The Holiness of the Church

Oct 16th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Recently some Protestant participants in the dialogue here raised the objection that grave sins by Catholics seem to be incompatible with the Catholic claim that the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. If holiness is one of the four marks of the Catholic Church, how can the Catholic Church contain persons who commit such grievous sins? Four years ago the Association of Hebrew Catholics held a lecture series on “Themes of the Kingdom.” During that series Dr. Lawrence Feingold, who is now an Associate Professor of Philosophy & Theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and author of The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and his Interpreters and the three volume series The Mystery of Israel and the Church, gave a lecture titled “The Holiness of the Church,” in which he addressed precisely this question. The audio recordings of the lecture and of the following Q&A session, along with an outline of the lecture and a list of the questions asked during the Q&A are available below. The mp3s can be downloaded here.


St Stephen Distributing Alms (1447-49)
Fra Angelico

Lecture: The Holiness of the Church
 

In What Sense is the Church Holy?


Lawrence Feingold

Holiness is one of the four marks of the Church (1′)

Holiness is the very reason of being of the Church (2′)

Of the four marks, holiness is the most difficult to use, for two reasons: (2′)

(a) holiness is inward, and thus cannot be experimentally measured

(b) the holiness of the Church does not exclude sinners from her midst

Two kinds of members of the Church (3′)

This holiness is especially manifested in the saints, who are never lacking in the Church. (4′)

Is the Church immaculate, or is she stained by the sins of her members? (6′)
Ephesians 5:25-27

Why the sins of the members of the Church do not truly stain the Church. (9′)

The Church remains holy, as the source of grace by which dead members are restored.

Quotation from Creed of the People of God, promulgated by Pope Paul VI (11′)

She [the Church] is therefore holy, though she has sinners in her bosom, because she herself has no other life but that of grace: it is by removing themselves from her life that they fall into sins and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity. This is why she suffers and does penance for these offenses, of which she has the power to heal her children through the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Church is holy because she has the seven sacraments by which grace is given. (13′)

The Church as a universal sacrament of salvation (19′)

The Church is holy because of the communion of saints (20′)

The Works of Mercy in the Church
How do we see that the Church on earth is holy? Primarily through her corporal works of mercy. (22′)

The Holiness of the Church’s Doctrine (30′)
The spiritual works of mercy.
Example of the holiness of the law in the Old Testament
Example of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of marriage and human life (31′)
Example from the Epistle to Diognetus (32′)

How Mary is the perfect model of the Holiness of the Church (34′)

Are There Elements of Sanctity Outside the Church? (41′)
Is the Mystical Body of Christ the Catholic Church? (42′)

Lumen Gentium

What is the meaning of “subsists in”? (43′)

Is salvation possible outside the Church? (50′)
Feeneyism (56′)

The Church and Evangelization (58′)
Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church
Redemptoris missio

Questions and Answers
 

1. What is the definition of ‘holy’? (1′)

2. Catholics often mix up salvation and sanctification, which means they misunderstand the role of the Mosaic covenant, which is about sanctification, not salvation. Please comment. (5′)

3. Is the Church a moving body, continually moving to the end times? What is the difference between the Church and the New Jerusalem? (15′)

4. Do you discern some error in modern society that causes many young people born and raised in the Church to leave it after citing bad or insensitive pastoral care, often a priest or scandals with priests, etc.? (17′)

5. Are there any circumstances which a cradle Catholic who has received the sacraments and formation in the faith can nevertheless be invincibly ignorant or become invincibly ignorant? (20′)

6. The number of people who are saved is known only to God. But Matthew 7:13 speaks about the narrow gate. What is the Church’s current view regarding numbers of percentage of those saved?(26′)

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37 comments
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  1. Thanks, Bryan.

    I hope you understand that the concerns that I have raissed are not meant as a poke in the eye. Thanks for the resource.

  2. This is excellent. Thanks for posting.

  3. Thanks Tucker. RefProt, I understand where you’re coming from. The objection you’re raising is one I would have raised too, in your shoes. What I’m presenting here is a Catholic way of understanding holiness as a mark of the Church, and how that understanding addresses precisely the objection you (and others) have been raising.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  4. Bryan, let me try to narrow the “how can the church be holy” question (in light of what then-Cardinal Ratzinger referred to as the “filth” in and among the clergy).

    Certainly, the fact that the Church contains sinners is unobjectionable to any honest inquirer. And, given the size and scope of Roman Catholicism, it is also unremarkable that the sinners are many in number.

    I think the stumbling block for some on the shores of the Tiber is that the COLLECTIVE Church, were it the spotless and sinless Bride of Christ, would not behave the way it does in the face of evil. Although the centuries-long coverup of adolescent male sexual abuse is on everyone’s mind nowadays, I would moot that the period 1933-1945 is much more consequential, and has done much, much more damage to the Church in Europe than even the most horrific examples of adolescent abuse.

    The standard references, such as St. John Chrysostom’s speculations on the floor of Hell being paved with the skulls of bishops, don’t really reach the central issue. Sure, anyone in the Church can be a black-hearted sinner, and even Jesus chose Judas. But IF the Church as a collectivity possesses a grace that its individual members lack, should not the Church as a collectivity also be granted the means to resist evil in some more forceful way ? Certainly, St. Maximilian Kolbe did HIS job as a Catholic and a Christian, but there were many other examples of such graces among Protestants and Jews, sadly, too few to turn the tide of evil.

    Anyway, I’m running on, but I do think that just as the sinfulness of individual Catholics, priests and bishops included, does not refute the proposition that the Church is Holy, the fact that individual Catholics, including priests and bishops, attain holiness does not prove it. The proposition that the Church is Holy has to stand for something larger, something of a collective nature.

    I believe I understand what it is, which is why I became Catholic. But the objections above held me up for a long time.

  5. Hi GoKart,

    If I could interject, you wrote:

    “The fact that individual Catholics, including priests and bishops, attain holiness does not prove it.”

    I think it does, actually. The note of sanctity (holiness) means that the Church, in her doctrine, sacraments, and law, aims at and provides the means to attain holiness – heroic virtue, love of suffering, conformity, to Christ, etc. And that this holiness is achieved by at least some subset of her members in this life.

    If this holiness is actually and verifiably effected in some visible subset of her members, then her claim is validated. Furthermore, there can be little doubt that in her doctrine, law, and sacraments, she does, in fact, aim at and believe in the possibility of such holiness. This is also part of what the note of sanctity means.

    Thanks,

    David

  6. Michael,

    I am no philosopher, but I have enough sense to at least recognize a problem, and maybe not the solution. But when St. Paul says that the Church is the body of Christ and consists of those who are “sanctified” in Christ Jesus, whose very lives are in process of the working growth of the Holy Spirit, and which is comprised of those who are baptized, born from above, and heirs of eternal life. This is how St. Paul defines the “Church”. Whenever he writes to a Church, he describes them as those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, or those who have been delivered from this present evil age, or those who have been called of God, etc,etc.

    Therefore, it would seem to me a bit of a problem, no matter how logically and epistemically one seems forced to, to then come out with an ecclesiology that says it really does not matter of all of the human beings on the world are not truly sanctified and born anew, but that only the laying on of hands and the succession from the apostles is there.

    Just think for a moment, does the Catholic ecclesiology allow for the state of all human life being “lost”, “without grace”, and “void of the Holy Spirit”, and yet they assemble with ministers, who themselves are lost, and this still maintains a valid church??

    A car is a car. A human being does not have to be in a car for the car to be a car. It is a car all on it’s own. Therefore, whether a human being is in or out of the car, it is still a car. Is it this way with the Church in Catholic ecclisiology? Could it be that no man visibly joined to the Church is actually joined to Christ’s body, but nevertheless the Church still is there ?

  7. Erick, (re: #6)

    You wrote:

    I am no philosopher, but I have enough sense to at least recognize a problem, and maybe not the solution. But when St. Paul says that the Church is the body of Christ and consists of those who are “sanctified” in Christ Jesus, whose very lives are in process of the working growth of the Holy Spirit, and which is comprised of those who are baptized, born from above, and heirs of eternal life. This is how St. Paul defines the “Church”. Whenever he writes to a Church, he describes them as those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, or those who have been delivered from this present evil age, or those who have been called of God, etc,etc.

    None of the NT writers state or imply that all the members of the Church on earth are in a state of grace. All the members of the Church *were* (or “have been”) sanctified, because they were all baptized. Baptism is how one comes to be a member of the Church, and is also the sacrament by which we are initially sanctified.

    Therefore, it would seem to me a bit of a problem, no matter how logically and epistemically one seems forced to, to then come out with an ecclesiology that says it really does not matter of all of the human beings on the world are not truly sanctified and born anew, but that only the laying on of hands and the succession from the apostles is there.

    Just think for a moment, does the Catholic ecclesiology allow for the state of all human life being “lost”, “without grace”, and “void of the Holy Spirit”, and yet they assemble with ministers, who themselves are lost, and this still maintains a valid church??

    A car is a car. A human being does not have to be in a car for the car to be a car. It is a car all on it’s own. Therefore, whether a human being is in or out of the car, it is still a car. Is it this way with the Church in Catholic ecclisiology? Could it be that no man visibly joined to the Church is actually joined to Christ’s body, but nevertheless the Church still is there ?

    What you are presupposing here, in your criticism, is a gnostic conception of the Church, in which spirituality is entirely divorced from religion and sacraments, and the true “Church” is the spiritual (and invisible) Church consisting of all and only those persons in a state of grace. (See Jeff Bethke’s video here, and the Catholic comments following it.) In the Catholic paradigm, by contrast, the Church is the Body of Christ not because every one of her members is in a state of grace. The Church is the Body of Christ because she is the community founded by Christ, into which persons are incorporated through baptism, and are strengthened and nourished spiritually by way of sacraments as the divinely instituted means whereby the grace Christ merited for us is applied to us, and we share in His supernatural Life.

    The Church is a *visible* body, made visible by the sacraments. Otherwise, if the Church were merely the set of those persons presently in a state of grace, there could be no visible Church, because we cannot know who is or is not in a state of grace. Hence the discipline enjoined in Matthew 18 would be impossible. So, paradoxically, the very discipline you wish to see requires an ecclesiology your present conception of ‘Church’ does not allow.

    As Mystici Corporis Christi explains:

    Nor must one imagine that the Body of the Church, just because it bears the name of Christ, is made up during the days of its earthly pilgrimage only of members conspicuous for their holiness, or that it consists only of those whom God has predestined to eternal happiness. It is owing to the Savior’s infinite mercy that place is allowed in His Mystical Body here below for those whom, of old, He did not exclude from the banquet. For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy. Men may lose charity and divine grace through sin, thus becoming incapable of supernatural merit, and yet not be deprived of all life if they hold fast to faith and Christian hope, and if, illumined from above, they are spurred on by the interior promptings of the Holy Spirit to salutary fear and are moved to prayer and penance for their sins. (Mystici Corporis Christi, 23)

    As soon as you acknowledge that (a) baptism is that sacrament by which a person is incorporated into the Church [even if that incorporation is not yet full communion with the Church], (b) a person remains in the Church unless he formally apostasizes [i.e. formally repudiates the Christian faith], or formally embraces schism or heresy, and (c) baptized persons can and do commit mortal sins other than apostasy, schism and heresy, it follows from those three premises that there are persons in the Church who are also not in a state of grace. They are in the Church because by baptism and profession of faith they are members of this community. But by their mortal sin they have excluded themselves from sharing in the supernatural Life of the Church, which is the Holy Spirit, and the sanctifying grace and agape by which the Church participates in the divine nature. If they receive the Eucharist in this condition, they eat and drink judgment upon themselves. But, they remain sick members of the Body, needing to be cured within the Body. The mistake here is to assume that all mortal sins have the same ecclesiological effect as apostasy, formal schism, and formal heresy. (And if one denies the distinction between mortal and venial sin, then no one but Christ and Mary would be in the Church.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. Bryan,

    I appreciate your response. Having grown up in a Catholic Church and having seen the mass amount of people who are not truly converted has, without a doubt, given me some presumptions which are without great philosophical intention. With this said, here goes nothing.

    If we can somehow manage to argue and defend the point that a Church truly exists in a city where there is a duly ordained minister and one human confessor (let’s just say one), even though both people have a hidden agenda and are really just seeking to evangelize the city to make money, something has to explain for this acceptance. Oh yes, they went through the proper channels in the Church from a different city, but now they are in a location where no believer in Christ lives and they plan on making a business with the Church. So for example, let’s say Judas separated from the disciples and began preaching in some nearby area, the people are bound to his preaching? I would say yes. In this case, it is shown that when one is under direct authority from Christ, though being a true devil, they still minister the authority of Christ.

    Now, if the Body of Christ is truly His Body, His own very flesh (Eph 5), then those who live in mortal sin, while claiming to be saved, are still then in this body? That doesn’t make any sense to me. For to be baptized is to enter this body, to receive the Eucharist is to be immersed and strengthened in this body, and to do penance for reconciliation is to regain the strength of the Body, so how can one who has been baptized is in the body though no excommunication (visible) is done.

    If you think that more needs to be taught to me on the nature of Christ’s Church, is there anything other than the Catholic Catechism you could recommend?

  9. @Erick (#8
    If I may comment here, I would like to say that, in a way, all these hypothetical questions seem to me more or less beside the point. They don’t describe situations which seem actually to exist.

    When I was in the throes of deciding whether to become a Catholic, I was very much aware of the existence of some gross sinners in the Church. They did concern me. The idea of people who were not even that – lukewarm, I suppose, would be the word – worried me as well.

    I have not been a Catholic for about eighteen years. What I have discovered is:

    – the number of truly gross sinners seems remarkably smaller than I had feared
    – the number of lukewarm parishioners is, indeed, a concern
    – the number of holy people has surprised – and humbled – me
    – the deeper problem seems to me the great amount of sheer ignorance amongst genuinely devout people who love Our Lord but are not very clear-minded about it

    All of which is, anyway, sort of beside the point. Either the Catholic Church is Christ’s Body or it is not. Either in receiving the Eucharist I receive Him, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, or not. If these things are true – and I am simply unable to doubt them – then my response has to be: to Whom shall I go? You have the Words of eternal life.

    Pardon me for jumping in. The Catholic Church is the most frustrating, fulfilling, annoying, wonderful, boring, exciting thing on earth. I wish I had been, like you, a cradle Catholic. I cannot adequately express my astonishment and joy at the fact that God took pity on me and gave me His Church, even although at the ripe old age of 53.

    jj

  10. JJ,

    I sympathize with you statements. I was a child of one of those grossly sinful and semi-lukewarm family. But this kind of thought is not coming from me, it is also coming from the early Church. Could you really, in honesty, read the Early Church Fathers and come out thinking they would associate with some modern Parishes? You have 4-5 minute homily on some vague idea, the people are in no communion with each other with love and friendship, and 85-90% of the people are not catechized. What is someone to do if they are in this kind of situation? It is almost totally understandable to attend another nearby Church that is preaching the gospel, disciplining it’s members, evangelizing, keeping each other accountable, etc,etc.

    The life of the soul is affected by the community. St. Paul taught us that if we keep our communion with those who practice sin, we harm ourselves (1 Corinthians 5). This is not my own thoughts or will, this is of the biblical authors and our early fathers in the first few centuries of the Church.

  11. Erick,

    Just wanted to encourage you: I resonate with much of what you say and believe that you are asking the right questions. See my posts here:

    http://www.creedcodecult.com/what-difference-does-the-vowel-make/comment-page-1/#comment-55145

    Shalom,
    SS.

  12. Erick,

    I have been watching this conversation for some time with interest. Why? For two reasons:

    1. I can appreciate the simplicity of your approach.

    2. I understand the gravity of your dilemma.

    On my road to Catholicism, I, too, had to confront nominal Catholicism. I had to stare it right in the face. I had spent my entire life leading others to a more personal, intimate encounter with Christ. Many times I would “witness” to Catholics in the street, many of whom were no longer actively practicing their faith. Imagine my dismay to realize that I might be leaving Pentecostalism — a sect marked by being “on fire” — for a church full of folks like you describe. However, that church, if The Church that Christ established, was owed my allegiance. If I was truly “on fire” for Him, then I would naturally want to join His Church, true? Moreover, if it was His Church, wouldn’t I be better suited to seek to understand how His Church works versus judging it by my own self-made rubric?

    So we come to your problem: bad Catholics. On your view, it would seem you believe there is an ecclesial community somewhere where such persons do not exist — bad Christians that is. I wonder if this perception is formed by your limited experience: bad Catholics and good anabaptists? I’m not sure. Anyways, let me help explain the situation. First, all Christian communities have nominal believers — I’ve (unfortunately) seen many of them. Especially in our modern world, where religion is treated casually, this is a human problem. Second, and more importantly I suppose, sects that are founded on the principle of “my-four-and-no-more” are bound to seem more “practicing” than communities that are more inclusive. The simple fact is that I could come up with a sect that would make your baptist community look plain lukewarm. But, Christianity was never intended to be a competition.

    Did you know that there are countless millions who everyday, in the Catholic Church, attend Mass, pray for souls, meditate on Scripture, and live a life full of the fruits of the Spirit? I didn’t know that, until I actually came into the Church. The difference I found, at least in my experience, was that they lived this life in a very quiet way. The point is simply: there are just as many (if not more because of proportion) faithful Christians practicing their faith as Catholics as there are any others.

    Why be Catholic if Catholics look just like all the other Christians (some practicing, some not, etc.)? Because it is the truth. There is no other reason. With the fullness of truth, there is the fullness of The Truth — found in the Sacramental expressions of grace in the Church. Where there is the fullness of grace, there is the possibility for the fullness of freedom. I have experienced that freedom in the Church Jesus established — a freedom I never found in any of the sects. Praise be Jesus Christ!

    Lastly, there are two senses of “Church” that are going on here. First, there is the mystical, eternal, spotless, bride. Second, there is the on-earth, being made clean, wheat and tares, bride. Scripture is full of both of these notions, and if you confuse the two you will literally throw out the baby with the bathwater. The Church Jesus founded is visible. She is the ark caring the wheat and tares bride to the finish line to become the spotless one. She is composed of folks like you and I — like your parents even. We all hope to be a part of that eternal bride, but ultimately it comes down to how much we are willing to live in the light. We cannot know how much of that Light others have seen, but ultimately we will be accountable for our own. For your parents, who knows, but I pray that by God’s grace — like all of us — they would come to know the One who loves them. For me, it was a matter of obedience. I saw the light of the truth of Christ’s Church. What would I do? Would I shriek back, afraid by all of the Judas’s, by all of the humanity, by her real human history? Or, would I move to the light, not afraid of my personal and professional loss, yearning to say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”?

    In the words of our friend Stellman, I fought the Church and she won. One such battle we have all fought is the one over the less-than-convinced in her fold. Now, we pray for them. Please, join us in praying for them. Through baptism, they are our brothers — prodigal as they are.

    In Christ,

    Brent

  13. Erick, (re: #8)

    If we can somehow manage to argue and defend the point that a Church truly exists in a city where there is a duly ordained minister and one human confessor (let’s just say one), even though both people have a hidden agenda and are really just seeking to evangelize the city to make money, something has to explain for this acceptance. Oh yes, they went through the proper channels in the Church from a different city, but now they are in a location where no believer in Christ lives and they plan on making a business with the Church. So for example, let’s say Judas separated from the disciples and began preaching in some nearby area, the people are bound to his preaching? I would say yes. In this case, it is shown that when one is under direct authority from Christ, though being a true devil, they still minister the authority of Christ.

    This very question was hashed out in the Donatist controversy in the fourth century. Did those persons who were baptized by the Apostle Judas need to be rebaptized? The Church’s answer has always been “no.” And the reason is because the validity of the sacraments does not depend on the personal sanctity of the minister of the sacraments. And that in turn is because of the minister of the sacraments is not the source of the grace or efficacy of the sacraments. Christ Himself administers the sacraments; His ordained servants only lend Him, as it were, their hands and lips. This is the meaning of in Persona Christi. See “Lawrence Feingold: The Grace and the Power of the Sacraments.” There is no Church where there is no Eucharist. And there is no Eucharist where there is sacrament of Holy Orders. (See the reply to the fourth question in Responsa quaestiones.) There may be persons in a state of grace, but that is not enough for there to be a Church. In the Old Testament there were persons in a state of grace, but the Church was not yet present, because Christ had not been sacrificed, and there was no Eucharist (only manna, as a type). To think that persons in a state of grace is sufficient for there to be a Church is not to grasp the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Even the Donatists knew this, which is why they made sure to have validly (though illicitly) ordained bishops.

    You wrote:

    Now, if the Body of Christ is truly His Body, His own very flesh (Eph 5), then those who live in mortal sin, while claiming to be saved, are still then in this body? That doesn’t make any sense to me. For to be baptized is to enter this body, to receive the Eucharist is to be immersed and strengthened in this body, and to do penance for reconciliation is to regain the strength of the Body, so how can one who has been baptized is in the body though no excommunication (visible) is done.

    The reason it does not make sense to you, I assume, is because you have “spiritualized” the Body, defining it as in some way equivalent to the set of persons possessing sanctifying grace and agape. But Christ founded a *visible* Church. If mortal sin ipso facto removed one from the Church, there would be no need for formal excommunication; it would be superfluous. It would make no sense for St. Paul to say, “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles” (1 Cor. 5:1). Such immorality would not be “among you.” Rather such immorality would ipso facto be “not among you.” And over and over St. Paul writes about serious sin in a way (see 1 Cor. 6:9-10) that implies it could be found among them.

    If you think that more needs to be taught to me on the nature of Christ’s Church, is there anything other than the Catholic Catechism you could recommend?

    I recommend listening to “The Grace and Power of the Sacraments” lecture linked above, the “Holiness of the Church” lecture at the top of this page, and reading St. Augustine’s arguments against the Donatists. Studying the rigorist heresies (Montanists, Novatians, Donatists, Cathars) is what helped me work through the question you are asking, when I as a Protestant was considering the Catholic question. I came to the conclusion that “Any Protestant who is tempted to complain about the state of many Catholics must first consider the responsibility he bears for that state by not being in the Catholic Church.” There were two options: (a) stand outside and complain about the moral failings of some Catholics and allow them to be a stumbling block giving one a rationalization for committing the sin of remaining in schism from the Church Christ founded, or (b) humbling oneself to enter the Church Christ founded, eat with sinners, roll up one’s sleeves and get to work laying down one’s life to help to build up the Church Christ founded. That was the choice in front of me, and that’s the choice in front of you. As I wrote to SS last year:

    What made dipping in the Jordan meritorious for Naaman as an act of faith in what was unseen, was precisely its muddiness to the natural eye, which he did not deny but subordinated while believing in its salutary efficacy on the basis of the Word of the Lord through the prophet. As I wrote in “XII. The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty” in my reply to Michael Horton:

    Namaan, for example, did not like the muddy Jordan. He would have picked a cleaner river back home near Damascus. (2 King 5) But the issue was not ultimately about some virtue of Jordan’s water but about faith as submission to God, accepting what God had said through His prophet even though it was not the way Namaan would have done it. The obedience of faith required of Namaan by divine prescription that he dip in what to him was the muddy Jordan, whereas he would rather have washed in a cleaner river in his homeland. The Church Christ founded is very much like this. Even her seven sacraments are foreshadowed in Namaan’s being required to dip seven times. That is because the Mystical Body mirrors Christ’s physical body. Isaiah tells us, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” (Isaiah 53:2-3) The Church, which is the Body of Christ, imitates Christ in this respect. It is so human that one can walk right past it without recognizing it for what it is. Just as when looking at the physical body of Christ on the cross, and seeing the wounds from the nails, the gashes from the scourging, the crown of thorns, we might not see the divinity of that body, so likewise it is easy to look at the tares within the Church, dissenters within the Church, heretical clergy, etc., and conclude that this visible body cannot be the Church that Christ founded. It requires the eyes of faith to believe that this visible body, having the succession from Peter and the Apostles, is the Church that Christ founded and that Christ is found within her.

    Holiness as the second mark of the Church becomes invisible to those whose hearts are fixed on scandal and sin. A focus on the sins of certain Catholic leaders, to the exclusion of the holiness of her saints, is a distorted and inaccurate view of the Catholic Church, as I explained in the second paragraph of comment #433 in the “I Fought the Church and the Church Won” thread. Here the inverse claim to yours could be made: In order to produce such saints, the Church must in fact have faithfully preserved Christ’s doctrine. The lives of the saints recounted in Butler’s twelve volumes so outshine in their brilliance the sins of various Catholics, that they reduce the latter to a mere pebble, as Lewis in The Great Divorce describes heaven’s size compared to that of hell.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. Brent,

    I appreciate your post. I read it once, but I know I will read a few more times, just because there is something there that struck me and I need to meditate on it. That being said, here are a few remaining reservations.

    1) You had said that one may judge on the basis of a “self made rubric”. But this is not what is keeping me out of the Catholic Church. If it were simply an issue of my own self-made rubric, I would gladly toss it out. No, I have spent many hours reading early Church History, the Fathers, the early Councils, the history of penitential discipline (ecclesiastical discipline), and this is purposefully not to mention the New Testament, for I know how easily this can be looked over seeing how many different sects read the New Testament and come out with a variety of different beliefs. The way that the early Church understood it’s community was not a simple issue such as, “we have an ordained bishop, and that’s that!”. The Church is not allowed to simply just do whatever it wants and bank on the sacramental channels to remain always open. This kind of thought is exactly what we have going on today in the American church. I cannot tell you how many friends I have that are just as careless about the Lord as an outwardly rebellious atheist that still get married in the Church! They go through the counseling and everything, and they don’t even go to church after the wedding. There is no follow up, there is no warning, no admonition, no threat pronounced from God like the author to the Hebrews gave to his audience, no excommunication, nothing but warm acquaintance. They can come to mass, say hi and hug the priest, and everything is alright. All the children in my family have been married in the Catholic Church (those who are married), except for myself. And I’ve seen priests stay for the reception, and the reception was anything but God-glorifying. And this is not just one church here and there, it is all over the place.

    2) Of course local Churches should not be in competition with one another. However, the simple fact of the matter is that many church going people have never even once heard that there were “conditions” for getting into heaven. Many catholics are not taught that there are more “conditions” then the sacraments. I mean understand how excited one might be who is brought up outside the catholic church to then, as an adult, come into the catholic church and enjoy the sacraments. But the perspective is a bit different from someone who has been born and grown watching person after person, relative after relative, friend after friend, from one church here to another church far away, from priest to priest, people who are so careless about God. Now am I judging by my own rubric? Do you know what the early Church bishops use to do when someone committed fornication? They were excommunicated for at least a couple of years. It was a standard that they be hearers, physically removed from the center congregation of the liturgy. Then they could be allowed closer tot he liturgy after Mass to ask for prayers. And then after that, they could become participants in the liturgy without partaking of holy communion, and then after enough penance was done, they could partake of holy communion. And sometimes the excommunication lasted for 5 years. And all this for one act of fornication. It was idolatry, adultery, and murder, these offenses immediately warranted such kinds of excommunication. So I am not putting my own self-made thoughts into the pot here. Today, I fear that a priest might get fired if he stands up and tells the congregation “If anyone here is actively participating in any kind of mortal sin, (then he lists some sins from the NT), they are not welcomed to the altar of God”. This kind of warning is 10 times lighter than that which would have been given to any local church in 315 AD. Something has drastically changed. I understand that for many who were not catholic or anti-catholic for years can see the resemblance of the early church to the “beliefs” of the modern day Catholic Church, but the inside ethos and worshiping atmosphere was totally different, almost opposed to what happens today.

    3) With that being said, there still is the question “Well where do I go to Church then?”. What is someone to do with they are poor, live in some small town in Europe, and can only attend a Catholic Church? All the concerns that I have put forth here can be appreciated even by catholics, but the simple fact of the matter is, there really isn’t anywhere else to God. Now, if one is willing to suppose that God is no respecter of person, and that one should go wherever Christ is obeyed and glorified. But this small sects don’t usually last very long, and could have never transmitted the faith through 2,000 years of messy human history. There are many things to consider, but I simply do not have the intellectual ability to assess all these things the right way, which is why I am here trying to get my spirit right, with prayer.

    Bryan, I will respond to you next,

    Thank you all
    Erick

  15. Bryan,

    Thank you for those recommendations. I have been interacted with a guy named Jim Papendrea, a guy who teaches at the College level on Church History, and he has recommended the same exercise. He actually has a book on reading the fathers http://www.amazon.com/Reading-Early-Church-Fathers-Didache/dp/0809147513/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1366121604&sr=8-1&keywords=jim+papandrea.

    Something that seems to be unaccounted for is the “amount” or “extent” of difference between the modern Catholic situation in the local parish and the way the ancient, more historic mode of the local Catholic situation, say from 150AD to 600 AD. The way that “Church” was if one examines and compares today to back then, the difference is very drastic, I am sure you are aware. The Donatist controvery was not really dealing with whole catholic communities who were filled with teenagers who were in gang-wars, or old men who led Mafia administration throughout the state, or people who believe all “religions” are fine I just like being Catholic, type of people. St. Augustine was not dealing with these type of communities. Augustine was speaking about the secret sins of those who were ministers. It was very explicit and out in the open that one would be excommunicated if he committed idolatry. Well, today, you can stop and interview the average parishoner, and he might say that he believes Islam is a wonderful belief system. This type of “norm” is today, not back then. And so the extremeties and extents to this issue of “sin in the Church” are much different today then they were back then.

    Finally, you say that it is an option to “humble” oneself and eat with sinners and help build the Church. The problem I see happening here is that as “soon” as you are sitting down with 2 parishoners who are unmarried, 65 years old, and live together, and mention that they should examine their lives (in the nicest, slowest way possible), they accuse you of getting in other people’s business, you are accused of judging. Then you (as a Deacon let’s say) bring the matter before another deacon or a priest, and they tell you that you are “proud” and that you need to stop “judging” people. And so the wonderful blessing of restoring sinners to holiness (Matthew 18) is cut right from the start, because the administration doesn’t even belief in discipline! The early church would not have thought it something of “Pride” to restore people to holiness through confrontational (but loving) inspection. No, no, no. In fact they thought it was “Pride” to let something like this go! For instance, look at how Paul accuses the Corinthians leadership of pride for allowing the fornicator to remain in the Church. Even our notions of “humility” are vastly re-programmed from the ancient practice of Christianity.
    It is a great fight to be faithful and to be a member of the modern day catholic Church.

  16. Erick:
    Maybe you ought to read some of the slightly later Church history. St. Cyril of Alexandria had to deal with gangs of thugs and murderers … in his own Church! The Arian, Monophysite, Monothelite, and Iconoclast controversies were so fouled with dirty politics and corrupt bishops that it’s a miracle the Church survived (which is part of the reason I find papal infallibility persuasive). Then in the West, there was the corruption of the Frankish church (leading to monastic reforms and the Investiture controversy, not to mention the Avignon papacy) and the Borgia popes.

    The temptation is always to say “well, it’s never been this bad.” But I’ve got news for you: Christian history is ugly. Really ugly. So ugly that if I looked at Christian history the way you look at the Church today, I would dismiss it. Compared to where we have been over the centuries, this is more like the golden age of the Church in Rome or Constantinople in the fourth century than most other times.

    You’ve just lost perspective because you’re in the middle of it, and you’re worried about other people around you, but the beauty of Catholicism is that you can see how small you are relative to the Church and, in the Eucharist, how small you are relative to God. When you realize how immense God’s love is, these things, particularly the worries you have about others, disperse like a drop in the ocean. That is the peace of Christ that opens charity of the heart. God has a plan; He works all things for the good of those who serve Him. But you can’t complain about other people’s idleness if you don’t get off the sideline yourself.

  17. What made dipping in the Jordan meritorious for Naaman as an act of faith in what was unseen, was precisely its muddiness to the natural eye, which he did not deny but subordinated while believing in its salutary efficacy on the basis of the Word of the Lord through the prophet.

    Bryan,

    You are loading the ‘on the basis of the Word ofthe Lord through the prophet’ with your ecclesiological presuppositions. That’s #1.

    #2, allegorizing Naaman’s story and attempting to apply it today’s situation renders Christ’s warning in Matt 7:15-20 utterly moot. You are reading the old in light of the old, not in the light of the new. The new says, repent and be baptized for your sins, in clear water, not muddied waters. The washing of regeneration is now afforded to men by the purity of the LORD made incarnate in Christ, which He now makes available to His own.

    Shalom,
    SS.

  18. Eric (14),

    You said:

    Today, I fear that a priest might get fired if he stands up and tells the congregation “If anyone here is actively participating in any kind of mortal sin, (then he lists some sins from the NT), they are not welcomed to the altar of God”.

    I have been a parishoner at 2 different parishes since becoming Catholic in 2010, with 3 godly priests regularly preaching between them. Every one of them has done what you describe above. They have named sins and strongly forbidden those not in a state of grace from approaching Christ in the sacrament. They are all still happily employed in the service of Archbishop John Nienstedt. Father Thomas Dufner is in particular very fearless. He could look through a mans soul, and with a cheshire cat smile make the pews melt beneath the congregation with his preaching. He had confession before and during mass, with long lines. He is now moved to another parish to revitalize it. He drips holiness.

    Abusus non tollit usus.

    The problem is that there needs to be many more prophets like Fr. Dufner, and many more holy laymen in the pews to make the Church as holy as you (and me) want it. Yet you yourself remain outside it? Might I suggest that if you want the Church to be more holy, that you be holy, and join the Catholic Church. Then the Church will be more holy.

    Having said that, I understand your frustration, and it is one of my constant temptations. Especially when I saw Pelosi and Biden take communion at St. Peter’s. That very well may be scandalous, but the reason it is a scandal is that it is really Jesus in the Catholic sacrament, and they are in disobedience to the Church. So the very thing that makes it a scandal is the very thing that keeps me within the safe fences of the Church.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  19. Erick,

    As I have been reading the comments I kept thinking about this passage in Revelation:

    3 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

    “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

    The thing that hit me was that he did not tell those who had “not soiled their garments” to leave the church. Our responsibility is to be in the Church and to remain faithful. This is why, although I was concerned with many of the things you express, I came into the church last year. I have, however, been pleasantly “surprised” by the many faithful and dedicated Catholics.

    Thanks, Kim D.

  20. Kim D,

    Your reading of Rev 3 and the address to the church at Sardis needs to be re thought in terms of Christ’s warning to the faithful in Matt 7:15-20, precisely those who are dressed in white. They are faithful and have not soiled their garments precisely because they have recognized the false teachers and not followed them. The text does not have to presuppose communion of those faithful with the existing hierarchy in Sardis to hold true. The ecclesia as spoken of in the NT always refers to the people and not the institution. Generalizing to the church at large today, the same can be said for those who refuse to follow after teachers’ whose fruit is demonstrably bad.

    SS.

  21. SS (re: #17)

    You wrote:

    You are loading the ‘on the basis of the Word ofthe Lord through the prophet’ with your ecclesiological presuppositions. That’s #1.

    I do not understand what you mean by that statement.

    #2, allegorizing Naaman’s story and attempting to apply it today’s situation renders Christ’s warning in Matt 7:15-20 utterly moot. You are reading the old in light of the old, not in the light of the new. The new says, repent and be baptized for your sins, in clear water, not muddied waters. The washing of regeneration is now afforded to men by the purity of the LORD made incarnate in Christ, which He now makes available to His own.

    You assert that the application of Naaman’s story to the New Covenant makes Christ’s warning in Matt 7:15 utterly moot. But in the Catholic paradigm, it does not, as I explained in comment #201 of the “How the Church Won” thread. Your objection here presupposes your own interpretation of Matthew 7, and thus begs the question against the Catholic paradigm, i.e. presupposes precisely what is in question. My responses to Erick (in this thread) are an attempt to describe and explain the Catholic paradigm, in order to make clear the Catholic point of view in response to objections relating to the presence of sinners within the Church. So an objection that presupposes Protestantism does not provide any reason to adopt the Protestant paradigm over the Catholic paradigm.

    In the peace of Christ,

    -Bryan

  22. Bryan,

    The following passage is St. Paul’s view of the Church. To somehow manage to be able to say this of a Church where there is the priest and all the congregants are in a state of mortal sin is beyond my mind:

    I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

    2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

    3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

    4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

    5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

    6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

    7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

    8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

    9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

    10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)

    11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

    12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

    13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

    14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

    15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

    16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

    17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,

    18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:

    19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

    20 But ye have not so learned Christ;” (Ephesians 4:1-15)

    So let’s say that the entire local parish is living in “lewdness, uncleanness, deceit, malice, sexual immorality”, a state which those who are baptized are cleansed from, the parish is still the Body of Christ? Truly, they are ligaments of Christ’s flesh, which He nourishes and cherishes?
    Paul understands the Body of Christ to be the sphere of His saving operation. Those who merely “attend” after being “baptized” and “confirmed”, but who are truly not “repentant” in their heart, are not within this saving operation. My entire family, whom I would have to attend Mass with, has baptized, confirmed, and receives Holy Communion each and every week. They are within this sphere of salvation, or better put, they are receiving the benefits of this saving operation.

    What you are trying to do, or rather, what Catholic Theology has to do, is to make a definitive separation between the actual Body of Christ and the number of those who are in a state of grace (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharistic communion). But how can this be done? Each and every time Paul speaks about the “Body of Christ”, he is speaking of “those” who are “joined to the Lord” and are “one Spirit with Him”. To think that harlots, fornicators, liars, adulterers, murderers, etc,etc , because of the fact that they have been ordained under the proper orders of apostolic succession, are still somehow joined to Christ is simply just unimaginable to Paul. I think anyone reading the New Testament can come to this conclusion.

    Therefore, Catholic Theology says that the “Church” is something different than the number of those in a state of grace, even though “Church” is the “Body of Christ”. Therefore, we have to somehow be able to “join” those in a state of sin and those in a state of grace into “one body”, and this endeavor is simply impossible in reality, whether or not it is true in someone’s book.

  23. @Erick (#10)

    I sympathize with you statements. I was a child of one of those grossly sinful and semi-lukewarm family. But this kind of thought is not coming from me, it is also coming from the early Church. Could you really, in honesty, read the Early Church Fathers and come out thinking they would associate with some modern Parishes? You have 4-5 minute homily on some vague idea, the people are in no communion with each other with love and friendship, and 85-90% of the people are not catechized. What is someone to do if they are in this kind of situation? It is almost totally understandable to attend another nearby Church that is preaching the gospel, disciplining it’s members, evangelizing, keeping each other accountable, etc,etc.

    The life of the soul is affected by the community. St. Paul taught us that if we keep our communion with those who practice sin, we harm ourselves (1 Corinthians 5). This is not my own thoughts or will, this is of the biblical authors and our early fathers in the first few centuries of the Church.

    Quite. And I deeply sympathise with your feelings about the matter. Our parish is somewhat better than that – but only recently improved, with the advent of a new priest. Nevertheless, I have to do battle with my own (often prideful) feelings about some of the lacks.

    But, you see, it comes down, as I said, to a question of essence. Those early fathers were living in a far different situation. Suppose one to be dropped down in 2013 in my small town in New Zealand – I think he would be horrified.

    But I can by no means imagine that he would then tool off to the Reformed Church that I helped start, 30 years ago, because – which is a fact – the sermons had more content, the people were, arguably, more fervent. And nor do I think he would go off to one of the SSPX chapels – whose faith is Catholic, but who are in schism with the Body of Christ.

    It is a matter, you see, of essence vs accidence. Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, at the end of Chapter 6, puts it:

    If then there is now a form of Christianity such, that it extends throughout the world, though with varying measures of prominence or prosperity in separate places;—that it lies under the power of sovereigns and magistrates, in various ways alien to its faith;—that flourishing nations {322} and great empires, professing or tolerating the Christian name, lie over against it as antagonists;—that schools of philosophy and learning are supporting theories, and following out conclusions, hostile to it, and establishing an exegetical system subversive of its Scriptures;—that it has lost whole Churches by schism, and is now opposed by powerful communions once part of itself;—that it has been altogether or almost driven from some countries;—that in others its line of teachers is overlaid, its flocks oppressed, its Churches occupied, its property held by what may be called a duplicate succession;—that in others its members are degenerate and corrupt, and are surpassed in conscientiousness and in virtue, as in gifts of intellect, by the very heretics whom it condemns;—that heresies are rife and bishops negligent within its own pale;—and that amid its disorders and its fears there is but one Voice for whose decisions the peoples wait with trust, one Name and one See to which they look with hope, and that name Peter, and that see Rome;—such a religion is not unlike the Christianity of the fifth and sixth Centuries.

    I pray for you each morning – to the Blessed Cardinal – in your struggles. I have been there.

    jj

  24. JJ,

    Do you see what you just did? You posed a situation where if an early church father came down in 2013 he would not go off into some schism out of the body of christ. You just made a gave a definition of the body of christ that has no basis. St. Paul understood the body of christ to be those human beings who are joined together and are joined by one spirit to christ. It is the sphere of Gods saving operation where he supplies growth and strength for the faith and the ecclesial life. You rather see it as a denominational boundary, something according to structural convenience, one with absolute power. And yet what fruit comes from it or is in it? We have no right to redefine the body, it is those who are ligaments and the parts that are actually joined to each other. What then of a Catholic parish where no one knows each others name? I say there is no partaking or joining to the lord.and that’s not pride, its humility.

  25. And what if we have a world wide organization that is unified in doctrine (on paper) but which has no Spirit providing the fruits of the Holy Spirit? It is something with absolute organizational strength but with no spiritual power. I am not saying this is definitely the case with roman Catholicism, but it is anteaters of mine. I would really have no fellowship with anyone. The unity of the Spirit defines the presence of the Church. This is not my doctrine but Gods (1 Corinthians 12)

  26. @Erick

    To somehow manage to be able to say this of a Church where there is the priest and all the congregants are in a state of mortal sin is beyond my mind.

    Don’t you think this says something about such a parish rather than the Catholic Church? And I very much doubt such parishes exist.

    St. Paul understood the body of christ to be those human beings who are joined together and are joined by one spirit to christ.

    This is, in fact, the definition of the Church as identical with the invisible Body – known to God alone – of those not in a state of mortal sin.

    What then of a Catholic parish where no one knows each others name?

    Again, does this exist? Our own parish is not all that satisfactory; it is nothing remotely like the situation you cite either in the first quote above (all the congregants are in a state of mortal sin), or the third (no one knows each others names).

    But if such exists, it is an anomaly at the parish level – not a fact about the Catholic Church.

    jj

  27. Erick,

    Thank you for your kind response. When I mentioned “self made rubric”, from your comment, it appears that you misunderstood where I was going. For example, most recently in #24, you said:

    St. Paul understood the body of christ to be those human beings who are joined together and are joined by one spirit to christ. It is the sphere of Gods saving operation where he supplies growth and strength for the faith and the ecclesial life. You rather see it as a denominational boundary, something according to structural convenience, one with absolute power. And yet what fruit comes from it or is in it? We have no right to redefine the body…

    The point is that you are starting with your interpretation of St. Paul to judge the Church that Christ founded. Every sect throughout history has claimed “the Bible clearly says”. What they are missing is the Sacred Tradition, and a Teaching Authority founded by Christ and protected by His Spirit. And, in this case, it is where your definition of “church” — what you seem to be claiming is the copy/paste of what St. Paul believed — is contrary to what the Church Fathers believed regarding the visible church (there is enough on this site to cover that topic). So, when you say:

    If it were simply an issue of my own self-made rubric, I would gladly toss it out.

    I think you are simply not aware, enough, with regards to what you are bringing to the table.

    To your “1)”, I think you should consider (A) the remarks by others who have encouraged you to look more broadly at Church history and (B) consider the possibility that a local Catholic community can fall into heresy and schism, but not The Church. Moreover, and for your examples, they are only helpful if you give us specific parishes. For all I know, you could be talking about my diocese, even my parish, and labeling them all as going-through-the-motions, nominal, and lukewarm, which would be both unfair and show your unfamiliarity with the gambit of those who attend.

    To your “2)”, the fact that you know that Catholic teaching runs contrary to what you see most people getting in the pews (from your experience pace others testimony here, and I think your experience holds true, nonetheless) is a testimony to the Teaching Office of the Church. Or, do you think the mush-mouth preaching is what the Church teaches?

    To your “3)”, I think you are on the right track trying to assess these things.

    Let me conclude by saying, come and join us. Reform the Church from within. Do not leave her. Stand with the Groom, working tirelessly to prepare a bride that is without wrinkle or stain. I can feel your Luther-esque zeal, but understand that once you leave there is no “Church” to reform. There is no door to nail anything to. You will be summoned to no council, for sects have no councils. There is much work to be done in Christ’s Church. As a father of five small children, it is obvious (by their reaction(s) to my family) a generation in the US was mostly loss to Catholic values. But, there is hope. While the Protestant sects daily seem to lose their grasp on orthodoxy, Our Lord called upon Pope Francis to bravely lead His Church, her priests, and His people, into the dark night of this age. There are holy priests. They are everywhere. Heterodoxy is dying off, even as it hits full spring in the sects.

    Our Lord founded a Church. She needs her Protestants back.

    Pray for me, and I will pray for you.

    Warmly in Christ,

    Brent

  28. Erick,

    To think that harlots, fornicators, liars, adulterers, murderers, etc,etc , because of the fact that they have been ordained under the proper orders of apostolic succession, are still somehow joined to Christ is simply just unimaginable to Paul.

    The gifts and callings of God are without repentance.

    What you seem to be missing here and elsewhere is grace. Salvation is a matter of grace. Life is a matter of grace. Ex opere operato means that God built a Church that can offer me His life no matter what. It is not predicated on man’s perfection, but on God’s election.

  29. Erick,

    You made this statement

    a Church where there is the priest and all the congregants are in a state of mortal sin is beyond my mind

    I have not seen such a Catholic church as the one you describe. However Doctor Ludwig Ott describes a similar situation this way in his book called “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” (page 296),

    In saying that the Church is indefectible we assert both her imperishableness, that is her constant duration to the end of the world, and the essential immutability of her teaching, her constitution and her liturgy. This does not exclude the decay of individual “churches” (ie., parts of the Church ) and accidental changes.

    The Church is indefectible, that is she remains and will remain the Institution of Salvation, founded by Christ, until the end of the world.

    Thanks, Kim D

  30. Eric, (re: #15),

    You wrote:

    Something that seems to be unaccounted for is the “amount” or “extent” of difference between the modern Catholic situation in the local parish and the way the ancient, more historic mode of the local Catholic situation, say from 150AD to 600 AD. The way that “Church” was if one examines and compares today to back then, the difference is very drastic, I am sure you are aware.

    There are many important and relevant factors here. First, the first three centuries, the Church was under severe persecution compared to recent times in the West. To be a Christian was to be subject to execution. That tends to lean the ranks. Second, history generally focuses on the most notable Christians, because those are the stories worth remembering. For this reason we shouldn’t think that all the Christians of those centuries were as saintly as the martyrs we read about. Third, even by the end of the second century, we find rigoristic schisms rationalizing their schism on the basis of the difference between themselves and the Church, indicating precisely the existence of the sort of causal Catholics with whom you do not wish to be around or associated. These schism include the Montantists, into which error Tertullian fell, the Novatians, and the Donatists. Rigorism is the perrenial temptation for those opposed to laxism, and Protestantism fell into it as well. Rigorism’s stumbling block into schism is “anyone less holy than me,” all in the name of concern for the Church’s purity, even at the expense of foregoing her unity. But the existence of rigorism in opposition to the Church, already in the second century, indicates that the dichotomy you are attempting to draw is overly simplistic. There was laxism then, and there is laxism now. There was rigorism then, and there is rigorism now.

    The Donatist controvery was not really dealing with whole catholic communities who were filled with teenagers who were in gang-wars, or old men who led Mafia administration throughout the state, or people who believe all “religions” are fine I just like being Catholic, type of people. St. Augustine was not dealing with these type of communities. Augustine was speaking about the secret sins of those who were ministers. It was very explicit and out in the open that one would be excommunicated if he committed idolatry. Well, today, you can stop and interview the average parishoner, and he might say that he believes Islam is a wonderful belief system. This type of “norm” is today, not back then. And so the extremeties and extents to this issue of “sin in the Church” are much different today then they were back then.

    You’re just revealing that you haven’t read much Church history, or have only read the accounts of the martyrs and saints. The epistles of St. Paul and St. James, St. Peter, and St. Jude, and Revelation, all indicate the same thing: there were egregious sinners in the early Church, and even whole particular Churches went off the rails. And the same is true throughout Church history. Read the Christian historians Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius. Just read the life of St. Athanasius. But all these scandals and apostasies they describe did not mean that the *Catholic* Church ceased to be holy, for the reasons explained in the lecture at the top of this page. Nor did they justify going into or remaining in schism from the Church.

    Finally, you say that it is an option to “humble” oneself and eat with sinners and help build the Church. The problem I see happening here is that as “soon” as you are sitting down with 2 parishoners who are unmarried, 65 years old, and live together, and mention that they should examine their lives (in the nicest, slowest way possible), they accuse you of getting in other people’s business, you are accused of judging.

    You’re talking about how sixty-five year old Catholics would react to your telling them how to live, while overlooking the problem of your own state viz-a-viz schism. Humility requires looking in the mirror first. You have no ground to stand on when attempting to rebuke Catholics for fornication, if you yourself are in schism, which, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains, is one of the greatest [objective] sins, because it is a sin against charity, which is the greatest virtue. And prudence would dictate that before you presume to tell these folks how to live their lives, even if what you would say is true, you first talk with their priest, who will give an account for their souls, (Heb 13:17) and whose role it is (primarily) to direct them to the way of life. We submit to Christ by submitting to the successors of the Apostles. “He who listens to you listens to Me.” Until we’re willing to do that, we haven’t yet become like a child, as Jesus instructed. Rather, we’re in the position of thinking we know better than the Church, and that the Church is not good enough for us. And that’s why faith requires humility, because it requires submission to those who by Christ’s authorization have charge over our souls.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  31. Bryan,

    1) By mentioning the example of the 65 year old couple, I was not hereby intending to communicate that I am ready to formally confront them on the issue. Secondly, this happens to be a real example in real life (in that case let me say I am not sure of their age, it is an estimate). Thirdly, one person in the relationship is not Catholic, I am pretty sure. Fourthly, I do plan on focusing on my being in “schism” from the Catholic Church. But you see I must be aware of this “sin” before coming to repent. The way I see it now is that my spiritual life may be threatened by joining, therefore my concerns are much different than someone who is chiefly unloving. I care about my soul, and the souls God has put under me (my family). What profit is it to a man if he gain the whole world but loses his own soul? Not only do I not have any sight of the “holiness” or “good fruit” in the Catholic Church (let me qualify that with the fact that many here and on other websites have shown great personal devotion to God), and not only have I seen much of the opposite (sinfulness), but the doctrine itself seems to me to be a genius work of logic in order to relentlessly continue it’s lack of genuine life from God. I do not mean to insult by this, I just wish to express where I am at. I pray for communion with Christ’s Church, but I must know what this actually is. And trust me, I am near the point of realizing this is not a question that was meant so be solved all by oneself in total seclusion. It just seems, at the moment, that no matter what objection one gives to Catholic Doctrine, there is either a totally unsatisfying answer that appeals to the authority of the Papacy, or there is a semi-satisfactory doctrine but which is difficult to maintain historically and Scripturally. For example, that Muslims adore our God, that Mary was born immaculately, that she was assumed into heaven, the major focus on Mary (even in an attempt to highlight the Son of God),etc,etc…are just very difficult to see as apostolic, but nonetheless, the Papacy is the center of authority on these matters, and Catholics must submit to it, even if it has no historical precedence (that we can get our hands on).

    2) The rigorism’s back then are not the rigorisms of today. The laxity of back then is not the laxity of today. Today, it is commonly believed that forbidding sex before marriage is coming from a morally rigorist mindset. To tell someone that they are excommunicated for 5 years for adultery, or 2 years for drunkeness, or for revelry, etc,etc, would be thought to be from a morally rigorist mindset. My Catholic family believes it is ok to get drunk every now and then on special occassions, and that the position I take is from a morally rigoristic mindset. So the orthodoxy of the catholic church then would have been accussed of being morally rigoristic. And today’s laxity would have been thought of as detrimental by the orthodox catholics. Finally, the rigorisms of these schismatic sects were insane rigorisms, ones that didn’t even make sense much of the time, just on a basic and simple comparison with Scripture. You explanation does not really account for this.

  32. Erick, (re: #31)

    You wrote:

    But you see I must be aware of this “sin” before coming to repent. The way I see it now is that my spiritual life may be threatened by joining, therefore my concerns are much different than someone who is chiefly unloving.

    I understand. But the love of which I am speaking is supernatural love, not love as the world understands it. This love is the love that comes from the heart of Christ, and is directed toward His Bride, the Church. He laid down His life for her. To love Christ is to love His Church, not remain separate from her on account of how people might treat oneself. To remain separate from His Church is to fall short of this love, because if we love Him we will love the Bride He loves. This is why we cannot “love God and hate our neighbor.” A “spiritual life” without love for Christ is of no worth. He laid down His life for His Bride, and we are called to the same. To hold back, out of concern for our “spiritual life,” is a deficiency in love, a kind of selfishness, like saying that we love Him but refusing to receive baptism or the Eucharist, for which He suffered and died so that we might receive through them the fruit of His passion and death.

    Not only do I not have any sight of the “holiness” or “good fruit” in the Catholic Church (let me qualify that with the fact that many here and on other websites have shown great personal devotion to God),

    We could start with the corporal works of mercy, and take a look around the world at the hospitals, orphanages, charities, homes for battered women, crisis pregnancy centers, schools and universities founded and funded by the Catholic Church. Which other ecclesial institution does more, or even comes close? We could add the spiritual works of mercy, and look around the world. We could read the writings and lives of the saints just of the last century, for example, St. Kolbe, St. Faustina, St. Pio, St. Therese, St. Escriva, St. Katharine Drexel, St. Theresa Benedicta. What must the Church be, in order to produce such saints? And if they don’t qualify as saints in your book, then (a) how much greater must they be in order to be saints, and (b) how much better than they must you think yourself to be, and (c) how could they become saints while rubbing shoulders with sinners within the Church?

    If the Catholic Church isn’t the Church Christ founded, then which body is?

    It just seems, at the moment, that no matter what objection one gives to Catholic Doctrine, there is either a totally unsatisfying answer that appeals to the authority of the Papacy, or there is a semi-satisfactory doctrine but which is difficult to maintain historically and Scripturally. For example, that Muslims adore our God, that Mary was born immaculately, that she was assumed into heaven, the major focus on Mary (even in an attempt to highlight the Son of God),etc,etc…are just very difficult to see as apostolic, but nonetheless, the Papacy is the center of authority on these matters, and Catholics must submit to it, even if it has no historical precedence (that we can get our hands on).

    One thing at a time. Here (on this thread) the focus is on holiness as a mark of the Church. There are other threads in which we discuss most of those other questions.

    2) The rigorism’s back then are not the rigorisms of today. The laxity of back then is not the laxity of today. Today, it is commonly believed that forbidding sex before marriage is coming from a morally rigorist mindset.

    Of course that is believed by some today, but the sinfulness of fornication is stated in the Catechism and is part of the Church’s ordinary universal magisterial teaching, and is infallible. [Update: See, for example, here.] Not only that, but the Catholic understanding and explanation of the error of fornication is better than any Protestant approach I’ve ever seen, which tends to be unaware of what is now referred to as “the theology of the body,” and implicitly presupposes divine command theory.

    My Catholic family believes it is ok to get drunk every now and then on special occassions, and that the position I take is from a morally rigoristic mindset.

    That’s a catechetical problem. The Catechism itself makes clear that drunkeness is a sin, in CCC 1852, which reads:

    There are a great many kinds of sins. Scripture provides several lists of them. The Letter to the Galatians contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit: “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

    Notice, however, that the sin of drunkenness is right there next to the sins of dissension and factions. Those who practice such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God, meaning that they are grave sins, and if done with full knowledge and deliberate consent, are mortal sins. (Notice once again that such a statement by St. Paul makes no sense if mortal sin per se puts one outside the Church.)

    So the orthodoxy of the catholic church then would have been accussed of being morally rigoristic. And today’s laxity would have been thought of as detrimental by the orthodox catholics.

    This is just speculation on your part. Some of the disciplines of today are less severe, but that is not a change in “orthodoxy.” There has been no denial or rejection of any moral truth recognized as such by the early Church. If you want an example, take the case of marriage and divorce, and compare the Catholic doctrine to that of any other sect in the world today. Or take the example of contraception. In each case, the Church had held fast to her doctrine, while the sects give way.

    Finally, the rigorisms of these schismatic sects were insane rigorisms, ones that didn’t even make sense much of the time, just on a basic and simple comparison with Scripture. You explanation does not really account for this.

    For those who presuppose absolute perspicuity, one of the only explanations for persons who take alternative interpretations is insanity. Rigorism defines laxity as “anyone less holy than me,” and treats anyone “more rigorous as than me” as insane. In that way it can never be wrong. But once again the problem is making oneself and one’s own interpretation of Scripture the standard, rather than the Church and the Church’s interpretation. Faith requires humility to submit oneself to the Church. Rigorism does not. Rigorism falls short of itself, in the area of humility.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    Update: Examples of discipline
    May 1, 2013, Fr. Daniel excommunicated
    May 4, 2013, Cardinal O’Brien exiled from Britain
    Sep 27, 2013, “Pope Francis excommunicates Australian priest.”
    Mar 28, 2014, “Vatican punishes Wisconsin priest for saying Mass with female priest
    May 6, 2014, “848 priests laicized, over 3,400 disciplined for abuse, Vatican official tells UN panel
    May 15, 2014, “Excommunication of Mary Keldermans.”

  33. Is it supernatural love to attend a local parish where it is believed that scripture is not inerrant? Even at the ministerial level? For me to be restored I need the sacrament of reconciliation. Ibhave given in to visiting several different catholic churches, and one of them had a bible study where the priest said that the details don’t matter in the text, and that there are some inaccuracies. How should a person who cares about his soul deal with this?

  34. @Erick (#31)

    The way I see it now is that my spiritual life may be threatened by joining, therefore my concerns are much different than someone who is chiefly unloving. I care about my soul, and the souls God has put under me (my family). What profit is it to a man if he gain the whole world but loses his own soul?

    I deeply appreciate the advantage of being with those whose own faith and holiness can help your own – but at bottom you must not and cannot rely on others for your spiritual life. Grace is from God. The question is whether the Catholic Church is His full channel of grace. If it is – and if the Sacraments, particularly, are the central flood of grace – then it is spiritual suicide to avoid them.

    You must find the truth of the Church. You will not do so by examining this or that sinner within it.

    jj

  35. Text.

  36. What is Hollines in life in the Catholic Church .i need a bookon Hollines of life. I am presenting a seminar on Hollines of. Life in the Catholic Church .i need help

  37. The identity of the Church as the Church Christ founded does not change when her members, whether clergy or lay, commit grave sins. Christ does not come down from heaven and start a new Church. He remains faithful to the one He founded. But these sinning members will have to answer to God some day for their heinous crimes. If they die without repentance, they will spend eternity in hell separated from God. The Church on earth is not the set of persons presently in a state of grace, but is a visible communion, and thus includes both wheat and tares, i.e. both persons in a state of grace, and persons not in a state of grace.

    This is true even when the sin in question is the failure to discipline a member of the clergy who ought to be disciplined. The failure of a Church leader to discipline someone who ought to be disciplined is either a sin of some sort (e.g. cowardice, laziness, fear of men, a deficiency of charity, etc.) and/or bad judgment on the part of that leader. It may even be a crime, in cases where a bishop knew of an illegal action on the part of a priest, and for whatever reason chose not to report it to the proper civil authorities.

    But sins of failing to discipline are not qualitatively different than any other grave sins with respect to changing the identity of the Church. Nor do they constitute a change in the Church’s moral teaching. In the Protestant paradigm, without a magisterium, and thus without dogma, the doctrine of the Church just is the practice of its leaders. And this leads some Protestants to believe mistakenly that the failure of the Catholic Church to discipline certain persons just means that the Catholic Church condones such practices, rather than that this is a failure on the part of a leader or leaders to conform to Church teaching. The irrevocable doctrine of the Church, however, condemns all sin, including sexual sins. This is precisely why sins are sins against the Church’s holiness, rather the detractions from or subtractions from the Church’s holiness.

    This is also reflects a fundamental difference in the Catholic and Protestant paradigms. In the Protestant paradigm discipline is a mark of the Church. (See comment #21 in the “Peter Leithart’s Tragedy of Conversion” thread.) But in the Catholic paradigm, discipline is not a mark of the Church. In the Catholic paradigm, the four marks are those set forward in the Creed: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. And the “holiness” mark is not the same as the Protestant “discipline” mark, as the lecture above explains. Moreover, from the Catholic point of view, the Protestant move of making discipline a mark of the Church was an unauthorized addition to the four marks. So then from the Catholic point of view, the Protestant appeal to discipline as a mark of the Church, used against the Catholic Church, presupposes the very point in question between the two paradigms, namely, the possession of the authority to establish the marks of the Church and determine how they are to be understood.

    Resolving that disagreement requires stepping back to consider preliminary questions such as how do we rightly determine what are the marks of the Church, and who has the authority (and why) to determine or establish what are the marks of the Church? Disagreement about the marks does not leave us at an impasse, because we can step back to prior questions regarding the determination of the marks. But it does mean that we cannot use our own paradigm’s conception of the marks to criticize the other paradigm, without presupposing precisely what is in question between the paradigms.

    One possible objection to the Catholic teaching on holiness as a mark of the Church is claiming that the great divergence between the Church’s formal moral teaching, and the abusive practice of bishops and priests shows that she cannot be the Church Christ founded. This objection conflates the distinction between persons in the Church, and the Church herself, as if when a member of the Church sins, the Church sins. In actuality the Church does not lose her holiness when a member of the Church gravely sins. Rather, the Catholic who sins gravely (whether laymen or cleric) thereby cuts himself off from the holiness of the Church, and it is through the holiness that indelibly remains in the Church (in the sacraments) that he is restored upon repentance and confession. So the problem with the reasoning in the objection is that it mistakenly treats sins by Catholics as if they are sins “of the Church” rather than as sins by members of the Church, and therefore as detracting from the Church’s holiness, and/or indicating that this set of persons is not “the Church.” In this way it presupposes that the Church is the set of all those mere humans in the state of grace, rather than as a visible communion whose head is Christ, and whose life is the Holy Spirit.

    Of course one can look at particular incidents of failing to discipline abuse and declare that this “says alot.” But as long as we use ambiguous phrases like “says alot,” anything can be “proven” with any evidence. Whether some particular event “says a lot” is not the question. The question is whether sins by Catholics, and especially Catholic clerics, make the Church Christ founded into something that is not the Church Christ founded. And the true answer to that question is “no.” We don’t get to leave and start a man-made ‘church’ whenever persons in the Church Christ founded commit grave sins. We must stay and work to build her up, even if that involves suffering and sacrifice. Forming a schism from the Church Christ founded would be just adding one more sin to the others. Nor can anyone reform the Church from the outside.

    Or one can say that the situation is “so bad” that the Church cannot be the Church Christ founded. But that conclusion does not follow from that premise. In order to get the conclusion to follow, one must add another premise stipulating that some number and gravity of sins committed by clergy are the point at which the Church is not the Church Christ founded, or is shown never to have been the Church Christ founded. But that added premise would be a mere stipulation out of one’s own mind, either (a) that there is a certain number and gravity of sins by members of the Church Christ founded that turns the Church Christ founded into something other than the Church Christ founded, and that that number and gravity of those sins has been reached in the Catholic Church or (b) that there is a certain number and gravity of sins by members of a community that demonstrates that this community was not founded by Christ, that one knows what that number and gravity are, and that it has been reached in the Catholic Church. And that is just doing ecclesiology by mere human reason, i.e. with one’s own standards. But Christianity is a divinely revealed religion. We cannot justifiably by our own human reason either add to the marks of the Church, or stipulate by our own human reason what any one of the marks must mean. To do so is to create a religion in our own image, to set up an idol.

    If Christ founded the Catholic Church, then nothing can presently make it the case that the Catholic Church is not the Church He founded, and over which the gates of hell shall not prevail. Just as Judas betraying the Son of God did not make it false that the Twelve were the Church Christ founded, so likewise the sins of the successors of the Twelve do not make it false that these successors (along with the laity in communion with them) are the Church Christ founded. That is why if Christ founded the Catholic Church, then even if her leaders commit grave sins, she remains the Church Christ founded.

    The other important factor to remember is the role of the media in distorting perceptions by its focus on particularly egregious cases, and its relative silence not only regarding the vast majority of faithful priests, but on the prevalence of abuse cases in other institutions and denominations. The data indicate that the rates of abuse are comparable or even higher among Protestant denominations. See this link, and this one. See also “Evangelicals Worse the Catholics on Sex Abuse,” and “Has Media Ignored Sex Abuse In School?.” See also “Benedict’s Peculiar Record on Pedophile Priests,” and five myths about the issue in “Myth Buster.”

    When non-Catholic persons watch some documentary on the sex abuse scandal, and then ask me how could ever trust their children around a Catholic priest, I ask them how many Catholic clergy do they know personally? In my eight years as a Catholic now, I’ve known hundreds. I’ve taught in a Catholic seminary, and come to know many more men who are now ordained. And I would say that in the entirety of my experience there were less than five that I didn’t trust (none of whom were in the seminary). What one is getting if one simply goes by the media, is a very skewed picture, because the media focus on the outlandish cases (which are, of course, horrendous), and do not include a proportionate picture of all the upright, solid, faithful, Christ-loving priests who are steadfast moral heroes, but for which there are no sordid details to make a news story sufficiently sensational.

    But even if the rate of untrustworthy priests were much higher, even higher than that of the pastors in a particular Protestant denomination, that would not change the identity of the Catholic Church as the Church Christ founded, or make that Protestant denomination into the Church Christ founded, any more than sins by one’s child do not change the fact that so many years ago this child was conceived from one’s own body, and is thus forever one’s child. The founding of the Church by Christ was likewise an event in history, and present sins by her leaders do not, and cannot, change that history. If one stipulates the notion that if one cannot trust one’s children with some particular minimum percentage of the priests of the Church then it is not the Church Christ founded, one is making up one’s own religion, by imposing and inserting one’s own philosophical standard derived from one’s own fallen and flawed human reasoning into what is in fact a divinely revealed religion. And this kind of theologizing is man-made religion, because it involves making up one’s own standards for what does and does not preserve the identity of the Church Christ founded, rather than allowing the divine authority of Christ through His Church to provide those criteria. And strictly speaking, that is idolatry, which, paradoxically, is an even greater sin than sexual sin, though because it is not as sensationally salacious, it won’t make it onto any television documentary.

    Just as we know that our children remain our children no matter how wicked and shameful they become, so Catholics know that we’re in this together. When one member sins, we don’t get to bail out, form a new ‘church,’ and thus avoid the suffering and shame. Rather, we are called to suffer the shame with that sinful member, on account of that sinful member, even as we pray and work for the healing of all those harmed, and for the reform, renewal, and restoration of the sinner him or herself.

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