The moral teachings of the Church are of a piece with her teachings on faith. Christ’s supernatural revelation to the Church, along with the natural law also entrusted to her, constitute a “seamless garment”1 of truth about God, man, and the destiny of man in God. To abstract one or another of the constituent truths out of this totality, and reduce the rest to a status of lesser importance, is very dangerous. Doubtless, there is a hierarchy of truth, with some doctrines being higher in rank than others, the Trinity and the Incarnation taking the uppermost places. But we are not entitled to invent our own hierarchy of truths based on subjective criteria.
Oftentimes, this is exactly what Catholic pro-lifers do. They speak of the “Gospel of Life,” in naturalistic terms, putting man’s supernatural end in a secondary position to the abortion issue. This approach is backward, and its prevalence is one reason why we’re losing the culture wars.
Of all the issues affecting society, the ubiquitous crime of abortion has an importance that cannot be diminished. But it is positively disastrous when a Catholic allows his Catholicism to take a back seat to the abortion issue, and makes the “Gospel of Life” override the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is none other than the Catholic deposit of faith.
Unhesitatingly and unambiguously, I adhere to the Church’s moral magisterium on both “beginning of life” and “end of life” issues, which are the contents of the “Gospel of Life” as I understand that term. I also applaud and encourage effective political, social, and pastoral activism dedicated to this noble cause, which actually pertains to the natural law, and not to supernatural revelation.
Revelation gives a much loftier perspective from which to view the question. For instance, the worst evil of abortion is that it robs little ones in original sin of their one remedy for that sad condition that affects us all. As a result, it robs them of the Beatific Vision. I am well aware that, even if unborn babies could go to heaven, their murder would remain a crime, but I reiterate: abortion’s worst evil is depriving babies of Baptism, and, consequently, of salvation.
This is not popular among pro-life Catholics, but the reason for its unpopularity is not that the hard saying is wrong, but, rather, that it goes against the popular Pelagianism that most who call themselves Catholic have imbibed.
Yes, the theologians on the International Theological Commission (ITC) presented the world with a study that postulated the possibility of heavenly beatitude for unbaptized babies. A study of that paper reveals that its conclusion flies in the face of the actual theological data it presents. And besides, this masterful example of modernist “evolution of dogma” has no magisterial authority whatsoever. (For more on the ITC document, I suggest a look at There is a Hell, and It Makes Perfect Sense; scroll down to the subheading “The Essence of Hell: On Loss and Torment.”)
Aside from the Pelagian hérésie du jour, another error many Catholic pro-lifers espouse is indifferentism, which dictates that it doesn’t matter what religion one professes “as long as you’re a good person, you don’t hurt anybody, you try to help your neighbor, etc.” In the context of the pro-life movement, we may formulate it this way: as long as someone is pro-life, and against the culture of death, that person is not in need of conversion. While we might not find many pro-life Catholics who would state their case in those terms, few would disagree with the proposition.
So, at pro-life events, many Catholics consider the Rabbis for Life, Anglicans for Life, Lutherans for Life, or any one else “for Life” to be their allies in the single most important battle of our day against evil. They’re not. The single most important battle against evil is the Catholic battle. It is the war between the Woman and the serpent, whose head she will crush. It is the battle to assert the Rights of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, and of His Immaculate Queen Mother. It is the battle to save from everlasting hell the souls redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus, uniting them to the Trinity by faith, baptism, and submission to the authority of the Church. And in that battle, these folks are on the other side.
I am not saying that we should not, for reasons of practical prudence, ally ourselves with non-Catholics with whom we have common cause in politics and the culture wars. But we must realize that those things which constitute a common cause with non-Catholics are, ipso facto, not the most important things.
The most important things are the truths of the Catholic Faith, which is an integral whole. Denying one doctrine undermines the principle of the Church’s authority to teach truth, and therefore denies the unity of truth. To take one example: the Holy Eucharist is more important than the abortion issue. The most sacred thing a Catholic does is to become concorporial with his God in Holy Communion. And this is something in which our non-Catholic friends have no common cause — not until they convert.
The doctrine of Saint Thomas Aquinas, that “unbelief is the greatest of sins,” might give us some perspective.2 “Unbelief,” for the Angelic Doctor, is not limited to atheism; it includes rejection of the Trinity, and even Christian heresy. The only non-Catholics that would be included as “believers” by Saint Thomas would be certain schismatics, who lack charity but still have faith.
The non-Catholic is not part of Christ’s Mystical Body, which is coterminous with the Catholic Church, whose dogmas, morals, and priorities are those of her Mystical Head, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. We learn them from Scripture and Tradition as authoritatively proclaimed by an infallible magisterium. By the very fact that a non-Catholic is a non-Catholic, he is not possessed of this sacred deposit of faith. He therefore lacks the proper supernatural outlook on reality. It is good when he agrees with us, but it is not enough; agreeing with God on one or two points is not sufficient. In charity, we must labor to help our non-Catholic friend agree with God on all points. To avoid challenging him with the Catholic faith, and instead promise him salvation because of his pro-life stance, is not only a sin against faith (indifferentism), but also a sin against charity.
In short, if we want a pro-life America, our only hope is to make it a Catholic America. “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).
It is a beautiful thing when a new life comes into this world. It is an infinitely more beautiful thing when that child is regenerated in the waters of Baptism. The words of the traditional baptismal rite give us a terse summary of the real Gospel of Life:
P: What are you asking of God’s church?
P: What does faith hold out to you?
All: Everlasting life.
P: If, then, you wish to inherit everlasting life, keep the commandments [Matt. 19:17], “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets. Now faith demands that you worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, neither confusing the Persons one with the other, nor making a distinction in their nature. For the Father is a distinct Person, so also the Son, so also the Holy Spirit; yet all Three possess the one nature, the one Godhead.
- This is not to be confused with Cardinal Bernardine’s liberal doctrine of the seamless garment, authored in part by Father Bryan Hehir, and properly criticized by many pro-lifers, like Joe Sobran. ↩
- Though he also says that despair and hatred of God could be worse, depending on the formality under which they are considered. Note that these are all sins against the theological virtues. ↩