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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 31 Oct 2001

Roman Catholic Ecumenicism QUESTION from Phil August 24, 2000 Hello,
I extend you a heartfelt greetings and compliments on the sound construction of your website. I myself am a Calvinist who has been carefully examining the claims of the Roman Catholic Church. During this careful examination, I have come across a wide array of contradictions in how Catholics perceive calvinists and other protestants. I have seen certain catholic scholars describe calvinists as lost but still capable of being saved and essentially christian brothers by virtue of baptism, and at other times have seen them describe protestants as entirely outside of the faith and rank heretics who will receive only eternal hell because they do not recognize the primacy of the pope.
I have indeed seen pronouncements that roman catholics call infallible on this point the defends the latter view. One example would be Unam Sanctam by Pope Boniface, as it is written there:
We are compelled, our Faith urging us, to believe and to hold - and we do firmly believe and simply confess - that there is one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, outside of which there is neither salvation nor remission of sins; her Spouse proclaiming it in the Canticles, 'My dove, my undefiled is but one, she is the Choice one of her that bore her'; which represents one mystical body, of which body the head is Christ, but of Christ, God. In this Church there is one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism. There was one ark of Noah, indeed, at the time of the flood, symbolizing one Church; and this being finished in one cubit had, namely, one Noah as helmsman and commander. And, with the exception of this ark, all things existing upon the earth were, as we read, destroyed. This Church, moreover, we venerate as the only one, the Lord saying through His prophet, 'Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog.' He prayed at the same time for His Soul - that is, for Himself the Head, and for His Body - which Body, namely, He called the one and only Church on account of the unity of the Faith promised, of the sacraments, and of the love of the Church. She is that seamless garment of the Lord which was not cut but which fell by lot. and again Pope Boniface speaks with even more boldness:
A spiritual man judges all things but he himself is judged by no one. This authority, moreover, even though it is given to man and exercised through man, is not human but rather divine, being given by divine lips to Peter and founded on a rock for him and his successors through Christ Himself whom He has confessed; the Lord Himself saying to Peter: 'Whatsoever thou shalt bind, ' etc. Whoever, therefore, resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordination of God,... Indeed we declare, say, pronounce, and define that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. If this pronouncement is infallible, then it is safe to say that all protestants are eternally damned. Yet I have heard pope John Paul state (though perhaps not infallibly) that Protestants are lost sheep that may indeed obtain salvation, and that even people in Islam are capable of being saved! Is the pope lying? The new catechism also seems to imply the latest popes statements. It appears many of your own catholic people are disillusioned because of Vatican II, which they claim in spirit contradicts these former infallible pronouncements by such as Boniface. It is interesting to note that Boniface also states here that the temporal power of the state is to be subject to the spiritual power of the church, yet today the roman catholic church appears to advocate itself as truly authoritative only in spiritual matters.
In addition, here are a few items I would appreciate you clearing up, if you would be so gracious to aide my understanding of these matters. The following is an excerpt from a Protestant document I read that I would appreciate you explaining:
Pope Honorious I, after his death, was denounced as a heretic by the Sixth Council in the year 680. Pope Leo confirmed his condemnation. Now if Popes are infallible, how could one condemn the other?
Pope Vigilius, after condemning certain books, removed his condemnation, afterward condemned them again and then retracted his condemnation, then condemned again! Where is infallibility here?
Dueling was authorized by Pope Eugenius III (1145-53). But later Pope Julius II (1509) and Pope Pius IV (1506) forbade it.
In the eleventh century there were three rival popes at the same time, all of which were deposed by the council convened by the emperor Henry III. Later in the same century, Clement III was opposed by Victor III and afterwards by Urban II. How could popes be infallible when they opposed one another?
Then came the great schism in 1378 that lasted for fifty years. Italians elected Urban VI and the French cardinals chose Clement VII. The popes cursed each other year after year until a council deposed both and elected another!
Pope Sixtus V had a version of the Bible prepared which he declared to be authentic. Two years later Pope Clement VIII declared that it was full of errors and ordered that another be made!
Pope Gregory I repudiated the title of universal bishop as being profane, superstitious, haughty, and invented by the first apostate (Epistola 5:20-7:33). Yet through the centuries, other popes have claimed the title. How then can we say that popes are infallible in defining doctrine, if they directly contradict one another?
Pope Hadrian II (867-872) declared civil marriages to be valid, but Pope Pius VII (1800-1823) condemned them as invalid.
Pope Eugene IV (1431-1447) condemned Joan of Arc to be burned at the stake as a witch. Later, another pope, Benedict IV, declared her to be a saint. Could this be papal infallibility?
How could all popes be infallible when a number of popes themselves denied such a teaching? Vigilinus, Innocent III, Clement IV, Gregory XI, Hadrian IV, and Paul IV all rejected the doctrine of papal infallibility. Could an infallible pope be infallible and not know it? Such inconsistency
Thank you for your help.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on November 19, 2000 Dear Mr. Phil:
It would take an entire book to answer your questions. In fact there is a recent book published that does directly answer a lot of the questions you have about Popes (and the fictional misrepresentations about those Popes. The book is called Pope Fiction: Answers to 30 Myths and Misconceptions About the Papacy
The bottom line is that all your questions are making presumptions about the Popes and the Church that are in error. If you click on the link above you may purchase this book from Amazon (through us). It will answer specifically about Honorious and Vigilius and others.
What I will answer here is the issue of the misunderstanding of the nature of infallibility and second the REAL SCOOP on the Catholic Church's teaching on no salvation outside of the Church.
On the issue of infallibility: First, Infallibility does not mean impeccability. The infallibility of the Pope on the issues of faith and morals has NOTHING to do with his personal holiness or corrupt sinfulness. A Pope can be as corrupt as all get out and he still has the charism of infallibility. His personal corruption does not effect his infallibility any more than the personal corruption of a mathematician effect the FACT that 1 + 1 = 2.
The formula 1 + 1 = 2 (in the decimal number system) is a true and infallible statement REGARDLESS of the personal holiness of the person who asserts the formula. And it would be stupid to question the formula because a corrupt math teacher asserted it. Truth is truth no matter who speaks it.
Thus when the Pope makes an ex cathedra statement, such statement refers to a Truth REVEALED by the Holy Spirit, affirmed by 2000 years of teaching, and IS THE TRUTH regardless of the pope's personal sinfulness.
Second, infallibility applies ONLY to certain limited things -- issues of faith and morals. Thus if the Pope was to declare that 1 + 1 = 25 he is WRONG. Mathematics, science, etc. are NOT issues of faith and morals and thus the Pope as no jurisdiction in such matters to declare them infallibly. ALL of the issues you mention either are issues that do not qualify for infallibility status or of which was not declared infallibly. Just because a Pope makes a declaration does not make it infallible. It must first QUALIFY for infallibility status and even then a declaration must meet be SPECIFICALLY and intentionally declared an infallible declaration.
Third, what are the qualifications for an issue to be made infallible? How does something become a infallible issue?
In order for an doctrine to be considered infallible it must:
be an issue of faith and morals. (issues of science, mathematics, politics, Church discipline, etc. do not qualify)
be an issue that applies to the WHOLE Church. Thus an issue that applies only to the Latin Rite, but not the other Rites, or an issue that pertains only to certain persons or events, but not to ALL the Catholic people of the world, then such issue CANNOT be made infallible by any Pope or Council. period.
be a doctrine that is part of the deposit of the faith, that is, can be traced back to the Apostles.

must be promulgated in one of three ways:
Ex Cathedra: This is from the chair of Peter. The Pope may make a declaration and specific definition of a doctrine and establish it as infallible when the doctrine meets the first three criteria AND he makes such a declaration as the universal pastor and universal teacher of the ENTIRE church with the specific INTENT of the declaration being an ex Cathedra statement.

Council of Bishops WHEN in union with the Pope, may also make an infallible definition to a doctrine WHEN they exercise supreme teaching authority with the Pope with the specific intent of making an infallible definition to a doctrine that qualifies under 1 - 3 above.

Ordinary Magisterium. Some doctrines may be considered infallible WITHOUT a specific declared definition from a Pope or Council. These issues are ones that don't really need a specially declared statement because they have been consistently taught by the Church consistently and constantly over the centuries from the beginning, have been taught in papal and conciliar documents over and over, and thus we know of their infallible nature by virtue of their constant teaching from the beginning.

Bottom Line, a doctrine eligible for infallible status must be a doctrine that is part of the original deposit of faith of the Apostles. Since there was no new Revelation after the Apostles, neither the Church nor ANY Pope can invent new dogma. And the Catholic Church has NEVER invented new dogma despite what the anti-Catholic bigots claim. Those dogmas that are infallible are those doctrines which are CERTAIN to be traced to the Apostles.
On the issue of Salvation Outside of the Church: The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this well. I will just quote it:
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.
Bottom line paraphrase on the OFFICIAL VIEW of the Church: yes Protestants can be saved -- even Calvinists.
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