.
Furthermore, as the traditional theological textbooks unanimously demonstrate (textbooks, no doubt, used at Econe), the sacrament of Baptism has always been designated as having that necessity about it that the Church has described as necessitas medii — that is, a necessity of means. In contradistinction, Confirmation and Penance have about them a necessitas precepti — that is, a necessity of precept. This point was completely ignored in the Verbum article. Yet, on pages 126-128 of Bread of Life Father Leonard clearly explained what the Church has taught about these two degrees of necessity. Basically, it is this: that which is necessary by means is absolutely necessary. There is no way to attain the end without this means. That which is necessary by precept only, is necessary conditionally. The end cannot be attained if the means are voluntarily rejected or ignored.
I have said that you misrepresent Father’s teaching. Your article creates the impression from the start that Father Feeney held that a martyr who shed his blood for his Catholic Faith (or Catholic virtue), and died without baptism, would be lost. This is not true. Father Leonard never taught such a thing. You do not find his view put that way in Bread of Life . I explained this to you on my visit with you at Ridgefield and during your recent visit with us. Let me stress again. Father taught that God would have seen to it that those few martyrs who were reported to have died without baptism would not have left this life without baptism. Father never dreamed of teaching so absurd an idea that one could be lost who did everything in his power to be saved. “Greater love than this,” Jesus said, “no man hath, than to lay down his life for his brethren.” But Our Lord also said: ”Unless a man is born again of water…” Therefore God, Who is Omnipotent, would provide water and a minister for any and every justified soul about to enter eternity without the baptismal character.
Nor is this some form of a deus ex machina solution that we have created. It is based on absolute fidelity to the words of Christ’s mandate concerning Baptism, but conjoined with His particular providence. Moreover, Father Feeney’s position on this matter becomes most reasonable when one reads in the lives of certain saints that they raised to life catechumens who died unbaptized (e.g. Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Patrick, Saint Peter Claver, Saint Francis Xavier). In the case of Saint Peter Claver there was a certain Negro woman who had been an exemplary Christian — a supposed Christian. She received Holy Communion from the saint and went to Confession to him frequently. What Saint Peter did not know was that she had never been baptized. So when this lady appeared before Christ as she herself related she was sent back to mortal life because she was told she “had not on the proper wedding garment.”
“His teaching was condemned by the Holy Office in 1949”
In the introductory paragraph of your article it is stated that the teaching for which Father Feeney was ”condemned” by the Holy Office in 1949 was that he excluded these other baptisms as means of salvation. This is simply not true! The Holy Office in 1949 was totally unaware of Father Leonard’s views concerning baptism of desire and justified catechumens. For these views were first expressed by him in Bread of Life , and this book was not published until 1952. Is it not obvious then that your conclusions about the entire matter are grossly superficial?
What concerned the Holy Office in 1949 was what some members of that Congregation considered to be a ”rigoristic” view of the defined dogma itself, as espoused by Father Feeney and certain Catholic professors and writers at Saint Benedict Center. Even though the letter to Archbishop Cushing itself treated of the possibility of salvation for the unbaptized (not only for those who explicitly desired the sacrament but also for those who would have desired it if they had known about it — the famous votum implicitum ), it targeted for attack the literal interpretation of the salvation dogma itself. This was the real issue at the time. And is this not the real issue now between your Society Father Williamson, and ourselves, although the Verbum article skirts it? Like so many others your attack seems to purposively make use of the case of the justified catechumen as a mere sleight-of-hand to divert attention away from the ex cathedra teaching — for that is what really gives our critics a problem, as it did the Holy Office in 1949.
It is a very misleading stratagem to exhibit a quote from Saint Thomas, or another from Pope Innocent III, on a matter which is merely his own theological speculation. Those whose reverence for the saints is not balanced by historico-theologic perception can easily be fooled by an argument that runs like this: “See, Father Feeney is wrong in rejecting baptism of desire. Look here what Saint Thomas says. Therefore do not believe him when he says that there is absolutely no salvation outside the Church. If he is wrong on Baptism, then he is wrong on Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus .” Antagonists, like the author of the Verbum article, devote ninety percent of their arguments to the question of an allegedly justified catechumen who died unexpectedly before his baptism, and then, in the final paragraph, they throw in some easily misinterpreted statement from Pope Pius IX or Pope Pius XII, as if that wraps up the case against Father Feeney. But any theologian worth his salt knows that non-definitional utterances must give way to what is de fide — not vice versa! And how carefully the Verbum article avoids quoting Saint Thomas on “No Salvation Outside the Church!” Suddenly the Summa Theologica has lost its lustre. Allow me to introduce the Doctor Angelicus for the defense:
“After the Incarnation,” Saint Thomas says, “all men if they wish to be saved…are bound to explicit faith in the mysteries of Christ as regards those which are observed throughout the Church and publicly proclaimed, such as the articles that refer to the Incarnation.” And again Saint Thomas says, “After the Incarnation…all men in order to be saved…are bound to explicit faith in the mystery of the Trinity.” (Summa Theol. , Part II-II, q. 2, art. 7; and idem art. 8)
If you wish to know what Saint Thomas teaches about invincible ignorance, read his four articles on the subject in the prima secundae , q. 76. And, concerning vincible ignorance, you will find that the most he says in favor of it is that it diminishes the sin of not knowing what one is bound to know; it does not excuse from sin. Finally, in regard to Baptism, Saint Thomas (whose full theology on the subject the Verbum article evaded) only allowed the possibility of salvation for martyrs and catechumens “who were hindered by death before they could fulfill their intent (votum )” (On St. John , Ch. III, Lect. I, n. 4). For all others Saint Thomas teaches:
For just as a man cannot live in the flesh unless he is born in the flesh, even so a man cannot have the spiritual life of grace unless he is born again spiritually. This regeneration is effected by Baptism: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” It is manifest that all are bound to receive baptism, and that without it there cannot be salvation for men. (Collat. de Pater. Ex. of the Ap. Creed , 10th Art. Summa , Part III, q. 68, art. 1, In Corp. )
So, in 1949 what was criticized (not “condemned”) by the Holy Office was a specific article that appeared in From the Housetops , entitled “Reply to a Liberal”. Bread of Life was not ”condemned.” In fact, Pope John XXIII assigned a certain Monsignor Francis Cassano (since deceased) to comb Father Leonard’s book for possible theological aberrations. The Monsignor himself related this fact to us and to other friends of the Center who visited him in his parish on the Hudson River. Monsignor Cassano had also been appointed by Rome to investigate the case of the mystic stigmatist, Mother Aiello. He was a prominent Churchman in his day, a confidant of two Popes. He reported to Pope John XXIII that there was nothing “contrary to faith” in Father Feeney’s writings. Cassano saw the difference between opinion and dogma, which is more than can be said for the theologians of Verbum , for as long as dogma is protected, the Church allows theologians to use their minds for the good of God’s Kingdom.
In regard to the article “Reply to a Liberal,” the author, Cyril Karam, accepts as the more authoritative opinion concerning baptismus in voto the very one Verbum presents from Saint Thomas. At that time Father Feeney at least tolerated the view himself. So did Sister Catherine Clarke, who authored the Gate of Heaven . You will find her advocating the possibility of salvation for unbaptized martyrs on the bottom of page 127. My point is that the traditional interpretation of the salvation dogma is what bothered the holy Office in 1949, not Father’s rejection of the other two “kinds” of baptism, which came later. At the time “Reply to a Liberal” was written, Father Feeney had not yet developed his full teaching on the subject. In other words, the Holy Office letter placed the issue right where it belonged—on the doctrine itself. And some are beginning to wonder whether or not the rejection of this dogma by so many leaders in the Church is the “crisis of faith” about which Our Lady spoke to the Fatima children. For it is rejected when, as Pope Pius XII said, it is “reduced to a meaningless formula,” — and that is exactly what the letter of the Holy Office to Archbishop Cushing did do.
Another fact left unstated in your article is that the letter of the Holy Office to Archbishop Cushing was not an official Act of the Apostolic See, for it never appeared in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis itself. Every author who has written ex professo on the subject has commented upon this mysterious fact. In consequence, the Jesuit Karl Rahner later had to invent a special category in order to provide an excuse for inserting the letter in Denzinger’s Enchiridion . The controversial missive was not put in Denzinger until 1963, the year Rahner retired as editor. We can logically assume that in 1962 (while preparing the 1963 edition) his coup de grace was to insert the unqualified document to stand where it ought not (“he that readeth, let him understand”), and then bow out without taking responsibility. And, are you aware what was (and still is) the “source” Denzinger’s compilation gives for the Holy Office letter? The American Ecclesiastical Review ! These revealing facts are essential to an unbiased consideration of the case.
“. . . and he himself was excommunicated in 1953”
Concerning Father Feeney’s alleged “excommunication,” Verbum ignored the facts we presented for you in our publication, Architects of Confusion — facts which clearly demonstrate that due process was trampled underfoot in Father Leonard’s case. Moreover, our Founder was not “excommunicated,” as you imply, for doctrine, but for discipline. In the “decree of excommunication” there is no mention of doctrinal error. This action proceeded out of frustration on Rome’s part because they did not want to bend to the pressure Father Leonard was exerting upon them to put in writing the charges against him. They are very intelligent men in Rome, Father Williamson. They know quite well that Father Feeney was only teaching the same doctrine every canonized saint before him taught — a doctrine defined with progressively increased clarity, as anyone can see in the culminating dogmatic Bull, Cantate Domino , of Pope Eugene IV. If Rome was not going to take responsibility in writing for their intent to dilute the traditional teaching, then Father Feeney was not going to waste their time by coming to Rome to tell them what they already knew.
Father was a loyal son of the Church. As a Jesuit, he did not take lightly his special vow to obey the Pope. Our Founder had to adopt a painful strategy of forcing Cardinal Pizzardo, who was the Curial official in communication with him, to state the charges against him in writing, after which he could prepare his defense. Thus a series of letters went back and forth, Rome saying in effect: “Come, let us discuss your aberrations,” and Father replying: “Tell me what my aberrations are and I’ll come.” Superficial people may object to such “stubbornness” on Father’s part. But superficial people are not called by God to help prevent a divine Institution from internal collapse.
What may appear of minor significance to some is the fact that no official of the Church tribunal signed the decree ”excommunicating” Father Feeney. Perhaps the official who ought to have signed it was embarrassed to be the one to put his name on the only decree of excommunication to come from Rome for half a century — and that, a decree “excommunicating” a priest who simply taught the defined dogma that there is no salvation for anyone who refuses to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” Nor was the decree stamped with the seal of the Holy Office. Very strange indeed!
Another fact which you bypass is that the “excommunication” against Father Feeney was lifted by the same authority which allegedly imposed it. I hope that you are not going to deny that Pope Paul acted as the Vicar of Christ when he, personally, did this. At least one traditional priest we know of, in a frenzied desperation to condemn Father Feeney, hesitated not to don the tiara himself and declare the reconciliation invalid because Paul was a liberal Pope!! We are still waiting to hear an answer from him as to why a liberal Pope would want to restore the good name to a priest completely opposed to false ecumenism and the New Mass, knowing full well that, without demanding a professed retraction, such papal action proves that the one reconciled was unjustly disciplined in the first place. For it is common knowledge that no retraction was required for the reconciliation in 1972. Nor was Father Feeney even aware that he was being reconciled. It was the Vatican that was embarrassed over the whole travesty. The new ecumenism would go on, but the records must not show that a priest was disciplined for teaching the faith of the centuries.
“The saintly Pope Pius XII”
I am not going to judge whether or not, as the Verbum article indicates, Pope Pius XII was a “saintly Pope.” In his personal life, I have no doubt that he was. But as supreme navigator of the Barque of Peter, his greatness can be questioned. Who appointed so many of the liberals who hijacked Vatican II to be bishops in the Church of Christ? Were not a good number of them consecrated under the reign of Pope Pius XII? Was this saintly diligence? Ought he not to have checked out the track records of these prelates a little more carefully? Why were certain saintly prelates of outstanding orthodoxy passed over by this same Pope in creating bishops? Bad advisers? And what about the impetus Pope Pius gave to evolutionists, Father Williamson? Was he not at least partly responsible for undermining the Book of Genesis and handing it over to the modernists, when he opened the door for them with these words, spoken in 1951 to the Pontifical Academy of Science:
With the same clear and critical look with which the minds examines and passes judgment on facts, it perceives and recognizes the work of creative omnipotence whose power set in motion by the mighty “Fiat ” pronounced thousands of millions of years ago by the Creating Spirit,…called into existence with a gesture of generous love matter bursting with energy. In fact it would seem that present-day science, with one sweeping step across millions off centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to that primordial “Fiat Lux ” uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation while particles of chemical elements split and formed into millions of galaxies.
We are all well aware that when the Pope speaks about science, he is only as correct as the adviser to whom he decides to listen but the above concession is an unnecessary datum to the atheists. It is one thing to say that the six days of Creation may not be six periods of twenty-four hours each but it is quite another to say each day was some “thousands of millions of years.” Such a view jeopardizes the truth that the universe was created for man, and without man the material creation has no meaning. And such a concession as Pope Pius made to these scientists only abets the arguments against miracles by subjecting God to His own physical laws. If God is truly omnipotent and undeceiving then God created the universe in the same way the Holy Spirit related it to Adam and, after him to Moses.
And since, as is known, Pope Pius XII was well aware of Monsignor Montini’s liberal record on collaboration with the Communists, why did he kick the suspect upstairs in 1954 by naming him to head the largest diocese in Italy? Pope Pius also passively supported a policy of rapprochement with the Masons, as every informed person knows. Those in your Society from France must be aware that it was under this Pontiff’s reign when their hierarchy presented a renowned Grand Orient Freemason with an honorary award from the French Catholic Church—thus opening the door to worse betrayals to come. Bernard Fay, who taught at your own seminary in Econe, must have recounted for you some of these “progressivist” compromises of the Vatican under Pope Pius. This unfortunate Pontiff tolerated as well the American hierarchy’s Masonic fraternizing, as the shenanigans of Cardinals Cushing, Spellman and others bear witness. In fact, his own delegate in Washington Ameleto Cardinal Cicognani, did not refrain from attending public Masonic banquets! Finally too, who was it but Pius XII who authorized the Biblical Commission to begin work on a new Latin translation of the Vulgate? Ought he not to have been more aware of the confusion this would cause among the hundreds of thousands of priests, himself included, whose memories were saturated with the familiar Latin verses of the Gospels and Psalms? No, I think Pope Pius XII could have done a much better job in shepherding the flock of Christ. And I mean no disrespect in saying so.
How is it that the Verbum article fails to speak of the definitions of the saintly popes who defined the salvation doctrine from the Chair in the most unambiguous terms? Are there no other popes but Pius XII in the past nineteen hundred and fifty years who spoke on the issue of No Salvation Outside the Church? People of strong faith are going to find it hard to believe, Father Williamson, that the popes prior to saintly Pope Pius XII were negligent in their duty in permitting so many saintly shepherds and clergy beneath them to expound the doctrine of salvation in words as challenging, if not more challenging, than Father Feeney’s.
“Signed by Cardinal Ottaviani”
Then you state that Cardinal Ottaviani signed the 1949 letter of the Holy Office to Archbishop Cushing. That is not true. Ottaviani was not even a cardinal yet in 1949. The letter was signed by Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani. Even so, how can you be so enthusiastic for a man who in spite of his objections to the Protestant tendencies of the Novus Ordo, went against his conscience and accepted it?
I do not know, Father Williamson, how misinformed the Holy See was about the Father Feeney case. But I do know that the Holy See is run by scholarly men who do know theology. That is why their action against Father Feeney, whoever was responsible for that action, constitutes a betrayal of trust. When these unfortunate events unfolded, Father Feeney was heartbroken. He did expect the Pope to come to his defense. It was he who had accused Archbishop Cushing of heresy, and he truly did not expect that the tables would be turned on himself, whoever did turn them. Actually, no one has been able to prove that Pope Pius had anything to do with the Holy Office letter, or the excommunication.
In fact, John Deedy, who is no supporter of Father Feeney, states unbiasedly in his book Seven American Catholics ( pg. 119-120), that it was a mistake not to have given Father Feeney the hearing he requested: “or at least to have thrown open the salvation topic to the theological community for debate….Likewise it seems a mistake to have formalized the excommunication of Father Feeney….However much patience, charity and the ‘rules’ had been abused, the pronouncement of excommunication seems superfluous….This was overkill….A more sensitive reading of the situation, particularly after 1949, should have suggested referral of the Feeney case to other than to excommunicators. Under the circumstances, the excommunication was excessive.” It is likely that Deedy was reflecting in these statements the thinking of his close friend, John Cardinal Wright.
What can be deduced from Deedy’s observation is that, even in Rome, the atmosphere of the new god of religious tolerance was dominant. The reaction of the Vatican officials was just like Cushing’s. It was an emotional “gut” reaction. No longer is the Church going to be triumphalistic and obscurantist. She is going to open her doors and get off her dictatorial pedestal. Dialogue and hand shakes will replace the anathema — except, of course, for those who insist that the salvation of souls ranks higher than popular acclaim. This is why Father Feeney caused an uproar. He was resurrecting that same old embarrassing controversy of the nineteenth century between the liberal Paulists (whose theology on the salvation doctrine was identical to your own) and the more traditional Redemptorists (whose theology was identical to Father Feeney’s). If you do not believe me, read the brief assessment of that controversy in the book, Liberal Catholicism in America , by Robert D. Cross.
“His doctrine contradicts the Church’s teaching”
Proceeding now to the specific points you raise about doctrine: you state that Father Feeney’s doctrine contradicts the Church’s teaching. Why? Because it conflicts with Saint Thomas’ opinion on baptism of desire as expressed in the Summa ! Would you have said the same to Saint John Berchmans when he wrote (in opposition to the Summa ) his opinion in favor of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception with his own blood? I am not depreciating Saint Thomas, I am only trying to tell you that he could be wrong. The Church does not define her doctrines from the Summa . She may insist that all the seminaries use it for reference and instruction, but in so doing she necessarily implies that the Summa is beneath her in authority. When Saint Pius X instructed all the seminaries not to swerve from the principles of Saint Thomas, he had in mind the principal theses of the great Doctor, not every single conclusion. In no fewer than ten passages Saint Thomas maintains that there is a problem reconciling the universality of Christ’s Redemption with the sinlessness of Our Lady’s bodily conception. Of course, in this vein, we have the additional problem of Saint Thomas’ theory of the succession of stages in the soul’s development. Some zealous Dominicans have devoted an astounding amount of labor and research to prove that Saint Thomas really did not write the controverted opinion which was attributed to him in the Summa . They made a good case, in fact, but not irrefutable. If the Angelic Doctor found it so hard to make such an exception even with the Mother of God, it seems illogical that he would grant exceptions to Christ’s universal mandate for Baptism. At least, such an argument can be made.
Furthermore, the writings of all the Eastern Doctors were not available to Saint Thomas. If they had been, he would have seen that many of these doctors came closer to saying in exact words that Mary was immaculately conceived than the doctors in the West, who Saint Thomas felt were opposed to the teaching. It is only when the writings of all the Fathers are taken into consideration that one can get a fair, general consensus as to their common thinking. However, when even they are not drawing from the Deposit of Faith, but are merely speculating, they are subject to error. This is not only the case in their very reverent, albeit imperfect, attempt to safeguard Our Lady’s personal sinlessness, but it is also manifest in their common attribution of an ignorance in the human mind of Christ as to such things as the date of the day of final judgment. For now, after the Church has grown in her awareness of the more abstruse points transmitted at least implicitly in the sacred deposit, we know with theological certainty (thanks, by the way, to Saint Thomas and other theologians who were not afraid to disagree with doctors before them) that even in His human mind, Our Savior knew all things, including, as Judge, the day of the final trial.
This brings me to another point about the so-called baptism of desire. Pick up your Catholic Encyclopedia and read the treatise on Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. Therein you will read how fuzzy some of the Fathers, even Doctors, were on the issue. Incredible as it may seem, though no one ever thought that Our Lady could be touched by concupiscence of the flesh, some held that she had doubts when the sword pierced her soul on Calvary. Saint John Chrysostom even felt that on the occasion when Our Lady and some of her relatives sent word to Jesus from outside the house in Capharnaum that they wished to speak to Him, the Blessed Virgin’s importunity was a fault. This only goes to show that although the saints do instruct us on the way to salvation, they are not infallible oracles. There is but one infallible voice in this world, the Church. And, as every theologian worthy of the name knows, the Church has never defined the baptism of desire — she tolerates it. If you think otherwise, please provide the de fide definition to back your assumption. Even Father Pohle in his volume on the sacrament of Baptism makes it clear that baptism of desire is not de fide , but is rather a theological conclusion. He gives greater weight, in fact, to baptism of blood, which he considers to be theologically “certain.” Lesser weight, however, is given to the baptism of desire, which he qualifies as theologically “catholic.”
Father Pohle’s qualifications are often arbitrarily legalistic and without the “spirit.” He is famous for labelling undefined truths, such as the beatific knowledge in the human intellect of Christ with deflating technical notes; while undefined theories that conflict with the very words of Christ, such as baptism of desire, he makes to look very authoritative. In any event, my point is made: baptism of desire is not the teaching of the solemn magisterium of the Church.
Original Sin, Sacramental Character, and Grace
In section one, you attempt to demonstrate that Father Feeney believed that ”ONLY” the character of the sacrament of Baptism wipes away original sin. Then, in the very next breath, you qualify your accusation by admitting that Father also taught that original sin can be remitted by an act of perfect charity. Apparently, in your effort to piece together the Father Feeney you want to create, you discovered after the first stroke that your first chisel missed the mark. No, Father Feeney did not teach in the Bread of Life that “ONLY” the character of the sacrament of Baptism wipes away original sin. He teaches that, without the character of this sacrament, a soul that has been freed from the stain of original sin is still lacking a requirement for salvation. You have quoted Father out of context. For a full explanation of what the sacramental character is I can do no better than to refer you to the quote from the Summa (IIIa pars, q. 63) provided by the Verbum article, col. 2, par. 1. And, as I will explain in exculpating Father Leonard, you are incorrect in asserting that sanctifying grace “is the only necessary title to be admitted to see God.” What Father taught in Bread of Life was that final perseverance in grace guarantees for the catechumen before he dies the bestowal by God of the necessary character (indelible mark) of sacramental Baptism. This is the ”seal” sine qua (without which) one is lacking the essential incarnational anointment marking him as heir of the heavenly kingdom.
As I said, Father did not believe that it was possible for a justified person to enter into particular judgment without the sacramental character of Baptism. What he was demonstrating in the passage you quoted (Bread of Life , pg. 137) was the theological problem of positing such an outcome. If a justified person did pass from this life unbaptized, the Church would not know what to make of his or her chances for eternal beatitude. For Christ did not reveal that salvation could be had without the sacrament, nor did he reveal that anyone regenerated prior to and in anticipation of Baptism could be sent to the hell of punishment or torment. So, why did Verbum stop short in the passage presented? Why did they not finish it? Is it because the impression you create, namely that Father Feeney was some kind of a fool, would be lost? Here is the way the full passage reads:
Question: Are there any such souls?
Answer: I do not know! Neither do you!
Question: What are we to say to those who believe there are such souls?
Answer: We must say to them that they are making reason prevail over Faith, and the laws of probability over the Providence of God.
Next, you supply your readers with a very excellent choice of quotations from Saint Thomas, Holy Scripture, and the Council of Trent, giving the impression that Father Feeney taught something different from these authorities. And I must repeat again that Father Feeney did not teach that “ONLY” the character of Baptism wipes away original sin. You will not find this anywhere in his writings. The quote from Bread of Life , which you provided your readers with at the start, reads that a man cannot “in the true and full sense” be freed from original sin by this perfect act of love of God. It does not say that a man cannot in any way be said to be freed from original sin. Original sin has other effects besides the aspect of guilt (or contamination) which makes one an enemy of God. And these aspects are not removed by the state of justification alone. They are the fomes peccati (the “kindling wood” of concupiscence), all our physical ills (including our mortality), and the banishment from the kingdom of heaven. If immortality and the consummated beatific life with God are restored by the state of grace alone, then why were not the holy souls of the Old Testament permitted to enter heaven after death? This is the point you overlook in your choice of quotes from Father’s book. The original sin will not be totally defeated until we are sealed with the character Baptism and fed with the Body of Christ.
This does not mean that justified, but unbaptized, catechumens are not children of God. They are. But they have not yet been “born of God” fully. (John 1:14) Why not? Because the “power,” which has been given them in “receiving Christ” to be made “the sons of God” (John 1:12) has to be fully actualized in the laver of regeneration. They are in grace, but not yet sealed as “sons” and “heirs.” If I am adopted by a human father, he may treat me beforehand as a son, bestowing upon me his paternal affection, but until I enter his house and am admitted into his very life, I am only inchoatively his son. I am not a member of the family until I am sealed as such. So too, a justified catechumen (say Saint Ambrose, Saint Robert Bellarmine and all saintly theologians) is not yet a member of the family of the Church until he is baptized. It is after coming up from this sacred font, a visible font, that one is made worthy of the promise and invited to even more complete and vital membership by means of the Eucharistic Food. This further effacement of the effect of original sin is only granted to those who have the right to the Eucharist, that is, to those sealed with the character of the sacrament as conferred by water and the word. These are those who have truly, “in the full sense,” entered into the inchoative stage of eternal life on earth. Then, after death, for those who have persevered in and were sealed in the new life they had begun as members of Christ, eternal life will be possessed in vision, while still awaiting its final consummation in the fully restored perfection of body and soul after the general resurrection. At that time, all the saved will partake of the ”fruit of the vine” non-sacramentally as Holy Communion, in the House of God and the victory over Satan will be complete. (Matt. 26:29)
“The sacramental character is a ‘certain spiritual power ordained unto things pertaining to the divine worship.'” It is “a certain participation in Christ’s priesthood.” (Verbum quoting St. Thomas)
By your own selected quote you testify to the very thing you are attempting to refute. Obviously, according to St. Thomas, the infusion of grace before Baptism does not fully eradicate the effect of original sin. There is the grace of the character yet to come: a grace (for the character is indeed a grace) that is a “power” deputing the baptized as certified for the public act of divine worship. Catechumens could not participate in this “priesthood of Christ” at Mass before they were ordained to do so in Baptism. Hence, they had to leave the church after the instructional part. How then, I ask, can they participate in the priesthood of Christ in heaven without first having been empowered to do such in Baptism? You are forcing God to perform some other kind of miracle to elevate the unbaptized to worship God in the priesthood of the Mystical Body triumphant — (which, as participatory, is to be distinguished of course from the consecrating power given on earth to the sacrificing ministerial priesthood with the character of Orders). And such an extraordinary economy was never revealed by God to His Church. Hence, we are not authorized to posit theories in this regard. We do far better to accept what Christ has said and maintain our assurance that no unbaptized soul in grace will depart this life without the sacrament.
And what does the Council of Trent say in the other quote you supply (Session V, 5) that is any different from what Father Feeney taught? “If anyone denies that by the grace (your emphasis) of Our Lord Jesus Christ which is conferred in Baptism the guilt of original sin is remitted…let him be anathema!” The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, “which is conferred in Baptism,” does indeed remove the guilt of original sin. “Amen” to the anathema! In other words the Council of Trent is saying that the proper reception of the sacrament guarantees the remission of all sin, whereas the subjective disposition of perfect charity required for justification prior to the reception of the sacrament is a grace not given to all catechumens, only to some. So, to be certain of one’s rebirth, the Council stresses the ex opere operato efficaciousness of the sacrament.
I do want to do justice to your words. However, I and others are somewhat confused as to just what it is you are trying to say by citing the above text. It appears to us that you are confused with regard to the nature of the sacramental character. It is not just an “indelible mark” or a passive power. The mark of Baptism is an active grace for those past the age of reason, and consequently, it lifts as well as seals. Grace and character can be distinguished but not divided. It is only one aspect of this wonderful grace of the baptismal character that can be (in some cases known only to God) bestowed anticipatively, and that is the aspect of justification or regeneration. The other effects cannot be given without the grace of the character. You seem to have misunderstood that the character is itself a sanctifying grace.
I would say that Father Feeney and Saint Thomas actually were defending the very same thing. The only difference, really, is in their solutions to the problem. Saint Thomas thought it sufficient to include desire and blood in the one Baptism of Christ, as participations in the Sacrament, containing within them those elements of the love of Christ (desire) and the price of Redemption (blood). As Saint Thomas rightly says, Christ suffers in the martyr so he concludes that such a one could be washed in his own blood, which mystically becomes Christ’s blood, in his sacrifice. Father Feeney disagreed. It is the water that has been given the power of Christ’s Blood, not our own blood, no matter how ardent desire to shed it for Him. The economy of the Incarnational Redemption was intended by God to be a very tangible thing for Christians. If we do all that we can, Father taught, God will not be wanting on His part. No one will be in hell who persevered in seeking God above all things.
What about Cardinal Gibbons and the Baltimore Catechism ?
Bread of Life is a compilation of Father Feeney’s Lectures. These talks were given to his disciples not to university theologians. When he decided to publish them he intended to teach the Faith to those who wanted to hear it: he did not intend to do what I am doing — that is, to write an apologetic. Father wiped the dust, so to speak, and went searching for the pure in heart. He didn’t bother to qualify everything he was saying with “howevers,” ”ifs,” and “buts.” If he had to disagree with Saint Thomas on a point not defined, Father would say, ”I have to disagree.” Saint Thomas faced the greatest of the centuries. Father Leonard was facing the worst. He had to exhaust his labors more profitably than in writing carefully researched apologiae to a hierarchy he knew would not listen. So, Father did blame the Baltimore Catechism for popularizing the idea of three baptisms. Whether or not he was absolutely correct, historically, is beside the point.
As far as my research has been able to ascertain, the Baltimore Catechism was one of the first to phrase the question about Baptism in such a way that children were required to answer that “there are three kinds of baptism.” As you yourself admit, Saint Thomas did not call baptism in desire or blood ”baptisms” except “analogically, inasmuch as they supply the principal effect of the sacrament of Baptism, namely the grace that remits sins.” (Verbum quoting the Catholic Encyclopedia ) Furthermore, the Council of Trent issued its own Catechism, under orders of Pope Saint Pius V, without including Saint Thomas’ phraseology about baptism in desire or blood. In conformity with Trent, both Saints Robert Bellarmine and Peter Canisius refrained from including the same in their proper catechisms. Subsequent catechisms which did speak about desire and martyrdom taking the place of the water did not phrase the question as carelessly as the Baltimore. And in so doing, the Baltimore Catechism (and Cardinal Gibbons) swerved from the more exact terminology of Saint John Neumann’s work, on which it was supposed to be based.
We have Neumann’s Intermediate Catechism. However it has been edited. But even in its edited form, it is not as careless as the Baltimore in the terminology it uses about the so-called baptisms. Although it does allow for catechumens to be saved by the desire for the sacrament, it does not refer to this exceptional case as another ”kind” of baptism. When I am able to read the original, hand-written, extant copy of the American saint’s work, I expect to find that it will contain nothing but the question about the sacrament alone. Why? Because the Redemptorists in Brooklyn have told me that their great saint based his catechism on that of Trent and Saint Peter Canisius.
Next you accuse Father of deliberately twisting the texts of Saint Ambrose’s funeral oration for Emperor Valentinian to suit his own theory. Father was trying to reconcile the words of Our Lord with God’s particular providence. His motivation was to defend what the Savior had clearly taught. (What is Verbum ‘s motivation in squirming out of the de fide definitions of Pope Boniface VIII, Innocent III, and Eugene IV, which were not even mentioned in the article?) Furthermore, the Catholic Encyclopedia does not give the full text of Saint Ambrose’s sermon that Verbum provides. In the lecture Father gave, as recorded in chapter VII of his book, he obviously was unaware of the full text of the sermon. No doubt, he assumed the author of the encyclopedia article had put up front the best clip he had from Saint Ambrose. If Father had known the full text, he would not have bothered to interpret this particular saint’s words the way he did. Even so, the words Ambrose uttered at the funeral oration of a Roman Emperor would not have deferred Father from defending what he was sure God wanted him to defend, even if it meant disagreeing with the saint.
Concerning the letter of Pope Innocent III (Debitum Pastoralis ) to a Bishop Berthold in Germany, do we have to say the obvious again? This is a letter to a bishop. It is not a definition. The Pope was dealing with a sheer hypothetical situation. What he wrote was wrong though not without some authority from the Fathers to back it up. You can agree with it if you wish, but do not pretend that the consciences of the universal Church are bound to a papal letter involving speculation. If the Pope thought that he was drawing from the Deposit of Faith with this opinion, he would have said so. Moreover, you miss the major point of the example you raise. The Jew did not die; he survived. And he was subsequently baptized. Does this not present a perfect example of what Father Feeney tried to illustrate? God’s particular providence took care of this Jew did it not? God did not allow him to die unbaptized!
But why does Verbum propose this case as an example of ”error?” Do you not understand that this man had to, at least, desire the sacrament of Baptism before he could be justified? I must keep bringing up the main question that was not raised in the Verbum article. That question is this: Can a Jew be saved without converting to explicit belief in Christ? Or can a Moslem? Or a Buddhist? Or any non-Christian for that matter? Archbishop Lefebvre has said in the past that they can be saved. Your priests continue to teach that they can be saved. Your own Father Petit told a Jewish woman, whom a friend of ours converted a year ago, that she could have been saved as a Jew. He told her explicitly that she could have gotten into heaven denying Our Lord Jesus Christ, by the ”baptism of desire.” Then he added a lesser sin of calumny to his blasphemy by accusing us, who were only indirectly involved in the story of the good lady’s conversion, of being anti-Semitic! Why not let your readers know what you really hold about salvation for non-Catholics? Why talk about catechumens, when you do not even hold that divine faith is necessary in the first place?
“Any Kind of Desire?”
In this final section the real issue comes to the fore. After ridiculing Father Feeney for objecting to that in the Baltimore Catechism which he foresaw as dangerous to the Faith, the article goes much further away from the salvation doctrine than Cardinal Gibbons does. Gibbons’ Baltimore Catechism says nothing about any “implicit desire” to be baptized as qualifying for the baptism of desire. It simply identifies the “expression” as an “ardent wish to receive Baptism and (not or) to do all that God has ordained for our salvation.” (Kinkead’s edition #3)
But I know, after speaking with you, Father Williamson, that you certainly would not want to identify completely with the Baltimore Catechism . For instance, question 632 reads:
Where will persons go who — such as infants — have not committed actual sin and who, through no fault of theirs, die without baptism?
Where would you send them, Father? Remember now, these “persons,” are not only the unbaptized infants; they are a special sort of unevangelized who have no actual sin. The Catechism is not speaking here of the infidels who have sinned, but of those who have not. They must be a very rare group indeed! Does the Catechism put them in heaven? No! Hear the answer:
Persons, such as infants, who have not committed actual sin and who, through no fault of theirs, die without baptism, cannot enter heaven; but it is the common belief they will go to some place similar to Limbo, where they will be free from suffering, though deprived of the happiness of heaven.
So now, according to the Baltimore Catechism (that is, the edited edition of the re-edited edition), we have “some place similar to Limbo” awaiting good unbaptized people after death. I confess I am totally unable to see the reason why these souls going to this other ”some place” are any different from the souls sent to Limbo. Consequently, if there are such souls (and I do not doubt that there could be some among those who have not matured enough into adolescence), they will go to Limbo — that is, the hell of separation. But the point I wish you to notice is that even the Baltimore Catechism refrains from putting infidels, who have no serious personal sin, in heaven. Obviously, in the last century, theologians still had enough residual faith left to know that the reward of the Beatific Vision is not conferred on account of what the deceased lacks, but rather on account of what he possesses.
Clearly then, Father Williamson, you must admit that the Baltimore Catechism is far closer to Father Feeney’s theology than to your own. I am speaking now, not of justified catechumens, but of infidels — the unbaptized who have never heard of, or having heard of, have rejected Christ. You told us that you agree with what the Archbishop said in 1973, I believe. He said that non-Christians could be saved in their ignorance and errors because of the grace of the Catholic Church’s existence and the saving power of the Holy Mass. In other words, without the Catholic Church Moslems, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and pagans who die as such could not get into heaven. But since the Church exists, non-Catholics can be saved simply by following their own consciences. This is one heresy the Baltimore Catechism does not hold. Let me give you question 510 from the same Catechism:
Is it ever possible for one to be saved who does not know the Catholic Church to be the true Church?
Answer: It is possible for one to be saved who does not know the Catholic Church to be the true Church provided that person (I) has been validly baptized; (2) firmly believes the religion he professes and practices to be the true religion, and (3) dies without the guilt of mortal sin on his soul.
So, where is truth, Father Williamson? This revised-third-time-over edition of the Baltimore Catechism came out forty years after Pope Pius IX spoke about the “invincibly ignorant.” Yet, its authors did not interpret the Pope’s words to mean that invincible ignorance can save. It is very explicitly stated that anyone unaware of the divine nature of the Catholic Church can be saved only if he is “validly” baptized. Of course, this answer is still partly heretical. No matter how sincere a baptized Christian is, if he rejects a Catholic truth, he ceases to be in the Catholic Church from that moment, and places himself outside the pale of salvation. Now, you may be getting some idea of why Father Feeney decided to go after the root of the problem. Where did the Church first allow subjectivism to interfere with objective revelation? Answer: In the theory of baptism of desire.
Verbum says that you do not claim that any dry desire in the general direction of heaven is sufficient for salvation. Then you proceed to quote excellent sources again, sources that disprove the very point you imply, but refrain from broadcasting. What point is that? That unbelievers who follow their consciences can be saved in their unbelief. In fact, the very enemies of the Church can be saved if they are misinformed about the Church but act sincerely. Is this not what you hold? If it is, why not say so courageously?
It seems to me that you prefer to make it look as though you support the letter of the Holy Office to Archbishop Cushing, when you really do not. This letter clearly says that not only is supernatural charity necessary for justification (and this is the kind of charity that “rejoices in the truth” — 1 Cor. 13:6), but so is “supernatural Faith.” And what is supernatural Faith? Is it not God’s very thought within us? Is it not His act as well as our own? How then can God move in on the mind of one who is in error and make that act His own? It would be a blasphemy to maintain that God would do this. So, I perceive you protesteth too much, Father. You are going to have to perform a clever bit of doctrinal gymnastics to explain how non-believers really do have “supernatural Faith.”
Another misrepresentation of Father Leonard’s teaching is your implication that he believed that God’s sanctifying power was tied to the sacraments only. As I explained above, and as is quite clear in the Bread of Life, Father did not hold this. In the very first chapter of the book you find Father bemoaning the fact that the world has rejected the actual graces bestowed upon it, for purposes of salvation, at Christmas time. Nor did he deny that God can sanctify a soul who has rejected false religion and loves Him above all things, even if such a one’s desire for baptism is, as yet, implicit. This is evident in Father’s many discussions about the purpose of justification. But, as you know, Father Feeney did not take the truths of Scripture in parts. He took the whole of revelation. The same Jesus Who said about Mary Magdalene: “Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much,” also said: “Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The same Jesus Who said: “Every one therefore that shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father Who is in heaven,” (Matt. 10:39) also said: “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
Why do the baptism of desire enthusiasts find it so easy to rationalize such universal statements? It is incredible to me that someone who tried to defend the literal meaning of such solemn utterances would find himself convicted of heresy for so doing!
God’s power, mercy and justice “wronged”(?) by Father Feeney
In saying that “Father went too far,” Verbum alleges that he wronged God’s power by limiting it to the sacraments. I assume that you mean the power of saving grace. There is no need to get into a long treatise about God’s omnipotence and His salvific will, but I wish to leave you with this “other” dogmatic truth: God does have a singular providence. You would do greater credit to God’s power by protecting both the salvific will of God and Our Lord’s absolute veracity than by sacrificing the latter to protect the former. It is precisely because God’s hand “shall not be shortened that He cannot save” (Isaias 59:1) that the Almighty One will use the hand of His Mystical Body to help Him save. He displays His omnipotence far more in binding Himself to His word (that is, to water and the word) than by creating separate “extraordinary” economies for all the “billions” of special cases who allegedly get into heaven without being touched physically by the Incarnation. If Christ meant what He said about baptism, and we insist that He did, then He can use any “extraordinary” means He chooses to bring a chosen soul to the ordinary, and only means of salvation.
Not only does Father Feeney supposedly offend God’s power, but you also say that he offends God’s mercy. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is precisely because Father Feeney believed in the Mercy of God that he was willing to be ”cast out of the synagogue” in defense of the message of salvation. Was Our Blessed Mother exaggerating the severity of the Divine Judgments when she let the Fatima children see the souls falling into hell at one particular moment “like snowflakes?” Or was Our Lord contradicting His own Mercy when He insisted that “the way is narrow and few find it?” Or when He warned how difficult it would be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? Comparatively speaking, are not almost all of us Euro-Americans of the North rich? Moreover, if, as we know, so few Catholics keep the law of God these days, how is it you are convinced that so many non-Catholics are doing so? Those non-Catholics who fight for some good cause on the natural plane will not go without their reward. But their reward is primarily to receive extra graces to come into the Church. It will not be eternal life, until they cooperate with this grace in this life. Moreover, you exhibit unawareness of the writings of the saints on the subject of the small percentage of the saved, and on the interior requirements necessary for salvation.
On the subject of salvation, Father Feeney said nothing inventive. He merely transmitted the teaching of the saints. On baptism of desire, he did not believe any differently from Saint Thomas concerning the certainty of salvation for all those who die justified. So, do not accuse Father Feeney of wronging God’s Mercy here. He never said God would reject anyone in the state of grace. He merely honored God by introducing His particular providence as we explained before. And when did Father Feeney ever deny that God willed the salvation of all men, as Saint Paul says in his letter to Timothy? Why do you present your readers a half-quote? Why not finish the text? “God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Tim. 2:4) If God will have men come to the knowledge of the truth, then only the refusal of grace on man’s part can prevent God from accomplishing His Will.
And that’s not all! Father Feeney wrongs God’s justice as well. How interesting! Father Leonard wrongs God’s justice because he believes God’s words literally and the papal definitions literally. If your accusation is true, then God was not just in commanding His children to “believe the gospel” and “hear the Church.” Then, you wrongly conclude that “no one is condemned if not guilty through his own fault.” This is a very rationalistic way of looking at the human condition. Sounds very good! In fact, if I were God, that’s the way it would be. But I am not God, nor are you. And, like it or not, God does condemn by punishment certain of His creatures without any fault of their own. This is the mystery of original sin. Unbaptized children and infants are punished by everlasting banishment from heaven. For their own personal sin? No, for Adam’s. And Adam is in heaven? Yes! He repented, and he is in heaven. Is that fair? Yes, that is fair, most fair, and most just, because God has decreed it to be so. Of course God does not torment these souls, as He does those who die in serious sin, but He does punish them by separation. This separation can certainly coincide with every natural joy short of the Beatific Vision.
Holy Office Letter “condemns” Father Feeney’s teaching
Finally, the Verbum article bows out with a parting curtsy to the Holy Office letter again. You surely have to fall back on that letter often. Have you not any other papal document to substantiate your theology? Surely within the two thousand years of the Church’s existence, you must be able to find something a little more authoritative than one letter signed by the Secretary of the Prefect of the Holy Office? Be that as it may, there is no question with the unbiased that Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani is twisting the words of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical to say more than they actually do. In Mystici Corporis Pope Pius did not say that these non-Catholics who have this unconscious yearning and desire to be members of the Mystical Body are ”related” to this Body. Rather, he said they “ordinentur ” (are ordained) towards this Body. This is true of anyone cooperating with actual graces. But why would God draw such a one towards His Church, if He was going to snatch him out of this life before he arrived at what he was being ordained towards? This does not make sense. Again, to uphold your error you are forced to deny the particular providence of God. It seems superfluous for the all-powerfully provident God to bestow graces upon souls, leading them to the ark of salvation, if, in spite of their cooperation with these graces, they are going to die before the purpose of the grace is made fruitful.
Furthermore, all that Pope Pius said was that outside the Church no one can be sure of his salvation. I admit this is a peculiar way to state the truth. But he certainly did not say what the author of the Holy Office letter interpreted him to say: namely, that those people who are being drawn towards the Church, even unconsciously, can be saved without baptism.
In conclusion: if you wish to place the salvation of your soul in peril by upholding the letter to Archbishop Cushing in such a way that you make it contradict the clear de fide definitions of the past, you are free to do so. However, unable as you are to plead ignorance, your judgment is going to be the more scrutinized, especially since you bear the character of Orders. Your error may deprive a soul of the challenge he or she may need to convert completely to Christ. And, by preaching that the virtues of “good faith” and “sincerity” are sufficient to gain entrance to the Beatific Vision, the priests in your Society who back such heresy scandalize the little ones outside the gate. For your sakes, I hope that on the day of judgment sincerity avails you.
This letter was written with the approval of my Superior, Brother Francis. Having studied the full course of Theology under Father Feeney, Brother Francis knows exactly what his mentor taught on the questions of baptism and grace. Obviously, not everything Father Feeney taught went into Bread of Life . But his more general theological thinking is all there. As I said before, if you had troubled yourself to ask about particulars, you would have saved yourself the embarrassment of publishing so unfortunate an article.
Sincerely, In the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Brother Michael, M.I.C.M.
Postscript: In addition to what I have written specifying the misrepresentations and incorrect teaching contained in your article, I would like to make this related observation: You very admirably defend the traditional Mass. But at the same time it seems evident to many that you uphold the heresy that was behind the implantation of the New Mass. What difference, may I ask, does it make what Mass one goes to, if his sincerity is what determines his state of soul? Some people are very sincere about Jehovah’s Witness services! Are they, according to your theology, to be blamed? If not, why do you insist Catholics stop going to the Novus Ordo? What right do you have to disturb their conscience, if salvation depends upon sincerity? You yourself admit that the dogma “No Salvation Outside the Church” really means that there is no salvation without the Church — as if the defining Church of the past had no idea what it really meant by choosing the Latin word “extra ” rather than “sine .” You prefer to accent the general truth, which is more of a truism, and suppress the more specific truth, which is a challenge. Yet you find this same tactic abhorrent in the liturgical demolitionists who replaced the pro multis with “for all men.”