Reply to a Liberal Part I: Answer to Five Minor Points


It seems to be a habit of liberal theologians to give more weight to the opinions of theologians of their own type than to the infallible definitions of the Church. Some of them never quote the Scriptures and the Councils; others do, usually by way of pious preamble. Father Donnelly, in his “observations” on the “question” of salvation outside the Catholic Church, uses only one statement from a Council of the Church. This lone statement turns out to be wholly to his disadvantage. In the same way, a famous French liberal, J. Bainvel, S. J., in his book entitled Is There Salvation Outside the Catholic Church? gives more than thirty quotations from Holy Scriptures, from the Fathers and Doctors and Councils — which unmistakably prove what the whole book is trying to explain away. The only texts which might be in Father Bainvel’s favor are taken, with the usual mistranslations and mutilations, from Pope Pius IX’s allocution and encyclical which I have mentioned in the introduction to this article, together with two or three sentences chosen out of the works of St. Augustine, again always mutilated and presented in such a way as to mean the very opposite of what they were intended to mean.


Liberal theologians give the impression that the dogma that “Outside the Church there is no Salvation” is still a question under debate. Father Donnelly says that “at present there is no work in English that covers adequately the question of salvation outside the Church.” How can a dogma, after twenty centuries of Christianity, be still a “question” under discussion and debate? Not only is the teaching of the Church very clear on this point, but Pope after Pope has infallibly defined the same dogma.

There is no other dogma which has been so many times defined, and so many times proclaimed by Fathers and Doctors. But even if the dogma had not yet been infallibly defined, would that make it less a doctrine to be believed by all Catholics under pain of mortal sin? The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, for example, has not yet been defined by the Church [Note: This essay was written before the solemn, dogmatic, infallible definition of the Assumption was proclaimed on November 1, 1950.], and still it is a revealed dogma, and not a debatable question. The Divinity of Christ, likewise, was a dogma even before its definition in the Council of Nicaea in 325, as was the oneness of the Person of Christ before its definition at the Council of Ephesus in 431. They were preached and defended as doctrines contained in the Deposit of Faith by St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and all the orthodox teachers, before the dogmas were defined by councils. Would St. Athanasius have said, with the cold and measured utterance of a modern liberal theologian, “At present there is no work in Greek that covers adequately the question of the Divinity of Christ?” Or would Pope Leo the Great have said, “At present there is no work in Latin which covers adequately the question of the two natures in Christ?”

We may ask Father Donnelly: Why is it that there is no work in English which covers adequately this question of salvation outside the Church? Is it not a central doctrine of the Church? Has not the English language been in use for centuries? It would seem to be the office of the theologian to put the infallible pronouncements of the Popes and the teachings of the Doctors of the Church in clear and simple English, and to see that these pronouncements are kept in their purity of utterance and not confused by the comments of liberals, which destroy their meaning.


All liberalism is essentially skeptical. The liberals have studied Descartes, Hume, Kant, and Einstein to such an extent that they have become skeptics and relativists themselves. If you were to ask liberal theologians, “Is it, or is it not, a dogma of the Church that there is no salvation outside the Church?” some would answer, “No it is not. There is salvation outside the Church.” But most of them, knowing the danger in such a clearly heretical answer, would reply, “Yes, it is a defined dogma; BUT this does not mean that one who is not a Catholic cannot be saved.”

For example, Father Donnelly admits that the Church has been teaching “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” (Is the statement always kept in Latin in order not to offend Protestants? Is the heresy of Americanism still surviving, even after its condemnation by the Pope?). But Father Donnelly does not go so far as to call this teaching of the Church a dogma. He calls it a formula. Father Bainvel calls it an axiom. 1 Father Donnelly concedes the existence of this “formula” BUT says it “must not be understood in the sense that salvation is impossible for anyone who does not believe explicitly in the Catholic Church and does not accept all the revealed truths proposed by her for belief.”

Father Bainvel, S. J., is guilty of the same inconsistency. He says that it is against the teaching of the Church to say that a person can be saved by good faith alone, or by belonging to the soul of the Church, or by belonging to the invisible Church. It is absolutely necessary for salvation, Father Bainvel says, that a man believe in the truths of the Church and belong to her body, and visibly. Moreover, he goes on, some theologians say that the Church is necessary for salvation by a necessity of precept so that a person totally ignorant of its existence could be saved without belonging to it. This, he says, is against the teaching of the Church, and we must hold that the Church is necessary for salvation by a necessity of means, so that without it salvation is absolutely impossible. BUT, he adds, good faith and invincible ignorance can easily excuse a man so that he could attain salvation without joining the Catholic Church, without knowing about the Church, and without believing in its truths!

Now, I ask Father Bainvel, what is the use of asserting a dogma of the Faith if a BUT is going to undo it? Or why should the Church take so much care in defining a dogma if her intention is to say the very opposite of what she states in the definition? This we know is not the intention of the Church, but is, rather, the practice of the liberal theologian, which practice breeds skepticism and doubt.


One of the most common ways in which liberals confuse people on the teachings of the Church (and a very dishonest way, as everyone must admit) is to claim to quote a Pope or a Council, and then, by mistranslating the text and leaving out the most important words and clauses, misrepresent it completely. Let me give an example:

Pope Pius IX, in his allocution Singulari quadam, says: “But at the same time it is to be held equally certain that those who labor under ignorance of the true religion, if their ignorance is invincible, will not be held guilty of this in the eyes of the Lord. (Sed tamen pro certo pariter habendum est, qui verae religionis ignorantia laborent, si ea sit invincibilis, nulla ipsos obstringi huiusce rei culpa ante oculos Domini.) ” 2

Father Bainvel translates this statement (I am quoting from an authorized English translation of his book, Is there Salvation Outside the Catholic Church?): “It may be equally held as certain that ignorance of the true faith, if it be invincible, excuses one from all fault in the eyes of the Saviour. ” 3

This is more than a mistranslation.

Now, Father Donnelly, in his paper, uses nine quotations. One of these is from R. Lombardi, S. J., and three from journalistic sources Although these contain some distortions and notable omissions, I shall leave them aside for the moment as being of no importance whatsoever for deciding a dogmatic issue. In the remaining five quotations, there are two extremely serious mistranslations, and one major omission which completely changes the meaning of the passage. Here are the the mistranslated passages (I shall come to the third one later):

After saying that those who are invincibly ignorant of the Catholic Faith will not be held guilty of this in the eyes of God, Pius IX says: “But, now, who would claim to himself to be able to designate limits to such an ignorance according to the nature and variety of peoples, regions, temperaments, and so many other things? (Nunc vero quis tantum sibi arroget, ut huiusmodi ignorantiae designare limites queat juxta populorum, regionum, ingeniorum aliarumque rerum tam multarum rationem et varietem?) ” 4

Father Donnelly renders the above passage of Pius IX in this way: “Who would dare claim to be able to assign limits to such ignorance when he reflects on the diversity he sees among peoples, etc. . . . ” What the Holy Father is warning us not to do is exactly what Father Donnelly is doing, namely, he is intimating that anyone can easily judge that there are many more people who are invincibly ignorant than we would think there are, by reflecting on the diversity that can be seen among peoples, regions, temperaments, etc. Pope Pius IX is warning us, on the contrary, not to judge of the invincible ignorance of people according to such superficial and sociological norms as diversity of peoples and customs. What do the liberals do? They make it their main concern to reflect on this very diversity and to judge of the invincible ignorance of people according to this consideration. When a Pope warns them not to take sociology and other purely rational studies as a norm to decide theological or dogmatic questions, they misconstrue his utterances and proceed to become experts on sociological and scientific problems, and they misinterpret Catholic dogmas in accordance with their secular studies!

The second mistranslated passage is the following: Father Donnelly claims that Pope Pius IX says: “For God, who sees distinctly, who searches into and knows the mind, spirit, habits and thoughts of all men, would never of His supreme goodness and mercy permit anyone to be punished eternally unless he had incurred the guilt of voluntary sin.”

It is true that this passage is taken from an encyclical which is not infallible. But how can a professor of dogmatic theology have so little concern for the truth and so much less concern for the orthodoxy of a Pope as to claim that the Vicar of Christ could have made a statement like that? To say that God would never permit anyone to be punished eternally unless he had incurred the guilt of voluntary sin is nothing short of Pelagianism. It took all the strength and militancy of St. Augustine to destroy this heresy, and here it appears once more in our century, in the utterances of liberal professors of theology who try to hide behind a Pope by misquoting him.

If God cannot punish eternally a human being who has not incurred the guilt of voluntary sin, how then, for example, can He punish eternally babies who die unbaptized? Did these babies incur “the guilt of voluntary sin?” Or would Father Donnelly assert that they are punished eternally, but are rewarded with the Beatific Vision? Or would he say that they are sent to Limbo, but that Limbo is not a place of eternal punishment, but of reward? Is the teaching of the Church obscure on this point, too? Or is it not rather one more instance of the way liberal theologians confuse Catholics by misquoting a passage and never giving an explanation?

What Pius IX says is that “God, who sees distinctly, who searches into and knows the mind, spirit, habits and thoughts of all men, would never of His supreme goodness and mercy permit anyone to be punished with eternal torments (aeternis puniri supplicis), who has not incurred the guilt of voluntary sin.” 5 What is due in justice to original sin is punishment and not reward, but it is the punishment of loss, the loss of the Beatific Vision (poena damni ); and what is due to personal sin is the punishment of the senses, the fire of Hell (poena sensus ). But the punishment of loss can be and actually is inflicted on those who die free from personal sin but unbaptized, hence still under the sway of original sin.

Thus Innocent III said: “The penalty of original sin is the loss of the vision of God; the penalty of actual sin is the torment of everlasting Hell. ” 6 And St. Bonaventure says: “ . . . the punishment of being deprived of the sight of God and the loss of heavenly glory affects both adults and children who are unbaptized. The children are punished with the others, but by the mildest punishment because they deserve punishment of loss, but not the punishment of the senses. ” 7

The remaining two texts which Father Donnelly uses, one taken from the Council of Trent and the other from the same encyclical of Pope Pius IX, Quanto Conficiamur, fortunately are not mistranslated, are wrongly interpreted. Several words are emphasized in such a way as to give a false meaning to the whole passage, as I shall show later in this article. Thus, there is not one authority used by Father Donnelly which does not disprove his ideas — when correctly quoted.


In the beautiful ages of the Faith, Theology was the queen of the sciences. Philosophy was her handmaid. There came the day when sophists like Hegel and Berdiaev completely subjected theology to philosophy and reason. But modern liberal theologians subordinate this fairest queen even to inferior sciences, such as sociology, astronomy historical criticism. Every Catholic knows that, along with the Holy Scriptures and the infallible pronouncements of the Popes, the greatest authorities in theological and dogmatic questions are the earliest teachers of Catholic truth. The authority of the Fathers is so powerful that all the Councils refer to their works in order to determine beyond question the body of truth contained in the Deposit of Faith.

Liberal theologians, however, impressed by the methods of modern scholarship, depart from the traditional way, and seek the latest work on a subject. They offer this as a solution of the matter, as witness Father Donnelly’s use of Caperan and Lombardi. What has the revealed truth of Jesus Christ to do with novelty and recent research? Does the truth of our Faith change with time? Or does a modern liberal pretend to understand Our Lord’s doctrine better than His immediate followers and all the centuries of Faith have understood it?

Nobody can deny that in the minds of liberal theologians what the early Christians held is not of great importance. And nobody can deny that in everything they say they imply that the dogmas of the Faith do change with time. How often have we heard liberals openly say that the Church has been teaching since the Middle Ages that people can be saved outside the Church, and without the knowledge of the truths of the Faith! Some of them do not hesitate to say that the reason this change in the doctrine of the Church has occurred is because we now know of the existence of peoples living in countries and continents undiscovered and unknown during and before the Middle Ages.

We know that Bainvel admits most of humanity into Heaven, in his arrangement. His solution of the “problem” of salvation outside the Church consists in saying that pagans and heretics and schismatics and open enemies of the Church belong to the Catholic Church, both to her body and her soul. And yet he openly confesses that this was not the teaching of the early Church on the subject. He says, “From these various statements we may rightly conclude that, in the early stages of Christian thought, the Church was as necessary for salvation as Christ Himself.” 8 Is this not clearly implying that the dogmas of the Church change with time? Is Father Bainvel carrying over into the sacred realm of theology the pseudo-scientific theories of so-called evolution? What does he mean by early stages of Christian thought? His presumption borders on blasphemy.

It is very noticeable that in Father Donnelly’s paper the earliest authority quoted is the Council of Trent in 1547. He immediately passes on, without further explanation, to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Furthermore, although Father Donnelly quotes (or rather misquotes) some recent Popes, the two works which are the basis of his paper, as he attests at the beginning, are (1) a “classic work by Caperan” (1934), and (2) “the more recent work by Father Riccardo Lombardi” (1945). It is evident, from these data, how much support Father Donnelly was able to find in the tradition of the Church as preserved in the works of the Fathers and the Doctors.

1 J. Bainvel, S. J., Is There Salvation Outside the Catholic Church? Authorized English Translation by J. L. Weidenhan, S. T. L. 2nd Ed., Ch. V, p. 43.

3 Bainvel, Op. cit., Ch. III, p. 26.

4 Pius IX, Singulari Quadam, Denz. 1647.

5 Pius IX, Encyclical Quanto Conficiamur, 10 Aug. 1863, Denz. 1677.

6 Pope Innocent III, Epist. Maiores Ecclesiae Causas, 1201, Denz. 410.

7 St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Part III, Ch. V, n. 2.

8 Bainvel, Op. cit., Ch. II, pp. 10-11.