Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
You know what they say, every over-reaction deserves an equal and opposite over-reaction. Well, even if they don’t say that, they should.
We discussed last week the different levels of Magisterium and the confusion that can sometimes arise from seemingly contradictory statements. In that article, I used ecumenism as an example and I will do so again today. But rather than get into the muck and mire of the theology surrounding the issue, I want focus on the real world consequences of this confusion.
The other day, I put a quote up on social media from Presidential contender Senator Marco Rubio. Though I had just written about the confusion over this issue, even I was surprised by the immediate reactions of Catholics to the quote. Basically, my combox blew up in a not so good way.
I present the quote here not to resume that discussion but to illustrate a point.
“I'm a Roman Catholic. I'm theologically in line with the Roman Catholic Church. I believe in the authority of the church, but I also have tremendous respect for my brothers and sisters in other Christian faiths. I recognize, as the Catholic Church does, that there are excellent teachings of the Word throughout other denominations. The elements of salvation are found in these churches as well."
While one could quibble a little over some of the phrasing used by Senator Rubio, this would seem to be close-enough restatement of what the Church teaches in Catechism 819.
"Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth" are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements." Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."
Yet, a great deal of confusion and anger spewed forth because of this statement. The question is why?
It is a selective reading of the Church’s teaching on this matter. Many people see this passage as the only relevant teaching on the matter and adopt an approach that belonging to a protestant denomination is just as good as being Catholic. In fact, one gets the sense that many Catholics, including some in the hierarchy of the Church, think that conversion and visible communion with the Catholic Church is unnecessary and anachronistic. Those Catholics, it can be reasonably surmised, have adopted the notion that “Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church.” This belief is specifically condemned in the syllabus of errors.
They even go so far as to minimize or ignore other passages (846-848) from the very same catechism on the topic.
"Outside the Church there is no salvation"
846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.
848 "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."
Other Catholics, over reacting to the non-Catholic interpretations of the relevant teaching, overreact by going full-Feeney on the question, condemning all who don’t have their Catholic membership cards stamped and notarized.
Such overreactions are easy to dismiss and many Catholics, even some who should know better, use Catechism 819 as a cudgel to beat them over the head, declare victory over the Prometheans, and move on, nobody the wiser for any of it.
Of course, the Church has never taught that all non-Catholics will be damned. But, without fear of contradiction, I think that in the post-conciliar world, almost all the Church’s emphasis has been on good aspects of Protestantism and very little on its manifest deficiencies. There is almost no preaching or relevant magisterium which gives emphasis to the great difficulties of maintaining oneself in a state of grace without the benefit of the mass or other sacraments.
Moreover, it seems that the institutional Church has lost its zeal for the Great Commission. In a world in which the heresy of indifferentism is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, even among Catholics, why does all the emphasis continue to be on the positive aspects of Protestantism? Are we so afraid of being seen as intolerant that we are willing to let souls perish?
In any discussion on this topic, I think that it is not only important to understand all the Church’s teaching, but to give proper emphasis to the necessity of the Catholic Church. To do otherwise is to put many souls at risk.