John 17 and Catholic Universalism: That they may be One – (Reformed) Protestants need not apply

In 1960, my second year at the University of Cape Town, I joined the Catholic Church. Like many Catholics, I laughed at Protestants and all their denominations. As for “Are you saved, brother?” For a Catholic, the idea that salvation could involve nothing but faith in Christ, seemed rudderless. Not only is the Protestant rudderless, he’s missing a whole boatload of stuff, only to be found in the Bark of Peter, which the powers of darkness can never capsize. The Protestant is worse than a dog without his bark; he’s a dog without a leash. Without the Catholic Leash, the mad dogs rush headlong down the slopes, dragging the sheep down with them to perdition.

What inspired the Council Trent? To codify Catholic beliefs, yes. But why at that specific time in  Catholic Church history? Why, that stubborn heretic, Martin Luther and his ilk, of course. In 1520, the Catholic Church issued a Bull of excommunication against Luther. At the Diet of Worms, Luther was given the opportunity (no, not to lose weight) to recant some of his anti-Catholic writings. Here is Luther’s (in)famous reply:

“Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Luther prised open the sluice gates of private interpretation; with an unsurprising result – to Catholics: chaque pas, trois merdes (the French expression about the pavements of France) “Each step, three doggy doos. Each heretic, three interpretations. And nine denominations. See, Luther what your sola scriptura and plain reason have produced! An ecclesiastical maelstrom.“I personally believe, says John Martignoni, based on my experiences, that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Protestant denominations, and the main reason for this is sola scriptura.” And – John, you forgot another very important reason – the grammar and context of plain reason.

Before Vatican II (1962), “[t]here is but one universal Catholic Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved.” (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215 A.D.

” We declare,say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” (Pope Boniface VIII, the Papal Bull ” Unam Sanctum”, 1302 A.D.)

” The most Holy Roman Catholic Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her. ( Pope Eugene IV, the Papal Bull ” Cantate Domino”, 1441 A.D.).

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, outside the (Catholic) Church there is no salvation.

” The Catholic Church is the Vine , you the branches: he who abides in the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church in him, the same bears much fruit, for

without the Catholic Church you can do nothing. If anyone is not in the Catholic Church , he shall be cast forth like a branch and wither, and they shall gather him up and cast him him into the fire, and he burneth” ( John 15:5-6).

” He who is not with the Catholic Church is against the Catholic Church; he who gathers not with the Catholic Church scatters” ( Matt: 12:30).

“Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name – than the Catholic Church – under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved ( Acts. 4:12).

In recent times, these papal Bulls are, it seems, the reserve of a traditional clutch of Catholics who, “if we know our neighbors are not Catholic and therefore cannot receive the sacraments, as Catholics we are to help them understand they need to come home to the one true Catholic Church outside of which no one can be saved.”

This traditional web site appears to focus on Protestants, because the phrase “coming home” is a catch phrase that refers to Protestants who swim (back?) across the Tiber pulled by – Protestants can be so funny – the bells and smells of Rome.

In October, 1986, Pope John Paul II convened and led a multi-faith service at Assisi, Italy. Leaders of non-Christian religions participated and publicly prayed to their gods. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, and Zoroastrians participated in this service. So did an Orthodox patriach and some Protestant leaders.

The video “Catholicism: Crisis of Faith” has film footage of this service. You can see and hear the Dalai Lama chanting, African shamans calling on their gods, and Muslims chanting from the Koran. The altar that was used for the service had a statue of Buddha on top of the Tabernacle (an ornate container for consecrated bread). Catholics believe that consecrated bread is literally the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Putting a statue of Buddha on top of the Tabernacle is, in effect, elevating Buddha above Jesus Christ.

The above interfaith convention of 1985 has its roots in the papal encyclical Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”), which is the Declaraton on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, October, 1965. Nostra Aetate states:

“The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture” (Nostra Aetate).

It’s not only the Catholic Church that is taking the universalist route. So is the Episcopal and mainline Protestant Churches:

“Jesus saves, the Episcopal Catholic Church teaches, but a growing number of its clergy and leaders believe other faiths may lead to salvation as well. Long divided and distracted by questions of sexual ethics, the Episcopal Catholic Church (along with most mainline Protestant communities) are facing a cultural and theological shift towards religious pluralism—the belief that there are diverse paths to God.”

But there still exists a good number of Protestants who believe that faith in Jesus Christ is a prerequisite to salvation. I won’t call these Protestants “evangelical” because that word has become so bloated in meaning that it now means anything.

“Are you trying to tell me, asks the universalist (and the agnostic/atheist), that all those that don’t know the secret password Jesus Christ are going to end up in hell!”

Such a question gives a distorted impression of evangelism (Evangelium “Gospel”). The Gospel teaches that God the Father, has appointed Christ, His Son, as Lord. The Father’s glory is reflected in the Son, who is the exact representation of the Father’s being, of His glory:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. 9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority (Colossians 2:8-10).

With regard to Verse 8, the Protestant believes that it is the Catholic Church that has taken people captive by their “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition….” The Catholic church counters that the verse is pointing a finger at Protestants. Verse 9 states that Christ is the head over every power and authority. Protestants reject the Catholic Church’s claim to be Christ’s head on earth.

Why is there no other name but Jesus that matters? Because Jesus Christ is what salvation means (Jesus means salvation”). This is the central doctrine of the Gospel, and used to be the central doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church until Vatican 2 (1962), which introduced the idea of universal salvation (Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and others – EXCEPT Protestants). Am I being divisive or, worse, perverse?I don’t think so. Here is an anecdote that expresses an opinion  I (a former Catholic) – and Catholics I knew – held.

Roy Schoeman, a Jew, relates his interesting journey to the Catholic Church. Here is the part of his story when he spent a week at a Carthusian monastery:

“One day when I was working alone in the fields, an elderly monk came out to speak with me. He approached and shyly asked, “Tell us, if you don’t mind ­ We couldn’t help noticing that you do not receive communion, so you must not be Catholic. What then are you?” When I replied “Jewish”, he grinned and with a deep sigh said “That’s a relief! We were afraid you were Protestant!”. At the time I had no understanding at all of the difference between Protestants and Catholics ­ they were just meaningless words to me describing Christians ­ yet I was deeply struck by the fact that in some mysterious way this monk identified with Jews as opposed to Protestants. I later realized that in his eyes Jews were “elder brothers in the Faith” who had not yet received the grace to recognize the Messiahship of Jesus, whereas Protestants had once had, but then rejected, the fullness of the truth.”

My “Rabbis, “evangelicals” and Messianic Jews of Maozisrael”, showed a photo of Pope John Paul II kissing a Koran, which denies “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11. And “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24.)

Many traditional Catholics were outraged by the Pope’s ecumenical gesture. Imagine the Pope kissing a Protestant Bible. It would be like the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem kissing the New Testament. To illustrate, here is a (Jewish) Anonymous comment on my “Mel Gibson’s “How” in the Passion of the Christ: And the Why?”

“…the “new testament” was written by Paul, not G-d… Paul wrote a viciously anti-Semitic and preposterous fiction in which the Jews murdered G-d, and then issued a statement essentially inviting good and decent lovers of G-d to hold future generations of Israel perpetually guilty. And, Christians have gotten that message loud and clear from Paul’s Christian bible. If you’ll notice, the devout Christian persecutors of Israel never, by and large, declared that their blood lust was motivated by events in the Jewish Bible. No pogrom was ever stirred up by a local bishop reminding the illiterate hoards that the Jews had complained to Moses about a lack of poultry in their Sinaitic diet. The anti-Semitic violence has always traced from a direct line out of the “new testament” deicide narrative. The imaginary passion of Jesus is what has led to so much real suffering of innocent Jewish people at the hands of religious Christians.”

One common example of this  “genocidal antisemitism” (as Rabbi Tovia singer describes it) is Martin Luther, a major flaw in his character.  But Jesus’ passion was not imaginary. Nor were the Jewish people innocent; if the Prophets – and the NT – are to be believed. According to Charles Soper, “every Protestant should read ‘on the Jews and their lies’ or even worse the utterly vile ‘Vom Schem Hamphoras und vom Geschlecht Christi ‘ before ever praising him for breaking the yoke of Rome. He had most serious flaws which literally set out the manifesto for the Holocaust. He’s a prime example of Rom.11.20.” Soper is right about the serious flaws but not about the “manifesto for the Holocaust.” Here is Romans 11:20 in context:

Romans 11

17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”

Hitler saw a manifesto, while the Lutheran Pastor, Boenhoffer, saw – from his concentration camp gibbet – nothing of the kind. Hitler’s “manifesto” was the Lutheran’s death warrant.

“The ultimate question, Bonhoeffer said,  for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” The second question is indeed more important than the first. For a Lutheran – and for any Christian  – what ultimately counts on this earth is that one should not lose heart; for though the outer man is decaying, yet the inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Catholic-Jewish relations are much better since Nostra Aetate. Protestant-Catholic relations are also better. But the label “Protestant” today is like the word “Evangelical;” it’s the sound of flapping labials signifying nothing. The real divide is between Catholicism and Reformed Christianity (Reformation theology) of whom J.C. Sproul, James White and Wayne Grudem are some of the more well-known exponents.

Why are so many Catholics universalists? They’re following the teachings of the Catholic Church:

“For the whole of mankind was freed from the slavery of sin by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ as their ransom, and there is no one who is excluded from the benefit of this Redemption …” Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, #1, 1914.

Surely, you can only begin to know what true freedom is once you’ve entered into the life of Christ. So, how can mankind be set free if they ignore Christ: “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).

Here’s the Catholic rub, according to Benedict XV: if you’re a good Buddhist, Jew, Hindu, atheist (?) you receive – in Catholic terms – the ultimate gift of redemption, which is salvation.It’s also ok to be a Jewish Hindu or a Catholic Buddhist. I said in “Buddhism, Judaism and Catholic Nostra Aetate,”that I found it difficult to understand how Thomas Merton could fulfill one of his greatest ambitions: to be both a good Zen Buddhist and a good Catholic. The answer, as Elvis could easily have said? Tommy be good.

But beware you (Reformed) Protestants, because you should have known better. Consider the faiths-works doctrine that splits Catholics and many Protestants: CANON 24 states: if any one says “…works are merely fruits and signs of justification obtained, not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema.” The Protestant argument is that works are merely fruits and signs of justification obtained, and NOT the cause of its increase. In contrast, Jews, Muslims and all the other religions are at one with Catholicism that works are not merely the fruits of justification but a (large) part of its cause.

I agree with DH Williams that

“justification by faith was not at heart a matter of soteriology [salvation], but of Christology [who Christ is], especially when it came to interpreting the divine intent and benefits of the Incarnation. . . . The reality of one’s salvation was only as good as the divine being who secures it….”

“[I]n the patristic era  [before Augustine].  The totality of God’s salvific plan and accomplishment was linked to the divinity of the God-Man who made it possible (Italics added]. We may say, therefore, faith is a divine work of salvation ‘in us,’ of inner transformation so that the believer may behold God.  This is the fruit of our justification: the goal of participating in the divine life.”

But, for many modern Catholics justification, as Wiiliams describes it, or as the Catholic Magisterium defines it, doesn’t matter. For example:

“If a person, says Cardinal Arenze, were to push what you said a little further and say that if you’re not a Christian you’re not going to heaven, we’d regard that person as a fundamentalist…and theologically wrong. I met in Pakistan a Muslim. He had a wonderful concept of the Koran. We were like two twins that had known one another from birth. And I was in admiration of this man’s wisdom. I think that man will go to heaven. There was a Buddhist in Kyoto, in Japan. This man, a good man, open, listening, humble–I was amazed. I listened to his works of wisdom and said to myself, “The grace of God is working in this man.” The interviewer then repeated the question, “So you can still get to heaven without accepting Jesus?” “Expressly, yes he laughs with the audience.” Dallas Morning News, 3/20/99).

(See also my “Buddhism, Judaism and Catholic Nostra Aetate”).

You can get to heaven, says the modern Catholic Church, without accepting Jesus. But if I’m a (Reformed) Protestant, which I am (no mea culpas), I doubt whether the Catholic Church holds the same opinion. The reason is that in its eyes I have actively rejected Jesus, because the Catholic Church and Jesus are one. “If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, let him be anathema” (Canon 12, Council of Trent). “If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out that no debt of temporal punishment remains…let him be anathema (Canon 30, Council of Trent). Those  Canons were designed  to counter the Reformers, to blow apart the Lutheran “cant.” But as Luther said so famously, “I won’t, I can’t recant.” Luther, that’s done it! Start singing Catate Domino. To recall:

” The most Holy Roman Catholic Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her. ( Pope Eugene IV, the Papal Bull ” Cantate Domino”, 1441 A.D.).

Traditional Catholics, however, are also no respecter of non-Christian religions.

“The Gospels are quite clear, say the traditional Catholics, that we need our Lord and His sacraments for salvation. We have a duty under universal charity to tell all those separated from the One True Catholic Church that they must enter the Catholic Church before they die, if not their souls will be lost forever. In the spirit of true Catholic ecumenism let it be your mission to make known the love of Christ and His Catholic Church. Do not rob your friends, co-workers and neighbors of the chance to find their way home.”

Muslims, Buddhists and Jews don’t give a toss about all that. But that – in the Catholic Church’s eyes – is fine because Muslims, Buddhists and Jews – mostly – don’t have a clue what they are not giving a toss about. Of course, they need to be morally upright Muslims, Buddhists and Jews. Protestants are different. They do give a toss – a big toss – about Catholicism. Their unpardonable sin is to toss much of it out.

I keep contact with my Catholic friends and relatives. Whenever I talk with them about faith and knowing God, they invariably quote “I was hungry, and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed me.” Now, the Protestant will agree that if you do not do good works, you cannot have genuine belief. Catholics, however, insist – Jews are very similar in this regard – that the most important thing is not “faith” but “faithfulness” (living a moral life). That does seem the right human way to go, but it’s not the biblical way. The biblical way is trusting that God has done for you what you never could do for yourself. And what’s that? Become reconciled to a Holy, Loving and Just God, silly.

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6 thoughts on “John 17 and Catholic Universalism: That they may be One – (Reformed) Protestants need not apply

  1. Pingback: Buddhism, Judaism and Catholic Nostra Aetate « OneDaringJew
    • Hello Anzlyne and thank you for your positive comment. Yes, I have read Newman. When I was at varsity I read his “Idea of a University,” and a few months ago I read his “Apologia pro vita sua.” I will look at the Newman URL you recommend.

  2. Anzlyne

    I suspected that you were a Catholic, but refrained from saying so. That you’re a gentle person came out in your reply.
    Here is the paragraph of Newman you recommended I read:

    “PROTESTANTS judge of the Apostles’ doctrine by “texts,” as they are commonly called, taken from Scripture, and nothing more; and they judge of our doctrine too, by “texts” taken from our writings, and nothing more. Picked verses, bits torn from the context, half sentences, are the warrant of the Protestant Idea of what is Apostolic truth, on the one hand, and, on the other, of what is Catholic falsehood. As they have their chips and fragments of St. Paul and St. John, so have they their chips and fragments of Suarez and Bellarmine; and out of the former they make to themselves their own Christian religion, and out of the latter our Anti-Christian superstition. They do not ask themselves sincerely, as a matter of fact and history, What did the Apostles teach then? Nor do they ask sincerely, and as a matter of fact, What do Catholics teach now? They judge of the Apostles, and they judge of us, by scraps, and on these scraps they exercise their private judgment,—that is, their Prejudice, … and their Assumed Principles, … and the process ends in their bringing forth, out of their scraps from the {240} Apostles, what they call “Scriptural Religion,” and out of their scraps from our theologians, what they call Popery.”

    Could you detect anywhere in my article you have read any examples of: “Picked verses, bits torn from the context, half sentences, are the warrant of the Protestant Idea of what is Apostolic truth…?”

    As you probably know, Newman wrote equally as eloquently against “Popery” during his long career in the Anglican church.

  3. I am now not sure where you are getting your information, but good topic.
    I must spend a while learning more or working out more.
    Thanks for excellent info I used to be in search of this info for my mission.

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