Fr. Peter Scott: On Protestant Baptisms
The Angelus - January 2010

Questions and Answers
by Fr. Peter R. Scott

How can we deny that non-Catholic Christian religions are means of salvation, given that they have (frequently) valid baptism?

The denomination of false religions as “means of salvation” is a novelty unheard of before Vatican II. The text that promotes this idea is the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, which states that “the separated churches and communities as such . . . have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation…” (§3). It is likewise stated in the Vatican II document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, that “many elements of sanctification and truth are found outside its visible confines”–that is, outside of the Catholic Church (§8).

There is, in both of these statements, a deliberate ambiguity, depending on how we understand that “means of salvation” or “elements of sanctification and truth” could exist in a religious group. It is certainly true that, in a purely material sense, such means of salvation that require no specific disposition on the part of the subject can exist in the various Protestant denominations.

The valid administration of the sacrament of baptism to children is such a case. If administered with the correct matter and form and the intention of doing what the Church does, it is valid and confers grace, since the child who has not yet attained the age of reason cannot place an obstacle in the path of grace. However, it is in only a material sense that this sacrament is administered by the Protestant group. It does not belong to it, nor does it follow at all that the false religious community itself is a means of salvation. In effect, every valid and fruitful baptism is a sacrament of the Catholic Church and makes the baptized child a member of the Catholic Church, as Pope Benedict XIV taught quite explicitly in 1749:

Quote: “He (i.e., a child) who receives baptism validly from a heretic, in virtue of this very fact is made a member of the Catholic Church” (DS 2567).

The pope goes on to state that the child receives the infused virtue of Faith (that is, the Catholic Faith), although the minister was a heretic. Consequently, truly and formally speaking the baptism is administered by the Catholic Church although the child is not aware of it and the minister denies it. It is only after having attained the age of reason, and after having formally adhered to the heretical or schismatic group, that the baptized child leaves the Church. Although this is canonically presumed from the age of 14 years whenever a person continues to participate in the religious ceremonies of the sect, it is entirely possible that a particular individual could be in invincible ignorance even well after that age, and hence not formally heretical or schismatic.

The question then arises as to those elements of salvation that require the correct disposition of the subject, such as the baptism of adults, or any other of the sacraments that might be valid in these sects, or concerning which the teachings of these sects might contain certain elements of the truth. Again, in a purely material sense, it can be said that these sacraments or teachings can be given in a heretical or schismatic church. However, they can only be efficacious when there is invincible ignorance on the part of the person who receives these sacraments in this false religious environment. In such a case, he does not voluntarily refuse to belong to the true Church, but has an implicit desire of belonging to it. It is consequently formally and properly to the Catholic Church that these sacraments belong and through the Catholic Church that they are salutary, even if perchance they are sometimes received materially speaking outside of her. An adult validly and fruitfully baptized with such invincible ignorance is in reality a member of the Catholic Church, despite appearances to the contrary.

Not only does the Council of Florence teach that heretics and schismatics cannot be saved

Quote:“unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock,” but also that “the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation” (Decree for the Jacobites, Dz. 714).

The consequence is that anyone who is truly and with pertinacity a member of a false religion, explicitly refusing to be a member of the Catholic Church, cannot possibly receive any means of salvation nor any elements of sanctification from his Protestant or schismatic sect. He might appear to do so, and to go through the motions of receiving means of salvation and elements of sanctification, but this is only in a purely material, exterior sense, and none of them will be of any profit to his soul, as St. Paul says of the Holy Eucharist: “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself” (I Cor. 11:28).

In such cases the sacraments are valid, but not efficacious for salvation, on account of an impediment placed by the subject who deliberately refuses to submit to the true Church, her teaching, and her authority. This teaching is very clear in the Fathers of the Church, such as St. Augustine, who has this to say:

Quote:The comparison of the Church with Paradise shows us that men may indeed receive baptism outside her pale, but that no one outside can either receive or retain the salvation of eternal happiness. For, as the words of the Scripture testify, the streams from the fountain of Paradise flowed copiously even beyond its bounds. Record is indeed made of their names; and through what countries they flow, and that they are situated beyond the limits of Paradise, is known to all; and yet in Mesopotamia, and in Egypt, to which countries those rivers extended, there is not found that blessedness of life which is recorded in Paradise. Accordingly, although the waters of Paradise are found beyond its boundaries, yet its happiness is in Paradise alone. So, therefore, the baptism of the Church may exist outside, but the gift of the life of happiness is found alone within the Church, which has been founded on a rock, which has received the keys of binding and loosing….This indeed is true, that “baptism is not unto salvation except within the Catholic Church.” For in itself it can indeed exist outside the Catholic Church as well; but there it is not unto salvation, because there it does not work salvation; just as that sweet savour of Christ is not unto salvation in them that perish, though from a fault not in itself but in them. (On Baptism against the Donatists)

Pope St. Leo the Great also taught that baptism received outside of the Church is fruitless.

Quote:For they who have received baptism from heretics are to be confirmed by the imposition of hands with only the invocation of the Holy Ghost, because they have received the bare form of baptism without the power of sanctification. (Letter CLIX)

The consequence of the fact that it is only perchance, by invincible ignorance and lack of pertinacity, that sacraments can be valid in such communities is that no sacrament or means of salvation can be said, properly speaking, to belong to the false religious community. This what is St. Augustine had to say against the heretics of his time, called Donatists:

Quote:It [baptism] does not belong to you. That which is yours are your bad sentiments and sacrilegious practices, and that you have the impiety to separate yourselves from us. (Quoted in From Ecumenism to Silent Apostasy, §28)

It is not only ambiguous, but misleading and false to affirm that these communities have elements of sanctification and means of salvation. Moreover, such a statement leads inexorably to the denial of the doctrine “Outside the Church, no salvation,” nor can this statement be denied, sent by the four bishops of the Society to all the cardinals in 2004:

Quote:In the degree in which this assertion of the Council contradicts the affirmation that the Catholic Church is the unique possessor of the means of salvation, it approaches heresy” (ibid.).
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre

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