Friday, 17 May 2013

Renewing the Church in Australia Step 8: Commit to the need for conversion to Catholicism!

Today Cath News strikes again with one of those classically erroneous Cath Blog posts, this time on the subject of the necessity of being baptised and/or a Catholic in order to get to heaven.

In short, today's post suggests that a Mormon woman interested in becoming a Catholic shouldn't bother, because she is clearly among the millions who will be saved since Christ died for all.  Is that the Churches teaching?  Well no!

I have to say that given the author's qualifications -  it is written by Dr Angela McCarthy, a lecturer in Theology in the School of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Notre Dame in Perth - Cath News' editor is perhaps not to blame for thinking this piece was legitimate to run.  This seems to be a case where the scandal needs to be laid at the feet of whatever bishop gave Dr McCarthy permission to teach and has failed to revoke her license to continue doing so!

Is baptism necessary?

The post talks about a Mormon married to a Catholic wondering about whether, as she had been told by someone, she wouldn't make it into heaven with her husband and children since she hadn't been baptised.  The author claims that what she had been told was erroneous since "Jesus Christ died for us all, not just for some".

Sorry, but that is not in fact what the Church teaches.

In fact the Catechism of the Catholic Church reaffirms the traditional, formally defined doctrine that outside the Church there is no salvation, and baptism is indeed a necessity:

"The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit."...(CCC 1257)

Has Church teaching changed?

Unfortunately Dr McCarthy apparently subscribes to the 'doctrine can change' view'. She says:

"...The previous teaching propagated by Catholics that you had to be Catholic to go to heaven is not the doctrine of the Church but somehow the minds of people have not changed from that error.

There are millions of very good, faith-filled, people in this world who have not, and who will never receive Baptism but who will be glorified after death because Jesus Christ died for us all, not just for some."

The traditional doctrine, which was formally defined at the Fourth Lateran Council is of course, is that membership of the Church is necessary for all men for salvation.  Sounds tough?  The Fourth Lateran Council declared that "The universal Church of the faithful is one outside of which none is saved" and that teaching has been reiterated many times since.

So no, the teaching hasn't changed!

It is true that the Church has always admitted some exceptions to the necessity of the sacrament of baptism: for Jews who died before the sacrament was instituted (hence all those Old Testament saints); for those catechumens who die before they are baptised, yet clearly went through the baptism of desire (CCC 1258); and those martyred for the faith, who receive a baptism of faith.

Some (such as the Feenyites) would admit of no other possibilities.

But in the absence of further formal definitions on these issues by the Magisterium there is room for some legitimate debate on what constitutes membership of the Church, for example.  And there is room for debate amongst theologians on questions such as what is necessary for the baptism of desire to occur.

Invincible ignorance

The wording of the Catechism above, for example, talking about the necessity of baptism for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed, points to the possibility of some other possible exceptions, based on the Council of Florence's teaching that:

"Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery." 

The Catechism links this the possibility of salvation to an implicit baptism of desire in cases of 'invincible ignorance':

"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." (CCC 1260)

It has to be remembered though that heaven is a free gift from God, not a right.

That we have received baptism, and been given the great grace of membership of the Catholic Church is something we should be daily giving thanks for!

And we need to keep at the top of our minds that we have to play our own part in the salvation of ourselves and others by responding to God's offer of grace.

Christ died for all, just as he made us all.

But as Sherry Weddell reminded those who have heard her speak recently, the classic requirement is that we respond to God's offer of salvation.  St Augustine, she pointed out, said:

“God who created you without you, will not save you without you” (Sermon 169, 13).

Discouraging conversion!

The particularly alarming aspect of today's Cath News post is that Dr McCarthy makes it clear that this is not a case of invincible ignorance: the woman in question is not only married to a Catholic, not only has children who are baptised, but is actually one of her (theology?) students!  And because of what she had been told, was actually thinking of becoming a Catholic:

"This had concerned her deeply and so she was considering joining Catholicism purely to be assured of an afterlife with those she loves the most."

If, as the post seems to suggest, Dr McCarthy told her not to worry, then she has surely committed a very grave sin indeed.  Regardless, her license to teach theology in a Catholic institution should surely be revoked in the light of this post.

God is free to save others

There are of course other areas of (legitimate) debate around who is saved.

What about others who have faith in God, but not the triune one for example?  I've heard some convoluted theological arguments purporting to justify a claim that Muslims can be saved for example.  Personally, I think such arguments are utterly unconvincing (except in the case of invincible ignorance), but it is of course true, as Dr McCarthy suggests, that we cannot know the mind of God, and that God is not himself bound by the sacraments.  

In particular, contrary to Dr McCarthy's claims, we cannot positively know that 'millions' will be saved, whether formally members of the visible Church or not.  Nor can we cannot predicate our actions and advice on the vague hope that God might choose to save others outside the visible Church.  

Renewing the Church in Australia: commitment to the need for converts!

Over the last several days, I've been talking about what needs to be done to renew the Church in Australia.  One of the most basic things needed would appear to be a renewed commitment to that biblical injunction to go out and make disciples of all nations!

God has given us his Church for a reason, and as the Catechism states, though God himself 'is not bound by his sacraments', he has 'bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism'.

That is why he instructed the disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them.

Unless we truly believe this, the Church in Australia will die out.

A good start would be to put a stop to the subversion of the faith going on in so-called Catholic institutions, and the propagation of error by Catholic organisations such as Cath News...

And you can find the final part of this series here.


Matthew Roth said...

Indeed: I can tell you of this necessity through two lenses. My nana and grandfather were married by Fr Feeney, SJ, whose brother of course was Fr Feeney of the St Benedict's Center who fell into heresy for about 2 decades. This is rebutted by the witness of 2 martyrs, Sts Magnus and Bonosa, kept at St Martin of Tours (Louisville KY). Magnus was a centurion who jumped in and was martyred alongside the virgin Bonosa, baptized by water we believe...nothing changed on either side. Sorry folks!

A Canberra Observer said...

And in the afternoon weekend edition you have Fr Rolheiser hosted pushing is sexual self discovery barrow as an argument against priestly celibacy.
CathNews is pernicious in its choice of stories - always in the background is an agenda, and it is one of changing the identity of the Church. Rather like a comment I saw on another blog: their mission "is to reconcile Catholics to secular modernity".

The Loon said...

Ad Gentes 7 from Vatican II, though more wordier, says No salvation outside the the Church, as per other ecumenical councils like Florence and Lateran 4.

Kate Edwards said...

Yes I think the confusion has crept in partly because of the promotion of what I think is outright error (viz Rahner's concept of 'anonymous Christians' and related ideas) and partly because of a misguided ecumenical sensitivity.

Spirit of Vatican IIism in other words, which involves a reluctance to articulate just what constitutes the Church!

My own view is that some righteous pagans without access to the internet aside, baptism alone is not enough, and that protestants (save for those who can genuinely claim invincible ignorance), heretics and schismatics are in extreme danger of losing their souls. Indeed, that is pretty much what Pius XII said in Mystici Corporis.

And it is a view arguably still reflected in canon law definitions of who is a Catholic, as well as (albeit very carefully worded) assorted CDF documents, such as the one on evangelization, and the statement on the Church.

But saying it out loud and forcefully is not a popular position to take these days...