Question: What is the Catholic view of the apostasy?

Table of Contents

Question: What is the Catholic view of the apostasy?

The Catholics claim unbroken apostolic authority and teachings down to the present day

The Catholic Church takes a slightly different tack on this issue. Rather than arguing that an apostasy of other churches occurred (necessitating the formation of a new denomination), the Catholics claim unbroken apostolic authority and teachings down to the present day.

Catholics and non-Christians

About non-Christian belief systems, the Roman Church said:

The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these [non-Christian] religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and teachings, which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men”...

As a remedy for [a] relativistic mentality, which is becoming ever more common, it is necessary above all to reassert the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ...

[T]he theory of the limited, incomplete, or imperfect character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, which would be complementary to that found in other religions, is contrary to the Church's faith...

[T]heological faith (the acceptance of the truth revealed by the One and Triune God) is often identified with belief in other religions, which is [in fact merely] religious experience still in search of the absolute truth and still lacking assent to God who reveals himself...

Nevertheless, God, who desires to call all peoples to himself in Christ and to communicate to them the fullness of his revelation and love, “does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals, but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression even when they contain ‘gaps, insufficiencies and errors'”...[1]

Catholics and non-Catholics

Protestants would likely not quarrel with much of the above. But, the Catholic Church is crystal clear on how they view all other Christian denominations (italics present in the original):

The Lord Jesus, the only Saviour, did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him...

Therefore, in connection with the unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of Jesus Christ, the unicity of the Church founded by him must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith. Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church”...

The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity—rooted in the apostolic succession—between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church...

“outside of her [i.e., the Catholic Church's] structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”, that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”...The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches...

On the other hand, the ecclesial communities [i.e., other denomination "churches," though the Catholics do not so designate them, as will be seen] which have not preserved the valid Episcopate [succession of bishops] and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.

“The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”...

Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”...

If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation...[2]

Pope Benedict XVI reiterated in 2007

Pope Benedict XVI approved the release of another statement which cited the above document (which he helped prepare in 2000) making clear the Catholic Church's attitude toward non-Catholic Christians:

"Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of “Church” with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century [i.e., "Protestants"]?

Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense.[3]

Notes

  1. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Declaration Dominus Ieusus, On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church," (2000-II), Section I. off-site
  2. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Declaration Dominus Ieusus, On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church," (2000-II), Section IV, italics in original. off-site
  3. William Cardinal Levada, Angelo Amato, S.D.B.; ratified and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI, Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church (29 June 2007). off-site