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The Church is the
Mystical Body of Christ


"Membership of the Church is necessary for all men for salvation" (De Fide) (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Dr. Ludwig Ott, Tan Books, 1974, p. 312)

The Fourth Lateran Council, convened in 1215 during the reign of Pope Innocent III to counter the Albigensian and other heresies, declared: "The universal Church of the faithful is one outside of which none is saved." The same doctrine had been taught centuries earlier by St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Fulgencio, and other Church Fathers. And ever since the Council, Popes have repeatedly confirmed the validity of this teaching. Blessed Pius IX, for example, declared against rationalism and indifferentism: "By Faith it is to be firmly held that outside the Apostolic Roman Church none can achieve salvation. This is the only ark of salvation. He who does not enter into it, will perish in the flood," (Singulari quandem, Dec. 9, 1854). He added, however, "Nevertheless equally certainly it is to be held that those who suffer from invincible ignorance of the true religion, are not for this reason guilty in the eyes of the Lord." Thus, those who are outside the Church not because of their own choosing should be distinguished from others who leave the Church in defiance or for lack of faithfulness.

The Church further teaches regarding other Christian communities:

Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. Christís Spirit uses these churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to ĎCatholic unity.í

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #819

Thus, as Jesus Christ is the only Savior for the entire human race, the Catholic Church alone, which He Himself established as His own Mystical Body for the purpose of extending His Presence and Work to all corners of the world in all ages, has the fullness of the truths and means of graces necessary for human salvation. Nevertheless, God, in His infinite goodness and mercy, bestows some truths and graces, flowing from the same source He entrusted to the Church, on many people of good will who are formally not members of the Church so that they may also bear fruit in conforming their lives to the truth, justice, and goodness of God to the extent possible to them. By these graces they also draw closer to the full truths and means of salvation available in the Church.

At the same time, we should be careful about some errors and distorted moral teachings found in other religions and prevalent among many individuals. The Church warns us: "In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them: Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair," (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #844).

 

Our common bondsóand differencesówith our Protestant brethren

We feel a special closeness and brotherly love toward those who belong to the various Protestant communities, as they also worship the one God Who revealed Himself through the prophets of the Old Testament and profess their faith in Jesus Christ, the Only Son of the Father, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, as the Only Savior of the world. We stand together against atheism that denies the existence of the one God Who is almighty and all good, created the world, and calls us back to Himself; against various ideas that do not recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of the Father and our Savior; and, in many cases, against the modern liberal errors that tolerate and even promote moral laxities in defiance of Godís teachings contained in the Holy Scripture.

Most of those who belong to the various Protestant communities today did not purposely choose to be outside the Catholic Church or oppose her teachings. They sometimes do make negative comments on some of the Catholic teachings and devotions, but the usual reason is that they have never been sufficiently and correctly informed of the Catholic doctrines. For this reason, they cannot be held responsible for the division that still exists or for their lack of correct information about the Catholic Church. To anyone including those who are in other Christian communities, a sincere and humble faithfulness to Our Lord and His Commandments, a true repentance of sins, and steadfastness in seeking good and rejecting evil will surely bring much blessing from God. This, of course, does not mean that one can safely remain closed to the possibilities of encountering more truths that he did not know before and towards which the Holy Spirit is leading him. We are on a pilgrimage toward Godís Eternal Kingdom while we live on earth, and our humble willingness to say "Yes" to Godís call must never wane. We must also be aware that our self-centered attachments and human ties can sometimes become obstacles in conforming to Godís Will if we allow them to dictate our lives (Matthew 10:34-36).

Beyond these important common bonds with the Protestant brethren, there also exist substantial differences regarding how salvation is attained, what the Church is and does, how the Christian life should be led, and so on. It simply is not normal that differences exist regarding the central issues of the Christian Faith. It is unthinkable that the Holy Spirit would teach one thing to one group of people and another to a different group of people so that that the two groupsí beliefs contradict each other. This would be inconsistent with the doctrines of Godís absolute simplicity and truthfulness. The differences that exist cannot come from God but from humans, who are imperfect. The task given to us is to get rid of all the human errors through an uncompromised faithfulness to the infallible divine truths. Political compromises are out of the question regarding the truths from God. Unity achieved through concessions on the truths is a false unity and represents a betrayal to God. Only by overcoming human obstacles and pursuing the pure truths revealed by God, we may achieve true unity among all Christians and be able to work together for the evangelization of the world.

 

The Protestant Reformation: a product of human agenda and religious disputes

At first, Martin Luther, a former Catholic priest in the Augustinian Order, only protested the abuses in the Church but did not revolt against the Church or separate from her. But over time, his ideas became more radical, replacing many of the Church doctrines with his own ideas, criticizing not just the reigning Pope but the Papacy itself. He opposed the ordained priesthood, advocating instead only the general priesthood shared by all the faithful.

As some of the princes in different regions of Germany at that time had the ambition of becoming more independent from the influences of the Holy See in Rome, their ambition and Lutherís anti-Catholic doctrines joined hands, leading to separation from the Catholic Church. As the Reformists did not recognize any universal authority in their faith life, there was no force preventing the emergence of more and more denominations, which were in agreement with each other in opposing the Catholic Church but in disagreement over many other issues. There were different and competing groups following Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Lyden, Henry VIII, John Knox, John Wesley, and others in different regions of the Northern and Central Europe. It was obvious that the Protestant movement began not only from religious motives but also because of the humanism of the Renaissance period and the political situation at the time.

 

Corruption in the Church to be fought against, but not an excuse to leave her

The Church that Our Lord Himself established is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic (Catechism of the Catholic Church #811), the four marks of the true Church. The reason why the Church is holy is that the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, is infinitely holy and the Holy Spirit is constantly at work to sanctify the members of the Church. The fact that the Church has several thousand canonized Saints over her two thousand-year history is a powerful testimony to her inherent supernatural sanctity. In addition, there are without doubt countless members of the Church who, though not formally canonized, have reached high levels of sanctity by cooperating generously with the graces from the Lord.

We also need to recognize the fact that, even though Christ, the head of the Church, is infinitely holy, the members of the Church on earth are still imperfect and are in the process of working out their salvation (cf. Philippians 2:12). Sinners become members of the Church by professing their faith, repenting their past sins, and receiving the Sacrament of Baptism, but their salvationóthat is, their sanctificationóis not completed at once or guaranteed automatically. As long as we live on earth, we have free will as well as a strong inclination toward sin because of the deep wounds in our nature caused by our first ancestorsí original sin and our own actual sins. Thus, we need to wage a constant battle against our evil inclinations and weaknesses, avoiding sins and practicing good, thus, cultivating virtues.

This also means that we can find some good examples among the members of the Church and, at the same time, some bad examples as well. Our Lord explained this reality with the parable of the wheat field where both wheat and weeds grow (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). We cannot abandon the wheat field, simply because there are some weeds together with the wheat. We cannot blame the Lord, simply because one of His twelve apostles, Judas Iscariot, was an evil man and even the other apostles sometimes were timid, impatient, and selfish especially prior to the Lordís Resurrection and the Pentecost. Likewise, the Church does not cease to be the Lordís Church, simply because some of her members fail spiritually and morally. Wherever humans on earth gather and work together, there are bound to be some mistakes, imperfections, and conflicts. There is nothing unusual about this. Of course, these human imperfections and mistakes are not to be left unattended and allowed to continue and worsen, but need to be vigorously fought against especially through individualsí internal conversion and sanctification, which is the mission of the Church. If there were no sinners in the world, there might not be any need for the Church. We can also see in Church history that, in times of widespread heresy and moral laxity, God raised up great Saints and even sent the Blessed Mother to reform His poor children.

Luther began by protesting the abuses in the Church, but soon became extreme by rejecting many of the traditional orthodox teachings of the Church and opposing the Church herself. It was like demolishing the house to extinguish a fire within. The Church has as her members imperfect humans, but her founder and head is Jesus Christ, and her soul is the Holy Spirit. In that Church, unworthy and sinful humans are in the process of being purified and sanctified through the merits of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church is a mystical body for human salvation, which has both the divine and supernatural inner reality and the externally visible reality of imperfect human members. Therefore, we must not be naÔve to think that all the members of the Church must already be Saints or forget the fact that the Church will always be the faithful Bride of the Lord as well as His sacred Mystical Body despite the persisting imperfections among her members on earth.

That Luther and other Reformers opposed the Church and attempted to build a better one was wrong, because God alone can build His Church. It is impossible that the Church Our Lord built should collapse or lose her integrity as a whole, as He promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). Many Protestants say that the Church was fine in the early years, but soon became corrupt and remained so until 1,500 years later when Luther and other Reformers founded new churches, which was only a little over 400 years ago. This would be an insult to the Lord Who built His Church and has ever been sustaining her, and an underestimation of the power of the Holy Spirit Who constantly keeps the Church alive and sanctifies her members. It would also be a slight to the two thousand year-old Western civilization rooted in the Christian Faith and Tradition. If one accepts the Reformist logic, anyone could start a new church at any time and claim that it is "Godís Church". But how can humans demolish Godís Church and build a better one?

The Catholic Church teaches that one of the four marks of the true Church built by the Lord is apostolicity, which means that the teaching and pastoral authority Our Lord entrusted to His Church built on St. Peter and the Apostles, along with the treasure of His teachings and merits, is handed down in unbroken fashion in the same Church.

 

Why is the infallibility of the Lord's teachings for human salvation through the Church necessary

In our daily lives, we take it for granted that truths are essential and errors are unacceptable. If we do not know the correct way to our destination, we can waste a great deal of time and money on the road. Bridges and buildings constructed based on incorrect calculations are likely to collapse sooner or later. Medicines taken by mistake can be fatal. From early childhood, we learn how to distinguish between right and wrong, and receive moral training for choosing good and avoiding evil.

God created humans and all other creatures in the world and revealed to humans how they could remain faithful to Him and thus achieve their eternal happiness. The devil, however, did not want humans to be happy and approached Eve with sweet lies. She fell to the temptation and persuaded Adam to join her. Thus, they committed the original sin, which brought dire consequences for themselves and their descendants. What is especially noteworthy in the process of our first ancestorsí fall is that Adam and Eve accepted lies before they committed the sin. When people accept errors, they are soon going to commit sins. Truths and moral uprightness go together; and so do errors and moral disorders. In our own times too, many people accept all kinds of errors and try to justify their immoral ideas and deeds with the errors. Abortion, violence, cheating, divorce, homosexuality, pornography, infidelity, compromise with injustice, and other immoralities are covered with the masks of justice, freedom, rights, and so on.

In order to overcome the darkness of errors and the sinfulness in our lives, we must first know the truths of salvation. As human salvation is a work initiated by God and can only be accomplished with His graces, the truths concerning it must be absolute truths revealed by God and guaranteed by His infinite knowledge and truthfulness, free from human errors or alterations. Only then can we have total trust in them and have realistic hope and assurance that these truths will guide us to salvation if we are faithful to them. Humans can speculate about the spiritual and supernatural truths, but can never find them or understand them on their own, because the human intellect is limited to the natural order if not aided by Godís graces. If our salvation can be attained by oneís faith of accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior only as asserted by Luther, knowing the revealed truths could be less important. But if the way of our salvation is one of reparation and sanctification to be practiced day after day, it will be essential that we know the correct teachings revealed by God and faithfully adhere to them. Let us review what is written in the Scripture about the importance of the truths:

For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. (John 18:37, Our Lordís Words before Pilate)

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31-32)

Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth. (John 17:17, Our Lordís prayer to the Father before His Passion)

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice. (Ephesians 6:14)

But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. (John 16:13)

If we say that we have fellowship with God, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not act in the truth. (1 John 1:6)

Put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth. Wherefore putting away lying, speak ye the truth every man with his neighbor; for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:24-25)

If we do not know the truths, we are in darkness and cannot walk on the right way. The truths necessary for our salvation do not originate from human minds but from Godís revelations through His prophets and, in the fullness of time, by His Only Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Besides, our act of accepting these revelations as the authentic truths from God is possible only when we are aided by the divine graces, as they are supernatural truths. Also, the objective and absolute certainty of the divinely-revealed truths must be guaranteed not just for a segment of human history but for all ages. This is made possible by the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Church, whose indestructibility was promised by Our Lord (Matthew 16:18).

On the other hand, it is possible that the infallible official teachings of the Church become distorted or diluted in the process of propagation by the individual members of the Church even including the clergy if they are not faithful to the Lord. It is imperative for preserving the purity of the truths in the process of propagation that all the members of the Church diligently and humbly study the official teachings of the Church and also read the lives and writings of the Saints to see how the Lordís teachings were perceived and practiced by them. Constant efforts must be made not to promote oneís own private opinions, prejudices, and preferences, but to relay the Lordís teachings like a clear crystal that lets light through without distorting or coloring it.

In this modern age, we are constantly being bombarded with all kinds of information. It seems that there hardly is any time left in our daily lives for learning the truths of salvation which are what we need most. Therefore, we should intentionally find some time each day to read and meditate on the Holy Scripture, the catechism, the lives and writings of the Saints, the Papal and Council documents, and other literature faithful to the authentic Catholic Faith and Tradition. Only when our souls are well nourished with these can we become more capable of discerning between truths and errors and also more zealous and better informed in spreading the truths to others.

 

Our Lord is calling all of us to the mission of spreading His truths

The liberal and modernist influences have infiltrated the Church and permeated the minds of many members with or without their awareness. As a result, many of us remain complacent in our faith lives and insensitive to the importance of learning the correct Church teachings and vigorously propagating them. In the Catholic Church, it is emphasized that lay people remain humble and obedient to the teaching and pastoral authority that Our Lord entrusted to the shepherds. Of course, it is very important that these virtues are diligently practiced, because there is a danger that some individuals take the initiative of promoting in the name the Catholic Faith their own ideas which contain deviations from the authentic teachings of the Church.

This, however, does not mean that the lay people should only listen and remain passive, as if they were exempt from the duty of bringing the saving truths to the world. The fact is that all of the faithful are called by the Lord to participate in His work of saving this world by means of prayers, sacrifices, good examples, and defending and propagating the Lordís teachings, as they became real soldiers for Christ through Baptism and Confirmation. It is not right to think that priests and religious only have been called to do the Lordís work. The lay people need to follow the priests and imitate the religious, but should also do their share of the hard work for building up the Church in the best ways they can.

Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #900

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