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Faith/Spirituality Forum: “Ex Cathedra”

by Catherine Frakas 21 Jun 2001

“Ex Cathedra†QUESTION from Vince Parise on October 23, 2002 Dear Brother John-Paul Ignatius,
I am submitting this question for the second time. I do understand that the volume of work thrust upon you must be enormous and possibly this is indeed a ligitimate reason for the delay in my receiving an answer. I am also aware of the enormous impact such a question may have on you, me, and your reading audience and that you may indeed be still in the process of research in order to factually and spiritually provide the proper response according to Church teaching. The final possibility is that somehow my question did not reach you. It is in this last possibility that I re-submit my question and once again will wait patiently for your most valued answer.
Once again I thank you in advance for your ministry. God bless you.
Question repeated is:
I have become upsettingly concerned after recently being made aware of three “Ex Cathedra†statements made by former Pope’s using their Christ given power of infallibility.
The first, “There is but one universal Church of the faithful outside of which no one at all can be saved,†made by Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, in the year 1215 A.D.
The second, “We declare, say, and define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.†(Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302 A.D.
The third, “The most Holy Roman Catholic Church firmly believes, professes, and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her, and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.†Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441 A.D.
And, a fourth statement, although not made using the words “Ex Cathedra†by Pope Paul VI (1963-1978, states:
“Outside this body, the Holy Ghost does not give life to anyone. Those outside the Church do not possess the Holy Ghost. The Catholic Church alone is the Body of Christ and if a man be separated from the Body of Christ he is not one of His members, nor is he fed by His Spirit.â€
My concern is this. Are these statements true? If these statements are true, then why does number 16 on page 367 in volume 1 of Vatican Council II, quite frankly, disagree with the statements made by all four Pope’s, three of which were made using the Infallible term “Ex Cathedra�
I will await you answer and thank you very much for your time and effort.
May God bless you,
Vince Parise
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on October 25, 2002 Dear Mr. Parise:
The official Church teaching has been and will always be that Salvation is found in the Catholic Church alone. There has not been a change in this doctrine and in fact there cannot be a change in the doctrine because it is an infallible dogma.
But, what does this dogma mean? That is the question.
Father Feeney in the 1940s began to teach that unless a person was a visible and literal confirmed member of the Catholic Church that they would go to hell. The Church in the 1940's chastised him and ordered him to stop teaching this since that is NOT want the Church taught, then or now.
Father Feeney refused and he was excommunicated. I believe he was reconciled on his death bed, but the point is that the words of the Council Fathers were NOT something new and innovative. The Church has long understood a more mature interpretation of this dogma.
Think about it. Would God actually allow people to go to hell when they don't even know that the Catholic Church exists? That flies in the face of justice. How can people be held accountible for something they are ignorant of.
The Catholic Church, understands that invincible ignorance can mediate the issue. This is taken from the Dogma of Mortal Sin. A sin which is objectively GRAVE is not charged as MORTAL to a person if the person does not know that the sin is Grave or if the person's ability to make a choice in full freedom is impaired. The secular courts have taken this idea from the Catholics and have a concept of diminshed responsibility. If one kills a person, it is recognized that the killing took place but the killer may get a reduced sentence because he was in a state of diminished responsibility due to mental illness or retardation, or other factors.
God is a loving God and a JUST God. It does not serve Justice to send a person to hell when they didn't even know they did anything wrong. People go to hell willingly and deliberately. One cannot slip into hell by surprise.
While the DOGMA is still in full force, the Church recognizes the mitigating factors that alter a person's culpability. Thus the Church states and has stated LONG before Vatican II:
....from the Catechism:

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] With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist.[324] The Church and non-Christians
839 Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.[325] The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People,[326] the first to hear the Word of God.[327] The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ,[328] for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.[329]
840 And when one considers the future, God's People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.
841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day.[330]
842 The Church's bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race: All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .[331]
843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.[332]
844 In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them: Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair.[333]
845 To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is the world reconciled. She is that bark which in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world. According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood.[334]
Outside the Church there is no salvation
846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?[335] 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.[336]
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.[337]
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.[338]

Take special note of paragraph 847 and 848
The Church teaches that if God judges a person's heart who is outside of the Church because of invincible ignorance and judges that person to receive the grace of salvation that such a person IS STILL SAVED THROUGH THE CHURCH even though we may not exactly know how.
The dogma is fully in place, but the Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has more fully defined what it means. AND it is important to note that this understanding is NOT a result of Vatican II. This was long held by the Church as evidence by the Feeney case in the 1940's under the good 'ol days of the Tridentine Era.
BUT, we must still evangelize because has told us that he desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And certainly the normal way and safest way and the surest way to live according to God's plan and to die in His grace is through His Church and her Sacraments.
But God is God. He can saved whom He wishes. But when He does so He ALWAYS does it THROUGH Jesus Christ and His Church.
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