Who Are the Faithful?

The Question: One of the first things that brought doubts to me about my original faith was that I felt that the interpretation of Scripture was not authoritative. How were we to know that our interpretation was the correct one, when so many others held entirely contrary beliefs, and all of us relying on Scripture as an authority? Could the Catholic claim of being authoritative have had any more merit than the claims of the independent churches?

The Response: I have seen this same argument, or one very similar, from quite a number of Catholics. It puzzles me that a person who claims to be led by the Holy Spirit in interpreting the Scriptures does not consider that interpretation to be authoritative. This same individual, it would appear, also does not consider his pastor or preacher's interpretation to be authoritative. Yet this person, in the next sentence, implies that he does consider the Catholic Church's interpretation to be authoritative.

Apparently we don't have the means to recognize the infallibility of God's Word directly, but somehow we do have the means to recognize some institution as being infallible in itself. I cannot comprehend why such a person, who does not trust what he believes is his own Spirit-guided understanding of the Scriptures, or that of his pastor, would be willing to trust the Catholic Church to tell him what the Scriptures say.

How often are we informed, as for example when I criticized the papal public 'apologies' that were in vogue not long ago, that the actions of individuals cannot be charged against Mother Church? Yet are not those who determine for the RCC what the Scriptures say individuals? So, do Catholics believe that that the Holy Spirit only guides the Magisterium to the true meaning of Scripture, while leaving individuals, Catholic and otherwise, to search unguided for that illusive truth? Is God a liar?

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.--John 16:13

Of course Christ did not lie. When Jesus spoke these words, He was addressing His disciples, but the promise applies to all believers. The RCC appears to accept this, nominally at least.

91. All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them and guides them into all truth. -- Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

One question that jumps immediately to mind is: Who are the faithful mentioned in the above citation from the Catholic catechism? It seems to me that the use of this term is situational. In the CCC, references are made to the faithful, the Catholic faithful, and the Christian faithful, as though the terms had distinct, though similar, meanings. Actually, it seems to me that, papal pronouncements to the contrary, the various terms are but another example of the Catholic Church's expertise in the 'science' of applied obfuscation.

When some official of Mother Church is speaking ecumenically, the use of the term 'Christian faithful' gives the impression that it refers to all those who profess faith in Jesus Christ and who have been baptized within some religious context. If that were so, would this not suggest a conflict with the dogma first 'infallibly' defined by Boniface VIII:

Furthermore, we declare, say, define and proclaim to every human creature that they by necessity for salvation are entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff. -- Bull Unam Sanctam, Promulgated by Boniface VIII on November 18, 1302, (c)Paul Halsall Jan 1996 [updated 11/23/96], Denzinger 468-69

In their drive to bring all religions and religious practices under the Roman Catholic umbrella, recent popes and those who labor under their pseudo-divine authority as Vicarius Filii Dei have fostered the idea that just about anyone, even those who have never heard of Jesus Christ, can somehow be saved by seeking truth and doing God's will as he comprehends it. This, of course, facilitates the ecumenical labors of the RCC by opening the door to salvation, and by inference, submission to the Roman pope, to just about everyone, including Hindus, Buddhists, Animists, Muslims, observant Jews, etc. One wonders whether this teaching of the 'infallible' Catholic Magisterium can be extended to Druids, Wiccans and atheists.

This doctrine, expressed in paragraph 1260 of the CCC, appears to be in stark conflict with the dogma proclaimed by Boniface VIII and confirmed by the l7th Ecumenical Council, convened in Florence (AD 1438-45). This 'infallible' dogma is contained in the Decree for the Jacobites within the bull Cantata Domini promulgated by Eugene IV in AD 1441:

The sacrosanct Catholic Church firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41), unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the of ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church. -- Denzinger 714

It is a dogmatic teaching that outside the Catholic Church no one is saved. This dogma was defined by a reigning pope and confirmed by a general council of the Catholic Church.

The classical understanding of a dogma is that it is an “object of divine and Catholic faith.

A dogma is among “all those things which are contained in the written Word of God and in Tradition, and those which are proposed by the Church, either in a solemn pronouncement or in her ordinary and universal magisterium, as obligatory for belief because divinely revealed”--Vatican I, Dei Filius, [Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith], Chapter 3--Denzinger 1792

As one conservative Catholic theologian writes:

So a dogma is a truth revealed by God (divine faith), and proposed as such by the Magisterium of the Church as necessary for belief (Catholic faith). It is binding on all of the faithful. Hence, our affirmation of and belief in dogmas of the faith as necessary for salvation. To deny one dogma of the Church is to deny the authority of God who revealed it. Our Lord Jesus declared to His chosen representatives: “He who hears you hears me; he who rejects you rejects me” (Lk 10:10). To deny the very authority of God is to deny God Himself; and no one can be saved, that is, no one can enter Heaven, who denies God. This is why our affirmation of and belief in any and every dogma is necessary for salvation. -- Adam S. Miller, The Final Word, Tower of David Publlications, ©1997, p.1

If what Miller wrote is an accurate statement of Catholic doctrine, then in order for one to be saved, he must affirm and believe “any and every dogma” of the Catholic Church which would, I submit, make him a Catholic. However, in the case of Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, it is not enough, according to the definers of this dogma, merely to be Catholic. If the “sacraments of the Church” are to be of benefit for salvation, one must have “remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.” And it was specifically mentioned that “fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service” can produce eternal reward only for those who remain in the unity of the ecclesiastical body.” It also was specifically stated that not even by shedding one's blood in the name of Christ can one be saved “unless he has remained in the bosom and unit of the Catholic Church.”

The Catechism makes it quite clear that faith and baptism are necessary for salvation.

183 Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" Catechism of the Catholic Church, Op. cit

Catholicism teaches that faith is a supernatural gift from God, something that I believe any evangelical believer would accept.

179 Faith is a supernatural gift from God. In order to believe, man needs the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. Ibid

Catholicism also teaches that faith is an exercise of the intellect and the will.

176 Faith is a personal adherence of the whole man to God who reveals himself. It involves an assent of the intellect and will to the self-revelation God has made through his deeds and words.Ibid

My Miriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary informs that “ASSENT implies an act involving the understanding or judgment and applies to propositions or opinions [voters assented to the proposal].” Should one understand that then, according to Catholic doctrine, faith is the result of an act of will by which a man chooses to attach himself to what he understands to be God's self-revelation? That appears to be the case:

180 "Believing" is a human act, conscious and free, corresponding to the dignity of the human person.Ibid

So, according to the teachings of the Roman Church, it is up to individual man to choose whether or not to believe. Or is it? After all, does not the Catechism declare that faith is a gift from God? Whether the product of an exercise of man's will or a gift from God, it would appear that there is another – indispensable – element to the Catholic understanding of faith.

181 "Believing" is an ecclesial act. The Church's faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith. The Church is the mother of all believers. "No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother"--St. Cyprian, De unit. 6: PL 4, 519)–Ibid

In other words, faith is a gift from God to the Catholic Church, which then passes it along to men who, in an exercise of will, may choose to accept it or not.

So, who are the faithful? According to the teachings of Catholicism, it would seem, the term faithful, whether standing alone or modified by the addition of such adjectives as Catholic or Christian, in the CCC in reality refers only to those who are in 'the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.” This understanding is made clear in a number of places in the Catechism, such as:

833 The phrase 'particular church,' which is the diocese (or eparchy), refers to a community of the Christian faithful in communion of faith and sacraments with their bishop ordained in apostolic succession. These particular Churches 'are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in these and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists.'--CCC, Op. cit

836. 'All men are called to this catholic unity of the People of God.... And to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God's grace to salvation.'Ibid.

1260, “'Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.' Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.” (CCC, Op. cit., p. 320-21)

How different these teachings are from those of Christ, Who said:

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.–John 6: 37

No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.–John 6: 44

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