Monday, September 05, 2005

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

Over the summer I had a student come by my office to get some documentation for fall registration. It was a purely ordinary, businesslike affair--he is one of my advisees, and I see him every term. This summer, however, for the first time, I learned something new and rather startling about him. He is a Neo-Feeneyite. I write "Neo-Feeneyite" because he told me that he rejects Fr. Feeney's view as having been condemned. But he then went on to insist to me that Fr. Feeney was still right about the old "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus" controversy. (For those who may be unfamiliar with this arcane little controversy, Fr. Feeney held that we must strictly interpret "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus" as meaning that anyone who is not a card-carrying member in good standing of the Roman Catholic Church is going to go to hell. This is not the Church's understanding of the phrase, but the phrase does, indeed, capture a de fide teaching of the Church--it must be believed by the faithful.) When I mentioned to him the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the matter, he told me that Vatican II was "merely a pastoral council", as though that meant that what it taught was somehow not infallible. We wrestled with the matter for a little while, but I soon tired of it and let it go.

The reason I mention all of this is because Michael Liccione has posted some wonderful stuff on all of this--not just "Extra Ecclesiam" but the whole question of the development of doctrine--over on Pontifications. Michael is both a fine philosopher and an admirable apologist, and I cannot recommend his posts highly enough. The comments (over 30 so far) are also very good, making for a fine dialogue.

I've already discussed my view of the development of doctrine in the thread on Just War Theory. The long and the short of it is that I think Michael is exactly right, while my student, though he is a smart fellow, is basically just a different kind of protestant.


James the Thickheaded said...


Babies vs. Cats vs. Embryos. Puzzling to focus on hierarchical order as opposed to right vs. wrong. Only the egg can't be guess who loses? What about the bacon?

Actually, I started to read this thing...but I lost interest. I wonder how many folks are actually going to read 29 pages of something that seems a bit absurd. You have to be VERY sympathetic to the argument to stick with this paper. I wasn't and didn't.

My guess is that some of this "scholarship" can't really be subjected to traditional academic criticism without getting gored by the PC police. Likely, folks behind in their commitments to "publish or perish" can catch up with a couple of quickies like this that only the really unreconstructed politically incorrect will criticize....if they have time between deadlines of their own. And ....if you've got a few laurels to rest on....the whole thing just gets too easy. Even once-great thinkers have been known to slip into laziness and become ripe plums for the picking by some bright new grad student.

Ah...what's a guy to do?

Scott Carson said...

I suspect you are quite right about "publish or perish." In fact, I'm a little worried that I was a little too harsh in my judgment, because upon looking at the NYU philosophy website it looks to me as though the author of that paper might actually be a graduate student; that would explain things somewhat.