Monday, January 12, 2009

Thoughts on Our Separated Sisters and Brothers

Since the last post spurred so many comments, we should talk briefly about those who find themselves in Protestant Churches today - thus separated from the Catholic Church.  We should think about what situation they are in and how the Church views them.

First, they are recognized as our sisters and brothers.  They are in communion with the Catholic Church - although not full communion with us.  We should note that while someone like Martin Luther would be labeled as a heretic for spreading heresy, he is only so because he personally rejected articles of faith that he knew to be true and mislead people with false teachings.  Those who are born Lutheran (or become Lutheran out of a clean conscience) today are not considered Heretics, because they are not rejecting the Church, they are instead trying to do the best they can.  

We should note that organizations may be heretical or schismatic, without the individuals in them being heretics.  For instance, a common example is the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is, as an institution, schismatic.  

We can also recall that we receive the graces of Christ through his sacraments.  To receive the fullness of that grace, we would obviously want to receive all seven sacraments.  That is not a "plan of salvation" of sorts, just the way that Christ has pointed us to receive as much as possible from him - to be in the "fullness of Christ".  Thus, we see that even the schismatic Orthodox Church has all seven sacraments and they are all valid.  And even Protestants have two valid sacraments - baptism and marriage.  Thus, they are able to receive the graces of Christ through these sacraments (we could also get into a very deep and lengthy discussion of forgiveness of sins, but it would be a different topic for a different post).  

We pray that our separated brethren will come into the fullness of Christ and the fullness of his Body - in communion with the Holy Church.  But, we do not restrict salvation (for that matter, we do not restrict salvation only to those who are "Christians" in the typically though sense, but realize that God's grace may have ways of reaching people who may never even be exposed to Christ).  At the same time that we realize they are not in full communion with us, we should grow in love and faith with them, because we are all trying to get to the same places and we should be able to help each other immensely.  


Greg said...

Again, wonderful stuff Joseph! I thought I'd simply echo what you said with words from the Church Herself. So many of my Protestant brethern were offended by the document from then Cardinal Ratzinger (before he was Pope), "Dominus Jesus." If you read it carefully, you see that the Church does indeed incoporate our Protestant brethern as part of the "Church." I think the document is worth the read:

Pay particular atttention to section IV, which includes...

“Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

The Catholic Journeyman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Catholic Journeyman said...

I pray HARD about this, Joseph.

While I know my journey was triggered by a relentless Calvinist attack on "my" religion, and I can have gratitude for that trajectory, I have yet to cultivate a pure ecumenical attitude in the personal, one on one sense with particular righteous Calvinists.

Certainly, I can and do blog and promote RC ecumenism, even to Islam, however, I would be a Hypocrite with an exponent if I conveyed this level has been achieved with me personally when thrown into the judgement pit at places like Lakeside (see recent post).

There is a point where I absorb "Dominus Jesus" and can appreciate the effort to extend it to the P's and O's, however, I dont miss the Holy Fathers holdback either....they "derived their efficacy from...the Catholic Church." He's not backing down much now is he...

The day he hands a rabid Calvinist like Piper or MacArther the Keys to the Kingdom, will be the same day I eat crow with my a-C.

Just sayin'

Greg said...

Wow, interesting Journeyman.

"Ps and Os" are still part of the Church through baptism, even though it is an imperfect communion.

I personally don't worry so much about anti-Catholics outside the Church structure, I worry more about the ones within... those dissenting theologians, priests, et. al. convoluting and polluting the faith. I believe that a good portion of blame can be assigned to them as to the reason most Catholics don't even believe what the Church teaches.

Do a survey of 10 folks after Mass some Sunday. See how many actually believe in the Real Presence, the inerrancy of scripture, are pro-life, etc.

We still have lots of wolves in sheep's clothing perpetuating dissent toward Rome. That is what bothers me the most. It feeds anti-Catholic sentiment really, and makes our job of evangelization that much more difficult.

Maggie said...

Great post! It's always tricky trying to describe what we mean when we say "the fullness of Truth resides within the Catholic Church." Lumen Gentium tried, and I think succeeded, to explain this, but the language wasn't very accessible.

In a bit of horrid timing, just after I told my family that I intended to become a Catholic, Papa B released an oft-misquoted/misinterpreted statement about the [Catholic] Church as the only appropriate means of knowing Christ (or something like that- it was an "inflammatory" statement" that many in the media decried, since, taken wrongly, he seemed to be saying that non-Catholic Christians or non-Christians can't really come to know God.) He said, "“Jesus established here on earth only one Church and instituted it as a visible and spiritual community that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. […] This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him."

In trying to clarify what he said then, a mentor of mine came up with this:

Imagine two cups/glasses. One is the size of a two-liter bottle, and one is the size of a shot glass. Say that the amount of truth and intimacy with Christ in a particular faith is represented by the glass size. The Catholic Church, with 2,000 years of history, apostolic succession, sacraments, Church fathers, catechism, etc. is the two-liter sized glass. It's deep! There's a lot there! Now say that various Prot. denoms. (especially evangelicalism) are like the little shot glass. There's room for the essentials (Jesus, born of a virgin, came to save us, died, rose again....) but not much else.

When someone jumps the Tiber and swims home to Rome, he/she often is amazed by the depth and volume of beauty in the Church (the two-liter bottle). Even as a glass-overflowing Protestant, their little baby glass couldn't compare with the Church.

But there's a catch.

If all 1.2 billion Catholics in the world were *living* in such a way that "my two-liter bottle runneth over," there wouldn't be a protestant denomination in the world who could keep people away from the Catholic Church. However, not many of us live day-to-day in authentic witness to all our Church has to offer. We might try really, really, hard, but as fallible humans we fall short. Our bottles- which could potentially be full to bursting - often contain only a few ounces of joy in our lives. The potential is there, but most Catholics aren't embracing the joy of our faith, and they "seem" to be lacking.

Now look at an average Evangelical. Even though their little shot-glass-sized container is small, they're filling it for all it's worth. Even with just the bare essentials of faith, many Evangelicals love Jesus deeply and beautifully, so much that their little shot glass really does "runneth over" with joy. Compared to a Catholic who only has a few "ounces" in his or her glass, an Evangelical may appear to be far closer to God, far happier in faith, far more "holy."

The same could be said of any other religion- Jewish, Eastern, Islam; etc; they contain grains of truth about God and His nature, but because many adherents to those faiths heartily embrace their little thimble-full of truth and joy, their faith appears to be richer than ours, even if that's only because we Catholic aren't "casting out into the deep" of our two-liter bottle.

Does that make any sense?

The Catholic Journeyman said...

Gre - I disagree that Protestants are a part of the Church as you state, but wont fill Jospehs combox with what may be a semantic on our parts.

I am way beyond taking surveys, being an RCIA Leader/Minister/Catechist, I see Calvinists at work, pulling away those who want to believe in all the Fullness, those who have committed to the 9 month journey in earnest.

While your point of interior wolves is valid, and is a solid target indeed, the agressive Protestant damage with Catechumens and Candidates is spiritually violent on those who are the most vulnerable in their open hearts.


Greg said...

Great post Maggie! Makes perfect sense!

And Dave, here is another quote from Dominus Jesus:

"...the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church."

I do see your point about anti-Catholics. All we can do is live our faith the best we can, teach it to others who are interested, correct those teaching it incorrectly (out of love and charity of course), and leave the rest to God. I sincerely believe if we "evangelize the baptized" (as Scott Hahn puts it), and we create a solid Catholic environment / fellowship that is faithful to true Church teachings, then "they will come."

Thanks again Joseph for offering this place of discussion!

~Joseph the Worker said...

Wow. Thanks for all the comments guys. It's great to see all the discussion. I agree that it is kind of hard to put our finger on and define the exact relationship that those who are not "Practical Catholics" have to the Church - whether Protestant, Orthodox, of some other religion or even non-religious. I think it's part of a mystery that the Church has been trying to grapple with and define for some time, and we really don't have a clear picture of that relationship.

Melinda said...

I greatly appreciate all of you and your sincere thoughts. It's making some sense, and I just wanted to say thanks.

~Joseph the Worker said...

Thanks Melinda, and God Bless!

God Fanboy said...

Woh comments galore!!! Nice!
Great juicy posts!
I'll have to comment after i get some sleep, lol. I also love the purgatory post. Sorry about jamming up the comment box. But you know i can't resist a good purgatory topic.

Greg said...

Oh, and one more thing...

converts usually make the best Catholics! :-)