Monday, January 23, 2006

The Catholic Church's View of Non-Catholic Christians (Karl Adam)

[edited and originally uploaded by Dave Armstrong in 1996]

Abridged version, by Dave Armstrong, of "The Church Necessary for Salvation," chapter 10, pp.169-186 of The Spirit of Catholicism, by Karl Adam (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1924, translated by Dom Justin McCann).

This book (in the editor's opinion, anyway) is one of the very best expositions of Catholicism ever written: very eloquent, biblical, imaginative, appealing, and orthodox. In it is found the following excellent treatment of the complex and multi-faceted question of how non-Catholic Christians are regarded by the Catholic Church, and how the Catholic Church believes itself to be the Church that Jesus Christ founded, while simultaneously acknowledging other Christians as members of the true, mystical Body of Christ as well. Furthermore, contrary to much misguided mythology, the Catholic Church does not presume to "damn" anyone by virtue of its own authority (neither "anathema" nor "excommunication" - both explicit biblical concepts - entail automatic damnation) - this being God's role alone.

This "ecumenical" teaching concerning non-Catholic Christians was merely reiterated and emphasized at Vatican II (1962-1965), and is nothing new, as many seem to think. Karl Adam wrote this book in 1924, forty years before that Council, and there is a long Tradition stretching all the way back to the Apostles, to which Adam makes reference within the chapter. The Catholic Church assuredly does - as most people are fully aware - condemn heresy, as all Christian groups must, but not in such a way as to exclude all who hold heretical beliefs from the Body of Christ or, necessarily, from ultimate salvation, as Adam will lucidly and carefully explain.

In contrast, unfortunately many Protestant denominations summarily exclude Catholicism from Christianity altogether, on - in my opinion - various inadequate and self-defeating grounds. I humbly submit, then, that if one is looking for "intolerance" and an overly "dogmatic" attitude towards Christians of differing persuasions, one must search somewhere other than the Catholic Church, despite the fact that it is - for some reason - burdened by the constant accusation of "intolerance."

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[p.169]

"And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican" (Matthew 18:17).

The Catholic Church as the Body of Christ, as the realisation in the world of the Kingdom of God, is the Church of Humanity........the exclusive institution wherein all men shall attain
salvation.....

The Church would belie her own deepest essence and her most outstanding quality, namely her inexhaustible fulness and that which guarantees and supports this fulness, her vocation to be the Body of Christ, if she were ever to recognise some collateral and antagonistic Christian church as her sister and as possessing equal rights with herself. She can recognise the historical importance of such churches, She can even designate them as Christian communions, yes, even as Christian churches, but never as the Church of Christ. One [p.170] God, one Christ, one Baptism, one Church. There can never be a second Christ, and in the same way there cannot be a second Body of Christ.......

The Catholic Church can and will appraise generously, and will countenance, all the communities of non-Catholic Christendom.......But she cannot recognise other Christian communions as churches of like order and rights with herself. To do so would be infidelity to her own nature, and would be the worst disloyalty to herself. In her own eyes the Catholic Church is nothing at all if she be not the Church, the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God. This exclusiveness is rooted in the exclusiveness of Christ, in His claim to be the bringer of the new life, to be the way, the truth and the life........

There is "no other name under heaven given to men, whereby they must be saved" (Acts 4:12). But we can grasp Christ only through His Church. It is true that He might, had He so willed, have imparted Himself and His grace to all men directly, in personal experience. But the question is not what might have been, but what Christ in fact willed to do. And in fact He willed to give Himself to men through men, that is by the way of a community life and not by the way of isolation and in- [p.171] dividualism......

It was not His will to sanctify a countless multitude of solitary souls, but a corporate kingdom of saints, a Kingdom of God......

From the very beginning, as St. Matthew testifies (Matthew 18:17) the necessity for salvation of belonging to the one fellowship was established on the basis of an express saying of our Lord's:.....St. Cyprian [d.258] afterwards expressed this conviction of primitive Christianity......: "To have the one God for your father, you must have the Church for your mother" (Ep. 74,7). "No man can be saved except in the Church" (Ep. 4,4). "Outside the Church there is no salvation" (Ep. 73,21).

Thus was formulated that sentence which puts the Church's claim to be the only source of salvation in the most concise form: "Outside the Church no salvation" [p.172] (Extra ecclesiam nulla salus). The Fourth Lateran Council (A.D. 1215) adopted this formula verbatim........

[p.174] ......But, we may ask, does that mean that all heretics and non-Catholics are destined to hell?.......

To begin with, it is certain that the declaration that there is no salvation outside the Church is not aimed at individual non-Catholics, at any persons as persons, but at non-Catholic churches and communions, in so far as they are non-Catholic communions. Its purpose is to formulate positively the truth that there is but one Body of Christ and therefore but one Church which possesses and imparts the grace of Christ in its fulness........So that the spiritual unfruitfulness which is predicated in the doctrine is not to be affirmed of the individual non-Catholic, but primarily of non-Catholic communions as such.........

[p.175].....[But] non-Catholic communions are not merely non-Catholic and anti-Catholic. When they set themselves up against the original Church of Christ, they took over and maintained a considerable amount of the Catholic inheritance, and also certain Catholic means of grace, in particular the sacrament of Baptism. They are therefore, if we regard them as a whole, not mere antithesis and negation, but also to a large extent thesis and affirmation of the ancient treasure of truth and grace that has come down to us from Christ and the apostles........And in so far as they are genuinely Catholic in their faith and worship, it can and will and must happen that there should be, even outside the visible Church, a real growth and progress in union with Christ. So is the promise of Jesus fulfilled: "And other sheep I have that are not of this fold" (John 10:16). Wherever the Gospel of Jesus is faithfully preached, and wherever baptism is conferred with faith in His Holy Name, there His grace can operate.......

The Church......upheld the validity of baptism in the Name of Jesus conferred by heretics. And it was Rome, Rome that is so violently attacked for her intolerance, and Pope Stephen, who even at the peril of an African schism would not allow heretical baptism to be impugned........

[p.176]....The Jansenists in the seventeenth century.....advocated the.....principle that "outside the Church there is no grace" (extra ecclesiam nulla conceditur gratia). But again it was Rome and a pope that expressly rejected this proposition.......

[p.177].....Non-Catholic sacraments have the power to sanctify and save, not only objectively, but also subjectively. It is therefore conceivable also, from the Church's standpoint, that there is a true, devout and Christian life in those non-Catholic communions which believe in Jesus and baptize in His Name. We Catholics regard this Christian life, wherever it appears, with unfeigned respect and with thankful love......

And not merely a Christian life, but a complete and lofty Christian life, a life according to the "full age of Christ," a saintly life, is possible - so Catholics believe - even in definitely non-Catholic communions. It is true that it cannot develop with that luxuriance which is possible in the Church, where is the fulness of Jesus and His Body; and it will never be anti-Catholic in its quality. Yet it will be a genuine saintly life; since, wherever grace is, the noble fruits of grace can ripen.......it is Catholic teaching that the grace of Christ operates, not only in the Christian [p.178] communions, but also in the non-Christian world, in Jews and in Turks and in Japanese. Every Catholic catechism, when it explains the ordinary form of baptism, lays emphasis also on that extraordinary form which is called baptism of desire. By that is meant that perfect love, evoked and supported by the redeeming grace of Jesus, has power to sanctify the soul, and that that soul so decisively affirms the will of God that it would at once receive baptism, if it knew of that sacrament or could receive it. As God sends His rain and His sunshine upon all, so does He send His conquering grace into the hearts of all those who hold themselves ready for it, who do what in them lies, who perform what their conscience bids them.......Wherever conscience is astir, wherever men are alive to God and His Holy Will, there and at the same time the grace of Christ co-operates and lays in the soul the seeds of the new supernatural life.......

[p.179]......The Church rightly maintains and continually reiterates, in decisive and uncompromising fashion, her claim to be the sole true Body of Christ; but at the same time she holds a generous and large-minded view regarding the activity of Christ's grace. That activity has no bounds or limits, but is as infinite as the love of God.........

In the Catholic Church the saving power, which was revealed in Christ, flows into the world with original force, in untroubled purity, and in complete and exhaustive fulness......

[p.180] she doe not choose only this or that precious jewel, but she calls her own the whole inheritance of revealed truth contained in Scripture and Tradition .........because and in so far as the Body of Christ comprehends all those who are saved by Christ, those also who are visited by His grace in this immediate way belong to His Church. It is true that they do not belong to its outward and visible body, but they certainly belong to its invisible, supernatural soul, to its supernatural substance. For the grace of Christ never works in the individual in
an isolated fashion, but always in the unity of His Body.......And thus it holds good, even for those brethren who are thus separated from the visible organism of the Church, that they too are saved in the Church, and not without her or in opposition to her.......

From the purely theological standpoint,.......the only possible conclusion regarding all heretics and schismatics, Jews and pagans, is that judgment of condemnation which the Council of Florence [1438-1445] pronounced upon them.........
[p.181].......It is thus, from this purely theological standpoint, that we are to understand the sharp anathemas pronounced by the Church against all heretics and schismatics.........In these pronouncements the Church is not deciding the good or bad faith of the individual heretic. Still less is she sitting in judgment on his ultimate fate. The immediate purport of her condemnation is that these heretics represent and proclaim ideas antagonistic to the Church. When ideas are in conflict, when truth is fighting against error, and revelation against human ingenuity, then there can be no compromise and no indulgence.......Dogmatic intolerance is therefore a moral duty, a duty to the infinite truth and to truthfulness.

But so soon as it is a question, not of the conflict between idea and idea, but of living men, of our judgment on this or that non-Catholic, then the theologian becomes a psychologist, the dogmatist a pastor of souls. He draws attention to the fact that the living man is very rarely the embodiment of an idea, that the conceptual world and mentality of the individual are so multifarious and complicated, that he cannot be reduced to a single formula. In other words the heretic, the Jew and the pagan seldom exist [p.182] in a pure state........Therefore the Church expressly distinguishes between "formal" and "material" heretics. A "formal" heretic rejects the Church and its teaching absolutely and with full deliberation; a "material" heretic rejects the Church from lack of knowledge, being influenced by false prejudice or by an anti-Catholic upbringing. St. Augustine [354-430] forbids us to blame a man for being a heretic because he was born of heretical parents, provided that he does not with obstinate self-assurance shut out all better knowledge, but seeks the truth simply and loyally (Ep. 43,1,1). Whenever the Church has such honest enquirers before her, she remembers that our Lord condemned Pharisaism but not the individual Pharisee, that He held deep and loving intercourse with Nicodemus, and allowed Himself to be invited by Simon......

It is true that heretics were tried and burnt in the Middle Ages. But that was not done only in Catholic countries, for Calvin himself had Servetus burnt. And capital punishment was employed against the Anabaptists, especially in Thuringia and in the Electorate of Saxony [i.e., Luther's home regions]. According to the Protestant theologian, Walter Kohler, even Luther after 1530 regarded the penalty of death as a justifiable punishment for heresy. (Reformation und Ketzerprozess, 1900, p.36) The fact that the persecution of heresy was approved as a justifiable thing by non-Catholic bodies, and in certain cases carried out in practice, goes to show that such persecution did not spring from the nature of Catholicism, or in particular from its exclusive claims. The origin of such persecutions is to be sought rather in the Byzantine and medieval conception of the state, whereby every attack on the unity of the faith was regarded as an open crime against the unity and stability of the state, and [p.183] one which had to be punished according to the primitive methods of the time......

The religion of the medieval man embraced his whole life and outlook......So that every revolt against the Catholic faith seemed to him to be a moral crime, a sort of murder of the soul and of God, an offence more heinous than parricide. And his outlook was logical rather than psychological. He rejoiced in the perception of truth, but he had little appreciation of the living conditions of soul by which this perception is reached.......In dealing with the living man we have to take account not only of the logical force of truth, but also of the particular quality of the mental and spiritual endowment with which he reacts to the truth. Because they were not alive to the infinite variety of such spiritual endowment, they were all too ready, especially when truth was impugned, to conclude at once that it was a case of "evil will" (mala fides) and to pass sentence of condemnation, even though there were insuperable intellectual obstacles (ignorantia invincibilis) in the way of the perception of the truth. This pre-eminently logical attitude of mind is characteristic of the Middle Ages. That epoch had no feeling for life as a flowing thing with its own peculiar laws, no appreciation of history, whether within us or without us. And this attitude was not to be overcome and corrected, until the spirit of the time changed, until in the course of centuries and by a long evolution a new outlook took its place. Therefore the persecutions of heretics did not proceed from the nature of Catholicism, [p.184] but from the political and mental attitude of the Middle Ages.....

The theologian has by means of psychological and historical studies attained a wider understanding and become increasingly cautious in attributing an "evil will" to the heretic. He has become more alive to the thousand possibilities of invincible and therefore excusable error.......

Wherefore the Church's claim to be the Church of salvation by no means excludes a loving and sympathetic appreciation of the subjective conditions and circumstances under which heresy has arisen. Nor is her condemnation of a heresy always at the same time a condemnation of the individual heretic......

[p.185] But those also who know her not receive these gifts from her; yes, even those who misjudge and fight against her, provided they are in good faith, and are simply and loyally seeking the truth without self-righteous obstinacy......Though they be outwardly separated from the Church, they belong to its soul.

So that the non-Catholic of good will is already fundamentally united to the Church. It is only that he sees her not. Yet she is there, invisible and mysterious. And the more he grows in faith and in love, the more plainly will she become actually visible to him.....And it is because we believe that very many non-Catholics are already thus invisibly united with the Church, that we do not abandon [p.186] our conviction that this invisible union will one day be made visible in all its beauty. The more consciously and completely we all of us exhibit the spirit of Christ, the more certainly will that hour of grace approach, when the veils will fall from all eyes, when we shall put away all prejudice and misunderstanding and bitterness, when we shall once again as of old extend to one another the hand of brotherhood, when there shall be one God, one Christ, one shepherd and one flock.

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