“Can’t we all just get along?”
Ya’ll remember that? It was a statement made famous by Rodney King after he was brutally beaten (unjustly, I might add) by a bunch of LAPD officers.
I think we do this in the Church sometimes as well. We desperately want everyone to get along. The fact of the matter is that Truth is Truth and the Truth will always divide us. The reason for that is that some embrace Truth and others do not. It’s rather hard to “get along” with those who do not embrace Truth when you do.
I bring this up because of something I heard a priest say recently at Mass. He said that the “Catholic Church has never taught that you must be Catholic to be saved.” Now I know that I’m gonna step on some toes with this post but that’s okay. In the words of my mama, “You can get glad in the same pants you got mad in.”
I feel like this is an issue that I must address. With respect to the priest, he is flat out wrong. The Church has taught that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church on many occasions, for many years. We’ll get into that in a moment, but I just have to say this:
This whole idea of ecumenism is problematic. This idea that we all need to go along to get along is creating more problems than it is solving. The refusal of the modern Catholic Church to stand on the Traditions of the Church is not helping in this idea of “evangelization.” In fact, I say that ecumenism is unloving. If we truly believe (as Catholic Christians) what both Holy Scripture (and Jesus Himself) and Holy Tradition says, then we are actually unloving and damning people to Hell if we don’t proclaim that truth.
The current hierarchy of the Church (and pretty much for the last 50 years or so) seem to be obsessed with not offending anyone, except traditional Catholics. Truth has the tendency to divide. Jesus Himself laid down some hard lines, saying things like ‘you’re either with me or against me’ and other such hard-line things. It’s really only been in the more modern era that we all seem to be scared of standing firm.
So, to the priest on Sunday who said that, and to you, dear reader, let me say unequivocally that the Church has been quite clear on this historically and indeed Holy Scripture is quite clear on this. There is no salvation outside the Church.
Now, we need to unpack that a bit.
Let’s start with Holy Scripture. In the gospel according to St. Mark, chapter 16:15-16 we read,
“And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned.”
The “he” here is Christ speaking to the Apostles. So, on its face, this is really clear. Those who believe AND are baptized shall be saved. Those who do not believe are condemned. So, two things are necessary: belief and baptism. Without those two things, you cannot be saved.
Ok, believe what?
Jesus says, in John 14:6,
“Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.”
First and foremost, we are to believe that Jesus and Jesus alone is the way to the Father. In other words, we must believe that He is God and His life, death, burial and resurrection has saved us from our sins and provided us restoration with God the Father and eternal life in His presence. If we then believe that, what does that mean we are to do? You can’t just believe and do nothing about it. Belief that doesn’t change the way you live is not belief at all. Jesus told His Apostles, in Matthew 28:19,
“Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
We are to believe and be baptized. St. Peter reiterates this in Acts 2:38,
“But Peter said to them: Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
St. Paul tells us, in 1 Corinthians 12:13,
“For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free; and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink.”
And again, in Ephesians 4:5,
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
So, if we are baptized into Christ (as He commanded), then we are baptized into one body (the Church) and there can be only one as St. Paul reminds us. If Jesus came to build a visible Church (see Matthew 16:18), then it stands to reason that there can only be one Church. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:13,
“Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
No indeed. Christ is not divided. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism. So, if there is one Lord, one faith and one baptism, there is only one Church; One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Therefore, to be part of the body of Christ, the Church that He built through His Apostles, means that you must be part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This is clear from Holy Scripture.
And has the Church Herself taught this? Yes. Over and over and over again.
Origen, Irenaeus, St. Fulgentius, St. Jerome, Venerable Bede, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Peter Canisius, Robert Bellarmine, Pope Pelaguis II, Pope Gregory the Great, Pope Leo XII, Pope Boniface VIII, Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius XI are just a few of the men and Fathers of the Church who have clearly taught and believed this doctrine throughout the history of the Church.
Furthermore, the Fourth Lateran Council, the Council of Florence, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the declaration, Dominus Iesus (from the year 2000), which states,
"…it must be firmly believed 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 (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door…” all affirm this teaching. So, where this priest, or anyone else, got the idea that the Catholic Church has never taught that you must be Catholic to be saved is quite beyond me.
Now, to talk about the 10,000 lb elephant in the room…Does that mean that Protestants are not saved?
What I can say without equivocation is what I’ve said before. Jesus came to build a visible Church. He did not build many visible churches; He built One Church and commanded us to follow Him within that framework, starting with baptism. Therefore, it follows that those outside the visible Church are not part of the Church and must become part of the Church in order to obtain all the graces of God.
However, that does not mean that God is not merciful. If I may quote Dominus Iesus again,
“…for those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is ... communicated by the Holy Spirit; it has a relationship with the Church, which, according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit."”
A word, if I may, about these statements from Dominus Iesus. For far too long, the Church has equivocated and given vague ambiguity where clarity and precision are due. The word “pastoral” has been thrown around with regularity since Vatican II in the Catholic Church. I feel like Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” To be pastoral does not mean to equivocate and dodge the issue by platitudes and being ambiguity. To be pastoral means that we state the truth, no matter the outcome, because souls are at stake. If we fail to state the truth and preach the truth, we are, in fact, being unloving and, indeed, not pastoral.
I will not equivocate with the truth. There is no salvation outside the Church. As a Protestant convert, I came face to face with that myself, so I won’t now dodge the question. There is no salvation outside the Church. Period. Full stop.
The bottom line is this: The Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, came to earth. He lived, ministered, died, was buried and raised from the dead so that we, by faith in Him, may be restored to relationship with God the Father. Faith in Him demands that we be obedient to His commands, including being part of and submitting to His mystical Body here on earth. That is the Church.
Rather than see this as confining, let us see this for the grace it is! God has given us a very great gift in the Church. Why wouldn’t we want to be part of the Body of Christ, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?!
So as I said in the introductory post, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the pre-conciliar papal encylicals. I won’t be able to really cover these in the way that I would like. One could write tomes on these and probably should. I’ll do my best to keep it to around 2k words or so.
First up (in no real order) is Pascendi Dominici Gregis, promulgated on September 8, 1907 by Pope St. Pius X. Why did the sainted Pope write this? He was specifically refuting the doctrines of the Modernists. He tells us, in the opening paragraph why. It is worth quoting.
“The office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord’s flock has especially this duty assigned to it by Christ, namely to guard with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith delivered to the saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words and oppositions of knowledge so falsely called. There has never been a time when this watchfulness of the supreme pastor was not necessary to the Catholic body; for, owing to the efforts of the enemy of the human race, there has never been lacking “men speaking perverse things” (Acts xx. 30), “vain talkers and seducers” (Titus i. 10), “erring and driving into error” (2 Tim. iii. 13). Still it must be confessed that the number of the enemies of the cross of Christ has in these last days increased exceedingly, who are striving, by arts, entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ’s kingdom itself. Wherefore We may no longer be silent, lest We should seem to fail in Our most sacred duty, and lest the kindness that, in the hope of wiser counsels, We have hitherto shown them, should be attributed to the forgetfulness of Our office.”
Right out of the gate, the Pope tells us the job of the Pope; feeding the flock of the Lord, guarding the deposit of the faith and rejecting profane novelties. The job of the Pope is this, not posing for photo opportunities or cozy up to the powers that be in the world. In fact, I would say that, if the Pope is popular in the eyes of the world, he’s probably not doing his job very well because the Church and the world should look very different from one another and probably will not get along well. So, if the Pope is getting along well with the world, that seems like a bit of a problem.
The Pope goes on in the next paragraph to call out those who “belong to the Catholic laity, nay, and this is far more lamentable, to the ranks of the priesthood itself, who, feigning a love for the Church, lacking a firm protection of philosophy and theology, nay more, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church, and lost to all sense of modesty, vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church…” Does this sound like anyone we know or have known in the last, oh I don’t know, 50-60 years? The so-called reformers are, in the words of the Pope, enemies of the Church. On a practical note, priests should be saying pretty much the same thing today that priests have always been saying. I would dare say that, if a priest (or bishop or Pope) is saying things that do not align with what the Church has always said, you need to be careful about listening to that guy.
When I was preaching full time (as a Protestant pastor), I would often say that I have nothing new to say. I’m going to keep repeating what has been said by pastors for the better part of 2000 years. Now, we can apply it in different ways to our modern life, but the Faith has not changed. Neither should how the priests tell us to live or how they interpret Holy Scripture.
He goes on to tell us, in paragraph 3, that (basically) the goal of the enemy is to take down the Catholic Church. She is the bride of Christ. She is the visible body of Christ on earth, the Kingdom come. The world hates Her. The enemy will stop at nothing to destroy her…even infiltrating the clergy (this is my commentary).
In paragraph 6, the Pope tells us about the root of the Modernist problem: agnosticism. The agnostic says it cannot be “reasonable” if it cannot be perceived by the human senses. How arrogant of us to assume that we are the arbiters of what is true, that we are the measuring stick. This very notion is a slap in the face of objective Truth. This is really at the heart of Modernism; that your personal experience of religion is what matters most. If something cannot be proven empirically (by evidence) then it must not exist. The problem with that is that feelings cannot be proven one way or the other, which then leads to all things being true if you experienced them in a certain way. That then obliterates objective Truth and makes all “truth” entirely subjective according to your own perspective, feelings and experiences. This inevitably leads to what’s next.
He also addresses (paragraph 8) the folly of the Modernists, which is the notion that every religion, no matter what it is, must be “considered as both natural and supernatural.” In other words, all religions are equal. This is called ecumenism and it is evil and ultimately unloving. If indeed Christ formed a Church on earth (and He did) and intended that it be passed on (and He did), then it stands that there can be only One True Church. To say otherwise is to deny what Jesus came to do and is ultimately unloving of us. Ecumenism is the direct product of what was discussed in the last paragraph. If all you need is your experience and “your truth”, then ecumenism makes perfect sense. If, however, there is objective Truth, as the Catholic Church teaches, ecumenism cannot exist.
In section/paragraph 13, Pope St Pius X gets to a very real and current problem. He talks about what he calls “religious sentiment” and says that it can possess an infinite variety of aspects. He goes on to say,
“Consequently, the formulae too, which we call dogmas, must be subject to these vicissitudes, and are, therefore, liable to change. Thus the way is open to the intrinsic evolution of dogma…Dogma is not only able, but ought to evolve and to be changed. This is strongly affirmed by the Modernists, and as clearly flows from their principles.”
Does that sound like almost all our Church leaders over the last fifty or so years or what? We keep hearing about a more modern faith, that the Church needs to “get with the times” or some other such drivvle and nonsense. That’s called Modernism. And it is false and against the teachings of the Church. Dogma, by its very definition, cannot change. To say or even hint otherwise should be anathema.
See, the Modernist says that how you feel about something is what is true. To the Modernist, how you feel about something is what matters. It is entirely subjective and there is no fixed truth, no objective standard. Sound familiar? If this is true, then, as the Modernists proclaim, all religions are true.
But no, says the sainted Pope. He says (via Pius IX),
“In matters of religion it is the duty of philosophy not to command but to serve, but not to prescribe what is to be believed but to embrace what is to be believed with reasonable obedience, not to scrutinise the depths of the mysteries of God but to venerate them devoutly and humbly.”
This, then, is Catholic doctrine. The submission of our will to what Christ has given us through the Church. It is not our place to prescribe what is to be believed but to embrace what is to be believed with obedience, devotion and humility.
The Pope also speaks of the relationship between Church and State. The outplaying of the Modernist is that the Church comes completely under the dominion of the State. He says,
“If the Modernists have not yet reached this point, they do ask the Church in the meanwhile to be good enough to follow spontaneously where they lead her and adapt herself to the civil forms in vogue.”
I think we can all see this in the middle of this so-called Covid-19 pandemic. The Church has bowed to the State. She has not stood up but rather cowered in fear like the rest of the world. Hmmm, from whence did that come?
A final thing I want to engage with in this encyclical is universal worship and Tradition. One of the biggest problems, in my opinion, that came from Vatican II was the ripping up and throwing away of centuries-old worship in the Church. Since the 3rd century, the Church had worshipped in one way (with very few exceptions) and in one language. This gives a true universality to the worship of the Church. You would never have had to wonder or guess what the Mass was going to be like from one church to another, from one country to another or one age to another. The Church’s worship was, indeed, universal. There was a universal language, Latin. The reason for the use of Latin, even today, is quite simple. First and foremost, it is the language of the Church. Second, because it is a “dead” language, it is not subject to the whims of culture. In other words, the Latin words the priest says in the Mass don’t change their meaning based on the epoch of history.
Allow me an example. In 16th century England, you could say that you went to a party and had a “gay time.” That meant it was fun and merry. That word, “gay”, has a very different meaning today. However, the Latin language as used by the Church has not changed the meanings of the words. In point of fact, the meanings cannot change. It is necessary for the Church to use unchanging language in the face of an ever-changing world.
Pope St. Pius X also deals with this when he says, in the eyes of the Modernist,
“The chief stimulus of evolution in the domain of worship consists in the need of adapting itself to the uses and customs of peoples, as well as the need of availing itself of the value which certain acts have acquired by long usage.”
Thus, the death of universal worship in the Church. If the Church must conform to the customs of the people, and not the other way around, there can be no universal Church. That becomes abundantly clear when we see the effects of the liturgical tinkering and innovations that came post Vatican II. Worship is now vastly different from one parish to another. My brethren, this should not be so. That is a direct result of Modernism.
How do we combat this spirit and effect of Modernism? The Pope answers: Tradition.
“The conserving force in the Church is tradition, and tradition represented by religious authority, and this both by right and in fact, for by right it is the very nature of authority to protect tradition, and, in fact, for authority, raised as it is above the contingencies of life, feels hardly, or not at all, the spurs of progress.”
Tradition protects. Tradition feels no need for so-called “progress.” Tradition cannot progress in the Modernist sense, precisely because it is objective Truth. There is much more that could be gleaned from the timeless words of the sainted Pope.
I will close with one final word from the Pope.
The doctrine of the Faith is not ours to change. It is ours to guard and pass on,
“The doctrine of the faith which God has revealed has not been proposed to human intelligences to be perfected by them as if it were a philosophical system, but as a divine deposit entrusted to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted.”