Baptismal Ecumenism: A New Evangelistic Paradigm (Rod Bennett)

Baptismal Ecumenism: A New Evangelistic Paradigm (Rod Bennett) August 11, 2017
BaptismLutheran
Brass baptismal font (1590) in “St. Stephen” Lutheran church in Helmsted, Germany. Photo by “Times” (5-17-10) [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license]
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Baptismal Ecumenism
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“Baptism constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.” — (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1271).
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“That the mystical body of Christ and the Catholic Church in communion with Rome are one and the same thing, is a doctrine based on revealed truth…” – (Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis).
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The following is an amateur attempt to draw up a new paradigm for the evangelization of Protestants and other religious non-Catholics.
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It is based on a pre-existing sacramental unity that has been acknowledged since ancient times by the Catholic Church.
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Main Thesis in Catechetical Form
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How does Christ regenerate the souls of sinners?
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Christ regenerates sinners through a new birth brought about by the Sacrament of Baptism.
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“Baptism…now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” – (1 Peter 3:20-21).
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“Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life…Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1213).
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“This sacrament is also called ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,’ for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one ‘can enter the kingdom of God.’” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1215).
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Is Baptism necessary for salvation?
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Yes, Baptism is necessary for salvation.
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“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned.” – (Mark 16:16)
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“Without baptism, salvation is attainable by none.” – (Tertullian, On Baptism).
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“And because of the transgression of the first man, the whole stock of the human race was tainted; no one can be set free from the state of the old Adam save through Christ’s sacrament of baptism, in which there are no distinctions between the reborn, as the Apostle says, ‘For as many of you as were baptized in Christ did put on Christ; there is neither Jew nor Greek.’ [Gal 3:27-28]” – (Pope Leo I, Letters).
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“The Lord himself affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation [John 3:5]…The Church does not know any means other than baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude…” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1257).
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Who may administer the Sacrament of Baptism?
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The ordinary ministers of Baptism are the clergy, but in case of necessity any person, even someone not baptized, can baptize, if he has the required intention and uses the proper form.
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“The Sacrament of Baptism…no matter by whom conferred is available to salvation.” – (Fourth Lateran Council).
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“The Spirit of God administers the grace of baptism, although it be a pagan who does the baptizing.” – (St. Isadore of Saville).
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“In case of necessity, any person, even someone not baptized, can baptize, if he has the required intention.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1256).
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What constitutes proper form and intent?
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A proper baptism is a baptism with water, using the Trinitarian formula (“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) administered by someone who intends it to be the Baptism instituted by Christ.
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“Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” – (Matthew 28:19).
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“Unless a person has been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, he cannot obtain the remission of his sins.” – (St. Ambrose, De Myst., IV).
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“The intention required is to will to do what the Church does when she baptizes…The Church finds the reason for this possibility in the universal saving will of God and the necessity of baptism for salvation.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1256).
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Is a baptism performed by heretics or schismatics a valid baptism?
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Yes, provided that the Trinitarian form given by Christ (Matthew 28:19) is observed and the intent is to do a Christian baptism. The virtue of Baptism does not flow from the minister but from Christ Himself alone. (Note that the “proper intent” does not require that the person baptizing must hold the correct theology of baptism; otherwise it would be absurd to speak of pagans and other unbelievers as effective agents of baptism).
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“It is determined that if someone come to the Church from heresy, let them ask his creed; and if the see that he has been baptized in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, only is the hand to be imposed upon him, so that he may receive the Holy Spirit [in confirmation]. But if, upon being interrogated, he does not respond with this Trinity, he is to be baptized.” – (First Council of Arles).
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“If anyone says that the baptism which is given by heretics in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with the intention of doing what the Church does, is not true baptism, let him be anathema.” – (Council of Trent, 7th Session).
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“All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians…” – (Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio).
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“[Baptism] acts opera operato (literally: ‘by the very fact of the action’s being performed’), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that ‘the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1128).
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Are there other forms of Baptism than that of water?
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Yes. There is a Baptism of Desire and a Baptism of Blood.
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What is the Baptism of Blood?
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A Baptism of Blood occurs when God administers the benefits of Baptism upon someone who suffers death for Christ’s sake before actually receiving water Baptism.
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“When any die for the confession of Christ without having received the washing of regeneration, it avails as much for the remission of their sins as if they had been washed in the sacred font of baptism.” – (St. Augustine of Hippo, De Civ. Dei, XIII).
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“The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood…brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1258).
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“Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to do his will, are saved even if they have not been baptized.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1281).
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What is the Baptism of Desire?
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A Baptism of Desire occurs when God administers the benefits of Baptism upon someone who has been prevented (either by circumstance or ignorance) from actually receiving the sacrament itself.
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“That the place of baptism is sometimes supplied by suffering is supported by a substantial argument which the same blessed Cyprian draws from the circumstance of the thief, to whom, although not baptized, it was said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’ [Luke 23:43]. Considering this over and over again, I find that not only suffering for the name of Christ can supply for that which is lacking by way of baptism, but even faith and conversion of heart [i.e., baptism of desire] if, perhaps, because of the circumstances of the time, recourse cannot be had to the celebration of the mystery of baptism.” (St. Augustine of Hippo).
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“…Men cannot obtain original justice except by the washing of regeneration or its desire (voto).” – (Council of Trent, 6th Session).
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“It is not always required that one be actually incorporated as a member of the Church, but this at least is required: that one adhere to it in wish and desire. It is not always necessary that this be explicit…but when a man labors under invincible ignorance, God accepts even an implicit will, called by that name because it is contained in the good disposition of soul in which a man wills to conform his will to the will of God.” – (Decree of Pope Pius XII).
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“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.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1260).
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Can a true Christian Baptism ever be “undone”?
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No, it cannot. Baptism places a permanent mark upon the soul of the recipient. But since baptism alone is no guarantee of final salvation it is quite possible (alas!) for a baptized person to be damned.
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“This configuration to Christ and to the Church, brought about by the Spirit, is indelible; it remains forever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace…” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1121).
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“No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once, for all, Baptism cannot be repeated.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1272).
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“He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a ‘bodily’ manner and not ‘in his heart.’ All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word, and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
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Who may be Baptized?
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Anyone who has not already been baptized.
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“Every person not yet baptized and only such a person is able to be baptized.” – (Code of Canon Law; 846).
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Into what are such persons baptized?
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“By [Holy Baptism] we are made members of Christ and of his Body, the Church.” – (Council of Florence)
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“Incorporated in the Church through baptism, the faithful are destined by the baptismal character for the worship of the Christian religion.” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium)
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“Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ: ‘Therefore…we are members one of another.’ Baptism incorporates us into the Church.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1267).
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“Having become a member of the Church, the person baptized belongs no longer to himself but to Him who died and rose for us.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1269).
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Baptized into the Visible Church or the Invisible Church?
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Into the visible Church – there is no invisible Church.
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“The Church is hidden from no one for it is the Catholic Church itself which is therefore called universal in Greek because it is spread throughout the entire world. It is not allowed to anyone not to know this Church for which reason, according to the word of Jesus Christ, it is not possible that it be hidden.” – (St. Augustine of Hippo).
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“It is an error in a matter of divine truth to imagine the Church is invisible, intangible, a something merely ‘pneumatological,’ as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are united by a bond that is invisible to the senses.” – (Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis)
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“The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates grace and truth to all men.” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
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“The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it…This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic
Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 816)
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What is the proper name of this visible Church?
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The proper name of this visible society is the Catholic Church.
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“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” – (The Apostle’s Creed).
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“Where there is Jesus Christ, there is the Catholic Church.” – (St. Ignatius of Antioch).
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“[The Church] is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts.” – (St. Cyril of Jerusalem).
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“This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
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Does it follow deductively that everyone who has been validly baptized is a member of the visible Catholic Church?
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It does so follow.
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It follows that all Christians are visibly united?
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No, it follows that all Christians are united to a Church which is visible.
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Remember, this unity is not a matter of roll books but is sacramental in nature. No one has ever claimed that the baptismal mark on the soul of the Christian is visible to human eye. But visibility to the human eye is part of the nature of the Church Christ established. Therefore, while the Catholic Church has always been visible, any individual’s relationship to the Church may be visible or not, depending upon their fidelity to it.
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“The soul is invisible, but it is sheathed in a visible body. Christians are seen, for they are in the world; but their religion remains invisible.” – (The Epistle to Diognetus).
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“When we speak of within and without in relation to the Church, it is the position of the heart that we must consider, not that of the body…All who are within [the Church] in heart are saved in the unity of the Ark.” – (St. Augustine of Hippo).
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“It was on the tree of the cross [that Christ] entered into possession of his Church, that is, all the members of his mystical body; for they would not have been united to this mystical body through the waters of Baptism except by the salutary virtue of the Cross…It is the Spirit of Christ which has made us adopted sons of God [Gal 4:6, Rom 8:14-17]…To this Spirit of Christ, too, as to an invisible principle, is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the body are joined with one another and with their exalted head.” – (Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis).
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“[A person can be] ordered to the Church by a certain desire and wish of which he is not aware (inscio quodam desiderio ac voto).” – (Decree of Pope Pius XII).
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“Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church; “For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.’ ‘Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.’” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1271).
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Then all Christians are Catholics—even if they have not received a Catholic baptism?
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All baptisms are Catholic baptisms. There is only one baptism, the baptism which Jesus delivered to the Catholic Church. All ecclesial bodies which baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have received this tradition from the Catholic Church, to whose shepherds Christ entrusted it in the 1st century.
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“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” – (1 Cor 12:13)
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“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” – (Eph 4:4-5)
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“…Many elements of sanctification and truth are found outside of [the Church’s] visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
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But doesn’t the very term “Catholic” distinguish this Church from rival, opposing churches?
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It does.
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“[This Church] is called Catholic because it extends over the whole world, from end to end of the  earth…If ever you are visiting in cities, do not inquire simply where the House of the Lord is— for others, sects of the impious, attempt to call their dens ‘Houses of the Lord,’—nor ask merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the name peculiar to this holy Church, the Mother of us all, which is the Spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son.” – (St. Cyril of Jerusalem).
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“The Church of the Christian religion is called Catholic, not only by her own members but even by our enemies; for when heretics or the adherents of schisms talk about her, not among themselves but with strangers, they willy-nilly call her nothing else but Catholic for they will not be understood unless they distinguish her by this name which the whole world employs in her regard.” – (St. Augustine of Hippo).
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“Nor is any other church catholic except that which has been built upon Peter alone and which rises into one body closely joined and knit together [Eph 4:16] in the unity of faith and love.” – (Pope Pius IX).
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How then can members of these churches be reckoned as members of the Catholic Church?
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Because there is only one Church of which to be a member and that is the Church Catholic. If these persons are Christians at all (and we have already determined that Baptism has made them so) then it proceeds ipso facto that they are members of the Catholic Church.
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“The true Church, that which is really ancient, is one; and in it are enrolled those who, in accord with a design are just…We say therefore, that in substance, in concept, in origin, and in eminence, the ancient and Catholic Church is alone, gathering as it does in the unity of the one faith—or rather, from the one covenant in different times, by the will of the one God and through one Lord—those already chosen, those predestined by God who knew before the foundation of the world that they would be just.” – (St. Clement of Alexandria).
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“That the mystical body of Christ and the Catholic Church in communion with Rome are one and the same thing, is a doctrine based on revealed truth…” – (Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis).
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“From the baptismal fonts is born one People of God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes: ‘For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body.’” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1267).
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Surely a person cannot be a member of two churches at once?
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No, one cannot—but these other bodies are not, in fact, true Churches. Jesus established only one Church and therefore there is only one Church. These other “church-like” bodies were not founded by Christ and therefore cannot be Churches at all, in the correct sense of that term. They ought rather to be called “religious societies” or something to that effect. Therefore, since these societies have no objective, sacerdotal existence—but are, rather, mere human constructs— they cannot, for that very reason, be genuine rivals to the Catholic Church.
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“There is one God, and Christ is one, and there is one Church, and one chair founded upon the rock by the word of the Lord. Another altar cannot be constituted nor a new priesthood be made, except the one altar and the one priesthood. Whosoever gathers elsewhere, scatters.” – (St. Cyprian of Carthage).
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“According to factual history…Jesus Christ did not plan and establish a Church made up of a number of organizations that were generically similar, yet separate and without those bonds of unity which make the Church one and indivisible as we profess in the Creed, ‘I believe in one Church…’ When Jesus Christ spoke of this mystical structure, he spoke of one Church only which he called his own, ‘I will build my Church’ [Matt 16:18]. Since no other church besides this one was founded by Jesus Christ, no other church which could be imagined can be the true Church of Christ…It is therefore necessary, in accordance with the will of its founder, that it should be the only Church in the whole world for all time.” – (Pope Leo XIII, Statis Cognitum).
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“There is only one true, holy, Catholic church, which is the Apostolic Roman Church. There is only one See founded in Peter by the word of the Lord, outside of which we cannot find either true faith or eternal salvation…This hope of salvation is placed in the Catholic Church which, in preserving the true worship, is the solid home of this faith and the temple of God. Outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or salvation unless he is excused through ignorance beyond his control.” – (Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quidem).
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What then is the spiritual state of their adherents?
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Those among them who have been baptized are sacramentally united to the visible Catholic Church but are currently estranged from their appointed shepherds.
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“The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian but who do not profess the Catholic Faith in its entirely or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter. Those ‘who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.’” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 838).
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“The Church of Christ is the only and ever enduring Church; and all who depart from it, depart from the will and command of Christ our Lord.” – (Pope Leo XIII, Statis Cognitum).
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“In this one and only Church of God, from its very beginnings, there arose certain rifts which the Apostle [Paul] strongly censures as damnable. But is subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church—for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame…Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity…[but it is] the unfaithfulness of the member’s to Christ’s gift which causes divisions.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 817, 820).
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Is such a schism considered to be a sin?
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All schism is objectively disordered—but those individuals who, through no fault of their own, remain unaware of their duties to the shepherds established by Christ would not be culpable for following Jesus in the best way they understand.
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“The apostle Paul said, ‘As for a man that is a heretic, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him’ [Titus 3:10]. But those who maintain their own opinion, however false and perverted, without obstinate ill will, especially those who have not originated the error of bold presumption, but have received it from parents who had been led astray and lapsed… those who seek the truth with careful industry and are ready to be corrected when they have found it, are not to be rated among the heretics.” – (Pope Leo I, Letters).
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“God…in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault. But it is also a Catholic dogma that no one outside the Catholic Church can be saved, and that those who are contumacious against the authority of the same Church (and) definitions and who are obstinately (pertinaciter) separated from the unity of this Church and from the Roman Pontiff, successor of Peter, to whom the custody of the vineyard was entrusted by the Savior, cannot obtain eternal salvation.” – (Pope Pius IX, Quanto conficiamur moerore).
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“The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ’s Body—here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism—do not occur without human sin … However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 817, 818).
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So could it be said then that the so-called “divisions” within the one Catholic Church do not really exist?
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Only in one very specialized sense: that those who align themselves with rival teaching bodies do not thereby lose their baptismal membership in the one true Church of Christ. That one true Church cannot be divided up into several genuine churches. What can and does happen is that members of the one true Church can seek (unsuccessfully) to sever their connections with it or to live as if those connections had been severed. Yes, the result of this effort can certainly be called division; in the sense that the harmony of the Church is disrupted and her witness hampered. However, it is theologically important to insist that no genuine sundering of the Church has occurred or can ever occur. This is because her unity is sacramental–and based on a sacrament which cannot ever be “undone.” Once a person comes into the Church (through Baptism) he or she remains in it permanently.
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“Unity is of the essence of the Church.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 813).
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“Does anyone believe that [the unity of the Church] can be divided and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? Whoever holds not fast to this unity holds not to the law of God; neither does he keep faith with the Father and the Son, nor does he have life and salvation. This sacrament of unity, this bond of an inseparably cohering harmony, is indicated in the Gospel when the tunic of the Lord is in no way divided or cut apart.” – (St. Cyprian of Carthage).
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“Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time. Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that God wills for her.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 820).
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“The Catholic Church thus affirms that during the two thousand years of her history she has been preserved in unity, with all the means with which God wishes to endow his Church, and this despite the often grave crises which have shaken her, the infidelity of some of her ministers, and the faults into which her members daily fall. The Catholic Church knows that, by virtue of the strength which comes to her from the Spirit, the weakness, mediocrity, sins, and at times betrayals of some of her children cannot destroy what God has bestowed on her as part of his plan of grace. Moreover, ‘the powers of death’ shall not prevail against it’ [Matt 16:18]. Even so, the Catholic Church does not forget that many among her members cause God’s plan to be discernible only with difficulty…By God’s grace, however, neither what belongs to the structure of the Church of Christ nor that communion which still exists with the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities has been destroyed.” – (St. John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint).
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Is there an analogy here to another sacrament—that of matrimony?
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There is. Technically speaking, the Church does not teach that divorce is a sin; what the Church teaches is that there is no such thing as a divorce. The sacrament of matrimony unites a man and woman together permanently, in an indissoluble relationship. For this reason, any attempt by a married person to deny this bond and to seek sanction for a new sexual relationship is a sin—not of divorce, but of adultery. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” [Mark 10:11].
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Likewise, the Church technically does not teach that it is a sin for a baptized person to separate from the Church; what the Church actually teaches is that it is not possible for a baptized person to be separated from the Church. The sacrament of Baptism unites the soul of the believer permanently with the Bride of Christ. It is an indissoluble relationship. Therefore any attempt by a baptized person to deny this bond and seek sanction for a relationship with another ecclesial (or church-like) body is a sin—not of dividing the Church—but of disobedience to her pastors. In short, the setting up by Christians of new pseudo-churches is spiritual infidelity; precisely because the Christian’s pre-existing sacramental marriage to the Catholic Church still exists.
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“One is my dove: my perfect one is but one! She is the only one of her mother, the chosen one of her that bore her.” – (Song of Songs 6:8).
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Does the existence of this invisible sacramental unity mean that actual communion with the Roman Church is a matter of indifference?
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Absolutely not. That all Christians have an obligation to subject themselves to the authority of the Vicar of Christ on earth has been infallibly defined and is irreformable.
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“We [the Council Fathers] teach and declare that by the appointment of our Lord the Roman Church possesses a sovereignty of ordinary power over all other Churches…to which all, of whatsoever rite and dignity, both pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound to submit, not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world; so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme pastor, through the preservation of unity, both of communion and of profession of the same faith, with the Roman Pontiff.” – (Vatican I, Constitution on the Church).
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“[Condemned by Pope Pius IX is the following proposition:] ‘Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church.” – (Syllabus of Errors).
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“This Sacred Council…declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father; and he willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion.” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
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But if these persons are already true members of the Catholic Church, what do they lack?
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Such persons lack “full incorporation” into the life of that Church.
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“They who do not belong to the visible bond of the Catholic Church…we ask to strive to take themselves from that state—in which they cannot be sure of their own eternal salvation; for even though they are ordered to the mystical body of the Redeemer by a certain desire and wish of which they are not aware, yet they lack so many and so great heavenly gifts and helps which can be enjoyed only in [the visible communion of] the Catholic Church.” – (Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis).
*
“For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God.” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
*
“Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in an…imperfect communion with the Catholic Church.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 838).
*
What does it mean to be “fully incorporated” into the Catholic Church?
*
Anyone who completely adheres to the Catholic unity of the Church established by Jesus is said to be “fully incorporated” (“incorporation” means literally “to be made part of the body”). The conditions of this full incorporation have been spelled out by the Church in several authoritative
documents…
*
“They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are: profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion.” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
*
“Now since this social body of Christ has been designed by its Founder to be visible, the cooperation of all its members must also be externally manifest through their profession of the same faith, and their sharing the same sacred rites, through participation in the same Sacrifice and practical observation of the same laws.” – (Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis).
*
“The unity of the pilgrim Church is also assured by the visible bonds of communion: profession of one faith received from the Apostles; common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments; apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal
concord of God’s family.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 815).
*
But wouldn’t many active members on the rolls of Catholic parishes fail these tests?
*
Sadly, many of them would. Many persons who attend the Catholic Mass every week reject the authority of ecclesiastical government, deny the true nature of the sacraments, dispute Church moral teachings, and do not hold the faith received from the Apostles. These persons, despite their bodily presence in Catholic Churches, are not then “fully incorporated” into the visible communion of the Church Universal.
*
“When we speak of within and without in relation to the Church, it is the position of the heart that we must consider, not that of the body.” – (St. Augustine of Hippo).
*
“Those who believe that they can accept Christ as the head of the Church, without giving their loyal adherence to his vicar on earth, walk the path of dangerous error. They have taken away the visible head and broken the visible bonds of unity.” – (Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis).
*
“[Such a person] remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a ‘bodily’ manner and not ‘in his heart.’” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
*
Contrariwise, aren’t there many baptized persons who, while out of communion with Rome, nevertheless possess many of these marks of incorporation?
*
There are such persons. One thinks especially of members of the Eastern Orthodox communion —which communion possesses true bishops and priests, true sacraments, and keeps the apostolic faith virtually entire. Likewise, many thousands of individual Protestants believe and practice a
much greater portion of the Catholic faith than do many habitual “Roman Catholics.”
*
“The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as the norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Savior. They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God. They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood…” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
*
“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.” – (Catechism of the Catholic Church; 838).
*
Would it then be valid to say that some Christians who lack communion with the Pope may be more “fully incorporated” into the Apostolic Roman Church than many persons who are (at least ostensibly) in communion with him?
*
No. The term “fully incorporated” does not permit us to speak of degrees; either one is fully incorporated or one is not fully incorporated. It would be meaningful, however, to say that different persons display differing marks of incorporation—and that all the marks seem to be of equal importance. Thus, a person who holds the true doctrine of the Eucharist, but who denies the universal jurisdiction of the pope (i.e., Eastern Orthodoxy) would not seem to be a spiritually poorer person than one who holds to the jurisdiction of the pope but who somehow denies his teaching on the Eucharist. Neither of these persons could be called “fully incorporated”—but neither defect is a matter of lesser or greater importance. However, it could be validly said that greater guilt attaches to the person who is professedly “Catholic” since such a person presumably knows that he should follow the authority of the pope, while the Eastern Christian may be following his own faith in complete sincerity of heart.
*
Uniquely illuminating, perhaps, could be the case of a zealous Salvation Army member: someone who might abound in good works done for the love of Christ and be deeply steeped in Scripture, but who lives, nevertheless, wholly without the benefit of water baptism or any other Sacrament.
*
“All men are called to the 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.” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
*
“…The Catholic Church does not forget that many among her members cause God’s plan to be discernible only with difficulty.” – (St. John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint).
*
“The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion…All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word, and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be more severely judged.” – (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium).
*
If all this is true, would it be completely absurd to say that Protestants (and other “non-Catholic” Christians) are, in actuality, just…really bad Catholics?
*
That would certainly be a colorful way of expressing it…but not entirely without validity. If by a “bad Catholic” we mean “a baptized Christian who attends a Roman Catholic parish but who does not ‘agree with’ the official teachings of the pope or obey his precepts” then a valid analogy does suggest itself. What else do we mean by the term “Protestant” except a Christian who does not agree with the pope? In this usage, a Protestant could be called a “bad Catholic” because, though he has been united to the visible Catholic Church (whose head, objectively, is the successor of Peter presiding at Rome), he follows the Catholic Faith very imperfectly. He disagrees in his doctrines from those authoritatively espoused by the Vicar of Christ.
*
But in another way, it does a sincere Protestant an injustice to call him a bad Catholic. Most Protestants do not know the Catholic Faith and are not aware of their duties to the pope and the other apostolic shepherds. The Christian who attends a Roman Catholic parish, on the other hand, could make this appeal only with great difficulty.
*
In any event, however, the cure for “bad Catholics” (whether within or without the Roman communion) is exactly the same: submission to the Magisterium of the one genuine Christian Church and to the shepherds divinely appointed by Jesus Christ.
*
“Enough! Since the whole East, shattered as it is by long-standing feuds…is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord…I think it is my duty to consult the chair of Peter…I appeal for spiritual food to the Church whence I have received the garb of Christ!…Evil children have squandered their patrimony; you alone keep your heritage intact! I follow no leader but Christ, but I am joined in communion with your blessedness [Pope Damasus I], that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built.” – (St. Jerome).
*
IN SUMMARY:
*
Baptism unites those who receive it to Jesus Christ and makes them members of His Body, the Church. The proper name of this mystical Body is the Catholic Church; and its nature is that it should be a visible sacrament of salvation to the world. Yet the baptismal bond which unites each member to this Church is not, of itself, visible. It is made visible by voluntary acts of submission (to the hierarchy, the sacraments, and to the apostolic Faith) undertaken by the baptized person himself. These voluntary acts result in a state which the Church describes as “full incorporation.” But the bond itself is permanent, indelible, and universal in all who have been truly baptized; whether the baptism was of water, blood, or desire.
*
ANSWERS TO OBJECTIONS:
*
Is this concept of “Baptismal Ecumenism” a theological novelty?
*
No. Each step of the summary given above is based securely on the universal authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church.
*
It seems worthwhile to pause briefly and establish this fact:
*
Baptism unites those who receive it to Jesus Christ and makes them members of His Body, the Church — “Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ…Baptism incorporates us into the Church.” – (CCC; 1267)
*
The proper name of this mystical Body is the Catholic Church… — “That the mystical body of Christ and the Catholic Church in communion with Rome are one and the same thing, is a doctrine based on revealed truth…” – (Pope Pius XII)
*
…and its nature is that it should be a visible sacrament of salvation to the world. — “Th Church’s first purpose is to be the sacrament of the inner union of men with God…the universal sacrament of salvation…the visible plan of God’s love for humanity.” – (Vatican II).
*
Yet the baptismal bond which unites each member to this Church is not, of itself, visible… — “A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace…Therefore, the outward signs in the Sacraments tell us that there is in the Sacraments something that we do not see.” – (Baltimore Catechism).
*
[This bond] is made visible by voluntary acts of submission (to the hierarchy, the sacraments, and to the apostolic Faith) undertaken by the baptized person himself. — “Now since this social body of Christ has been designed by its Founder to be visible, the cooperation of all its members
must also be externally manifest through their profession of the same faith, and their sharing of the same sacred rites, through participation in the same Sacrifice and practical observation of the same laws.” – (Pope Pius XII)
*
These voluntary acts result in a state which the Church describes as ‘full incorporation’ — “They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her…The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are: profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion.” – (Vatican II)
*
But the bond itself is permanent, indelible, and universal in all who have been truly baptized; whether the baptism was of water, blood, or desire. — “This configuration to Christ and to the Church, brought about by the Spirit, is indelible; it remains forever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace…Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church.” – (CCC, 1121-1271).
*
Why then is this particular formulation not commonly known or recognized? — Perhaps the key insight is a bit difficult to grasp: that it is possible to be invisibly united to a Church which is visible. Yet this is just what the Church has always said about her Sacrament of Baptism—that Baptism is an inward and spiritual bond to the outward and visible Catholic Church.
*
Contrary to popular belief, the Church since the time of St. Paul, has always been motivated to open the possibility of salvation to those outside the Roman communion. But these attempts have invariable stumbled upon two ancient dogmas: (1) that there is no salvation outside the Church, and (2) that the one and only genuine Church is that which has the pope of Rome as its visible head. The Protestant Reformers, because of their obvious separation from this Roman communion, were driven to generate the conception of an “invisible church” whose members are all of the predestined elect, known only to God. The Catholic Magisterium quite correctly insisted that an invisible Church is a scriptural and logical impossibility. The problem was magnified at the time as well by the fact that Luther, Calvin et al (apostate Catholic churchmen) really were genuine heresiarchs, in a way that their remote spiritual grandchildren are not. There seemed, therefore, at the time to be only one inescapable conclusion: that all persons everywhere who were not in full communion with the pope would be eternally lost.
*
But as time went on the Church’s own contrary traditions (expressed notably in the writings of Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, etc) began to create nagging doubts about this conclusion. She anathematized the Jansenists in the 17th century and the Feeneyites in the 20th.
*
Yet in attempting to explain these actions, her teachers often felt forced to “soften” one or another of our two troublesome dogmas: either there is some kind of invisible Church after all, or else membership in the only true Church is not, in fact, strictly necessary. And truly, these options would seem to be the only logical “outs” given the fact that the two dogmas do create, after all, a deductively perfect syllogism. Nevertheless, bit of these “escape hatches” directly contradict plain definitions made by the Church Fathers, the Councils, and the papal Magisterium. Perhaps the soundest, most conservative statement, when reaching this point was made by Pope Pius IX in his allocution Singulari Quadam in 1854: “It must be held as a matter of faith that outside the apostolic Roman Church no one can be saved…On the other hand, it must likewise be held as certain that those who are affected by ignorance of the true religion, if it is invincible ignorance, are not subject to any guilt in this matter before the eyes of the Lord…To
proceed with further investigation is wrong.”
*
Despite Pio Nono’s venerable advice, further investigation has continued. Perhaps he would forgive us because a strong analogy to the development of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity begins to suggest itself. During the Christological controversies of the second and third centuries the Church’s stubborn insistence on two apparently contradictory dogmas made her seem, to the erudite Greeks, donkey-like and illogical. Her ministers contented themselves to simply repeat with conviction that Christ is truly man, born of a woman, and that Christ is truly God, eternal and uncreate. The later Trinitarian definitions had yet to be made, and Catholics forced to rest upon this apparent paradox might well, in moments of frustration, have voiced the opinion that “further investigation is wrong.” But further investigation continued, to which we owe the great Nicene and Constantinopolitan definitions. Did the Trinitarian Councils “invent” a new doctrine to explain the paradox? No; they found the basis of the explanation in the Scriptures and Traditions which had always been in the Church from the beginning.
*
This paper postulates that the basis for the possibility of salvation for those outside the Roman communion has been present in her doctrine of Baptism from the beginning–to wit, that Baptism is an invisible bond to a Church which is visible. This “Baptismal Ecumenism” offers full membership in the sole Church of Christ to those in schism from or ignorant of the visible Church without compromising either of our two troublesome doctrines:
*
(A) That there is no salvation outside the Church…
*
This definition—solemnly affirmed over and over by Fathers, Councils, and Popes—is not only not compromised but is strongly reborn. “Baptismal Ecumenism” offers salvation to no one who remains outside the Church for any reason whatsoever. What it does is to reaffirm that Holy Baptism (whether by water, blood, or desire) is the doorway into the Church. Whoever has been baptized—in a Catholic parish, in a schismatic “ecclesial society”, by martyrdom, or by an implicit desire of which he may not even be consciously aware—has become a member of the one true Church of Jesus Christ outside of which, like Noah’s Ark, there is only destruction.
*
(B) That the one and only Church is that organization which has the Pope of Rome as its visible head.
*

This definition also—which likewise possesses the most powerful magisterial authority—is maintained without compromise. Those who have been baptized have not become members of an “invisible” or “merely pneumatological” church. They have become members of the only Church which exists; the one true apostolic Roman Church whose visible head is the pope. That some of these persons are not aware of this membership—or of its true nature—is irrelevant.

*
The baptismal mark itself has always been held by the Church to be invisible by nature. Any schism such persons maintain from the appointed shepherds of the Church is not essentially different from the disobedience or indifference of Catholics within the Roman communion; in fact, it may be less blameworthy. “Baptismal Ecumenism” even, it would seem, enlightens one of the Church’s most difficult pronouncements, that of Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam of 1302: “We are compelled in virtue of our faith to believe and maintain that there is only one Catholic Church, and that one apostolic. This we firmly believe and profess without qualification. Outside this Church there is no salvation and no remission of sins…We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”
*
Here we may say—also “without qualification”—that even persons baptized only by desire or by a schismatic baptism must be said to have been baptized into nothing else but the one Catholic Church. Since this Church is, in fact, “apostolic” its one and only visible head is the Roman Pontiff. This Roman Pontiff holds the keys to the kingdom, to heave and to purgatory. Whether his subjects recognize it or not, “whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever he will loose on earth with be loosed in heaven.” Therefore, anyone who is truly within the Church—that is, all baptized persons—are, by that very fact, made “subject to the Roman Pontiff.” Whether or not such persons choose to obey that Pontiff’s teachings is not a matter of within or without but a matter of virtue or guilt; and this problem is certainly not exclusive to those attending non-Catholic churches.
*
In conclusion, this formulation is perhaps unfamiliar because it is being suggested as a genuine development of the Church’s existing teachings on baptism.
*
But honestly, wasn’t Unam Sanctam occasioned by conflict with heretics? Wasn’t it deliberately intended by the pope to exclude schismatics from salvation?
*
It may have been or it may not. The pope’s charism of infallibility (which certainly was in operation in this very unambiguous definition) does not guarantee any temporal intentions but only the actual content of his teaching. And with “Baptismal Ecumenism” as our starting point, we may say that there is absolutely nothing in Unam Sanctam to exclude (without examining the content of their lives) anyone who has been validly baptized in the eyes of God. All members of the Catholic Church are “subject to the Roman Pontiff” whether they actually obey him or not, just as all Britishers are “subjects” of Queen Elizabeth whether they are good citizens or not. In this sense, the phrase “absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” is simply another way of saying one must belong to the Church to be saved.
*
On a related note: Some of the more recent approaches to understanding Unam Sanctam (the common appeal to “invincible ignorance” etc.) would seem to flirt with Semi-Pelagianism if applied to the necessity of Church membership for salvation. However, these same teachings do illumine the status of baptized persons who objectively disobey the Church’s pastors but who do so through no voluntary fault.
*
Isn’t all this rather alarming?…the notion that a person may become an actual member of the apostolic and Roman Catholic Church even by means of a “desire for baptism” which might be wholly unconscious?
*
Whether unfamiliar or not, we have seen that this idea is, at the very least, a valid inference from established doctrine. However unaccustomed we may be to the details, this formulation provides such persons access to the means of grace which are very traditional. Unlike other speculations,
“Baptismal Ecumenism” takes full account of the ancient understanding of the Catholic Church as a spiritual “Noah’s Ark”, the soul’s one hope of deliverance. Yes, the theoretical application of the Baptism of Desire to heretics, Saracens, and pagans might have given pause to the Fathers
of the Church…but no more so (and possibly a great deal less) than the common modern hope of salvation to such persons based solely on ignorance or blanket invocations of “the mercy of God.”
*
It is not difficult, for instance, to see a link between the Evangelical Christian’s concept of “accepting Christ” and the “baptism of desire” which the early Church thought would guarantee a catechumen his place in heaven even if his journey were interrupted by martyrdom before the actual waters could be applied. Likewise, when the Apostle Peter defines baptism as “an appeal to God for a clean conscience” (made efficacious, mind you, only “by means of the Resurrection of Christ” [1 Peter 3:21]) one wonders if such an appeal might spontaneously spring from many hearts worldwide at some supreme moment in their lives, even where actual water baptism is still unknown.
*
The concept of a “washing in blood”, too, seems to hold many wonderful possibilities that have yet to be unpacked—especially in light of the recent declaration (by Pope St. John Paul II) that St. Maximilian Kolbe died a martyr for Christ, even though he was never required explicitly to renounce his faith in Jesus. St. Maximilian died for another man in imitation of Christ, during the exercise of one of the Christian virtues—and this was declared by the pope to have won him a martyr’s crown. Might this, too, be possible to a person not yet “explicitly aware” of the Christian Faith? If so, one wonders about the many millions of soldiers who have willingly given their lives for in defense of their countrymen, or of any other person who has suffered
during the exercise of what you and I know to have been (though they themselves may not have) one of the Christian virtues.
*
Clearly, much further work needs to be done to develop these doctrines and this work will need to proceed under full submission to the successor of Peter and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
*
If this “Baptismal Ecumenism” is real, wouldn’t that invalidate the Church’s considerable modern attempts to solve this problem entirely through “invincible ignorance”—indeed, wouldn’t certain papal teachings on this subject have to be deemed false?
*
No. When speaking of the development of doctrine one must recognize that early attempts to address mysterious subjects will fail to satisfy the technical requirements of the explicit doctrine in its mature form. Thus, for instance, many of the Ante-Nicene Fathers make statements about
the person of Christ which fail to meet the requirements of later Nicene orthodoxy. This does not mean that Justin, Clement, or Irenaeus were Christological heretics; it only means that their preliminary statements were later shown to be inadequate.
*
That our recent (beginning in the 19th century) attempts to open the possibility of salvation to schismatics and non-Christians via “invincible ignorance” and so forth might turn out to be of this same nature is suggested by the tentative tone of the statements themselves: they are, without
exception, couched in the language of uncertainty…
*
“…it may be supposed that such persons would have desired baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.” (CCC)
*
“…men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” (CCC)
*
“Today, as in the past, many people do not have the opportunity to come to know or accept the Gospel revelation or to enter the Church…For such people, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally a part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation.” (St. John Paul II)
*
The reticence of these writers to allow Holy Baptism to accomplish its full, established effect in such cases seems wholly motivated by a desire to retain the Church’s traditional teaching against an “invisible” Protestant model of the Body of Christ. Yet if the reasonings presented here are valid, such reservations are unnecessary.
*
This writer has been able to find no basis for any belief in a Baptism which incorporates the person baptized into anything other than the one Church of Christ. Looking backward, we find that Cyprian denied the validity of schismatic baptism altogether (and has been corrected by definitive statements of the Magisterium). Firmillian did admit the efficacy of such baptisms but insisted that without subsequent union to the Roman communion this type of baptism would always fail to bear the fruit of salvation (a topic addressed only obliquely here, under “invincible ignorance”). Augustine fully affirmed all validly performed water baptisms, as well as baptisms of blood and desire. But nowhere does any ancient writer propose the existence of some kind of “quasi-church”, a holding body where baptized persons who are nevertheless not members of the Catholic Church (?) go to remain in limbo.
*
Contrast this with the many very explicit statements to the contrary (i.e., that all baptized persons are members of the Church and one with Christ, the head of that Body).
*
“By [Holy Baptism] we are made members of Christ and His Body, the Church.” – (Council of Florence)
*
“Baptism incorporates us into the Church.” – (CCC, 1267)
*
“Having become a member of the Church, the person baptized belongs no longer to himself but to Him who died and rose for us.” – (CCC, 1269)
*
“That the mystical body of Christ and the Catholic Church in communion with Rome are one and the same thing, is a doctrine based on revealed truth.” – (Pope Pius XII).

*****

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