Saint Paul on the Unity of the Catholic Church (An Argument Against the Terms “Lutheran” and “Calvinist”)

Jan 18th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Non-Catholics (and yes, even the Eastern Orthodox) do not enjoy the ecclesial unity Saint Paul prescribed for the Church of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul is resolute in his conviction that the Church of Christ must be one. Most of his epistles specifically speak against disunity within the Church. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians seems to have been written for the very purpose of encouraging church unity against the tendency of “church splits”:

I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Peter,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:10-13).

The Apostle’s purpose in writing to the Corinthian Christians was, “that there be no divisions” in the Church. Paul could not conceive of Christians naming themselves after human church leaders. Paul exhorted the Corinthians not to tolerate those who claimed to be “Pauline” Christians. Nor should there be any “Apollonian” or “Petrine” Christians. Given Paul’s insistence against name-bearing sects, we might safely conclude that he would fiercely condemn the practice of certain Christians who identify themselves as “Lutherans” or “Calvinists.” Even the word “denomination” comes from the Latin de nomine meaning “of a name”. This denominational arrangement is completely foreign to the teachings of Paul. For this reason, the Catholic Church never has accepted a “denominational” understanding of Church.

Notice also how Paul associates “name-calling” with salvation.

Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:13)

Recall how Paul understands the Church as a participation in the person and life of Christ. To call oneself “Pauline” or “Lutheran” is to claim participation in the one whose name you bear. To be a “denominational Christian” is tantamount to identifying “Paul” or “Luther” as the redeemer and founder of one’s faith. In fact, Saint Paul specifically instructed Christians in every case to “avoid those who cause schism” (Rom 16:17). Even if the Church requires renewal, Paul believes that division is not the means to achieve it.

Saint Paul further identifies the unity of the Church with the Holy Spirit. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul identifies the unity of the Church with the unity of the Holy Spirit, the unity of Christ, the unity of the faith, the unity of baptism and finally the unity of God the Father. It is difficult to imagine a more compelling argument for the unity of the Church:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1-6).

Paul asks Christians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit”. Only the Catholic Church has maintained the unity that Christ established before He ascended into Heaven. No other “denomination” is able to claim Paul in this regard. Paul was, and remains, Catholic in every regard.

Please look for Taylor Marshall’s new book The Catholic Perspective on Paul later in 2010 or visit PaulisCatholic.com to read other essays and listen to podcasts about Saint Paul and Catholic doctrine. Taylor is also the author of The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity.

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  1. Thank you Taylor for your summary of St Paul. I wonder, could you say a bit more as to why you think the Orthodox Church does “not enjoy the ecclesial unity Saint Paul prescribed for the Church of Jesus Christ”? You seem to be drawing a parallel between Lutherans and Calvinism on the one hand and the Orthodox Church on the other that escapes me. So if you could say a bit more please.

    In Christ,

    +Fr Gregory

  2. I was thinking about this same idea the other day, due to the prevalence of the “I’m a Calvinist” logos/buttons on (Calvinist) websites. Did Calvin consider himself a Calvinist? (And Luther a Lutheran?)

  3. Hey Taylor,

    Some of my seminary Professors have argued that the various Roman Catholic religious orders are just like Calvinism or Lutheranism. When I respond, yeah, but their all under the same ecclesiastical authority, he says, “…so are we…the Bible”. How would you explain, to a Protestant, why the various religious orders are not sectarian?

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  4. Taylor,

    Good points in this article about Church unity. I do agree that one of the main faults of Protestantism is its tendency to name denominations after a leader (Lutheran) or polity (Presbyterian, Episcopal) or doctrine (Baptist). I’m curious as to why you think the Roman Catholic Church is different in this regard though. You see being in full communion with the successor of St. Peter as being a necessity for catholicity. Isn’t this just a form of calling yourself a “Petrine” Christian?

    Also, if the Petrine ministry is essential for the unity of the Church, why doesn’t Paul refer to it in the passage you quoted from Ephesians? No doubt he would have sharply disapproved of the divisions within Protestantism, but he seems (in this passage as well as throughout his other epistles) to know nothing of unity being based on St. Peter and his successors. In the Ephesians passage and 1 Corinthians passage, it would seem that that is the opportune time for him to say something touching on the unifying role of the papacy, but he doesn’t mention it. What are your thoughts on this?

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  5. Hi Jeremy,

    To jump in, I would just say that I’ve never met an orthodox member of a religious order who thinks of his order as a religion in itself, or who feels sacramentally or doctrinally separated from orthodox Catholics in other religious orders, orthodox Catholic diocesan clergy, or orthodox Catholic lay people. This critique that our separated brethren level against us leaves me stunned every time I hear it. When our Benedictine friend gives daily morning Mass on Wednesdays and our Dominican gives Mass on Thursdays and our Jesuit gives Mass on Fridays, it is always the same Mass, with the same doctrine and the same rules and the same Eucharist which we all share — it never feels like going to a lutheran service one day, a presbyterian service another day and a baptist service on the third.

    I can’t even put into words how different it is. We’re all part of one religion, one baptism, one diocesan bishop*, one pope, one catechism, one Eucharist which we all share, one canon law, one bible, one Faith, one Jesus. The idea that different charisms and orders within this one unity somehow separate us so surprises me that I can’t respond to it except to say: “wow. I can’t believe you think that. You should try it out and see why what you’re saying is so wrong that it can’t even be disagreed with without starting way at the beginning and correcting some kind of hidden misconceptions.”

    Sorry for that long-winded and unclear response, but I’m still so much in shock at hearing the accusation again that is all I can come up with! Believe it, guys: we’re one family, and as long as people are orthodox about the faith and remain in union with the diocesan bishops united to the pope, it doesn’t matter what charisms they specialize in. We really don’t care. Really. And we really all share the same Eucharist with each other, from the same tabernacles, re-presenting the same sacrifice on the same altar; and we have the same catechism, and the same canon law and the same pope. Really. We’re not lying. And if you leave the Dominicans to join Opus Dei, or try out the Benedictines before joining the Jesuits, nobody thinks or even feels that you’ve changed your religion (including yourself!), and the management and rearrangement of whatever vows or promises you’ve made in moving from one order to another is all decided by one overarching hierarchy that is responsible for all the orders and has jurisdiction over all dioceses: the pope and his council. This is simply nothing like Protestant unity under one protestant Bible. I never would have considered making the comparison if Protestant polemics hadn’t strangely suggested it. It remains the strangest of all the protestant critiques which I have yet heard. And probably the most easily dismissed once a person “tastes and sees” what it is like to be a Catholic. But the critique is so utterly alien to everything that I’ve experienced as a Catholic that I’m not qualified to say anything more about it. I close by saying that the only separations I’ve ever noticed in the Church are between (a) people who don’t believe the Cathecism/official teachings vs. people who do (the orthodox), and (b) people who have serious (and, to varying degrees public) moral failings vs. people who are trying to live saintly lives. These separations cut across all religious orders and lay organizations and dioceses — even the best ones. So they have nothing to do with the claims protestants have made to you.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

    *(even religious orders with their own types of hierarchies owe various forms of allegiance to whatever diocesan bishop they are currently in the territory of)

  6. Hey K. Doran,

    Thank you for the passionate response. My Professor at RTS, (the one I was closest to before I told him I think Rome is right) regularly refers to the Catholic unity as “false unity.” In fact, he tells me that when I get there I will be disappointed to see how absent the unity I found attractive really is. Ironically, he has not been there, so I am not sure why he thinks he knows. C2C has helped convince me that in reality, those who join the family find the claims even better than they anticipated.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy Tate

  7. My favorite part is “I appeal to you…that all of you AGREE and that there be NO DISSENSIONS among you, but that you be UNITED IN THE SAME MIND AND THE SAME JUDGMENT.” The Protestant attempt to claim “unity” utterly fails here.

  8. Doran,

    Great response. I couldn’t have said it better.

  9. Father Gregory,

    Thank you for your comment. Let me first say that I have the utmost respect for the Eastern Orthodox and that may of their customs, devotions, and liturgies leave me awe. The Orthodox love and devotion for our Holy Lady the Theotokos are unrivaled.

    I say “even the Eastern Orthodox do not enjoy the ecclesial unity Saint Paul prescribed for the Church of Jesus Christ” for three reasons:

    1) Orthodoxy has unresolved jurisdictional overlap – something Ignatius of Antioch wouldn’t have approved of. In New York City, there is a Greek Orthodox bishop, OCA bishop, Syrian bishop, and so on. Who is the Orthodox “bishop of New York” or the “angel of New York” as Saint John would say? To the world, this is a sign contrary to unity.

    2) Orthodoxy has jurisdictions both in and out of communion with other jurisdictions. There are instances of the Estonian Orthodox Church, the Moldovan Orthodox Church, and others that are in communion with Constantinople but not in communion with Moscow or vice versa.

    3) To truly submit to the Holy, Catholic and Orthodox faith of the Apostles, one must be in communion with the Bishop of Rome and recognize his universal jurisdiction as the Supreme Pontiff of the Church as Saint Maximus the Confessor taught:

    For he only speaks in vain who thinks he ought to persuade or entrap persons like myself, and does not satisfy and implore the blessed Pope of the most holy Catholic Church of the Romans, that is, the Apostolic See, which is from the incarnate of the Son of God Himself, and also all the holy synods, according to the holy canons and definitions has received universal and supreme dominion, authority, and power of binding and loosing over all the holy churches of God throughout the whole world. (Maximus Epistle to Peter, Mansi 10, 692).

    Saint Maximus’ ecclesiology seems to be at odds with the contemporary Orthodox Church – and that of Saint Paul. Moreover, the prerogatives currently enjoyed by the Patriarch of Constantinople are neither Patristic or biblical.

    Again, I have great love for the Churches of the East. I mean no offense. I mean only to highlight the special role of the successor of Peter with regard to ecclesiastical unity.

    Godspeed,
    Taylor Marshall

  10. Jeremy,

    You said “In fact, [my professor] tells me that when I get [to Catholicism] I will be disappointed to see how absent the unity I found attractive really is.” I would object to your professor’s comment because it is irrelevant. I venture the guess that this professor fails to see the true reason that has impelled you to make this major change in your life. My guess is that he sees you doing this because you have concluded that, on balance, this will be a better church situation for you than you currently have in the PCA. My understanding is that you are doing this rather because you believe the Catholic Church is the one Church Christ founded and the Holy Spirit has preserved. If that is your reason, then it is entirely irrelevant whether you will be happy with or disappointed by the unity (or worshipfulness, or holiness, or whatever other trait he thinks is drawing you) you find.

    That’s just something to think about — it may not be worth engaging him about whether he is right or wrong that you will be disappointed about this attribute of the Catholic Church. If he misapprehends why you are converting, correcting that misapprehension would be the more worthwhile conversation.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  11. I second Tom’s remarks, and also those of K. Doran (for whatever it’s worth). I believe that there is something qualitatively different, which can be appreciated experientially, about coming into communion with the Catholic Church (despite the drawbacks that might arise from attending any particular parish). I don’t think that should be underestimated, though I freely grant that it may take the eyes of faith (or eyes of your heart, as St Paul would have it) to really appreciate it, and I also think that different temperaments and dispositions and characters react differently to different things. But at the end of the day, there is such a thing as ecclesial/sacramental unity, and this thing is important, and it goes beyond the mutual affirmation of particular dogmatic formulae.

    Blessings to you in this time,

    Neal

  12. “Orthodoxy has unresolved jurisdictional overlap”

    True, Orthodoxy is aware of the problem and is moving slowly to resolve this.

    HOWEVER, Rome has the same problem. Areas have Latin bishops AND Eastern rite bishops, and I don’t think Rome has even the intention of resolving this, ever.

    So I think we can dismiss this objection as invalid.

    “Orthodoxy has jurisdictions both in and out of communion with other jurisdictions. ”

    Of course, this happened many many times throughout history. As disturbing as it is, if you have invented an ecclesiology in which this cannot happen, clearly you don’t have the ecclesiology of the early church. Famously, Chrysostom spent his entire life in Antioch out of communion with Rome, until he was forcibly appointed to the see of Constantinople and “accidentally” came into communion.

    Concerning Moldova and Estonia, are they actually out of communion? One must distinguish being out of communion, and not recognizing their autonomy, and/or not concelebrating. If they are, I would like to see the reference.
    So I think we can dismiss this objection as invalid, unless you wish to anathematise the early church.

    “3) one must be in communion with the Bishop of Rome”

    Of course, this claim has nothing to do with the presence or absence of unit.y

  13. Jeremy,

    The reply “…so are we…the Bible” is nothing less than solo scriptura. All heretics throughout the history of the Church have claimed to be supported by Scripture, and they each have done so by making themselves their own ultimate interpretive authority, arrogating to themselves an authority that does not belong to them. Catholic religious orders, by contrast, are under the authority of the Church.

    As for the issue of unity, consider the difference between the unity of a political party, and the unity of a family. The political party is united by a shared set of beliefs, planks in a platform. When the party’s position shifts sufficiently, or the individual voter shifts positions, the voter just shifts parties. Why? Because the unity is only formal, that of shared beliefs. It is not a material unity. By contrast, a family possesses a material unity; it is united by blood. Catholic unity is both material and formal unity. It has formal unity because there is one faith. But it also has material unity, because by sacramental succession it is the unbroken continuation of Christ’s family, His mother and brothers. This is the Church that Christ founded, built on the Rock to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom. This is the mustard seed Christ sowed, which has become the tree into which the birds come and nest in its branches. This is the Kingdom formed by the Stone not cut out by human hands, which has smashed the kingdoms of men and become a great mountain, filling the whole earth. This is the Mountain of the Lord, as the prophet declared, into which all the nations of the earth shall stream, as the animals streamed into the ark of Noah long ago. This is the hand of God and the arm of the Lord, the army of Gideon and David’s band. It is not ultimately about size or strength, beauty or majesty, cunning or courage. It is simply the hand of God, and that makes all the difference — it has always made all the difference. What God does, cannot be defeated or thwarted, as Pharaoh discovered. The unity of the Church Christ founded is not merely human unity; it is the unity of the God-man, a divine unity enshrouded in a mystery in His Mystical Body, the Church. In this unity there is pure joy, because in this unity there is perfect peace.

    Will you encounter dissenting Catholics? Of course. There have been dissenting Catholics in every age of the Church. There have been schismatics in every age of the Church. But unity is never achieved by schism, just as good is never achieved by doing evil. Evil does not tarnish good; evil is the privation of good. Likewise, dissenters do not lessen the Church’s unity; they separate themselves from it, as do schismatics. That’s because the Church’s unity is supernatural, not merely natural. It is the unity of the Godhead. No mere man can produce such unity, ever. That’s why starting a denomination of “those who agree with my interpretation of Scripture” guarantees the eventual failure of that denomination, because those who start it are mere men, and hence it is a merely human institution, with a merely human principle. But when the God-man puts His divine Life into His Mystical Body, nothing can defeat it, or hold it down. Nothing can divide it. This is why the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it. Hell can prevail against any denomination formed by mere men, but not against that Church founded by the God-man, and He only founded one Church.

    To find that one Church and its divine unity, we need only find that Body that He founded. It has prevailed for 2,000 years, and it will continue to prevail until His return in the clouds in glory.

    The ecclesial unity your professor enjoys is only formal unity, like that of a political party. (Baptism is a sacrament of the Catholic Church, and without Holy Orders he has no Eucharist.) His denomination is merely a union of persons on the basis of a shared interpretation of Scripture. But the Catholic unity your professor describes as “false unity” is in actuality the divine unity of the eternal Trinity. The Second Person of that Trinity was clothed in flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, born into a stable, hung upon a cross, poured out upon the earth, participated in by the Church to whom He gave the keys, through grace and the indwelling of the same Holy Spirit Christ sent on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit who continues to guide the Church into all truth, joining men as brothers around the world into one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

    If what I am saying is true, then your professor would do well to heed Gamaliel’s advice. To oppose the Catholic Church is to oppose Christ. This is what St. Paul discovered on the road to Damascus. And for 2,000 years the bones of St. Paul have always been, and still remain ["Basilica bones are St Paul’s, Pope declares after carbon dating tests"] to this day, in the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  14. Bryan Cross,

    I’m not sure where to post this question to you, so I am asking it here. I have asked other Catholics this same question, and with all respect and gratitude to them for their efforts, I simply have not received answers that made much sense to me. A short backstory: I am a member of a non-demonational, “Calvinist-leaning” (if that makes any sense) church. I was also once a Catholic convert from, basically, agnosticism (a long story, but I left the Church for many reasons, one of them being inadequate catechesis). For approximately the past five years, I have been convinced that the general Reformed Protestant reading of the Bible is the “most correct” one. Now, however, reading the early Church Fathers, I am seriously questioning the basic framework of Protestantism itself.

    All of the above being said, I am reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and I have a serious difficulty with the claim in #841 that Muslims “adore the one, merciful God.” If the statement were that they simply believe in “one God,” it would be less problematic. However, it reads as *the* one, merciful God– clearly implying, the one, *true* God. The reason that I find this statement about Muslims, as related to God, to be so problematic, is that Jesus says that if you don’t know Him, you don’t know the Father. Period.

    Given that Muslims are living in the time *after* the revealing of Christ in the Incarnation, and given that they *explicitly reject* Him as being who and what He claims to be, how can it be legitimately said that Muslims “adore the one, merciful God”? Would not the logic of Jesus’s own aforementioned statement argue otherwise?

  15. Bryan and Tom,

    Well said. On the C2C youtube video this same point is made, that the life of the Church is not something she manufactures herself. (I actually just made this video the link to my “religious beliefs” on facebook)

    Tom, you wrote, “My understanding is that you are doing this rather because you believe the Catholic Church is the one Church Christ founded and the Holy Spirit has preserved.” This is true, but when I was in the thick of discussing my thoughts with my Professor I did not yet believe that the Catholic Church was the “one” Church (I didn’t really believe this until I started reading C2C). I never argued this with him because I did not believe this until several months after he gave up on me and we stopped talking. Instead, I simply believed and argued that the Roman Catholic Church should be considered “a” legitimate Church. Ironically, it was another seminary Professor and PCA Pastor who pointed out to me that if the Catholic Church could be considered “a” Church then it must be “the” Church, and we should all become Catholic. In truth, I really resolved to become Catholic when I become fully convicted that sola scriptura was not only unscriptural, but heretical, and the sole source of denominationalism.

  16. Christopher,

    Thanks very much for sharing your background.

    As for the question of the God of the Christians vs. the ‘god’ of the Muslims, this requires care. If we say that Muslims who claim to worship the Creator of the heavens and earth, are worshiping a different ‘god’ than Christians worship, we approach the heresy of Marcionism. Here’s why. The second-century heretic, Marcion, claimed that the Creator of heaven and earth was a different God from the Father of Jesus described in the New Testament. That is why Marcion believed Jews worshiped a different God than do Christians. It is why he excised the Old Testament from the Sacred Scriptures. But the Church in the second century excommunicated Marcion, and declared Marcionism to be a heresy. The Church affirmed that Jews worship the same God that Christians worship, and that the Father of Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, who created the heavens and the earth. But, in that case it would be ad hoc to say that Muslims, who also claim to worship the Creator of the heavens and earth, are worshiping another god than the God Christians worship, while Jews, who claim to worship the Creator of the heavens and earth, are worshiping the God Christians worship. If St. Paul was justified in saying to the Athenians regarding their altar to an unknown god: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it ….” (Acts 17:23-24), then how much more should we be cautious in telling people who specifically claim to believe and worship the God who made the world and everything in it, that they worship a being other than the God Christians worship? In short, here’s the dilemma if we deny that Muslims worship the same God Christians worship: Either we deny that Jews worship the same God we (Christians) worship, and thus we fall into Marcionism, or we grant that Jews worship the same God we (Christians) worship, in which case we are being ad hoc.

    There is an important relevant difference, however, between Judaism and Islam. Christianity is implicit within Judaism, because Judaism is all oriented toward Christ’s coming. Christ is the fulfillment of Judaism. But Islam, by contrast, is a corruption of Christianity, having historical roots in Arianism. Both Islam and Judaism are related to Christianity, but in very different ways.

    What then, of Jesus’ statement:

    “no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (Lk 10:22)

    Does this mean that Muslims do not know the Father? Yes and no. Christ reveals the Father as Father. No one understands God’s paternity except through the Son. Those who worship God only as Creator, do not yet know God as Father. But there are not two Gods: Father and Creator. To know God as Father is to know Him more perfectly than to know Him as Creator. Jews and Muslims who do not know the Son, do not know the Father as Father, even though they know (and worship) Him as Creator. Insofar as they know God as Father, they do so only through the revelation of the Son, even if they do not formally acknowledge the Son.

    What then of Jesus’ statement:

    “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 10:33)

    We understand this to mean that those who deny the Son, deny the Father as well. No one can have the Father and deny the Son. Why then, do we not therefore simply assert that all Jews and Muslims are presently damned? Because the sort of denial Jesus is speaking of here is the culpable rejection of the truth, what Scripture refers to as the suppression of the truth in unrighteousness, not a denial rooted in non-culpable ignorance, or invincible ignorance. Of this the Catechism reads:

    Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation. (CCC 847)

    It is our task, then, as Christ’s followers, to bring the truth of Christ’s Gospel to those who do not know the Gospel of Christ or know of His Church.

    I hope that helps answer your question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  17. Could someone explain the difference between adding the adjectives “Calvinist” and “Roman”?

  18. David, when properly used, “Roman” is a reference to a particular rite within the Latin Church. Secondarily, it may be used as a short hand reference to ‘the Church in communion with the See of Rome’ (i.e. the Catholic Church which includes Roman, Ukrainian, Coptic, Ambrosian, etc. rites and various churches in communion with one another). Protestants have used it in ways to try and make it seem as if it were just another denomination among many, as if one could appeal to Rome or to Constantinople or to Detroit in exactly the same way. But an appeal to Rome is not an appeal to a geographical location or a mere set of doctrines.

    “Calvinist” is an appeal to a systematic theology and one might argue that an appeal to “Roman” or an appeal to “Catholic”, for that matter, was the same sort of appeal. But this is false. When “Roman” is used correctly, it is used as a reference to a living hierarchical body; not a set of doctrines.

  19. I should clarify that the reference to Catholic, Rome, Roman, or whatever does include a set of doctrines, namely the apostolic faith handed on from the Church fathers. But to refer to one as “Catholic” is also to refer to them as being subject to rightful Church authority. The label “Calvinist” has no such reference.

  20. Bryan,

    Thank you very much for your answer. It displays your usual thoughtfulness and charity, for which I praise God (and which also moved me to bring my question to you in the first place). :-)

    However, I’m not sure that the example of Marcion convinces me that those would say that Jews (non-Messianic) and Muslims are damned are unintentionally falling into heresy. I can definitely see your point, from a certain angle, but Jesus Himself *seems* to say that any Jew of His time (by which I mean, after the coming of the Incarnation), who explicitly denied Him, did not truly know God. You dealt with certain verses and dealt with them thoughtfully, but one particular passage which gives me great difficulty, in terms of accepting the teaching of the Catechism in #841, is John 8:38-43, in which Jesus speaks to Jewish leaders who deny Him:

    I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father. They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him,”We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.

    Now, it is true that Jesus tells these men that God is not their “Father.” Jesus does not mention God as “Creator” or whether they know and love God as such. Doesn’t the context make clear, though, that Jesus is saying that those who deny Him *cannot* truly know and worship (or, in the language of the Catechism, “adore”) the one, true, merciful God? Present-day Jews and Muslims deny that Jesus is the Son of God and God Himself, as the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. Given that this denial is explicit, among both Jews and Muslims (as shown in Jewish and Muslim apologetics), how can they even be postulated to have “invincible (non-culpable) ignorance”?

    Please know– I ask these questions of you, not at all in a spirit of hostility, but out of a sincere desire to understand and seek Truth, wherever Truth may lead me– including, if necessary, back to the Catholic Church. I sense that I will lose many of my Reformed friends (and even be considered unregenerate by some of them) if I go in such a direction. That experience would be very, very painful. I may also ruin certain career prospects as well, related to Reformed theology and Reformed churches, but I want the Truth more the friendship of even cherished loved ones and more than a certain career direction. Thus, I ask the above questions.

  21. Christopher, having been moved by the same Spirit Who is prompting you to seek His Truth, and having come down squarely and joyfully on the Catholic side, I wanted to interject with assurances of my prayers for you and your search. Isaiah 35:8.

  22. Christopher,

    Thanks for your kind words. It is a pleasure to dialogue without contention, but in charity, with an aim toward truth.

    I agree that Jesus is saying in that passage (John 8) that if those Jews knew God as Father, they would be accepting His Son. Jesus is saying that their rejection of Him [i.e. Jesus] shows that they do not know the Father. We see that same pattern in Jesus’ statement in Luke 10:16: “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” Those who deny the Son, cannot truly know and worship the Father. To deny the Son is to deny the Father.

    The important question here is what exactly is meant by the term ‘deny’.

    Jesus indicates that those who saw His miracles should have known that the Kingdom of God was present. He says:

    “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20)

    Similarly, He rebukes those who witnessed His miracles but did not repent.

    Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. (Mt 11:21)

    We get this same idea in the gospel of John, where John writes:

    But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. (John 12:37)

    and

    “Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs.” (John 11:47)

    They may not have known that He was the Son of God, but they knew that He was performing miracles, indicating that He was from God. They knew the Scriptures Peter refers to in Acts 3:22ff, indicating that God would raise up a prophet like Moses, to whom they must all give heed. Hence they should have listened to Christ. And yet they [culpably] did not believe in Him, and were even trying to kill Him. Nicodemus shows how he knew of Jesus’ divine teaching authority:

    “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)

    All of those passages help us understand what Jesus is saying in John 8. Those who were trying to kill Him (John 7:1, 8:37) were trying to do so not out of invincible ignorance, but out of culpable rejection of what they knew to be true, as Herod had done, and as Judas would do.

    But we should not assume that the culpability of those Jews who rejected Jesus in spite of the miracles they saw Him perform, indicates that all Jews in every succeeding generation, who do not accept Christ, are equally culpable. We know that it is possible for someone to reject Christ, and yet do so in ignorance. St. Peter says something along these lines in his second recorded sermon in Acts, when he tells the Jews that they had disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted in his place, and then put to death the Prince of Life. Then he says:

    And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. (Acts 3:17)

    When they said, “His blood be upon us and our children” (Mt 27:25), they did not know exactly what they were saying, because they did not know they were putting to death the Son of God. But they were wrong, and culpable, because they at least knew that He was innocent.

    St. Paul tells us something similar about the reduced culpability due to ‘rejecting in ignorance’ when he writes:

    even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor, yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; (1 Tim 1:13)

    So the sort of denial [of Christ] that is incompatible with love for God [the Father] is a denial of what one knows to be true about Christ's divine authority, or a willful refusal to consider the evidence for Christ's divine authority, while knowing that one should consider this evidence. A denial made in ignorance is a different sort of denial than a denial made while knowing the truth. The former is not culpable (provided that it is invincible ignorance); while the latter is culpable. So when the Catechism says (847) that those persons who do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience, it is referring to persons who have not denied Christ in this stronger sense (i.e. suppressing the truth that they know, or willfully refusing to consider the truth available to them) even though it may possibly include persons who have denied Christ in the weaker sense of denying what they do not know, i.e. denying Him in ignorance.

    Is it possible for present day persons to be invincibly ignorant of Christ, His Gospel, and His Church? That's a very good question. The standard for invincible ignorance is much higher than we might initially guess. (See James Akin's article on invincible ignorance.) If a person is ignorant about Christ, but not invincibly ignorant, that does not necessarily mean that his sin is mortal. Not all sin is mortal, and not all intellectual sins are mortal. There can be culpable ignorance that is not mortal. We do not attempt to guess what percentages of persons are invincibly ignorant, culpably (but not mortally) ignorant, and mortally culpably ignorant. Only God truly knows the hearts of men.

    The statements in the Catechism regarding Jews and Muslims should not be taken as some kind of claim that some certain (significant) percentage of Jew and/or Muslims are in a state of grace or not in a state of grace. Not at all. The Church’s teaching in those passage is simply that it is possible for Jews and Muslims to be saved, only by the grace merited by Christ (since no one can be saved apart from the grace merited for us by Christ), and only if they have faith, hope and charity, according to the light available to them. We should not assume, however, that the prevalence of Christian radio or television, books, churches, etc., has provided any particular Jew or Muslim a credible presentation of the truth about Christ, His Gospel or His Church. If they have been presented with a caricature of Christ and His Gospel and His Church, then their rejection of this caricature does not necessarily entail a rejection of Christ. That sort of denial is not the sort of denial Jesus is speaking of in John 8. And yet it is possible that that sort of denial makes up a significant portion of the present Jewish and Muslim denial of Christ. Hence the urgency to present to them the truth about Christ’s Gospel and His Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  23. Hi Taylor,

    Thanks for the post. If I have followed Spencer’s argument (#4 above) he seems to suggest that to accept the Petrine succession as a constitutive element of the church is tantamount to saying “I follow Cephas”. Provided I’ve given an accurate representation of his suggestion, I’d be interested in hearing someone else’s thoughts.

    (As a new catechumen, apostolic succession and the essential unity of the church is a foundational issue that I want to truly understand)

    Thanks,

    Casey

  24. Jeremy,

    You said “In truth, I really resolved to become Catholic when I become fully convicted that sola scriptura was not only unscriptural, but heretical, and the sole source of denominationalism.”

    When I was debating Catholicism with a friend of mine, I encountered a major turning point when I came to the conclusion that there were no Reformed answers to the logical errors built into the doctrine of sola scriptura. However, I’m not sure that I find it useful to refer to the doctrine as heretical in the course of this discussion — maybe that’s just me. I would disagree that it is the sole source of denominationalism. I think that over the course of the Reformation, there has been a preceding individualism that has allowed Christians to prefer their beliefs on any particular doctrine over the beliefs of the Church. In this setting, sola scriptura was a necessary replacement authority to the authority claims of the Church. The individualism that allowed Christians to prefer their beliefs over the Church’s created the “denominationalism” to which you refer.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  25. Casey,

    I think my comments #18-19 are applicable to your question.

  26. Hey Tim,

    That does sum it up nicely. Thanks.

  27. Spencer,

    I won’t speak for Taylor, and Tim has already provided an answer above, but perhaps I could clarify it a bit more. Consider that passage from 1 Corinthians 1 again:

    What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Peter,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

    St. Paul is here addressing a divisiveness that [apparently] justified itself and expressed itself under the notion of ultimately following one of the Apostles, in some cases, seemingly, the Apostle by whom one had been baptized. This divisiveness cannot be justified, says St. Paul, because Christ is not divided. Even though the Corinthian believers had been baptized by different Apostles, these Corinthian believers, says St. Paul, were not baptized in the name of the Apostle who baptized them. Rather, the Corinthian believers were baptized in Christ’s name (“in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”). In that way they were baptized into Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection, not that of any Apostle. And St. Paul points out that Christ is not divided. Though the Apostles were suffering and dying for Christ and His Kingdom, the Apostles’ suffering and death is not the source of the Church’s unity. That source is Christ Himself. This does not mean that it is wrong to follow Paul or Apollo or Peter in a certain respect, but it does mean that we must not treat any one of them as the ultimate source of the Church’s unity, and therefore as a justification for dividing Christians into factions according to allegiance to various Apostles. Christ’s choosing twelve Apostles (even seventy — cf. Luke 10:1) can never be a basis for dividing Christ’s Church into factions.

    St. Paul is not here addressing the issue of Peter’s office as the one to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Kingdom. To follow Christ surely involves following His Apostles (Luke 10:16), and when (hypothetically) there is a disagreement among the Apostles, then following Christ will involve following those Apostles remaining in communion with the Apostle to whom Christ entrusted the keys. But remaining in communion with the person to whom Christ entrusted the keys is not the same thing as making that person the object of a personality cult, or dividing from other Christians on the basis of a my-favorite-Apostle personality cult, or the-one-who-baptized-me sect. It is not clear here why St. Paul mentions Cephas, unless some Corinthian believers were claiming to follow Cephas. But why would they do that? St. Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” (1 Cor 3:6) Possibly St. Peter had come to Corinth. But it is also possible that certain Corinthian believers were aligning themselves with Cephas because of his recognized role as the head Apostle. St. Paul implicitly acknowledges Peter’s primacy in what he says in 1 Cor 9:5 and 15:5, where he sets Peter apart, seemingly in recognition of Christ’s having set Peter apart. The problem St. Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 1-3, is not a problem solved simply by saying “follow St. Peter.” These believers are “babes in Christ” (1 Cor 3:1); what they needed to understand was that they were, by their baptism, united to Christ, and that Christ is the source of the Church’s unity. Christ is not divided among the Apostles. The Corinthian believers were looking at the Church with eyes of flesh, not seeing the supernatural unity into which they had been incorporated. They were relating to the Apostles the way NFL fans relate to their favorite football team, i.e. with jealously and strife (1 Cor 3:3) and boasting in their particular apostolic superhero. (1 Cor 3:21) They were missing the bigger picture, i.e. the supernatural nature of the Church, on account of Christ. Merely laying the magisterial smackdown would not have addressed the fundamental theological problem hindering the Corinthian Church.

    UPDATE: See this article on this subject.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  28. Mike Burgess,

    Thank you very much for your prayers, my brother in Christ. The last month or so, particularly, has been very “up and down” for me– up, with the joyfullness of discovering new truth (the early Church Fathers and other writings which display seemingly “Catholic” truths) and down, at the thought of quite possibly losing most (perhaps all) of my Reformed Protestant friends, and returning to a Church that I left many years ago, where I now know *no one* (no family members, no friends, no contacts of any kind). In light of the “down” side of this equation, I truly do covet your prayers.

  29. Bryan,

    Thank you again for taking the time to reply to my questions. I don’t know that I have *fully* resolved my struggle with the Catechism’s language on Muslims and the “one, merciful God,” but your responses are helping.

    Part of the struggle here, for me, may arise out of the fact that Calvinism (largely, my Protestant theological background) is very srong on “Christian exclusivism”– explicit knowledge of, and faith in, Christ being the *only* way to salvation for anyone (other than Old Testament-era Jews). Coming out of that theological framework and trying to wrap my mind around and accept the “Christian inclusivist” stance of the Catholic Church– well, it’s not easy. It’s not that I actually *desire* to see *anyone* go to Hell, but just that I was taught a particular way of thinking about salvation for many years, and it is very hard for me to think outside of that framework. Perhaps you can understand, once having been a Calvinist yourself.

    As I wrote to Mike above, I am also wrestling with the distinct possibility that if I return to the Catholic Church, most of my Reformed Protestant friends will likely assume that I have apostacized (as that is what they are taught to think about Catholicism at their churches– it is supposedly “another gospel”).

    In that vein, would it be be ok for me to contact you privately with a question, regarding Reformed friends and my possible return to the Church? I have a more personal question that I don’t feel completely comfortable posting here.

  30. Christopher,

    It may also help to keep in mind the status of baptized babies that die in infancy. Most Protestants would say that these infants go to heaven, even though these infants have no “explicit knowledge” or understanding of the articles of the faith, at least not in propositional form. To accept that thesis, these Protestants must either deny the sinfulness of original sin, or grant that salvation can be had even by those who do not understand a single article of the faith. We don’t have to cram the Apostles’ Creed into our young child’s mind, in order to have assurance that the child is in a state of grace. Of course we should teach the faith to our children as soon as they can understand it. But their having reached a certain degree of understanding of the faith is not the ground of our assurance that they are in a state of grace.

    The sanctifying grace an infant receives in baptism is a kind of divine ‘seed’ planted in the child’s soul; it is a participation in the life of God. By it, the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity are already present in the child’s intellect and will. At the moment of baptism, by the infusion of divine grace a child is translated from the state of original sin (i.e. devoid of sanctifying grace) to being in friendship with God. As this seed grows, those three supernatural virtues also increase, and the child should grow in the knowledge of God, hope in God, and love for God. But grace is not knowledge. (That would be gnosticism.) By grace we have supernatural knowledge (i.e. knowledge of the deposit of faith), but by grace we also have hope and charity.

    My point here is that grace is not identical to knowledge, and that a person can be in a state of grace, even without “explicit knowledge”, as you put it, of the articles of faith. If a person knows God only in a limited way (and thus has faith subjectively, but only in a limited way objectively), but loves God (with the supernatural virtue of charity that is a gift of grace, merited by Christ) according to what he knows, this person is also in friendship with God, by grace. But this person’s faith (in the objective sense, i.e. the content of the faith — the articles of the faith) is infantile. We can see examples in Scripture of persons whose faith was propositionally incomplete or distorted, and yet who seemed to love God according to the knowledge they had. Cornelius comes to mind, as does the Ethiopian eunuch.

    As for the possibility of being thought to be an apostate by your Reformed friends, yes that is a real possibility. All of us (at CTC) have been through this, not just fearing rejection, but experiencing it in various ways, and in some cases personally mourning the loss of friendships and fellowship. We each had to come to the point of obeying God rather than men, and fearing God more than fearing men. This is part of what it means to take up our cross and follow Christ, i.e. be willing to be rejected by men. You may be rejected, but by following the truth even if others reject you, you do them a greater good (even if they don’t understand it at the time) than any other act of friendship you could do for them. One Protestant was angry with me for becoming Catholic, but has since become Catholic, and has since told me that my becoming Catholic was the greatest gift they had been given, because through it they were shown Christ’s Church and received the Eucharist, for the first time in their life.

    I would be glad to correspond with you privately. See the ‘Contact’ button above.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  31. Bryan,

    Thank you for the points about infant baptism and the possibility of a person being in a state of grace without explicit faith in Christ. Such ideas are really part of a new world for me, theologically (even though I was once a Catholic!). I probably should have been more clear about the exact nature of my “Reformed” background– I was a Reformed Baptist. Upon embracing Reformed theology, I soon became a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., a “Reformed” Baptist Church. I’m not even sure if paedobaptists are allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper there, as the main preaching elder, Mark Dever, believes that paedobaptists have never been “truly baptized” (as a consistent Baptist, he believes that one professes faith in Christ and is *then* baptized). My current church (a non-denominational church which, similarly, practices exclusively “believer’s baptism” but also embraces Reformed soteriology) is not quite as “hard-line” on the baptism issue as Capitol Hill Baptist is, but the elders definitely do not believe in infant baptism or baptismal regeneration.

    Therefore, as I’m sure you can imagine, coming to understand baptism within a different framework is quite a journey for me (I don’t remember being very well taught about baptismal regeneration many years ago, when I converted to Catholicism from agnosticism). With that said, the possibility of salvation without explicit faith in Christ certainly does make more sense from within a framework that includes baptismal regeneration (as part of a larger sacramental worldview).

    Thank you again for the time that you take to explain these things. I am reading and trying to “catch up” on what I missed, as a not-so-well catechized Catholic years ago, but there is still so much that I have yet to understand. Honestly, it greatly upsets me that so many parishes are either doing a poor job of catechesis, or in some cases, actually teaching outright heresies, from the pulpit and in CCD. I am reminded of a comment that I read recently from a faithful Catholic, in which he described a local parish priest who doesn’t even believe in the concept of *sin*– and he speaks and teaches as such, from the pulpit and in the confessional, when people come to him to confess their sins!

    Honestly, such a situation is something that I fear, as one who may be returning to the Church soon. The Reformed (Baptistic) churches in which I have been a member, have been *very* strong on teaching about both sin *and* grace. One cannot go a single Sunday at my current church without hearing about sin as rebellion against God, and about the need to flee from that rebellion and personally turn to Christ. Thus, when I hear horror stories, such as the one above, about priests teaching heresy to their congregations, I struggle with returning to the Church. With the Holy Spirit, I can handle the rejection of friends and their accusations of apostasy (or of my possibly never having been a “true Christian” in the first place). However, I *dread* the thought of having to attend a local parish where I might not even hear God’s truth about sin and grace. Because of my physical situation (I have a physical disability– Cerebral Palsy– and cannot drive), I will not necessarily be able to “search around” until I find a parish that is orthodox in its teaching. In light of these considerations, I ask for your prayers as I consider a return to the Church. I will contact you privately in the next day or two with another question. Thank you for the time you have taken to help me. I deeply appreciate it.

  32. Christopher,

    The greatest stumbling block to entering the Catholic Church are Catholics, more than any doctrine or practice. Not a few persons have been dissuaded from entering, by the scandal of sinful or heretical Catholics, especially among the clergy. Satan steals away the seed of truth, in part by means of scandal. Jesus issued no light warning to those who cause scandal, speaking of the pleasantness of being drowned by a millstone in comparison to the punishment for those who cause others to stumble. On that Day, they will reap what they have sown, the Day when everything will be brought to light, and we each shall give an account to God for what we have done in the body.

    There are some Catholic priests who misrepresent the Church’s teaching, and misrepresent Christ; don’t allow them be a stumbling block, or rob you of finding, entering, and remaining faithfully within, the true Church that Christ founded, the pearl of great price that Christ wants you to have. Otherwise, Satan kills two birds with one stone: causing one to become a stumbling block, and causing others thereby to stumble. We know that there will be tares with the wheat. Christ has told us as much. We must be prepared to encounter tares among us within the Church. Our response to encountering tares must never be the sin of schism — two wrongs do not make a right, and schism is a grave sin. We must never sin, because others have sinned. That’s why schism is not justified, when heretics are not excommunicated. Two wrongs do not make a right. We cannot take matters into our own hands, and start or join a sect, no matter how many tares we encounter. To do so is to become tares ourselves, though now separated from the Church Christ founded, and causing scandal to others, by our example of schism. We cannot point to those tares, on that Day, as justifying our causing or remaining in schism.

    I refuse to allow bad Catholics to keep me from the grace Christ wants me and my family to have through being in full communion with the Church He founded. Once you know that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, then when you encounter heretical or sinful Catholics, you won’t be moved to separate from the Church; you’ll recognize them as deviating from what Christ through the Church teaches, and instead of allowing them to cause you to stumble, you’ll be moved to pray for them, that they would come to repentance and a better knowledge of the truth. In other words, when you know where Christ deposited the keys of the Kingdom, then instead of responding to those who cause scandal by moving away from the Church and those keys, your response will be to seek to help (in whatever way you can, even if only by prayer and acts of reparation) those persons be restored to orthodoxy and sanctity within the Church, reconciled to the one holding those keys.

    My daughter is also handicapped, in a wheelchair, unable to walk. I understand something about your dependence on others. But, I encourage you to be like the paralytic in the gospel, not to be dissuaded by obstacles or scandals, but to pursue Christ and His Church, no matter what it takes. To love Christ is to love His Mystical Body, the Church, and to hate schism, for this very reason.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  33. Bryan,

    Thank you very much for the enouraging (and challenging!) response. I do agree that *if* the Catholic Church is the true Church that Christ founded, to continue on with apostolic succession to the present day and beyond, then *no amount* of sin within the Church ever justifies schism *from* the Church. If the Church is true, then error within her should dealt with from within, period.

    What does one do, though, when the persons in error (specifically, serious, heretical error) are the priest(s) and teachers in one’s parish? I could be wrong, but I *think* that I have been to the webpage of the parish where you are a member, and the general “tone” and “feel” of the site are very orthodox, very traditional. As I’m sure you know though, more than a few Catholics who are theologically orthodox (faithful), themselves, are not blessed with parishes in which the preaching and teaching are orthodox. How does one handle such a situation– because moving to an orthodox parish might not be possible, yet remaining in a strongly non-orthodox one could be dangerous to one’s soul, and to one’s children’s souls, if one has any (I currently don’t, but that might well change, if I find a wife)?

    I’m thinking of parishes such as the one I mentioned above, in which the priest doesn’t even believe in sin and teaches his views, in the pulpit and the confessional. Does one confront such a priest, and then continue to pray and hope for the best, while remaining in said parish, or does one do whatever one has to do to move to a parish that is more spiritually healthy? When I think of possible future children of mine being told by their priest or CCD teacher that all supposed “sin” is really just a matter of psychlogical hang-ups, I can barely even countenance the thought!

    However, if the Church is true, staying away from her entirely, as I now am (not necessarily in heart but certainly in physical reality), is not an option. What does one do, knowing the truth, but finding oneself “stuck” in a parish which weekly teaches lies to the congregation?

    Part of the reason I am so concerned about this issue is that I am convinced that my personal RCIA experience, approximately fifteen years ago, contributed to my leaving the Church and eventually being ripe for Reformed *misrepresentations* of Catholicism, which led me to think, for a long time, that the Church teaches “another (i.e. false) gospel.”

  34. Christopher,

    Let’s figure out what the actual situation is in your area, and then go from there. I recommend calling your local parish, and asking to set up an appointment with the priest. Ask him questions about his beliefs. If (God forbid) he starts denying Church dogmas, then send me a private note (see the Contact tab at the top of the page). I understand your concerns (and they are legitimate). But I think it would be better first to take some time to learn what the situation is like in your local area.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

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