Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It
By Eric Sammons
Crisis Publications, 2021, 304 pp.
The Roman Catholic church has always taught baptismal regeneration and the complementary doctrine of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (Latin: “outside the Church [there is] no salvation.” Two exceptions were added to these doctrines, those being baptismus sanguinis (“baptism by blood”) and baptismus flaminis (“baptism by desire”). The former declared that those who were martyred before they were baptized could be saved, while the latter declared that those who desired to be baptized, but died before the sacrament could be administered, could also be saved. Those two exceptions were historically understood as “rare” occurrences, but today the Catholic church teaches that Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and even atheists can be saved implicitly through baptismus flaminis/baptism by (unconscious) desire. How did this teaching evolve? In “Deadly Indifference,” traditionalist Catholic editor, Eric Sammons (“Crisis” magazine), examines the history of the expansion of baptismus flaminis and the implications for the declining RCC.
Beginning in the Middle Ages, some Catholic theologians and philosophers began to mull over the spiritual status of those pagans in distant lands who had never heard the Catholic gospel. The notion of “invincible ignorance” was born, which stated that “some” pagan souls might desire baptism if they were aware of it, and that they could also be saved via the baptism by desire exception. The teaching was bandied about by Catholic theologians for centuries and even gained papal approval in the Singulari Quadam allocution issued by Pius IX in 1854: “It is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, are not stained by any guilt in this matter in the eyes of God.” Invincible ignorance was popularly viewed as the theoretical exception rather than the rule as Catholic missionaries determinedly continued their efforts to convert non-Catholics across the globe.
However, as modernism/liberalism took hold in Catholic academia and episcopacies in the twentieth century, “invincible ignorance” and baptismus flaminis gradually became the standard regarding non-Catholics and were codified in the Second Vatican Council declarations, Unitatis redintegratio (1964) and Nostra aetate (1965). It took some time for this new liberal paradigm to filter down to the seminaries, rectories, convents, and pews – as a young Catholic grammar school student in the early and mid-1960s, I distinctly remember being taught by the priests and nuns that Protestants and all non-Catholics were destined for hell – but filter down it did. Sammons uses a “salvation spectrum” to demonstrate the current range of Catholic teaching/belief regarding extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. There is the absolutist on one extreme, who rejects the aforementioned exceptions. This view was infamously espoused by Jesuit Leonard Feeney (see here). Sammons states that, unlike Feeney, he is not an absolutist, but an exclusivist. He concedes the exception of baptismus flaminis as legitimate, but only in “rare” cases. Sammons posits that modern popes, John XXIII, Paul VI, JP II, Benedict XVI were in the middle “inclusivist” range in varying degrees, but that Francis is at the opposite extreme as a pluralist bordering on universalism.
The result of the expansion of baptismus flaminis and “invincible ignorance” is that there is no incentive for Catholic missions, since it is now taught that it’s possible for every non-Catholic religionist and even atheists to merit Heaven. Another result is an ever-increasing number of cradle Catholics are dropping away from the church because of the prevailing indifferentism. Their thinking: “If non-Catholic religionists and atheists have a good shot at Heaven, it makes no sense to have to suffer through an hour of boring mass every Sunday.”
Traditionalist Sammons, would like to return the Catholic church to pre-conciliar militancy, when baptismus flaminis and “invincible ignorance” were understood as the “rare” exceptions rather than the rule. He desires that Protestants be once-again categorized as “heretics” and that they be targets for proselytization by Catholic missionaries along with all other non-Catholics. Sammons also pines for the day when “religious freedom” is a memory and the Catholic church once again rules hand-in-glove with civil governments (pp. 50-51). Nope, I’m not kidding. How does Sammons put the horse back in the barn? He encourages fellow traditionalists to turn the clock back to pre-conciliar militancy, parish by parish.
We’re seeing signs that this rad-trad militant Catholicism that Sammons espouses is gaining traction and getting some internet notoriety, but the reality is that it’s still a small minority among Catholics.
Postscript: This book was valuable to me only in that it details some of the historical expansion of baptismus flaminis that I wasn’t aware of. In contradiction to all of this Catholic internecine squabbling over legalistic details (i.e., if baptismus flaminis is only rarely legitimate, how rare is rare? 0.1% of non-Catholics? 1%? 5%? 10%?) is the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Neither Francis’ progressive pluralism or Sammons’ militant traditionalism have any connection to the genuine Gospel of grace. Some might be surprised that evangelical darling, Billy Graham, also embraced the teaching of “invincible ignorance.” Watch Graham unabashedly propagate the heresy of invincible ignorance in a 1:30 minute video here.