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Part 3

III:  The Church is humanity

The Catechism proclaims the dogma of the Church: Outside of the Church there is no salvation; but it empties its content according to the typically modernist manner:

How must one understand this affirmation often repeated by the Fathers of the Church? Formulated in a positive fashion, it signifies that all salvation comes from Christ the Head by means of the Church which is His Body;

Based upon Holy Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that this Church working upon the earth is necessary for salvation. Christ alone, indeed, is the Mediator and Way of salvation. Now He becomes present in His Body which is the Church; and in teaching us expressly the necessity of the faith and baptism, it is the necessity of the Church itself, in which men enter by the gate of baptism, that He has confirmed at the same time. This is why those who would refuse either to enter into the Catholic Church or to persevere there, whereas they would know that God founded it by Jesus Christ as necessary, those would not be able to be saved[1] (§ 846).

This affirmation does not concern those who without any fault of their own, do not know Christ and His Church:

Indeed, those who without fault on their part, do not know the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but nonetheless seek God with a sincere heart and strive under the influence of His grace to act in such a fashion as to accomplish His will such as their conscience has revealed to them and has dictated to them, these can reach eternal salvation[2] (§ 847).

Certainly, the Church has always admitted the possibility of those who do not know the Church through no fault of their own to be saved. They can then obtain the grace of God by a baptism of desire.[3] But the Church formerly had a clearer manner of expressing this under Pius XII, in the letter addressed by the Holy Office to Archbishop Cushing on August 8, 1949:

Neither must one think that any sort of desire whatsoever to enter into the Church suffices to be saved. For it is necessary that the desires ordain someone to the Church be animated by perfect charity. The implicit desire can only have an effect if the man has supernatural faith. "He who cometh to God must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him" (Heb. 11:6). The Council of Trent declares: "Faith is the beginning of man’s salvation, the foundation and the root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) and to arrive to partake of the lot of His children."

But other passages of the Catechism are clearer still in their undermining of this dogma "Outside of the Church, no salvation." Alas, it’s meaning is emptied of all which might be the least bit limiting. Let us see, for example, the passage which answers the question: "Who belongs to the Catholic Church?"

To the Catholic unity of the People of God... all men are called; to this unity, they belong or are ordained, both the Catholic faithful and those who, furthermore, have faith in Christ, and finally all men without exception that the grace of God calls to salvation[4] (§ 836).

Those are incorporated fully to the society which is the Church who having the Spirit of Christ accept integrally its organization and all the means of salvation instituted in it, and who moreover, thanks to the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, the ecclesiastical government and communion, are united in the visible assembly of the Church, with Christ who directs it by the Sovereign Pontiff and the bishops. Incorporation into the Church does not assure salvation for those who for lack of perseverance in charity, remain indeed bodily in the bosom of the Church, but not in their heart[5] (§ 837).

With those who, being baptized bear the fair name of Christians without, however, professing integrally the faith of preserving the unity of communion with the successor of Peter, the Church recognizes being united for many reasons.[6]

Those who believe in Christ and who have validly received baptism, find themselves in a certain communion, although imperfect, with the Catholic Church.[7]

With the orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound "that very little is lacking for it to attain the plenitude authorizing a common celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord"[8] (§ 838).

Finally, there is not therefore any disquietude for those who belong to other religions than the Catholic Religion since the Catechism tell us that "all men without exception that the grace of God calls to salvation" makes up the Church. The sole disquietude expressed by the Catechism is for those who, amongst Catholics, are of the body in the bosom of the Church, but not of the heart. These affirmations seem quite close to the propositions condemned by Pius IX in the Syllabus[9]:

  • Every man is free to embrace and profess the religion that the light of reason has drawn to judge to be the true religion (proposition 15).

  • Men can find the way of salvation and obtain eternal salvation in the cult of it matters not what religion (proposition 16).

  • One can at least have good hope for the eternal salvation of all those who are not in any manner in the true Church of Christ (proposition 17).

  • Protestantism is nothing other than one of the forms of the same and true Christian religion in which it is possible to be pleasing to God, as in the Catholic Church (proposition 18).

All the Religions are Good

We are going to see that the Catechism thinks that all men are more or less part of the Church. Another manner of saying the same thing is to affirm that all religions contain a part of the truth. Thus all religions are "means of salvation":

Moreover, "many elements of sanctification and of truth"[10] exist outside of the visible limits of the Catholic Church: "the written word of God, the life of grace, faith, hope, and charity. Both the interior gifts of the Holy Spirit and visible elements."[11] The Spirit of Christ makes use of these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, the force of which comes from the plenitude of grace and truth that Christ confided to the Catholic Church. All these goods come from Christ and lead to Him[12] and in themselves call for the perfection of "Catholic unity."[13]

Propositions condemned by Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors 

Proposition 15. Every man is free to embrace and profess the religion that the light of reason has drawn to judge to be the true religion.

Proposition 16. Men can find the way of salvation and obtain eternal salvation in the cult of it matters not what religion.

Proposition 17. One can at least have good hope for the eternal salvation of all those who are not in any manner in the true Church of Christ.

Proposition 18. Protestantism is nothing other than one of the forms of the same and true Christian religion in which it is possible to be pleasing to God, as in the Catholic Church.

All men are bound to seek for the truth, above all in what concerns God and His Church; and when they have found it, to embrace it and to be faithful to it.[14] This duty flows from "the nature itself of man."[15] It does not contradict a "sincere respect" for the diverse religions which "often bear a ray of the truth which enlightens all men,"[16] neither does it contradict the need for charity which presses Christians to "act with love, prudence, and patience, towards those who find themselves in error or in ignorance concerning the faith"[17] (§ 2104).

Does not one find expressed there "this erroneous opinion that all religions are more or less good and praiseworthy, in this sense that they reveal and translate all equally - although in a different way - the natural and innate sentiment which carries us towards God"[18]?

The "Subsistit in"

Already, the Second Vatican Council had inaugurated the expression, "The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church," in place of affirming with all of Tradition that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church. The Catechism continues in the line of the Council:

The unique Church of Christ... is that which Our Savior, after His Resurrection, remitted to Peter that he might be the shepherd, that He confided to him and to the other apostles, to extend it and direct it... this Church as a society constituted and organized in the world is realized in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops who are in communion with him:[19]

The decree on ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council explains, "It is indeed by the sole Catholic Church of Christ, which is the general means of salvation, that all the fullness of the means of salvation be obtained. For it is to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that the Lord confided, according to our faith, all the riches of the New Covenant, in order to constitute upon the earth one sole Body of Christ to which it is necessary that all those who in a certain fashion appertain already to the People of God may be fully incorporated"[20] (§ 816).

The social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It asks them to make known the cult of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church[21] (§ 2105).

Catholic Unity

We know that the note of unity is the fundamental note of the Catholic Church, that which manifests its form.[22] Let us see what the Catechism says:

Which are the bonds of unity? "Above all, [it is] charity, which is the bond of perfection" (Col. 3:14) (§ 815).

However, until the present, the Church never separated the bond of charity from the bond of the faith which is even, in a sense, the more fundamental one:

We are said to be justified by faith because the faith is the beginning of the salvation of man, the foundation and the root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and to arrive at the partaking of the lot of His children.[23] The eternal shepherd and guardian of our souls, in order to perpetuate the salutary work of the redemption decided to build Holy Church in which, as in the house of the living God, all the faithful would be joined by the bond of one sole faith and one sole charity.[24] No society separated from the unity of the faith or from the unity of His Body can be called a part or member of the Church.[25] Since charity has as its foundation a sincere and integral faith, unity of faith must be, consequently, the fundamental bond uniting the disciples of Christ.[26]

As for unity, "Christ granted it to His Church from the beginning. We believe that it subsists inadmissibly in the Church and we hope it will increase from day to day unto the consummation of the ages." 27 Christ always gives to His Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, strengthen, and perfect the unity that Christ wishes for it. This is why Jesus Himself prayed at the hour of His passion and why He ceases not to pray to the Father for the unity of his disciples: "...that all may be one as thou Father art in Me and Me in Thee, that they may be one in us, in order that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (Jn 17:21). The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit [28] (§ 820).

Since the Catechism says that we must have the desire to recover unity, it is obvious that this unity is lost, at least in part. This teaching does not appear compatible with the instruction of the Holy Office to the bishops on December 20, 1949: 

The Catholic doctrine must be proposed and exposed totally and integrally; one must not pass over in silence or veil by ambiguous terms what the Catholic Church teaches concerning ...the only true union by the return of the separated Christians to the one, true Church of Christ. One could without doubt tell them that in returning to the Church they shall lose of the good that by the grace of God, is realized in them even to the present, but that by their return this shall rather be completed and brought to its perfection. One will avoid speaking on this point in such a manner that, in returning to the Church, they imagine that they bring to it an essential element which it had lacked up to now.


See how the Catechism says that we must respond to this desire to recover the unity of the Church:

To respond adequately to this, these are required:

  • a permanent renewal of the Church in a greater fidelity to its vocation. This renovation is the springboard of the movement towards unity[29]

  • conversion of heart "in view of living more purely according to the Gospel" 30 for it is the infidelity of the members to the gift of Christ which causes the divisions

  • prayer in common, for "conversion of heart and sanctity of life, united to public and private prayers for the unity of Christians, must be regarded as the soul of all ecumenism and can be with reason called spiritual ecumenism"[31]

  • reciprocal and fraternal knowledge[32]

  • the ecumenical formation of the faithful and especially of the priests[33]

  • dialogue between theologians and meetings between Christians of different Churches and communities[34]

  • collaboration between Christians in the various domains of service to men[35] (§ 821)

Since the unity of the Church is to be recovered, it is not surprising that the Catechism insists on the duty of ecumenism and dialogue.

In defending the capacity of the human reason to know God, the Church expresses its confidence in the possibility of speaking of God to all men and with all men.

This conviction is the point of departure of its dialogue with the other religions, with philosophy and the sciences, and also with the unbelievers and atheists (§ 39). All men are bound to seek the truth, above all in what concerns God and His Church; and when they have known it, to embrace and to be faithful to it.[36] This duty flows from "the nature itself of man."[37] It does not contradict a "sincere respect" for the different religions which "bear often a ray of the truth which enlightens every man,"[38] nor the exigence of the charity which urges Christians "to act with love and prudence towards those who walk in error or in ignorance of the faith"[39] (§ 2104). The mission of the Church summons the effort towards the unity of Christians.[40] Indeed, "the divisions between Christians hold the Church back from realizing the plenitude of Catholicity which is proper to it in those of her children who, it is certain, belong to it by Baptism, but who find themselves separated from full communion. Even more, for the Church itself, it becomes more difficult to express under all its aspects the plenitude of Catholicity in the reality itself of its life"[41] (§ 855). The missionary task implies a respectful dialogue with those who do not as yet accept the Gospel.[42] The believers can draw profit themselves from this dialogue in learning to better know "all that is already found of truth and of grace among the nations as by a secret presence of God."[43] If they announce the good news to those who know it not, it is to consolidate, complete and lift up the truth and the good that God has scattered among men and peoples, and to purify them of error and evil "for the glory of God, the confusion of the demon, and the happiness of man"[44] (§ 856).

However, Our Lord did not send His Apostles to dialogue, but to teach, and the task of the Church is to continue this teaching of the truth that God has confided to it, not to dialogue with anyone.

Catholic doctrine teaches us that the first duty of charity is not in the toleration of erroneous opinions, however sincere they might be, nor in theoretical or practical indifference towards error or vice when we see our brothers plunged in them, but in the zeal for their intellectual and moral betterment no less than for their material well-being.[45]

The Hierarchy

In the paragraph on the hierarchy, after having spoken about the episcopal college, the Catechism examines the laity. Nothing in particular is said concerning the priests. The laity receive such a participation in "the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ" which the bishops possess that one does not see why there should be any need of other members of the hierarchy. Does the Catechism prepare us for the new age of the Church when there shall no longer be laymen and bishops?

The differences themselves that the Lord willed to establish between the members of His Body serve its unity and mission. For

there is in the Church a diversity of ministers but unity of mission. Christ conferred to the apostles and their successors the office to teach, sanctify, and govern in His name and by His power. But the laity, made participants in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ, assume in the Church and in the world, their part in that which is the mission of the entire people of God[46] (§ 873).

These magnificent privileges recognized for the laity are in no way recognized for the priests in the passages where things of this kind is on the way of disappearing (Cf. § 1562-1568). Sometimes one begins to ask if the laity are not superior to the priesthood since "the ordained ministry, or ministerial priesthood [47] is at the service of the baptismal priesthood" (§ 1020). Certainly, the priests exercise "a special service" in the sacramental liturgy (§ 1020). But is this service truly indispensable since "it is all the community, the Body of Christ united to its head, which celebrates"?

It is the entire community, the Body of Christ united to its head, which celebrates.

The liturgical actions are not private actions, but celebrations of the Church, which is the sacrament of unity; that is to say, the holy people brought together and organized under the authority of bishops. This is why they belong to the entire Body of the Church, but they manifest it and attest it differently; but they touch each of its members in a different fashion according to the diversity of orders, of functions and of effective participation."[48]

This is also why

each time that the rites, according to the proper nature of each, include a common celebration, with the frequentation and participation of the faithful, it underlines that this ought to have the preference over their individual and quasi-private celebration[49] (§ 1140).

The assembly which celebrates is the community of the baptized who, "by the regeneration and unction of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in view of offering spiritual sacrifices."[50] This common priesthood is that of Christ, the unique Priest, participated in by all His members... (§ 1141).

St. Thomas explains to us more precisely that it is by the sacramental characters of the sacraments that we can participate in the priesthood of Our Lord: "These are nothing other than certain kinds of participation in the priesthood of Christ, which flow from Christ Himself."[51] But He also tells us that the character is a spiritual power, passive in the case of Baptism, active in the case of Holy Orders. The priesthood of Christ and of priests is then an active power and the common priesthood of the faithful is a passive power. This is an important distinction which unfortunately is not pointed out by the Catechism.

The Liturgy

The Catechism insists upon the harmony between the two Testaments to the point of telling us that "the Church guards as an integral and irreplaceable part, making them its own, some elements of the worship of the Old Covenant":

The Holy Spirit fulfills in the sacramental economy the figures of the Old Covenant. Since the Church of Christ was "admirably prepared in the history of the people of Israel and in the Old Covenant,"[52] the liturgy of the Church guards as an integral and irreplaceable part, in making them its own, some elements of the worship of the Old Covenant:

  • principally the reading of the Old Testament

  • the prayer of the Psalms

  • and above all, the memory of the saving events and significant realities which have found their fulfillment in the mystery of Christ (the promise and the covenant, the exodus and the Pasch, the Kingdom and the Temple, the Exile and the Return) (§ 1093)

The Catechism even insists on the fact that the Christian liturgy is similar to the "faith and religious life of the Jewish people, such as they are professed and lived even now." This expression is a bit unfortunate and it lacks the necessary precision concerning the fundamental difference between the faith of the ancient Jews and the present Jewish people:

Jewish liturgy and Christian liturgy. A better knowledge of the faith and the religious life of the Jewish people, such as they are lived and professed even now, can help to better understand certain aspects of the Christian liturgy. For Jews and Christians, Holy Scripture is an essential part of their liturgies: it is used in the proclamation of the Word of God, the response to this Word, the prayer of praise and of intercession for the living and the dead, and the recourse to the divine mercy. The liturgy of the Word, in its structure, takes its origin from Jewish prayer. The prayer of the Hours and other texts and liturgical formulas have parallels there, as well as the formulas of even our most venerable prayers such as the Our Father. The eucharistic prayers take their inspiration also from models of the Jewish tradition. The relation between the Jewish liturgy and the Christian liturgy, but also the difference between their contents, are particularly visible in the great feasts of the liturgical year, such as Passover. Christians and Jews both celebrate the Passover: the Passover of history, looking towards the future for the Jews; for the Christians, the fulfilled Passover in the death and resurrection of Christ, although always in wait for the definitive consummation (§ 1096).

The Mass and the Sacraments

On the subject of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Catechism speaks of thanksgiving and praise (§. 1359), of the sacrifice which represents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, which is the memorial of it and applies the fruit of it (§ 1366). It says that the sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed. If it does not deny its propitiatory end, one would search in vain for any clear affirmation of it. Let us recall the canon of the Council of Trent: "If anyone says that the sacrifice of the Mass is only a sacrifice of praise or of thanksgiving, of a simple commemoration of the sacrifice accomplished on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice ...let him be anathema." [53] The Catechism doesn’t go that far, but its teaching remains gravely deficient on that point, just at the time when the propitiatory finality is denied in practice by the new Mass.

Concerning marriage, the Catechism repeats the error of the 1983 Code of Canon Law by making equal the ends of marriage (and even by putting them in inverse order since the second is placed first). However this error wasn’t able to be approved at the Council, for Cardinals Browne and Ottaviani had vigorously opposed it.[54]

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman constitute between themselves a lifelong community, ordained by its natural character to the good of the spouses as well as to the generation and education of children, has been elevated by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.[55] (§ 1601). The conjugal community is established upon the consent of the spouses. Marriage and the family are ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children. The love of the spouses and the generation of children create between the members of a family personal relations and primordial responsibilities (§ 2201).

Such an inversion turns conjugal morality upside down. In particular, it permits to the spouses, without sufficient reason to make use of the conjugal right while dispensing themselves from the serious duty of procreation that it contains in itself.[56] The Catechism draws itself this conclusion:

A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of births. For just reasons, the spouses can desire to space the births of their children. It is up to them to insure that their desire does not depend upon egoism, but is conformed to the right generosity of a responsible paternity. Moreover, they shall regulate their comportment following the objective criteria of morality: When it treats of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of behavior does not depend solely upon the sincerity of intention or an appreciation of the motives; but it must be determined according to objective criteria, drawn form the nature itself of the person and his acts, criteria which respect, in a context of true love, the total signification of a reciprocal gift and of a procreation at the stature of man; something impossible if the virtue of conjugal chastity is not practiced by a loyal heart[57] (§ 2368).

Thus, the principal difficulty seen by the Catechism consists in the tensions which risk arriving suddenly between the spouses.

And still this danger tends to disappear thanks to "ecumenical dialogue" and the "common pastoral for mixed marriages." The Catechism does not speak of the peril for the Catholic spouse of losing his or her faith due to the contact with an heretical spouse. How could it speak of that since it presents heresy to us as another form of "fidelity to Christ"?

We are far from the luminous teaching of Pius XII concerning the "grave motives" which can justify a (natural) regulation of births.[58]

Periodic continence, the methods of regulating births founded upon self-observation and recourse to infertile periods59 are conformed to the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the body of the spouses, encouraging tenderness between them and fostering the education of an authentic liberty. On the other hand,

every action, whether it be in anticipation of the conjugal act or in its unfolding, or in the development of its natural consequences, which would be proposed as the end or as a means of making procreation impossible, is intrinsically evil. [60]

In the language which naturally expresses the mutual and total self-giving of the spouses, contraception opposes a language objectively contradictory according to which there is no longer the total gift of one to the other. What flows from this is not only the positive refusal of any openness to life, but also a falsification of the internal truth of love, called to be a gift of all the person. This anthropological and moral difference between contraception and recourse to the periodic rhythms implies two conceptions of the person and human sexuality contradictory to each other[61] (§ 2370).

Certainly, it is good to condemn artificial contraception. It nonetheless remains that the Catechism greatly distances itself from the traditional doctrine on marriage by the encouragement that it gives to "the ‘Catholic’ variant of contraception [commonly called "NFP"]."[62]

The passage from the Catechism which treats of mixed marriages is also very insufficient:

In numerous countries, the situation of mixed marriages (between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) presents itself rather frequently. It demands a particular attention of spouses and pastors; the case of marriages with disparity of cult (between a Catholic and one not baptized) demands a greater circumspection still (§ 1633). "The difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for the marriage when they put in common what each one has received into their community, and each one learns from the other how he lives out his fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They are due to the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the drama of the disunion of Christians in the bosom of their own home. Disparity of cult can aggravate even more these difficulties. From divergences concerning the faith, the conception itself of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can constitute a source of tensions in marriage, principally regarding the education of children. A temptation can then present itself: religious indifference (§ 1634). In many regions, thanks to ecumenical dialogue, concerned Christian communities have been able to establish a common pastoral for mixed marriages. Its task is to aid these couples to live out their particular situation in the light of faith. It must also help them to overcome tensions between the obligations the spouses have towards one another and towards their ecclesial communities. It must encourage the growth of what they have in common in the faith and the respect of what separates them (§ 1636).

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1. LG, 14

2. LG, 16; Cf. Denzinger 3866-3872

3. On this question of baptism of desire, Le Sel de la terre shall soon publish a study by Fr. Laisney

4. LG, 13

5. LG, 14

6. LG, 15

7. Unitatis Redintegratio [UR ad infra], 3

8. Paul VI, discourse of December 14, 1975; cf. UR, 13-18

9. Cf. DS, no. 2915-2918

10. LG, 8

11. UR, 3:  cf. LG, 15

12. Cf. UR, 3

13. LG, 8

14. DH, 1

15. DH, 2

16. NA, 2

17. DH, 14

18. Pius XI, Mortalium animos. Jan. 6, 1928

19. LG, 8

20. UR, 3

21. Cf. DH, 1

22. Cf. Le Sel de la terre 1, Summer 1992, p.26

23. Council of Trent, Decree on Justification

24. Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus

25. Project for the Constitution on the Church of Vatican I

26. Pius XI, Mortalium animos

27. UR, 4

28. Cf. UR, 1

29. Cf. UR, 6

30. Cf. UR, 7

31. UR, 8

32. Cf. UR, 9

33. Cf. UR, 10

34. Cf. UR, 4, 9, 11

35. Cf. UR, 2

36. DH, 1

37. DH, 2

38. NA, 2

39. DH, 14

40. Cf. RM, 50

41. UR, 4

42. Cf. RM, 55

43. AG, 9

44. AG, 9

45. St. Pius X, Notre charge apostolic, August 25, 1910.

46. AA, 2

47. LG, 10

48. SC, 26

49. SC, 27

50. LG, 10

51. ST, III, Q. 63, A. 3

52. LG, 2

53. Denzinger 1753

54. Ralph Wiltgen, The Rhine flows into the Tiber

55. 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1055, par 1

56. Concerning this question, see the article of Fr. Marie-Dominique on conjugal morality, "Fecundity in Marriage," Sel de la terre 2, Autumn 1992, p. 54 ff.

57. GS, 51, par 3

58. Cf. Fr. Marie-Dominique, "Fecundity in Marriage," Sel de la terre 2, Autumn 1992, pp.58-59

59. Cf. HV, 16

60. HV, 16

61. FC, 32

62. Cf. the excellent article from Courrier de Rome, June 1991, entitled "The ‘Catholic’ Variant of Contraception" © 2013                    home                    contact