The Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ.  The Body is easily recognizable and has overwhelming motives of credibility,  and it has for its Soul the Holy Spirit. Pope John Paul I said, “It is clear that Jesus and the Christians, Jesus and the Church are the same thing: indissoluble, inseparable.”  Elements of the Church found outside of the Church “tend and conduct toward the Catholic Church”. 
“[T]he Church of Christ is present and operative” in the Orthodox churches,  in terms of the sacraments and individuals. The Orthodox retain and act as “means of salvation”,  but sacraments are only efficacious for those of good will; the Orthodox maintain the Eucharist, but those willfully separated from the Church “do not receive the fruit of the sacrifice”.  Sacraments in Orthodox churches are efficacious for Catholics in need. 
“Eastern Christians who are in fact separated in good faith” are allowed to receive the Eucharist from Catholic priests, “if they ask of their own accord and have the right dispositions”;  they have no schismatic mindset.  “Someone baptized and brought up in an alien sect will inevitably be, for a time anyway, merely in material heresy or schism. … At what point one brought up in such a sect formally adheres to heresy or schism is God’s business…” 
Especially since many among the Orthodox have been under-catechized or lived in remote areas — their leaders would often just allow Latin missionaries to catechize their flocks  — ignorance of their leaders’ heresy and schism has been at least temporarily possible, like with Catholics who unintentionally followed antipopes (thus not falling into formal schism ). They may also have no other priests regularly available. Thus, they do not lose charity in accepting sacraments from them, and they are only putatively “Orthodox”; they do not have the mindset of schismatics, though they are in a disordered situation. Charles Coulombe wrote in Desire & Deception, “As long as one believes the traditional faith, has been baptized, and accepts the supremacy of the Pope, he is a Catholic, whatever his circumstances — indeed, whatever the dispositions (heretical, schismatic, or orthodox) of the clerics around him.”
And they can have faith without obstinate denial of dogmas, actively trying to learn.  They can find the Faith in their creeds, liturgies, and saints’ writings.  Their leaders’ “negations of Catholic teaching are not on the level of dogma”,  and all that we believe (like the Immaculate Conception ) may be found among them. Papal primacy is also acceptable to them.  There have been occasions when explicit knowledge of the Holy See does not appear to have been given (e.g., for those baptized by St. Peter Claver ); so, there can be such a thing as implicit submission to the Pope, at least temporarily, for those who have not maliciously refused to acknowledge him as head of the Church.  An obstinate rejection of the Papacy is a rejection of all those under the pontiff and nothing short of a rejection of Christ’s Church. “By its very nature, faith is open to the ‘We’ of the Church; it always takes place within her communion.” 
It is possible for one to be faithful, trusting “that the learned believe aright” and having at least an implicit faith in everything proposed by the Magisterium, yet be unaware of or misinformed about some teaching.  However, we cannot take what we like from the Church and reject the rest, bending authority to our own whims; “partial communion” in this way saves no one. Adherence to error is not salvific. A person is saved despite any innocent association with a false sect and because of his relationship with Christ’s Mystical Body. “If one chooses to disbelieve a single article of faith, then the gift of infused faith is no longer available and he can then no longer give full assent to any of the teachings of the Church.” 
St. Augustine said that “neither do the heretics belong to the Church catholic, which loves God; nor do the schismatics form a part of the same”. (Schismatics are those who “in wicked separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may believe just what we believe”.)  But he also said that those “without obstinate ill will, especially those who have not originated their own error by bold presumption, but have received it from parents who had been led astray and had lapsed, those who seek truth with careful industry, ready to be corrected when they have found it” are in a different situation.  Those who have caused divisions are bad. “But,” Cardinal Charles Journet writes, “their followers in later times, who inherit a patrimony of schism or heresy from their birth, are not culpable on that account. They can grow in spiritual stature by remaining in good faith. The sanctifying influence of the sacraments, no longer finding the same obstacles in the will, can result in graces of a high order.”  Those who have not chosen against the Church are more under heretics or schismatics than they are heretics or schismatics. It is, however, better to presume that there is at least culpable negligence among them (for which they would be punished ), so that they might be saved and so that we do not neglect our duty to evangelize.
Br. André Marie, M.I.C.M., says, “There are many people who would not be considered ‘formal’ members of the Church who are, in fact, Catholics in the dogmatic sense. … What is important are not the ‘juridical’ issues, but the ecclesiological, sacramental, and ‘creedal’ elements that truly make one a Catholic. Perhaps we can put it in terms that might make a canonist cringe: de facto Catholicism is what matters, not de jure Catholicism.”  Fr. John J. King, O.M.I., would say, “They are vivified by the Holy Spirit because of the tenuous but true union they have with the Body of Christ. This is not an attempt to give a new meaning to the old word ‘extra.’ It is simply a conclusion forced upon them by the full realization, according to the analogia fidei, of what the Church’s understanding of this dogmatic word has always been.” 
Here, I should address “invincible ignorance”, often an exaggerated thing. It is that which “cannot be overcome by study”.  An absolute invincible ignorance (meaning, the impossibility of learning even “truths necessary for salvation“) would not save.  (Moreover, a Catholic cannot know if someone is “invincibly ignorant” of the Faith. And how is it possible for the Catholic to know it, but impossible for those with whom he comes into contact?) Salvation comes from sanctifying grace. We need supernatural divine faith, hope, and charity. Some say that the faithless might die that way “through no fault of their own”, but St. Thomas Aquinas could say that even the proverbial man on an island could be saved, “[f]or it pertains to divine providence to furnish everyone with what is necessary for salvation, provided that on his part there is no hindrance”.  Ignorance is a lack of something, and lacking something gains us nothing. A relationship can never be based on a lack of something, but must involve reciprocity. Whatever the reason for a lack of reciprocity to God in response to His grace, it cannot ever be justified. 
“God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him” and “all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church”.  All must “enquire whether or not God has Himself revealed definitively and infallibly how He wishes to be known, loved, and served”,  and, in matters spiritual, where there’s a will, there’s a way; “seek, and you shall find” (Matthew 7:7). “[T]hat faith without which it is impossible to please [God]” can be transmitted in ordinary and extraordinary ways, as evidenced throughout history.  “[A]ll are capable of receiving the doctrines of the faith.”  If Catholics budge on the necessity of faith, then we give ammunition to the Protestant apologists who have accused us of promoting “works-based salvation”. It is wrong to think that “we need only seek that Christians should be good Christians, Muslims good Muslims, Hindus good Hindus, and so forth”. 
We are all given sufficient chance to be saved, either rejecting or accepting it, though Orthodox naturally have more available to them than Protestants, who so often define themselves against Catholicism, justify sins and disbelieve the need for good works (thus rejecting God as Rewarder), lack priesthood, increasingly doubt the crucial dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation, and sometimes do not even have baptism. There are also those who favor a view that matter is eternal (like Mormons) and deny God as Creator of everything.  Those who treat nothing as absolutely true and binding, leaving everything up to individual interpretation, show human and not divine faith. Bl. John Henry Newman said, “Protestants, generally speaking, have not faith, in the primitive meaning of that word”.  Faith is often replaced with emotional consolations. One who rejects oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity cannot say the Creeds sincerely. Orthodox can be thankful that they are not exposed to as many temptations to err.
Politics and personal suffering cannot be excuses to reject the Church’s teachings (even for, say, those who suffered under Crusaders); those who try to use these are, like St. Augustine admitted of his past self, readier to impose falsehood than to be informed of the truth.  When people hear of the Pope as “Antichrist” or the Church as “Whore of Babylon”, they are no doubt at first incredulous, and so they are obliged to investigate.
Doubt can come to an Anglican sitting in a church he knows to be stolen, a Lutheran hearing of “Reformation Day”, a Methodist discovering that his views do not line up with those of a saint, a Baptist wondering how books’ infallibility can be known, and so on. They can also doubt when they come into contact with each other. But if they refuse to hear (Scripture contrasts hearing and reading ), do not follow promptings by the Spirit, and are malicious, they can be lost forever. If one cooperates with God, he will receive more and more graces. However, if he resists or abuses them, he is not guaranteed more. (Some imagine that no one would really defy what he knows to be true, but we ourselves disprove this every single time we commit mortal sin.)
Catholics should be concerned for them. Unless their contrition is perfect (with the firm resolution to sin no more and with love for God above all else and as the prevailing motive, not fear of Hell or any other reason), even nominal “Protestants” will die in their mortal sins, since “imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance”.  They will be condemned for sins that, without the sacraments, will be difficult to avoid. The Orthodox, however, have the sacraments. 
All must “return” to the Church, individually or corporately. Yet, as Pope Benedict XVI, the father of the Anglican Ordinariates,  noted in 2005, this “does not mean uniformity in all expressions of theology and spirituality, in liturgical forms and in discipline”.  Again, the Orthodox are in a special position. A 1992 CDF document says that they “merit the title of particular Churches”, but “their existence as particular Churches is wounded”.  The Orthodox have long been conceded the title of “Churches”,  but “to be fully Church…there must be…the supreme authority of the Church”.  A particular Church “can be truly complete only through effective communion in faith, sacraments and unity with the whole Body of Christ”.  “The Eucharist objectively creates a powerful bond of unity between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches,”  but “it is an intrinsic requirement of the Eucharist that it should be celebrated in communion” with the Church’s hierarchical order.  It is clear that acceptance of the Papacy is a non-negotiable.
Of Orthodox in particular, “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”. However, one cannot separate himself from the Church on earth without also separating himself from the Church in Heaven, and graces always have the true Church as their end. The good among them “desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd”.  Many Orthodox today are “in good faith” and “are desirous of reunion with the Apostolic See of Rome”. 
History is complicated: there have been instances of communicatio in sacris, times when lines were blurred, and periods of reunion. Conversion and regularization were always the ends (e.g., the Pope would be remembered in concelebrations).  We can look to Bl. Pope Pius IX, who, with Arcano Divinae Providentiae, even invited the Orthodox to participate in the First Vatican Council.  Now, with the mutual excommunications (which were “censures against the persons concerned and not the Churches” ) lifted, may we be together again.
John 17:11 (DRA): “And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are.”
1. See Thomas Storck, “What is the Church of Jesus Christ?” (Homiletic & Pastoral Review, vol. 108, no. 6, March 2008, p. 24-31, 42-45; available through the author’s website: http://www.thomasstorck.org/theological-topics).
2. See Dr. Lawrence Feingold’s “Motives of Credibility for Faith” (http://web.archive.org/web/20140104144437/http://www.hebrewcatholic.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/12.07-motives-of-credibility-for-faith-pdf.pdf) and James Likoudis’ “The Marks Of The Church And Eastern Orthodoxy” (http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=4752).
3. General Audience, 13 September 1978 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-i/en/audiences/documents/hf_jp-i_aud_13091978.html)
4. CDF, Notification on Leonardo Boff (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19850311_notif-boff_en.html)
6. Second Vatican Council, Unitatis Redintegratio §3 (http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_unitatis-redintegratio_en.html)
7. Summa Theologiae, TP, Q. 82, Art. 7, Ans. (http://newadvent.org/summa/4082.htm)
8. Canon 844 §2 (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P2T.HTM). Archimandrite Ambrosius (Pogodin): “In one of its decrees the Vatican Council felt it possible and even desirable that Roman Catholics finding themselves beyond the vicinity of a Catholic Church, could receive the holy sacraments, including Holy Communion, from Orthodox Churches in their vicinity. Only the Moscow Patriarchate responded to this and announced a decision favorable to the Catholics, allowing them to receive Communion in Orthodox Churches where there were no Roman Catholic churches. This decision was accepted by the Patriarchal Synod on December 16, 1969 and was also affirmed at a later date.” (“On the Question of the Order of Reception of Persons into the Orthodox Church”, Appendices; http://www.holy-trinity.org/ecclesiology/pogodin-reception/reception-appendices.html)
9. Second Vatican Council, Orientalium Ecclesiarum §27 (http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_orientalium-ecclesiarum_en.html)
10. In the 43rd episode of his online show, Charles Coulombe mentions that Fr. Feodor Wilcock, S.J. (a priest of the Russian rite and a friend of Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J.), “would never refuse an Orthodox communion, because he knew that any Orthodox that would come to a Catholic priest to receive was already in the right frame of mind”.
11. See Brother André Marie’s “Promising Salvation to Non-Catholics: A Sin against Charity” (http://catholicism.org/ad-rem-no-145.html) and comments on Coptic Orthodox (http://catholicism.org/the-twenty-one-slain-copts-martyrs.html). Material heretics and schismatics are not considered legal members of the Church, but they can be saved by a desire for membership (Fr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, ISBN 978-1-929291-85-4, p. 311).
12. A. Edward Siecienski, The Papacy and the Orthodox: Sources and History of a Debate (ISBN 9780190245269), p. 348, footnotes. Catholic Encyclopedia, “Greek Church” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06752a.htm): “…in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Jesuits and Capuchins were allowed to preach and hear confessions in the Greek Churches, by the express permission of the patriarch and the bishops.”
13. Catholic Encyclopedia, “Schism” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13529a.htm). “In the material sense of the word there is schism, that is rupture of the social body, if there exist two or more claimants of the papacy, each of whom has on his side certain appearances of right and consequently more or less numerous partisans. But under these circumstances good faith may, at least for a time, prevent a formal schism; this begins when the legitimacy of one of the pontiffs becomes so evident as to render adhesion to a rival inexcusable.” St. Vincent Ferrer, though he accepted an antipope and was thus objectively wrong in identifying the visible Church, acted in good faith (http://www.ewtn.com/saintsHoly/saints/V/stvincentferrer.asp).
14. See Charles Coulombe’s “Looking Eastward” (http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6082).
15. See, for example, Dave Armstrong’s The Quotable Eastern Church Fathers (Lulu, 2013; ISBN 978-1-304-21000-5).
16. Antonio Parisi, “Orthodoxy Is My Doxy” (http://jameslikoudispage.com/Ecumenic/orthetero.htm)
17. James Likoudis, “The Immaculate Conception and the Doctrine of Mary as Coredemptrix in Eastern Orthodoxy” (http://jameslikoudispage.com/Ecumenic/marycorede.htm). See also: “Catholics of Egypt Gratified by Schismatic Copts’ Defense of Assumption Dogma in Controversy”, 20 November 1950 (http://thecatholicnewsarchive.org/cgi-bin/crra?a=d&d=cns19501120-01.1.28).
18. See James Likoudis, “Testimony to the Primacy of the Pope by a 17th c. Russian Orthodox Prelate” (http://jameslikoudispage.com/Ecumenic/pmohila.htm) and “Light from the ‘Church of the East’ on the Roman Primacy” (http://jameslikoudispage.com/Ecumenic/assyrians.htm).
19. See Br. Michael’s “Slave of the Slaves: the Story of Saint Peter Claver” (http://catholicism.org/slave-of-slaves.html). “The holy man had no time to lose” before those coming in from slave ships “would be auctioned off in the market place and sometimes end up far away”. He was known to preach simply.
20. Canon 751: “schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him” (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P2H.HTM). Also, one becomes subject to the Church, and therefore to the Pontiff, at baptism. Explicit knowledge of the Papacy has never been considered essential in emergency instruction. Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton notes that “it is the common teaching of the theologians that true supernatural faith can exist even where there is only an implicit belief in the Catholic Church” (The Catholic Church and Salvation, The Newman Press, 1958, p. 69). Though there has been invincible ignorance of the Holy See, when writing of the Papacy and the Church’s Roman-ness, Cardinal Charles Journet saw fit to mention, “When the Christian communities of the Far East, converted from paganism by St. Francis Xavier, and left without priests for two hundred years, once more saw new missionaries disembark, they recognized them simply by asking whether they obeyed the ‘white robe’.” (http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/chwordin3.htm) And, in the early Church, “Even the pagans knew that a true Christian was one in communion with the bishop of Rome,” according to Fr. Ludwig Hertling, S.J. (http://cathedraunitatis.wordpress.com/2007/09/04/ludwig-hertling-on-communio-and-the-roman-church-1/).
21. Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei §39 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20130629_enciclica-lumen-fidei.html)
22. Summa Theologiae, SSP, Q. 2, Art. 6, R. to Ob. 3 (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3002.htm)
23. Steven J. Rummelsburg, “Give Full Assent to the Teachings of the Church” (http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2016/10/rummelsburg-give-full-assent-to-the-teachings-of-the-church/)
24. De Fide Et Symbolo, chapter 10 (http://www.clerus.org/bibliaclerusonline/en/ce5.htm)
25. The Fathers of the Church: Saint Augustine Letters, Volume I (1-82) (translated by Sister Wilfrid Parsons, S.N.D.; ISBN 978-0-8132-1556-3), p. 182
26. The Church of the Word Incarnate (http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/chwordin3.htm). Msgr. Fenton says that “some of the members of these dissident and schismatical communities may receive the Eucharist and take part in the Eucharistic sacrifice fruitfully” (The Catholic Church and Salvation, p. 94), and “any man who fruitfully and worthily partakes of this Eucharistic feast is within the true Church, at least by intention” (p. 24). “Neither justification nor glorification — that is, neither the remission of our sins nor the attainment of the Beatific Vision — is possible except ‘in Christ Jesus.’ And the Church, in the divinely inspired epistles of St. Paul, is represented precisely though metaphorically as ‘the body of Christ.’ To be ‘in Christ Jesus,’ then, is to be ‘within’ the Mystical Body of Christ, Our Lord’s one and only true Church or kingdom.” (p. 22-23) “All of those outside the Church, even the individuals who have committed no sin against the faith itself, are in a position in which they cannot be saved unless they in some way enter or join the Church before they die.” (p. 40) “…if [a man] has the love of charity for God, he is ‘within’ the true Church of Jesus Christ, at least by sincere (although perhaps merely implicit) intention and desire. If, on the other hand, a man has not a love of charity for God, he is in the state of sin.” (p. 46) Those with faith, hope, and charity have “the spiritual or inner bond of unity within the Catholic Church” and are “by that very fact joined to Our Lord and to His disciples within the supernatural kingdom of God” (p. 62).
27. Fr. Bernard J. Otten, S.J., writes in The Business of Salvation (B. Herder, 1916), “…if anyone through his own fault, whether through obstinacy or through culpable negligence, fails to become a member of the Church which Christ has established on earth, he is by that very fact deprived of the means necessary for saving his soul” (p. 250-251). While desire to be in the Church, included in the firm will to do all that God requires, is an absolute necessity, because there are real cases in which attaining legal membership is impossible, we know that “membership” is a relative necessity, meaning that those who can die as members must (see John Salza and Robert Siscoe, True or False Pope?, ISBN 978-1-4951-8142-9, p. 132-137).
28. “Promising Salvation to Non-Catholics”. Pope Pius XI wrote in Ecclesiam Dei §9 that St. Josaphat Kuntsevych, though “born of schismatic parents”, “always considered himself a member” of the true Church (http://www.papalencyclicals.net/pius11/p11eccle.htm). For example, Francis E. Hyland wrote that the question of legal membership for excommunicates “seems to be one of theory and of little practical import”, since they lack benefits of membership and could still be saved by perfect contrition (Excommunication, Catholic University of America, 1928, p. 5-10). A person who passed away with sanctifying grace must have been sufficiently in accord with the Church, having all essentials and being without mortal sin, even if this accord was not recognized. According to Fenton, “…charity is absolutely incompatible with an unwillingness to live and die in the communion of the Church of Jesus Christ. … Thus every man who has charity, every man in the state of grace, every man who is saved, is necessarily one who is or who intends to become a member of the Roman Catholic Church. There can be no exceptions.” (This intent can be implicit for those not “fully informed about the identity of the true Church”.) Fenton says “[t]his is the only interpretation fully consonant with” the declarations of the Fourth Lateran Council, the Council of Florence, and Pope Boniface VIII (“Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus”, The American Ecclesiastical Review, unknown issue, p. 303-304; http://thecatholicarchive.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/106.pdf). The existence of just individuals who are not “members” no more contradicts the coextension of the Catholic Church and the Mystical Body of Christ than does the existence of sinful members.
29. The Necessity of the Church for Salvation in Selected Theological Writings of the Past Century (Catholic University of America, 1960), p. 357
30. Summa Theologiae, PSP, Q. 76, Art. 2, Ans. (http://newadvent.org/summa/2076.htm)
31. See §2 of Pope St. Pius X’s Acerbo Nimis (http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius10/p10chdoc.htm). A misinterpretation of words of Bl. Pope Pius IX can lead some to think that there are non-Christians perfectly obeying the natural law and remaining without mortal sin and being saved that way. Msgr. Fenton wrote that “no one can remain for any considerable time without committing mortal sin apart from the aid of supernatural grace” and without having sanctifying grace, and so “the man who is sedulously observing the natural law in such a way as to avoid mortal sin for a considerable period of time is one who has already made an explicit act of supernatural faith, in which the belief in the Church was at least implicitly contained” (“The Theological Proof for the Necessity of the Catholic Church: Part II”, The American Ecclesiastical Review, unknown issue, p. 299; http://thecatholicarchive.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/40.pdf).
32. Questiones Disputatae de Veritate, Q. 14, A. 11, A. to D. 1 (http://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDdeVer14.htm). Those with the good will to comply with God’s will are given the Truth, which they accept when it is sufficiently proposed to them. See Br. Thomas Mary Sennott’s “The Salvation of the Pre-Columbian Amerindians” (http://catholicism.org/eens-salvation-amerindian.html) and Mary Rezac’s “Did this Spanish nun bi-locate to Texas?” (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/did-this-spanish-nun-bi-locate-to-texas-vatican-aims-to-find-out-60292/). For more on opportunity for salvation, see Msgr. Joseph Pohle and Arthur Preuss, Grace: Actual and Habitual (2nd Revised Ed., 1917), p. 152-187.
33. “…endowed as they are with free will, they can misuse their freedom under the impulse of mental agitation and base desires. Unfortunately many are still wandering far from the Catholic truth, being unwilling to follow the inspirations of divine grace, because neither they nor the faithful pray to God with sufficient fervor for this intention.” (Mystici Corporis Christi §104; http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_29061943_mystici-corporis-christi.html)
34. Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis Humanae §1 (http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651207_dignitatis-humanae_en.html)
35. Bl. Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam §107 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_06081964_ecclesiam.html)
36. Catechism of the Catholic Church §848 (http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p123a9p3.htm#848)
37. Pope Paul III, Sublimus Dei (http://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_pa03sd.htm)
38. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 1988 (http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=3032)
39. “There can be real divine faith when a man believes explicitly, on the authority of God revealing, the existence of God as the Head of the supernatural order, the fact that God rewards good and punishes evil, and the doctrines of the Blessed Trinity and of the Incarnation.” (The Catholic Church and Salvation, p. 69) Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S., citing Scripture, magisterial statements, and liturgy, has powerfully argued in a speech entitled “Can an Implicit Faith in Christ Be Sufficient for Salvation?” for the absolute necessity of explicit belief in all of these (http://store.catholicism.org/can-an-implicit-faith-in-christ-be-sufficient-for-salvation-mp3.html).
40. Discourse 10: “Faith and Private Judgment” (http://www.newmanreader.org/works/discourses/discourse10.html). For early Christians, “The Church was their teacher; they did not come to argue, to examine, to pick and choose, but to accept whatever was put before them. No one doubts, no one can doubt this, of those primitive times. A Christian was bound to take without doubting all that the Apostles declared to be revealed”. For many now, “what looks like faith, is a mere hereditary persuasion, not a personal principle”. Putative Protestants “who firmly believe in spite of all difficulties, they certainly have some claim to be considered under the influence of faith; but there is nothing to show that such persons, where they are found, are not in the way to become Catholics, and perhaps they are already called so by their friends, showing in their own examples the logical, indisputable connexion which exists between possessing faith and joining the Church”.
41. “…I should either even then have defended the Catholic Scriptures attacked by the Manichæans, if as I say, I had been cautious; or I should now show that they can be defended.” (Of Two Souls, Chapter 15; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1403.htm) Once finding himself unable to answer a question, St. Augustine felt “admonished from on high to leave that error and to be converted to the Catholic faith or rather to recall it, by the indulgence of Him who did not permit [him] to inhere forever in this fallacy” (Disputation Against Fortunatus, Second Day; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1404.htm). Pope Pius XI said that those who “humbly beg light from heaven” “will recognize the one true Church of Jesus Christ and will, at last, enter it, being united with us in perfect charity” (Mortalium Animos §13; http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_19280106_mortalium-animos.html).
42. Orlando Fedeli, “Read the Bible?” (http://www.catholicapologetics.info/apologetics/protestantism/read.htm)
43. Catechism of the Catholic Church §1451-1453 (http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p2s2c2a4.htm#1451)
44. According to Cardinal Journet, “…the dissident Churches which retain the power of order (the dissident Oriental Churches for instance), may retain, by a concession of the Sovereign Pontiff, either express or tacit, a partial but genuine jurisdiction which enables them validly to administer to their subjects even those sacraments which require a jurisdictional power in the minister; such as Confirmation and Penance. ….the validity of the Confirmation given by the dissident priests, a validity that could only result from a concession of the Sovereign Pontiff, was explicitly recognized by the Holy Office (3rd July 1859) for all the Oriental Churches, save those of Bulgaria, Cyprus, South Italy and the islands adjacent from whom this concession had been earlier withdrawn. … As to the sacrament of Penance, we know that ‘in peril of death all priests, even those not approved for hearing confessions, can validly and licitly absolve any penitents from all sins and censures.’ There then is a definite case in which the dissident Oriental priests certainly receive from the Sovereign Pontiff every authorization to dispense the sacrament of Penance. ….(1) The Church, which has not withdrawn from them the jurisdiction needed for Confirmation, will not deprive them of the still more useful jurisdiction to absolve their flock from their sins; (2) Rome has never required Eastern converts to make a general confession; and must thus regard confessions made in good faith to dissident priests as valid.” (http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/chwordin3.htm)
45. See Anglicanorum Coetibus (http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_ben-xvi_apc_20091104_anglicanorum-coetibus.html).
46. Address at Ecumenical Meeting in Cologne, 19 August 2005 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/august/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050819_ecumenical-meeting.html). Fr. Yves Congar, O.P., said that “union, while not representing an ‘absorption’ in the odious sense of the word, can only be, from the point of view of ecclesiology, a reunion with the Apostolic See” (After Nine Hundred Years, Fordham University Press, 1959, p. 82).
47. CDF, “On Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion” §17 (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_28051992_communionis-notio_en.html)
48. Preparatory Schema for Lumen Gentium, chapter XI, notes (translated by Fr. Joseph A. Komonchak; http://jakomonchak.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/draft-of-de-ecclesia-chs-1-11.pdf)
49. “On Some Aspects” §13
50. Pope St. John Paul II, Address to U.S. Bishops, 16 September 1987 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/1987/september/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19870916_vescovi-stati-uniti.html)
51. Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis §15 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis.html)
52. Pope St. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia §35 (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/special_features/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_20030417_ecclesia_eucharistia_en.html)
53. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium §15 (http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html)
54. James Likoudis, “History of the Byzantine Greco-Slav Schism” (http://jameslikoudispage.com/Ecumenic/byschism.htm)
55. See James Likoudis’ “A Formal Schism in 1054 A.D.?” (http://jameslikoudispage.com/Ecumenic/pamiccer.htm), William Huysman’s “Why God Led Me to Rome Instead of Constantinople” (http://web.archive.org/web/20180213114036/http://thebananarepublican.blogspot.com/2011/04/old-rome-not-new-rome-1.html), the first chapter of Fr. Serge Descy’s The Melkite Church (Sophia Press, 1993), a series from the Transalpine Redemptorists (http://papastronsay.blogspot.com/search/label/Communicatio%20in%20sacris), and Fr. John Hunwicke on ecumenism (http://liturgicalnotes.blogspot.com/2016/02/ecumenism-update.html).
56. They were “not only invited but exhorted and begged”. “…if these men had gone to the Vatican Council as their predecessors had gone to Second Lyons and to Florence, they could have become members of this council with the right of deliberative vote.” (Fenton, “The Ecumenical Council and Christian Reunion”, The American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. CXLI, July-December 1959, p. 45-57)
57. Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration, 7 December 1965 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651207_common-declaration.html)
[Note: This post deals with the how and the why more so than the that. In the philosophical section, I sought to address the why and move into the how. With the beginning of St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, I intended to touch on how the Holy Spirit might have served in place of the male sperm as an “agent” that brought instructions and form to the genetic material already within the Blessed Mother’s body. I only sought to “prove” (or, rather, sketch out proofs) that this could have happened.]
With the Virgin Birth, you actually have more evidence that it is true rather than untrue.
We have great historical testimony to it, and there is no proof that it did not happen — obviously. But there is more.
How can it be proven by science? Well, I suppose this depends on your definition of “science”. If you refer to that of the exact (quantitative), of course, it could be difficult. But theology, “the highest form of philosophy”, does have an answer. And, just as you trust astronomers to tell you about many things beyond earth, you should trust the Church to tell you about God.
Before I can get into that, you must consider something: how did you come into being, and why do you exist? You cannot know much else aside from that you were ordained for some purpose. If you were not around, things would be different, the environment would be changed — perhaps, this would not just cause some sort of “gap”, but it would be destructive, even. You are necessary, to us and to the “Something” (God) from which you spring.
Let us say that the Virgin Birth, too, was necessary for things to properly function. It was ordained from the beginning, as God knew that He would come to reach out to the lost tribes of the house of Israel (Gentiles). The Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection were necessary for God’s “re”-marriage, this time to the Church, His Bride. (This connects to the Church’s teachings on the indissolubility of marriage.) The destroyed Temple and Jewish sacrificial method had to be replaced with a new, universal and eternal system. “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:22). If something is truly necessary to proper existence, it comes into being.
Why has this Birth not been replicated, though? It was only needed once, just like you are only needed once. Likewise, there has to be a mystery to it, as there is mystery to you. Uniqueness and mystery pervade.
But St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, also, “According to the Philosopher [Aristotle] (De Gener. Animal. i, ii, iv), in conception the seed of the male is not by way of matter, but by way of agent: and the female alone supplies the matter. Wherefore though the seed of the male was lacking in Christ’s conception, it does not follow that due matter was lacking.” (Summa Theologiae, TP, Q. 28, A. 1, R. to Ob. 5)
That point is key. Mitochondrial DNA, for example, come exclusively from the mother, and there is also talk of “female sperm“. “Female sperm” could, theoretically, develop within a woman, given the right impetus. (Of course, the impetus for normal procreation is male sperm.) The point is, the material necessary for life sufficiently exists within women — that is evidenced by the fact that the X-chromosome contains far more genetic material than the Y-chromosome. All the material needs is the masculine influence to trigger it, to give it form and shape. Even without the Y-chromosome from a man, one could still be a “XX male“, at least. And it is clear that the distinctions and origins of the Y-chromosome are a mystery, anyway [1, 2]. In Mary’s exceptional case, this trigger was the Holy Spirit, which poured out abundantly on her and directed her body on what to do (Luke 1:30-35). “…[T]he Divine power, which is infinite, can transmute all matter to any form whatsoever” (Aquinas). This mutation can be rationally explained — “random mutations” occur frequently.
Is it not ironic that we have confirmed this by reckless science, which has sought to artificially create “test-tube babies” [1, 2] and introduce “transgenderism”? God has drawn straight with our crooked lines, yet again.
Christ’s body was not tangled to any imperfect man. This connects to scientific proof of Mary’s perfection, too. It has been shown that groups of cells from infants transfer to mothers’ brains [1, 2], after traveling through the placenta. Because of this, the Blessed Mother must have been perfect, for she literally had, in purity, the mind of Christ.
Why else must the Theotokos be a virgin? St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, “For it behooved that our Head, on account of a notable miracle, should be born after the flesh of a virgin, that He might thereby signify that His members would be born after the Spirit, of the Church a virgin…” (Of Holy Virginity)
A summary of the history and effects of artificial contraception, with an emphasis on its importance in the American 1960s and the “Sexual Revolution”.
Shepherds & Kings: A Look at the Papacy
There is to be one Shepherd here. It was first King David (Ezekiel 34:23), then Jesus (John 10:11), and now is the Pope (John 21:17). This role is tied to the role of King. As David was King (2 Samuel 5:12) and Christ is King (Matthew 27:11), so the Pope is (as the Vicar of Christ) “father of princes and kings”.
Historically, the Pope has been the unifier of everyone: emperors, artists, the religious, and so on. Whenever emperors would abandon the Faith, they would be publicly corrected. Whenever artists sought to honor Christ, they would be promoted. And whenever Christians in the East would fall into heresy, the Pope would be the one to bring them in line, as Russian Orthodox theologian Vladimir Solovyov noted.
The Pope has a temporal role. Only the Pope can thoroughly ensure the recognization of Christ as King in society.
Pope Gelasius I wrote to Emperor Anastasius, “There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power. Of these that of the priests is the more weighty, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment.”
On the correction of earthly monarchs, I often think of the Walk to Canossa, the journey of penance taken by Henry IV, of the Holy Roman Empire, in reparation for his grave sins against the Pope. This was done only out of selfishness on Henry’s part, of course, but still, under the right societal conditions, people can be motivated to repent. I also think of Emperor Theodosius, who only repented after forceful rebukes by St. Ambrose. Should we not incentivize such righteous actions in our own societies? Of course, we should!
Much temporal good has come from our Holy Mother Church, the Mater et Magistra (“mother and teacher”). In the Middle Ages, for example, during which the power of the Church was at its highest, literacy rates increased, art flourished, the university system developed, laws were better-codified, and the Bible became more accessible to lay people. This was all due to popes leading as shepherds and flocks following like sheep. The laypeople of the period, I think, had a greater appreciation for hierarchy and understood that, if left to its own devices, society would collapse. Remember that God had to come down to His people; His people did not go up to Him. Society, today, unfortunately, detests anything other than near-absolute egalitarianism.
Now, imagine for a moment, a Papacy unhindered by societal pressures, free to guide its flock to the fullest, and empowered to pave a beautiful kingdom for Christ’s return! Shepherds like Pope Alexander VI understood and promoted this possibility. Unfortunately, because of the rise of democracy and secularism, the temporal honors historically afforded to popes have dwindled. Now, an Alexander would be almost universally despised, and for no reason!
The Pope, the Vicar of Christ, the Visible Shepherd, the Father of princes and kings, the pinnacle of civilization — he needs us. Pray for him and forever support him in every way possible. And pray that the Church may be empowered to pave the way for Her King.
“[W]hat is certain is that the ruins and traces of the Holy Empire are all about us. An understanding of its history and continuing influence is key to understanding the practical implications of the Social Kingship of Christ — which idea, in so many ways, is the ideal successive Emperors and their loyal subjects sought to follow on Earth, and without which, as Pius XI teach[es] in Quas primas, real peace is impossible.” – Charles A. Coulombe
“[The Church] does not, in the conventional phrase, believe what the Bible says, for the simple reason that the Bible does not say anything. You cannot put a book in the witness-box and ask it what it really means.” – G. K. Chesterton
Sola Scriptura is the Protestant doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Under it, only doctrines that are found directly within the Bible or are drawn indirectly from it by simple reasoning are allowed. (See material vs. formal sufficiency & perspicuity.)
2 Timothy 3:16-17 is the primary passage used to defend this view, which always boggles my mind. Perhaps I need spectacles, but I do not see an “Only” at the beginning of this verse. The Church teaches (as Scripture teaches) that all Scripture is valuable. She does not, however, turn it into an idol.
Some Protestants also claim to honor other authorities, like the Church – but do they really? In a short written debate with a Protestant professor, he said, “Sola Scriptura does not even claim that there is no other authority besides the Bible; it maintains that the Bible is alone (sola) as the only infallible authority.” Some apologists concede this position, but I see no reason to, and so I responded, “The practical effect [of Sola Scriptura] is that it denies the authoritativeness of any other authority – making that authority not an authority at all.” The professor quickly changed the topic.
Sacred Tradition (capital ‘T’) is, obviously, a stumbling block for many, but it is perfectly reasonable. Not everything of relevance could fit within the Bible (John 20:30-31, John 21:25). This is evidenced by the elaborations of the Church Fathers, as well as the decrees of the Councils. And much of this has been written and can therefore even qualify as (extra canon) Scripture! Anyway, all Scripture must be interpreted “according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church” (Origen).
Pope Francis noted, “Sacred Scripture is the written testimony of the divine Word, the canonical memory that attests to the event of Revelation. However, the Word of God precedes the Bible and surpasses it. That is why the center of our faith isn’t just a book, but a salvation history and above all a person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.” (cf. CCC #108). All teaching is valuable – God is not limited to a book compiled by His Bride. On this point, the Bible is like a wedding album shared by two spouses: the husband, typically, arranges and provides for everything, while his wife fills in the details – but still, at the end of the day, it does not sum up their whole marriage.
Another great blow to Sola Scriptura is that the Bible did not put itself together, and it does not list the books that belong within it. It took the Jews thousands of years to decide on the Tanakh (their canon) and, even then, “Hellenistic” Jews preferred the Septuagint! The only reason that we know which books comprise the Testaments is that the Church has informed us. If the Church, as Her own entity, is not infallible on such doctrine, then the Bible cannot be trusted.
Many Protestants also allude that absolute truth can only be found within the Bible. If I throw an apple up into the air, it will fall. Where is that in the Bible? Of course, one could quickly retort with the idea that the Bible only necessarily contains the absolute moral truth necessary for salvation. But many Protestants do not actually believe that – just look at the large crowds of literal creationists! To be clear, the Bible is not guaranteed to be totally historically or scientifically inerrant in a literal sense. “Inerrancy extends to what the biblical writers intend to teach, not necessarily to what they assume or presuppose or what isn’t integral to what they assert.” [Catholic Answers] And if a Protestant would like to say otherwise, he must prove his position from the Bible – which he cannot do, at least not to any definite degree. Even natural law, which exists outside of the Bible, does not encompass such. Leaders like Ken Ham could be defeated with these points.
I just cannot help but despise this great heresy of Sola Scriptura, the implication of which is that the Bride of Christ does not know Her Husband.
I love the Second Vatican Council’s statement on all of this: “[T]he task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.” (Dei Verbum)
Let us put it this way: only trusting the Bible without the Church would be like loving “Romeo and Juliet” and hating Shakespeare’s explanation of it.
The Church is my greatest weight. Of course, the weight of over a billion souls would likely be rather large, especially post-McDonald’s, so I suppose that nothing else is really comparable.
What does this mean? In an age of moral relativism, instability, and self-gratification, much like the age of the Roman Empire prior to its Christian conversion, I found myself alone and empty after a scarring experience. So, I sought the counsel of philosophy and history – surely, men had answered my questions before! – and I was, after seemingly endless struggles with myself and others, eventually comforted. The Church became vindicated in my heart.
The more I study, the more I am forced to accept Catholicism as the true Faith. The depth and size of it, as well as its impacts on culture, force any serious student to step back and pay at least a bit of attention. It took me a while to overcome my initial ambivalence toward any religion in particular – though I was always appreciative of God and enamored with the subject in general – but once I had crossed the proverbial Tiber, there was no going back.
I was baptized Catholic, and I vaguely recall some crossing with holy water and lighting prayer candles, but I was hardly raised to practice the Faith. In high school, I dug into a box of things from my infancy. I spotted a rosary within it, along with a note saying that it belonged to my great-grandmother. I mentioned it to a Catholic friend, and he gave me some information about it. That set of events started the arduous process of reconciliation.
Later, at the urging of the aforementioned friend, I casually flipped through the writings of the Church Fathers (prominent ancient Christian leaders). I quickly became impressed. I only did this, originally, to assuage my ego. I had made a theological speculation, and he answered me with, “Well, did the early Christians believe that?” I did not know. Anyway, he was right, and I was wrong.
My advice for anyone that wishes to be a Protestant is to avoid the Church Fathers like one would avoid a plague. I once remarked to a professor that introducing the former to the latter is like shaking a baby: it might teach them a lesson, but it also might kill them.
In my search for the Truth (capital ‘T’ intended), I asked a long series of questions.
On the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, I asked: Does God still reveal things to us, or does His message end with the Bible? What would He reveal things through?
The idea that God arbitrarily ended His message with the Bible and deliberately chose to allow confusion over doctrine became untenable to me, especially in light of verses like Deuteronomy 31:6 (He will never leave us) and John 17:11 (He requests Christian unity). The Protestant position on this (Sola Scriptura) then made little sense. How could that idea, unprecedented before the Renaissance and ungrounded in Tradition or common sense, be true? I have found no sensible argument in favor of it.
What would His mouthpiece be, though? His Bride (Mark 2:18-20), the Church, of course! As a wife understands the workings of her husband, so does the Church understand Christ. From there, how is She structured? This is where apostolic succession (the lineage of bishops from the time of the Apostles to the present) comes in. Bishops are given special power (Luke 21:15) – which even Simon Magus knew was handed down (Acts 8:18-19) – after the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6) in their consecration ceremonies. They can trace themselves back to the very beginning of Christianity. All of this “clicked” in my head when I first read these words from St. Ignatius of Antioch: “See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.”
Now, who leads it? This is answered by Matthew 16:18, the famous verse, which helped me grasp that Christ built His Church on Peter (aka Cephas), the faithful “rock” (Greek, Aramaic). It’s a parallel to the story of Eliakim (Isaiah 22:20-22), who represented his king. St. Peter, called by Christ to “feed [His] sheep” (John 21:17), likewise represented his King. Some in the historical-critical movement have, naturally, raised objections to St. Peter’s primacy. But even agnostic Protestant historian John Julius Norwich wrote of the pope, “It seems more likely than not that St. Peter did in fact come to Rome and was martyred there, probably somewhere on the Vatican Hill…[and] there can be little doubt that he was the generally acknowledged leader of Christ’s disciples.” Whenever I doubt, I latch on to this information: the historical basis for the Papacy is rock-solid.
My goal is to increase the powers and jurisdiction of this great entity to the fullest capacity, because I recognize the impact that She has had and can have on the world. Documents like Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae urge respect for the sanctity of life, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno offer economic principles rooted in good morals, and so on. If only humanity would follow the path that the Church has set forth! This temporal aspect, even by itself, is enough to drive me, despite how burdensome this desire can be.
In conclusion, I will leave the reader with a quote from G. K. Chesterton. “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”
For Protestantism to make much sense, the Church must have, at some point, abandoned the truth and become apostate. Otherwise, Protestantism has no license to exist. But when was this “Great Apostasy”? Protestants offer varying opinions, but none of them hold up to scrutiny.
Was it right after the deaths of the Apostles?
A view most supported by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses is that, after the Apostles, the Church quickly fell into apostasy. This would be a massive blow at both God’s promise to guard His Church (Joshua 1:5; Matthew 16:18) and all of the doctrine mentioned hereafter. But if this were true, would not one of the disciples of the Apostles have spoken out? We have writings from many of them, including Pope St. Clement I, St. Barnabas, St. Polycarp, and St. Ignatius of Antioch. None of them mention a “Great Apostasy”. But even if we indulge the other side and admit the possibility that even these men fell away, we still have early documents and creeds (like the Didache) that were probably formulated under the authority of the Apostles. Because Christians continued to be in accord with these extra-Biblical teachings, we know that they must have been in accord with the true Church.
Was it at the time of Constantine?
A semi-popular view is that Constantine corrupted Christianity by encouraging “pagan” elements and demanding a decision from the First Council of Nicaea. This is the view that I come into contact with most often, but it is also the most problematic. If the Church became apostate by 337 (the year of Constantine’s death), then the Biblical canon – which only really started to be compiled by St. Athanasius in 367 – may be wrong: we would have no assurance of its infallibility. Also, on top of that, all later theology would be necessarily nulled.
Was it during the Middle Ages?
The possibility of an apostasy in Medieval times seems far-fetched, too. This theory revolves, primarily, around hatred for some “bad” popes. Rather than focusing on doctrinal issues, proponents of this theory typically resort to character defamation. Many attack the Crusades, which tamed a fanatic Islam, and such. But in this period, literacy rates increased, art flourished, the university system developed, laws were better-codified, and the Bible became more accessible to lay people [1, 2]. The only seemingly objectionable doctrinal development was Pope Boniface VIII’s declaration, “Outside of the Church, there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins”, but even this originates with St. Cyprian! The teaching relates to: 1) the fact that baptism (whether by water, blood, or desire) brings one into the Church (even if done within a Protestant community), because the sacrament was entrusted to Her and She allows anyone with the right intent to perform it, and 2) the importance of conscience and the dangers of apostasy. Nothing worthy of damnation here!
Was it just before the “Reformation”?
The idea of a “restoration” being needed just before the “Reformation” also seems improbable. This common idea is based on the “selling” of indulgences [1, 2, 3] (Martin Luther attacks the practice multiple times in his Ninety-Five Theses), but is mostly due to a misunderstanding. Again, the Protestant understanding usually relies on the assault of characters: people like Johann Tetzel are demonized — perhaps rightfully — for abusing the system. But this abuse was not a doctrinal problem of the Church; rather, it was a disciplinary problem of men. Indulgences simply remove the temporal punishment due for past sin — they are not a “Get out of Hell free” card — and even when they were “sold,” they required some sort of penance. Indulgences only have a salvatory effectiveness (remittance of time in Purgatory) if the recipient is already destined for Heaven. So, it would seem that the fuss is all about nothing.
In conclusion, I see none of these options as likely.
The Church strongly opposes contraception, in keeping with the historical position of Christianity. Openness to procreating life is one of the defining characteristics of marriage, which is primarily what makes homosexual “marriage” impossible. The Church also upholds the life-long commitment that is marriage. Contrast the Church’s beautiful teachings on all of this against the positions of Protestantism — those of Anglicanism, in particular.
Anglicans once agreed with the Church on these subjects, up until the 1930 Lambeth Conference that approved contraception in some cases (which, of course, had a snowball effect). Here’s the 15th resolution from the Conference:
“Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”
There were still some restrictions, obviously, but since then, all practical barriers to contraception have fallen. That decision of that Conference is interesting, especially considering that it stated that “the primary purpose for which marriage exists is the procreation of children” in its 13th resolution and that “the duty of parenthood [is] the glory of married life” in its 14th resolution.
The Episcopal “Church” of the USA (the official American branch of Anglicanism) also now blesses homosexual relationships. (See their liturgy for it here.) The “Church” of England recently announced that it will follow the same route.
But what must be kept in mind is that, in 1991, the ECUSA officially barred homosexual couples from having sexual relations:
“..the 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirms that the teaching of the Episcopal Church is that physical sexual expression is appropriate only within the lifelong monogamous ‘union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind’ ‘intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord’ as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer” [link]
And the 1930 Lambeth Conference addressed the subject, as well:
“[The Conference] reaffirms ‘as our Lord’s principle and standard of marriage a life-long and indissoluble union, for better or worse, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, and calls on all Christian people to maintain and bear witness to this standard.'” [from Resolution 11]
So, if openness to life is not required in marriage (which the acceptance of contraception would seem to indicate), then why are same-sex couples in the ECUSA mandated to practice sexual abstinence? And if it is required, then why are contraception and homosexual relationships now endorsed?
And I must say that I find it laughable (but not at all surprising) that Anglicanism, which was founded by a king that just wanted a few divorces, is so inconsistent on the subject of divorce, too. Its leaders have taught that marriage is to be a “life-long union” (Resolution 114 of the 1958 LC) and “no husband or wife has the right to contemplate even legal separation until every opportunity of reconciliation and forgiveness has been exhausted” (Resolution 116 of the 1958 LC), yet divorce and “remarriage” are now totally accepted.
The Anglican positions on marriage and sexuality are nonsensical. Would not God’s true Church be more consistent? If Anglicans really want to “secure a better education for the clergy in moral theology” (Resolution 12 of the 1930 LC), then they should tell them to become Catholic.
“For as man, disobeying, drew death upon himself; so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption.” – St. Theophilus of Antioch, to Autolycus (Book 2, Chapter 27) [link]
Are we still under a Law? Yes. However, we are not under the Mosaic one.
The Mosaic Law worked for a while, but ceased to be the best option after the “time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:10). At this time, Christ came to redeem humanity (Hebrews 9:15) and to universalize the Law and open it up to the Gentiles (Acts 28:28, Romans 11:11), which He could have done within Judaism if the Jewish leaders had not rejected Him (He is “the stone which the builders rejected” – Mark 12:10). Due to His work, we are now under “a better covenant” (Hebrews 8:6).
None of this means that we are now apart from a Law.
Christ commanded us to “treat people the same way [we] want them to treat [us], for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). He said to do something, and then gave as His reason that it is the intent of the Law. He also positively referenced the Law in Luke 10:25-28. A lawyer asked what is required to “inherit eternal life,” and Christ asked the man to look to the Law. The lawyer said that the Law commands us to “love [Him] with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] strength, and with all [our] mind; and [our] neighbor as [ourself].” Christ replied, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
In Mark 10, a wealthy man asks Christ what is required to reach Heaven, and Christ cites the Ten Commandments (v. 17-19). The man says that he already observes them, but Christ corrects him and cleverly makes the point that the man must practice charity, which the man, unfortunately, refuses (v. 20-22). Christ was not adding anything new to the Law, but was getting at the intent of it — charity was already commanded in the Old Testament (Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 21:13, Sirach 29:8-13)!
Paul realized that, because a man “hung on a tree” (here, “tree” would equal a wooden cross) is cursed according to the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 21:22-23) and Christ most certainly did not deserve to be cursed, at least some parts of it are no longer binding. Christ both took upon Himself the penalties for sins committed under the Mosaic Law and opened “the blessing of Abraham” and “the promise of the Spirit” up to the Gentiles (Galatians 3:13-14).
Paul did not, however, reject the necessity of good works. When Paul denounces “works of the Law,” he is referring to things such as ritual circumcision. Passages like Romans 3:27-30 and Galatians 3:27-29, which are surrounded by statements that seem to advocate “faith alone,” are key to understanding Paul’s thoughts. Paul placed emphasis on the facts that Jews and Gentiles 1) serve the same God, 2) share a common heritage, and 3) are judged by the same general standards — we are all “one in Christ Jesus”. That is partially why he so strongly insisted on the universality of Christ, the importance of faith, and the worthlessness of divisive cultural practices (e.g. circumcision).
Does the existence of a Law always “nullify the grace of God” or mean that “Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:21)? Absolutely not. First, it makes His grace remarkably plain. If He did not provide us with a path to redemption and salvation, then His justice would demand our damnation. To provide us with a Law is merciful of Him. Second, it is still only through Christ that anyone can attain salvation. “[N]o one comes to the Father but through [Him]” (John 14:6).
Truly, “what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19) and “unless [our] righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, [we] will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
This all undermines the idea that we are not bound by a Law. The Law will not fail (Matthew 5:18, Luke 16:17). We are still under a Law, minus Mosaic cultural practices. “[H]e who does the will of [God]” will reach Heaven (Matthew 7:21), and God will say, “Depart from me,” to those who “practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” – Romans 3:31
(All verses are from the NASB translation, except for the passage from Sirach, which is from the RSV translation.)