From the current Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church has come forth a series of “decrees” and “constitutions.” Though both are binding upon that church, the latter is evidently a stronger declaration than the former. Both began with what are called “schemata,” prepared by committees for treatment at this present Council. After lengthy discussions, the “schemata” are revised to harmonize with the expressed wishes of the majority of the church “fathers.” The individual parts or chapters of each “schema” are first approved, then the entire document is voted upon, and finally the pope “promulgates” the decree or constitution with the approval of the entire Council. In one instance at the third session of the Council, the pope made some nineteen changes which the Council was forced to approve as its own without argument or discussion—or vote out the entire decree.
Through the end of the third session of the Council, five decrees or constitutions have been adopted and promulgated. There were two at the end of the second session: the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” and the “Decree on the Media of Social Communication.” Three more were issued at the close of the third session: “Constitution on the Church,” the “Decree on Ecumenism,” and the “Decree on the Eastern Churches.”
To these last three I desire to call to your attention in this and following articles. I intend to point to the various chapters of the different decrees in order that you may have a general knowledge of that which they contain. My hope is that these articles do not become overly burdened with minor details, and hence boring—but that your interest may be aroused in what is taking place in the church-world of this day. For all these things are also signs that the return of our Lord is at hand.
THE CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH
This “constitution” is the most lengthy of the three which were promulgated at the third session of the Vatican Council. It consists of eight chapters of which at least two were highly controversial: the chapter concerning the place of the bishop and his relationship to the pope in the Romish Church; and the chapter treating of Mary. I wish to consider the various chapters of this “constitution,” with special emphasis upon those two chapters which have provoked the most discussion.
A reading of this “constitution” reveals that there is, to a very large degree, a rehashing of the old errors of Romanism which had proved so abhorrent to the old reformers. Probably that was intentional too. There is the “conservative element” in the Romish Church which resists any change. At the same time the changes or “reinterpretations” which are apparent are enough to make one shudder as we draw nearer to the end. The “fresh air” now blowing through Romanism seems very similar to that present within modern apostatizing Protestantism of today. Though seemingly yet very remote, there appears to be ever greater possibility of getting the two together. Rome has not improved, but has grown worse.
Chapter One: THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
The first of the eight chapters is meant to be an explanation of what the church is. There are in the chapter many expressions which are strikingly similar to those we too use to define the church of God. The chapter points out the various terms used in Scripture to describe the church (the Tillage of God; the Building of God; the Temple of God; etc.). One statement (taken out of context, of course) states, “All the elect, before time began, the Father ‘foreknew and predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that he should be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).”¹
But the old errors remain. The Church of Christ is identified with and identical to the Romish Church:
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd,
and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, cf.
etc., which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth,”
This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and truth are found outside of its visible structure.¹
Thus the references throughout the chapter to the Church evidently mean the Roman Catholic Church.
There are the old strains of semi-Pelagianism, not so dissimilar from Arminianism, running through the entire chapter—and the next one too. One finds statements as: “God the Father did not leave men, fallen in Adam, to themselves, but ceaselessly offered helps to salvation, in view of Christ . . . .”¹ The term “elect” is not at all used in the sense that we know it, but is explained thus: “He planned to assemble in the holy Church all those who would believe in Christ.”¹
And, of course, there is the usual denial of the one complete sacrifice of Christ on the cross: “As often as the sacrifice of the cross in which Christ our Passover was sacrificed (I Cor. 5:7) is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried on, and, in the sacrament of the Eucharistic bread, the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ . . . is both expressed and brought about.”¹
Chapter Two: ON THE PEOPLE OF GOD
Using many Scriptural quotations, this chapter describes the members of the Church. It is pointed out how that God historically gathered the church from the very beginning. This church has as its head Jesus Christ. That church is the Roman Catholic Church. “Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation.”¹ And “Whosoever . . . knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter it or to remain in it, could not be saved.”¹ This appears to be a modification of the first statement quoted. It would appear, according to this teaching, that it is possible for those not knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ to yet be saved—even though they remain outside of the Romish Church.
This idea is further confirmed in a paragraph describing those outside of Rome:
The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God. They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Like wise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ’s disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.¹
So you now know what are Rome’s aims for you. The following paragraph of this same chapter is also rather interesting. It appears to me to teach the possibility of salvation among those who have not come in contact with Christianity: a salvation purely by works.
Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh . . . . On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues . . . . But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows ‘and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, cf.
and as Saviour wills that all men be saved, cf.
Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.¹
From the above you can draw your own conclusions. What significance any more does the cross of Christ have? Rome seeks to make itself pleasing in the eyes of all men. Its aim and desire is “that the entire world may become the People of God,”¹ that is, that all men be members of the Roman Catholic Church.
¹ The above quotations were taken from the Council Daybook, Session 3, published by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, pages 309-316.