Feeneyism. It is a minority opinion. It always has been and, unless it finally dies out, it always will be.
Feeneyism, for the uninitiated, is a reading of Extra ecclesiam nulla salus that denies the Roman concepts of Baptism through blood and through desire, and in turn renders a highly legal reading that restricts salvation to those who have undergone the Baptism rite and are in a visible, conscientious union with the Pope of Rome. Fr. Leonard Feeney was a literature professor at Boston College and a priest of the Society of Jesus in the 20th century. When he was not going on about "the Jews" and Msgr. Ronald Knox, he was pushing his reading of "the dogma" in such a fashion that it then-Archbishop, later Cardinal, Cushing, who was at the time ingratiating himself with the ambitious Kennedy family. Cushing arranged for Feeney's excommunication, which was upheld by Pius XII or by someone in his name. Feeney may have been reconciled at his death.
Historically speaking Feeney's opinion is utter rubbish. Of the three Papal documents supporters of Feeney quote, none of them are directly applicable. The first instance of the "thrice defined dogma" (suggesting that the first two were insufficient?), from the Fourth Lateran Council, states "There is one Universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation." What they neglect to quote is the preceding text based on the Creed, which teaches that the Church and Christ's priesthood descend from the Godhead. It is a spiritual definition, not a legal canon. The second "definition" is Boniface VIII's Unam Sanctam, one of the most misunderstood bulls in history. The oft-quoted line about the necessity of union with the Roman Pontiff is less a definition than it is a thinly disguised threat of damnation to Frenchmen who paid their taxes to the despicable King Philip IV instead of to the despicable Pope who threw his saintly predecessor into prison. The last one, Cantate Domino, is by far the strongest as a teaching, although it does not necessarily lend itself to the Feeneyite interpretation. I do not know enough about how the document was interpreted at the time, so I will hold my electronic tongue, but I suspect the records of the Council of Florence might illuminate us a bit.
"The dogma," as they call it, is the result of objectifying theology, of making it an object of play, of personal manipulation, an idol to which the facts must conform rather than the other way around. I will grant to the Feeneyites that the concept of Baptism by desire is vapid. At what point is one baptized by desire? How conscious must one be of this desire? The Church cannot judge on this matter because it could only be private and subjective. What is outright mad is the denial of Baptism by martyrdom. I recall once singing Vespers on the feast of the Greek martyr St. Epimakios. Living in New Hampshire, both the priest and I were aware of the Feeneyite community an hour's drive away. One of the stichera on the psalms I sang was "Then you were baptized in your own blood, o Epimakios...." Afterward I mentioned it to the priest, who burst into laughter saying, "Oh yeah, that guy definitely went to hell." There are other examples of the Church upholding as saints those who did not undergo Baptism by water, among them the fortieth of the martyrs of Sebaste, Emerentiana, Alban, and the younger brother of Felicity. 1239 of the old, defunct Code of Canon Law stated those who died in the catechumenate are to be counted among the baptized and given a full Catholic funeral service. When these facts do not conform to "the dogma" such nonsense as angels descending to baptize those about to be martyred creeps into speculation and the journey from reality to myth is complete. Faith as this point is not so much revealed as it is reasoned.
And why is this done? To ensure that as few people enjoy the Beatific Vision as possible? If the Feeneyites were allowed to adjust the Byzantine rite, the Divine Liturgy might begin:
Limited and generally inaccessible is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen
In tremor, let us pray to the Lord. Lord have no mercy!
For fear from on high and the damnation of most souls, let us pray to the Lord. Lord have no mercy!
Oddly, Feeneyism has a broad appeal. The local FSSP church has a Feeneyite or two, although to be fair the congregation and clergy as a totality do not hold the position. One can find a diocesan priest or two in London who hold it. The FSSPX will not touch it with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole. Some independents hold it. Sedevacantists generally do not, clinging to true pope Pacelli's condemnation of Feeneyite. Some more extreme elements like the Dimond brothers do hold it. A friend of mine was baptized by arch-Feeneyite Fr. James Wathen of Who Shall Ascend fame. Much like Coca-Cola, Feeneyism can be had on any occasion.
I only bring up this topic because some chap has been polluting Dr. Shaw's LMS Chairman blog with Feeneyism for the past few weeks. The United States is probably the only place where Feeneyism could get an ear, if for no other reason than that Fr. Feeney was a central figure for a while in American Catholicism during its transition from something Old World into something modern and politically palatable in a multi-cultural democracy. The topic is too obscure for much more consideration, but it gives foreign readers something to consider.
For more on Fr. Feeney and his one time meeting Evelyn Waugh, click here.