Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus: A Reader’s Excellent Email Prompts a Question: Has the Church Erred in the Past or in the Present?

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Blog Master’s Note: What follows is a wonderful email I got from a reader who is a convert to Catholicism from Protestantism. Other than that little detail I will say nothing further as to the reader’s idenity since he/she wishes to remain anonymous. But I have corresponded with this reader before and I always find his/her insights provocative. And such was the case with this email as well which was sent to me as a reponse to my last blog post on Ralph Martin and Bishop Barron. I will post the email and then offer some reflections of my own. Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers!!

The Email:

Once again, fine essay. From beginning to end, we are surprisingly on the same page in both your praise and critique of Matt Fradd’s interview of Ralph Martin and their critiques of Bishop Barron. 

I have no critiques of your article—all thumbs up! However, my only question would be concerning non-Catholic Christians. It always seems that when Catholic theologians, like Ralph and Bishop Barron, and dare I say yourself, discuss the issue of salvation outside the Church, the focus is always on non-Christians, and the issue of non-Catholic Christians is always sidestepped.

You mentioned that the early Christian writers favored the logo spermatikoi approach, but over time the more negative “scorched earth” view won over the Church, leading to a very narrow interpretation of extra ecclesiam. And I agree with you that this has had disastrous results for the Church—including the condemnation of millions of non-Catholic baptized Christians as heretics, schismatics, and too often deserving of persecution and death.

You state, “Therefore, Vatican II’s attempt to retrieve the logoi spermatikoi tradition in the interests of a more nuanced understanding of the movement of God’s grace and a more sophisticated understanding of the sociology and psychology of religious affiliation, represents a true development of doctrine. The new emphasis of Vatican II is no novelty or modernist invention.  It has deep roots in the Church’s Tradition. But those roots had been crowded out and lost sight of.  And that is why we hold ecumenical councils.”  

Again I agree with you, but this “scorched earth” view of non-Catholic Christians extended clearly from Cyprian through pope Pius XIth, not as merely the opinions of theologians but as the official teaching of the Church. Find any Catholic catechism or theological text written before the 1950’s and all teach this view as if it was the official, unchangeable teaching of the Church. And to a very real extent, what Father Feeney was teaching was what he and all other Catholics of his day had always been taught. 

The Councils of Florence and Trent clearly espoused this narrow interpretation. And Newman, in his Essay on Development, affirmed the narrow view as one of the essential proofs of his theory (see particularly Ch. VI, Sec. II, 16-17.). Newman writes that “a religious communion is not unlike historical Christianity … if it is intolerant towards what it considers error … if it names them heretics, and warns them of coming woe, and calls on them one by one, to come over to itself, overlooking every other tie…”. From Newman’s perspective, the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and the trajectory of the Magisterium afterwards, would contradict his developmental theory.

I am in agreement with the teachings of Vatican II, but I do not see how it can be deemed a “true development of doctrine”; rather it is a clear admission that the Church has been wrong for many centuries in her narrow scorched view of non-Catholic Christians. Over the centuries, it gradually followed down the wrong “narrow, scorched earth” path, condemning all non-Catholic Christians, even forbidding Catholics from any kind of fellowship with them. But since the Church doesn’t want to admit she could ever possibly have been wrong, God forbid!, she merely states the more nuanced view of extra ecclesiam and expects Catholics to move on as if she never viewed otherwise. It kind of reminds me of what the main character in “1984” had to do whenever Big Brother decided to change history. When I hear Catholic apologists quote Hellaire Belloc (whom I like) as an authority for their apologetics against Protestants, I want to remind them that he was fully of the old school “narrow, scorched earth” view, much closer to Feeney than the teachings of Vatican II.

I can’t find a quote from any leader in the Church for the past 60+ years that says our separated brethren need to enter the Catholic Church for the sake of their salvation. Rather I’ve mostly heard nothing; only implications that our separated brethren can pretty much just stay where they are—and pope Francis has clearly said this. ( And the way most bishops treat clergy converts, it pretty much implies they think the clergy should have just stayed where they were.) The closest I’ve heard to a call to non-Catholic Christians was from Cardinal Dullas, who said that baptized non-Catholic Christians need to be fully evangelized so that their conversions can be completed in the Eucharist (and he wrote this in an article in one of Ralph Martin’s books).

I believe it was the ressourcement theologians, guided by the Holy Spirit, in their push to rediscover the teachings of the early Church, that forced the bishops to face up to the Church’s long-standing mistake. It also forced the bishops to reluctantly finally give in to what the Holy Spirit had been trying to get them to do in and since Trent—to return the mass to the language of the people! In Trent, the cowardly bishops concluded: “Although the Mass contains much instruction for the faithful, it has nevertheless not seemed expedient to the Fathers that it be celebrated everywhere in the vernacular” (Dens., 946). And we’re still suffering from this “decision”.

I’m certainly far from a Feeneyite!!! Rather, I’m continually trying to understand the Church’s nuanced views of our separated brethren, and what God is truly calling them to do. 

My (Larry Chapp speaking now) response:

I cannot emphasize enough how important I think the issues raised in this email are for the current debates in the Church, which is why I am posting it.  A lot of people like to speak of the hermeneutic of continuity  with regard to the changes made in Catholic teaching over the past 70 years or so, but they often do so while glossing over these very real, and very nettlesome, questions.  Indeed, no less a light than Pope Benedict XVI has stated that he prefers to speak of the “hermeneutic of reform” rather than the hermeneutic of continuity because the Council was in many ways an attempt at reform rather than a mere reiteration of past formulations.  And, as Pope Benedict points out, true reform always involves both continuity and rupture. True reform seeks to redress imbalances that have crept into the Church’s teachings which, while remaining true in themselves, might also be an expression of the faith that involves a hypertrophy of one element of doctrine at the expense of others which have suffered an eclipse and stand in need of retrieval.  Indeed, the hypertrophy can become so extreme that it borders on a distortion of some deeper elements of the Tradition – – a distortion which has brought negative consequences that may require conciliar or papal correction.  Therefore, Benedict points out that in order to remain in continuity with the totality of Tradition a Council or a Pope sometimes need to make a rupture with the recent past in order to retrieve an ancient element that has been lost.

All that being said, the main point in the email above is that the broadening of the Church’s views on extra ecclesiam nulla salus which began in the fifties and which culminated in Vatican II and the teaching magisterium of the post-conciliar papacies, seems to be more than a “corrective rupture with some distortions.” It seems rather to be a flat contradiction to what had been the definitive teaching of the Church for many centuries. And this has not gone unnoticed by astute observers which has led liberal Catholic theologians to conclude that the Church can, and has, definitively taught doctrinal errors which the Church herself is now tacitly admitting, even as it continues on with the pretense of the “infallible Church.”  This has then led them to conclude that the Church has also been wrong on many other issues. Issues which are, therefore, far from closed questions.  And their list of alleged errors is a long one: women’s ordination, contraception, divorce and remarriage, almost the entirety of the Church’s teachings on sexuality, and intercommunion with Protestants, to name just a few.

Likewise, many of the so-called “radical traditionalists” have noticed the same contradiction, which is what has led many of them, in various levels of stridency, to accuse the modern Church of teaching heresy. To use a modern cliché much in vogue today, the radical traditionalists have been red-pilled by the papacy of Pope Francis and view his alleged heresy as the fruit of the poisoned tree of the modern Church, especially Vatican II. They do not view his problematic papacy as a one-off anomaly that we can set aside once we get a new Pope, but rather as the natural culmination of a Church that has been in contradiction to itself for several decades now. Therefore, their solution to this problem is perfectly logical. What needs to be done is to admit that the modern Church has erred and needs to be repudiated. We need to return to the theological, liturgical, and doctrinal traditions that existed before the conciliar corruptions.  It also explains why many of them, though often genuinely appreciative of the theological achievements of the ressourcement school, cast a jaundiced eye on its constructions since it was the ressourcement school that was  the main source of the “reform” that followed.

The problem with the traditionalist’s approach, however, is that it falls on its own sword.  Because if the modern magisterium can err so deeply on matters of central importance, then there is no theological justification for maintaining that the pre-Vatican II magisterium could not err as well.  Their arguments in other words cut off the very branch of authority on which they wish to perch.  But once again, many of them see this which has led to a further radicalization. Namely, that the modern magisterium, in so falling into error, has ceased to be the magisterium and that God has allowed this to happen as a kind of judgment upon the Church. God is withholding his grace in order to expose the deep rot in the Church and to call it to conversion. They then appeal to the writings of many saints, and to the Catechism itself, and point out that a “great Apostasy” has been predicted for the Church and that we are now in this era of apostasy.  Hence we get the ever-increasing apocalypticism of Archbishop Vigano who, though insane, is not being illogical. 

The liberal approach to the alleged contradiction in Church teaching is also problematic, though less so.  And it is less problematic since they are up-front in their assertions that the entire problem resides in the very notion of an infallible Church. They have no problem with the alleged contradictions in Church teaching because they have never signed-on to the notion of an infallible Church authority in the first place.  However, the problem with the liberal approach is that they provide us with no coherent principle for adjudicating Church errors beyond the canons of rationality provided by modern secular culture.  Scripture itself is also deconstructed as an infallible authority and the Tradition is treated as a mere historical curiosity at best, and a distorting power game at worst. If the liberal project were simply embraced by the Church it would quickly descend into the same death-rattle of liberal Protestantism. There are darn good theological reasons why we need doctrines and the authority to teach those doctrines in the Church, and the liberal prescription for a Church of two billion popes is tantamount to ecclesial suicide as well as an admission that Christ is the spiritual equivalent of a Rorschach inkblot test.

Perhaps therefore the Orthodox are correct when they point out that the Roman Church has fallen into this conundrum precisely because it has arrogated to itself too much unilateral and monarchical authority.  Their approach to authority is far more limited and yet, in its own way, even more absolute. They privilege the Tradition of the first millennium of the Church as the main barometer for authoritative and irreformable doctrine, with some leeway granted to later theological developments so long as they are clearly organic developments of that early Tradition.  The diffusion of episcopal authority to several noteworthy Sees also acts as a hedge against the Church falling into error since no single authority speaks for the whole.  And so if one See falls into error, it can be corrected by the others, and the Church stays on message. The problem with Catholicism in this view is that it has granted to one See almost unlimited authoritative powers which eventuated in Rome creating new doctrines not found in that early Tradition.  But in so making this claim the Orthodox grant to that early Tradition an almost unlimited and absolute authority all its own, and ignores the ongoing movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church to guide it as it traverses history.  Orthodoxy thus has a tendency to ignore the fact that true doctrine is not “completed” until it is lived doctrine and that this lived doctrine can and does lead to new insights as new situations and historical circumstances provoke a deeper reflection upon the full meaning of the faith. Thus can Orthodoxy become its own theological “novelty” as it negates the very dynamic view of Tradition, rooted in the action of the Holy Spirit, that the first millennium Church affirmed as its animating principle.  In other words, there is nothing “traditional” about freezing the Tradition in place and this approach instead bears all the marks of a modern Enlightenment mentality that seeks an Archimedean fixed point of doctrinal objectivity that the Tradition itself does not affirm for itself. For Christ and the Scriptures? Yes. But for the Church herself the charism of infallibility does not confer inerrancy of expression, and thus even infallibly proposed doctrines are open to organic development.

Perhaps the solution to the questions posed by the email resides in questioning the premise that the modern Church has in point of fact contradicted previous infallible teaching. There are differing levels to the authoritative teaching of the Church which leads to the question of just how authoritative the previous teaching on extra ecclesiam really is. To be honest with you, I do not know the answer to that question.  And I suspect that to examine it in theological depth would require fifty blog posts. However, based on what theological study I have made on the topic leads me to believe that the teaching of extra ecclesiam in a very narrow way, was indeed authoritative, but not irreformably so and that there have always existed within the broader Church theological voices that were far more nuanced. 

And I will also point out something that is so obvious on this matter that it is easy to overlook. Namely, the mere fact that the modern magisterium has indeed corrected the previous teaching is an indication that the Church herself has rendered a judgment on the previous teaching’s level of authority. And that judgment is that the previous teaching was not of an infallible nature, or even that it possessed a very high theological note, or that it was monolithically understood and accepted everywhere without qualification, and thus it is open to being corrected.  To take the contrary view is to assume that some extremely gifted and thoroughly orthodox modern theologians and popes – – including Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI – – and an entire ecumenical council, were either ignorant of the true authority of the previous teaching and/or that they did not care what level of authority the previous teaching possessed and were simply “caving in” to the winds of modernity.  I firmly reject such assumptions and therefore conclude that the newer development of the doctrine of extra ecclesiam represents a true movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church – – a movement that has prompted the Church to retrieve elements of the Tradition that truly exist, and deeply so, and to thus expand her understanding of her own doctrinal resources accordingly.  Finally, this new development is not therefore a “caving in” to the winds of modernity but is rather a proper ecclesial response to new insights gained through our encounter with the world.  In fact, it was an ecclesial act as such and in its purest form, since it as an act of existential response rooted in Christ under the promptings of the Spirit.

Nor is this “blind faith” in the modern magisterium. It is rather, faith in THE magisterium and I refuse to play the traditionalist’s game of pitting one era of the magisterium against another (which is silly) or the liberal game of denying any real magisterium at all (which is suicide). Nor is this me playing “word games” in an inauthentic attempt to gloss over a clear ecclesial contradiction in the interests of saving some kind of an ecclesial ideology I have in my head. I honestly believe that a thorough and fair study of the matter will show that the previous narrow interpretation of extra ecclesiam was not an irreformable infallible teaching of the Church.

I am definitely not saying however that the magisterium can just spin straw into gold whenever it darn well pleases. That would make the magisterium beholden only to itself and not to Revelation. What I am attempting to say is that in disputed questions the reason why you have a magisterium in the first place is precisely to make definitive adjudications and to bring some closure to the issue at hand. And when the issue at hand is the level of authority that is to be attached to a particular doctrine then the magisterium’s voice on the matter has to be front and center. That is not to say that there are not other voices in the conversation, but as Catholics we do look to the magisterium to help us interpret the magisterium. And in this case what you have is a definitive magisterial statement that a previous magisterial statement, though true in its essence, is not irreformable and is open to development. And when it is the magisterium itself saying this then we have to take notice. My target are those rad trads who want to freeze frame the past and to then use it as a bludgeon agains the present. But, as I said, I find it to be a self contradiction to use an earlier era of the magisterium to discredit the current one, only to then say that they respect the magisterium. And so when the magisterium says “we are going to develop this doctrine in this direction” it must be listened to as the determiner of the hermeneutical tradition surrounding that doctrine. 

The fact is this: even in documents that articulated a very narrow understanding of Extra ecclesiam the Church almost always also held that those who were inculpably ignorant of the Gospel could be saved. But they had a very shallow view of human subjectivity and thus greatly restricted what counted as inculpable ignorance. And their anathemas directed at Protestants, Jews, and apostate/heretical Catholics were all predicated on the view that these folks were culpably ignorant of the Gospel and thus damned. That was the main target. But the modern Church, armed with a much more sophisticated understanding of human psychology and the sociology of culture/religion, has greatly expanded its understanding of inculpable ignorance and has broadened its interpretation accordingly. And so I do think this is a legitimate development of doctrine and where the Church erred in the past was not in its fundamental theological ecclesiology but in its application of that theology to the categories of conscience in a shallow and almost naive way.

It indeed true that we must judge the modern magisterium in the light of the older one and there are some elements of the tradition that are truly dogmatic and cannot be changed and therefore if the modern magisterium contradicts those dogmas it is to be judged deficient. However, there are very, very few dogmas and lower doctrines that are not open to a deepening of understanding and further development. And it is the role of the magisterium to determine which aspects of the doctrine are changeable and which are not. In that sense the magisterium truly is a key voice in determining a doctrine’s level of authority in all of its particulars. And that includes the christological dogmas which, after all, are not merely little factoid nuggets of propositional truths on the level of a geometry theorem, but are signposts and markers of a deep theological mystery in the proper sense: the Incarnation can never be fully plumbed as to its full significance and we can always understand it more profoundly. And if that is true of Christ then I think we need to give greater attention to how the Church’s doctrines about herself are also open to deepening. Thus, the ancient magisterium can also be interpreted in the light of the modern magisterium keeping in mind that the ancient magisterium was once itself the modern magisterium. A term like “homousios” for example was a novelty at the time of Nicaea and the Council was moving the needle of understanding forward, beyond the mere repetition of scriptural quotes and into the realm of theological/metaphysics.

Therefore, the correcting of the previous teaching not only does not bother me, but it actually affirms my deep faith in the magisterium of the Church as a truly ecclesial reality and not merely an administrative “power.” And as for the very legitimate question raised in the email about what the Church now teaches about Protestants converting to Catholicism I can only say that the practice of many liberal theologians and pastors in the Church of downplaying conversion to Catholicism should not be our starting point for theological reflection.  Nor even some of the “off the cuff” comments by Pope Francis on the topic or his seeming insouciance toward such conversions.  Because none of that constitutes authoritative Church teaching either.  If the pastoral practice of the Church has recently downplayed calling Protestants to the Catholic Church, then so much the worse for that pastoral practice.  Because there is nothing in the modern magisterial development of extra ecclesiam that would in any way imply that the Church has now given up her self-definition as the fullness of Christian ecclesial existence. Pope Benedict certainly had such a view in mind when he established the Anglican Ordinariate in order to make it easier for Anglicans to come into the Church. And the same could be said of the previous “pastoral provision” promulgated by John Paul to make it easier for married Protestant ministers to convert.

Finally, any such “correcting” of certain blindspots in previous doctrinal statements cannot deny the fundamental essence of the doctrine, if that doctrine is universally accepted and authoritartively taught. And in the case of Extra ecclesiam the funamental truth of that doctrine is still affirmed. Namely, that all salvation does come in and through the Church. This is what makes this case of doctrinal development different from the idea put forward by some that the Church can take such universally accepted doctrines on such hot button issues like homosexual relations and women’s ordination and just flat-out contradict them, changing the doctrine completely and opening the door to all such definitive statements of the faith being annulled. We are not, after all, Episcopalians.

Obviously, this is a huge topic and this short blog is a mere scratching of the surface of all of the issues so wonderfully raised in the email.  I want to thank the reader who sent it to me since it is a natural follow up to some of my recent posts on the topic. 

Dorothy Day, pray for us.


  1. I was wondering when someone would have the bad taste to bring up this subject.
    I say “bad taste” because of Ralph Martin’s history on the subject. For someone like him to proclaim “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” is incredible considering that the Charismatic Renewal he was a major figure in many years ago was a fully ecumenical movement with fully ecumenical prayer groups and covenant communities.
    Maybe I’ve missed something here, but I find it unbelievable that people like Ralph Martin, Bert Ghezzi, Ann Marie Shields, Keith Fournier and the late Michael Scanlan could back in the day embrace the guitar-strumming, free-form ecumenism (which wasn’t even according to Hoyle by the standards of the time in the Catholic Church) and then turn around and loudly proclaim some #straightouttairondale traditionalism today. How is this possible? Have all the people who were around then developed collective amnesia? Or it is just that most of those who noticed have left the Catholic Church and the ones that remain don’t want to talk about it?
    I know it isn’t a very deep theological reflection such as you expertly do on this blog, but it’s something that at least one of these people–or someone–needs to explain. It doesn’t do anything for their credibility for those of us who remember how things actually were on the ground.
    As a side note, some of these communities were eventually “brought to heel” by the Church. One of those was Dallas’ Community of God’s Delight, which I discuss here: https://www.vulcanhammer.org/2017/01/22/david-peterman-and-the-hard-choices-of-the-catholic-charismatic-renewal/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually have a theory about that. What happened after the Holy Spirit left the renewal movement? Catholics became traditionalists and Protestants invented the praise band. 😎

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with that. And Ralph Martin follows the pattern. After the demise of the renewal movement, and after Martin’s own participation in some sketchy charismatic communities (intercessors of the Lamb and the fraud Mother Nadine for example) he had to offer up some apologies and then reinvented himself as a traditionalist slayer of universalists. I think he had a hard time giving up his celebrity status and needed to find a new gig as well. I just have little time for that nonsense.


      2. From a musical standpoint, I think you give the Protestants too much credit.
        With the liturgical changes leading up to and following the institution of the Novus Ordo Missae, Catholics pretty much jettisoned their own musical heritage and started from scratch. The worship “bands” led by Jim Cavnar and the like were part of that new start. Protestant groups of the “Jesus Music” era pushed back against established musical hymnody, and were mostly either concert groups (like rock groups, but usually had a softer sound) or coffeehouse groups (or both.) There were a few exceptions to this but not many.
        It wasn’t until, say, the mid-1980’s that the whole “praise and worship” movement got started in non-Catholic (not all of them are really Protestant in the accepted sense) churches. So really the “praise band” got its start in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and moved elsewhere.
        As far as Larry’s reply, I think there is a great deal of opportunism going on here. Actually, Ralph Martin started to move towards being a defender of traditional Catholicism in the early 1980’s (witness his 1982 book A Crisis of Truth) but by then JPII had been Pontiff for four years and the way the wind was blowing was becoming apparent, even though their forms of worship and the covenant communities had not yet undergone their transformations.


      3. I only had peripheral contacts with the Charismatic Renewal, but I question how one could know that “the Holy Spirit left the renewal movement”, or how one could know whether it was the Holy Spirit that was acting in the first place. In my city there is a covenant community that was set up by Charismatic Catholics back in the day, and it seems to be alive and well (from hearsay, from their website, and from articles in the local Catholic newspaper).


    2. As an Orthodox raised Catholic I found this post absolutely fascinating. I would like to share a bit of my journey, as I think it pertinent to what is a thorny problem, beneath your post.

      When I was 15 I became Byzantine Catholic, so I was old enough to have a good Roman Catholic upbringing. Even with the Byzantines as latinized as they were it was a completely different experience of the Faith, as I understood it at the time. A much greater emphasis was based upon the mercy of God, with doctrine as a boundary line to help you delineate the experience of mercy to and process it.

      Eventually I found Orthodox Psychotherapy, by Metropolitan Hireotheos Vlachos. His Grace has spilled no small amount of ink in pushing the case of “the Faith” as we commonly understand it as medicinal, therapeutic, first. Not second. Doctrine and legality were part of a treatment for person. I do not recommend the book lightly; His Grace is anti-Catholic to a degree that is past comical. So obviously caveat emptor. But his focus of doctrine as medicine, of bishop as doctor, priest as nurse, deacon as administrator to the hospital that is the Church is invaluable.

      And then I became Orthodox, which is a story in itself. What I found here, on this other side of the schism, was a different perspective, where church as hospital hadn’t really left. Now I’m not blowing a triumphal horn here. Us Orthodox have a horrific infrastructure and it is a scandal. We’ve got our legalists, but most of them seem to wind up in ROCOR and we don’t talk about them much. Joking aside, what I keep seeing with those of us Americans that come to the Orthodox Church is a cultural legalism that kicks and screams like the devil himself. You’ll see it on Orthodox social media places: “What’s the Orthodox way to do this? That? How do I identify as Orthodox so everyone will accept me?” The overwhelming trend is one simple answer: “Talk to your priest.” Go to your nurse.

      Now I do see the question of non-Orthodox going to heaven come up. It is a thing. But the usual answer that seems to win out in these discussions is “We don’t know. That is God’s business, not ours.” And that’s usually that.

      I do not see this as a Catholic problem so much as a classical liberal problem: in systems and letters we put our trust. It just so happens that the Catholic Church had perfected systematic theology (something the Orthodox of that time just loved and raved about, St Mark of Ephesus ADORED St. Thomas Aquinas), and we just very naturally bastardize Aquinas’s beautiful clockwork machine and abuse it with a gusto born of the well-meaning and ignorant killer; we kill because we do not know better. We torture and rape systematic theology with all the joy and exuberance of the Viking visiting Britain for an afternoon. And then are shocked when someone calls us barbarians. “We did what we have always done, what the hell is the matter with you?? ”

      I hear that indignation in the rad trad’s voice when they’re told that Trent isn’t the whole world. And that maybe salvation outside the Church has never been a very well-defined concept (and that is a very good thing), once they relax the scope of their investigation past the victim they torture for meaning.

      They know not what they do. And neither do we. God forgive us.

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  2. Thanks Dr Chapp – I think your position (that it may have been authoritative but not infallible) is the only path left open to people who do not wish to traverse either the traditionalist or liberal path.

    I do however think that this position does take us very close to, in the end, the liberal position. As you say, it would take 50 blog posts to properly work out exactly how authoritative the teaching was, but I think we can all agree that the vast, vast majority of the Church held a Martin-esque view of the matter for what, 1500 years? To so narrowly define the ability of the church to infallibly hold such positions, it seems to me, renders it almost useless, and are almost left with the “when the Pope speaks ex cathedra it’s infallible, everything else is up for grabs” approach we see from some.

    I have no issue with holding that individual theologians, Bishops, Popes etc can be wrong on such topics. But I really do struggle to hold in good faith the idea that the near unanimous position on this topic held by most people through millenia was wrong (and on the very issue of salvation, no less!) but that what the Church teaches on all the other liberal bugbears is correct and how dare they question it.

    Were I a liberal I would, quite rightly in my position, scoff at this conclusion. Frankly, I would say that the question of say, female ordination, homosexual relationships, to say nothing of something like contraception, pale in comparison to the importance of salvation itself which, according to this view, the vast majority of members of the church have been wrong on for centuries.

    I don’t actually like the Martin-esque view of things. And gun to my head I think I’m probably actually in agreement that the narrow view is wrong, regardless of who taught it and for how long and regardless of whatever level of authority (below infallibility) it once held. Nevertheless, I think to hold it almost guarantees a traversing of a path that takes us into the Fr James Martin view of the world of “the Church can be wrong they’re wrong on the gay thing/insert whatever ones favourite issue is.”

    I’m not sure the centre can hold once we subscribe to this limited view of the Church’s infallibility.


    1. Thanks for this comment. However, I disagree with you that the vast, vast majority of Catholic theologians, saints, and bishops, have thought for 1500 years that one needs to be a baptized member of the visible Church in order to be saved. There are many voices that express the more nuanced view that the Church is indeed necessary for salvation, but that there are those outside of its visible parameters who are also members of that Church through righteous living and a sincere desire for God, even if they do not know it themselves. Even Augustine, in his better moments, said the same. The radical exclusivists have never been the only voice and even Popes have acknowledged that there are those outside of the visible Church who can be saved. Therefore, I see no issue whatsoever with the dogma of infallibility being undermined if the Church of today sees with sharper eyes that what we call “invincible ignorance” of the Gospel a far more pervasive reality than we once thought. And that is because we do now have a greater knowledge of human sociology, psychology, and subjectivity. This is a true development of strands of the tradition that were crowded out by the more exclusivist folks. And even if it is an acknowledgment that some in the Church had erred in some aspects of this doctrine it in no way is saying that the doctrine as such is wrong. Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus is a dogma of the faith and always will be. And there has been a tug of war between the more inclusivitist and exclusivist readings of that dogma for millenia. The modern Church is developing doctrine by clarifying aspects of the dogma that had gotten skewed. That is a far cry from saying that we can now approve homosexual relations or women’s ordination – – over which there has never been a debate until two minutes ago – – since the Church’s teaching on those topics has been monolithically uniform and totally consistent with no real dissenting voices of any kind. But that is not true of Extra Ecclesiam which is why it is important to pay attention to the history of that doctrine closely. Not even Cypiran, who first formulated the doctrine, held it to mean that all outside of the Catholic Church were damned. He was largely referencing apostates and obstinate heretics, as was Origen, and was not really making a comment about the action of God’s grace outside of the Church.


  3. The reader who sent the original email has asked me to post the following as a response to my comments:

    Larry, first thank you for posting my question—greatly improved by your editing! And second, thank you for your fine response. There is much here I need to chew on, long and carefully, preferably with bourbon in hand, but my initial response is a full thumbs up!

    But if I may, a few quick comments.

    First, in the first 6 paragraphs, you summarized three separate groups in how they’ve responded to supposed changes in Church teachings: hyper-left, hyper-right, and Eastern Orthodox, but none of these represent me. I’ve never been of the liberal-progressive camp, nor have I ever been sympathetic to radical-traditionalism—I would say, in general, I’m closer to your camp. I’m a former evangelical Protestant whose love for Christ and Scripture, and then history and the Early Church, drew me to the Catholic Church. And I’m glad to be home. However, I’ve grown troubled over the years concerning this issue. And I’ve studied and read and wrestled with this issue from every angle—with my only goal of being faithful to Christ and his Church—but in the end, I see no other way but to recognize that at least on this issue, the magisterium in union with Peter—expressed in almost every document of the Church—no longer thinks of non-Catholic Christians and their salvation in the same way that the Church used to teach just 100 years ago. In the early 20th century, if a non-Catholic minister asked a Catholic bishop what he needed to do for the sake of his salvation, the bishop would have told him unhesitantly to leave his ministry and return to the safety of the Church. Today, I know of very few Bishops who might say this. In the second half of the century, everything changed—as Avery Cardinal Dullas wrote in First Things in 2008, “Who, then, can be saved? Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found.” (Emphasis mine) One might argue that they need to “come Home” for the sake of the Sacraments, but per what Dullas (and Pope Francis) said, as well as what the Council said in Lumen Gentium 15, they can be saved apart from the sacraments. But the bottom line is, however one might express it, the Church no longer teaches as definitive what she used to teach in her documents just 100 years ago. (I’ll need to cogitate more on your explanation.)

    Second, you wrote: “Orthodoxy thus has a tendency to ignore the fact that true doctrine is not “completed” until it is lived doctrine and that this lived doctrine can and does lead to new insights as new situations and historical circumstance provoke a deeper reflection upon the full meaning of the faith.” My reaction to this is that you state as “fact” something which is only a “theory,” which is what Newman tried to tackle in his Essay on the Development of Doctrine. Newman himself was forced to deal with this very issue: the Church seems to have modified—added to and subtracted from—the apostolic deposit she had received from Christ through the Apostles, as presented in the writings of the earliest Church Fathers. The fact that many theologians throughout Church history were forced to explain these supposed changes—Vincent of Lorens, Bossuet, several Spanish Jesuits, etc.—is just proof that there were things that the Church started teaching in the Middle Ages that were different than what had been taught previously. Newman’s Essay was just his attempt—and in “fact”, he never proved that doctrine “develops”. In the first part of his Essay, he essentially assumes that since one finds development in all other aspects of life, than, ipso facto, doctrine must develop. Then in part two, assuming that doctrine develops, he gives 7 ways to determine if a supposed development is valid; and as I pointed out in my first response, the change in the Church’s teaching concerning our separate brethren is a contradiction to his argument for development (in my humble opinion).

    Third (again I need to cogitate on your response more closely, but), you wrote, “that judgment [of the modern magisterium] is that the previous teaching was not of an infallible nature, or even that it possessed a very high theological note, or that it was monolithically understood and accepted everywhere without qualification, and thus it is open to being corrected.” So, if one begins by assuming that the Church, of course, can never change her infallible teaching, then can’t this explanation be used to explain any change the Magisterium may choose to make? Such as the pope’s decision to change the Church’s long standing teaching on capital punishment? The more I struggle with this and other issues, the more I feel like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is the best way to understand the Church. When one sees a glaring problem in the Church, one dare not point it out, or you’ll be labeled either ignorant or a heretic. I agree with you when you say “the newer development of the doctrine of extra ecclesiam represents a true movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church – – a movement that has prompted the Church to retrieve elements of the Tradition that truly exist, and deeply so, and to thus expand her understanding of her own doctrinal resources accordingly.” But I still think this is just a fancy way to avoid saying that the Church recognized that what she had been teaching for centuries was wrong. What she needs to do is admit this, Mea Maxima Culpa, and apologize to non-Catholic Christians.

    Last, as far as whether Protestants need any longer convert for the sake of their salvation, Pope Benedict once said to the Lutherans gathered in Cologne at World Youth Day, “And we now ask: What does it mean to restore the unity of all Christians?… This unity, we are convinced, indeed subsists in the Catholic Church, without the possibility of ever being lost (Unitatis Redintegratio, nn. 2, 4, etc.); the Church in fact has not totally disappeared from the world. On the other hand, this unity does not mean what could be called ecumenism of the return: that is, to deny and to reject one’s own faith history. Absolutely not!” (L’Osservatore Romano (August 24, 2005, p. 8; emphasis mine).

    Where in anything Benedict every wrote or said did he suggest to Protestants that they still needed to return to the Catholic Church for the sake of their salvation?

    Post thought: Why did Pope Benedict feel the need to say, “the Church in fact has not totally disappeared from the world”?


    1. Many Protestant Churches also taught their version of Extra Ecclesiam and taught that Catholics are idolaters who are going to hell. So maybe the Protestant world also needs to engage in a mea culpa. Furthermore, I dare say that every person today who converted to Catholicism from Protestantism grew up in the post-Vatican II Church and was never confronted with a Catholicism that told them to convert or go to Hell. And if in your own conversion you thought that you must do so or be damned, then I would submit that it had more to do with your own misunderstanding of Catholicism than what the Church at the time was actually teaching. You mention that the Church no longer teaches what she taught in her documents 100 years ago. But you were not alive then. You were born into an era when the Church moved away from exclusivist readings so I do not understand why you seem a little bitter that you have been “duped” or something.

      And here I will repeat to you what I wrote in my response to Ben:

      “However, I disagree with you that the vast, vast majority of Catholic theologians, saints, and bishops, have thought for 1500 years that one needs to be a baptized member of the visible Church in order to be saved. There are many voices that express the more nuanced view that the Church is indeed necessary for salvation, but that there are those outside of its visible parameters who are also members of that Church through righteous living and a sincere desire for God, even if they do not know it themselves. Even Augustine, in his better moments, said the same. The radical exclusivists have never been the only voice and even Popes have acknowledged that there are those outside of the visible Church who can be saved. Therefore, I see no issue whatsoever with the dogma of infallibility being undermined if the Church of today sees with sharper eyes that what we call “invincible ignorance” of the Gospel is a far more pervasive reality than we once thought. And that is because we do now have a greater knowledge of human sociology, psychology, and subjectivity. This is a true development of strands of the tradition that were crowded out by the more exclusivist folks. And even if it is an acknowledgment that some in the Church had erred in some aspects of this doctrine it in no way is saying that the doctrine as such is wrong. Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus is a dogma of the faith and always will be. And there has been a tug of war between the more inclusivitist and exclusivist readings of that dogma for millenia. The modern Church is developing doctrine by clarifying aspects of the dogma that had gotten skewed. That is a far cry from saying that we can now approve homosexual relations or women’s ordination – – over which there has never been a debate until two minutes ago – – since the Church’s teaching on those topics has been monolithically uniform and totally consistent with no real dissenting voices of any kind. But that is not true of Extra Ecclesiam which is why it is important to pay attention to the history of that doctrine closely. Not even Cypiran, who first formulated the doctrine, held it to mean that all outside of the Catholic Church were damned. He was largely referencing apostates and obstinate heretics, as was Origen, and was not really making a comment about the action of God’s grace outside of the Church.”

      Therefore, I do not agree with your assertion that my calling this a development of doctrine is just some kind of clever sleight of hand that the Church can use whenever it does not want to admit that it has been in error on something. I understand that it can look that way – – “We were in error? Hmmm… Ok. But that was never infallible so we are okay to change it now” – – and that there is always a danger of such dishonesty. But I do not think the Church is just flat-out denying a teaching that was universally accepted, taught, and understood – – Extra Ecclesiam. What she is denying in a very one-sided interpretation given to that dogma by some popes who were really just trying to reinforce the teachings against obstinate heresy and apostasy. And so if what you are REALLY saying is that the Church should just abandon her teaching on her indefectibility you are going to have a long wait because there is nothing in current Church teaching that stands in radical discontinuity with the doctrine of extra ecclesiam, which has been interpreted non-exclusively going all the way back to Justin Martyr and Gregory Nazienzen among others.

      As for Pope Benedict … of course he never said Protestants needed to become Catholics in order to avoid damnation. Nor did John Paul. And those were the Popes that were around when you converted I assume. So once again… you seem to imply that Protestant converts of modern vintage have been duped or something and I just don’t see where you get that. Were all of these modern converts to Catholicism ignoring the teachings of the modern Church in favor of the Tridentine anathemas? And those Popes were correct not to make such statements about baptized Christians. Sure they wanted conversion, but not through intimidation and fear. Was there about a 500 year period when the Church did threaten Protestants with Hell? Yes. And thus this is the one point I agree on in your response: the Church should acknowledge the error of that teaching. But I think it tacitly has by changing the teaching to something that is more nuanced. I am a member of an Ordinariate parish. Therefore, I am surrounded by Catholic converts from Protestantism. And I do not know a single one of them – – not one – – who converted because they were afraid of going to Hell if they didn’t. They converted because they thirsted after the true Eucharistic Lord which they did not find in Protestantism and they converted because they wanted to be in the Church that is the fullest expression of Christianity and is the Church instituted by Christ. But most of them still greatly admire and respect the faith that was given to them in their former communion and do not think that they were moving from damnation to salvation. They thought they were moving from a partial truth that had itself gotten weaker and weaker, into the fullness of truth.

      And so I do not get your fixation on the idea that the Church once blasted Protestants as infidels yet no longer does and that it has therefore fallen into some deep inconsistency that is “unfair” to today’s Protestant converts.


    2. “The doctrine of the Catholic Church consists in four points, whose connexion is inviolable: the first, that the Church is visible; the second, that she is perpetual; the third, that the truth of the Gospel is always professed therein by the whole society; the fourth, that it is unlawful to depart from her doctrine: which is as much as to say, in other terms, that she in infallible.” Bossuet, History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, XV, 3.
      Bossuet may have had to explain things, but he had no doubt as to the infallibility of the Church.


  4. I worry not so much about a flat “reversal” of dogma, but the giving of a different “sense” to the dogma from that which was previously held. How do we deal with this:

    First Vatican Council (1870):
    “If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.“

    Clearly, the Church seems now to be giving a different “sense” to the dogma than that which was forcefully asserted by the magisterium for many years.


    1. In this vein, consider:
      Fourth Lateran Council (1215): “There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved.”

      Council of Florence, Cantate Domino (1441): “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the ‘eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41), unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.”


      1. So what is your point with this cherry picking of ecclesial statements? That most people really are going to Hell? That the modern Church is in heresy because it contradicts your cherry picked selection of statements from the past, all taken out of context I might add? That the Church is not infallible in certain conditions because it has contradicted itself? I can quote popes and councils too that would give a different interpretation of Extra Ecclesiam. Which only goes to prove my point: there has never been a doubt that extra ecclesiam is true. But there has never been a monolithic teaching of the Church going back to the beginning and proceeding through all of history without dissent, that only Catholics go to heaven. It has never been a completely unambiguous teaching. Even some of the popes who sounded most “exclusivist” granted that salvation is possible outside of the Church for the invincibly ignorant.


      2. @Don
        A quick check of what St Thomas Aquinas said about salvation shows some nuance. While insisting that one can only be saved through Christ, Aquinas also writes: “Therefore belief of some kind in the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation was necessary at all times and for all persons, but this belief differed according to differences of times and persons.” Notice the “of some kind”.
        In reply to an objection he later writes: “If, however, some were saved without receiving any revelation, they were not saved without faith in a Mediator, for, though they did not believe in Him explicitly, they did, nevertheless, have implicit faith through believing in Divine providence,…”
        He wrote this after the Fourth Lateran Council, and he was probably aware of its decrees.
        If you look at the paragraph of the council that your first quotation comes from, it goes on to talk about the saving power of the eucharist: “Nobody can effect this sacrament except a priest who has been properly ordained according to the church’s keys, ”
        In the context, it appears to be saying that the saving power of the sacrament of the eucharist is not available outside the Church. Later it says that anyone can baptise, provided that they use the proper formula.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes. Thank you. I think this gets at a more nuanced understanding of things. If Aquinas taught that there are some among the unbaptized who could be saved, due to inculpable ignorance, then that is a huge red flag that maybe, just maybe, some of these other documents are being taken out of context.


  5. We might be making the same mistake as some Israelites is Jesus’ times.
    We’re looking for an easy solution, to have someone with authority to tell us exactly what to do and what to believe. So that we’re not responsible if the beliefs are partly wrong.
    Jews had, at that time, teachers of scriptures of whom Jesus said “listen to them” but they still got some things wrong.
    So faithful Israelites had to rely on their own conscience and spiritual discernment rather than solely on external teaching.
    Could it be that nowadays we are also called to do that?

    I have a feeling that a time might come when a pope (not necessarily the present one) evidently teaches something of great importance in contradiction to what has been taught over centuries. How will we Catholics respond to that? Whatever we’ll do it won’t be an easy solution and that’s the whole point of it, take responsibility for our beliefs. And not to hide under labels of traditionalists, liberals etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Part of my issue, personally, is that as a concept it’s arguably the single most important one. Indeed, if the Church isn’t clear on what leads to salvation, then we all need to pack it up and go home.

      Which goes somewhat to explaining my frustration on the issue – we have what is the single most important function of the Church (to bring about people’s communion with God), and what we seem to have is “well for X date to X date, we (or many of us) thought this, and from Y date to Y date we (or many of us) thought this and now we have gone back to X or Y, or maybe we’ve come up with Z”.

      Meanwhile I’m sitting there like “Dudes. You have one job. Get it together”.

      The very fact that we are having the discussion (and I think we should have the discussion, to be clear), I think will cause many reasonable people to doubt the Church’s claims on everything, since we can’t get this fundamental point sorted, because frankly, God has for whatever reason decided not to come down and give us a cheat sheet on this one issue, and so we are left with interpreting the signs and seeing what we can see in the shadows and our peripheral visions. Is that God speaking to us on this issue? Or the devil? Or ourselves? No way to know, because God has decreed it to be so.

      And now I’ve made myself depressed 😜


      1. I’ve said before and I will happily say it again: any version of the Christian story which does not end with a universal salvation is fundamentally internally incoherent, and thus false on its own terms. What you’re experiencing right now, I think, may be that contradiction.


      2. It’s easy to look at the history of the Church from our comfortable long-distance perspective and think, yep, this council sorted THIS issue, etc. But really, the ambiguities Larry is talking about have been a part of the Church since her beginning, and they’ll continue until she’s the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven, perfected. Rolling out anything from a council took centuries and always caused a lot of trouble. This is the same.

        The fact that we’ve had Church councils shows that we need to talk stuff through, and weigh it carefully. The fact that there have been so few papal ex cathedra pronouncements is also evidence that we take a long time to try to get things right before we push that button.

        The real interest for me here is this question of: exactly what IS the Magisterium? Where are its boundaries? Anyone can cherry-pick from the Fathers and the lives of the saints, and create their own version of ‘The Church Teaches’. That’s pretty much why God made the internet, and people like Taylor Marshall et hoc genus omne have been making a living off it ever since. Anyone can selectively quote and create the Church of Jesus Christ of You and I And I’m Not So Sure About You, and call it ‘upholding tradition’.

        Fact is, saints make mistakes. They’re NOT infallible. There was a great quote on my column here in the comments: “I think it was St. John of the Cross who urged to look up to Christ rather then saints as the latter might lead us unknowingly to imitate their vices not virtues.” Saints can have vices. They can make rash judgements. They can get the Church’s teaching wrong. They can invest too much of themselves in what they say publicly.

        It takes time to sift and process. So our perspective in the early 21st century is that most stuff has been sorted out, and it looks like it was done quickly and efficiently. It wasn’t.


  6. I always thought that ‘extra’ in Latin meant not just ‘outside’, but ‘without’.

    And I think we can all agree that without the Church, there is no salvation.

    This is a great discussion.


  7. Prof Chapp, As a Protestant convert to Catholicism I read your piece on ‘extra ecclesiam’ with great interest. Much of your analysis was, to my thinking, thoughtful and perceptive — particularly your assessment of the limitations of Orthodoxy. I greatly appreciate your speaking with such frankness, as always.

    That said, I still find the suggestion of Vatican II’s reassessment and re-ranking of prior Church teaching problematic. It is difficult to see how the Church can simply ‘post facto’ override the highest ecclesial authorities, e.g. ecumenical councils (thinking specifically of Florence, here) teaching consistently over centuries. And this is not even a question of conciliarism; the pronouncements of popes are also overturned by Vatican II. Without indulging in the parlor game of guessing which pre-1870 statements are infallible, if ever there were an ‘ex cathedra’ decree, Unam Sanctam (1302) must surely be one — hence “irreformable.”

    Under pressure from the modern world the Fathers of Vatican II, I suspect, rightly realized that the Church since Cyprian had painted herself into an exclusivist corner. They had to find an escape, so they played with the ‘ecclesiam’ in ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus.’ Understandable: if one cannot change the words, change the definitions. Presumably they meant this sincerely. But at what point does doctrinal development become sophistry?

    I confess I don’t know. But the genie is out of the bottle. Will we turn away in despair (Trads and Liberals) — or perhaps struggle toward a new understanding, gradually sloughing off the load of 20 centuries and listening to the spontaneous Voice of the Spirit create anew every day? Sometimes I wonder if such a ‘renaissance’ is what Francis is intending.

    Then the Church can be free to go on resisting the gates of Hell — just not in a nice logically consistent manner.


    1. I think you are mistaken in your belief that the more exclusivist understanding that only baptized Catholics are saved was the uniform and infallible teaching of the Church before modern times. Augustine did not hold that view. Nor did Aquinas. Nor did most Church Fathers. And there have been many Popes who have taught that those who are inculpably ignorant of the Gospel could be saved. No less a light that Pope Pius IX – – the “papal infallibility” Pope – – taught that those in inculpable ignorance could be saved. Furthermore, my guess would be that you have not made a thorough scholarly study of the hermeneutics and historical context of statements like Unam Sanctam or Florence. Because during that time it was the commonly accepted theology to say that those in inculpable ignorance could be saved. Most often when the Church has made more exclusivist claims it has also taught that the inculpably ignorant could be saved. In reality it has never been the official teaching of the Catholic Church that only baptized Catholics are saved. We have to be very, very cautious about cherry picking a few statements and documents, taken out of context and without further study, and then saying that this represented the infallible teaching of the Church. Cyprian is a case in point. He was mainly concerned with letting apostates and obstinate heretics understand that if they have removed themselves from the Church through their apostasy and heresy that they were in jeopardy of damnation. But even he said the inculpably ignorant could be saved.


      1. Appreciate your response, but I think it raises more questions than it solves. We are asked to accept that words in the Tradition that we read and intuitively grasp today do not really mean what they seem — that scholars and experts are required to enlighten us as to the “hermeneutics” and “context” of the words. I myself was in graduate school in history, and there is a role for historians and textual critics, though I am not prepared to believe that every word from the past must be filtered through their (less than objective) lens. But that is an entire area of discussion for another time.

        You summon names like Augustine and Aquinas, even the (in)famous Pius IX. I have already mentioned writings, important decrees, that contradict them. What is the “infallible teaching of the Church,” amid these contradictions? One cannot simply extract a Master Narrative from pronouncements down the ages, then discard objectionable parts.

        Lastly, “cherry picking” is a rather unfair accusation; if parts of a system at the highest level should agree, how is cherry picking different from insisting on the integrity of the system? How else should we judge it? One can always argue that Cyprian and Augustine might not agree with Aquinas or Bellarmine; these individuals are peripheral and non-essential, and I would not require or even expect agreement between them. If they agree, fine, though championing one or the other would indeed be “cherry picking.” Citing decrees of ecumenical councils and ‘ex cathedra’ pronouncements, on the other hand, the highest levels of the Magisterium, can hardly be called reductive or selective. To sum up, I am not arguing these particular documents necessarily represent the unified official teaching of the Church; I am arguing that they present an obstacle to the unified official teaching of the Church.


  8. One thing that occurred to me is that the main job of the magisterium is to teach those who are in the Church. So it’s not as if their teaching on salvation has changed in that sense. It’s not like they’re now saying, if you want to leave the church, go right ahead. In fact the catechism says, if you believe in the church, and leave it, you will go to hell. So in that sense, the old teaching was good too for it’s time, and may have been needed at that time because people couldn’t understand the nuance of the new way of teaching. (Many still can’t.) But the new era challenges us to understand the old teaching in a new way.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I don’t want to accuse of strawmanning because I think that’s inaccurate and at most you just use hyperbole to illustrate your point on a certain perspective. What I do think you are ignoring in these articles (forgive me if you already addressed that) about the more exclusivist folks is that their point is not usually that we need the hammer of fear to incentivize conversion (I think few serious thinkers of any type think that telling a non-Catholic he’s a dead man walking has any evangelical power outside of mystical experiences). Rather, it is that to incentivize Catholics themselves to take seriously the duty of evangelization they need to understand how important it is that their friends, family, acquaintances become Catholic for their salvation. An expanded ecclesiology is kind of convenient in modern pluralism because it makes us less uncomfortable with three fact that our neighbors are probably living without the ordinary means of salvation. I haven’t read their writings so I’d like to learn more but I can bet people like Juniperro Sera were not going to America to tell the natives they were all damned but they were going there because they were worried these people were not given the truth that would be effective for their salvation. My main point in this incoherent ramble is that I see the post-V2 lay beliefs on the necessity of the Church sort of parallels the neo-scholastic theology on a state of natural happiness without reference to Christ that you talked about. We can’t think of Christ and heaven as just an add on without which we can’t still be joyful, similarly we can’t think of the body of Christ as a non-essential good that simply adds on to people’s pre-existing faith. Describing the Church as the fullness of truth can have the effect of making people think it’s just an ideal but not a necessity.
    I also think It’s worth noting that even Lefebvre, who’s society obviously is the biggest non-crazy opposition to things they regard as problematic developments of V2 said this:
    “The Church is necessary; the Church is the one ark of salvation; we must state it. That has always been the adage of theology: ‘Outside the Church there is no Salvation’… This does not mean that none among other religions may be saved. But none is saved by his erroneous and false religion. If men are saved in Protestantism, Buddhism or Islam, they are saved by the Catholic Church, by the grace of Our Lord, by the prayers of those in the Church, by the Blood of Our Lord as individuals, perhaps through the practice of their religion, perhaps because of what they understand in their religion, but not by their religion, since none can be saved by error.” (From an address given at Rennes, France in 1972.)
    Would you agree with his statement here Dr. Chapp? Would this describe your interpretation of the teaching of the Church? I actually found this via the Center started by Fr. Feeney, who look upon this gatemen unfavorably.


  10. Once upon a time, for a short time, I thought that papal infallibility provided a solution to “private judgment.” Eventually I realized that it merely shifts reflection to the question “Does ___ fulfill the formal criteria for infallible dogma?” And to this question no infallible answer can be given, and for this reason I find the dogma of conciliar and papal infallibility useless, at best, and deleterious, at worst. It distracts us from the question of truth and focuses our energies on proving which position “wins” the infallibility contest.

    Forgive this Orthodox interruption. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.   🙂


    1. I think you articulate something here Father of enormous importance. Namely, that in order for the doctrine of infallibility to make any sense at all the criteria that the Church employs for determining what are and what are not infallible teachings have to be very clear in oder to be meaningful on any level. It must be remembered that the infallibility of the Church is rooted in Christ’s infallibility and is merely a function of it. And that when applied to the Church it is a purely negative charism. It is not an oracular infallibility in all positive aspects, but a merely negative charism wherein Christ promises that the Spirit will never allow the Church to fall into serious error on a matter central to the truth of Christ. But such teachings are very few and the criteria for determining their infallibility, though not granting epistemological certitude as to their own infallibility, do nevertheless give us a high level of confidence in their truthfulness. Therefore, it is not a question of total infallible certitude versus no doctrine of infallibility of any kind. I think those are false alternatives. Infallibility should be viewed as the Church building a consensus over time that coalesces around a core set of beliefs that truly are irreformable dogmas. And only rarely therefore would the papacy intervene to make a very clear statement of infallibility.

      But I do think some notion of indefectability is critical. Even the Orthodox hold to such a view because they understand that a Church in deep, persistent, and grave error on matters central to the faith would be Christ contradicting himself because it would be a tacit denial that Christ is at the heart and center of the Church in both her sacramental economy and in the truth that animates that economy. Without truth, the liturgy becomes a mere mechanism at best, and magic at worse. It does not distract us from the question of truth and it is not just about “winning” the infallibility contest. Because if your view is true then the Protestant view of authority is true. Because your concern for truth begs the question: whose truth?

      The true problem with the doctrine of infallibility in my view is that it got linked up with a hypertrophy of papal power and authority which ballooned out of all proportion after the Great Schism. And that was in conjunction with a hypertrophy of the idea of the infallibility of the Church’s ordinary magisterium as well, with nearly every damn doctrine to come down the pike gaining the status of “irreformable dogma” just because some asshat of a pope put it in a papal bull. And so I agree with the fundament and gravitas of your central insight. Namely, that beyond a few core doctrines and a few core moral teachings, infallibility has a tendency to distract from the need to live evangelical lives of holiness and need to preach the truth of the Gospel out of that holiness in order for the sacraments to be more than magic. The Church in the East is guilty of almost reducing the Church to her liturgy, and of ignoring the importance of the linkages between liturgy and doctrinal truth, thereby making that liturgy actually quite non liturgical and something more magical instead. The Church in the West is guilty of a constant inflation of doctrines and of papal power, which has reduced its own liturgy to the status of a kind of “court ritual” which celebrates in a solipsistic way the Church’s own courtly power.

      Finally, another huge problem is that in my view the West should stop calling all of its post Schism Council’s “ecumenical” Councils since they are missing one whole half of the Church. There are not “two” Churches. There is only One and that one Church is scandalously divided thus rendering the creedal statement that we believe in the Church as “one” unbelievable to outsiders. But we are one despite our division, rooted in the same apostolic succession and the same sacramental economy. The West therefore needs to treat its Councils as merely regional or Western Councils, but certainly not ecumenical ones. And even if the Pope ratifies those Councils and confirms them as teaching truth, the fact is the Pope should never presume, despite his primacy, to declare something to be ecumenical when it manifestly is not.


  11. Interesting discussion here between Michael Lofton and Erick Ybarra at the Reason & Theology channel: https://youtu.be/fO44OFPvGXk . There’s also a few other vides on the R&T YouTube channel on this topic. Essentially, Erick’s claim is that, while V2 does not change doctrine, it does change the emphasis of the doctrine and is a restatement of the dogma with a softer approach to those outside the Catholic Church, in a recognition of the grace that does exist outside the Church in those who non-Catholic due to no fault of their own.

    Moreover, are the Orthodox outside the Church? The answer would seem yes, but they are also considered sister Churches with valid sacraments. So are deceased Orthodox waiting in some Christian Sheol until the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are reunited, at which point they are magically released, in the mind of the Catholic Church? What about Doctor of the Church, St. Gregory of Narek, who is celebrated by the Armenian Catholic Church but whose church, what is called the Armenian Apostolic Church today(please correct me if I’m wrong) was non-Chalcedonian during his lifetime?

    The Sabbath was made for man, man was not made for the Sabbath. God has created ordinary means for us to be saved, but He is not bound by them. We invite everyone in on the Sabbath and have hope and prayer for those who didn’t come.


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