The Universal Church

This is a spinoff from a topic in another thread.

Are those that have faith in Christ, have been made new creations, are indwelled with the Holy Spirit and worship and serve God by loving God and loving others, members of the universal church/the body of Christ? Even if they are not part of the Catholic church and worship/serve elsewhere?

Not according to Catholic doctrine, which holds the one Church of Christ to be an entity with visible delineation (like all bodies) united by the same faith, same sacraments, and same government.

That being said, while they are not members of this visible body, baptism and faith in Christ puts non-Catholics in an imperfect relationship with this one Church (imperfect, because baptism, which is the beginning of one’s incorporation into Christ, foresees the further and full sacramental and social unity). If such a person is in good faith–that is, not deliberate or negligently breaking the bonds of unity–then such an individual, by virtue of that relationship created through faith, can indeed receive the life Christ gives through His body. If such a person perseveres to the end in the grace and charity of Christ, they will indeed be saved.


My understanding is all of Christianity are members of the body of Christ. Non-Catholic Christians are considered “separated” brothers & sisters in Christ as we believe they do not yet have the fullness of truth.

This was a difficulty for me as a convert. My immediate family and most of my extended family are Protestants of various types. I could not accept they would not be in heaven because they were not Catholic. However I did learn my theory was wrong and we have a merciful God.


Even recently, the Declaration Dominus Iesus states:

The Church’s constant missionary proclamation is endangered today by relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism, not only de facto but also de iure (or in principle). As a consequence, it is held that certain truths have been superseded; for example… the inseparability — while recognizing the distinction — of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, and the Church, and the subsistence of the one Church of Christ in the Catholic Church.

[…] 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”.

[…] there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. […] the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in 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. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.

On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate 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.

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As Pius XII stated:

The doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, was first taught us by the Redeemer Himself. […]If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ - which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church - we shall find nothing more noble, more sublime, or more divine than the expression “the Mystical Body of Christ” […]

Our Redeemer also governs His Mystical Body in a visible and normal way through His Vicar on earth […] They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. They have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer so obscured and so maimed, that those who are seeking the haven of eternal salvation can neither see it nor find it.

[…] What we have thus far said of the Universal Church must be understood also of the individual Christian communities, whether Oriental or Latin, which go to makeup the one Catholic Church. For they, too, are ruled by Jesus Christ through the voice of their respective Bishops.

[…] We must earnestly desire that this united prayer may embrace in the same ardent charity both those who, not yet enlightened by the truth of the Gospel, are still outside the fold of the Church, and those who, on account of regrettable schism, are separated from Us, who though unworthy, represent the person of Jesus Christ on earth. Let us then re-echo that divine prayer of our Savior to the heavenly Father: “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”


This is what the church teaches. Our seperated bretheran are still part of the body of Christ. Trinitarian Baptism of the form recognised by the Church makes a person a member of the Body, but they do not have the fullness of truth.


In your scenario at least 2 questions arise for me -

  1. Do these people understand fully what the Catholic church represents as the body of Christ?

  2. Once they fully understand, do they outright reject communion with her?



I am not sure I understand your number one question… in your terms what does the CC represent as the body of Christ?

Yes. They just don’t know it … yet :wink:

Who is they? I think all genuine non-Catholics would believe they are members of the Body of Christ or universal church.

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For starters see CCC 521, 738-39, 793, 795-96, 820-21


Ok, I have read those items of the Catechism but still don’t quite understand your question. Did you actually mean to say in your question “do these people understand fully that the Catholic Church is the body of Christ?”

Yes, in as much as it spells out further in the above CCC references and in the remainder CCC references.


Ok, thanks, that clarifies for me.

In all charity, I believe most non-Catholic Christians have no concept of the Catholic Church being the one and only true Body of Christ. In fact, I would venture to say that most do not even know that the Catholic Church even claims that for herself and that they (non-Catholics) are supposed to know that. Other denominations in the non-Catholic world that claim to be the one and only have the same problem convincing others that the CC has.

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Dividing the Church into distinct beings of the absolute heavenly and invisible Church and the imperfect and relative earthly visible Church (or churches) is an error. Rather the one true Church is the visible society founded by Christ guided by the Holy Spirit. (See Catechism 779.)

Members of His Church are those baptised, yet any that have lost their baptismal grace have wounded ecclesial communion.


818 “However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.” 272

819 “Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth” 273 are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.” 274 Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, 275 and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity.” 276

Most consider all Christians to be the body/bride of Christ. Catholic teaching isn’t on their radar.

When most are told the Catholic position they reject it. Including me. Does that make me bound for hell?


Catechism of the Catholic Church

1861 … although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

Only if you fully understand what it is you are rejecting, something only God can judge.


This looks like a contradiction to me. If there are those in other churches and ecclesial communities who have taken advantage of these “means of salvation” and are indeed in a relationship with Christ that has/is/will lead to salvation then how can you say that those people aren’t part of the universal church? Is it possible to be a born again, Spirit Filled Christian and yet not be a part of the Body/Bride of Christ?

If that is the Catholic belief I wills say that doesn’t make any sense to me and I believe it contradicts Biblical Teaching.

The fullness of the means of salvation is available to those in full union with the Catholic Church.

It may see clearer with this from the Catechism

820 “Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.” 277 … The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit. 279
277 UR 4 § 3.
279 Cf. UR 1.
UR = Unitatis redintegratio

830 The word “catholic” means “universal,” in the sense of “according to the totality” or “in keeping with the whole.” The Church is catholic in a double sense:

First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church.” 307 In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him “the fullness of the means of salvation” 308 which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. The Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost 309 and will always be so until the day of the Parousia.

831 Secondly, the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race: 310 …

307 St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Smyrn. 8,2:Apostolic Fathers,II/2,311.
308 UR 3; AG 6; Eph 1:22-23.
309 Cf. AG 4.
310 Cf. Mt 28:19.

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