Confused About Catholic Soteriology?

The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) teaches that Catholic faithful are to assent by faith (de fide)to all dogmatic pronouncements of the Church, whether infallibly defined by a reigning pope ex cathedra or a general council of the Catholic Church. Wouldn't it be easy to be a 'good' Catholic if one had a list of all the solemn dogmatic definitions issued by the Extraordinary magisterium from the moment what became the Roman Catholic Church began to drift away from the church established by Christ? Of course, no such list exists.

Even if there were a complete list of every dogmatic pronouncement, it would fall far short of including every doctrine to which Catholics must assent by faith. It is also required of the Catholic faithful that they believe everything Mother Church teaches by means of her ordinary Magisterium as well.

Before proceeding, it would be well to offer a few definitions:

MAGISTERIUM …The teaching authority of the Church entrusted originally to the Apostles with Peter at their head, and residing now in the bishops under the leadership of the Pope. The magisterium is: 1. Solemn or extraordinary when exercised in the form of doctrinal definitions whether of a Pope or of a General Council; 2. Ordinary, continual, everyday exercise of this authority. – Albert J. Nevins, Ed., The Maryknoll Catholic Dictionary, © 1965 the Maryknoll Fathers, p. 350

In other words, dogmatic definitions issued by the Pope or General Councils are not the only infallible teachings of the Catholic Church. Those things consistently taught by the bishops and priests throughout her history are also considered to be infallible dogmas to which assent de fide is required. Whether the Catholic Church ever has taught anything consistently throughout her history is another issue that will not be examined in this study. I do wish to make quite clear that though the Magisterium may have defined or consistently taught something, that is no guarantee that the teaching is true. For example, a few of the doctrines that mother Church has taught allegedly consistently are:

The Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ;
The Blessed Virgin Mary is the spiritual mother of all;
Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces;
Mary is the Queen of Heaven, of angels and men.

Even the novice student of Scripture knows that there is no support any of the above doctrines in the Bible. Given that the Bible itself declares that those who add to or take away from the revealed books are anathema, it follows that these teachings, which are not included in the Bible, must be false, else their originators would not be anathematized.

It must be acknowledged that not everything consistently taught by the Magisterium is false. For example,

The Trinitarian nature of the Godhead;
Adam and Eve were actual living persons;

Another Catholic myth is that of monolithic Catholicism. Rome attempts to sustain this myth by simply declaring that all Catholics who are not fully in submission to the reigning pope cannot be saved.

Furthermore, we declare, say, define, and proclaim to every juman creature that they by necessity for salvation are entirely subject to the Roomman Pontiff – Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctum, bull promulgated on November 18, 1302, Denzinger 469.

But the supreme teacher in the Church is the Roman Pontiff. Union of minds, therefore, requires, together with a perfect accord in the one faith, complete submission and obedience of will to the Church and to the Roman Pontiff, as to God Himself – Leo XIII, Sapientiae Christianae, encyclical promulgated on January 10, 1890 [My emphasis]

“As to God Himself.” Isn't this an interesting statement? The above two citations, together with a number of other similar ones, seem to declare that submission to God and faith in Jesus Christ are not sufficient for salvation; one also must be fully submitted to the Catholic pope. The popes declaring that they fill the place of God on earth in no way makes them the equivalent of God. Therefore, Catholicism's requirement for full submission to the pope for salvation would appear to be contrary to the teaching of Scripture. In that many of Catholicism's salvation dogmas cannot be found in Scripture, they must come from another source. Would not attempting to be in conformance to both God and the Catholic Church place one in the untenable position of trying to serve two masters?

Actually, there are more than two masters involved here. A significant number of Catholics do not agree with the modern tendency of the RCC to ecumenism at just about any price. Some of these do not consider the Roman popes after John XII to have been validly elected and, therefore, view the papacy to have been vacant for a number of decades. On October 24, 1998, the so-called sede-vacantes elected a new pope, John XIII. Other Roman Catholics, of course, did not recognize John XIII, who died on November 30th, 2009.

Roman Catholic soteriology has been examined often on this board. I believe it would be interesting to look at another version of Catholic salvation theology – from that body of Catholics who reject the papacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I came across the following at what I suppose more orthodox Catholics would call the schismatic True Catholic website - it is quoted with permission. I makes an interesting read, but please bear in mind this comment from the website:

Please use proper guidance for this church Father was stricken with dementia prior to the end years of his life here on earth.  May he rest in peace

The Catholic Church
and Salvation


Fr. Lucian Pulvermacher, OFM Cap.
December 8, 1978

All Catholics know and believe what was defined at the Lateran Council IV in 1215, namely that, "One indeed is the universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved." We must believe that there is baptism of water, and the desire for that baptism, plus baptism of blood. We are greatly indebted to Monsignor Joseph Fenton for proper terminology to explain this dogma of the faith. 

In his wonderful book entitled, "The Catholic Church and Salvation," Msgr. Fenton analyzes "Suprema Haec Sacra," a letter from the Holy Office issued on August 8, 1949 to Archbishop Cushing of Boston in response to the problem at St. Benedict Center at Cambridge. There, baptism of water alone was accepted as being within the Catholic Church. 

Here is a thumbnail sketch of the document "Suprema haec sacra:" 

    1. The teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church is a dogma of the Catholic faith. 
    2. This dogma has always been taught, and will always be taught, infallibly by the Church's magisterium
    3. The dogma must be understood and explained as the Church's magisterium understands and explains it. 
    4. The Church is necessary for salvation with both a necessity of precept and a necessity of means. 
    5. Because the Church is necessary for salvation with the necessity of precept, any person who knows the Church to have been divinely instituted by Our Lord and yet refuses to enter it or to remain within it cannot attain eternal salvation. 
    6. The Church is a general and necessary means for salvation, not by reason of any intrinsic necessity, but only by God's own institution, that is, because God in His merciful wisdom has established it as such. 
    7. In order that a man may be saved "within" the Church, it is not always necessary that he belong to the Church, actually as a member, but it can sometimes be enough that he belong to it as one who desires or wills to be in it. In other words, it is possible for one who belongs to the Church only in desire to be saved. 
    8. It is possible for this desire of entering the Church to be effective, not only when it is explicit, but also (when the person is invincibly ignorant of the true Church) even when that desire is merely implicit. 
    9. The Mystici Corporis reproved both the error of those who teach the impossibility of salvation for those who have only an implicit desire of entering the Church, and the false doctrine of those who claim that men may find salvation equally in every religion. 
    10. No desire to enter the Church can be effective for salvation unless it is enlightened by supernatural faith and animated or motivated by perfect charity. 

"Within" or "Outside" the Church

Let us consider number (7) above. Here Father Fenton give us the word "within." The dogma of faith says, "Outside the Church there is no salvation." Here we have two important words as wonderful tools to work with. They are, "within" and "outside" the Catholic Church. 

In his most important encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi, Pope Pius XII defined what membership in the Church meant. It means that one is baptized with water, has the true faith, is subject to the true Pope and is not excommunicated. Here, the key word is "member." A member, of course, is "within" the Church. 

Now we have two more steps to make. One can be "within" the Church as a member and by true desire. Next we consider two important words of number (8) above, namely, "explicit" desire and "implicit" desire. Both these conditions of soul put one "within" the Catholic Church. In such a state of soul, one can receive forgiveness of sin and receive sanctifying grace. 

"Explicit" and "Implicit" Desire to Enter the Church

We shall explain what "explicit" desire means. When a catechumen knows about the Church, about baptism and the like, he then has the choice to desire to enter the Church by baptism of water or not. If he turns with the help of grace to God and His Church in such a desire, he is then "within" the Church, with what we call an "explicit" act of desire. With that desire in his heart, he can make an act of perfect contrition. The result would be that he is freed from his sins, and he receives sanctifying grace. In that state he is ready for heaven. 

Next, we explain the term "implicit" as it is found in number (8) above. Note that the term is modified by the word merely. Many thought that "implicit" desire to enter the Church was not enough. Let us explain the meaning of "implicit" desire to enter the Church. It means that a person who knows and believes explicitly the four things necessary for salvation is already in a state of soul which is pleasing to God. Let us say that the person is taken away after that instruction to a prison camp. There, no one will give him any more instruction. However, he desires the instruction with all his heart. Hence, his ignorance of the other truths of the faith is an invincible ignorance. He sincerely wants the knowledge and the reality Christ's true Church has for him. With that desire and with the movement of actual grace that man or woman can make an act of perfect contrition. The effect of that act of perfect contrition will be that he or she will receive forgiveness of sins and also sanctifying grace. Again, in that state one is ready for the everlasting joys of heaven. 

Four Things Necessary for Salvation

Lest some persons reading this be confused about the four things necessary for salvation, I shall say what they are in just four words: 
      1. Creator 
      2. Remunerator 
      3. Trinity 
      4. Savior 
Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews), so he must have supernatural knowledge and faith in God the Creator who rewards the good and punishes the evil. That is absolutely necessary. Then we must always follow in the new dispensation (New Testament) that one must also believe in the Blessed Trinity and in the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ. After that explicit faith, where there is invincible ignorance, one can have merely "implicit" knowledge and faith as explained above. 

Efficacious Desire to Enter the Church

We must consider another very important factor. The desire, whether it is explicit or merely implicit, must be truly efficacious. Let us take a simple example of an efficacious desire. A person desires to go to Australia. He gets a passport, a visa, a ticket, a flight reservation, and so forth. Even though he is not yet in Australia, he has an efficacious desire to get there, known by all the preparations. 

Another person with an in-efficacious desire is a person who merely wants to go to Australia, but he does nothing about it at all. He has the money, and he has the time, but he does nothing about getting ready. 

Now apply this to people in the world in regard to our holy religion, the Catholic Church. Many, yes very many desire to be in the true Church that Christ founded. However, not all of them have an efficacious desire, and unless the desire is efficacious, the act of contrition will not effect forgiveness of sins and the obtaining of sanctifying grace. Once again, "Outside the Church there is no salvation," no forgiveness of sin, and there will be no obtaining of sanctifying grace. 

A Caution from Pope Pius IX

We have another caution to give, and it is not mine but it is from Pope Pius IX. In "The Sources of Catholic Dogma" by Denzinger, we read some very sharp words from that holy pontiff. In number 1647, the pope chides those who go too deeply into the practical order. Who has that desire? What are the hidden workings of grace? The last words of that paragraph are, "it is unlawful to proceed further in inquiry." Pope Pius IX then goes on to tell us to work and pray that all men may come to the knowledge of the true Church and lovingly join that true Church. 

The Age of Reason - Decision Time

I urge those who have Fr. Fenton's wonderful book to read it and re-read it. On pages 71 - 72, we find a wonderful study on un-baptized persons coming to the age of reason. When such a person reaches the age of reason, he must make a decision to enter the divine order (the kingdom of Heaven) or to go contrary to the kingdom of Heaven, namely to enter the kingdom of Satan. As stated above, his efficacious desire takes away original sin and gives him sanctifying grace. The opposite desire (rebellion) puts into his soul his first mortal sin. 

Work and Pray for All Mankind

While we thank God for our faith and presence "within" the Church, we must work and pray that all men may find and live "within" the one ark of salvation, the Holy Roman Catholic Church. 

We often examone the heretical teachings of the Rome-based Roman Catholic Church. Now you have been exposed to a doctrinal statement from one of the separatist sede vacante spin-offs. What think you of it?

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