After the Boston Heresy Case
By Gary Potter
Catholic Treasures, 1995, 215 pp.
Century after century, the Roman Catholic church taught that only Roman Catholics could be saved (see here). The Latin term used by popes, prelates, and theologians was extra ecclesiam nulla salus, “outside of the church there is no salvation.” Liberal theological concepts began creeping into the church in the early-20th century, including the notion that baptized Protestants could also be saved as well as “righteous” non-Christian religionists who would desire baptism if they only understood its significance, i.e., baptism of (unconscious) desire.
Popular Jesuit priest, Leonard Feeney (1897-1978), opposed this shift towards semi-Universalism. He and Catherine Goddard Clarke founded the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Catholic religious order dedicated to defending the tenet of extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Feeney’s battle with his religious superiors began in 1945 and escalated until his excommunication in 1953.
I’ve posted about Leonard Feeney previously (see here and here) and was interested in reading a short history of the Jesuit priest and his followers. “After the Boston Heresy Case” fit the bill precisely, although the title is strangely misleading. The bulk of the book deals with the prelude and ensuing “move, counter-move” chess match between Feeney and his superiors. There is actually very little about the aftermath following his excommunication.
Feeney’s modernist opponents won the battle and the RCC officially promulgated the doctrine of the possible salvation of Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other religionists, published as Nostra Aetate (“In Out Time”) on October 28, 1965 at the Second Vatican Council. As I mentioned in the previous posts, the priest, nun, and brother religious teachers at my Catholic grammar school and high school were slow on the uptake and continued to teach the traditional, literal view of extra ecclesiam nulla salus several years after Nostra Aetate.
I found this short book very interesting and informative. Catholic journalist, Gary Potter, is unapologetic in his admiration of Feeney and the traditional understanding of the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus.
Why should evangelicals care about the Feeney controversy? The Feeney case is a glaring example of how RC-ism has changed its teaching despite claims of being Semper eadem, “Always the same.” We also see that Catholicism now dichotomously holds to two opposing false gospels: 1) people must be baptized to be saved, and 2) people needn’t be baptized to be saved as long as they sincerely follow their conscience or religion. Feeney saw the glaring incongruity for what it was and took a stand.
Make no mistake, I’m not a fan of Leonard Feeney. The conservative Jesuit priest would have been convinced I was going to hell for renouncing the Catholic religion and accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior by faith alone. But at least Feeney’s pre-conciliar false gospel was a recognizable and unambiguous opponent rather than the dichotomous, incongruent, foggy-bottom false gospel of post-conciliar Roman Catholicism.
Postscript: Potter makes the salient point that American Catholicism was fertile ground for semi-Universalism because, as a minority church in an unfriendly nation, it sought recognition and acceptance rather than emphasizing alleged Catholic prerogatives and superiority.