The Church and the Sacraments, The Time of the Reformation, Views on the Church, The Roman Catholic View

The significance of the Church is an extremely important and significant question. The Roman Catholic view of the Church is most clearly and ably set forth by Robert Bellarmin, the famous Roman Catholic controversialist. According to him the church is a company of men externally bound together by the profession of the same Christian faith, united in the communion of the same sacraments, under and subject to the government of legitimate pastors, especially the pope. What does this imply? This implies that Rome excludes from the Church all heretics and infidels, all the unbaptized, all who are not subject to bishops having canonical succession and, of course, who do not recognize the pope. And Rome includes all others, whether they be godly or ungodly, reprobate or elect. Bellarmin made no distinction, therefore, between the Church visible and invisible. And according to him the pope is infallible in matters pertaining to faith and life. Fundamentally, therefore, the Church is simply a group or company of men who recognize the pope as their infallible guide and leader in all matters pertaining to faith and life. This definition of the Church is also verified by what we read in “Radio Replies by Fathers Rumble and Carty,” Volume II, question and answer 280, which reads: “When you speak of the Catholic Church, in what sense do you use the word ‘Church’?” “I intend that organized religious society of all Catholics throughout the world under the Pope as their one visible head on earth.”

In the foregoing paragraph we remarked that Rome’s definition of the Church, as set forth by Bellarmin, implies that Rome includes all others in the Church, whether they be godly or ungodly, reprobate or elect. In this connection we must bear in mind that Rome’s conception of reprobation is not the same as what we believe to be Scripture’s presentation of this truth. Rome is Arminian in its conception of this truth, and really denies reprobation. This is clearly set forth in the “Radio Replies by Fathers Rumble and Carty,” Vol. III, questions G67 and 668. We will quote them. Question 667 reads as follows: “You teach that, for millions of human beings, it would have been better never to have been born, because they are doomed to eternal suffering in hell!” And to this the Roman Catholic answer is as follows: “I do not teach that. The Catholic Church condemns as heresy the doctrine that any single soul is doomed to eternal suffering. The only destiny human souls are meant by God to attain is a destiny of eternal happiness; and every single soul is able to attain eternal happiness. But man’s destiny is in his own keeping. If he goes to hell, it will be due to a choice of evil which he is not compelled to make, for which he is fully responsible, which God forbids, and of which he does not repent before death. A man cannot be said to be doomed to a disaster he need never encounter. Likewix, even granted that those who do choose to lose their souls are not compelled to do so, the Catholic Church has no teaching as to the number of men who will do so. She teaches that man is endowed with free will; that God gives to every man sufficient grace for salvation; that man is capable of resisting that grace and of losing his soul; that if he does lose his soul he will justly reap the fruit of his own evil choice by eternal suffering in hell. How many will make that final evil choice is known only to God. But since the choice can be made, it is each man’s duty to avoid making it, repenting of past sins, and endeavoring to comply with the requirements of virtue. And so the Church contents herself with the advice to each man which God gave when He said, ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, if he suffers the loss of his soul? Seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice’.” Question 668 reads as follows: “Pardon my insistence on this subject, but it seems to me to be of paramount importance.” And the Roman Catholic answer to this is: “It is, precisely because human beings are endowed with free will, and can, therefore, decide for themselves what shall be their eternal destiny. But if there be no such thing as free will, then the problem is of comparatively little importance; for it’s a waste of time to worry about the inevitable. However, the matter is important; and for that reason I have given such lengthy treatment to your letter. I can only hope that my treatment of it has clarified some aspects of the question even if it has not yet removed all your difficulties. I would be rather astonished if it did remove all your difficulties for I haven’t succeeded yet in removing all my own. But I know that free will is a fact despite all the residual problems it leaves for the human mind, even as I know that wireless transmission is a fact though it teems with mysteries. But ten thousand difficulties concerning a fact do not make us doubt the fact. It is a fact that God is just. It is a fact that men have free will. If we cannot reconcile those two facts to our entire satisfaction, the only reasonable thing to do is accept the limitations of the human mind, and not begin tampering with the facts in order to get an answer we like, whether it be true or not.”

As one may expect, also the Roman Catholic Church has officially declared itself on the subject of the Church. The Vatican Council, 1870, has expressed itself on the Church of Christ. We have quoted three of these four chapters in the past, but, inasmuch as we are now discussing the subject of the Church as set forth by Rome, it may be well to quote them again, and this entire decree as published in the Fourth Session of this Council, as set forth by Pope Pius, for an everlasting remembrance. This decree of the Vatican Council, set forth by Pope Pius, with the approval of the sacred council, is introduced as follows: “The eternal Pastor and Bishop of our souls, in order to continue for all time the life-giving work of his Redemption, determined to build up the holy Church, wherein, as in the house of the living God, all who believe might be united in the bond of one faith and one charity. Wherefore, before he entered into his glory, he prayed unto the Father, not for the Apostles only, but for those also who through their preaching should come to believe in him, that all might be one even as he the Son and the Father are one. As then he sent the Apostles whom he had chosen to himself from the world, as he himself had been sent by the Father: so he willed that there should ever be pastors and teachers in his Church to the end of the world. And in order that the Episcopate also might be one and undivided, and that by means of a closely united priesthood the multitude of the faithful might be kept secure in the oneness of faith and communion, he set blessed Peter over the rest of the Apostles, and fixed in him the abiding principle of this twofold unity, and its visible foundation, in the strength of which the everlasting temple should arise, and the Church in the firmness of that faith should lift her majestic front to Heaven. And seeing that the gates of hell, with daily increase of hatred, are gathering their strength on every side to upheave the foundation laid by God’s hand, and so, if that might be, to overthrow the Church: we, therefore, for the preservation, safe-keeping, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approval of the sacred Council, do judge it to be necessary to propose to the belief and acceptance of all the faithful, in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, the doctrine touching the institution, perpetuity, and nature of the sacred Primacy, in which is found the strength and solidity of the entire Church, and at the same time to proscribe and condemn the contrary errors, so hurtful to the flock of Christ.”

Chapter 1, treating the Institution of the Apostolic Primacy in blessed Peter, reads as follows: “We therefore teach and declare that, according to the testimony of the Gospel, the primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church of God was immediately and directly promised and given to blessed Peter the Apostle by Christ the Lord. For it was to Simon alone, to whom he had already said: ‘Thou shalt be called Cephas,’ that the Lord after the confession made by him, saying, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ addressed these solemn words: ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood have not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, it shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.’ And it was upon Simon alone that Jesus after His resurrection bestowed the jurisdiction of chief pastor and ruler over all his fold in the words: ‘Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.’ At open variance with this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture as it has been ever understood by the Catholic Church are the perverse opinions of those who, while they distort the form of government established by Christ the Lord in his Church, deny that Peter in his single person, preferably to all the other Apostles, whether taken separately or together, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction; or of those who assert that the same primacy was not bestowed immediately and directly upon blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through the Church on Peter as her minister. If anyone, therefore, shall say that blessed Peter the Apostle was not appointed the Prince of all the Apostles and the visible Head of the whole Church Militant; or that the same directly and immediately received from the same our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of honor only, and not of true and proper jurisdiction: let him be anathema.”

Chapter II, treating the Perpetuity of the Primacy of blessed Peter in the Roman Pontiffs, sets this Catholic dogma forth as follows: “That which the Prince of Shepherds and great Shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ our Lord, established in the person of the blessed Apostle Peter to secure the perpetual welfare and lasting good of the Church, must, by the same institution, necessarily remain unceasingly in the Church; which, being founded upon the Rock, will stand firm to the end of the world. For none can doubt, and it is known to all ages, that the holy and blessed Peter, the Prince and Chief of the apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind, and lives, presides, and judges, to this day and always, in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome, which was founded by him, and consecrated by his blood. Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this See, does by the institution of Christ himself obtain the Primacy of Peter over the whole Church. The disposition made by Incarnate Truth therefore remains, and blessed Peter, abiding through the strength of the Rock in the power that he received, has not abandoned the direction of the Church. Wherefore it has at all times been necessary that every particular Church—that is to say, the faithful throughout the world—should agree with the Roman Church, on account of the greater authority of the princedom which this has received; that all being associated in the unity of that See whence the rights of communion spread to all, might grow together as members of one Head in the compact unity of the body. If, then, any should deny that it is by the institution of Christ the Lord, or by divine right, that blessed Peter should have a perpetual line of successors in the Primacy over the universal Church, or that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.”

—H.V.