Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Dialogue: Baptism, the Mystical Body of Christ, and Implications for Ecumenism

A "traditionalist" wrote to me (words in blue):

. . . the very articles you listed in the first part of your reply . . . made me question these NEW definitions of "Church" and "Mystical Body of Christ." Baptism alone does NOT incorporate one into the Mystical Body of Christ. Father Most (who also is a renowned orthodox Catholic) says that Peter Kreeft is wrong in one of his books by stating this very thing. I am here assuming that Mystical Body of Christ = The Church. This is emphatically stated in Mortalium Animos and encyclicals by Pope Pius IX and Pope St. Pius X.

Then Fr. John A. Hardon (also of impeccable orthodoxy) is also wrong, as he states that one effect (among many) of baptism is:

    . . . entrance into the Mystical Body, which is the Catholic Church.
{Pocket Catholic Dictionary, NY: Doubleday, 1980, 39}

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), #1267, 1269 says the same thing. But I suppose you consider that a liberal document as well? So does the Catechism of the Council of Trent:

    . . . we who by Baptism are united to, and become member's of Christ's body, . . .
{New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1934, tr. John A McHugh & Charles J. Callan, 186; the Church is described as "the body of Christ" on p. 99}

Was the Council of Trent "liberal" too? Was it infiltrated by modernists who deliberately and insidiously implanted "ambiguous" language into it?

Likewise, the Council of Florence (1439) declared:

    . . . holy baptism . . . by it we are made members of Christ and belong to His body, the Church . . .
{Decree for the Armenians}

The Church is the organization within itself established by Jesus Christ, so to say that Catholics "search for unity" is a misnomer.

Not at all, because various Christians have varying degrees of attainment to Catholic fullness of truth. They are implicitly members of the Catholic Church if they have been baptized properly (i.e., a trinitarian formula, with right intent); therefore we are to seek unity with them. It is an imperative, and not optional. This goes back at least as far as the controversies over Donatist re-baptism, in Augustine's time (5th century).

One of the four marks of the Church is that it is "ONE."

Of course it is.

At the very least, do you not agree that the misinterpretation of ecumenism has led millions into religious indifferentism?

Oh, of course. I always say so in my papers on the topic. But we don't determine orthodoxy and truth by virtue of "misinterpretation," do we? The same has been done to Vatican II and the Bible. You "traditionalists" wish to, therefore, question the validity of Vatican II itself. But in so doing, you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Is the prudency NOT questionable?

Not at all, as this would make also the Bible itself "imprudent," given the myriad abuses of it through the centuries. Your argument, therefore, proves too much. You should know that there has been turmoil and crisis after all the ecumenical Councils. Even Nicea defined the Trinity (in less-developed form compared to the later Chalcedon), but nevertheless the Arians flourished for quite a while after it (and had great, majority, numbers, even among the clergy - Newman credits the laity for keeping the Church afloat in that troubled era). By "traditionalist" reasoning, this must have been because Nicea was an "Arian Council." If there wasn't a liberal crisis in the Church (i.e., in practice, not in terms of dogma), I suspect that schismatic and separatist types wouldn't spout half the nonsense and claptrap that they do. Sorry for the invective, but I (with Augustine and the mind of the Church) consider the schismatic spirit and actual schism an exceedingly wicked sin, to be avoided like the plague. Identifying error and heresy for what it is is very biblical and Pauline . . .

[citing me]: "We do think many of these non-Catholics will go to heaven, but because of what they know or not know individually, and how well they follow the moral law, not due to any relativism of doctrine (we think Protestants and Orthodox are implicitly part of the Mystical Body and the Catholic Church)."

CONDEMNED PROPOSITIONS Pope Pius IX, Syllabus of Errors: 17. "Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ." --Encyclical Quanto conficiamur, Aug. 10, 1863, etc.

But the Catholic view is - and always has been - that non-Catholic Christians who have been incorporated into Christ and His One Church by virtue of baptism are part of the Church in some fashion, as just established above. Therefore, Pius IX's condemnation doesn't apply to this orthodox Catholic position.

16. "Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation." -- Encyclical Qui pluribus, Nov. 9, 1846.

In other words, this is a condemnation of relativism and indifferentism, which even you agree is a misinterpretation of true Catholic ecumenism.

[me]: "(we think Protestants and Orthodox are implicitly part of the Mystical Body and the Catholic Church)."

Not according to the continuous teaching magisterium of the Church for 1999 years and Father Most. This is simply incorrect. You are changing the definition of Church and Mystical Body of Christ from their original meanings.

Hardly, as I showed above. I see that a little background on the Donatist controversy is needed, as this issue constantly comes up, and "traditionalists" seem to be unaware that the undivided, pre-Schism early Church has long since authoritatively spoken in a sense which is altogether consistent with present-day authentic Catholic ecumenism, as emphasized at Vatican II.

I cite Jaroslav Pelikan, noted historian (formerly Lutheran, recently a convert to Orthodoxy) of the history of Christian doctrine:

    Donatism was no less insistent than Augustine that there could be only one church. The Donatists also laid claim to the title 'catholic,' which they denied to anyone else. But they made the unity and the catholicity of the church contingent upon its prior holiness . . . And the only church that met this qualification was the Donatist community; it alone had true unity, for it alone had true holiness. Likewise, it alone had the sacraments. 'There is,' said one Donatist bishop, 'one baptism, which belongs to the church; and where there is no church, there cannot be any baptism either.' . . . In the name of this demand for holiness, the Donatists felt obliged to separate themselves from the vast body of those who called themselves catholic Christians; for there could be no fellowship between the church of Christ (the Donatists) and the synagogue of Satan (the catholics) . . .

      [St. Augustine wrote:] 'as there is in the catholic church something that is not catholic [i.e., unholiness in some of its members], so there may be something that is catholic outside the catholic church.' [Ep. 185.38, 185.42] . . .

      . . . 'all men possess baptism who have received it in any place, from any sort of man, just so long as it was consecrated with the words of the Gospel and was received by them without deceit and with some degree of faith.' [Baptism, 7.53.102]

{The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, pp. 309-311}

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd rev. ed. by F.L. Cross & E.A. Livingstone, Oxford Univ. Press, 1983, p. 127) summarizes the Donatist / baptism controversy and its import:

    . . . Pope Stephen I . . . [in 256] refused to sanction rebaptism and also threatened the African bishops with excommunication if they continued the practice . . . The Council of Arles in 314 opposed this [Donatist] view by declaring heretical Baptism valid if conferred in the name of the Trinity, and this teaching came to be generally accepted by the whole Church, esp. through the influence of St. Augustine. He established the dependence of the validity of the Sacrament on the correct form prescribed by Christ, regardless of the faith or worthiness of the minister.
This understanding is altogether harmonious with the ecumenical notion that Protestant and Orthodox trinitarian baptism is valid and sufficient for incorporation into the Body of Christ.

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (who received me into the Church, and baptized my first two children) wrote:

    Gradually, therefore, as it became clear that there were "God-fearing" people outside the Christian fold, and that some were deprived of their Catholic heritage without fault on their part, the parallel Tradition arose of considering such people open to salvation, although they were not professed Catholics or even necessarily baptized. Ambrose and Augustine paved the way for making these distinctions. By the twelfth century, it was widely assumed that a person can be saved if some "invincible obstacle stands in the way" of his baptism and entrance into the Church.

    Thomas Aquinas restated the constant teaching about the general necessity of the Church. But he also conceded that a person may be saved extra sacramentally by a baptism of desire and therefore without actual membership by reason of his at least implicit desire to belong to the Church . . .

    Since the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 defined that "The universal Church of the faithful is one, outside of which no one is saved," there have been two solemn definitions of the same doctrine, by Pope Boniface VIII in 1302 and at the Council of Florence in 1442. At the Council of Trent, which is commonly looked upon as a symbol of Catholic unwillingness to compromise, the now familiar dogma of baptism by desire was solemnly defined; and it was this Tridentine teaching that supported all subsequent recognition that actual membership in the Church is not required to reach one's eternal destiny.

    At the Second Council of the Vatican, both streams of doctrine were delicately welded into a composite whole [he then cites Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, II, 14] . . .

    Actual incorporation into the Church takes place by baptism of water. Those who are not actually baptized may, nevertheless, be saved through the Church according to their faith in whatever historical revelation they come to know and in their adequate cooperation with the internal graces of the Spirit they receive.

    On both counts, however, whoever is saved owes his salvation to the one Catholic Church founded by Christ. It is to this Church alone that Christ entrusted the truths of revelation which have by now, though often dimly, penetrated all the cultures of mankind. It is this Church alone that communicates the merits won for the whole world on the cross.

{From The Catholic Catechism, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1975, pp. 234-236}
[citing my words again]:

"Another charge which has been sent my way is the accusation that I am trying to evangelize the Orthodox, or that I am engaging in proselytizing. The ecumenical Balamand Agreement stated, for example:

    Pastoral activity in the Catholic Church, Latin as well as Oriental, no longer aims at having the faithful of one church pass over to the other; that is to say, it no longer aims at proselytizing among the Orthodox."
Mr. Armstrong, do you not find something inherently wrong with this statement? Perhaps the fact it contradicts 2000 years of magisterial teaching as well as that specifically of Jesus Christ. This was issued by the Vatican. Does it have any doctrinal weight or authority for us Catholics? I doubt it. And if it does, one must obey God rather than man, especially in the face of insipid apostasy.

I engage in apologetics, but in a manner consistent also with the ecumenical spirit. Both strains of thought and approach are well-entrenched in Catholic Tradition, as I am trying to demonstrate presently. But one can't "evangelize" other Christians, by definition. One can only seek to persuade them that the fullness of apostolic Christianity is found in the Catholic Church.

[Me]: "that all who are saved are saved because of the Catholic Church, whether or not they are aware of that fact."

So the Church is visible to some, but invisible to others?

In effect, yes (or mistakenly identified or defined with too-narrow parameters).

Since most non-Catholics (and "Catholics") practice birth control, and the use of birth control is a mortal sin, how can those who are in the state of mortal sin (objectively) go to heaven?

They can't; however, one of the requirements for mortal sin (as I assume you know) is sufficient knowledge. This is lacking - I would suspect - in the great majority of these cases (though I would agree with you that it shouldn't be). One might also make a complex psychological/philosophical argument that "full consent of the will" is also usually (or at least often) lacking. I know that when I contracepted I didn't have the slightest idea that such a practice was universally condemned by all Christians until the Anglicans caved into the humanist and neo-pagan zeitgeist in 1930. I was simply ignorant. When I was informed of this, I immediately became more responsible and culpable for my objectively sinful actions (and indeed I soon denounced it).

I thought the church was visible and we had to make a profession of faith to be Catholic, not just "fall into it" accidentally without even knowing it. We must profess Catholic belief and practice Catholic teaching in our lives (to the best of our knowledge) to be saved, yes or no?

Yes. The huge "loophole" here, of course, lies within the parentheses.

Compiled by Dave Armstrong on 1 August 1999 from e-mail correspondence.

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