(CWNews.com): The Vatican has issued a new doctrinal statement confirming the essential role of the Catholic Church in God's plan for salvation.
The short document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), presented in question-and-answer format, addresses questions about the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that the Church founded by Jesus Christ "subsists" in the Catholic Church.
The CDF affirms that while other Christian bodies can play a role in bringing people to salvation, it is in the Catholic Church that "the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth." The Vatican document makes a further distinction between Orthodox churches that have preserved valid sacraments, and should be recognized as "sister churches," and Protestant groups that have not preserved the Eucharistic presence....
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THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: Here's the gist of it. The Catholic Church is the one and only "Church" founded by Jesus Christ. The Eastern Orthodox churches have maintained the sacraments, and therefore they are like "sister churches" in a very real sense, even though unity with Rome is the only thing lacking to complete them. Protestant churches on the other hand, are not really "churches" at all, because they have not preserved the sacraments. They are in essence man-made artificial organizations. These man-made organizations tie together like-minded Christians, who are separated from communion with Rome, into cohesive communities that mimic the appearance of a church, but they are not a 'church' according to the theological and historical definition. Because of this, it is more appropriate to refer to Protestant churches as "communities" or "organizations." Roman Catholics would do well to think of these "communities" this way, and order our speech accordingly for the sake of clarity.
It is absolutely imperative that Catholics understand the gravity of the Church's teaching on this. The Catholic Church has ALWAYS taught that it is the one true Church of Christ, and outside of it there is no salvation. This statement from the Vatican CDF reaffirms that fully, and again stipulates that the Second Vatican Council was pastoral in nature -- changing not a single Church doctrine. Many Catholics have been misled by the modern "I'm okay, you're okay" philosophy of religious relativism. The papacy has NEVER embraced this idea. The Second Vatican Council NEVER condoned it. Many of us may have been taught that by our priests or religious instructors, but it doesn't change the fact that it's heresy. The Vatican has NEVER embraced Protestant organizations as "churches" on equal footing with the Catholic Church, and much to the chagrin of liberals, it never will.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has something to say about all of this, but it's important for us to understand how it's nuanced a certain way, so as to reaffirm the same teaching always taught by the Church.
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.
The key to this post-conciliar nuance is knowledge on the part of the Christian who refuses to enter the Catholic Church. What the Catechism is telling us is that if you're a Christian, and you KNOW Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church, and you REFUSE to enter it anyway, then you damn yourself to hell, because there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church.
The situation for Protestants is a complicated one. They know of Jesus Christ. They accept his Lordship. They receive the forgiveness he offers on the cross. Most of them are baptized in the Trinitarian formula -- a sacrament Rome considers totally valid regardless of the Protestant community it was performed in. They pray to and worship Christ as God. They study the Scriptures and give of their treasure and talents to the work of God's Kingdom here on earth. The Catholic Church fully recognizes them as Christian "brethren," though separated from full and perfect communion. In these ways Protestants are "catholic" in the sense that they've already embraced so much of the Catholic Christian faith, that virtually the only thing lacking is a little education and the sacraments. One could say if the trip to Rome were 100 miles, most Protestants have already traveled 80 to 90 of them.
Yet here is the sticking point. Very few Protestants have ever willfully chosen to leave the Catholic Church. Yes, there are a few, but for the most part, the vast majority of Protestants were born into Protestant families and consequently that's all they've ever known. Even among those few who chose to leave the Catholic Church today, in favor of some Protestant denomination, one could easily argue that the reason why they left in the first place was because they were so poorly educated in Catholicism that they didn't truly understand what they were leaving behind. Because of this, the Church places no blame on those Christians separated from the Catholic Church, so long as their separation was through no fault of their own...
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:The Church still has the obligation and sacred right to evangelize. Why? Because it's pretty hard to be totally and completely without fault of your own. How many people do you know who are totally and completely without fault? Oh, I would venture to say that some of you may knew a few. Perhaps some of you may have small infants at home. Or maybe you know some adults who are mentally retarded and unable to communicate. These people certainly qualify as folks having no fault of their own. (When I say "fault" I don't mean sin, but rather blame.) Still, how many of you actually know some adults, who have all their faculties, that are totally and completely without fault? They may have sin in their lives, we all do, but that's not what I'm talking about. What I'm asking is who among them is ignorant of the gospel and the Church without fault of their own? Now we're starting to enter a grey area. Your Buddhist neighbor may be ignorant of the Gospel, and it may be through no fault of his own, but how can you be sure of that? You can't. You never could be. Technically speaking, you're not even qualified to say he is, even if you think you know. Only God is qualified to make that call. So what is your responsibility as a Catholic Christian then? Simple. EVANGELIZE! You don't know if your Buddhist neighbor is without fault in his ignorance of the gospel, and there is no way you could ever know. So the only thing you're qualified to do is tell him about it. Evangelize him! If he doesn't convert, that's fine because it's his choice, but you're still not qualified to tell if he's without fault. All you're qualified to do is tell them of your love for Christ and his Church, without stopping, and without judging them.
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."
Now back to the Protestant question. What does Mother Church have to say to us specifically about them...
817 In fact, "in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame." The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism - do not occur without human sin:Here we see the Church takes the case of the original Protestant "reformers" very seriously. These were educated men, who fully understood the potential consequences of their actions should they be in error. We would like to believe that they did not know they were in error. We would like to believe they did not fully understand what they were doing. Indeed, only God can judge. But all the evidence available to us seems to indicate a very damning case against them. The Council of Trent (AD 1545) pronounced anathema upon them and their doctrines. Even the softer and nuanced bishops of Vatican II could not disagree. The social, political and theological movements that spawned the original Protestant "Reformation" were damnable things, and those educated men who espoused them risked damnation of their souls, even by the standards of Vatican II.
Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.
818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers .... All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church."
Yet the Protestant movement did not end there. The damnable teachings of the "Reformation" fathers poisoned the minds of their followers against the Catholic Church - brainwashing Protestant children against her. Sometimes this was done maliciously with pure anti-catholic propaganda. Sometimes it was done more subtly, with the teaching of theological doctrines so inconsistent with Catholic teaching, that conversion back to Catholicism seemed impossible. Through the centuries Protestantism drifted so far away from it's Catholic roots, that Protestants themselves began to think of the Catholic Church as something totally foreign to them. Catholic worship itself became "strange" to them. Catholics became known as a "peculiar" people with "peculiar" customs that were totally foreign to the Protestant frame of mind. For example; while visiting Catholic churches, some Protestants (of the Evangelical persuasion) have been known to get up and walk out once they see incense burning in the procession. Why? Because it literally frightens them. They've never seen it before, and they don't know what to think of it. (This actually happened to a Baptist friend of mine. She saw the incense burning and made a straight line for the back door. I've since heard reports of this happening with other visiting Protestants.) It's odd that this would be the case, especially since the burning of incense is a totally Biblical practice, and Protestants pride themselves on following the Bible. Yet this is the reality of the situation we live in today. Can these Protestants be excused because their refusal to enter the Catholic Church is by no fault of their own? Perhaps, but it's not up to us to do the excusing. We're not qualified. Only God is. Our job is to evangelize and educate our "separated brethren" about the necessity of the Catholic Church in their "personal relationship with Jesus Christ."
In regards to the community organizations which were formed by Protestants, often called "churches," we must educate ourselves as to what they are, and where they came from. The original Protestants who separated themselves from the Catholic Church were completely unable to reunify themselves under a single banner. (That's because there is no Christian Unity outside the Catholic Church either.) So the regional governments of northern Europe stepped in to prevent confusion from spiraling downward into chaos. The original Protestant "churches" were state run. They were entities of the government, and they were organized upon nationality. These National "churches" were the forerunners to the original Protestant denominations we know today. For example, when the English came to North America, the state-run "Church of England" organized itself in the colonies as a Protestant 'denomination.' This was one way the English state asserted its influence (via religion) over the American colonists. Likewise, the state-run "Evangelical Church of Germany" did the same with the German immigrants to America via what became known as the "Lutheran" denomination. Throughout the centuries, Christians within the artificially state-run "churches" came to realize the problems associated with this. Some of them broke off to form new denominations, which were independent of state-run authority. As a result, they created new artificial governing bodies, to handle affairs within these new so-called "churches." Schism followed schism as century followed century, until we finally reached the current state of things in the Protestant world. At latest count, there are now some 20,000 individual Protestant denominations, affiliations and sects. Most Protestants today remain a part of the organizations they are familiar with, simply because they're afraid to try anything else. Who can blame them? Why would anyone want to do all the work it takes to determine which one (if any) of these 20,000 denominations is the right one? Most Protestants simply throw their hands up in the air on this one. As a result, a new doctrine has emerged in Protestant circles, which teaches that the true 'Church of Christ' is totally invisible, with no distinct head or body. As a result, nobody can truly know who is part of the invisible Church of Christ. It's all a mystery. Needless to say this is heresy, but it illustrates just how 'impossible' a task it is when Protestants try to rationalize the reason for so many communities, and so little unity.
As for these artificial organizations that like-minded Protestant communities create to govern themselves, Rome has never recognized them as anything more than that, and it never will. Catholics should do likewise. But in regards to these like-minded Protestant communities, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does have some important acknowledgments...
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."
When the Catechism uses the word "Churches" it is referring to the Eastern Orthodox. But when it says "ecclesial communities" it is in reference to like-minded Protestant denominations, affiliations and sects. In them, the Catholic Church recognizes that God uses them as tools to bring people to the knowledge of Christ and to salvation. You will notice that while it acknowledges these communities as a "means of salvation," it does so only so far as its teachings agree with the Catholic Church. Thus the "power" these organizations have to bring people to salvation, is in actuality an extension of the Catholic Church's power, because the vital teachings Protestant communities rely on (Bible, Trinity, Incarnation, Justification, Sanctification, Baptism, etc.) originally come from the Catholic Church, and are in full agreement with the Catholic Church. They are in essence, arms of Catholic influence, outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church. So in a very real way, if a Protestant comes to salvation, he does so because of how well he was influenced by Catholic teachings, some of which may have come through his Protestant denomination. So it can truly be said that outside the Catholic Church (or her sphere of influence) there is no salvation.