Irreformable Positive Reformulation? Huh? Wha?

A reader writes:

I gotta tell you I haven’t laughed this loud in a long time after reading “Bene Canus“. Good Lord, I nearly busted a gut! But that leads me to my question. In all seriousness, the doctrine of salvation outside the Church is like Bene Canus. When you said “the good Pope chose to leave undefined precisely what dogs’ mouths are cleaner than”, I thought, that’s exactly how we get around the Unam Sanctam thing – you find the loophole – in this case the fact that being “subject to” the Roman Pontiff doesn’t necessarily mean “submitting yourself to” the Roman Pontiff, and furthermore, that the decree never explicitly condemns anyone, even if implied. Implications are not infallible. But, my research took me to another papal decree, which ups the ante on finding a loophole way beyond my capacity. I’m thinking of “Cantate Domino”, which explicitly states that Jews, Muslims, Heretics, Schismatics, even those who shed bled for Christ, unless joined to the Catholic Church, are explicitly hellbound:

It [the 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 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.

Can you help? I’m hurtin’ on the infallibility thing. Vatican I said infallible statements were “irreformable in themselves.” What does THAT mean? I mean, the Catechism, quoting Vatican II, “reformulates positively” the teaching on “outside the Church”. How can an irreformable statement be “positively reformulated”? Don’t get me wrong. I like the positive reformulation. No, I LOVE it. It keeps me Catholic. But logic complains! Irreformable and reformulation don’t seem to by synonymous. I’m left dumbfounded when a Protestant asks me how I can pretend infallibility is not contradicted in light of this.

Think of an irreformable statement as a socket wrench. You can’t turn it back, you can turn it forward. This is just what the Christological councils did. There are different iterations of the Nicene creed as the Church ratcheted forward its understanding of the nature of Christ and the Trinity. Same with ecclesiological developments.

Here’s a piece that might help a bit.

Also Fr. Peter Stravinskas’ piece is good.


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