Christmas and the Battle

The Holy Father’s Angelus Address on the Feast of St. Stephen reminded us of some thoughts of Father Feeney’s in Bread of Life, namely, that the Christ Child came into an evil world and was very soon surrounded by violence. This anti-Christ violence finds its way onto the Church’s calendar by way of a series of martyr-saints who form a brave honor guard around the crib of the Prince of Peace. The Holy Innocents (Dec. 28) shed their blood in His place because of Herod’s ambitious fear for his illegitimate crown. The feasts of St. Stephen (Dec. 26), the beloved St. John (Dec. 27), and St. Thomas a Becket (Dec. 29), also remind us that “The life of man upon earth is a warfare” (Job 7:1) — even at Christmas time.

Ours is not a bloody battle, but a fight for Catholic truth amid great confusion. Even many who think they are orthodox, and who otherwise would be, find themselves on the wrong side when it comes to extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Embracing the novelties of religious indifferentism, they have the audacity to attack our Founder as if his orthodoxy were tarnished and not their own. Our Lord’s words to the Apostles come to mind: “the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth a service to God” (John 16:2). Criticize Father Feeney as they may, the “right-wing liberals” — who boast of loyalty to the Magisterium while equivocating on this “hard saying” — cannot deny that what follows represents a radical departure from the perennial teachings of the Church:

“Will Moslems, assuming they remain in their faith, be saved? If not, why not? If so, on what basis?…”

This question was asked of an expert on a popular, much lauded Catholic web site. The expert replied:

“…The Fathers of Vatican Council 2 in Nostra Aetate spoke of the Moslems who share the faith of Abraham, which we Catholics also share. Will they be saved? Yes, they can and may be provided they live holy and devoted lives, avoid serious sin, and follow whatever graces God bestows on them…”

Whatever one’s estimate of Nostra Aetate, all should admit that it speaks in a whole new way about the status of non-Christian religions and their adherents. All, too, should admit that Vatican II bound Catholics to believe no new doctrine enjoying the note of infallibility. If it was not already proposed by the Church as part of the sacred deposit before 1962, it did not bind us after 1965.

So what remains? What the Church has always taught regarding herself, salvation, false religions, and the need for conversion through faith in Jesus Christ. A few poignant highlights of these follow:

St. Paul: “And if our Gospel be also hid, it is hid to them that are lost. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

Pope Eugene IV: “None of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her.” (Cantate Domino, Denz. 714)

Vatican I: “Yet, since ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’ (Heb. 11:6) and to enter the company of His sons, no one has ever obtained justification without faith and no one will reach eternal life, unless ‘he has persevered to the end’ in faith (Matt. 10:22; 24:13). However, in order to enable us to fulfill our obligation of embracing the true faith and steadfastly persevering in it, God established the Church through His only-begotten Son and endowed it with unmistakable marks of its foundation, so that it could be recognized by all as the guardian and teacher of the revealed word.” (Denz. 1793)

Athanasian Creed: “This is the Catholic faith. Everyone must believe it, firmly and steadfastly; otherwise he cannot be saved.” (Denz. 39-40. Note: This creed outlines the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, mysteries the Koran explicitly and repeatedly attacks.)

Cornelius A Lapide: — the great scripture scholar, commenting on the passage from 2 Corinthians, above — “If you, O Paul, manifest, as you say, in truth the word of God, commending it to every conscience, how is it that this your word of God be not manifest to all? Why do not all believe? He answers, that to the good and faithful it is manifest, but to the impious and unfaithful it is hidden and unknown, since they are lost and reprobate.” (Commentaria in Scripturam Sacram, Paris, 1876 edition, 438.)

All this sounds a bit different than our above-cited “expert,” doesn’t it?

It is blasphemy to call someone who professes Islam “holy.” Not only does this deny the doctrine of Original Sin, but it also offends God’s own holiness. How so? One is holy and that is God Himself. Jesus is “the holy one of God” (Mark 1:24). Our holiness is a borrowed holiness which we get from union with Him through sanctifying grace and the sacraments, faith being requisite for both. Without faith in Christ, a man cannot be holy: “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). In short, we are holy because we are “in Christ” by faith, baptism, and sanctifying grace.

Does our expert ever bother to read St. Paul, whose concept of holiness we have just summarized? Does he ever read the Gospels? “I am the vine: you the branches… without me you can do nothing. If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth” (John 15:5-6).

As for a Moslem “avoid[ing] serious sin,” as a condition for his salvation without faith, our expert finds himself on the horns of a theological dilemma: without faith, no sin — original or actual — can be forgiven; and without sanctifying grace, it is impossible to remain without actual mortal sin for long. This is Catholic doctrine, not my opinion.

This is not a question of bigotry. We feel no need, for instance, to call every Moslem a terrorist. But even placid Moslems need Jesus Christ and His Church for salvation. It is not charity to tell them otherwise. In fact, it’s damnably uncharitable to do so: uncharitable to God, whose truth we would deny; and to our neighbor, whose salvation we would hinder. Thus, in one sin against faith, our expert violates both evangelical precepts of charity.

There are many who have a problem with extra ecclesiam nulla salus because they cannot see how a good God can damn all who die outside the Church. In my opinion, the very unsentimental theology of St. Augustine provides a powerful corrective for this (see our last-year’s November Mancipia). Another remedy for “sentimental theology” comes from a saint of the gentler sex, the fourteenth-century anchoress and mystic, Blessed Juliana of Norwich. This excerpt, from chapter thirty-two of her Revelations of Divine Love, is firm in its orthodoxy, tender in its piety, and illustrative of the humility of its author in the face of the divine mysteries of grace and predestination:

“Our Faith is grounded in God’s word, and it belongeth to our Faith that we believe that God’s word shall be saved in all things; and one point of our Faith is that many creatures shall be condemned: as angels that fell out of Heaven for pride, which be now fiends; and man in earth that dieth out of the Faith of Holy Church: that is to say, they that be heathen men; and also man that hath received christendom and liveth unchristian life and so dieth out of charity: all these shall be condemned to hell without end, as Holy Church teacheth me to believe. And all this [so] standing, methought it was impossible that all manner of things should be well, as our Lord shewed in the same time.

“And as to this I had no other answer in Shewing of our Lord God but this: That which is impossible to thee is not impossible to me: I shall save my word in all things and I shall make all things well. Thus I was taught, by the grace of God, that I should steadfastly hold me in the Faith as I had aforehand understood, [and] therewith that I should firmly believe that all things shall be well, as our Lord shewed in the same time.

“For this is the Great Deed that our Lord shall do, in which Deed He shall save His word and He shall make all well that is not well. How it shall be done there is no creature beneath Christ that knoweth it, nor shall know it till it is done; according to the understanding that I took of our Lord’s meaning in this time.”

May we who have “received Christendom” continue to rejoice this Christmastide, because God’s word, which we have received as a free gift, shall be saved in all things, and all that is not well shall be well… and very well!