Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fr. Brian Harrison on Implicit Faith in Christ, Part IV

Continuing where we left off, Father Harrison then makes this bold assertion: “Nothing substantially different from Pius IX’s teaching on the eternal destiny of non-Christians issued from the magisterium for well over a century.” The next piece of magisterial evidence that he takes up is the 1949 Letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston, and claims that once again it teaches nothing different.

“I have found that it is a common mistake among both followers and opponents of Fr. Feeney to suppose that the 1949 Holy Office Letter to the Archbishop of Boston comes down clearly on the liberal side of the dispute left open by Pius IX’s somewhat ambivalent statements. That is, they reason that this Letter, since it says an “implicit desire for the Church” can be sufficient for salvation, teaches definitely and positively that at least some who die as Jews, pagans and Muslims can be saved by virtue of a presumed ‘implicit faith’ in Christ. But this is a non sequitur. In reality, the Letter, while it is certainly open to this ‘implicit faith’ thesis, also remains open to the contrary ‘explicit faith’ thesis. For the expression “implicit desire for the Church” clearly does not mean the same thing as “implicit faith in Christ”. Whether or not the latter – assuming it to be a species of the genus supernatural (‘theological’) faith, which is always necessary, along with charity, for salvation – is still infused by God into any human souls after Pentecost, is a question still left unadjudicated by the 1949 Letter.”

I would like to note the manner in which Fr. Harrison has phrased this. “Whether or not the latter . . . is still infused by God into any human souls after Pentecost, is a question still left unadjudicated by the 1949 Letter.” This statement as it is phrased it absolutely true, because the Church does not make doctrinal judgments about whether some humans actually receive this kind of implicit faith; she merely teaches that is is possible. (Philosophically, it is necessarily implied by this that some actually do receive faith) However, the church does make doctrinal judgments about the possibility of some men who are ignorant of Christ receiving supernatural faith. Let us look at the important text from the letter:

“Not only did the Savior command that all nations should enter the Church, but He also decreed the Church to be a means of salvation without which no one can enter the kingdom of eternal glory. In His infinite mercy God has willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of those helps to salvation which are directed toward man's final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when those helps are used only in desire and longing . . . The same in its own degree must be asserted of the Church, in as far as she is the general help to salvation. Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing. However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God.

I have emphasized the most important parts. The letter explicitly asserts that God has allowed the effects of the helps to salvation which are directed to man's end, to be obtained by desire only, and even implicit desire. It is clear that Fr. Harrison recognizes that explicit faith is one of those things that are directed towards man's final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but divine decree, since he grants that men were saved by implicit faith before Christ. Hence it is clear that God in his infinite mercy can dispense with the requirement for explicit faith.

Furthermore, even aside from, it is a very strange way of reading this letter to assert that what it is saying is limited to those who have an explicit belief in Christ. The whole point of saying that the desire for the Church does not need to be explicit seems to be put in precisely for the sake of those people who do not know of Christ and His Church.

As I mentioned in my post on this also, the letter references the encyclical “Mystici Corporis,” and says that “these things are clearly taught in it.” If you look at the section in Mystici Corporis which is being referred to, Pius XII includes two groups of people, those “not yet enlightened by the truth of the Gospel, are still outside the fold of the Church, and those who, on account of regrettable schism, are separated from Us ” The first group is clearly those who do not have an explicit belief in Christ, since they are unenlightened by the Gospel. Hence it is clearly the intention of the letter to include this group within those who may be saved through an implicit desire.

Fr. Harrison then gives a brief paragraph, in which he brushes off the texts from Vatican II which teach this same position. He basically says that Vatican II is again “open-ended,” because it does not explicitly deny his position. Thus, when Vatican II says, “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience,” he interprets this as meaning, “those can be saved who do not know of the Gospel, because if they are ignorant, and seek what is right, God will bring them to the Gospel.”

I explained the significan of Vatican II detail in my post http://outsidethechurchnosalvation.blogspot.com/2009/06/no-salvation-outside-church-in-vatican.html so I will not re-explain it here.

Fr. Harrison then makes the assertion that the declaration “Dominus Iesus” issued by the CDF in 2000, “reaffirms the Thomistic ECNS view that the defective “belief” found in non-Christian religions is not the supernatural (theological) virtue of faith.” (Never mind the fact that he just skipped over some of the magisterial texts that are most relevant. See my post: http://outsidethechurchnosalvation.blogspot.com/2009/06/no-salvation-outside-church-after.html)

He quotes Dominus Iesus as follows:

“The proper response to God’s revelation is “the obedience of faith (Rom 16: 26; cf. Rom. 1: 5; 2 Cor 10: 5-6). . . . The obedience of faith implies acceptance of the truth of Christ’s revelation, guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. . . . Faith, therefore, as “a gift of God” and as “a supernatural virtue infused by him” (CCC #153), involves a dual adherence: to God who reveals and to the truth which he reveals, out of the trust which one has in him who speaks. Thus, “we must believe in no one but God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (CCC #178). For that reason, the distinction between theological faith and belief in the other religions must be firmly held. If faith is the acceptance in grace of revealed truth, which “makes it possible to penetrate the mystery in a way that allows us to understand it coherently”, then belief, in the other religions, is that sum of experience and thought that constitutes the human treasury of wisdom and religious aspiration, which man in his search for truth has conceived and acted upon in his relationship to God and the Absolute. This distinction is not always borne in mind in current theological reflection. Thus, theological faith (the acceptance of the truth revealed by the One and Triune God) is often identified with belief in other religions, which is religious experience still in search of the absolute truth and still lacking assent to God who reveals himself. This is one of the reasons why the differences between Christianity and other religions tend to be reduced at times to the point of disappearance.”

After reading this text, it should be quite clear that Fr. Harrison's assertion, while true, does not bear upon the question of implicit faith in the least. Dominus Iesus is saying that the content of belief in other religions is not the matter of supernatural faith. There is no question of the truth of this. As they define it, belief is “that sum of experience and thought that constitutes the human treasury of wisdom and religious aspiration, which man in his search for truth has conceived and acted upon in his relationship to God and the Absolute,” while supernatural faith is an assent to God who reveals himself. Not everyone in other religions give this assent to God, even while they follow their own religious belief.

But this is not to make the assertion that members of these other religions cannot have a true supernatural faith. In fact, as Dominus Iesus goes on to say,

“The hypothesis of the inspired value of the sacred writings of other religions is also put forward. Certainly, it must be recognized that there are some elements in these texts which may be de facto instruments by which countless people throughout the centuries have been and still are able today to nourish and maintain their life-relationship with God. Thus, as noted above, the Second Vatican Council, in considering the customs, precepts, and teachings of the other religions, teaches that “although differing in many ways from her own teaching, these nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men.

“Nevertheless, God, who desires to call all peoples to himself in Christ and to communicate to them the fullness of his revelation and love, “does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals, but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression even when they contain ‘gaps, insufficiencies and errors'”. Therefore, the sacred books of other religions, which in actual fact direct and nourish the existence of their followers, receive from the mystery of Christ the elements of goodness and grace which they contain.”

Dominus Iesus is saying that while one must not identify adherence to other religions with supernatural faith, nevertheless these religions often reflect and contain an element of the truth “which enlightens all men.” Thus, those men who follow these religious traditions, if they adhere to that truth, are able to have supernatural faith.

Fr. Harrison also quotes very selectively, since he fails to give us the rest of the texts from the document which very clearly contradict his thesis:

“Furthermore, the salvific action of Jesus Christ, with and through his Spirit, extends beyond the visible boundaries of the Church to all humanity. Speaking of the paschal mystery, in which Christ even now associates the believer to himself in a living manner in the Spirit and gives him the hope of resurrection, the Council states: 'All this holds true not only for Christians but also for all men of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery'”

Just as Christ even now associates the believer to Himself in a living manner and “gives him the hope of resurrection,” likewise this is true not only for Christians, but all men of good will. Therefore all men of good will in whose hearts grace is active are joined to Christ in a living manner, and have the hope of resurrection. It would be absurd to say that unbelievers are joined to Christ in a living manner if they do not have faith, hope, or charity. Again, further on Dominus Iesus states:

“The Church is the “universal sacrament of salvation”, since, united always in a mysterious way to the Saviour Jesus Christ, her Head, and subordinated to him, she has, in God's plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being. For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, “salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation.”

Fr. Harrison did at least mention this passage, although he does not quote it. He says that “If it should be objected that this document also subsequently teaches that grace is not granted only to Christian believers, the response would be that, assuming DI to be internally consistent, we must understand the relevant articles (20-21) as referring not to the state of grace – that is, sanctifying grace or the grace of justification – but rather, to actual grace.” The problem with this is that this grace is one by which they obtain salvation, and not an actual grace which moves them to join the church, but rather a grace which does not formally make them part of the Church. Fr. Harrison is asserting, and has asserted several times already, that salvation is accessible to non-Christians by virtue of a grace which will bring them to the Church before death. However, this is not said. Rather, this grace enlightens them in their peculiar circumstances.

Let us conclude this consideration of Dominus Iesus with a statement by John Paul II, which almost seems as if it was addressed specifically to people arguing as Fr. Harrison does:

“With the Declaration Dominus Iesus - Jesus is Lord - approved by me in a special way at the height of the Jubilee Year, I wanted to invite all Christians to renew their fidelity to him in the joy of faith and to bear unanimous witness that the Son, both today and tomorrow, is "the way, and the truth, and the life". Our confession of Christ as the only Son, through whom we ourselves see the Father's face, is not arrogance that disdains other religions, but joyful gratitude that Christ has revealed himself to us without any merit on our part. At the same time, he has obliged us to continue giving what we have received and to communicate to others what we have been given, since the Truth that is has been given and the Love which is God belong to all people. With the Apostle Peter, we confess that "there is salvation in no one else". The Declaration Dominus Iesus, following the lead of the Second Vatican Council, shows us that this confession does not deny salvation to non-Christians, but points to its ultimate source in Christ, in whom man and God are united. God gives light to all in a way which is accomodated to their spiritual and material situation, granting them salvific grace in ways known to himself (Dominus Iesus, VI, nn. 20-21). The Document clarifies essential Christian elements, which do not hinder dialogue but show its bases, because a dialogue without foundations would be destined to degenerate into empty wordiness. (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/angelus/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_ang_20001001_en.html)

Fr. Harrison then goes on to talk about his theory of “last minute enlightenment” by God. I will not discuss this, since it is based off of his false interpretation of the Church's teaching. Of course, I do not deny that God could give a last minute revelation to a virtuous pagan; but to say that God must give this revelation in order to save him is unreasonable. As the letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston says, and is clear from reason as well, God is not bound to require those things that are necessary only by divine institution.

This concludes our posts on Fr. Harrison's article. In conclusion, I would like to point out again something I mentioned earlier. When one of the faithful is trying to determine what the Church teaches on some specific point, it is not sufficient merely to look at Church documents and interpret them; it is necessary to look at how the Church interprets them, how the bishops interpret them, how the saints and Fathers interpret them.

To quote Fr. Harrison, “In this talk I wish to challenge a theological opinion which is now almost universally held by Catholics, including those who would consider themselves conservative or even traditionalist in outlook. Many approved theologians have long held this opinion. Indeed, it first surfaced in the mid-sixteenth century. Since then it has gradually spread throughout the Catholic world in seminaries and theological faculties, and in recent times seems to have been held by nearly all bishops, possibly even popes in their private capacity. For the position I will criticize is even insinuated – though not clearly affirmed or rigorously implied – in the main document of Vatican Council II and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church”

If all the faithful, many theologians, nearly all the bishops, and popes themselves have interpreted the Church's teaching in this way, one cannot merely toss this aside on the basis on one's own interpretations of Church teachings. This would be to give one's own opinion an authority that is not merited.

Anyone who wants to investigate the teaching of the Church on “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” should consider this.

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