Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

The MOST Theological Collection: A Basic Catholic Catechism

"Part V: The Apostles' Creed IX-XII"


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Ninth Article: "The Holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints"

1. The Mystical Body of Christ

Speaking of full membership in the Church, Pius XII, in his Encyclical on the Mystical Body, said it is the society of those who have been baptized, and who profess the faith of Christ, and who are governed by their bishops under the visible head, the Pope, the Bishop of Rome.

The Church came into being when Christ died on the Cross, but it was formally inaugurated on Pentecost, when He sent the Holy Spirit as He had promised. St. Paul speaks of all Christians as members of Christ, so that with Him, they form one Mystical Body (Cf. 1 Cor 12:12-31; Col 1:18; 2:18-20; Eph. 1:22-23; 3:19; 4:13). St. Paul did not use the word Mystical. It was developed more recently to bring out the fact that this union is unique, there is no parallel to it. It is not the same as the union of a physical body, nor that of a business corporation.

The Church, the Mystical Body, exists on this earth, and is called the Church militant, because its members struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. The Church suffering means the souls in Purgatory. The Church triumphant is the Church in heaven. The unity and cooperation of the members of the Church on earth, in Purgatory, in Heaven is also called the Communion of Saints. When St. Paul uses the word "Saints" in opening an Epistle, he does not mean they are morally perfect. He has in mind Hebrew qadosh, which means set aside for God, or coming under the covenant. Being such means of course they are called to moral perfection. But of course, not all have reached it in this world.

The word Saint in the modern sense means someone who has been canonized by the Church in recent times, or was accepted as such by the Church in earlier times. If a person is shown to have practiced heroic virtue - beyond what people in general do - in all virtues, the title Venerable is given; with two miracles by that one's intercession, the title is Blessed; two more miracles can lead to canonization and the title of Saint.

2. The Marks of the Church

We often speak of the four marks of the Church: one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic. We do not mean that these are distinctive enough to prove the Catholic Church is the only Church of Christ. But they do help.

Christ established only one Church. "There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5). Presently we will speak of the relation of members of other churches to the Catholic Church.

We say the Church is holy, not in the sense that all members are holy - far from it. But her Founder gave it all the needed means to make people holy.

The Church is Catholic because it is universal: "God wills all to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). It aims to take in all persons, in fulfillment of the command of Christ in Matthew 28:19.

We say the Church is apostolic because it goes back to the Twelve Apostles chosen by Christ Himself. The Pope and Bishops have their authority in succession from the Apostles. The Pope is the visible Head as Vicar of Christ, Christ is the invisible Head. We know Christ intended His Church to last until the end of time, because He explicitly said: "Behold, I am with you all days until the consummation of the world" (Matthew 28:20). Again, many of His parables make this clear, such as the parable of the net in which the good will be separated from the evil at the end, or the parable of the weeds in the wheat, with the same idea.

There can be, and are, bishops validly ordained who are not in union with the Pope. These are called schismatics, and lose many graces by their rejection of the Head of the Church.

Vatican II taught that just as Peter and the Apostles formed a sort of college, with Peter as the head, so in a somewhat similar way, the Pope and the Bishops also form a college (LG chapter 3). This relationship is called collegiality. However Vatican II also taught in that same chapter that the Pope can even, if he so wishes, give a solemn definition of doctrine without consulting the Bishops, and that He has immediate authority over everyone in the Church, including each Bishop.

The Church is also called the People of God, that is, those who come under the new and eternal Covenant (cf. Exodus 19:5; Jeremiah 31:31-33). St. Paul in Romans 11:17-18 pictures Christians of his day - and so also today - as being engrafted into the tame olive tree, which stands for the original People of God, into places left empty by the fallen branches, Jews who rejected Christ.

3. Teaching Authority and Infallibility

By the Magisterium we mean the teaching office of the Church. It consists of the Pope and Bishops. Christ promised to protect the teaching of the Church : "He who hears you, hears me; he who rejects your rejects me, he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me" (Luke 10. 16). Now of course the promise of Christ cannot fail: hence when the Church presents some doctrine as definitive or final, it comes under this protection, it cannot be in error; in other words, it is infallible. This is true even if the Church does not use the solemn ceremony of definition. The day to day teaching of the Church throughout the world, when the Bishops are in union with each other and with the Pope, and present something as definitive, this is infallible. (Vatican II, LG § 25). It was precisely by the use of that authority that Vatican I was able to define that the Pope alone, when speaking as such and making things definitive, is also infallible. Of course this infallibility covers also teaching on what morality requires, for that is needed for salvation.

A "theologian" who would claim he needs to be able to ignore the Magisterium in order to find the truth is strangely perverse: the teaching of the Magisterium is the prime, God-given means of finding the truth. Nor could he claim academic freedom lets him contradict the Church. In any field of knowledge, academic freedom belongs only to a properly qualified professor teaching in his own field. But one is not properly qualified if he does not use the correct method of working in his field, e.g., a science professor who would want to go back to medieval methods would be laughed off campus, not protected. Now in Catholic theology , the correct method is to study the sources of revelation, but then give the final word to the Church. He who does not follow that method is not a qualified Catholic theologian. Vatican II taught (On Revelation § 10): "The task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on [Scripture or Tradition], has been entrusted exclusively to the living Magisterium of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."

4. No Salvation Outside the Church

The Church is sometimes called the universal sacrament of salvation. That use of the word sacrament is broad, not strict. It is true in as much as the Church is the divinely instituted means of giving grace to all. But the Church is not a visible rite - it rather confers these visible rites which we call the seven Sacraments.

From the fact that the Church is God's means of giving grace, is it is clear that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. This truth has even been defined by the Church more than once, e.g., in the Council of Florence in 1442. However we must take care to understand this teaching the way the Church understands it. We just saw that the Church claims the exclusive authority to interpret both Scripture and Tradition. So one like Leonard Feeney who interprets the teaching on the necessity of the Church his own way is not acting like a Catholic theologian at all. The Holy Office, on August 8, 1949, declared that L. Feeney was guilty of this error. Because of his error, he rejected several teachings of the Magisterium, saying they clashed with this definition - but they clash only with his false interpretation, given in private judgment.

Pius IX (Quanto conficiamur moerore, August 10, 1863) taught: "God... in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault." Vatican II (LG § 16) taught the same: "They who without their own fault do not know of the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with sincere heart, and try, under the influence of grace, to carry out His will in practice, known to them through the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal salvation." Pius XII had said (Encyclical on the Mystical Body) that one can "be related to the Church by a certain desire and wish of which he is not aware", i.e., by the desire to do what God wills in general.

Precisely how does this work out? We saw on our very first page that St. Paul insists (Romans 3:29) that God makes provision in some way for all. We saw that one of the earliest Fathers, St. Justin Martyr (Apology 1:46) said that some, like Socrates could even be Christians because they followed the divine Word. Now St. Justin also said that the Divine Word is in the hearts of all. Then we notice in St. Paul's Romans 2:14-16 that

"The gentiles who do not have the law [revealed religion] do by nature the things of the law; they show the work of the law written on their hearts." And according to their response, they will or will not be saved. Clearly, it is this Divine Word, or the Spirit of Christ, the Divine Word, that writes the law on their hearts, i.e., makes known to them what they should do. If they follow that, although they do not know that that is what they are following, yet objectively, they do follow the Logos, the divine Word. And so St. Justin was right in calling them Christians. We can add that St. Paul in Romans 8:9 makes clear that if one has and follows the Spirit of Christ, he "belongs to Christ." But, to belong to Christ is the same as being a member of Christ, and that is the same as being a member of the Church. Not indeed by formal adherence, but yet substantially, enough to satisfy the requirement of substantial membership. Indeed, Vatican II even wrote (LG § 49):" All who belong to Christ, having His Spirit, coalesce into one Church."

So, St. Paul was right: God does take care of them; St. Justin was right too: they can be Christians without knowing it. Otherwise, God would be sending millions upon millions to hell without giving them any chance at all, if they lived far from places where the Church was known, e.g., in the western hemisphere before 1492.

That fact that salvation is possible in this way does not mean that there should be no missions or attempts to bring back the Protestants. Richer and more secure means of salvation are to be had with formal explicit adherence to the Catholic Church. Therefore we need to make every effort. In regard to Ecumenism, it is good to keep in mind a rule from Vatican II, in its Decree on Ecumenism (§ 11): "It is altogether necessary that the complete doctrine be clearly presented. Nothing is so foreign to true Ecumenism as that false peace-making in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss, and its true and certain sense is obscured."

5. The Church and the State

The Church is of divine origin. The state is of human origin, it is necessary to provide things for human needs that are such that individuals each alone cannot obtain them, e.g., a system of courts, police, fire dept. etc.

Since it was established by the Divine Redeemer, the authority of the Church is higher than that of the state. We should obey all legitimate orders of the state. We may and must disobey immoral commands or laws contrary to those of God and the Church.

In Romans 13:1-2 St. Paul says: "Let every person be subject to higher authorities. For there is no authority except from God. Those that exist, are put in place by God. So one who resists, resists the ordinance of God."

There are chiefly three kinds of governments: monarchy, aristocracy, and constitutional government, according to Aristotle (Nichomachean Ethics 8:10. Each is good if it promotes the common good. But if those with power use it for their own selfish ends, it is evil. God is willing to accept any of these, if it promotes the common good. He does not specify how those in power are to be chosen. But, once they are chosen, the power comes from Him, not from the people, as St. Paul made clear in the verses we cited above. St. Paul even says the state has the right of capital punishment, in Romans 13:4: "It [the authority] is a minster of God for good to you. But if you do evil, be afraid. For not without reason does he carry the sword. For he is the minister of God and agent of [God's] wrath on evildoers." In the Roman situation, the right to carry the sword meant the right of capital punishment. So we may not say it is immoral or unchristian. We may only, if we wish, debate if it is an effective deterrent.

It is important to notice that three things are needed to make a democracy function as it should: 1) All who have the right to vote should use it, but only 2) if they are well informed on the issues (otherwise they may be voting for evil), and 3) they must vote for the common good, not just for the advantage of their own group.

Vatican II (On Religious Liberty) taught that all have religious freedom. This does not mean they have a right to be wrong: God gives no one a claim to be wrong. They have a claim not to be jailed, executed etc. for their beliefs. They may hold and follow them in private and in public, alone and in groups, "within due limits". However, Vatican II further specifies (On Religious Liberty §§ 4 and 7) that the state must exercise "due custody for public morality" and that non-Catholic churches must abstain from anything that involves "improper persuasion aimed at the less intelligent or the poor."

Vatican II also taught that public authority must see to it, as a matter of justice, that public funds for education are given in such a way that parents are really free to follow their consciences in choosing schools (On Christian Education §6). For parents are the primary educators of their children.

Tenth Article "The forgiveness of sins"

This forgiveness was won for us through the sacrifice of Calvary. It is dispensed through the Church, though even without the Sacraments, God will forgive one who is truly repentant, i.e., sorry for sinning because God is good not just to us, but in Himself.

Eleventh Article: "The resurrection of the body"

Death entered into this world by sin (Romans 5:12). So all will die, with the exception that those who are alive at the return of Christ at the end, will never die (First Thessalonians 4:13-17). In verse 17: "Then [at His return, and after the resurrection of the dead] we the living, will be taken together with them [the risen dead] in the clouds to meet the Lord" (Cf. 1 Cor 15:51).

There will be a resurrection of all, as St. Paul explains in First Corinthians chapter 15. Those who have been faithful to Christ will rise glorious, their bodies transformed on the model of the risen body of Christ, who could travel instantly at will, could ignore closed doors and come through anyway, but yet had real flesh. St. Paul says the risen body is "spiritual " (15:44). It is still flesh, but such that the flesh is completely dominated by the soul, so that it can no longer suffer or die.

St. Paul insists that because Christ our Head rose, those who are members of Him must also rise. So, to deny the general resurrection would imply a denial of Christ's resurrection (1 Cor 15:13).

No matter what happens to the body after death, the omnipotence of God can recall the material of the body. In fact, we now know that because of metabolism - in which every cell is constantly being torn down and rebuilt - in a normal life span a person has the material for many bodies.

We will, of course be the same persons after the resurrection as we were before death.

Twelfth Article: "And life everlasting. Amen".

In commenting on article VII we spoke of Purgatory and Hell. Now we consider Heaven. The Second Epistle of Peter 1:4 says by grace we are "sharers in the divine nature." We learn from John 1:1 that the Father speaks a Word. It is not a vibration in the air, but it is substantial, it is the Second Divine Person, coming from the Father by as it were an infinite stream of knowledge. Between Father and Son arises love, which again is substantial, is the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, coming forth by a stream of infinite love. Only a being that is part divine could as it were plug into these infinite streams. Grace here gives us the basic ability to do that.

As we saw in speaking of hell, death breaks the bond between our spiritual intellect and the material brain. Then the lights go on, and one knows God greatly even without seeing Him. The soul, if properly purified, and if all debts to the objective order are paid, will finally reach that vision. We are all finite, limited receptacles, trying to take in the Infinite. In this life our capacity for that can grow indefinitely, with increases of sanctifying grace. Then whatever capacity the soul has will be completely filled, fully satisfied. Since the vision is infinite, it can never become dull. Further, St. Augustine says (City of God 10:7) that the angels participate in God's eternity. Eternity for God is timeless. Things do not just go on and on, He takes in everything in one view, as it were. Similarly the soul in that vision does not just go on and on: it simply is unbelievably fulfilled, happy, satisfied. St. Augustine said well (Confessions 1:1): "You have made us for yourself, and restless are our hearts until they rest in you."

When the glorified body at the resurrection is joined to the soul, it too will share in its own way in the reward the person has earned. It will be as we said, on the pattern of the glorified body of Christ.

The Blessed too will be united with others there, especially those close and dear to them in this life.

And as a secondary but immense source of blessedness they will see Our Lady. Of it Pius XII said well: "Surely, in the face of His own Mother, God has gathered together all the splendors of His divine artistry... . You know, beloved sons and daughters, how easily human beauty lifts up and makes a gentile heart ecstatic. What would it ever do if it could contemplate clearly the beauty of Mary! That is why Dante saw in Paradise, in the midst of 'more than a million rejoicing Angels, a beauty smiling - what joy! it was in the eyes of all the other Saints'; Mary!" (Pius XII, To Catholic Action Youth, December 8, 1953. Acta Apostolicae Sedis 45: 850. Internal quote is from Dante, Paradiso 31. 130-35).

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