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If you want to explain why the pope respects the religious instincts of non-Catholics, read Pio Nono

Nostra Aetate is enough by itself; but if you are anti-Vatican II, have a look at Quanto conficiamur moerore

By on Monday, 11 April 2011

A bust of Pope Pius IX in a Florida museum PA

A bust of Pope Pius IX in a Florida museum PA

Last week, I wrote a piece explaining my view that, as I put it in my headline “To call the Pope’s meeting at Assisi a betrayal of the faith is an utter absurdity”.

This elicited the following response (there were many thousand more words from the same writer, but this was the general gist of it all: “if you really believe that God is pleased with these pagan shindigs, where two popes in succession have emphasised that they are not interested in converting anyone, but are relying on pagan prayers to false gods to achieve world peace…. then you really do need to take a holiday. Try Mecca”. Nice, huh?

The point is that to recognise that men and women of other religions should be respected, and that their spiritual search for a God they have not fully apprehended should be recognised, is in no way to deny the ultimate need for their conversion. Nearly everyone who becomes a Catholic is converted from some other religion, which has been for them a stepping-stone to the fullness of faith which is to be found only in the Catholic Church.

Unless you take seriously what non-Catholics already believe, they will never take the final step towards full communion with the Holy See. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§843) “The Catholic Church recognises in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”

I just can’t see the problem with that. It isn’t even an idea which appeared for the first time at the second Vatican Council. It doesn’t in any way deny the fundamental principle that outside the church there is no salvation, extra ecclesiam nulla salus: even Pio Nono accepted that not everyone outside the Church would be damned, that culture and circumstances would be weighed in the balance by God: as he put it in his encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved…. but, on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labour in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, will not be held guilty of this in the eyes of God.

Now, in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to mark the limits of such an ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things?”

As he explained in the same encyclical, those who, “Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God … live honest lives… are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace since God who clearly beholds, searches, and knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men, because of His great goodness and mercy, will by no means suffer anyone to be punished with eternal torment who has not the guilt of deliberate sin.”

The most recent and the fullest development of this tradition, of course, is to be found in Nostra Aetate, the Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions: “[The Church] regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.” That DOESN’T say that non-Catholic religions are on the same level as the Church: it does say that they may “reflect” the truth. Thus also, Lumen Gentium: “The sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, . . . subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines”(LG 8).

My first conclusion about those going on and on and on about the alleged “scandal” of the Pope’s forthcoming meeting with non-Catholics was that the real issue here wasn’t the Assisi meeting at all, but a fundamental hostility to Vatican II and all its works—and especially any text which develops this particular element in the Church’s teaching about itself. Nostra Aetate, of course, was the basis of a major improvement in the Church’s relationship with the Jews, and there have been accusations that the hostility of some so-called “radical traditionalists” to the document has an element of anti-Semitism in it.

I do not make this accusation myself: the SSPX, for instance, absolutely denied any anti-semitism in the aftermath of the affair of Bishop Williamson’s holocaust denials, and I accept this assurance in the absence of (as far as I can see) any hard evidence to the contrary. I did come across this, in a very moving obituary by an SSPX priest, of Archbishop Lefebvre (who was, I have no reason to doubt, a courageous and holy man), in a passage on the Archbishop’s attitude to the Council documents: “Cardinal Bea…was … a decisive instrument of the Judeo-Masonic sect to obtain from the Council the redaction of Dignitatis Humanae and Nostra Aetate. Anti-Semitic Paranoia perhaps? But that certainly doesn’t mean that that’s what the archbishop thought.

But all this, frankly, is irrelevant. Vatican II actually turns out not to be the issue at all. The real point is this: don’t think that you can accuse Pope Benedict of a scandalous betrayal of the Church’s teachings about its own unique possession of the fullness of God’s revelation of himself, on the basis of the fact that that he’s prepared to accept that some people who believe non-Christian religions “are able”, in the words of Pio Nono “to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace since God … knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men”.

Pope Benedict denies absolutely that Vatican II introduced any new teachings that were not already part of the Catholic tradition: and certainly, on the possibility of the salvation of non-Catholics, and on the sincere search for God of many outside its boundaries, he turns out to be dead right.

  • Petrus

    So this person is quick to point out my supposed “disobedience” but is a full blown heretic himself? Some would call that hypocritical!

  • Petrus

    You are missing the point. This whole argument is in the context of modern ecumenism and it’s emphasis that we must all be faithful to our own religion in order to gain salvation. It’s Modernism in it’s purest form: pretending to be faithful to “outside the Church there is no salvation”, whilst peddling the lie that false religions can lead to salvation.

    The quote that William used ignored the part on invincible ignorance. Modern ecumenism does this too. Pope Pius IX was speaking of the minority who find salvation outside the Church, due to their invincible ignorance. Minority. Saved in spite of their false religion, not by it.

  • Petrus

    I smell a rat. This is so much more than a mistranslation.

  • Jeannine

    There may have been a rat but it was caught in time! See

  • CT

    Sounds like you know as much about the Church and Her teachings than you do about fornicating, Mr. Oddie.

  • CT

    Invincible ignorance entails an impediment regarding mental handicap or age.
    Catholic knowledge _real Catholic knowledge_ is out there, and yes, it does take some looking but that grace to search for and come to the truth is there.
    Also, the baptism of desire that Pius IX speaks of is extremely rare so as to be extraordinary.

  • Mary

    We have all heard or been taught mistakes and misunderstandings that others held. In 3rd grade of Catholic school my teacher said that non-Catholics could not go to heaven. Well, my dearest Grandmother was not Catholic and I knew deep down in my childs soul, that this was not right. God would not make Grandma go to Hell.
    It is good to know that Pio Nono wrote as much about 100 years before, and my teacher was “misinformed”.
    Yeah, the Church usually turns out right, I knew it then and I know it now.

  • Petrus

    Sorry, I accidently like “like”. I do not like your post.

    Your soul is immortal and does not go through the aging process. What does goes through the aging process is your bodyand intellect. It matters not what your child, adolescent or adult intellect tells you. What matters is what the Church teaches. You cannot decide that your old Granny is Heaven just because it feels nice. Faith has nothing to do with feelings. There are enough posts on this blog that explains the Church’s teaching on this.

    My own grandmother died in December and she wasn’t a Catholic. I do not know the mind of God and have no authority to judge whether she is in Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. However, I know what the Church teaches. So, instead of trying to look for loop holes that don’t exist, I am praying for the repose of her soul because God knew of my prayers for her long before she died.

  • Christopher Lee

    I just don’t undetstand these folks who are against what Benedict XVI is doing. We live in a pluralistic society where the need to respect (and not believe) the beliefs of non-Christian religions is greater now than it has ever been in any point in history, especially during the time of Christ.

    The Assissi summit is nothing more than an attempt to foster better understanding among religions in our timultuous world. It is not an attempt to create a syncretic religion as some right-wing Catholics (a good example, SPXX) have outrageously claimed.

    Come to your senses and see where we are in history. I live in Singapore where respect and tolerance for different religious beliefs are paramount in order to maintain social cohesion. We have had our share of religious/racial riots. A lack of respect for the idiosyncracies of non-Catholic religions can not only cause misunderstanding but also mistrust that will ultimately result in hatred. History is filled with written records of such epsidoes. A Catholic in good conscience must never allow this to transpire.

    The bottom line: as Catholics, we respect non-Catholic religions, in whatever theological or ritualistic shortcomings we see. However, we are called to accord them due respect in as much as we ask of them to give us the respect for our beleifs.

  • sincere Catholic

    ‘…as Catholics we respect non-Catholic religions….’

    As Catholics we respect non-Catholic persons bur not their false beliefs. To say we respect falsehood would mean we have no respect for the truth. Atheists sometimes say that they respect all religions equally. The unspoken implication is that as all religions are rubbish so all are equal in deserving no respect.

  • Chris Lee

    Respect is in no way a surrender of our conviction for the truth. When I say “respect” here, I am referring to practices that are within the boundary of Catholic teaching and definitely not something that goes against what is defined in the Code of Canon Law.

  • Parasum

    “Unless you take seriously what non-Catholics already believe, they will never take the final step towards full communion with the Holy See.”

    By all means, let there be the fullest understanding of others. St, Thomas Aquinas excels in that sort of thing. But that is not the issue: the issue is the scandalous & disgraceful “pan-religionism” on view at Assisi. It went further than the behaviour of Cardinal Gibbons in 1893, for which he was rebuked by Pope Leo XIII; for John Paul II was something more than a mere cardinal.

    Pope Leo XIII is very relevant here, because he was the bishop who influenced Blessed Pius IX to issue the Syllabus of Errors; Bishop Pecci, as the future Pope then was, condemned a number of errors in his own diocese; & Pius IX took up the idea.

    The idea that one must “pray with” animists, Muslims, & the like, makes a complete nonsense of the unbending refusal of the Church to do so under those those two great Popes & their predecessors. To defend it with the argument used, is distressing evidence of confusion of two things:

    1. The need for sympathetic insight into the ideas of others;

    2. Taking part with heretics, schismatics & heathens in religious worship

    The one is a duty, the other is a very great sin – unless the Church was wrong in the past; but in that case, such a change in doctrine vandalises the Church’s Teaching Authority, and makes impossible any principled understanding of it.