PR for the Pope’s Recent Comments

[This is a follow-up to my post entitled, “Jesus doesn’t save – the Pope does“]

Second Vatican CouncilAfter I wrote the post I went through and read the comments you all suggested. One of you (Justin II) went ahead and sent me an official “Q and A” released by the Vatican in response to the backlash that resulted from Pope Benedict’s decision that Catholicism is the true church of God/Jesus.

I went ahead and read the document. I was happy to see that some of my questions were asked and that the Vatican was making an effort to answer some of the issues caused by the Pope’s religious assertions. I’ll admit that I came off kind of harsh in my last post, and the document sent to me helped me approach the issue with more of a level head.

However, despite the helpful PR handout that “Justin II” gave to me, I still found myself shaking my head (with a hint of disgust) at the actions of the Vatican. I took the liberty of pulling out a few areas that I found concern with.  If you want the full document, please email me via the Contact section.

So let’s begin.

In the intro of the PR document (as I will call it from this point forward), it says the following

“Given the universality of Catholic doctrine on the Church, the Congregation wishes to respond to these questions by clarifying the authentic meaning of some ecclesiological expressions used by the magisterium which are open to misunderstanding in the theological debate.”

I can agree to an extent about the “universality” of the Catholic doctrine on the Church [I interpret “Church” as believers in Christ]. Still, what is meant by “universality”? If they are referring to various rituals like the Eucharist, then they are only half right as many churches don’t view this the same way despite going through the same routines. For example, Catholics believe in transubstantiation while others believe it is a ritual based on symbolism. In fact, many sects emerged because of beliefs behind the Eucharist alone.

Moving on from the introduction, I was particularly interested in the answer to question two. The question was the following:

Second Question: What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?

The response to this question was quite lengthy, so I am only going to pull out certain parts. Here is the first part I want to address:

Response: Christ “established here on earth” only one Church and instituted it as a “visible and spiritual community,”[5] 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.[6] “This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic []. 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.”[7]

Now when I read this, the part that stuck out the most was the reference to Christ establishing one Church being a “visible and spiritual community”. I agree 100%! The church is spiritual (all of those in Christ) and it is a obviously a community (i.e. Christians). The problem emerges because the Catholic church is asserting that their religious institution is the “one Church”. However, I strongly contend that Jesus was not about establishing religions, He came to abolish it; to free humankind from its oppression. Hierarchies within any denominations involve politics, a human invention.

I should also note that all the numbers in the brackets reference a decision made at a Vatican council. It looked like this:

SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution, “Lumen gentium,” 8.2.

This was disappointing because when I saw the numbers, I thought they would reference actual Biblical passages for support.

In the effort to further answer the second question, the following answer was included:

“It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.[9] Nevertheless, the word “subsists” can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe… in the “one” Church); and this “one” Church subsists in the Catholic Church.[10]”

 Again, for one to accept this argument, they must accept that the Vatican Councils are divinely inspired, that is, the hand of God. If one does, then concluding that the Catholic church is the “one” Church would be quite easy. I still contend that the “one” church still exists, but as those spiritual in Christ (and note that not all who profess Jesus are of His Church…as He quite clearly lays on in the Gospels).

Last, I want to look at question five. The question and part of the answer are below:

Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of “Church” with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

Response: “According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery[19] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense.[20]”

What bothers me the most is that the Catholic Church is claiming that other sects “have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery”. Again, this goes back to what I said in response to the first question I analyzed. It makes me wonder what they meant by the “universality” of Catholicism, because this statement excludes those who do not believe in transubstantiation.

To put it simply, the Catholic Church is saying that the way you view the Eucharist (eating bread and drinking wine) dictates whether you are part of the true body [Church] of Christ. Very sad reasoning indeed.

Like I said, I am happy to have gotten this document from “Justin II”. It did clarify some things that I may have misunderstood, and it allowed me see the Catholic side of the story.

So perhaps I have not lost “all” respect for the Pope…maybe just a “great deal” of respect.


3 Responses

  1. Justin,

    I appreciate your taking the time to read the “PR Document” and post this follow-up. Allow me to address the questions and concerns you raise.

    First, the word “universality” refers to Catholic doctrine, not rituals and practices. It simply means that all Catholics believe the same things. In fact, the word “Catholic” itself means “universal”. The Latin prefix “uni” means “one”, and the Catholic Church is united in one body of teaching.

    As for the Catholic CHurch’s claim to being the “one Church”, this is supported by Mat. 16:18 where Jesus promises to “build my Church”. Protestants believe that this Church consists of all those who believe in Jesus. However, Protestants disagree among themselves on so many points that they are divided into more than 30,000 denominations worldwide, and even in a single local church divisions are often endemic. I cannot believe that this staggering array of denominations constitutes the Church Jesus intended to establish.

    All the documents of Vatican II contain scores of references to Scripture. Lumen Gentium itself includes 304 Biblical endnotes.

    I sympathize with your view that the “one Church” consists of all those who are “in Christ”, which I assume you mean all those baptized who believe in Jesus. Indeed, we regard the “Christian communities” referred to in Question 5 as already partially united with the Catholic Church. However, 1 Tim. 3:15 says that “the Church of the living God” is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth”. Yet many Christians hold contradictory beliefs. Two such contradictory beliefs cannot both be true. So how can a collection of tens of thousands of disagreements form the “one Church”, “the pillar and bulwark of the truth”?

    Finally, the Eucharist is the most important issue separating the Catholic Church from Protestantism. It is the source, center and summit of the Catholic Church’s life and the most difficult doctrine of our faith. For the first fifteen hundred years of its history, the Catholic Church (as well as the Orthodox Churches since 1054) believed in transubstantiation without challenge. In fact, if you take a look at the writings of the early Church Fathers, you will see that the early Church held this same doctrine. The Church is so careful and possessive of its doctrine on the Eucharist precisely because the Eucharist represents the Church itself: each, in its own way, is the body of Christ. The Eucharist represents the unity of Christ and his Church and of Christ with all Catholics, so to say that those who have a different view of the Eucharist are fellow Churches with us–“in the proper sense”, “according to Catholic doctrine”–would be a lie.

    Neither the Pope nor I wish to offend you, but we have to stand up for our faith and not water it down in the interest of ecumenism.

    I hope this helps.

  2. Justin,
    It is not my nature to agree, so I’m having a hard time with your posts.
    You are right again. The Church is one Church, both the Pope and you are correct in that. However the error occurs when some man thinks he is the head, or when others think it.
    In Ephesians the Bible tells us Christ is the head of the Church.
    (Eph 1:22&23 NIV) And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
    These verses are speaking of Christ and this is made clear in verse 20. It should be obvious that the Catholic Church is only a branch of the Church just as all other denominations are.
    Why do I say that? Because we are baptized into Christ: not the Pope.
    If the Pope is head of everything for the Church someone will have to change Ephesians, or maybe clarify it for me.

    Justin II,
    “However, 1 Tim. 3:15 says that “the Church of the living God” is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth”. Yet many Christians hold contradictory beliefs. Two such contradictory beliefs cannot both be true. So how can a collection of tens of thousands of disagreements form the “one Church”, “the pillar and bulwark of the truth”?”

    Do all Catholics agree? Do, or have, all Popes? Haven’t policies been changed? If agreement is a condition there is no Church. All men disagree on at least one point. That is why Christ is the head over everything for the Church: not any man.

    ” the Eucharist represents the Church itself”
    No way!!!! The bread represents the body of Christ (Mat 26:26 NIV) While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Not the body of the Church, but the body of Christ.
    The wine represents the blood of Christ. Not the blood of the Church.
    (Mat 26:28 NIV) This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

    I don’t wish to offend any one either. However the Bible is the ultimate authority, not the Catholic Church or the Pope.
    This is what the Bible says about priests (Mat 23:9 NIV) And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
    I think I’ll go with the Bible.

    I hope this helps. However if the Bible is not some ones ultimate authority it will not. All men are flawed and the Pope is a man, as are the members of all Churches, so it stands to reason that if we accept any man’s word that he speaks for God it would be a flawed view. (Yes, I know you are saying to yourself that it includes me, but I am not speaking for God. I am only saying He is correct and that the Bible is His Word)

  3. Astudent,

    Thanks for your comments.

    While Christ is indeed the head of the Church, the Pope is simply his representative on earth. The early Church recognized this authority of Peter. In fact, if you scan the New Testament, you will find that the name Peter occurs more frequently than the name of any other of the twelve apostles.

    Policies have indeed been changed many times in the CHurch’s history, but doctrines have never changed. They have only been more fleshed out and more clearly explained with time.

    St. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that Christ and his Church are married–the Church is Christ’s bride. Just as a husband is head of his wife, Christ is the head of his body, which is the Church. Thus if Christ and his Church are united as one, the Eucharist must represent both.

    As a Catholic, I share your belief that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. However, the Bible itself contains evidence that not everything we are to believe was written there. 2 Thes. 2:15 says: “So then, brethren, stand fast and hold to the traditions you have received, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”

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