Expert Answer Forum
Declaration the Lord Jesus on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, published 9-5-00 QUESTION from Robert A. McKnight September 11, 2000 Brother: My wife and I read with dismay the news accounts of this document. We lead a renew group in our parish, St. Mary's of Hales Corners in Wisconsin. The focus of our group has been ecumenism, and we frequently have persons of Protestant faiths join us for discussion.
I am interested in your view concerning the impact this document will have on the American position heretofore concerning this issue. We have read some of the writings of Fr. William Most, and the new document seems an abrupt departure from what we thought was the position of the church on the means to salvation for those who are not Catholic. What is your opinion on whether this document represents a new direction? Is it a faith and morals pronouncement? How does it really differ from the position of the American church, if at all? Do you think the United States Conference of Bishops have to address the impact of this?
Thank you for the great web site.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on November 20, 2000 Dear Mr. McKnight:
We are glad to hear that you like our Website. It is a work of God.
The NUMBER ONE RULE OF THUMB is to NEVER, and I mean NEVER read a newspaper report or broadcast news report about a Church document. The Press has gotten the story right exactly NEVER. The Press ALWAYS takes a bent on the story that misrepresents the Church.
ALWAYS, read the actual document itself.
The document Dominus Iesus does NOT depart from the historic and continual teaching the Church on this subject.
The issue of No Salvation Outside of the Church is a dogma of the Church that all Catholics MUST believe upon pain of heresy.
However.............we must clearly understand what no salvation outside of the Church means. The Catechism clearly defines this for us:
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.
Dominus Iesus merely restates this teaching to remind people of the dogma of the Church. This reminder was necessary because many people were getting confused about this.
I might add, that the above teaching quoted in the Catechism is the SAME teaching that was taught BEFORE Vatican II. Father Feeney in the 1940's was excommunicated over his improper interpretation that one must be a card-carrying Catholic or go to hell. This is not Church teaching. Protestants can and do go to heaven as the above teaching indicates.
The one part that I remember about Dominus Iesus is that it affirmed that Protestant Churches cannot be properly called Churches. This is true. Eastern Orthodox and other Churches with valid sacraments can be called Church. But Protestants churches are not properly called Church, but perhaps faith communities.
Christ did not found Churches. He founded a Church. That Church has been splintered into the Eastern Orthodox, for example, but the Eastern Orthodox still maintain a valid connection with the Church of the first century. The source of the division is primarily schism, not heresy.
Protestant churches on the other hand were born not out of schism, but out of heresy and Protestants ARE in what is called material heresy (this is heresy in fact, rather than heresy in intention).
We cannot avoid the facts. And since the quest for ecumenism had been corrupted with Plausibility, it was necessary for the Church to remind its faithful of that has always been true.
You ask me if this document differs from the position of the American Church. There IS NO AMERICAN CHURCH. There is only the Catholic Church. Though someday there might be a schism of arrogant and sinful people splitting from the True Catholic Church to start an American Church.
The US Conference of Bishops needs to uphold the dogma of the Church without apology or plausibility. Anything less then they are failing in their responsibilities as bishops. Ecumenism cannot be founded on lies.
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