Yesterday we managed to skate perilously close to the Reformation at Hypatia’s post, which was about the latest remarks from Pope Francis that exhibited his brinkmanship; tippy-toeing as close to the line as possible. With today being the celebration of Reformation Day, I am crashing in to those troubled waters.
It is unfortunate that Christians are divided, but that is our circumstance. Since we need each other in order to pull together to save western civilization, we need to find an understanding in which we acknowledge our differences even as we take up the struggle against the Left in good spirits and brotherhood.
As part of understanding, we ought to pursue clear communications. It is really bad to have extremists on both the Protestant side and the Catholic side who deliberately mischaracterize the positions of their opponents. I am writing this post to clarify an issue that has come up many times in my debates with Catholics. Before that, I want to make a note about the calendar.
Today is Reformation Day, in commemoration of the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the community bulletin board, which happened to be the big church door. That was on October 31, 503 years ago. So, if it was October 31, why is Reformation Day today? First, we want to schedule this commemoration on a Sunday, and, second, next Sunday is All Saints Day, which is a more ancient, and more important, festival of the church.
This discussion about the liturgical calendar is just a brief digression. There are, of course, many Protestant churches that do not use a liturgical calendar. They miss much by taking a non-liturgical approach to worship. But, that is a topic for a different day.
This discussion tends to raise old grievances, and I undertake to write on this topic with some trepidation.
My own view of the body of Christ is that my own denomination has the clearest and most direct explanations of the teachings found in Scripture. This does not mean that I think we are the only “True Faith,” but that I think we are nearest the target.
But my view of the target is relatively broad, and I think of all orthodox, traditionalist Christians as brothers or sisters in Christ. This is a “small-“c” catholic view. There are some well-known heretical branches of Christianity that are distinctive for thinking that only they will be found in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Church of Rome is the largest of all Christian denominations, by far. All Christians who wish to undertake any ecumenical effort must come to grips with the Church of Rome.
Unfortunately, the division of the Reformation is still very current. Members of Catholic families sometimes drop out of the Church of Rome and take up membership in Protestant denominations. Members of Protestant denominations sometimes “swim the Tiber” and convert to “Roman Catholic.”
Both Catholic and Protestant churches have their partisans who take up a very hostile posture towards the other. If you have tender feelings on account of some episode of hostility in your past, or some friction with a member of your family, please understand that I mean no hostility.
I am just striving to understand. I am going to characterize a position as I understand it. This is a position of the Church of Rome. If I have it wrong, I expect to be corrected by some Catholic Ratburgher.
In fact, I would be pleased to discover that I have this particular teaching in error.
In the discussion at J.J.’s post last year in November, I said that the Church of Rome teaches that I am eternally damned. I got push-back on this statement from my Catholic friends here. This had come up before, years ago at R>, and very few Catholics will let that statement pass without objection. Catholics typically do not like to pronounce a sentence of damnation on a fellow Christian. Though I have seen very hostile writings of anti-Protestant activist priests and laypersons, my experience of typical Catholic laypersons and priests is very different and much more laid back. They are generally genial people and I have many Catholic friends.
Nevertheless, I have read what the Catholic Church has to say, and it is clear to me that the Church of Rome declares me to be eternally damned.
I don’t like that, and in fact I do not accept it as a true statement of the condition of my eternal soul. But clarity is my object here, and it does no good to pretend that the fellowship that we have is different than what the Church of Rome teaches about my situation.
However much I may wish to have a closer fellowship with my Catholic brothers in Christ, division exists, and we should discuss this division with clarity, and with charity. In this case the need for accuracy is to make clear what the Church of Rome teaches regarding non-Catholic Christians.
The primary reason to seek clarity is to advance discussions in other spheres where Christians who are not Catholics wish to partner with Catholics in work to advance our mutual cause of spreading the Gospel of Jesus, or to partner in our joint efforts to preserve Western Civilization. In this I have a great need to partner with my Catholic friends, for the Catholics of America are, in several ways, my most reliable allies in several aspects of the culture wars that rage around us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
PART 1, SECTION 2, CHAPTER 3, ARTICLE 9, PARAGRAPH 3, SUBSECTION 3
838 “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.” 322 Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” 323
855 The Church’s mission stimulates efforts towards Christian unity. 357 Indeed, “divisions among Christians prevent the Church from realizing in practice the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her sons who, though joined to her by Baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her. Furthermore, the Church herself finds it more difficult to express in actual life her full catholicity in all its aspects.” 358
From this, the Catholic Church says that I might be a Christian, but my Christianity is defective and my theological defects hinder the expression of full catholic Christianity. The word “catholic” means universal, but in Catholic parlance, the universality of catholic Christianity is contained within the Church of Rome, and all Christians who are not in fellowship with the Church of Rome are believing and practicing defective expressions of Christianity. This is clarified in Canon Law Book III, Section 3:
Can. 750 §1. A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium which is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.
This says that a Christian must believe all the stuff taught by the Roman Catholic Magisterium.
§2. Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
This says you cannot disbelieve the stuff taught by the Roman Catholic Magisterium.
Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.
This says that if you continue to disbelieve any of the stuff taught by the Roman Catholic Magisterium even though you have been baptized, then you are either an apostate or a schismatic, and both of those conditions amount to heresy.
Can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid things which do not agree with it.
This simply enlarges the big long list of teachings they include when they refer to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Magisterium.
Can. 753 Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.
This says the full teachings of the Roman Catholic Magisterium are whatever your bishop tells you they are.
Can. 754 All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops puts forth.
This says that all right Christians are obedient to the Roman Catholic Magisterium.
Can. 755 §1. It is above all for the entire college of bishops and the Apostolic See to foster and direct among Catholics the ecumenical movement whose purpose is the restoration among all Christians of the unity which the Church is bound to promote by the will of Christ.
That says that by persisting in my schism, I am equivalent to a heretic and am in an automatic state of eternal excommunication.
So, why do Catholics keep telling me that the Church of Rome does not teach that I am damned? Isn’t that an interesting question?
I find traditionalist Catholics to be nice people, solid Americans and usually politically conservative. They are generous, genial, family people. We have lots of common ground. Their confusion on this point hangs on a technicality.
See, all the above that I cited from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and from the Catholic book of Canon Law applies only to a particular class of schismatic.
Ignorance is an Excuse
Catholic teaching says that most schismatic Protestant Christians are schismatic because they have a defective understanding of what the Church of Rome teaches. The idea is that ignorance is an excuse. Protestant Christians who have been taught false things about Church of Rome teachings get a spiritual pass on account of the bad teachings that they have been raised with, or embraced because of Protestant “false teachers.” So ordinary ignorant Protestants do not get a pronouncement of damnation. They are not excommunicated with the damned; rather, communion is withheld from them until they recognize the error of their ways and fully embrace the Church of Rome. Of course, that is likely to be many eons of Purgatory later, but the Church of Rome teaches that, eventually, the souls of ordinary schismatic Protestant Christians will be belatedly admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Catholic laypeople who express grave concern for non-Catholic family and friends get routine reassurance from their priests that their non-Catholic loved ones are not eternally damned.
However, I am not ignorant of the teachings of the Church of Rome. I have read the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church, more than once, and also the Baltimore Catechism, and I have also read many selections from Canon Law, many articles and sermons by Catholic teachers and priests, and articles by Catholic theologians. I find much there that is helpful and true, pastoral and loving and careful.
But, in my knowledge, I find the case for the Church of Rome to be unpersuasive. Catholics blithely state that the Holy Spirit will not permit the Church of Rome to persist in error, because the Church must persist until the Last Day. But that confuses the Church of Rome with the universal body of Christian believers described in the New Testament. This is a dangerous conflation. It is entirely possible that the entire edifice of the Church of Rome will lurch off into Error, and that a remnant will re-form to continue the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, that possibility appears to be more and more likely each day.
In my knowledge, I see how the Church of Rome has added to the Scriptures according to their Sacred Tradition and the opinions of their great thinkers. But Scripture clearly prohibits adding things to the Word. And the Church of Rome is not putting the opinions of the Church Fathers or Catholic theologians forward as Holy Writ, so how is it that they add to the Word yet claim to be true to the Scriptures?
In my knowledge, I see teachings of the Church of Rome that contradict the clear words of Scripture.
Therefore, I am “obstinate” in my rejection of the Church of Rome.
“Here I stand. I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”
Though it saddens me because it makes our division greater instead of less, in honesty and clarity, I must acknowledge that the Church of Rome considers me to be damned as a schismatic; eternally excommunicated and without hope.
I do not believe that this is a true characterization of my eternal soul. I pray that I am right on this point, even though I may have other points of doctrine wrong.
As I have noted before in other posts, the consequences are eternal.
LORD, have mercy.