The Catholic Dogma
The Infallible and Only True Guide to Heaven.
Many years ago a celebrated architect built a magnificent palace. When he had completed the costly edifice he gave it to some friends for their dwelling. But, these soon behaved badly, and became a scandal to the whole neighborhood. People often said: "Why was so splendid a palace erected for such wicked wretches?" At last the king arrived and took possession of the palace. He pardoned the servants and tried to make them good again. Then the people said: "Now we understand why this magnificent palace was built; it was for the king."
The architect in this parable is God the Father. He built a magnificent palace - the world. He put into it his friends - Adam and Eve. They soon behaved badly; and the angels asked, "Why was so splendid a palace - the world - created for these wicked people?"
At last the King, Jesus Christ, arrived. He pardoned the servants and tried to make them good again, and the angels exclaimed : "Now we understand why this great palace - the world - was made; it was for Jesus Christ, the King of the world."
God decreed from all eternity to create the world as a dwelling-place for men, where, by a holy life, they should gain an eternal reward. He foresaw from all eternity that men would not live up to the end of their creation. God would then have been frustrated in his design, had he not decreed from all eternity the Incarnation for the redemption of the human race. It was, therefore, principally for the sake of the God-Man that the world was created. He was to come for the justification and glorification of man.
Hence St. Thomas Aquinas says: Ordo naturae creatus est et institutus propter ordinem gratiae.
The principal end of the creation of the universe is, first, Jesus Christ, and, secondly, that the elect may receive here below the grace of God through Christ. Although it is true that the world existed before the Son of God became man, nevertheless, in the plan of creation and redemption, Jesus Christ is prior to the world. On this account St. Paul calls Jesus Christ the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that, in all things, he may hold the primacy: because in him it hath pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell, and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of the cross, both as to the things on earth, and the things that are in heaven. (Coloss. i. 18-20.)
There is, therefore, a certain intimate union between the creation of the world and the nativity of Christ. God did not wish that Christ should be born except in this world; and again, he did not wish that this world should exist without Jesus Christ. Nay, it was chiefly for his sake, as we have said, that God created the world and for his sake has preserved it and shall continue to preserve it to the end of time.
God had decreed to institute through him the order of grace, that is, the order of the justification and glorification of the elect.
As the artist produces his work according to his conception and knowledge, so, also, God created man to his own image, which is his Son, his eternal Wisdom, the prototype of all things. Now, when a work of art is deteriorated by time or accident, it is restored by the skilful hand of the artist to its original state; so, in like manner, the image of God in man being disfigured in Adam, its source, the Son of God became man to repair his image. "As the children are partakers of flesh and blood, so Jesus also made himself partaker of the same: wherefore it behooves him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful High Priest before God, and be a propitiation for the sins of the people." (Heb. ii. 14, 17.) Thus we receive our sonship or adoption of children of God from him who is the Son of God by his nature. "And if sons, heirs also of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." (Rom. viii. 17.)
Hence it has always been, from the beginning, absolutely necessary for salvation to know, by divine faith, God as the Creator of heaven and earth and the eternal Rewarder of the good and the wicked, and the Incarnation of the Son of God, and consequently the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity; "For he that cometh to God," says St. Paul, "must believe that he is, and is a rewarder of those who seek him." (Heb. xi. 6.) Upon these words of the great Apostle, Cornelius a Lapide comments as follows:
"The knowledge of God acquired from the contemplation of the world teaches only that God is the Author of the world and of all natural blessings, and that only these natural goods can be obtained and asked of him. But God wishes to be honored and loved by men, not only as the Author of natural goods, but also as the Author of the supernatural and everlasting goods in the world to come; and no one can in any other way come to him and to his friendship, please him, and be acceptable to him. Hence true, divine faith is necessary, because it is only by the light of divine faith that we know God, not only as the Author of nature, but also as the Author of grace and eternal glory; and therefore the Apostle says that to know that there is a God, who rewards the good and punishes the wicked, is to know him as such, not only from natural knowledge, and belief, but also from supernatural knowledge and divine faith.
"But if St. Paul speaks here only of these two great truths, it does by no means follow, that he wishes to teach that the supernatural knowledge of these two truths only and divine faith in them are sufficient to obtain justification, that is, to obtain the grace to become the children of God; but they are necessary in order to be greatly animated with hope in undergoing hard labors and struggles for the sake of virtue. However, to obtain the grace of justification, we must also believe other supernatural truths, especially the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ and that of the Moat Holy Trinity." (Comm. in Ep. ad Heb., ix. 6.)
"Some theologians," says St. Alphonsus, "hold that the belief of the two other articles - the Incarnation of the Son of God, and the Trinity of Persons - is strictly commanded but not necessary, as a means without which salvation is impossible; so that a person inculpably ignorant of them may be saved. But according to the more common and truer opinion, the explicit belief of these articles is necessary as a means without which no adult can be saved." (First Command. No. 8.) According to St. Augustine (De Praedest. Sanctorum C. 15.) and other Theologians, the predestination, election, and Incarnation of Christ alone were owing, not to the foreseen merit of any one, not even to that of Christ himself, but only to the good pleasure of God. However, the predestination of all men in general, or the election of some in preference to others, is all owing to the merit of Christ, on account of which God has called all men to life everlasting and gives them sufficient grace to obtain it, if they make a proper use of his grace, especially that of prayer.
"That faith," says the same great Doctor of the Church , "is sound, by which we believe that neither any adult nor infant could be delivered from sin and the death of the soul, except by Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and man." ( Ep. 190, olim 157, parum a principio.) Hence St Thomas says: Almighty God decreed from all eternity the mystery of the Incarnation, in order that men might obtain salvation through Christ. It was therefore necessary at all times, that this mystery of the Incarnation should, in some manner, be explicitly believed. Undoubtedly, that means is necessarily a truth of faith, by which man obtains salvation. Now men obtain salvation by the mystery of the Incarnation and Passion of Christ; for it is said in the Holy Scripture: "There is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved." (Acts, iv. 10.) Hence it was necessary at all times that the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ should be believed by all men in some manner (aliqualiter, either implicitly or explicitly), however, in a different way, according to the circumstances, of times and persons.
Before the fall, man believed explicitly the Incarnation of Christ. Ante statum peccati homo habuit explicitam fidem de Christi incarnatione, secundum quod ordinabatur ad consummationem gloriae, non autem secundum quod ordinabatur ad liberationem a peccato per passionem et resurrectionem, quia homo non fuit praescius peccati futuri. But that he had the knowledge of Christ’s Incarnation seems to follow from his words: "Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife." (Gen. 11. 24) And St. Paul calls this a great sacrament in Christ and in the Church; (Eph. v. 32.) and therefore it cannot be believed that the first man was ignorant of this sacrament.
After the fall of man, the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ was explicitly believed, that is, not only, the Incarnation itself, but also the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, by which mankind is delivered from sin and death; for otherwise they could not have prefigured Christ's Passion by certain sacrifices offered as well before as also after the Written Law, the meaning of which sacrifices was well known to those whose duty it was to teach the religion of God; but as to the rest of the people, who believed that those sacrifices were ordained by God to foreshadow Christ to come, they had thus implicit faith in Christ.
As the mystery of the Incarnation was believed from the beginning, so, also, was it necessary to believe the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity; for the mystery of the Incarnation cannot be explicitly believed without faith in the Most Holy Trinity, because the mystery of the Incarnation teaches that the Son of God took to himself a human body and soul by the power of the Holy Ghost. Hence, as the mystery of the Incarnation was explicitly believed by the teachers of religion, and implicitly by the rest of the people, so, also, was the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity explicitly believed by the teachers of religion and implicitly by the rest of the people. But in the New Law it must be explicitly believed by all." (De Fide, Q ii., art. vii. et viii.)
God revealed these great truths of salvation to our first parents immediately after the fall. He preserved the knowledge of them through the holy patriarchs and prophets who, in clear language, foretold that the Redeemer would come, and "be a priest upon his throne" (Zach. vi. 13.), "a priest according to the order of Melchisedech," (Ps. cix. 4.), and that he himself would be the victim offered up for the sins of mankind.
From these great, fundamental truths of religion we easily understand why St. Paul wrote to the Hebrews: "Jesus Christ yesterday, and to-day, and the same forever" (Heb. xiii. 8.), "through whom it hath well pleased the Father to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of the cross, both as to the things on earth and the things that are in heaven." (Coloss. i. 20.)
The great apostle means to say: O Hebrews, Jesus Christ, the God-Man and High Priests, was yesterday, that is, he was in the time before you from the beginning. Jesus was the victim and priest before the Law, not in person, but in figure. He was the victim in figure in the lamb and other animals which priests and patriarchs offered in sacrifices. The faithful worshippers saw Christ in those sacrifices either explicitly or implicitly; and they believed in him. They believed that he would come and redeem the world. By this spiritual knowledge they guided their lives: Thus their sins were forgiven both as to their guilt and their punishment. The sacrifice of Abel was acceptable to God, because in the lamb which he sacrificed he saw not merely the lamb, but also a better victim - that is, the Saviour, and he believed in him, and therefore God had regard to Abel and his offering; and "God the Father," says St. Augustine, " reconciles to himself, through Christ, the things on earth, and the things in heaven, by offering pardon to all men, on account of Christ, and by giving those who make themselves worthy of it the seats of glory which the fallen angels have lost." (See Cornel. a Lap., Epist. ad Ephes., c. i., from v. 1-10.)
We also learn from Christ and his Church, that the explicit faith in the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and of the Incarnation of the Son of God is also required as a necessary means of salvation.
"This is life everlasting," says our Saviour, "that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent; " (John, xvii. 3.), for, says he, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life," that lead man to the Father. Hence "no man cometh to the Father but by me." John, xiv.6.)
But if a man act according to the dictates of his conscience, and follow exactly the light of reason which God has implanted in him for his guide, is that not sufficient to bring him to salvation?
"This is, indeed," says Bishop Hay, "a specious proposition; but a fallacy lurks under it. When man was created, his reason was then an enlightened reason. Illuminated by the grace of original righteousness, with which his soul was adorned, reason and conscience were safe guides to conduct him in the way of salvation. But by sin this light was miserably darkened, and his reason clouded by ignorance and error. It was not, indeed, entirely extinguished; it still clearly teaches him many great truths, but it is at present so influenced by pride, passion, prejudice, and other such corrupt motives, that in many instances it serves only to confirm him in error, by giving an appearance of reason to the suggestions of self-love and passion. This is too commonly the case, even in natural things; but in the supernatural, in things relating to God and eternity, our reason, if left to itself, is miserably blind. To remedy this, God has given us the light of faith as a sure and safe guide to conduct us to salvation, appointing his holy Church the guardian and depository of this heavenly light; consequently, though a man may pretend to act according to reason and conscience, and even flatter himself that he does so, yet reason and conscience, if not enlightened and guided by true faith, can never bring him to salvation.
"Nothing can be more striking than the words of Holy Scripture on this subject. ‘There is a way,' says the wise man, ‘that seemeth right to a man, but the ends thereof lead to death.' (Prov. xiv. 10.) What can be more plain than this, to show that a man may act according to what he thinks the light of reason and conscience, persuaded he is doing right, and yet, in fact, he is only running on in the way to perdition! And dot not all those who are seduced by false prophets, and false teachers, think they are in the right way? Is it not under the pretext of acting according to conscience that they are seduced? and yet the mouth of truth itself has declared, that 'if the blind lead the blind; both shall fall into the pit.' (Mat. xv. 14.) In order to show us to what excess of wickedness man may go under the pretence of following his conscience, the same Eternal Truth says to his apostles, ' the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doth God a service;' (John xvi. 2.) but observe what he adds, - 'And these things will they do because they have not known the Father nor me.' (Ib. 3.) Which shows that, if one has not the true knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ, which can be obtained only through true faith in the Church, there is no enormity of which he is not capable while thinking he is acting according to reason and conscience. Had we only the light of reason to direct us, we would be justified in following it; but as God has given us an external guide in his holy Church, to assist and correct our blinded reason by the light of faith; our reason alone, unassisted by this guide, can never be sufficient for salvation.
"Nothing will set this in a clearer light than a few examples. Conscience tells a heathen that it is not only lawful, but a duty, to worship and offer sacrifice to idols, the work of men's hands. Will his doing so, according to his conscience, save him? or will these sets of idolatry be innocent or agreeable in the sight of God, because they are performed according to conscience? ' The idol that is made by hands is cursed, as well as he that made it; . . . for that which is made, together with him that made it, shall suffer torments.' (Wis. xiv. 8, 10.) Also, ‘He that sacrificeth to gods shall be put to death, save only to the Lord.' (Exod. xxii. 20.) In like manner, a Jew's conscience tells him that he may lawfully and meritoriously blaspheme Jesus Christ, and approve the conduct of his forefathers in putting him to death upon a tree. Will such blasphemy save him, because it is according to the dictates of his conscience? The Holy Ghost, by the mouth of St. Paul, says, 'If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema,' that is, 'accursed.’ (I. Cor. xvi. 22.) A Mahometan is taught by his conscience that it would be a crime to believe in Jesus Christ, and not believe in Mahomet; will this impious conscience save him? The Scripture assures us that 'there is no other name given to men under heaven by which we can be saved,' but the name of Jesus only; and ‘he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remaineth on him.’ All the various sects which have been separated from the true Church, in every age, have uniformly calumniated and slandered her, speaking evil of the truth professed by her, believing in their conscience that this was not only lawful, but highly meritorious. Will calumnies and slanders against the Church of Jesus Christ save them because of their approving conscience? The Word of God declares, ‘That the nation and the kingdom that will not serve her shall perish;' and ‘there shall be lying teachers who shall bring in damnable heresies, bringing upon themselves swift destruction, . . . through whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.' (II. Pet. ii. 1.) In all these, and similar cases, their conscience is their greatest crime, and shows to what a height of impiety conscience and reason can lead us, when under the influence of pride, passion, prejudice, and self-love. Conscience and reason, therefore, can never be safe guides to salvation, unless directed by the sacred light of revealed truth."
"An effect," says St. Thomas, "is never greater than its cause, nor any act more efficacious than the active power which produces it, wherefore the enjoyment of eternal beatitude is not within the power of our natural faculties. So, man, left to his own powers, can only produce acts conformable to his nature and existence, such as to acquire art and science, to labor in any employment, and to enjoy private and social happiness, but he can never come to God and possess him without supernatural assistance. It is useless to adjust the strings of a harp or lyre; they remain silent until they are put in motion by the hand of a musician. A vessel is rigged out with its masts, cables, and sails, and ready for sailing, but wants a fair breeze to launch it into the deep. In like manner, people, to be saved, want the powerful hand of God to direct their course to another world, to assist and to enlighten them in their pilgrimage. Hence it is evident that the first step towards God and salvation is supernatural knowledge of God and divine faith in the four great truths of salvation as a necessary preparatory means to obtain the grace of justification; that neither invincible ignorance of the necessary truths of salvation, nor the mere knowledge of these truths can be means to convey sanctifying grace to the soul: To the knowledge of those truths must be joined supernatural divine faith in them, confident hope in the Redeemer, and perfect charity, which includes perfect sorrow for sin and the implicit desire to comply with God's will in all that he requires of the soul, to be saved.
These dispositions of the soul are the effects of the grace of God, and not of anything else whatsoever; and the infusion of sanctifying grace into the soul that is thus prepared is the gratuitous gift granted by the infinite mercy of God on account of the merits of the Redeemer.
St. Thomas asks the question: Did Jesus Christ, when he descended into Limbo, deliver the souls of children who died in original sin? To understand this, we must remember a certain principle and doctrine, namely: There is no salvation possible for any one without being united to Jesus Christ crucified. Hence the great Apostle St. Paul says: "It is Jesus Christ whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation through faith in his blood." (Rom. iii. 25.) Now, those children were not united to Christ by their own faith because they had not the use of reason, which is the foundation of faith; nor were they united to Christ by the faith of their parents, because the faith of their parents was not sufficient for the salvation of their children; nor were those children united to Christ by means of a sacrament, because there was no sacrament under the Old Law which had of itself the virtue of conferring either grace or justification.
Besides, life eternal is granted only to those who are in the state of sanctifying grace. "The grace of God is life everlasting in Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom, vi. 23.) All those, therefore, who died at any age without perfect charity and faith in the Redeemer to come, as well as those who die without the sacrament of spiritual generation after the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, are not purified from the mortal stain of original sin, and are, consequently, excluded from the kingdom of eternal glory. (De Incarn., Q. lii., art. vii.)
All this is also certain from what the Council of Trent has defined (Sess. 6. can. 3.) namely, that, without supernatural knowledge and faith, it is impossible to fulfil the Law of God, to be justified and become acceptable to him. (See Cornel. a Lap., Comment. in Ep. ad Rom., c. ii.)
Hence the foot-note, found on page 230 in Catholic Belief is not correct, namely: "A believer in one God who, without any fault on his part, does not know and believe that in God there are three divine Persons, is, notwithstanding, in a state of salvation, according to the opinion of most Catholic theologians."
No good theologian ever made such an assertion. All good theologians attribute justification neither to inculpable ignorance of, nor even to the knowledge of, the necessary truths of salvation; they attribute it to the infinite mercy of God, who unites himself with the soul only when it is prepared by the supernatural acts of divine faith, hope, and charity.
Therefore, only a theologian like "Sir Oracle" might easily endorse the above assertion.
"The three theological virtues," says St. Thomas, "incline and prepare man for supernatural happiness. Reason receives supernatural lights by faith; which gives us a foresight of eternal glory; the will tends by hope towards it as possible and attainable; and charity unites us to God, the eternal source of all joy and happiness."
"It is impossible" says O. A. Brownson, "to make Catholics and non-Catholics understand this great truth and conceive a correct idea of the spirit and essence of religion, unless it is clearly shown that our religion is based on divine revelation, and placed in the guardianship of a body of men divinely commissioned to teach the world, authoritatively and infallibly, all its sacred and immutable truths,--truths which all men are consequently bound in conscience to receive without hesitation. This is the fixed standard of Catholic belief; it is the basis upon which all dogmas rest. If this all-important truth be well understood by Catholics, the snares to entrap them may be very cunningly laid yet they will not be easily caught in the meshes."
Nor can a discussion of doctrinal points be of any great use to one who is not thoroughly convinced of the divine authority of the Church: This being once accepted, everything else follows logically, as a matter of course. Hence no one should be admitted to the one fold of Christ who does not firmly hold and declare that the Roman Catholic Church, ruled by the successors of St. Peter, is God's whole and sole appointed teacher of the Gospel on earth. However familiar persons may be with our doctrines, or however much they may believe our dogmas, without holding this, the fundamental truth of Catholic faith, they should not be allowed to join the Church. The moment it is well understood, and firmly believed, there need be but little delay about the abjuration.
The Church herself teaches us this lesson in her Profession of Faith for Converts and in her Ritual.
In the profession of faith which the Church requires converts to make before they are received into the Church, the very first article of faith reads as follows: "I, N. N., having before my eyes the holy Gospels which I touch with my hand, and knowing that no one can be saved without that faith which the holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church holds, believes, and teaches, against which I grieve that I have greatly erred," etc.
When a child is taken to church for baptism, the first question addressed to the child is: "What dost thou ask of the Church of God?" and the answer is: "Faith." What we must believe, etc., is learned from the Catholic Church alone. Hence it is that a Catholic, well instructed, when asked, "Why do you believe this this?" answers: "Because the Church, our Mother, believes and teaches this." And "from whom did your Mother learn this?" "From God."
The Church, therefore, is not one religious body among many; it is the only religious body, inherent in the divine order of creation and representing its as we said above.
What is here especially insisted upon is that, in treating of the Church, the reasons why salvation outside of her is impossible should be plainly stated, especially in our age, in which secret societies are doing all they can to undermine the divine teaching authority of the Church. The lesson, therefore, on the Church must be plain, and solid, and deeply impressed upon all who wish to be saved; all must learn and understand that only the Catholic Church is the Teacher from God, and the reasons why salvation out of her is impossible.
This doctrine is clearly expressed in the following words of the Athanasian Creed: "He, therefore, who wishes to be saved, must thus think of the Trinity," that is, he must believe the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as explained in this Creed. "Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence St. Peter says: "Be it known to you, that there is no salvation in any other name than that of Jesus Christ; for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved." (Acts, iv. 10, 10). "Thus," says St. Alphonsus, " there is no hope of salvation except in the merits of Jesus Christ. Hence St. Thomas and all theologians conclude that, since the promulgation of the Gospel, it is necessary, not only as a matter of precept, but also as a means of salvation (necessitate medii, without which no adult can be saved), to believe explicitly that we can be saved only through our Redeemer." (Reflections on the Passion of Jesus Christ, Chapt. I., No. 19). The explicit belief in the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and of the Incarnation of the Son of God is therefore of the greatest importance. This belief teaches the origin of the world, its creation by God the Father; it teaches us the supernatural end of man, his fall, and the redemption of mankind by God the Son; it teaches the sanctification of souls by the gifts of the Holy Ghost.
The work which the Redeemer began in his Incarnation and completed in his Passion was not yet firmly established and secured; his Kingdom was not to come all at once, nor his dominion to be immediately established on the ruins of the empire of evil. The number of the elect must be gathered from all nations and generations of men. The merits of his Passion must be applied to the souls he has redeemed through all succeeding ages. This great mission is carried on through his Church, which, at Pentecost, came forth in the power of the Holy Spirit. Through her our Lord continues to act in the accomplishment of his designs.
"The Church, therefore," as Dr. O. A. Brownson, says, "is inherent in the divine order of creation and grace. God decreed her establishment and indestructibility when he decreed the order of creation and grace. Whatever is incompatible with her teaching, is incompatible with her divine order, aye, with the Divine Being Himself. As without God there is nothing, so without the Church, or outside of her, there is no religion, no spiritual life. All the pretended religions outside of her are shams, at best have no basis, stand on nothing and are nothing, and can give no life or support to the soul, but leave it out of the divine order to drop it into hell.
"Catholics need to know this, and to be armed with principles and arguments that enable them to prove it against all gainsayers, or, at least, to enable them to defend themselves, and to be always on their guard against Protestant contamination and sophistry."