13 June 2011

"From the beginning, the Church is One, Catholic, and Apostolic"

Rorate Caeli has posted a translation of an excerpt from the Holy Father's sermon for Pentecost, delivered in Italian.  The Pope reminds the faithful that the Holy Catholic Church has been "Catholic"--universal-- from the beginning, and that this mark of the Church does not depend on the inclusion of any particular denominational community that remains outside the visible unity of Peter:

[T]he Church is Catholic from her first moment, her universality is not the fruit of the successive inclusion of various communities. From the first instant, in fact, the Holy Spirit created her as the Church of all peoples; she embraces the entire world, she transcends all limits of race, class, nation; she breaks down every obstacle and brings all men together in the profession of the One and Triune God. From the beginning, the Church is One, Catholic, and Apostolic: this is her true nature and as such it must be recognized. She is Holy, not thanks to the ability of her members, but because God Himself, with His Spirit, creates, purifies, and sanctifies her always.

This excerpt is evocative of the clear words of Mortalium Animos, the encyclical letter of the great Pope Pius XI on Christian Unity.  Rather than suppose that the Church is not one until and unless there is a reconciliation of various denominations, the Pope described the inherent unity of the Church and her right relation to these groups in words.  I quote below in some length, but without footnotes:

...We believe that those who call themselves Christians can do no other than believe that a Church, and that Church one, was established by Christ; but if it is further inquired of what nature according to the will of its Author it must be, then all do not agree. A good number of them, for example, deny that the Church of Christ must be visible and apparent, at least to such a degree that it appears as one body of faithful, agreeing in one and the same doctrine under one teaching authority and government; but, on the contrary, they understand a visible Church as nothing else than a Federation, composed of various communities of Christians, even though they adhere to different doctrines, which may even be incompatible one with another. Instead, Christ our Lord instituted His Church as a perfect society, external of its nature and perceptible to the senses, which should carry on in the future the work of the salvation of the human race, under the leadership of one head, with an authority teaching by word of mouth, and by the ministry of the sacraments, the founts of heavenly grace... [...] It follows then that the Church of Christ not only exists to-day and always, but is also exactly the same as it was in the time of the Apostles, unless we were to say, which God forbid, either that Christ our Lord could not effect His purpose, or that He erred when He asserted that the gates of hell should never prevail against it.

7. And here it seems opportune to expound and to refute a certain false opinion, on which this whole question, as well as that complex movement by which non-Catholics seek to bring about the union of the Christian churches depends. For authors who favor this view are accustomed, times almost without number, to bring forward these words of Christ: "That they all may be one.... And there shall be one fold and one shepherd," with this signification however: that Christ Jesus merely expressed a desire and prayer, which still lacks its fulfillment. For they are of the opinion that the unity of faith and government, which is a note of the one true Church of Christ, has hardly up to the present time existed, and does not to-day exist. They consider that this unity may indeed be desired and that it may even be one day attained through the instrumentality of wills directed to a common end, but that meanwhile it can only be regarded as mere ideal. They add that the Church in itself, or of its nature, is divided into sections; that is to say, that it is made up of several churches or distinct communities, which still remain separate, and although having certain articles of doctrine in common, nevertheless disagree concerning the remainder; that these all enjoy the same rights; and that the Church was one and unique from, at the most, the apostolic age until the first Ecumenical Councils. Controversies therefore, they say, and longstanding differences of opinion which keep asunder till the present day the members of the Christian family, must be entirely put aside, and from the remaining doctrines a common form of faith drawn up and proposed for belief, and in the profession of which all may not only know but feel that they are brothers. The manifold churches or communities, if united in some kind of universal federation, would then be in a position to oppose strongly and with success the progress of irreligion

8. This being so, it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ. Shall We suffer, what would indeed be iniquitous, the truth, and a truth divinely revealed, to be made a subject for compromise? For here there is question of defending revealed truth. Jesus Christ sent His Apostles into the whole world in order that they might permeate all nations with the Gospel faith, and, lest they should err, He willed beforehand that they should be taught by the Holy Ghost: has then this doctrine of the Apostles completely vanished away, or sometimes been obscured, in the Church, whose ruler and defense is God Himself? If our Redeemer plainly said that His Gospel was to continue not only during the times of the Apostles, but also till future ages, is it possible that the object of faith should in the process of time become so obscure and uncertain, that it would be necessary to-day to tolerate opinions which are even incompatible one with another? If this were true, we should have to confess that the coming of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles, and the perpetual indwelling of the same Spirit in the Church, and the very preaching of Jesus Christ, have several centuries ago, lost all their efficacy and use, to affirm which would be blasphemy. [...]

9. These pan-Christians who turn their minds to uniting the churches seem, indeed, to pursue the noblest of ideas in promoting charity among all Christians: nevertheless how does it happen that this charity tends to injure faith? Everyone knows that John himself, the Apostle of love, who seems to reveal in his Gospel the secrets of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and who never ceased to impress on the memories of his followers the new commandment "Love one another," altogether forbade any intercourse with those who professed a mutilated and corrupt version of Christ's teaching: "If any man come to you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into the house nor say to him: God speed you." For which reason, since charity is based on a complete and sincere faith, the disciples of Christ must be united principally by the bond of one faith. [...]

10. So, Venerable Brethren, it is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics: for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it. To the one true Church of Christ, we say, which is visible to all, and which is to remain, according to the will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it. During the lapse of centuries, the mystical Spouse of Christ has never been contaminated, nor can she ever in the future be contaminated, as Cyprian bears witness: "The Bride of Christ cannot be made false to her Spouse: she is incorrupt and modest. She knows but one dwelling, she guards the sanctity of the nuptial chamber chastely and modestly." [...]

11. Furthermore, in this one Church of Christ no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors. Did not the ancestors of those who are now entangled in the errors of Photius and the reformers, obey the Bishop of Rome, the chief shepherd of souls? Alas their children left the home of their fathers, but it did not fall to the ground and perish for ever, for it was supported by God. Let them therefore return to their common Father, who, forgetting the insults previously heaped on the Apostolic See, will receive them in the most loving fashion. For if, as they continually state, they long to be united with Us and ours, why do they not hasten to enter the Church, "the Mother and mistress of all Christ's faithful"? Let them hear Lactantius crying out: "The Catholic Church is alone in keeping the true worship. This is the fount of truth, this the house of Faith, this the temple of God: if any man enter not here, or if any man go forth from it, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation. Let none delude himself with obstinate wrangling. For life and salvation are here concerned, which will be lost and entirely destroyed, unless their interests are carefully and assiduously kept in mind."

12. Let, therefore, the separated children draw nigh to the Apostolic See, set up in the City which Peter and Paul, the Princes of the Apostles, consecrated by their blood; to that See, We repeat, which is "the root and womb whence the Church of God springs," not with the intention and the hope that "the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" will cast aside the integrity of the faith and tolerate their errors, but, on the contrary, that they themselves submit to its teaching and government. Would that it were Our happy lot to do that which so many of Our predecessors could not, to embrace with fatherly affection those children, whose unhappy separation from Us We now bewail. Would that God our Savior, "Who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," would hear us when We humbly beg that He would deign to recall all who stray to the unity of the Church! In this most important undertaking We ask and wish that others should ask the prayers of Blessed Mary the Virgin, Mother of divine grace, victorious over all heresies and Help of Christians, that She may implore for Us the speedy coming of the much hoped-for day, when all men shall hear the voice of Her divine Son, and shall be "careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."


Hieronymus said...

While I somewhat appreciate Benedict XVI's statement, it is by no means equivalent to Mortalium Animos. I think traditional Catholics think of Mortalium Animos when reading it, but its ambiguity (the ever present mark of the Vatican II mentality) makes probable that protestants could also agree with his statement, clearly imagining something entirely different from Mortalium Animos. Pius XI identified the unity of the Church with THE Catholic Church (as in the one united to the pope). BXVI did not. He used the word catholic as an adjective, which even protestant churches do when they recite the creed.

Timman, you said "this mark of the Church does not depend on the inclusion of any particular denominational community that remains outside the visible unity of Peter". But BXVI notably did not say anything about the visible unity of Peter. It is just another message open to any interpretation the hearer wants to give it.

Anonymous said...


The clear references to "the Apostolic See, set up in the City which Peter and Paul, the Princes of the Apostles, consecrated by their blood" would seem to leave no ambiguity to me.

Also, while "obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors" could be twisted rather inartfully to other meanings, practically speaking everyone knows that Pope Benedict is talking about the office that he now holds.

Likewise "this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics" is pretty clearly referring to Holy Mother Church.

I think you protest too much.

Proud SLPS Parent

Hieronymus said...

Proud SLPS Parent:

The clear teachings you provide are from the second (green) quotation, which is Mortalium Animos of Pius XI. I would in no way claim that those quotations could be so contorted as to be adopted by protestants. The first quotation (the orange one) is Benedict XVI, and that is the one whose ambiguity I find lamentable. I would like the post-conciliar popes to teach clearly that the Catholic Church is the sole possessor of the unity Christ prayed for. In short, I would like a pope to be as clear as Pius XI was.


Anonymous said...

Oops. Clearly reading comprehension is not my friend today. Carry on.

Proud SLPS Parent