TCA Faith for November/December 2009

Non-Catholics Saved by the Church?

Q. Someone told me that non-Catholics are saved because of the Catholic Church. Can you explain this?

Sandra, via e-mail

A. The Catholic Church tells us that not only non-Catholics but, indeed, anyone who is saved is saved because of, and through, the Catholic Church. Ordinarily the Church expresses this teaching by the phrase, "outside the Church, no salvation" (extra ecclesiam, nulla salus).

This is no boastful claim. It is simply a statement of how God has chosen to redeem His world.

First of all, Sacred Scripture and Tradition, divinely inspired, plainly teach that no one can be saved except through Jesus Christ. The most recent magisterial statement of this teaching, Dominus Iesus, came to us from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in the year 2000.

In His earthly life, the incarnate Lord worked out the salvation of the entire world through the suffering, death and resurrection of His body -- and through no other body. The risen Lord now has another body, His Mystical Body, the Catholic Church. Through that body (the Mystical Body) He continues the work of His redemption, which is the working out of His atonement in individual lives.

In his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi (1943), Pope Pius XII stressed Jesus' identification with His Church by drawing the parallel between the Incarnation and the founding of the Church:

"As the Word of God willed to make use of our nature, when ... He would redeem mankind, so in the same way throughout the centuries He makes use of the Church that the work begun might endure" (No. 12).

So, the Catholic Church, as the Second Vatican Council reminded us, is "the universal sacrament of salvation" (Lumen Gentium, No. 48).

Again, to refer to the CDF document Dominus Iesus, we must note that as "the universal sacrament of salvation" the Catholic Church "has, in God's plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being"(No. 20; emphasis added).

Speaking of those who have never had an opportunity to know Christ, Pope John Paul II said salvation is accessible to them "by virtue of a grace which ... [has] a mysterious relationship to the Church" (Redemptoris Missio, No. 10).

Wherever Jesus Christ, the only Redeemer, is at work in His world, there is His Mystical Body. "Outside the Church, no salvation." Those who do not know the Church can still receive her gifts if they are in good faith and loyal to the truth they have received.

As theologian Karl Adam so winsomely expressed it, "Though it be not the Catholic Church itself which hands them the bread of truth and grace, yet it is Catholic bread that they eat" ("The Spirit of Catholicism").

When Were the Apostles Baptized?

Q.This might sound silly coming from a priest who is supposedly well-trained, but may I ask a simple question: When were the apostles baptized, and how?

Father William Kosco, Buckeye, Ariz.

A .Acts 9:18 tells us that St. Paul was baptized after his conversion on the road to Damascus. But Scripture never describes the baptism of any other apostle.

We can assume, however, that all the apostles were indeed baptized, even though we don't know exactly when, since Jesus commanded them to baptize others (see Mt 28:19), and baptism was a requirement for entrance into the Church and for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).

Only Italian Popes?

Q. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope to be elected in more than 450 years, and he was followed, of course, by another non-Italian, Pope Benedict XVI. Why were there only Italians elected during all those years?

Kristina Larsen, Dawsonville, Ga.

A. In the days right after Pope John Paul I died, a Jesuit colleague and I were often asked in our classes at the University of San Diego, "Who will be the next pope?"

Later we discovered that we had given identical answers: "One thing you can be sure of; he'll be an Italian." Of course, we were delightedly wrong when God gave us that Polish cardinal to be Christ's vicar.

Why this long line of Italian popes? We can only speculate.

Perhaps because the Vatican is located within Rome, the numerous Italian cardinals were inclined, humanly speaking, to elect one of their own nationality. Perhaps the fact that the pope is also the Bishop of Rome made it seem suitable to choose an Italian. I think it's clear that the seeming inevitability of an Italian pope all those years forestalled intense nationalistic rivalries among the cardinals.

Whatever the human reasons we can think of, the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ's Mystical Body. He must have had a guiding hand in selecting that long line of Italian popes.

Keep the Bible from the People?

Q. Frequently I read in Protestant sources that the Catholic Church down through the ages has tried to keep the Bible from its people. The charge is that the Church has tried to keep the Bible in Latin, which is unintelligible to most Catholics; and that the Church has burned translations that were in the vernacular. How should one respond to this claim?

Name withheld by request

A. If the Church wanted to keep the Bible from her people, why did Catholic bishops, priests and laypeople keep copies of the Bible safe -- often at the cost of their lives -- during the centuries of persecution when Roman emperors decreed that all the sacred books of the Christians should be burned?

Why did so many of the Catholic Church's monks spend their lives making beautifully illustrated copies of Sacred Scripture? There was a scarcity of Bibles since a monk working full time might take a year to make one copy. Critics of the Church condemn her for chaining copies of the Bible in churches. But this was simply to protect against theft -- Bibles were quite costly.

The Church's enemies often maintain that the Church has opposed vernacular translations. This is false.

Why did Pope St. Damasus ask St. Jerome to translate the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin in the fourth century? To keep the common people from reading it? No.

At the time, Latin was the language of the Roman Empire: Virtually everyone from Britain to Persia spoke it. One of the effects of the collapse of the Roman Empire was the loss of a single unifying language. As a babble of local dialects sprang up across Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa, Latin became the language of the schools, professions such as law and medicine and, of course, the Church. So, well into the Middle Ages, Latin was familiar to educated people who could read.

In Britain in the seventh cen-tury, before there was any English language as we know it, a monk named Caedmon rendered into the common tongue a paraphrase of a good portion of the Bible. In the following century St. Bede translated some of the Bible into the then-common language.

In the ninth century St. Cyril gave the Old Slavonic language an alphabet. Soon thereafter St. Methodius translated the whole Bible into that language. Also in the ninth and tenth centuries there appeared Anglo-Saxon translations of the Bible.

Scholars of the Church brought forth a number of Anglo-Norman translations after the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066. Then, of course, there appeared the great Douay-Rheims translation of the New Testament in 1582. The translation of the Old Testament followed in 1609.

In addition to vernacular translations in the British Isles, there were translations into other languages as well.

By the time the Protestant movement began, there were popular translations of the Bible, or portions of it, in French, German, Spanish, Italian and other European languages, some of them in existence for centuries. The Church did not object to these translations.

Now, about the burning of Bibles.

In the Middle Ages and later it was customary to burn books that were regarded as erroneous. The Church did burn Bibles produced by John Wycliffe and William Tyndale, for the sake of the commentary contained in these Bibles, written by the translators, which contained much heresy.

The Protestant leader John Calvin also burned Bibles. He consigned to the flames a translation made by Michael Servetus, who was Unitarian. In fact, Calvin later had Servetus himself burned at the stake because of his heresy.

St. Peter's Tribe?

Q. I was wondering: To what ancestral tribe of Israel did Simon Peter belong?

Joann Vates, via e-mail

A. As important as lineage was among the people of the Old Testament, the New Testament focuses on the ancestral background only of Our Lord and His family (see Mt 1:1-17; Lk 3:23-38). Presumably, our Blessed Mother was of the Messianic line of David, as was Jesus' foster father, St. Joseph.

The only other person identified in the New Testament by tribal connection is the prophetess Anna, who was of the tribe of Asher (see Lk 2:36).

Nothing is said in Scripture about the lineage of Peter the Rock, even though he and his successors had been appointed Christ's vicars on earth.

Third Fátima Secret?

Q. Is it true that the pope never revealed the third secret of Fátima, and that the reason we do not have peace in the world is that Pope John Paul II and all the bishops of the world never consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?

Thank you all so much for your time -- I love reading The Catholic Answer magazine.

M.G., via e-mail

A. Pope John Paul II did make public the third secret of Fátima. That secret had been revealed to the three children at Cova da Iria-Fátima on July 13, 1917, and written down by Sister Lucia, one of the child visionaries, on Jan. 3, 1944.

On June 26, 2000, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a complete translation of the original Portuguese text of the third part of the secret of Fátima. (The full text of the secret is in the box on Page 20.)

So much for the secret itself.

Now for the consecration. You will recall that on May 13, 1981, a communist assassin tried to kill Pope John Paul. While recovering in the hospital the Pope carefully studied all the documentation on Fátima. He became convinced of the necessity of consecrating Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to stem the tide of atheism and war.

Exactly one year after the attempt on his life, Pope John Paul visited Fátima for two stated reasons. He gave thanks for our Blessed Mother's intercession, which he believed had saved his life. He also carried out a public act of consecration in accordance with the Fátima directive.

It soon became apparent that many of the world's bishops had not been notified in time to share in the consecration. His act, therefore, did not satisfy the condition of collegiality that our Blessed Mother asked for at Fátima. At that time Sister Lucia was living in the Carmelite convent at Coimbra. Apparently, she wrote to the apostolic nuncio in Portugal, calling his attention to this defect in the consecration.

In the spring of 1984, Pope John Paul sent letters to all the world's Catholic bishops, as well as to the Eastern Orthodox bishops, inviting them to join him in renewing the consecration. On March 25, the Pope renewed the consecration in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. For that service the statue of Mary had been brought from the site of the apparitions of Fátima.

Twelve Gates of Heaven?

Q. I am a religion teacher at a Catholic school, and I was reviewing with my students the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and the idea that it contains Catholic symbolism. I noticed that on the 12th day, three meanings are given for the number 12: the 12 beliefs of the Apostles'Creed, the 12 tribes of Israel and the "12 gates of heaven."

I have never heard about the "12 gates of heaven." Where does this idea come from?

Kim Bradica, Denver, Col.

A.The reference to the "12 gates" reflects a passage in the last book of the Bible, the Revelation to St. John.

In Revelation 21:10-14 we read the account of St. John's vision of "the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. ... It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which were inscribed, [the names] of the twelve tribes of the Israelites."

This passage tells us that in the vision there were three gates on each of the four sides of the walled city.

"Fullness of Time"?

Q.What is meant by the biblical phrase "the fullness of time"?

J.K., via e-mail

A.The literal translation of Galatians 4:4, where this phrase is found, is this: "But when came the fullness [pleroma] of the time." The Revised Standard Version says: "But when the time had fully come."

The Greek word pleroma means "fullness, plenitude, that which fills up," and in the passive sense, "that which has been completed."

The complete verse is this: "But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law."

"Fullness of time" can be paraphrased as "at exactly the right time." God picked the time. That is why the Second Person of the Trinity took on flesh when he did.

A friend of mine used to argue, more than half seriously, that God should have waited until modern times for the Incarnation. The modern means of communication, said my friend, would have enabled Jesus very easily to broadcast the Gospel to the entire world.

Nevertheless, I reminded her, God did come at the time He chose. It therefore had to be the right time, "the fullness of time." TCA

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