I can’t believe the fuss being made over the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s recent clarification that the Catholic Church is the one true church founded by Christ and the only fully true religion. First, it is not news: this is no new thing in Catholic doctrine; it is a clarification or a reminder. Besides, the thing should be self-evident; it really should go without saying.
Nevertheless, the furor demonstrates that the Church was right to issue the reminder.
And a lot of people seem shocked and upset: Warren Kinsella expressly rejected the teaching on his website, with just two words, “um, no,” suggesting he has every right to do so, “as a member of the club.”
But that’s just it—it is not a club. There’s the point right there. Catholicism implies certain beliefs, and by rejecting this claim, Kinsella is in fact rejecting Catholicism. He is not, for all that he may think he is, a Catholic.
Meanwhile, Protestant spokesmen have reacted with what sounds like genuine anger, responding to what they understand as an insult with insults in turn. Some of the phrases I have seen in the media include “rot,” “surreal nonsense,” “lust for power,” “ludicrous idea.” A spokesman for the Anglican church referred to “the papacy’s errors and pretensions” and suggested the Catholic church wanted to “persecute others and put them to death.”
Right; let's walk through this carefully step by step, for those who seem to be having difficulty grasping it.
Is what the Catholic Church teaches true?
Any Catholic must assent—or else they are not a Catholic.
Do other churches teach the same thing?
Of course not—or else they would not be other churches.
Now, if an assertion is true, and another assertion contradicts it, the second assertion must be false.
If you have difficulty with this concept, frankly, you are incapable of reason.
It is the essence of reason itself: Aristotle’s “law of non-contradiction.” Not only of human reason either: it is the fundamental binary on which all computation is also based.
What is disturbing is that it seems to come as a shock and a personal affront to so many. One would have hoped the ability for rational thought might have been a bit more widespread.
One is of course free to decide that Islam, or Methodism, or Anglicanism, or secular humanism, or Marxism, is in fact truer than Catholicism. One is free to decide that all are false. But one is not free to believe that they are all true.
You can read the actual document online here:
Note how generous it is to Protestantism: “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.” Moreover, “the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation.”
Kinder words one Christian faith could never say of another. A simple “thank you” might have sufficed.
As to the point that many have seized upon, that the document refers to Protestant bodies as “ecclesial communities” rather than “churches”: if this is a problem for them, again, the Church’s critics are a bit late off the mark. This is not something in the present document, but something asserted by Vatican II forty years ago. The present clarification simply explains why Vatican II resorted to this usage.
Let’s be clear: we are not dealing here with dictionary meanings of the word “church.” How can we be? The Congregation’s deliberations were not in English. The issue is the proper theological definition for a theological term, “ecclesia.” The Catholic usage, as given verbatum in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1917, is "a body of men united together by the profession of the same Christian Faith, and by participation in the same sacraments, under the governance of lawful pastors, more especially of the Roman Pontiff, the sole vicar of Christ on earth."
Obviously, by this definition, the Protestant groups are not churches: they do not recognize the pope, their pastors are not lawful, not being in the apostolic succession, and they do not recognize the sacraments.
Moreover, the very concept “churches,” plural, is a violation of Christian core beliefs—beliefs shared by Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants. All recite the Nicene Creed as the essential statement of their faith:
“We believe in one holy, Catholic, and apostolic church.”
News flash: there is and can be only one Christian church. It only remains to decide which one it might be.
Perhaps the CDF’s statement did not go anywhere near far enough. By their own reactions, it seems plain that many Protestants, and indeed nominal Catholics like Kinsella, are not even, properly speaking, Christian.
They are secular relativists. And quite intolerant of any other faith.