(DZ 1349)Whether a minister is bound, before baptism is conferred on an adult, to explain to him all the mysteries of our faith, especially if he is at the point of death, because this might disturb his mind. Or, whether it is sufficient, if the one at the point of death will promise that when he recovers from the illness, he will take care to be instructed, so that he may put into practice what has been commanded him.
Resp. A promise is not sufficient, but a missionary is bound to explain to an adult, even a dying one who is not entirely incapacitated, the mysteries of faith which are necessary by a necessity of means, as are especially the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation.
Whether it is possible for a crude and uneducated adult, as it might be with a barbarian, to be baptized, if there were given to him only an understanding of God and some of His attributes, especially His justice in rewarding and in punishing, according to this remark of the Apostle "He that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder'; [Heb . 11:23], from which it is inferred that a barbarian adult, in a certain case of urgent necessity, can be baptized although he does not believe explicitly in Jesus Christ.
Resp. A missionary should not baptize one who does not believe explicitly in the Lord Jesus Christ, but is bound to instruct him about all those matters which are necessary, by a necessity of means, in accordance with the capacity of the one to be baptized.
This is certainly not a necessary conclusion. There is at least one alternative, which seems more probable. For adults, the intention to receive the sacrament as a sacrament is required for the validity of the sacrament. If an adult only has implicit faith in Christ or the Trinity, it is clear that he cannot understand the precise significance of what is being done, and this at least opens the door for the possibility that he does not view the sacrament truly as a sacrament, as a sacred sign. Thus, in order to insure that the sacrament is received validly, prudence seems to dictate that some brief instruction be given.
However, the text itself seems open to the possibility that if the adult is not merely in the danger of death, but also unconscious, then he could be baptized. Otherwise there would not seem to be a reason for the statement “even a dying one, who is not entirely incapacitated.” If the Holy Office wished to say absolutely that one needed knowledge of the Trinity and the Incarnation to receive baptism, they could have left off the phrase “who is not entirely incapacitated,” and the text would be much stronger to that effect.
Again in the second text we have a similar qualification: “in accordance with the capacity of the one to be baptized.” Clearly if the adult is incapacitated, he does not have the capacity to be taught the truths of the faith.
Fr. Harrison then continues on to address two statements of Pope Pius IX. The first is in the 1854 allocution Singulari Quadam:
“Certainly we must hold it as of faith that no one can be saved outside of the apostolic Roman Church, that this is the only ark of salvation, that the one who does not enter this is going to perish in the deluge. But nevertheless we must likewise hold it as certain that those who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if that ignorance be invincible, will never be charged with any guilt on this account before the eyes of the Lord. Now, then, who could presume in himself an ability to set the boundaries of such ignorance, taking into consideration the natural differences of peoples, lands, native talents, and so many other factors? Only when we have been released from the bonds of this body and see God just as he is (see 1 John 3:2) shall we really understand how close and beautiful a bond joins divine mercy with divine justice.”
Fr. Harrison says about this text, “Certainly we must hold it as of faith that no one can be saved outside of the apostolic Roman Church, that this is the only ark of salvation, that the one who does not enter this is going to perish in the deluge. But nevertheless we must likewise hold it as certain that those who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if that ignorance be invincible, will never be charged with any guilt on this account before the eyes of the Lord. In fact, this statement is perfectly compatible with the ECNS position. For Augustine, Aquinas, and the mainstream pre-Jesuit tradition had never suggested that anyone invincibly ignorant of the true religion would be charged with guilt “on this account”, that is, on account of their ignorance itself. But this did not mean they could be saved if they remained in such ignorance of the Gospel right up until death.”
Fr. Harrison goes on to say that all those who are invincibly ignorant, basically interpreting this text to say that those who are invincibly ignorant, and who persevere in seeking after truth and righteousness, these will be brought to the faith before they die. Thus, the pope's statement would come down to saying that invincibly ignorant pagans cannot be saved without an explicit knowledge of the Christian religion, but if they are invincibly ignorant, God will bring them to the faith.
Fr. Harrison fails to notice that this position implicitly contradicts the pope's statement, “Now, then, who could presume in himself an ability to set the boundaries of such ignorance, taking into consideration the natural differences of peoples, lands, native talents, and so many other factors?” Why? Because his position comes down to saying that all those who do not come to the Catholic faith before death are not invincibly ignorant. Thus we limit the bounds of this invincible ignorance to those who are united to the Catholic Church before death.
It is true that Fr. Harrison offers a kind of solution to this later, namely, that God will reveal himself perhaps secretly at the moment of death, so that none could conclude that God had not brought them to the faith. This assertion, though, has no basis in Church teaching, and would be an additional hypthesis brought in to defend his position.
The next citation is again from Pius IX, essentially saying the same thing, but more clearly:
“Here we must again mention and reprove a most serious error in which some Catholics have unhappily fallen, thinking that men living in errors and altogether apart from the the true faith and Catholic unity can attain to eternal life. [Nevertheless] it is known to us and to you that those who labor in invincible ignorance concerning our most holy religion and who, assiduously observing the natural law and its precepts which God has inscribed in the hearts of all, and being ready to obey God, live an honest and upright life, can, through the working of the divine light and grace, attain eternal life; since God . . . [will] never allow anyone who has not the guilt of wilful sin to be punished by eternal sufferings.” (Quanto Conficiamur Moerore)
Fr. Harrison says, “This 1863 document, admittedly, seems to lean rather more toward Perroni’s “implicit faith” thesis than the 1853 allocution did. Nevertheless, it does not teach that thesis unequivocally. For nothing the Pope says implies that anyone who is still invincibly ignorant of Christ at the moment of death can be saved.”
Fr. Harrison is reading this essentially the same way as the 1853 allocution, namely, that God will bring all those who are invincibly ignorant and obey the natural law to an explicit faith in himself. However, again it is only possible to maintain this thesis by gratuitously asserting that God must enlighten such people at the moment of their death with a divine revelation, as we shall see.
It is quite clear that Pius IX is asserting at least this much: that, all invincibly ignorant people who have no willful sin will go to heaven. Therefore, if any one of the people who are invincibly ignorant of Christ and his Church, and follows the natural law, were to die at this moment, he would go to heaven. In order to save his position, Fr. Harrison is forced to posit that such people would receive a divine revelation of the Christian religion in their last moments. Again, no basis for this. It would seem like a more reasonable position to hold that such people are already justified and freed from sin, and thus if they die, they will go to heaven, at which point they will have explicit knowledge of Christ and His Church.
To be continued . . .