The interview is being spun as a devastating admission by the Pope Emeritus that the Church has gone badly astray on the question of the salvation of non-Catholics. If only it were so. We have here, on the contrary, a correct diagnosis followed by the usual post-Vatican II prescription: more of the same confusion that has plagued the Church since the Council’s volcanic ash cloud descended upon her.
Being a proponent of universal salvation à la von Balthasar, Servais posed a blatantly loaded question, clearly designed to elicit Benedict’s confirmation that the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus is now a dead letter. All translations are mine:
In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola, does not employ the Old Testament images of vendetta, contrary to Paul (as is evinced in the Second Letter to the Thessalonians); nonetheless he invites contemplation of how men, until the Incarnation, “descended into Hell” and consideration of the example of “innumerable others who ended up there for sins much less than what I have committed.” It is in this spirit that Saint Francis Xavier lived his own pastoral activity, convinced of the duty to attempt to save from the terrible destiny of eternal perdition as many “infidels” as possible. Can it be said that on this point, in recent decades, there has been a sort of “development of dogma” of which the Catechism should take account?
Notice, first of all, the snide dismissal of both the Old Testament and Saint Paul regarding God’s judgment and the threat of eternal punishment. Servais is the classic Modernist, who thinks nothing of divine revelation as opposed to his own theological sensibilities, informed by the hottest new developments in “post-conciliar thought.”
Contrary to the way this interview is being spun by optimistic commentators, Benedict takes the bait, admitting the (de facto) death of the dogma and the crisis this has caused, but avoiding any suggestion that what is needed is simply a recovery of the Church’s traditional teaching on the necessity of faith and baptism for salvation (cases of invincible ignorance being a matter of theological speculation as to which the Church can say nothing with any certainty):
There is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma. While the Fathers and the medieval theologians could still be of the view that in substance all of the human race had become Catholic and that paganism now existed only at the margins, the discovery of the New World at the beginning of the modern era changed that perspective in a radical manner.
The Pope Emeritus here blithely accepts the very essence of Modernism, condemned as such by Saint Pius X inPascendi: that the dogmas of the faith can “evolve” according to changing religious sentiments (here a “changed perspective”). That dogma can “evolve” is a sophism which, Pius X warned, “ruins and destroys all religion.” Benedict’s uncritical reference to “a profound evolution of dogma” in itself qualifies the interview as a disaster.
That aside, it is absurd to suggest that the mere discovery of the New World and vast numbers of infidels in need of conversion would change the dogma on the necessity of conversion for salvation. On the contrary, it would all the more impel missionary activity. Indeed, Benedict admits “it is true that the great missionaries of the 16th century were still convinced [!] that he who is not baptized is lost forever, and this explains their missionary task…”
And then comes this stupefying declaration in the same sentence: “in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council, this conviction was definitively abandoned.” Read it again in order to convince yourself that this is what the Pope Emeritus actually said. [For the skeptical, herewith the original Italian: “nella Chiesa cattolica dopo il Concilio Vaticano II tale convinzione è stata definitivamente abbandonata.”]
So, the posited change in “perspective” has nothing to do with the discovery of the New World, after all, or the intervening centuries since then, but rather with the seemingly endless lava flow from that ecclesial Vesuvius of ambiguity known as the Second Vatican Council. Why are we not surprised?
It should be noted that the two Popes who reigned immediately before 1962 evinced no “radical” change in “perspective” regarding the necessity of converting the infidels—that’s the right, the infidels—for their salvation. Two examples suffice:
In Evangellii Praecones (1951), Ven. Pius XII preached the urgency of missionary work in the aftermath of World II with Communism on the rise. He expressed concern for “the countless peoples who are to be called to the one fold and to the one haven of salvation by the preaching of these missionaries…” and he praised the Society of the Holy Childhood, whose members “pray earnestly for the salvation of the infidel…”
In Rerum Ecclesiae (1926), Pius XI referred no fewer than fourteen times to the urgent work of converting “the heathen,” declaring that “[t]he Orders and Religious Congregations may well be proud of the missions given them among the heathen and of the conquests made up to the present hour for the Kingdom of Christ…. Do not be ashamed, Venerable Brothers, to make yourselves even beggars for Christ and the salvation of souls.”
Then, only a few years later, there was a sudden “definitive abandonment” of the very conviction these two great Popes expressed. Proving entirely the case I made in my recent debate with Mark Shea, Pope Benedict admits that the “definitive abandonment” of the missionary conviction in favor of the mysteriously emergent new “perspective” has produced:
a profound double crisis. On the one hand, this seems to remove all motivation to a future missionary commitment. Why should one ever try to convince people to accept the Christian faith when they can save themselves without it? But even for Christians a question emerged: the obligatoriness of the faith and of its form of life became uncertain and problematic.
If there are those who can be saved in other ways, it is no longer evident, in the end, why the Christian himself should be bound by the exigencies of the Christian faith and its morality. But if faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, the faith also becomes unmotivated. In recent times there have been formulated different attempts to reconcile the universal necessity of Christian faith with the possibility of saving oneself without it.
Notice that Benedict does not view the “definitive abandonment” of the Church’s missionary conviction—that is, her divine commission! —as a grave error of the past fifty years that must be corrected immediately. Out of the question! One must never admit that the Church (humanly speaking) took a wrong turn at the Council. Rather, Benedict accepts the “abandonment” as an irremediable given, leaving the Church only with “attempts” to reconcile the necessity of faith for salvation with the non-necessity of faith for salvation—that is, to reconcile X with not-X, a familiar problem in post-conciliar thinking.
Benedict first considers Rahner’s “anonymous Christian” theory, which he views as “fascinating” but rejects because it “reduces Christianity itself to a… presentation of that which the human being is in itself and thus neglects the drama of the change and renewal which is central to Christianity.” Neglects the drama? How about neglecting infallibly defined dogmas concerning the necessity of baptism, sanctifying grace, faith, justification and membership in the Church for salvation?
Benedict next pronounces “even less acceptable the solution proposed by pluralistic theories of religion, according to which all religions, each in its own way, would be ways of salvation and in this sense their effects would have to be considered equivalent. The critique of religion of the type exercised by the Old Testament, by the New Testament and by the primitive Church is essentially more realistic in its examination of the various religions. A reception so simplistic is not proportional to the greatness of the question.”
What is this? Literary criticism or a defense of divine revelation? But revelation seems no longer to be in view as the first Pope Emeritus in Church history attempts to negotiate the post-conciliar fog bank.
So, neither Rahner’s theory that everyone is essentially a Christian by virtue of being human nor various theories of religious pluralism can solve the “problem” posed by the “new perspective.” One would think that the Church, then, should reject the “new perspective” and simply reaffirm the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus, leaving the unknown fate of the invincibly ignorant unbeliever to the inscrutable mercy of God, just as Blessed Pius IX insisted when he forbade all further speculation in this regard. [Cf. Allocution Singulari Quadam (1854)].
But no, the “new perspective” must be served. And so Benedict finally suggests that perhaps none other than Henri de Lubac can save the Church from the dilemma of having no way to explain how the “new perspective” can be reconciled with the traditional teaching of the Church on her own necessity for salvation. This would involve what Benedict calls “the concept of vicarious substitution,” according to which the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, would somehow save souls outside the Church by the very fact of her existence.
But that is just another formula for universal salvation without faith or baptism, which would do nothing to solve the “double crisis” Benedict admits has arisen because the missionary conviction has been “definitively abandoned” on account of the “new perspective.” Indeed, Benedict admits “it is true that the problem is not entirely resolved” by Lubac’s notion.
So there we have it: There is no real explanation for how the necessity of faith for salvation can be reconciled with its non-necessity according to the “new perspective,” which has led to a “definitive abandonment” of the Church’s perennial missionary conviction that souls will be lost unless they are brought into the Church. But under no circumstances can it admitted that the “new perspective” is mistaken, even though it is a novelty unheard of before Vatican II. In fact, as Servais admits, not even the new Catechism has adopted it as Church teaching.
The Pope Emeritus thus concludes: “It is clear that we must reflect on this entire question.” It is as if the entire teaching of the Magisterium for nearly 2,000 years on the salvation of non-Catholics suddenly disappeared in 1962, leaving us with no one but Henri de Lubac to attempt to fill the theological vacuum.
Unbelievable. But such is the post-conciliar crisis in the Church. And with Francis on the Chair of Peter, we have not yet seen the worst of it.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!
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