The Catholic Church
Fr. Lucian Pulvermacher, OFM Cap.
December 8, 1978
All Catholics know and believe what was defined at the
Lateran Council IV in 1215, namely that, "One indeed is the universal Church of
the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved." We must believe that
there is baptism of water, and the desire for that baptism, plus baptism of
blood. We are greatly indebted to Monsignor Joseph Fenton for proper terminology
to explain this dogma of the faith.
In his wonderful book entitled, "The Catholic Church and Salvation," Msgr. Fenton
analyzes "Suprema Haec Sacra," a letter from the Holy Office issued on
August 8, 1949 to Archbishop Cushing of Boston in response to the problem at St.
Benedict Center at Cambridge. There, baptism of water alone was accepted as
being within the Catholic Church.
Here is a thumbnail sketch of the document "Suprema haec sacra:"
The teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic
Church is a dogma of the Catholic faith.
This dogma has always been taught, and will always be taught,
infallibly by the Church's magisterium.
The dogma must be understood and explained as the Church's
magisterium understands and explains it.
The Church is necessary for salvation with both a necessity of
precept and a necessity of means.
Because the Church is necessary for salvation with the
necessity of precept, any person who knows the Church to have been divinely
instituted by Our Lord and yet refuses to enter it or to remain within it cannot
attain eternal salvation.
The Church is a general and necessary means for salvation, not
by reason of any intrinsic necessity, but only by God's own institution, that
is, because God in His merciful wisdom has established it as such.
In order that a man may be saved "within" the Church, it is
not always necessary that he belong to the Church, actually as a member, but it
can sometimes be enough that he belong to it as one who desires or wills to be
in it. In other words, it is possible for one who belongs to the Church only in
desire to be saved.
It is possible for this desire of entering the Church to be
effective, not only when it is explicit, but also (when the person is invincibly
ignorant of the true Church) even when that desire is merely implicit.
The Mystici Corporis reproved both the error of those
who teach the impossibility of salvation for those who have only an implicit
desire of entering the Church, and the false doctrine of those who claim that
men may find salvation equally in every religion.
No desire to enter the Church can be effective for salvation
unless it is enlightened by supernatural faith and animated or motivated by
"Within" or "Outside" the Church
Let us consider number (7) above. Here Father Fenton give us the word "within."
The dogma of faith says, "Outside the Church there is no salvation." Here we
have two important words as wonderful tools to work with. They are, "within" and
"outside" the Catholic Church.
In his most important encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi, Pope Pius XII
defined what membership in the Church meant. It means that one is baptized with
water, has the true faith, is subject to the true Pope and is not
excommunicated. Here, the key word is "member." A member, of course, is "within"
Now we have two more steps to make. One can be "within" the Church as a member
and by true desire. Next we consider two important words of number (8) above,
namely, "explicit" desire and "implicit" desire. Both these conditions of soul
put one "within" the Catholic Church. In such a state of soul, one can receive
forgiveness of sin and receive sanctifying grace.
"Explicit" and "Implicit" Desire to Enter the Church
We shall explain what "explicit" desire means. When a catechumen knows about the
Church, about baptism and the like, he then has the choice to desire to enter
the Church by baptism of water or not. If he turns with the help of grace to God
and His Church in such a desire, he is then "within" the Church, with what we
call an "explicit" act of desire. With that desire in his heart, he can make an
act of perfect contrition. The result would be that he is freed from his sins,
and he receives sanctifying grace. In that state he is ready for heaven.
Next, we explain the term "implicit" as it is found in number (8) above. Note
that the term is modified by the word merely. Many thought that
"implicit" desire to enter the Church was not enough. Let us explain the meaning
of "implicit" desire to enter the Church. It means that a person who knows and
believes explicitly the four things necessary for salvation is already in a
state of soul which is pleasing to God. Let us say that the person is taken away
after that instruction to a prison camp. There, no one will give him any more
instruction. However, he desires the instruction with all his heart. Hence, his
ignorance of the other truths of the faith is an invincible ignorance. He
sincerely wants the knowledge and the reality Christ's true Church has for him.
With that desire and with the movement of actual grace that man or woman can
make an act of perfect contrition. The effect of that act of perfect contrition
will be that he or she will receive forgiveness of sins and also sanctifying
grace. Again, in that state one is ready for the everlasting joys of heaven.
Four Things Necessary for Salvation
Lest some persons reading this be confused about the four things necessary for
salvation, I shall say what they are in just four words:
Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews), so he must have
supernatural knowledge and faith in God the Creator who rewards the good and
punishes the evil. That is absolutely necessary. Then we must always follow in
the new dispensation (New Testament) that one must also believe in the Blessed
Trinity and in the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ. After that explicit faith,
where there is invincible ignorance, one can have merely "implicit" knowledge
and faith as explained above.
Efficacious Desire to Enter the Church
We must consider another very important factor. The desire, whether it is
explicit or merely implicit, must be truly efficacious. Let us take a simple
example of an efficacious desire. A person desires to go to Australia. He gets a
passport, a visa, a ticket, a flight reservation, and so forth. Even though he
is not yet in Australia, he has an efficacious desire to get there, known by all
Another person with an in-efficacious desire is a person who merely wants to go
to Australia, but he does nothing about it at all. He has the money, and he has
the time, but he does nothing about getting ready.
Now apply this to people in the world in regard to our holy religion, the
Catholic Church. Many, yes very many desire to be in the true Church that Christ
founded. However, not all of them have an efficacious desire, and unless the
desire is efficacious, the act of contrition will not effect forgiveness of sins
and the obtaining of sanctifying grace. Once again, "Outside the Church there is
no salvation," no forgiveness of sin, and there will be no obtaining of
A Caution from Pope Pius IX
We have another caution to give, and it is not mine but it is from Pope Pius IX.
In "The Sources of Catholic Dogma" by Denzinger, we read some very
sharp words from that holy pontiff. In number 1647, the pope chides those who go
too deeply into the practical order. Who has that desire? What are the hidden
workings of grace? The last words of that paragraph are, "it is unlawful to
proceed further in inquiry." Pope Pius IX then goes on to tell us to work and
pray that all men may come to the knowledge of the true Church and lovingly join
that true Church.
The Age of Reason - Decision Time
I urge those who have Fr. Fenton's wonderful book to read it and re-read it. On
pages 71 - 72, we find a wonderful study on un-baptized persons coming to the
age of reason. When such a person reaches the age of reason, he must make a
decision to enter the divine order (the kingdom of Heaven) or to go contrary to
the kingdom of Heaven, namely to enter the kingdom of Satan. As stated above,
his efficacious desire takes away original sin and gives him sanctifying grace.
The opposite desire (rebellion) puts into his soul his first mortal sin.
Work and Pray for All Mankind
While we thank God for our faith and presence "within" the Church, we must work
and pray that all men may find and live "within" the one ark of salvation, the
Holy Roman Catholic Church.