Vs. J. Oliveira #9: Salvation & the Church

Vs. J. Oliveira #9: Salvation & the Church October 5, 2023
Brazilian Protestant Juan Roberto de Oliveira is the author of the book, Nenhum Caminho Leva a Roma: O pecurso até o protestantismo [No Road Leads to Rome: The Path to Protestantism]. It has no date or publisher listed. But it was “recently released.” He’s a “law graduate” and is active on Twitter (now “X”) and, especially, Instagram. When I informed Juan of my replies, he quickly wrote on Twitter: “I’ll be rebutting your rebuttals.” I wish him all the best in that endeavor. If anyone discovers that he has ever answered any of my critiques, please let me know.
His words will be in blue. Translations from the Portugese of his book will be made with Google Translate (with an occasional additional modification). I will use RSV for Bible translations.
Just as I finished my tenth installment (10-5-23), Fraternidade Newman Brasil [Newman Brazil Fraternity] published a devastatingly comprehensive (and shocking) expose entitled “Apologética da Desonestidade: Evidências de Plágio e outras Trapaças no Livro do Protestante Juan Roberto Oliveira” [Apologetics of Dishonesty: Evidence of Plagiarism and other Cheating in the Book of Protestant Juan Roberto Oliveira].
In light of this new information, this will be my last critique. It’s a shame, because I was enjoying myself so much, and I felt that I came up with some fresh arguments, but this book deserves no further response. It was already a very weak, poor volume (desperately in need of an editor), even if these factors weren’t in play. What I have written thus far has, in my opinion, value in and of itself, as a ten-part Catholic apologetics “course.” So it wasn’t a waste of time at all. But no more. I’m only interested in responding to serious, adequately researched, honest apologetics.

The expression “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” is a Latin phrase that can be translated as “Outside the Church there is no salvation”. . . . The idea behind this phrase is that the Catholic Church is seen as the only path to eternal salvation and therefore anyone who desires to achieve salvation must be a member of the Catholic Church. Historically, this belief was associated with the concept of religious exclusivism, which maintains that only those who follow the Catholic faith can be saved. (p. 67)

The issue is far more complex than Juan (as usual) makes it out to be. First of all, it isn’t just the Catholic Church that makes this claim (i.e., rightly understood, as opposed to the widespread caricatures of it). Prominent early Protestant leader John Calvin did, too:

[B]eyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for . . . the abandonment of the Church is always fatal. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV, 1:4)

[N]one obtain forgiveness but those who are citizens, and of the household of the Church . . . (Is. 33:24). (Inst., IV, 1:20)

Both Martin Luther and John Calvin never got “rebaptized” when they left the Catholic Church, because they both recognized Catholic baptism as a valid sacrament, and that Catholicism (headed by the pope in Rome) remained fundamentally, essentially Christian, no matter how much corruption had crept into it, according to them. Luther, writing in 1528, was quite remarkably explicit about this:

The Christendom that now is under the papacy is truly the body of Christ and a member of it. If it is his body, then it has the true spirit, gospel, faith, baptism, sacrament, keys, the office of the ministry, prayer, holy Scripture, and everything that pertains to Christendom. So we are all still under the papacy and therefrom have received our Christian treasures. . . .

We do not rave as do the rebellious spirits, so as to reject everything that is found in the papal church. For then we would cast out even Christendom from the temple of God, and all that it contained of Christ. (Concerning Rebaptism: A Letter to Two Pastors, 1528, from Luther’s Works, Vol. 40, 225-262; translated by Conrad Bergendoff)

Juan would probably respond at this point, “but the Catholic Church is not nearly so gracious and ecumenical as that!” And if he did he would be wrong. Our ecumenical views and official position that Protestants are part of the Body of Christ and our “separated” brothers and sisters in Christ didn’t start with Vatican II in the 1960s (as many — including many inadequately catechized Catholics — wrongly think). The Council of Trent, in its seventh session in 1547 (“On Baptism”) stated:

CANON IV.-If any one saith, that the baptism which is even 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 doth, is not true baptism; let him be anathema.

See also the Council of Florence, Session 8, from the year 1439, over a hundred years earlier. It stated:

[I]n case of necessity not only a priest or a deacon, but even a lay man or a woman, even a pagan and a heretic, can baptize provided he or she uses the form of the church and intends to do what the church does.

The Catholic Church regards trinitarian Protestant baptism (whether sprinkling babies or adult immersion) as sacramentally valid, which means that anyone who receives it (virtually all Protestants) are regenerated, part of the Body of Christ, and are recipients of all of the many supernatural blessings that derive from it. One Catholic site compiled passages form the Catechism of the Catholic Church, regarding the graces received at baptism (which Protestants also receive):

For the forgiveness of sins – ‘A new creature’

Immersion in water symbolises not only death and purification, but also regeneration and renewal. Thus the two principal effects are purification from sin and new birth in the Holy Spirit.

By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. Yet, temporal consequences of sin remain such as concupiscence or inclination to sin. Baptism makes the neophyte a ‘new creature’, ‘an adopted Son of God’, ‘a partaker of the divine nature’, member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptised sanctifying grace, the grace of justification. The whole organism of the Christian’s supernatural life has its roots in Baptism – the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the moral virtues.

Incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ

Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ and incorporates us into the Church. The Baptised are ‘built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood’. By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and holy mission. Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers.

The baptised belongs not to himself but to Him who died and rose for us. There is a duty to obey the Church’s leaders. The baptised also enjoys rights within the Church – to receive the remaining six Sacraments, the Word of God and to be nourished by other spiritual helps. Baptism constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who are reborn.

An Indelible Spiritual Mark

The person baptised is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated.

This sacramental character consecrates them for Christian religious worship and sharing in the holy liturgy.

The Holy Spirit has marked us with the ‘seal of the Lord’ for the day of redemption. Baptism is indeed the seal of eternal life.

Catholics also hold that marriage between two lifelong non-divorced Protestants is a sacrament and therefore gives grace.

Therefore, it is neither strictly required that one be a member of the Catholic Church in order to be saved, nor that they adhere to all Catholic teachings. If Juan had done proper research into this issue he wouldn’t have been so inexcusably — and embarrassingly — wrong. But the incipient prejudice and bias of anti-Catholics usually precludes such necessary and honest work.

It is true, I hasten to add, as a Catholic apologist and educator, that if a person becomes convinced in their conscience that the Catholic Church teaches the fullness of Christian truth, and is the one true Church of Christ, that they are then required to join it, on pain of possible loss of salvation if they do not. But millions of non-Catholics truly have not come to that point, for a variety of reasons, and are therefore less culpable in God’s — and the Church’s — eyes.

For many more explanations of this issue, see the section on my Ecumenism and Christian Unity web page.

An exclusivist church is one that believes it is the only holder of religious or spiritual truth, claiming that only its members are on the right path to salvation or a genuine connection with the divine. (p. 67)

Many sects fit into this description. The Catholic Church does not. Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio, 21 November 1964) offers a magnificently ecumenical statement concerning the Christian endowments of Protestants (my caps):

Moreover, some, even very many, of the most significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist OUTSIDE the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. ALL of these . . . COME FROM CHRIST and lead back to him . . . (3)

The brethren divided from us also carry out many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. In ways that vary according to the conditions of each Church or community, these liturgical actions most certainly can truly engender a LIFE OF GRACE, and, one must say, can aptly GIVE ACCESS TO THE COMMUNION OF SALVATION. (3)

the separated Churches and communions as such . . . have been by no means deprived of significance and IMPORTANCE IN THE MYSTERY OF SALVATION. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as a MEANS OF SALVATION which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church. (3)

Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the TRULY CHRISTIAN ENDOWMENTS for our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognize the RICHES OF CHRIST and virtuous works in the lives of others who are BEARING WITNESS TO CHRIST, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood. (4)

Nor should we forget that anything WROUGHT BY THE GRACE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT in the hearts of our separated brethren can CONTRIBUTE TO OUR OWN EDIFICATION. Whatever is TRULY CHRISTIAN is never contrary to what GENUINELY BELONGS TO THE FAITH; indeed, it can always bring a more perfect realization of the very mystery of Christ and the Church. (4)

we rejoice that our separated brethren look to Christ as the source and center of ecclesiastical communion. Their longing for union with Christ impels them ever more to seek unity, and also to bear witness to their faith among the peoples of the earth. (20)

A love and reverence . . . of Holy Scripture leads our brethren to a constant and diligent study of the sacred text . . . in the dialogue itself, the sacred word is a precious instrument in the mighty hand of God for attaining to that unity which the Saviour holds out to all men. (21)

For more along these lines, see my article, How Catholics View Protestants.

However, it is important to note that not all churches or religions that consider themselves exclusivists, are necessarily harmful or intolerant. Some may take a more inclusive approach to others’ beliefs, promoting peaceful coexistence and mutual respect: which is not the case with the Roman Catholic church. (p. 68)

This is a falsehood, as unanswerably proven above. The Catholic Church is more respectful towards Protestants than many Protestant bodies are towards us (or each other, for that matter). For example, the Lutheran Book of Concord, which is that denomination’s continuing creedal and authoritative standard for doctrine, makes the following outrageous statement, comparing the Catholic Mass to ancient Baal-worship in Israel:

[J]ust as in Israel, Baalitic services continued, and, nevertheless, a Church of God was there which disapproved of godless services, so Baalitic worship inheres in the domain of the Pope, namely, the abuse of the Mass, . . . And it seems that this Baalitic worship will endure as long as the reign of the Pope, until Christ will come to judge, and by the glory of His advent destroy the reign of Antichrist. Meanwhile all who truly believe the Gospel [that they may truly honor God and have a constant comfort against sins; for God has graciously caused His Gospel to shine, that we might be warned and saved] ought to condemn these wicked services, devised, contrary to God’s command, in order to obscure the glory of Christ and the righteousness of faith. (Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV: Of the Mass, sec. 98)

I ask Juan: is that more “exclusivistic” than Catholic teachings on other Christians, outlined above? Is it “harmful or intolerant” or does it fosterpeaceful coexistence and mutual respect”?

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Summary: Juan Oliveira misrepresents the Catholic Church’s view of non-Catholics and salvation. I present the actual facts, stressing our view regarding valid Protestant baptism.

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