April 2008 Print

Catechism of the Crisis in the Church (Pt. 11)

Fr. Matthias Gaudron

(Continued from The Angelus, March 2008, Question 45: What is the new conception of ecumenism?)

  • What is noteworthy in this text?

First of all, it is worth pointing out that this passage designates heretical and schismatic communities as "ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church." This implies that they are nonetheless in partial or imperfect communion.


  • Is the expression "full communion" novel?

The distinction between full and imperfect communion is a major innovation of Vatican II.1


  • What is the Church's traditional teaching on this subject?

The Church's teaching is very simple: to be saved it is necessary to belong to the Church either in re (in reality, that is, by fulfilling the three classic conditions: baptism, Catholic faith, submission to the hierarchy), or at least in voto (by a desire, explicit or implicit).2 Consequently, those who do not have the Catholic faith or who are not submissive to the hierarchy, and who, moreover, have not even an implicit desire to change their state, do not belong to the Church at all. They cannot secure their salvation with these dispositions.


  • What is Vatican II's innovation?

The Council tried to find intermediate states between belonging to the Church and not belonging. The non-Catholic Christians would be in "imperfect communion" with the Church (UR 3; LG 15) and all men, even non-Christians, would be "related in various ways to the people of God" (LG 16). This implies that they could be confident of their salvation without having the desire (at least implicit) of changing their state and becoming a member of the Church.


  • How can heretical or schismatic communities be, according to Vatican II, in "imperfect communion" with the Church?

To affirm that the Christians and communities separated from the Church are in "imperfect communion" with it, the Council invokes, like Cardinal Ratzinger [in Dominus Jesus], the "elements of sanctification" they contain, and by which they would be in communion with the unique Church of Christ.


  • Isn't it true that the schismatic communities, or even the heretical communities, conserve some elements of sanctification?

It is true that the Protestants conserve Sacred Scripture (more or less altered), and that the Eastern schismatics conserve the Sacraments. But traditional theology did not designate these realities stolen from the Catholic Church as "elements of sanctification" or "elements of the Church," but rather as "vestiges" of the true religion.


  • Is the replacement of the term "vestiges" by the term "elements of the Church" important?

This change of vocabulary is not innocent because the word vestiges expressed an important truth: the elements stolen from the Catholic Church by the separated communities by that very fact cease to be a living reality. They become "ruins."


  • Yet the sacrament of baptism administered in a community separated from the Church can be valid. Isn't the term "element of sanctification" more appropriate than "ruin"?

Here we must carefully distinguish between a valid sacrament and a fruitful sacrament. A sacrament can be valid without being fruitful, that is to say, without giving grace, if it encounters in the soul an impediment to this grace.


  • Can you clarify this by giving an example of the distinction between a valid sacrament and a fruitful sacrament?

The sacrament of marriage would be received validly but not fruitfully by a person in the state of mortal sin. He would be really married but would not receive the graces usually given by this sacrament (and, moreover, would commit a sacrilege).


  • How does this distinction between valid sacrament and fruitful sacrament concern the heretical or schismatic communities?

The distinction between a valid sacrament and a fruitful sacrament is important because adherence to schism or heresy is per se an impediment to grace. It implies that a sacred reality, even holy in itself, cannot be an "element of holiness" inasmuch as it is in a community separated from the Church. The community is, in and of itself, an impediment to the sanctifying efficacy of the element it has taken.


  • Yet, are there not cases in which the sacraments dispensed outside the Church can be fruitful (that is to say, give grace)?

The sacraments given outside the Church can only be fruitful in cases where the person who receives them does not adhere formally to the heresy or schism. (This is the case, for example, of children below the age of reason, or of people who are in what is called a state of "invincible ignorance.") In this case, even if the sacrament is received materially from a community separated from the Church, the person only receives it fruitfully because by his intention (in voto) he escapes from this community.


  • Is this a certain and traditional teaching in the Church?

St. Augustine explains that all the goods which are in the Church can be found, in a certain measure, outside the Church, except the grace by which these goods are salutary:

God in His unity can be honored outside the Church; the faith which is one can be encountered outside her; baptism, which is unique, can be validly administered outside her bosom. And yet, just as there is only one God, one faith, one baptism, there is only one incorruptible Church: not only in which the true God is honored but alone in which He is honored with piety; not only in which the one true faith is conserved, but alone in which it is conserved with charity; not only in which true baptism exists, but alone in which it exists for salvation.3


  • Can you cite another Father of the Church on this subject?

St. Bede the Venerable, in his Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Peter, expresses this truth in a striking manner. Speaking of the analogy made by St. Peter between the Flood and baptism (I Pet. 3:21), he explains that for those who are baptized outside the Church, the water of baptism is not an instrument of salvation, but rather of damnation:

The fact that the floodwater does not save, but kills those situated outside the ark prefigures without the least doubt that every heretic, though he possess the sacrament of baptism, is not plunged into hell by other waters than by the very waters that lift the ark to heaven.4


  • Isn't it an exaggeration to say that baptism received outside the Church would be a cause of damnation?

Active participation in a religious ceremony of a heretical or schismatic community is of itself, by its very nature, an act of assent to the faith of this community. Thus even baptism becomes, in these circumstances, sinful and an occasion of scandal. That is why St. Bede the Venerable says that the very water of baptism is in this case a cause of damnation.


  • Is the Second Vatican Council opposed to this teaching?

Yes, Vatican II is opposed to this teaching by affirming that the heretical or schismatic communities are in imperfect communion with the Church, and by implying that there is a certain (imperfect) presence of the Church of Christ in the Christian communities separated from the Catholic Church.


  • Has this idea of an (imperfect) presence of the Church of Christ in the communities separated from the Church of Christ been enounced explicitly?

John Paul II affirmed in his Encyclical Ut Unum Sint (§11):

Indeed, the elements of sanctification and truth present in the other Christian Communities, in a degree which varies from one to the other, constitute the objective basis of the communion, albeit imperfect, which exists between them and the Catholic Church. To the extent that these elements are found in other Christian Communities, the one Church of Christ is effectively present in them.


  • But is this idea to be found in the documents of Vatican II?

We read in the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio (§15), regarding the schismatic Eastern Churches:

Hence, through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in each of these churches, the Church of God [!] is built up and grows in stature and through concelebration, their communion with one another is made manifest.

A community which is separated from the true Church is considered as belonging to "the Church of God."


  • What does Vatican II think of the non-Christian religions?

Even towards the non-Christian religions, the Council makes an effort to have the most positive view possible. The conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate sings the praises of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism.


  • How can this change of attitude towards the non-Christian religions be characterized?

Whereas before the Church worked to evangelize the adepts of pagan religions, the post-conciliar Church engages in "dialogue" with them.


  • Is this change of attitude publicly recognized?

The document Dialogue and Mission of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue explicitly states in its opening lines:

"The Second Vatican Council marked a new stage in the relations of the Catholic Church with the believers of other religions....This new attitude took the name of dialogue."5


  • What does the word dialogue mean in the Council's language?

The document Dialogue and Mission explains in depth the meaning of the word dialogue:

It signifies not only the fact of engaging in conversation, but also the ensemble of positive, constructive interreligious relations among individuals and communities of diverse beliefs for the sake of getting to know one another and for mutual enrichment.6

The same document gives this definition of dialogue in its §13:

...dialogue [is] the meeting of Christians with the believers of other religious traditions so that they can work together in search of the truth [!] and collaborate in works of common interest.7


  • What ought we to conclude from these affirmations?

If the Catholics work with the non-Christians in search of the truth and it is question of reciprocal enrichment, clearly the Church has abandoned any claim to alone possess the truth!


  • Have the partisans of conciliar ecumenism explicitly renounced the goal of converting the non-Catholics?

Very many partisans of the Council's brand of ecumenism have renounced any intention of seeking the conversion of non-Catholics. We read, for example, in the Ecumenical Catechism prefaced by the Most Reverend Degenhardt, Archbishop of Paderborn, and highly praised by several bishops:

The goal is not the return, but rather the communion of the Sister-Churches; unity in reconciled diversity; the unity of Churches. The Churches remain, but become one single Church.8

46) Are the non-Catholic Christian confessions really partial embodiments of the Church of Christ?

The Christian confessions separated from the Catholic Church are dissidents, and do not belong to it. Even if they keep some Christian truths, and even a valid baptism, they remain separated from the Mystical Body of Christ. Consequently, no one can be saved who, having recognized that the Catholic Church is the one true Church of Christ, fails to enter it and stays in a heretical or schismatic community.


  • How does one belong to the true Church of Christ?

In Mystici Corporis, Pope Pius XII teaches that three elements are necessary for belonging to the true Church of Christ–baptism, true faith, and submission to the legitimate authority:

Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed (§22).


  • Then, even though they keep the seven sacraments and agree with the Catholic Church on most points of faith, the schismatic Churches do not belong to the true Church of Christ?

The Eastern Schismatic Churches, even if they keep the sacraments and are in agreement with the Catholic Church about most points of faith, are not the true Church of Christ, for they refuse to recognize the primacy and the infallibility of the Successor of Peter, and Christ said that whoever refuses to hear the Church is to be considered as a heathen and a publican (Mt. 18:17).


  • What should be said of the heretical communities?

If the schismatic communities do not belong to the one Church of Christ, this is all the more true of the heretical communities (Protestants, for example), who depart from the true faith on numerous points.


  • Has this truth been called into question within the Church?

Unfortunately, this truth has frequently been called into question. On May 6, 1983, a joint Lutheran-Roman Catholic commission met at Kloster Kirchberg in Wurtemberg, issued a statement concerning the heresiarch Luther:

"Together, we begin to recognize him as a witness to the Gospel, as a master in the faith, as a herald of a spiritual renewal....The taking into account of the historically conditioned nature of our modes of expression and thought has equally contributed to a broader acknowledgment in Catholic circles of Luther's thought as a legitimate form of Christian theology...."9

47) Are non-Catholic Christian confessions and the non-Christian religions means of salvation?

The non-Catholic Christian confessions and the non-Christian religions are not means of salvation, but rather, perdition. Certainly, the adepts of the false religions can be saved in them, if, living heedful of their consciences and striving to fulfill the will of God insofar as they know it, they receive from God the theological virtues; but God only knows when this happens. We can only say that one may be able to be saved in the false religions–or, rather, despite them–but never by means of them.


  • The non-Catholic Christian communities (the Protestants, for instance) provide their members a certain number of goods useful for salvation (baptism, Holy Scripture, etc.); in this are they not means of salvation?

Everything that can be found of truth and goodness in Protestantism or in the schismatic Churches belongs by right to the Church. Even the conciliar Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, was made to include a statement to that effect in its §3, at the express demand of Pope Paul VI.


  • How was this addition, imposed by the Pope, received?

One readily gathers that the liberal theologians were dissatisfied. Rahner and Vorgrimler had these comments:

"The statement that these goods belong by right (jure) to the Church of Christ is one of the 19 modifications made by the Pope that were added in November 1964 to a text that had already been voted, and that, because of their narrowness, left a rather more unfavorable impression than is warranted by the teaching contained in the document (here we are alluding only to the changes that especially offended the non-Catholics)."10


  • So then Vatican II does reiterate Catholic doctrine on this point?

The very same §3 of the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio unfortunately contains a "monstrosity," a good example of the Council's contradictions: "For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them [the separated Churches and Communities] as means of salvation."


  • Concretely, is it not through their heretical or schismatic communities that the Christians separated from the Church receive certain means of salvation (even if these means belong, per se, to the Catholic Church)?

The sacred realities kept unduly by the heretical or schismatic societies can only give grace and salvation insofar as those who receive them refuse (albeit implicitly) formal adherence to the heresy or schism; in other words: only insofar as they escape from these societies by the inmost intention of their wills. Far from being "means of salvation," these societies, in and of themselves, render sterile everything they have taken from the Catholic Church, even the sacraments (which are nonetheless, per se, the means of salvation par excellence).

  • The communities separated from the Church and the non-Christian religions, then, cannot be ordinary means of salvation?

Not only are the false religions not ordinary means of salvation, they are not even extraordinary means; they are only obstacles to salvation.11 If some of their members are in the state of grace, it is uniquely because they are in a state of ignorance and thus not guilty of their separation from the body of the Church. According to traditional teaching, they can belong to the soul of the Church. But they belong individually, and not in and by their communities. The false religions, far from leading people to the Catholic Church, turn them away from it. They are not willed by God.


  • What should we think of the reasoning of those who affirm that the separated communities are means of salvation because of the elements of sanctification to be found in them?

This reasoning is a sophism because it is based on something that happens per accidens (incidentally), by reason of the personal dispositions of this or that member of the community, from which it draws a conclusion about the value of the society as a whole (per se). With that kind of reasoning, it could be argued that Judas is a saint and that he did an eminently meritorious act by delivering up Christ, since he thus allowed the redemption of the human race to occur!


  • What should we think of Vatican II's positive assessments of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism to be found in Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Non-Christian Religions?

The conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate is deliberately partial. Its official reporter declared publicly that it was drafted in keeping with a decision not to tell the whole truth about these religions, but only what could make them appear to be compatible with Christianity.12 This deliberate misrepresentation of those religions is quite simply an act of treason against our Lord Jesus Christ.


  • Does not the Declaration Nostra Aetate redeem itself when it states immediately afterward that the Church "proclaims, and ever must proclaim, Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself" (§2)?

Our Lord Jesus Christ not only affords us "the fullness" of religious life; He is the only mediator between God and men (I Tim. 2:5), the only ambassador received by God, and who intercedes unceasingly for us (Heb. 7:25). "Who is a liar, but he who denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is Antichrist, who denieth the Father, and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father" (I Jn. 2:22-23). "For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Every religion that refuses this mediation is intrinsically evil. It is contradictory to pretend to announce Christ while vaunting of (even partially) the religions that reject Him.


  • Despite all that, surely these religions contain some good elements?

Even in the material order, the judgment of whether a cake is good or bad depends not only on its ingredients, but on the cake as a whole. Good ingredients, excellent in themselves, mixed in the wrong proportions can spoil it; the introduction of one rancid ingredient can make it inedible, and the addition of a few drops of poison would have a greater effect upon the final result than a lot of good butter, flour, and chocolate. In the spiritual order, this reality applies all the more. A religion is not merely a material agglomeration of "elements"; it forms a whole (just as a scientific or philosophical system or a demonstration, etc.). This whole is good or bad, true or false, as a whole. And if it is bad as a whole, then the good elements matter little.


  • Despite that, can one not underscore the parcels of truth these religions contain?

Every erroneous system contains parcels of truth; an obvious folly would have no adherents. But these parcels of truth are captured by the false system that makes use of them (and that utilizes their verisimilitude and attractiveness to its advantage). Moreover, these elements of truth are themselves falsified because they are linked to errors that distort them.


  • Can you give an example of this?

Islam presents itself as a monotheistic religion. This just and reasonable tenet (stolen from the true religion) lends it much of its force. But this monotheism is fiercely anti-Trinitarian. While true in itself, it is falsified by the erroneous system in which it is enmeshed.


(Question 47 will be continued in The Angelus, May 2008)


Translated exclusively for Angelus Press by from Katholischer Katechismus zur kirchlichen Kriese by Fr. Matthias Gaudron, professor at the Herz Jesu Seminary of the Society of St. Pius X in Zaitzkofen, Germany. The original was published in 1997 by Rex Regum Press, with a preface by the District Superior of Germany, Fr. Franz Schmidberger. This translation is based on the second edition published in 1999 by Rex Regum Verlag, Schloss Jaidhof, Austria. Subdivisions and slight revisions made by the Dominican Fathers of Avrillé have been incorporated into the translation.


1 This innovation figures in the document Unitatis Redintegratio [UR] §3; see also Lumen Gentium §14, which speaks of "full incorporation."

2 Those who are not incorporated in the Church in re (in reality) can, in certain circumstances, be so in voto (by desire: this is what is sometimes called belonging to the soul of the Church). This desire can either be explicit (for example, in a catechumen preparing for baptism) or implicit (for example, in a person brought up in heresy but who only adheres to this heresy from a non-culpable ignorance: he does not possess the means to discern that the Catholic Church is the only true religion, but is fundamentally disposed to accept it).

3 Ad Cresc., Bk. I, ch. 29.

4 Migne, Latin Fathers, 93, 60.

5 Documentation Catholique, 1880 (September 2, 1984), p.844. This document was approved by Pope John Paul II on June 10, 1984.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., p. 845.

8 Heinz Schütte, Glaube im ökumenischen Verständnis. Ökumenischer Katechismus (Paderborn, 1994), p. 33.

9 Documentation Catholique 1855 (July 3, 1983), pp. 694-95.

10 Karl Rahner and H. Vorgrimler, Kleines Konzilskompendium (Fribourg: Herder, 1986), p. 220.

11 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in The Ratzinger Report, an interview on the state of the Church with Vittorio Messori [English version: Ignatius Press, 1985], contests the idea that the non-Christian religions can be ordinary means of salvation, but he admits that they can be extraordinary means.

12 Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II, vol. IV, periodus quarta, pars IV (Typis polyglottis Vaticanis, 1977), p. 698 (response to the second modus) and p. 706 (response to modus 57).