Catholicism's Confusing Salvation

When a Christian has questions concerning his faith, he turns to the Bible, the inspired Word of God, and seeks answers. Guided by the indwelling Holy Spirit – the same Holy Spirit Rome claims guides the membership of her Magisterium and protects her from doctrinal error – the diligent believer will discover God’s truth. The Scriptures reveal those things necessary for salvation and are the sole infallible rule of faith.

How much more difficult for the Roman Catholic faithful, who must seek guidance and answers from a multitude of sources grouped under three general headings:

[The object of faith]. Further, by divine and Catholic faith, all those things must be believed which are contained in the written word of God and in tradition, and those which are proposed by the Church, either in a solemn pronouncement or in her ordinary and universal teaching power, to be believed as divinely revealed.” (Pius IX, Dei Filius, Chap. 3, 1st Vatican Council, Session III, April 24, 1870 [Denzinger 1792])

What are these truths, these dogma, that are divinely revealed and why is it necessary that Catholics assent to all of them? One theologian explains:

“So a dogma is a truth revealed by God (divine faith), and proposed as such by the Magisterium of the Church as necessary for belief (Catholic faith). It is binding on all of the faithful. Hence, our affirmation of and belief in dogmas of the Faith as necessary for salvation. To deny one dogma of the Church is to deny the authority of God who revealed it. Our Lord Jesus declared to His chosen representatives: “He who hears you hears me; he who rejects you rejects me.” (Lk. 10:10). To deny the very authority of God is to deny God Himself; and no one can be saved, that is, no one can enter Heaven, who denies God. This is why our affirmation of and belief in any and every dogma is necessary for salvation.” (Adam S. Miller, The Final Word, Tower of David Publications:Gaithersburg (1997), p. 1)

How can Catholics know what they are to believe? Sure, they can turn to the Bible, but in this they risk being guided by teachings in the many non-canonical books mingled with inspired writings in the Catholic version of the Bible. There is no easily-accessible compilation of those traditions that every Catholic is required to believe. I suppose the closest thing to such a collection might be Jacques Pierre Migne’s Patrologiae cursus completus. Series graeca (161 volumes in Greek) and Patrologiae cursus completus. Series latina (221 volumes in Latin). Then there are the Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum (88 volumes in Latin) and The Catholic Edition of the Early Church Fathers (some 20,000 pages and 50,000 notes). These collections contain thousands of documents written by Church fathers and others, including what might be considered official RCC sources. But how can one be assured, even if he is able to read and understand all these hundreds of books, that they contain every tradition he is required to believe?

Then there is the seemingly insurmountable problem of keeping up with the output of the Magisterium, whether in solemn pronouncement or in her “ordinary and universal teaching power.” Discovering and keeping up with solemn pronouncements is difficult enough – few Catholic apologists that I am aware of seem to agree on the number of such dogmatic pronouncements – but how does one stay abreast of the day-by-day teachings of the ordinary Magisterium?

At this point, it might be well to define just what the ordinary Magisterium is and how it functions:

“…The ordinary magisterium is continually exercised by the Church especially in her universal practices connected with faith and morals, in the unanimous consent of the Fathers and theologians, in the decisions of the Roman Congregations concerning faith and morals, in the common sense of the Faithful, and various historical documents, in which the faith is declared. All of these are founts of a teaching which as a whole is infallible. They have to be studied separately to determine how far and in what conditions each of them is an infallible source of truth.” (Donald Attwater, Ed., A Catholic Dictionary, The MacMillan Company:New York (1942), p. 319; w/Nihil Obstat and Imprimitur)

Discovering all the dogmatic definitions issued by the Roman Catholic Church is difficult but there are books available that can help the seeker. I have found Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma and Henry Denzinger’s The Sources of Catholic Dogma to be particularly useful in this respect. I am not aware of any definitive collection of those traditions to which Catholic faithful are required to assent by faith and so can only surmise that their discovery must involve reading thousands of pages of Catholic source documents.

The difficulties involved in determining the content of Catholic dogma and traditions that are binding on members of that cult are quite formidable but are as nothing when compared to the near impossibility of identifying those teachings of the ordinary Magisterium that require de fide assent. There are a multitude of sources for these infallible teachings and many of them involve ongoing processes. The task is so complex that, according to the above definition, each source must be studied apart from the others “to determine how far and in what conditions each of them is an infallible source of truth.” How in the world is the individual Roman Catholic – and in particular those who lack formal training and/or resources necessary for such a search – to be in conformance to all that Rome teaches and requires?

Not to worry. As in just about everything she demands of those who wear her chains, Rome has provided an escape clause – invincible ignorance.

“The absence of knowledge in one in whom such knowledge could be present is ignorance. In moral and Church law, ignorance affects the imputability of actions, the validity, or the censures to be incurred. Ignorance can be invincible, that is, irremovable. Invincible ignorance does not incur responsibility and does not alter the validity of an otherwise valid act… (Robert C. Broderick, Ed., The Catholic Encyclopedia, Thomas Nelson Publishers:Nashville (1987), p. 284; w/Nihil Obstat and Imprimitur)

I suppose what it all boils down to is that Roman Catholic faithful are required to assent to by faith all the dogma and teachings of the Roman Catholic Magisterium lest they lose their salvation. However, failing to believe what one does not know he must believe releases one from the consequences of not believing. Confusing, isn't it?

All things necessary for salvation are revealed in the Holy Scriptures. No need to spend a lifetime searching for elusive and poorly elaborated dogmas, doctrines, practices and disciplines written in ancient languages and hidden away in dark corners of forgotten libraries. Open the Bible and read the Word of God. The truth is there and truth will set you free.

John 8:31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

John 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

How to be Saved According to the Bible