Finally, the Catholic Topic I've been promising (and it's a long one) ...
On July 10, 2007, the Vatican released a document written by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. After releasing the document the press started misreporting on it, almost immediately. A friend of mine asked for my opinion on this matter. I have been reading and hearing a lot about it and I want to take this opportunity to reflect on it as well as point out other people’s thoughts or interpretations of the document. By talking about this document I feel that this Catholic Topic of the Week basically is a way of explaining what the Catholic Church believes about itself.
The document itself is actually pretty short. It is entitled “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church.” Once the Vatican released the document it came to the attention of many news agencies which immediately began misinterpreting the purpose of the document. News reports I heard reported that the Catholic Church was making claims that salvation could be found only through the Catholic Church, that the Catholic Church thought only Catholics were Christians, and so forth. This is NOT what the document said and is NOT what the Church teaches.
I have become acutely aware lately of how horrible the media is about reporting on a lot of things. So much so that I now question everything I hear coming from the news. However, the Internet is an amazing thing. You can locate the documents and read the texts yourself, you can do your own research, and there are plenty of bloggers in the blogosphere doing much better research than many reporters these days. In regard to reporting on the Catholic Church, the media has a field day misinterpreting things from the Church and just never bothers to do their research. Two incidents of late: the Pope’s speech at Regensburg many months ago (maybe last summer even) in which one sentence from a very long speech was taken completely out of context and, more recently, the previously mentioned document. Speaking of which, here is what I have to say on that.
The document speaks honestly about what the Catholic Church teaches about what it believes in itself. So think about this: if you went to a church that said to its members, “We can only teach you part of the Truth, but we don’t have the fullness of Truth we’re just here for community building” would you continue going to that church? Regardless of your current faith, would you really want to go to a church (or synagogue or mosque) that didn’t believe that it had the fullness of truth? One of the headlines I saw that I did like after this document was released was: “The Pope is Catholic” or something like that. (He’s Catholic? Who knew!!) Basically, the Church is saying that it believes that it has the fullness of truth. As a Catholic, I’m very glad to hear that my Church thinks this way of itself. Otherwise, why would I bother going? I do like the community and all that, but the important part is the faith itself.
The response to this, though, has been: but what about the other Christian faiths? Well, within this document the Church does not deny that the Protestant communities also contain elements of the Truth within their teachings. The news reports overlooked this detail, or just didn’t bother reporting on it. Salvation is attainable through other faiths, the Church doesn’t deny that. And never has. Much of this was in the Vatican II documents, and even then it was just a reaffirmation of what the Church had always taught. Basically this is nothing new. But the Church would not be the Church if it said that the fullness of Truth is with us and it is with all the other churches that separated from us from the 16th century on through to today. Otherwise we’d all still be one united church like we were over 500 years ago. But we’re not and the Church knows this and continuously prays for unity again one day among all Christians. It comes down to this: the Church would be denying its own teachings to say that all churches are the same as it is.
I’m not sure if that makes a lot of sense. But there are other people talking about this same issue who are much better at writing about it than I am. Here are two of the many I read. The second blog (www.inforumblog.com) is a great blog overall. I highly recommend it. Both of these links are more on this same topic:
On a related note: Monday evening, I went to a session of Theology on Tap. This is a national young adult ministry that began in Chicago over 20-25 years ago. In Lexington it is held twice a year for six weeks each time. Monday was the third of the current series; this series is called Rome to Home: A Catholic History Timeline. Monday Fr. Frank spoke on the Reformation (yes, the priest that’s also doing our wedding in October). At the beginning of his talk he mentioned that there are currently over 33,000 Christian denominations in the United States alone. And that number is growing every day. From the time of Christ and the Apostles until sometime around 1500 there was only one Christian Church in the world (well, there was the split in 1054 when the Eastern Orthodox disagreed with Rome on some issues, but that was a different kind of split than what happened in the Reformation). In 500 years the Church has splintered to tens of thousands of Christian denominations world-wide.
That’s absolutely amazing!! Christ established one church on Earth and for 1500 years (roughly) that was the Catholic Church. But now Christians are divided, into many, many, many segments. For this reason the Church can not in good conscience call Protestant communities “churches” because we see them as divided from the one Church of Christ, the one He established on Earth. Yes, many people have taken offence to this, but I refer you to my earlier statement: Would you be a part of a church that didn’t claim some kind of fullness of truth in its teachings? Then why shouldn’t the Catholic Church think that way of itself?
There is so much more that could be said about this and so many interrelated issues. But it’s too much to go into here. This is why this document was written for theologians and not for the lay person. This is also part of the reason I started doing these Catholic Topics of the Week: to explore the many beliefs of the Catholic faith.
In closing, please pray for the unity of all Christians into the one true Church. Pray that one day the Church may be “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” once again.