Don't Catholics also believe in the Invisible Church to Some Extent?


I was going to post this in another thread about the Invisible Church, but it’s kind of a topic to itself, hence this thread…this is similar to another thread of mine, I realize, but this is sort of a different spin on things, as influenced by the other thread, which got me to thinking…

Before I say anything else, I’m soon-to-be-Catholic, and I firmly support Catholic doctrine…so I will gladly stand corrected if I’m wrong…but on some level, doesn’t the Catholic Church also believe in the very same sort of invisible Church that the Protestants believe in, only alongside (and less stable than) the more central visible Church? In other words, clearly Catholicism considers the Catholic Church to be the visible, ideal Church. However, they consider others outside of the visible Church to still be Christian…and thus saved…on the other hand, the Catholic Church believes there can be no salvation outside of the Church. Thus doesn’t that mean that Catholics are in the ideal, Visible Church, but all Christians are in the Church, the only means of which can be that there is indeed some sort of all-encompassing Invisible Church? Admittedly, “membership” in the Invisible Church can be more delicate and fragile, and less secure if one is not also in the Visible Church, but still it seems to exist, even in Catholic theology…

If this is true, and if I’m not entirely off-base, the difference between this and the Protestant belief would be that Protestants do not have any positively, absolute, existing ideal to look to regarding these questions: “What would the Church be like if we were united?” or “Which of the many differently believing churches, if any, is (and has been since the Church’s existance) most fully correct in their beliefs?” In the Catholic belief, it seems to me that both questions are answered by looking at the Visible Church, the Catholic Church…ideally, if this is at all correct to begin with, there would only be one, Visibly United Church, but the Catholic doctrine doesn’t seem to deny the fact that the Church spreads beyond the Visibly united “core” which is the Catholic Church on Earth.


Do we earn our salvation? Definitely No.The objective redemtion is the work of earning a claim to all forgiveness and grace – we do not contribute to that at all, Christ did it for us. The subjective redemption is the process of giving out that forgiveness and grace thoughout all subsequent ages, even today. It is in that that we need to be like Christ to share in the claim He generated.Our part in the subjective redemption is had by being like Christ in suffering and other things. God likes this as part of His love of good order.

“Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21; cf. Acts 2:38, 22:16, Rom. 6:3–4, Col. 2:11–12).

The baptism of desire (baptismus flaminis) is a perfect contrition of heart, and every act of perfect charity or pure love of God which contains, at least implicitly, a desire (votum) of baptism. The Latin word flamen is used because Flamen is a name for the Holy Ghost, Whose special office it is to move the heart to love God and to conceive penitence for sin.
The efficacy of this baptism of desire to supply the place of the baptism of water, as to its principal effect, is proved from the words of Christ. After He had declared the necessity of baptism (John 3), He promised justifying grace for acts of charity or perfect contrition (John 14): “He that loveth Me, shall be loved of my Father: and I will love him and will manifest myself to him.” And again: “If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him.” Since these texts declare that justifying grace is bestowed on account of acts of perfect charity or contrition, it is evident that these acts supply the place of baptism as to its principal effect, the remission of sins. This doctrine is set forth clearly by the Council of Trent. In the fourteenth session (cap. iv) the council teaches that contrition is sometimes perfected by charity, and reconciles man to God, before the Sacrament of Penance is received. In the fourth chapter of the sixth session, in speaking of the necessity of baptism, it says that men can not obtain original justice “except by the washing of regeneration or its desire” (voto).
Christ makes a general statement of the saving power of martyrdom in the tenth chapter of St. Matthew: “Every one therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven” (verse 32); and: “He that shall lose his life for me shall find it” (verse 39). It is pointed out that these texts are so broadly worded as to include even infants, especially the latter text. That the former text also applies to them, has been constantly maintained by the Fathers, who declare that if infants can not confess Christ with the mouth, they can by act.


The current articulation is that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. (See Lumen Gentium, section 8). This leaves room for the working of grace outside of the visibe confines of the Catholic Church.


I would say that there is no invisible Church, only the visible Church, the Catholic Church. However, there are people who’s ties to, or membership in, the visible Church are not visible even though they exist. This includes both Christians and non-Christians.


The Catholic Church is composed of the Church Militant (on earth), the Church Suffering (in purgatory), and the Church Triumphant (in heaven). Two of these dimensions are invisible to human eyes. But no matter where we are – on earth, purgatory, or heaven, we are all one in the Communion of Saints. We are the family of God and can help each other through our prayers.

The “invisible church” of Protestantism is allegedly made up of all of those “true believers” of whatever denomination and doctrine, who have been “saved.” The concept of the “invisible church” was invented by Martin Luther in the 16th century.


Sorry to be such a pain…I sometimes think I understand this, but as is evident in that this isn’t the first time I’ve had questions about it, I obviously still leave something left to be desired in my understanding.

Okay…so, no Invisible “Church of all True Believers”? I accept that, if that’s the Catholic teaching…although, if all True Believers are tied to the Catholic Church (which is sort of what I have believed ever since starting on the road to be Catholic), rather than being in some invisible church, does that mean that the only thing (though majorly significant) lacking in the Protestant understanding of this is the realization that the one Church to which all True Believers belong (or are tied to) is the Catholic Church? After all, if even Catholics agree that all sincere believers, expressly or practicably Catholic or not (and some have said even some who aren’t Christians at all; I’m a little confused about that, but that’s another topic…though I understand to a degree) have a share in the One Church, isn’t this almost identical to the Protestant view of things with the exception of the nature of the Church to which they belong (the Catholic Church for Catholics, the Invisible Church for Protestants)? The qualifications are still somewhat similar as far as I can tell (all devout believers belong to the Church in some sense in both the Protestant and Catholic view…just potentially less perfectly/directly so from a Catholic stance, from what I gather).

Ironically (but very interestingly) this all seems to mean that many well meaning anti-Catholics out there are members of the very Church they sincerely believe to be Babylon…


I think the major difference between the Protestant and Catholic concepts of the Church is that to a Protestant the Church has no authority and no power. An invisible Church cannot teach. It cannot declare certain beliefs to be true, and others to be false. It cannot speak, it cannot teach, it cannot act, it can only be.

The invisible Church of Protestantism is a completely useless concept. It answers no questions, serves no purpose.



Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Who belongs to the Catholic Church?” paragraphs 836, 837, 838.

“Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.”

No one gets to heaven except through the Catholic Church, whether they know it in this life or not.

Peace, Katholikos


Thanks, everyone. These answers have been reinforcing some of what I’ve been told already, if not putting a new, interesting spin on things. I’m understanding things more clearly, a little more as more time passes.

Just one thing: I wouldn’t say the Invisible Church concept is completely useless, though, because it does foster a sense of fellowship among Protestants that, while abstract and impractical, is helpful and even heartwarming in some ways (it keeps Protestants more considerate of each other, and sometimes even of Catholics, than they might be otherwise amid such diversity)…even so, I’m glad to be coming home to the fullness of the Truth, for sure! The Invisible Church concept may not be completely useless (as a concept) for Protestant purposes, but I don’t think it is nearly so satisfying as will be being reconciled to the Visible Church!


Nothing equals the joy of being Catholic!


But you can’t love what you don’t know. Know what the Church teaches and why.

When shall we pop the champaign?

ex-Southern Baptist, agnostic, atheist


Kindred Soul,
I think another way of looking at it is that the ties are sometimes as small as a thread so they are difficult to see. Your post on ties made me think of my sewing profession. We have a filament in sewing that is so fine it is like sewing with hair. But, when an entire hem is brought up, it is very secure. I think as a Catholic I look at those ties to other Christian communities as being very fine and sometimes hard to see. The more ties we make the easier they are to see. They were always there, just very faint.


Thanks Katholikos; I do believe I know enough about the Catholic Church to definitely say I love the Church dearly. For one thing, anytime I find out something new, with which maybe I have a hard time, I’m willing to stay committed to this path…that’s a first for me, concerning any church–it has to be love! :smiley: Plus it’s often only some of the more technical “How does that work, exactly?” details that I tend to be unclear on.

LittleDeb, that’s a brilliant analogy…y’know, it makes perfect sense as well…those whose doctrines are more in line with the Church’s (with every common doctrine being a thread) are more secured in their being tied to Her, such as the Orthodox Church, than those whose doctrines/ethics have less “threads” in common with the Church (Such as Churches whose doctrines begin to look alien to Christianity period). Wow–I really like your analogy!


Glad to help! I’ve been pondering this a lot myself recently. I kept asking myself, ‘What does The Church really look like especially to those who consider themselves outside of it?’ ‘How are we all interconnected?’ And most importantly, ‘How do we strengthen those ties and reach out where the ties are so faint?’

If the Church Militant were an invisible Church it would be a nearly impossible job to witness it to the world. It comes down to the prayer from John 17:20-21 (NAB)
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”


That’s a very strange phrase “baptism of desire,” but I get the point. But it still leaves one other item unanswered. Catholics believe that the Eucharist contains the body, blood, soul and divinity–right? And they believe that they will not be raised again in immortal body without it? So what do they think happens to Protestants who have other views?–that they get raised again, only without a physical body? How does that work? That is very weird.

I have met people who believe that all this communion taking and water baptizing is wrong, wrong, wrong. They insist that the true baptism is from above and they stress that eating and drinking the Lord is really spiritual, too. I used to work in a Christian gift manufacturing company where they would put these scripture verses on plaques. Reading those all day “fed” me. But one day I was reading a verse on a plaque and suddenly I felt as if my spirit swelled out of my body, absorbed that verse as I read it, and shrunk back again inside of me to digest something. I often wondered later if that were a sort of eating and drinking.


Thank you for those kind words, LittleDeb. I have been examining the Catholic faith, but a few on this forum have driven me away. You have made me feel better.

There is one obstacle in accepting the fullness of the Catholic Church after having been burned elsewhere. After you’ve walked through several different paradigms of “We are the true Church” or “We are the true expression of the Church,” you start to suspect every group that says the same thing. You start examining the fruit very closely. It is quite an exercise and quite brain cracking.

Personally, I believe in scripture and the Holy Spirit as guides. I believe scripture is inerrant, but unable to be understood alone with the mind. Holy Spirit opens up scripture. In short, scripture testifies of Christ, but only the Holy Spirit can make us see true Christ. And the Holy Spirit testifies that the word is true. So we can say that spirit and scripture testify of each other and they both testify to Christ, the True Foundation of the Church.

People are afraid that if you follow the Holy Spirit, you will get “off.” The Holy Spirit will never take you “off” or it is not the Holy Spirit. So how can you tell? You have to ask God to exercise your senses to discern good from evil. The scriptures are training wheels to test whether you are led of spirit. This is how you fine-tune. There are people in foreign lands who never had a Bible in their lives. Many hear scriptural truth, but have no Bible. Then when they get a Bible, they see the Holy Spirit confirmed in their lives. When I read the Bible, there are sometimes things I don’t understand for a long time…but later, I will get a sudden illumination or someone will say something that the Holy Spirit sometimes “frames” like the lift-out quotes in magazines and there is an “Aha!” I run back to scripture and suddenly parts that don’t make sense make sense.

The reason I tell you this is that some rely on scripture alone and some run to priests to find Sacred Tradition. All I know is, Holy Spirit does not lead me wrong or lead me into dissension or wars. It has been very, very good leading so far. Though one person does not have the fullness of truth by themselves, I think the entire Body of Christ (nor any part of it) has the fullness of truth either as long as they are fragmented in spirit.

A man I met told me of a vision he had one time of the Church. He saw it represented as a circle. In the center was Christ and on the periphery were believers of all stripes. The believers were scattered all along the perimeter and could only have fellowship/communion with those next to them. The man was on one side of the circle and when he moved to the other side to have fellowship with the people on that side, then he wasn’t in fellowship with those on the previous side. This is the difficult of practical fellowship with all Christians. Then he noticed that when they all moved to the center to have fellowship with Christ, they automatically had fellowship with each other.

2Th 2:1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him…

This would seem to indicate that the real union is obtained by gathering together in Christ in spirit… Obviously, we cannot hate our brother and be in spirit, but I think practically we cannot physically gather together with all believers even if we were in the same organization. Some people think they are okay with Christ on the basis of Church affiliation even though the fruit of their walk indicates no conversion/transformation. Some of these will even fight to the death to defend the Church (witness the Irish Protestant/Catholic battles).

And then there are so many of us (you have NO idea how many I will bet) who have simply come out of all organized churches because we are so tired of the infighting and corruption and desire for control of those who would use the good name of “Christianity” for their own intents and ambitions.


This view is at one with the position, as traditional Protestantism (what we might call the “conservative” wing) sees it, that the Church which Christ founded is without evident form or, therefore, historical authority (because you can’t turn to the Church as an authoritative decider of disputes if you can’t locate the Church in the first place). Loraine Boettner, a Protestant polemicist and noted anti-Catholic, in his book Roman Catholicism, quotes Stephen L. Testa, a minister who is described as “a former Roman Catholic,” as stating, “The true Church of Christ is invisible, made up of truly converted people who are to be found in all the visible churches and who names are written in heaven.” Testa and Boettner and the people subscribing to the WELS declaration say the Church is non-denominational in that it does not coincide with any of the historic churches, which are only gatherings of convenience for true Christians and potential Christians.

Most of Protestantism - at least traditional Protestantism - chokes on the idea that Christ established a visible and consequently authoritative Church, no matter how clearly history seems to insist that he did. If Christ’s Church is truly visible, as Catholics maintain, then it follows that no Protestant body can be that Church, for no Protestant church, quite obviously, can be dated back to the beginning - which is not to say that some of them don’t try. Some Baptists, for instance, argue theirs must be the original Church because their denomination existed since the time of John the Baptist (how else would they come by the name?).
Catholic Answers
The concept of an invisible church did not exist until the sixteenth century. It is an idea invented to deny the true Church, the Catholic Church. An invisible church could not have decided the canon of the bible nor the doctrines of the Church. The dates of Easter and Christmas, the Sabbath. These and others were done by a visible church, the Catholic Church.


I have yet another question that haunts a lot of people. I have known so many nominal Catholics who live like the devil and seem to have no remorse over it. (I knew a lot of dysfunctional Catholic families growing up.) And then there are also Protestants who have bear great spiritual fruit and even shed blood for the cause of Christ. So, how can the first group be members of the one true Church if they are unconverted, but the second group may not be, though they exhibit much transformation? How does this square? Can nominal Catholics really hide behind sinning willfully and then comforting themselves that they’ll repent at the end when it works with their advantage to do so?

I am reading the Catholic version of the Reformation right now. It talks about the Church abuses in the fifteenth century. Some of Europe never became very Protestantized. These are the places that, before the mass secularization that now blankets all Christianized cultures, had many abuses from corrupt Catholic hierarchy. For many years Protestants distrusted certain population groups as being morally corrupt, associating it with their Catholicism. Is this a hold over from the time the European princes bought and sold ecclesiastical positions? (Am I saying that right?) When I studied foreign languages, my instructors used to talk about the lax Catholicism in these areas today. Many priests have mistresses, they say, and nobody seems to mind. Is this accurate and is it a holdover from the old days. Did the Counterreformation fail to touch all Catholics? (Sorry I have to ask that question. I know Protestants have their share of sin, too.)

But I wonder how this is reconciled with present Catholic belief. Is there no opposition to such things still? Or is this the ongoing problem, out of control, still continuing from many centuries? And why have I led up to this??? Let me think…I suppose I am wondering how the unconverted can actually be part of the Church, but the devout followers of Jesus Christ, however they may be “off” doctrinally according to Catholicism, are not? Or am I asking this the wrong way? Can someone iron this out for me?

To clarify: When Catholics tell me very authoritatively that “either you believe this is the Church that Jesus founded or not”, I wonder how they know it is in spirit…did Jesus found a spiritual Church or just a visible, nominal Church? Or are they one and the same? Is a Church in darkness still a “city set on a hill”?

When I hear a blunt, “This is what Jesus said,” and I don’t have the same paradigm in my head as the speaker, it strikes me the same as when a Bible thumper says something like, “The Bible says you can’t have graven images, therefore, statues are evil.” It implies that whatever is in his head is what I should be reading into it, and I don’t have what is in his head when I look at the same scripture.

I hope I am not complicating things too much. I want to make people consider why they think what they do and how they know what they know. Which is the goal of Jesus–that we be nominal members of His Church? Or that we have no other life but His so He can express Himself through us? Is to fail at the one also to fail at the other?


The truth is in the Catholic Church. Like I said above, just being a member is not assurance of salvation. You must practice the teachings, you must live them. The Church teaches the fullness of truth the others don’t.


Thanks for your comments. I suspected that what you said might be the case, but when there are so many voices, sometimes you are not certain.

I know an ex-Catholic (?) who is angry at the Church and has become Episcopalian (maybe out of spite?). She practices fornication (adultery? she was divorced) and encourages others to do the same, speaks evil of dignitaries, rails against Christians who lay their lives on the line for Christ, etc.

One day she told me she had given up something for Lent. My eyes bugged out. She told me that when you are Catholic all your life, your just feel you have to do certain things. So I’m thinking, “You proudly parade all these sins before others, yet you observe LENT?” What is going on in people like this? She makes fun of Jesus yet she can’t give Him up, either.

Maybe I shouldn’t even have mentioned it, but it gnaws at me sometimes because she is so cruel at times. I am tempted to feel sorry for her, because I know she is in emotional pain.

BTW, do cradle Catholics know they are supposed to practice ALL the teachings? They don’t have to read the whole Catechism, do they? Is it just assumed that they absorb this? Converts have to read and learn everything, I think.


All Catholics are taught the Catechism, all of it. Nothing is assumed, they are all taught it. In other words, the TRUTH is taught to all, Catholics and non-Catholics. What they do after that is a reflection on themselves and not necessarily the Church.

Yes there are lots of voices-follow this…

Christ established a Church 2,000 years ago. “Thou are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church…” Reason or I prefer “common sense” shows that he would want his message to be received by everyone down through the ages. His church would be guided by the Holy Spirit. Only one church was established, only one Guaranteed the guidence of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church.

That should silence some of those voices that you hear.

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