Catholic for Aesthetic Reasons


#1

One of the marks that Catholic teaching is trustworthy is that it is in many respect so reasonable, much more reasonable than certain brands of protestantism. One point in particular is the notion of invincible ignorance – the idea that if one does not (and could not) know better, one is not guilty of sins committed in ignorance. Supposing a person has done all that is reasonably expected to know the truth, as his or her circumstances permit or require, one is not to be blamed for any ignorance that remains, or any evil deed that he/she did based on that ignorance. This seems an especially reasonable position, and clearly we use it all the time in daily life.

It is my understanding that in Catholic thought, the principle of invincible ignorance is the basis for the teaching that non-Catholics (and even non-Christians) can be saved. True, there is no salvation apart from Christ, but God is not limited to work only and always through the hierarchical, visible Church. To those who have never had the Gospel preached in its fullness, nor had an opportunity to receive the Sacraments, such people may be saved insofar as they accept whatever “Revelation of God” (which is Who Christ is) that they did receive. For a lot of people (pagans), this will take the form of the Natural Law written on every human heart – if they have accepted this reveleation (of Christ), and lived that acceptance (however confusedly it was available to them) God will judge them, in his mercy, accordingly. Such inchoate “faith” is know to God alone, and he alone judges justly.

This seems much more human and reasonable than those protestants who insist that only those who explicitly accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior will have their sins forgiven and saved by God. All others who fail to explicitly accept Christ (through ignorance or malice) are not saved, but damned.

The Catholic Church can and does say consistently that she has the fulness of the Gospel, but non-Catholic Christians can and do know Christ, can and do find salvation, and even non-Christians can be saved. My problem, though, is that this seems to have the practical effect of people looking at the denomination they (or others) belong to as a matter of personal taste. If they are Catholic (especially if they were raise such) and they know other genuinely good Christians who really do have a strong relationship with the Lord, many such people will say that being Catholic suites them, and they would not be comfortable in a Lutheran or Baptist church. Effectively, they are Catholic for aesthetic reasons.

Moreover, the fact that salvation is possible in other denominations makes it hard to make the case for why someone should become Catholic. Why should Joe Methodist accept the Sacrament of Reconciliation when even the Catholic Church seems to say that mortal sins (of Methodists, at least) can be forgiven without it. I believe that the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded (on Peter) against which hell would not prevail, and there can be lots of historical arguments marshaled to show that truth. But a lot of Catholics are somewhat skeptical about historical arguments, and are not so moved by Truth to actually research the arguments. Pretty much any Christian church is ‘true enough’ for God’s work. And, according to the Church’s own teaching, it doesn’t seem to matter – ultimately. Non-Catholics can be saved, too.

Has anyone confronted this problem? If so, what real, practical response would be appropriate? Am I missing something?


#2

It is my understanding that in Catholic thought, the principle of invincible ignorance is the basis for the teaching that non-Catholics (and even non-Christians) can be saved. True, there is no salvation apart from Christ, but God is not limited to work only and always through the hierarchical, visible Church. To those who have never had the Gospel preached in its fullness, nor had an opportunity to receive the Sacraments, such people may be saved insofar as they accept whatever “Revelation of God” (which is Who Christ is) that they did receive. For a lot of people (pagans), this will take the form of the Natural Law written on every human heart – if they have accepted this reveleation (of Christ), and lived that acceptance (however confusedly it was available to them) God will judge them, in his mercy, accordingly. Such inchoate “faith” is know to God alone, and he alone judges justly.

This seems much more human and reasonable than those protestants who insist that only those who explicitly accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior will have their sins forgiven and saved by God. All others who fail to explicitly accept Christ (through ignorance or malice) are not saved, but damned.

The Catholic Church can and does say consistently that she has the fulness of the Gospel, but non-Catholic Christians can and do know Christ, can and do find salvation, and even non-Christians can be saved. My problem, though, is that this seems to have the practical effect of people looking at the denomination they (or others) belong to as a matter of personal taste. If they are Catholic (especially if they were raise such) and they know other genuinely good Christians who really do have a strong relationship with the Lord, many such people will say that being Catholic suites them, and they would not be comfortable in a Lutheran or Baptist church. Effectively, they are Catholic for aesthetic reasons.

Moreover, the fact that salvation is possible in other denominations makes it hard to make the case for why someone should become Catholic. Why should Joe Methodist accept the Sacrament of Reconciliation when even the Catholic Church seems to say that mortal sins (of Methodists, at least) can be forgiven without it. I believe that the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded (on Peter) against which hell would not prevail, and there can be lots of historical arguments marshaled to show that truth. But a lot of Catholics are somewhat skeptical about historical arguments, and are not so moved by Truth to actually research the arguments. Pretty much any Christian church is ‘true enough’ for God’s work. And, according to the Church’s own teaching, it doesn’t seem to matter – ultimately. Non-Catholics can be saved, too.

Has anyone confronted this problem? If so, what real, practical response would be appropriate? Am I missing something?

I think I’m missing something. You start out extolling the reasonableness of the Church’s doctrine on Invincible ignorance. When you address the partial truth that exists in protestant denominations you somehow distort said doctrine into something that is most unreasonable, even fictitious. How is it, in your view, that the doctrine of invincible ignorance dosen’t apply to protestants? Anyone knowing that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded and does not cleave to it, that person cannot be saved. Only God can judge whether a person is invincibly ignorant or not. There is no one on the face of this earth qualified to make that judgement. It is our lot to prayerfully share our Catholic faith with all we meet, especially protestants, and leave the judging to the only just Judge, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


#3

[quote=Yaegel]How is it, in your view, that the doctrine of invincible ignorance dosen’t apply to protestants? Anyone knowing that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded and does not cleave to it, that person cannot be saved.
[/quote]

Right, I think you misunderstand me. I think that invincible ignorance does apply to protestants, in most cases. Because of the upbringing, education, etc. of a lot of them, they don’t know (and it would take a remarkable amount of grace for them to know) that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded. Given that non-Catholics can be saved (according to Catholic teaching), how can one make a compelling (or even attractive) case for becoming Catholic? I’m thinking my problem might be in framing the question in terms of “saved” versus “not saved”.

[quote=Yaegel]Only God can judge whether a person is invincibly ignorant or not. There is no one on the face of this earth qualified to make that judgement.
[/quote]

I worry about appealing to our own ignorance about others’ ignorance. Should we assume that our separated bretheren have invincible ignorance, or not? Would it make a difference in how we present the Truth of the Catholic Faith?

[quote=Yaegel] It is our lot to prayerfully share our Catholic faith with all we meet, especially protestants, and leave the judging to the only just Judge, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
[/quote]

I agree that everyone should be Catholic. The Catholic Church has the fulness of the Gospel. But how do you “share the faith” when being Catholic doesn’t SEEM to be necessary (for non-Catholics, at least). In my experience, this is a real problem, especially for cradle Catholics . . . especially when they meet protestants who are better Christians than some Catholics they know. Given the poor state of catechesis in this country for the past 30 years, it is hard to believe that some cradle Catholics are not laboring under invincible ignorance with regard to conscience formation, among other things. I don’t think it really helps to overcome this ignorance to declare to the ill-formed cradle Catholic “you should stay Catholic because you have been given the Fullness Truth of the Gospel, and you know you have been given this Fullness because you were raised Catholic.” I think that might be true, as far as it goes, but I’m pretty sure it does not go far enough. My question (and it is a real one) is, how can we overcome this indifferentism (all denominations are equal)? Do we just have slog it out through the Scripture/Tradition, historical basis arguments?


#4

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