Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Apparent Contradictions From The Pope & Curia

Hans Kung (a Catholic priest who played a major role in Vatican II) wrote a book on papal infallibility which criticized John Paul II on the basis of contradictions which is what I will be discussing here. I thought glancing at his work might be a good place to start when writing a post like this. However, upon reading the highlights of his book, one quickly realizes that you’d be equally likely to find intelligent material written on the walls of a truck stop restroom. Not all accusations against papal infallibility are as easily dismissed however.

The ‘apparent contradiction’ that has stood out to me more than others is the Church’s former (apparent) teaching that only through the Catholic Church can one be saved. If you talk to anyone who was a Catholic 40 years ago but is not now, you will inevitably find that they will tell you that the Catholic Church teaches that only Catholics can be saved. Because before Vatican II, I am quite confident that’s what every Catholic was taught and believed.

What does the church teach now?

The Catholic Church professes that it is the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church of Christ; this it does not and could not deny. But in its Constitution the Church now solemnly acknowledges that the Holy Ghost is truly active in the churches and communities separated from itself. To these other Christian Churches the Catholic Church is bound in many ways: through reverence for God's word in the Scriptures; through the fact of baptism; through other sacraments which they recognize.(1)

Since Vatican II we seem to be hearing quite a different tone. In this quote we have the church apparently admitting that the Holy Ghost is also active in non-Catholic churches. Elsewhere, the current pope Benedict (Cardinal Ratzinger at the time) wrote the following:

“it is clear that it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God. Certainly, the various religious traditions contain and offer religious elements which come from God, and which are part of what the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures, and religions. Indeed, some prayers and rituals of the other religions may assume a role of preparation for the Gospel, in that they are occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to be open to the action of God. One cannot attribute to these, however, a divine origin or an ex opere operato salvific efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments. Furthermore, it cannot be overlooked that other rituals, insofar as they depend on superstitions or other errors (cf. 1 Cor 10:20-21), constitute an obstacle to salvation.”(2)

This document by the Cardinal was ratified and confirmed by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000. So this dichotomy at leasts begs the question, how do we intepret each of these statements without contradicting ourselves? In one, we have the admition that the Holy Ghost is active in non-Catholic churches and whatever that entails. The other says though, that the Roman Catholic Church is not just one way to salvation. So now we have to ask what does “the Holy Ghost” being active mean? I’ll leave the question with the reader.

Now that we have some idea of what the Church currently teaches concerning other denominations, what of the non-Christian?

The non-Christian may not be blamed for his ignorance of Christ and his Church; salvation is open to him also, if he seeks God sincerely and if he follows the commands of his conscience, for through this means the Holy Ghost acts upon all men; this divine action is not confined within the limited boundaries of the visible Church.(3)

First let me reiterate that it clearly states that the non-Christian may not be blamed for his ignorance of Christ and his Church. It is only making an ‘excuse’ for those who are ignorant and not those who know and have rejected. As a man, I can see that it is unjust to require of someone something he is literally not capable of producing. How much more is God keenly aware of this concept?

Well so far so good, I don’t see too much of an issue here. I consider this merely a ‘speed bump’ with some clarifications that need to be made. But here are some Papal quotes that pre-date Vatican II that lead me to raise an eyebrow on the issue:

Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins...In her then is one Lord, one faith, one baptism [Ephesians 4:5]. There had been at the time of the deluge only one ark of Noah, prefiguring the one Church, which ark, having been finished to a single cubit, had only one pilot and guide, i.e., Noah, and we read that, outside of this ark, all that subsisted on the earth was destroyed....Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
- Pope Boniface VIII(4)

It [the Church] firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart 'into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels' [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.
- Pope Eugene IV(5)

Now here I seem to be getting some very strong vibes from previous popes that you cannot be saved under any circumstances while separated from the Catholic Church. Although with closer examination and with the examination of the final statement we will view from Vatican II, it becomes more evident that these quotes had very contextual purposes within their historical backdrops. Pope Boniface, for example was writing specifically to French Catholics who were not submitting to the pope and does not directly deal with issues regarding those born outside the fellowship of the church(6). Furthermore, Vatican II aptly summarizes the issue by the following:

“The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church."

"Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries 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, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ."

"The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation."

"It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church."

"Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life- that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ's Catholic Church, which is 'the all-embracing means of salvation,' that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God."(7)

This clearly shows that the official Catholic teaching is that Protestants who grew up outside the Church may also be saved though their denomination is considered deficient. I have not found, even in the previously quoted popes direct evidence that the Church ever taught otherwise. Now, I think it’s safe to say that Catholics (for the most part) sure thought that way at one time, but I don’t believe that the Church ever specifically taught it.

I have addressed this one issue and I’m sure there are many more like it that I will come across and that others already have. I have a strong suspicion that other issues regarding ‘apparent contradictions’ with the papacy will follow suit or won’t even be worth debating.


(1) Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - Lumen Gentium. Chapter 1: "The Mystery of the church," Sections 14 to 16

DECLARATION "DOMINUS IESUS" – Joseph Card. Ratzinger 2000 AD

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: Dedicated to 'The Immaculate'

Papal Bull: ‘Unam Sanctam’ - Pope Boniface VIII 1302 AD

(5) Papal Bull: ‘Cantate Domino’ – Pope Eugene IV 1441 AD

(7) Decree on Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio – Vatican II 1964 AD

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