Fullness of the Truth Pt. 4.2: The Authority of the Catholic Church

by Sep 17, 20200 comments

Link to the entire series of posts

Why do we need a Papacy, isn’t the Bible enough?


14. Papal Primacy: A unified Church governing body is needed or the church fractures endlessly

Jesus left us a living authority. There needs to be a living authority or there will be endless division as people argue over what scriptures mean. History has proven as much as there has been endless division of churches since the Reformation.

Are there not those who say that unity between the separated Churches and the Catholic Church would be more easily achieved if the primacy of the Roman pontiff were done away with? We beg our separated brothers to consider the groundlessness of this opinion. Take away the sovereign Pontiff and the Catholic Church would no longer be catholic. Moreover, without the supreme, effective, and authoritative pastoral office of Peter the unity of Christ’s Church would collapse. It would be vain to look for other principles of unity in place of the true one established by Christ Himself. As St. Jerome rightly observed: “There would be as many schisms in the Church as there are priests.”1

Here is a modern example of Dr. William Lane Craig (whom I greatly admire as an apologist and philosopher) holding to a position condemned by the Third Council of Constantinople, Monotheletism.2 Like the Catholic Church, there are many other Protestants, including the very well known apologist/theologian Dr. Norman Geisler, that hold this view of monotheletism is heresy too.

No earnest Christian wants to be considered a heretic. But we Protestants recognize Scripture alone as our ultimate rule of faith (the Reformation principle of sola scriptura). Therefore, we bring even the statements of Ecumenical Councils before the bar of Scripture. While one disagrees with the promulgations of an Ecumenical Council only with great hesitancy, nonetheless, since we do not regard these as invested with divine authority, we are open to the possibility that they have erred in places. It seems to me that in condemning Monotheletism as incompatible with Christian belief the Church did overstep its bounds.3

— William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig

If we truly don’t have an ultimate living magisterial authority, and we can’t trust the councils to issue infallible dogmatic declarations, we will always have endless divisions and schisms. What one person sees as solid doctrine is another person’s heresy.

I think it is important to point out that the Papal office isn’t seen in Catholicism as the supreme dictator over the church, rather, the Pope is the servant of servants.

We would add that this cardinal principle of holy Church is not a supremacy of spiritual pride and a desire to dominate mankind, but a primacy of service, ministration, and love. It is no vapid rhetoric which confers on Christ’s vicar the title: “Servant of the servants of God.”4

14.1 Evidence of Papal primacy in the early Church to help settle theological disputes

The primacy of the Pope in Rome over the other bishops to help settle disputes and protect the church from falling into error can be seen in many places in the early church. Here is one example directly related to the monothelite controversy just discussed above. (It is interesting how history has a way of repeating itself.)

Here, Pope Leo the Great (400-461) writes to the Council of Ephesus in 449 asserting his authority as the successor of Peter to help settle this dispute over the monothelite controversy.

“The devout faith of our most clement prince, knowing that it especially concerns his glory to prevent any seed of error from springing up within the Catholic Church, has paid such deference to the Divine institutions as to apply to the authority of the Apostolic See for a proper settlement: as if he wished it to be declared by the most blessed Peter himself what was praised in his confession [Mat. 16:17-18]”.

— Pope St. Leo the Great (Letter 33)

And Here is another example in a response letter from members of the 3rd Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (680-681) to Pope Agatho acknowledging his headship of the universal church.

“Serious illnesses call for greater helps, as you know, most blessed [father]; and therefore Christ our true God, who is the creator and governing power of all things, gave a wise physician, namely your God-honoured sanctity, to drive away by force the contagion of heretical pestilence by the remedies of orthodoxy, and to give the strength of health to the members of the church. Therefore to you, as to the bishop of the first see of the Universal Church, we leave what must be done, since you willingly take for your standing ground the firm rock of the faith, as we know from having read your true confession in the letter sent by your fatherly beatitude to the most pious emperor: and we acknowledge that this letter was divinely written (perscriptas) as by the Chief of the Apostles, and through it we have cast out the heretical sect of many errors which had recently sprung up, having been urged to making a decree by Constantine who divinely reigns, and wields a most clement sceptre. And by his help we have overthrown the error of impiety, having as it were laid siege to the nefarious doctrine of the heretics.

— Letter of the Council to St. Agatho from 3rd Council of Constantinople

Now, of course, the Papal office we see today has developed substantially from the initial seeds that Jesus planted in the Church when he made Peter the head of the disciples (Mat. 16:18-19, Luke 22:24-32, and John 21:15-19). This is in large part due to the size and needs of the modern Church which are far different from the needs of the early Church. For more on the idea of how doctrine develops over time, one can do no better than to read St. John Henry Newman’s famous book An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. The important part is that the seeds of the authority of the papacy were planted by Jesus and we see it unfurl throughout the history of church, always guided by the Holy Spirit. It is far from some second millennium political invention in the Church.

Next, we will explore what gifts were given to the Church and the Pope to help guide and protect the faithful.

The gifts given to the Church to protect believers from theological error and promote ecclesial unity


15. Indefectibility

Martin Luther famously stated that he cannot trust the Church in their declarations of heresy against him, because they have often erred.

Since then your sere Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

–Luther at the Diet of Worms (1521), LW 32:112

Here is another place that I have to disagree with Luther. I also have come to believe that only the Catholic Church has been given the gift of indefectibility, that is a special protection from God to guarantee that the Church will not ever dogmatically teach error on matters of faith or morals.5

When I looked at any particular dogmatic teaching from the Catholic Church, I was always amazed to see that they appear to be correct even when they are taking an unpopular position such as against the Arian Heresy or, in modern contexts, taking their teleological stance against the use of contraception. Luther’s charge now seems a little too sensational and ignores some of the important nuance that goes into what indefectibility means.

While we don’t have time to get into all that nuance here, here are a few key points:

The indefectibility of the Church follows from the nature of the union of Christ with the Church, His Body. Because of this union of Christ with the Church, the Church is indefectible. (cannot err on faith or morals) St. Augustine shows this when he says:

The Church will totter when her foundation totters. But how shall Christ totter? . . . . [A]s long as Christ does not totter, neither shall the Church totter in eternity.47

And in his Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed, St. Augustine writes:

The same is the holy Church, the one Church, the true Church, the catholic Church, fighting against all heresies: fight, it can; be fought down, it cannot. As for heresies, they all went out of it, like unprofitable branches pruned from the vine: but itself abides in its root, in its Vine, in its charity.48

In these quotations we see the indefectibility of the Church grounded in the Church’s ontological union with Christ as His Mystical Body. Because the life of Christ is indefectible, and because the life of the Church is the life of Christ, therefore the Church is indefectible. Those who deny the indefectibility of the Church are denying that this union of Christ with His Church is anything more than extrinsic. They imply that Christ’s Mystical Body can become corrupted such that He may abandon His Body and take on a different body. By their denial of the indefectibility of the Church they imply that Christ can abandon the Bride with which He is “one flesh,”50 and find a different bride. But such claims are contrary to the intimate and ontological union of Christ with His Body, which is also His Bride. In virtue of this union She can be neither defeated nor corrupted nor destroyed, since the risen Christ Himself can neither be defeated nor corrupted nor destroyed, and since His Spirit lives within her as her Soul.51. If a man cannot leave his spouse upon discovering that she is infertile, a fortiori Christ cannot leave His spouse (the Church), were she ever in any time to be infertile.6

–Dr. Bryan Cross

15.1 Infallibility

Related to indefectibility is infallibility, that the Catholic Church was given the authority to make dogmatic declarations when needed on matters of faith and morals. God guarantees the Church will not teach error when it means to exercise its authority in making a binding definition of a teaching for all Christians.

In the final decision on doctrines concerning faith and morals the Church is infallible. (De fide.)

In the definition of Papal Infallibility the Vatican Council implied the infallibility of the Church by declaring: “The Roman Pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra … is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding Faith or Morals.” D 1839.7

— Ludwig Ott

This gift of infallibility was given to the Church as a whole, and the Pope, specifically, when exercising it within specific limits and circumstances.

The doctrine of infallibility, which holds that the Church and the Pope are, in specific and determined circumstances, not able to make a mistake when teaching matters of faith and morals that must be held by all the faithful, has itself been declared to be—insofar as the Pope is concerned—a matter of faith that has been divinely revealed. This definition of faith was proclaimed at the first Council of the Vatican (1869-1870) during the pontificate of Blessed Pius IX (1846-1878).

— Reverend James T. O’Connor, The Gift of Infallibility

For something to be infallible, the church teaches it must be explicitly presented as infalible teaching:

No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident (can. 749 §3).8

Interestingly, many scholars agree that the Papal Bull that excommunicated Martin Luther may not even be infallible, as it isn’t manifestly clear which views of Luther’s were being condemned.9

It is important to note that since infallibility only applies to matters of faith and morals, the claim isn’t that the Church is protected from teaching error on anything and everything. For instance, the Church is not protected from error in scientific matters.

15.1.1 Papal Infallibility

Also, it is important to note that while the Pope has his own unique gift of infallibility apart from the Church, his was given so that he could be the mouthpiece of the Church.  This means the Pope isn’t infallible in everything he says and does as a private person.  In fact, he isn’t even infallible in his normal modes of teaching: interviews, sermons, etc.  The Pope is only infallible when he means to specifically exercise his infallibility in speaking for the entire Church, binding them to a specific teaching on faith and morals.

Gasser first clarifies the word “personal”. Papal infallibility is personal, he says, in the sense that it belongs to the individual who is Bishop of the Roman Church, and not just to the Roman Church in general, as if one could distinguish between the Roman Church and its bishop in this regard. It is not personal, however, if, by that, one means that the Pope receives the gift as a private person, as just one individual among many. The gift pertains to the Pontiff as a public person, i.e., as Bishop of Rome and visible head of the Church, and then only when he is defining a matter of faith or morals for the entire Church. This gift, furthermore, does not flow directly from the Pope’s authority as Pope, for then he would always be exercising the gift, but comes from a special divine assistance given to him when, in act, he is fulfilling his role as supreme teacher in a definitively binding manner.

— Reverend James T. O’Connor, The Gift of Infallibility (Footnote 23)

God alone is absolutely infallible.  God gifts temporary infallibility to the Pope in specific circumstances by preventing the Pope from binding the Church in error when He proclaims a universal teaching that must be held by all the faithful.

It is asked in what sense the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff is absolute. I reply and openly admit: in no sense is pontifical infallibility absolute, because absolute infallibility belongs to God alone, Who is the first and essential truth and Who is never able to deceive or be deceived. All other infallibility, as communicated for a specific purpose, has its limits and its conditions under which it is considered to be present. The same is valid in reference to the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff. For this infallibility is bound by certain limits and conditions.

— Bishop Gasser, The Gift of Infallibility

Since it is God that has guaranteed the Pope will not bind the Church in error (Mat. 16), the Church believes that if the Pope were to try and bind the Church in error, God would somehow intervene to stop him from doing so.

The gift of inerrancy in defining a doctrine of faith or morals is given to the Pope as a public person in the Church and is given for the sake of the preservation of truth in the Church. Even if bad faith or negligence were to be present in a Pope’s efforts to ascertain the truth, divine providence, while holding him accountable, would see to it that a solemn definition would not happen or would be, in fact, inerrant despite the moral lapse of the Pontiff.

— Reverend James T. O’Connor, The Gift of Infallibility (Footnote 28)

I highly recommend the book The Gift of Infallibility by Reverend James T. O’Connor for more on this topic of Papal infallibility.  This book walks through a document by Bishop Gasser that was the official explanation from Vatican I on papal infallibility.  That document from Bp. Gasser, called a “Relatio”, gives much insight to the way the theologians were thinking about the papacy at the Council of Vatican I and responds to many common misunderstandings about the papacy.  This book also has an essay at the end explaining more about how papal infallibility is viewed today.

15.2 Scriptural support for infallibility of the Church

The infallibility of the Church come from ideas found in scripture. We already saw from our discussion of Matthew 16 that the Peter was named the rock, given the keys to bind and loose, and that the gates of hell would not prevail against him. This points toward the idea the Church is built upon Peter and that it cannot fail to protect the faithful in matters pertaining to salvation.

Another scriptural passage that points us towards infallibility is Luke 22:31-32:

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” This special prayer of Christ was for Peter alone in his capacity as head of the Church, as is clear from the text and context; and since we cannot doubt the efficacy of Christ’s prayer, it followed that to St. Peter and his successors the office was personally committed of authoritatively confirming the brethren — other bishops, and believers generally — in the faith; and this implies infallibility.10

There is also scriptural proof that the Church as a whole is given the gift of infallibility. See Matthew 28:18-20; Matthew 16:18; John 14, 15, and 16; I Timothy 3:14-15; and Acts 15:28 for some particular examples.11

15.3 Indefectibility and infallibility of Catholic Church do not apply to everything.

The charisms of indefectibility and infallibility have a specific focus and don’t mean that there won’t be debates, heretics, or even Popes within the Church that will be in error on some things. These charisms do guarantee that the Pope and the Magisterium will never fall into heresy on matters of faith and morals, though.

In saying that the Church is indefectible we assert both her imperishableness, that is, her constant duration to the end of the world, and the essential immutability of her teaching, her constitution and her liturgy. This does not exclude the decay of individual “churches” (i.e., parts of the Church) and accidental changes.

The Church is indefectible, that is, she remains and will remain the Institution of Salvation, founded by Christ, until the end of the world. (Sent. certa.)12

— Ludwig Ott

Not everything the Pope says is infallible. It is only when he teaches something with the intent of exercising his supreme authority and with the intent of defining a doctrine that he is preserved from error.

Consequently, even if the pope, and acting as pope, praises some doctrine, or recommends it to Christians, or even orders that it alone should be taught in theological schools, this act should not necessarily be considered an infallible decree since he may not intend to hand down a definitive decision. (…) For the same reason, namely a lack of intention to hand down a final decision, not all doctrinal decisions which the pope proposes in encyclical letters should be considered definitions. In a word, there must always be present and clearly presented the intention of the pope to hand down a decision which is final and definitive.13

Likewise, not everything that councils say are infallible either. Here are some of the conditions for a council to teach something infallibly:

Certain conditions are necessary for the exercise of infallible teaching authority by the bishops assembled in council, namely: a) the council must be summoned by the Roman Pontiff, or at least with his consent and approval… b) The council must be truly ecumenical by celebration, i.e., the whole body of bishops must be represented. … c) Bishops assembled in a council are infallible only when exercising supreme authority as teachers of faith or morals by a definite and irrevocable decree that a doctrine is revealed, and, therefore, to be accepted by every member of the Church. But since the bishops need not intend such an irrevocable decision at all times [during the Council], it is necessary that an infallible definition be so worded as to indicate clearly its definitive character.14

15.4 There are many levels to Magisterial teaching, each of which has different requirements on the faithful.

This is an important topic. Many Protestants claim that the Catholic Church is not infallible because it has contradicted itself (as we already saw with the famous Luther quote from the Diet of Worms). As discussed above, the Church only claims not to fall into error in teachings that rise to the highest level of teaching authority (dogma) and are on matters of faith and morals. There are other levels to church teaching that require the full assent of believers even though it is technically possible the church could one day change its stance on it. there are also lower-level teachings of the church that do not require the full assent of all believers (e.g. Marian apparitions).

The document Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the ‘Professio Fidei is very helpful in relating 3 important levels to the teaching authority of the catholic church. They are:

1. Dogmas found directly in scripture and tradition defined by the Pope or ecumenical council.

These are teachings which are said to be “formally revealed and, as such…irreformable.”[10] This means teachings in this category are from Scripture or Sacred Tradition and are either solemnly defined by a pope when teaching ex cathedra or are taught definitively by an ecumenical council, or are non-solemnly proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal magisterium. The key is to note that teachings in this paragraph find their source in Scripture and Tradition and the church defines them as revealed by God. As such, they are considered “dogmas” of the Catholic Church.15

Some examples of the first-level of teaching are:

the articles of the creed, the Christological dogmas, the Marian dogmas, Christ’s institution of the sacraments and their efficacy to impart grace, the Real Presence, the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the divine foundation of the Church, the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff, the existence of original sin, the immortality of the human soul, the immediate recompense after death, the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, and the grave immorality of murder.16

2. Dogmas not found directly in scriptures or tradition, but are intimately bound to them in some way and defined by the Pope or ecumenical council.

Second level teachings come from the second concluding paragraph, which states: “I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.”[13] These are also teachings that are irreformable and therefore infallible, yet they are not formally revealed by God, as are first level teachings…They are also teachings that are solemnly defined by a pope when teaching ex cathedra or taught definitively by an ecumenical council or are definitively proposed by the ordinary and universal magisterium. The key to note here is that they are not directly revealed by God through Scripture or Tradition but are so intimately bound with what has been formally revealed that they are necessary to believe. For this reason, they are considered “dogmatic facts” instead of dogmas, per se. Due to their necessity, they are also teachings that may not be revoked. Consequently, teachings in this category are said “to be held definitively.”17

Some example of second-level teachings are:

the legitimacy of the election of a pope, the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints, and Leo XIII’s declaration, in Apostolicae Curae, of the invalidity of Anglican orders; by logical necessity: the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff as it was known before its definition at Vatican I, the moral teachings on the illicitness of prostitution and fornication, and the doctrine of a male-only priesthood.18

3. All teachings on faith and morals that are not defined with the intent of being dogma.

The third proposition of the Professio fidei states: “Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.” To this paragraph belong all those teachings ­ on faith and morals – presented as true or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Such teachings are, however, an authentic expression of the ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff or of the College of Bishops and therefore require religious submission of will and intellect.18 They are set forth in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of revelation, or to recall the conformity of a teaching with the truths of faith, or lastly to warn against ideas incompatible with these truths or against dangerous opinions that can lead to error.19>

This third-level of teachings are things that are not claimed to be infallible and could possibly change. These teachings are still important as they pertain to faith and morals and require religious submission of intellect and will as to the Church’s current teaching. Some examples are:

The text also offers different forms of binding which arise from different levels of magisterial teaching. It states — perhaps for the first time with such clarity — that there are magisterial decisions which cannot be and are not intended to be the last word on the matter as such, but are a substantial anchorage in the problem and are first and foremost an expression of pastoral prudence, a sort of provisional disposition. Their core remains valid but the individual details influenced by the circumstances at the time may need further rectification. In this regard one can refer to the statements of the Popes during the last century on religious freedom as well as the anti-modernistic decisions at the beginning of this century, especially the decisions of the Biblical Commission of that time. As a warning cry against hasty and superficial adaptations they remain fully justified; a person of the stature of Johann Baptist Metz has said, for example, that the antimodernist decisions of the Church rendered a great service in keeping her from sinking into the liberal-bourgeois world. But the details of the determinations of their contents were later superceded once they had carried out their pastoral duty at a particular moment.20

–Pope Benedict XVI

Also worth noting:

It is commonplace for theologians to assign the Church’s teachings on bioethical issues to this category. Certainly this field, with its ever changing object of study, would have us on the “leading edge of developing doctrine,” to use the words of Dr. Germain Grisez.21

Beyond these higher levels of Church teaching are things that are left to theological opinion and are things that people are free to hold to a variety of views on (e.g. different views of predestination: Molinism vs. Thomism).

Like a game of baseball, then, the Church defines the rules for fair play. As long as you stay within the rules, you have the freedom to play the game in a variety of ways. If there is ever a need to make a definite judgement on something, much like an umpire makes a call on a close play, the Church is able to authoritatively make a decision.

15.5 Even (most) Protestants believe in the infallibility of the magisterial teaching of the Church when it comes to the canon of scripture (the list of the books of the Bible) and the ecumenical creeds.

This was discussed somewhat in the section on sola scriptura, so we don’t need to repeat all the specifics here. While Protestants likely reject the idea there was a single visible Church, they do appeal to the magisterial teaching of the universal church in declaring what writings are considered scripture and should be included in the Bible. Similarly, they appeal to this magisterial tradition for the ecumenical creeds.

The Catholic Church teaches that this infallible magisterial authority is not confined to just the list of scriptures and the creeds, but has been given to the Church as a gift to guarantee indefectibility and infallibility on all of the most important matters of faith and morals.

Protestants, of course, have and continue to disagree with the magisterium over what the list of the canon is. They demoted the deuterocanonical books from the status of scripture and eventually took them out of the Bible altogether according to their own judgements. Nonetheless, they need to appeal to the magisterium in some capacity to get any list of scriptures or the creeds, for they are things that are not found in scriptures themselves.

15.6 The indefectibility and infallibility of the Church are a gift from God to His people.

From all this, we can see not everything the Church teaches is guaranteed to be free from error. It is only on matters of faith and morals and things that are declared as dogma through an explicit exercise of offices of authority within the church that are guaranteed to be infallible.

This isn’t to say there will never be disputes over doctrine. There will still be debates within the church. There will still be differing opinions on things as can be seen on the current state of the liturgy in the Church. However, whenever a dispute rises to the level that requires the Church to step in and settle it, we are protected by the Church’s charism of infallibility that she cannot dogmatically define error.

Infallibility is truly a gift from God. We can trust that the Church will not lead us into error on the most important matters of the faith that pertain to our salvation. We can trust that the Church will never bring us outside of the faith. Indefectibility and infallibility of the Church are the promises that Jesus will be with us in the Church and its sacraments to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20) and that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18).

What did the early Church say about the unique claim of authority of the Catholic Church?


16. Early Church Fathers clearly taught apostolic succession and universality of the Catholic Church

When we move from the New Testament into the writings of the early Fathers, we see continuity of this thought of the authority and universality of the Catholic Church into one mystical body of Christ.

16.1 Clement of Rome and and Ignatius teach apostolic succession and the hierarchy of the Church with Bishops and Priests.

We already saw Clement of Rome mentioned in the above section speaking of apostolic succession (1 Clem. 44:1-5). He was writing at the time of the original apostles. If we look at another of the very Early Church Fathers, Ignatius of Antioch, we see he too is speaking of apostolic succession and showing how there is a distinction between Bishops and priests and how this is how the Old Testament priesthood has been transformed into its higher state in the New Kingdom of Jesus.

We see here how Clement doesn’t make a very clear distinction between episkopos (bishop) and presbuteros (priest); he treats them as almost synonymous. By the time of Ignatius of Antioch, some twenty years later, however, the Church had adopted the practice of reserving the term episkopos (supervisor) for the chief presbuters of a metropolitan area, whereas the rest of the clergy retained the title presbuteroi. That is the practice that has continued to this day.

The point of what we are saying is this: the New Testament is clear, when read through Jewish eyes, that the apostles are taking over the roles of the Old Testament priesthood.

The New Testament is also clear that, within their own lifetimes, the apostles appointed other men, called presbuteroi or episkopoi, who shared with them in the governance and the shepherding/pastoring of the Church — in other words, shared with them in the priestly responsibilities.

We even see men appointed by the apostles themselves appointing others to share in this ministry (Titus 1:5). This is the principle of succession — and the writings of the early Fathers who knew the apostles (i.e., Clement and Ignatius) describe this process continuing. So, the apostles were the fountainhead of the New Testament priesthood, and this priesthood was transmitted to the episkopoi and presbuteroi who succeeded them, down to the bishops and priests of today.22

16.2 Saint Ignatius (35-107 A.D.) teaches to not receive communion unless from the Bishop’s authority.

Ignatius lived from around A.D. 35 to 107 and was the third Bishop of Antioch. We see St. Ignatius here speak that no one should do anything connected with the Church without the authority of the Bishop. Further yet, he also says that the only proper Eucharist is one that is administered by the bishop or whom the bishop entrusted this to (priests).

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. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

—St. Ignatius. Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 8

Ignatius also speaks of the necessity of submitting to the authority of the bishop because it is the will of God:

But inasmuch as love suffers me not to be silent in regard to you, I have therefore taken upon me first to exhort you that you would all run together in accordance with the will of God. For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the manifested will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds of the earth, are so by the will of Jesus Christ… Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.

—St. Ignatius. Letter to the Ephesians, Ch 3,5

16.3 Irenaeus (c. 130 — c. 202 AD) teaches apostolic succession.

Here St. Irenaeus points out that the Church could already in his time list the succession of bishops from the Apostles down to his time about 100 years later in 189 A.D. Maintaining apostolic succession was something the early Church took very seriously as does the Catholic Church today.

“It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about”

St. Irenaeus. Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189].

16.4 St. Cyprian of Carthage (200-258 A.D.) teaches papal primacy.

Here Cyprian speaks about the Matthew 16 verse as pointing to Peter being the Rock the Church and how the Chair of Peter is to take primacy over all the apostles.

“I tell you.” he [Jesus] says. “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” … On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were also what Peter was [i.e., Apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the Apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he Is still in the Church?

–St. Cyprian. (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).

Here Cyprian speaks of necessity of bishops being ordained by the Church.

“[T]he Church is one, and as she is one, cannot be both within and without. For if she is with [the heretic] Novatian, she was not with [Pope] Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop [of Rome], Fabian, by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way”

–Cyprian of Carthage. Letters 69[75]:3 [A.D. 253].

16.5 St. Jerome (342-420 A.D.) on need to stay in apostolic Church.

St. Jerome

Here, St. Jerome says we need to remain in the church founded by the Apostles. He notes the devil and heretics quote scripture, so scripture can’t be the sole authority for our religious epistemology (knowledge).

We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.23

–St. Jerome. The Dialogue Against the Luciferians [A.D. 379].

16.6 Augustine (354-430 A.D.) argues for the clear universal authority of the Catholic Church.

We already saw, in the sola scriptura post, that Augustine wouldn’t believe in the gospel without the authority of the Church. Here is some more context to the quote. Augustine appears to be saying that he wouldn’t entertain an interpretation of scripture that favors the Manicheans, for he knows the only proper interpretive authority is the Catholic Church. This, then, is an argument against sola scriptura and in favor of the interpretive authority of the Catholic Church.

But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me….But if you read thence some passage clearly in favor of Manichaeus, I will believe neither them nor you: not them, for they lied to me about you; nor you, for you quote to me that Scripture which I had believed on the authority of those liars. But far be it that I should not believe the gospel; for believing it, I find no way of believing you too. For the names of the apostles, as there recorded,6 do not include the name of Manichaeus. And who the successor of Christ’s betrayer was we read in the Acts of the Apostles;7 which book I must needs believe if I believe the gospel, since both writings alike Catholic authority commends to me. The same book contains the well-known narrative of the calling and apostleship of Paul.8 Read me now, if you can, in the gospel where Manichaeus is called an apostle, or in any other book in which I have professed to believe.”

–St. Augustine. Contra epistolam Manichaei 5, 6: PL 42, 176.

Here, is Augustine states that it is the authority of the apostolic Catholic Church that keeps him in the Church.

“There are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here.24

Other Protestant Disputes on the Authority of the Church


17. Jesus instituted a visible, unified church, not an invisible church.

There are many different takes on what the Church is in Protestant thought. While the original Lutherans seemed to avoid using the term “invisible church”,25 it does also now seem to be commonplace for describing those Christians who are believers in Christ, regardless what denomination they belong to.

“2. We believe that this holy Christian church is a reality, although it is not an external, visible organization. Because ‘man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7), only the Lord knows ‘those who are his’ (2 Timothy 2:19). The members of the holy Christian church are known only to God; we cannot distinguish between true believers and hypocrites. The holy Christian church is therefore invisible and cannot be identified with any one church body or with the total membership of all church bodies….In short, visible churches are those gatherings of people where you might find believers and unbelievers and hypocrites. You can see who belongs to those churches. By contrast, only believers in Christ are part of the invisible church, and because only God can look into a person’s heart, only God knows who is a member of that church.26

WELS FAQ on Invisible Church

The Catholic Church, in following tradition and scripture, argues there is only one visible Body of Christ, the Catholic Church. Given what we have covered above, I have a hard time seeing how this isn’t the case.

  1. That the Church is a body is frequently asserted in the Sacred Scriptures. “Christ,” says the Apostle, “is the Head of the Body of the Church.”[Col., I, 18.] If the Church is a body, it must be an unbroken unity, according to those words of Paul: “Though many we are one body in Christ.”[Rom., XII, 5.] But it is not enough that the Body of the Church should be an unbroken unity; it must also be something definite and perceptible to the senses as Our predecessor of happy memory, Leo XIII, in his Encyclical Satis Cognitum asserts: “the Church is visible because she is a body.[15] Hence they err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something merely “pneumatological” as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are untied by an invisible bond.27

–Pope Pius XII

18. Protestants deny the ministerial priesthood in favor of the priesthood of all believers.

Luther’s concept of the priesthood of all believers can be subtle and somewhat confusing. It appears that Luther wasn’t saying everyone is their own priest before God, rather that the community of Christians are all part of a priesthood together, interceding for one another.28 He does reject that there is some ontolgical difference between those called to the Priesthood and those who are Christian laymen – all are in the same priesthood.

There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests . . . between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do.”29>

— Martin Luther

Lutherans did clearly reject the ministerial priesthood with the idea of apostolic succession that we find in the Catholic Church.

The office of a minister is not a continuation of the priesthood of the OT, nor does it consist in certain rights and powers vested in the Apostles which only they and their successors could and can confer on others, nor is it conferred indelibly on any individual by ordination (see Character indelebilis). Christ continues His prophetic office through the work of the ministry; those who are called by Christian congs. or groups of congs. are Christ’s undershepherds, Christ Himself being the one Lord and Master (Mt 23:8; 1 Ptr 5:4).30

Here, we see the Smalcald Articles argue that St. Jerome shows us the early churches appointed their own priests and the major Church at Alexandria was even governed without a bishop.

3] Therefore, as the ancient examples of the Church and the Fathers teach us, we ourselves will and ought to ordain suitable persons to this office; and, even according to their own laws, they have not the right to forbid or prevent us. For their laws say that those ordained even by heretics should be declared [truly] ordained and stay ordained [and that such ordination must not be changed], as St. Jerome writes of the Church at Alexandria, that at first it was governed in common by priests and preachers, without bishops.31

This appears to be slightly mistaken to the facts, though. It appears more so that while it wasn’t unheard of for a local church to pick who they wanted to be their priest, or even bishop, the actual consecration was left to the bishops. This was something that St. Jerome clearly affirmed.

So St. Jerome proceeds to prove his major premise from Holy Scripture, adding the explanation that bishops had been introduced as a remedy for divisions, though a college of priest-bishops had survived at Alexandria for two centuries and a half, with the right of electing the patriarch from among themselves. Bishop Gore’s account (Church and Ministry, 2nd ed, p. 137-139) is excellent. He gives good reasons also for thinking that St. Jerome was mistaken as to the fact. But in reality Jerome only says the priests “nominated” one of their number to be bishop.

Elsewhere, though often the people and the clergy chose, the appointment rested with the metropolitan, or (in the case of metropolitans) with the Patriarch, and so forth. In the case of the Patriarch of Alexandria, the actual appointment was not by any bishop or bishops, but by the Alexandrian priests — so St. Jerome believed. His point is not that the Patriarch was not consecrated (as he assuredly was) but that he was appointed by inferiors, who were therefore not inferiors. St. Jerome had been at Alexandria, and his statement had doubtless some foundation. It is probably as near to the fact as an intelligent traveller would get.

“For what does a bishop do that a priest does not, except ordain?”[Ep. 146 ad Evangelum]32

18.1 The Catholic view of the priesthood of all believers.

That all aside, Catholics do whole-heartedly affirm the priesthood of all believers too. They just don’t do it at the expense of the ministerial priesthood that we have described throughout this post.

Let’s once again let Dr. John Bergsma wonderfully explain how scriptures and tradition show us that Catholics are right to affirm both the priesthood of all believers and the ministerial priesthood.

So, let’s set the record straight. The idea of the “priesthood of all believers” is Catholic.

Like all true doctrines, the Reformers got this idea from Catholic tradition and from Scripture….

The Church Fathers recognized and taught this. For example, Saint Peter Chrysologus (A.D. 3 80-450) wrote the following about Romans 12:1:

Listen now to what the Apostle urges us to do. I appeal to you,he says, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. By this exhortation of his, Paul has raised all men to priestly status. How marvelous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering. He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer God for himself. The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same. Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill. Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered without being shed.2

All priests, religious brothers and sisters, and many devout lay Catholics are familiar with this teaching of Saint Peter Chrysologus, because it is read in the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) every year on the fourth week of Easter.

Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

The whole Church is a priestly people. Through Baptism all the faithful share in the priesthood of Christ. This participation is called the “common priesthood of the faithful.” (CCC 1591)

So, the “priesthood of all believers” is both a Catholic and a scriptural doctrine…Right now, we are focused on a different issues: granted that all Christians recognize a “common priesthood” of the believer, is there also a further priesthood, a “ministerial priesthood ” that exercises leadership in the Church, especially in teaching and sacraments?

Most Protestants deny this, but the Catholic Church affirms it. The Catechism teaches:

Based on [the] common priesthood and ordered to its service, there exists another participation in the mission of Christ: the ministry conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders, where the task is to serve in the name and in the person of Christ the Head in the midst of the community. (CCC 1591)

It’s this reality that the Church calls “Holy Orders” or “the ministerial priesthood” that I used to deny, but now affirm — based on Scripture.33

— Dr. John Bergsma

18.2 The ministerial priesthood from the Old Testament has continued and finds its fulfillment in the new ministerial priesthood in the New Testament.

Dr. Taylor Marshall, in his book The Crucified Rabbi, speaks of how there are many similarities between the Old Covenant priests and the New Covenant priests. This lends credence to the idea that they are connected to one another by God’s design.

The ministerial priesthood of Christ does however resemble the Aaronite priesthood in a number of ways. Both priesthoods are hierarchical. Both Old Covenant priests and New Covenant priests were charged with instructing the people in the Sacred Scriptures. Both offer sacrifice, but the Catholic priest offers the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary, not the blood of bulls and goats. The one sacrifice of Christ is effective and applies the grace of the universal redemption to believers. This sacrifice is offered through the transubstantiation of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood.

The Catholic Priesthood of the New Covenant

The New Covenant Catholic hierarchy, like the Old Covenant hierarchy, is arranged in a threefold manner: Deacon, Priest, and Bishop—just like the Old Covenant hierarchy of Levite, Priest, and High Priest. The deacons assist the priests as they offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The bishop is also a priest and serves as the chief priest or pastor of the local community. In the Old Covenant, there was only one Jewish high priest who oversaw one geographic location. In the New Covenant, there are thousands of bishops who oversee thousands of geographic regions. This transition from one high priest to a plurality of bishops entailed the ordination of non-Jewish priests since every nation on earth would require local priests. The prophet Isaiah foresaw a day when God would transform the Levitical structure and choose Gentiles to serve as His Levites and Priests:

And I will also take some of them [i.e. Gentiles] as priests and as Levites, says the Lord (Isa 66:21).

The Catholic priesthood is also the fulfillment of the prophecy that God’s name would be great among the nations and that Gentiles would offer a priestly “pure offering” to the Lord (Mal 1:11).34

— Taylor Marshall

Jesus also seemed to institute a new priesthood. He conferred marks of the priesthood on His apostles, the ability to offer the Eucharist as a sacrifice (Luke 22:19), and the ability to forgive sins (John 20:20-23). We also see from the Apostle’s actions in the New Testament that they were carrying on priestly duties.

Another scriptural passage that witnesses to this priestly act is Luke 1:8-9, which records of Zechariah: “Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.” Notice the connection between the casting of lots and Zechariah’s priestly duties.

It is in light of this Old Testament tradition that the apostles cast lots to determine who would succeed Judas, indicating that the apostles saw their apostolic office as the new priesthood of the New Israel of God.35

— Karlo Broussard

And Paul seems to describe himself with language that would indicate he saw himself as a ministerial priest of the New Covenant.

Another scriptural passage that demonstrates the apostles recognizing their priestly rank is Romans 15:15-16: “Because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”

Notice the language Paul uses in reference to his ministry. He calls it his “priestly service.” The Greek word that Paul uses for “priestly service” is hierourgounta, which is the verb form of the Greek word hiereus. In the Bible, hiereus is commonly used in reference to the Jewish priests of the Old Covenant. For example, Exodus 28:1, 4, and 41 speak of the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests. The word for priests in the Greek Septuagint is hiereus. Therefore, if Paul sees his apostolic work through the lens of the priestly work of the Old Testament, then he must recognize his apostolic office as a priestly office.

The second clue to draw out of this passage is the Greek word that Paul uses when he describes himself as “a minister of Christ”: leitourgos, which means “public servant” and is used in the Jewish tradition to describe the work of the priesthood.

For example, the word is used in Exodus 28:35 to speak of the ministry that Aaron performs within the sanctuary. The letter to the Hebrews uses this very Greek word to describe how Jesus “ministers” in the heavenly sanctuary: “We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven . . . a minister [Greek, leitourgos] in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord” (Heb. 8:1-2).

Paul sees Jesus as the true high priest fulfilling the priestly ministry of old. By referring to himself as leitourgos, Paul sees himself as participating in the one high priesthood of Jesus, which is the fulfillment of the priesthood of the Old Covenant. Therefore, Paul recognizes himself as a New Testament priest.36

— Karlo Broussard

19. Pseudo-succession: Protestants also do a laying of hands but can only go back to reformation.

So while all Protestants reject apostolic succession, they often still hold to a pseudo-succession and even have a laying on of hands ceremony. Lutherans are harder to pin down on this, as many of their writings make it seems as if ordination rites are just a human tradition and not a divine institution.

“Ordination with the laying on of hands is not a divine institution but only an apostolic, ecclesiastical institution. That needs no proof since Scripture mentions the custom but is silent about any divine institution of it.”37

–C.F.W. Walther

Other Protestant denominations see ordination as more of a divinely instituted rite. This succession can only go back to the beginning of their denomination or, at most, the Reformation, though.

Maybe this is a good place for me to mention a certain inconsistency that I noticed for a long time when I was a Protestant. As a seminarian, I trained for four years in the seminary with the expectation that when I graduated my denomination would ordain me as a pastor. The ordination ceremony marked the beginning of my career. Without ordination, I couldn’t serve as a pastor in my denomination or exercise any kind of authority within it.

The ordination ceremony consisted of older elders and pastors laying their hands on me and praying for me, that the Holy Spirit would empower me for the ministry of the pastorate. The word “ordain,” which we used, comes ultimately from the Latin ordo, “to put in order,” from which the name “Holy Orders” also comes. It had to be performed by men who were already ordained. They, in turn, had been ordained by the previous generation of clergy, and so on, back to the beginning of our denomination. So, you can see that we, even as Protestants, recognized in practice the principle of succession. You could not be a pastor in our denomination unless you were recognized and approved by the previous generation of pastors.

Of course, you can see the ultimate problem. This Protestant succession only works back as far as the beginning of our denomination. That’s where things got murky. Who ordained the founders? Who authorized them to start a new church? I knew that my tradition — if not my individual denomination — traced back to John Calvin. But it’s not clear that John Calvin was ever ordained by anyone. Who put him in charge? Who had the authority to get this ball rolling?

The point is this: Protestants recognize the principle that the new generation of church leadership needs to be approved by the previous generation. That is a form of succession. Yet we had no coherent explanation for the beginning of the succession in our denomination. There was no way to explain it, because our succession did not go back in an unbroken chain to the apostles like Catholic succession does. At one or more points in our history, there was a disruption in which unauthorized persons started a new church and placed themselves at the head of it. But that kind of maverick behavior by Christians is never endorsed in Scripture.38

–Dr. John Bergsma

20. The ministerial priesthood is necessary

So if there isn’t an apostolic, ministerial priesthood, what is preventing anyone from starting their own denomination when they find they no longer agree with their current one? Without the authority of the Church, there isn’t anything to prevent this.

So, even as a Protestant seminarian and acting pastor, I was bothered by this inconsistency in our Church government — that we acknowledged the principle of succession except when it came to our own origins. Further, I was bothered by the fact that the New Testament never gave instructions about how or when to start one’s own church, or under what conditions one should break away from an existing Church. The New Testament did not see that as a possibility or necessity. Instead, we find exhortations like this:

Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. (Heb 13:17)

But if every Christian is free to rise up and start a new denomination, it truly renders meaningless the command to “obey and submit” to one’s leaders. Hebrews does not say,

“Obey your leaders unless you think they are really bad, and then go start your own church.” But that’s what actually has happened and continues to happen in Protestant traditions.

But what happens if you have a leader who is corrupt? Obviously, that does pose a problem. Within the Catholic Church, there is a basic system of appeal to handle this. One can appeal above the local priest to the bishop, and above the bishop to the successor of Peter, the Pope. The final judgment of the bishop of Rome (the Pope) must be trusted, even if it seems to be hard to accept at the moment, because the bishop of Rome is the heir to the promise, “What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” This is the only way to maintain the unity of the Church. All other systems perpetuate schisms and the proliferation of new, independent churches that, in time, show all the same weaknesses of their parent churches.39

–Dr. John Bergsma


Hopefully, you can see that there is ample biblical and historical evidence for why the Catholic Church teaches what she does about the nature of the Catholic Church and her authority over Christ’s kingdom on Earth. Of course, people can and do make a case against this, but at the end of the day, I find the Catholic case more compelling. The Catholic Church seems to me to be the bride of Christ we see described in scriptures, where all members of her one mystical body of Christ eagerly await the coming of their bridegroom, Jesus.40

The Church is the Bride of Christ

CCC 796 The unity of Christ and the Church, head and members of one Body, also implies the distinction of the two within a personal relationship. This aspect is often expressed by the image of bridegroom and bride. The theme of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church was prepared for by the prophets and announced by John the Baptist.234 The Lord referred to himself as the “bridegroom.”235 The Apostle speaks of the whole Church and of each of the faithful, members of his Body, as a bride “betrothed” to Christ the Lord so as to become but one spirit with him.236 The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb.237 “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her.”238 He has joined her with himself in an everlasting covenant and never stops caring for her as for his own body:239

This is the whole Christ, head and body, one formed from many . . . whether the head or members speak, it is Christ who speaks. He speaks in his role as the head (ex persona capitis) and in his role as body (ex persona corporis). What does this mean? “The two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church.”240 And the Lord himself says in the Gospel: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”241 They are, in fact, two different persons, yet they are one in the conjugal union, . . . as head, he calls himself the bridegroom, as body, he calls himself “bride.”24241

This is not at all to say that those who are not Catholic are not Christians or are not saved. The Catholic Church clearly teaches that those not in explicit full communion with the Catholic Church can still be saved, but it is only because they still form an imperfect union with the Catholic Church.

For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect.

Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life-that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. This people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God’s gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem.42 [Emphasis mine]

— Decree on Ecumenism. Vatican II.

So what about the church teaching “Outside the Church there is no salvation”?

Here is how the CCC explains it:

CCC 846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.33

CCC 847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.337

We still all have the duty to share the fullness of the truth, though. This is what I hope I was able to accomplish with fairness and charity here.

CCC 848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”338

I will save my overall conclusion on this series of posts for a shorter follow up post.

Matthew 16:18

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Resources for Further Research

  • John Henry Newman On the development of doctrine
  • Visible Unity – A calling of Christ for the Church by Eric Robinson
  • Declaration in Defense of the Catholic Doctrine on the Church Against Certain Errors of the Present Day. Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (1974)
  • Dei Verbum
  • Lumen Gentium
  • International Theological Commission Catholic Teaching on Apostolic Succession
  • CCC 74-100, 857-870
  • Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, Brant Pitre
  • Lofton, Michael. Understanding the Magisterium. https://reasonandtheology.com/2020/02/13/understanding-the-magisterium-by-michael-lofton-m-a/#_ftnref26
  • Teaching with Authority: How to Cut through Doctrinal Confusion & Understand What the Church Really Says by Jimmy Akin
  • The Gift of Infallibility by Reverend James T. O’Connor


Blog End


  2. This debate of monotheleism was over if Jesus had one will (divine only) or two (a human and divine). The church dogmatically declared that Christ has two will, both human and divine, to help maintain the fact that he was fully God and fully man. 
  3. Craig, William Lane. #75 Monotheletism. Reasonable Faith Question and Answer. September 22, 2008.  
  5. see: Indefectibility of the Church in Catholic Encyclopedia – https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03744a.htmCHURCH, and also: INDEFECTIBILITY OF by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th. https://www.churchmilitant.com/catholicism/article/catholicism_church-indefectibility-of 
  6. Cross, Brayn. Ecclesial Desim. https://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/07/ecclesial-deism/#identifier_50_1667 
  7. Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Book 4. 
  8. Code of Canon Law. Book 3. 
  9. Second, since no teaching is infallible unless this is “manifestly evident” (§456), definitions must deal with specific, identifiable propositions. But sometimes early councils say things like, “We condemn the views of so-and-so and his followers as heretical.” This tells us that something the individual taught is being condemned, but not what. It thus isn’t “manifestly evident” which propositions are to be rejected. Similarly, the censure of heresy can be mixed in with other censures without it being clear to which propositions it applies. Thus most scholars don’t regard Pope Leo X’s 1520 bull Exurge Domine (DH 1451–1492) as infallible because, although it condemns many ideas of Martin Luther, it applies different censures to them (including “offensive to pious ears,” which just means phrased in an offensive way but not necessarily false) and it doesn’t indicate which ones are heretical (§354). Akin, Jimmy. Teaching with Authority: How to Cut through Doctrinal Confusion & Understand What the Church Really Says. Catholic Answers Press.
  10. Toner, P. (1910). Infallibility. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved September 10, 2020 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm 
  11. The Catholic Encyclopedia gives some good exegesis of these passages along with a lot of support from the Church Fathers on the ifallibility of the Church. Toner, P. (1910). Infallibility. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved September 10, 2020 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm 
  12. Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Book 4. 
  13. Van Noort, Christ’s Church, pp 292-293 
  14. Berry, The Church of Christ, (Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, 1955), pp. 260-261 
  15. Lofton, Michael. Understanding the Magisterium. https://reasonandtheology.com/2020/02/13/understanding-the-magisterium-by-michael-lofton-m-a/#_ftnref26 
  17. Lofton, Michael. Understanding the Magisterium. https://reasonandtheology.com/2020/02/13/understanding-the-magisterium-by-michael-lofton-m-a/#_ftnref26 
  19. ibid, 10. 
  20. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Theology is Not Private Idea of Theologian,” L’Osservatore Romano, English Weekly Edition, July 2, 1990, 5. 
  21. BROTHER ANDRÉ MARIE. The Three Levels of Magisterial Teaching. NOV 10, 2007. https://catholicism.org/the-three-levels-of-magisterial-teaching.html 
  22. Bergsma, John. Stunned by Scripture. Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition. p. 104 
  23. St. Jerome. The Dialogue Against the Luciferians. https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3005.htm 
  24. Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 4:5 [A.D. 397]. 
  25. https://lutheranreformation.org/theology/doctrine-church-confessions/ 
  26. WELS FAQ: Invisible Church. What https://wels.net/faq/the-invisible-church/ 
  27. MYSTICI CORPORIS CHRISTI. ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS XII. http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_29061943_mystici-corporis-christi.html 
  28. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/10/the-priesthood-of-all-believers 
  29. Luther, “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,” in Luther’s Works, 44:129. 
  30. LCMS Encyclopedia. http://cyclopedia.lcms.org/display.asp?t1=m&word=MINISTERIALOFFICE 
  31. Smalcald Articles. Part III, Article X. Of Ordination and the Call. http://bookofconcord.org/smalcald.php#ordination 
  32. Dom John Chapman. Studies on the Early Papacy. p. 107 
  33. Bergsma, John. Stunned by Scripture. Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition. p. 92 
  34. Marshall, Taylor. The Crucified Rabbi. p.105-106 
  35. The Biblical Blueprint for the Priesthood. Karlo Broussard • 1/1/2013. https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-biblical-blueprint-for-the-priesthood
  36. ibid. 
  37. Pastoral Theology, Walther, CN 1995 Page 47 
  38. Bergsma, John. Stunned by Scripture. Our Sunday Visitor. Kindle Edition. p. 107 
  39. ibid. 
  40. For more on the marraige theme of Christian theology, see Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Brant Pitre 
  41. Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 334). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. 
  42. Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio #3. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 

Read More 

Leave a comment.


Submit a Comment