United in Christ


How is it possible to be only imperfectly united with the source of salvation (the Catholic Church) yet still go to heaven?


Salvation through the Catholic Church

846 "Outside the Church there is no salvation." How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? 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.

The Catholic Church states you must be Catholic to be saved. In this quote from the Cateshism it is stated two times.

Note that we join the Catholic Church via baptism. Yet the Catholic Church teaches that you must join the Catholic Church explicitly apart from baptism in order to take communion; baptism is not enough to be Catholic and you must be Catholic to take communion, not merely a baptized Christian.

Certainly the gospel message preached by Christians is necessary for salvation, but the claims of the Catholic Church go far beyond this.

This passage states that the Church is the body of Christ. Then, as the following quotes show, the Catholic Church must somehow allow for non-Catholic Christians to be members of this Church. It starts sounding pretty weird.

I should mention that the Catholic Church does not teach that only members of the Catholic Church in good standing are saved; they allow for the salvation of others — but that is not the topic of this article.


Imperfectly United

1399 The Eastern churches that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church celebrate the Eucharist with great love. "These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments, above all—by apostolic succession—the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in closest intimacy." A certain communion in sacris, and so in the Eucharist, "given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not merely possible but is encouraged."

How can you be joined to someone in closest intimacy and yet be separated from them? And if they have true sacraments, why can't Orthodox take communion in Catholic mass?

1400 Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, "have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders." It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible. However these ecclesial communities, "when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper . . . profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory."

The early church had no concept of the sacrament of Holy Orders as I note in my article on Catholic Errors.

838 "The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter." Those "who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church." With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound "that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist."

Certainly I agree that a person who rejects the Eucharist can not unite in communion. But Catholic communion is based on membership in the Catholic Church; a non-Catholic is not allowed to take communion in a Catholic Church even if they believe in the Eucharist as practiced by the early church. Thus, the unity of the Catholic Church is not based on a unity with Christ or his church but, rather, with membership in a particular institution. This institution did not exist in the early church. Baptism was all that was required to become a member of the early church.

1267 Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ: "Therefore . . . we are members one of another." Baptism incorporates us into the Church. From the baptismal fonts is born the one People of God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body."

1268 The baptized have become "living stones" to be "built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood." By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light." Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers.

The Catholic Church has added membership in the Catholic Church as a requirement for Christian fellowship.

1269 Having become a member of the Church, the person baptized belongs no longer to himself, but to him who died and rose for us. From now on, he is called to be subject to others, to serve them in the communion of the Church, and to "obey and submit" to the Church's leaders, holding them in respect and affection. Just as Baptism is the source of responsibilities and duties, the baptized person also enjoys rights within the Church: to receive the sacraments, to be nourished with the Word of God and to be sustained by the other spiritual helps of the Church.

A person becomes a member of the Church through baptism. But the Catholic Church has added membership in the Catholic Church as a requirement for Christian fellowship.

1271 The sacramental bond of the unity of Christians. Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: "For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church." "Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn."

Communion with Christ does not require membership in the Catholic Church. In fact, the Catholic teaching about the necessity of membership in the Catholic Church is actually divisive. It seems to me that being incorporated into Christ through repentance, faith, and baptism should be all that is needed. What more can there be than unity with Christ? How can membership in the Catholic Church provide more than that?

ORTHODOX CHURCHES: Eastern Churches not in full communion with the Catholic Church. Christians of the Orthodox Churches are separated from the Catholic Church (schism), yet are in an imperfect but deep communion with the Catholic Church by reason of our common Baptism, the profession of the Creed, and the possession of true sacraments by reason of the apostolic succession of their priesthood (838, 1399).

How can you be in schism yet at the same time in deep communion?

The Orthodox churches are in communion with the Catholic Church; but not full communion. Their communion is imperfect. That's like saying you're married, but only partially.

The difference between communion and unity:

The distinction between full communion (vs. separation/schism) and partial communion or imperfect communion is vague and hard to understand.

PROTESTANT: A person who believes in Christ and has been baptized, but who does not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety, but rather is a member of a Protestant church or ecclesial community whose roots are in the Reformation, begun in the sixteenth century (cf. 838).

It appears that the Catholic church thinks there is something beyond baptism which joins you to the true church. Yet there is no evidence for this second kind of membership in the early church nor in the Bible.

Related article: Decree on Ecumenism from Vatican II