Sunday, April 8, 2012

Salvation Outside the Church?

Q. I have heard it said or read that the only path to salvation is through the Catholic Church. Is this true? If so, how may the many good Christians in other faiths obtain salvation?

A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:

The question of salvation outside the Catholic Church concerns not only non-Catholic Christians, but non-Christians as well. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear on this matter: “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.… The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude” (No. 1257). This reflects Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “No one can enter the kingdom of God witout being born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5).

However, the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) teaches, “Since Christ died for all…we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery” (No. 22; see also Catechism, No. 1260).

Our faith believes lex orandi, lex credendi: the Church prays as it believes (see Catechism, No. 1124). Thus, on Good Friday, we pray for those who believe neither in God nor Christ “as they walk … in sincerity of heart.” God’s mercy is unbounded, and although baptism in the Church is the “ordinary” means of salvation, the Catechism reminds us, “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel … but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved” (No. 1260).

Early Church Practices?

Q. I just heard that during the early Church, celibacy was not a mandate for priests, and that baptism was administered to adults. Could you please explain the reason for the present celibacy requirement and why baptism was changed from adults to infants?

A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:

It is true that in the earliest days of the Church, baptism was administered ordinarily to adults. Yet the New Testament speaks in at least four instances of the baptism of “households,” which presumably would include children (Acts 10; 16; 18; 1 Cor 1).

We should say, then, not that baptism was “changed,” but that in the Church it was soon “extended” to include children. By God’s design, a child is brought into a particular family without having to choose that family. Similarly, through baptism an infant or child is brought into the Mystical Body of Christ without having to choose that membership.

Perhaps you misunderstood what was said about the requirement of celibacy in the early Church. This is a vast subject about which we can only make a few comments in the present limitations of space.

Start with our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Perfectly incarnating the will of the Father, He chose celibacy. So far as we know, the apostles were celibate after having been chosen by Christ.

Peter asked what would become of him and the other apostles. Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Lk 18:29-30, emphasis added).

In the early centuries, the Church did ordain men who had been married. The evidence is clear, however, that before those men were ordained, both they and their spouses were required to vow perpetual continence following ordination. As priests, of course, both previously married men and single men were under the solemn obligation of chastity.

The reason consistently given in the records of early Church councils for requiring celibacy was that ordination consecrated a man to Christ, setting him apart from ordinary life. All the earliest councils that dealt with celibacy (in the fourth and fifth centuries) affirmed the apostolic origin of celibacy.

Advocates of optional marriage for Catholic clergy point to Eastern Orthodox practice as a strong precedent. They argue that this, too, is apostolic and should be taken seriously. The argument falls flat in light of the facts of history.

Until the end of the seventh century, celibacy was the norm throughout the Church East and West. In 692, the eastern Council of Trullo changed the rules. It decreed that married men who were ordained could continue to live a conjugal life with their wives.

The Council did retain celibacy for bishops, but without explaining why. This is the origin of present Eastern Orthodox practice. By no means is it apostolic.

In recent decades numerous statements by synods and by the popes have declared the Church’s commitment to the discipline of celibacy. The present shortage of priests in some parts of the world is due not to the rule of celibacy, but to widespread dissent that confuses people and obscures calls to the priesthood and the religious life.

You can find a summary of the wide literature on this subject in “A Brief History of Celibacy,” a chapter I wrote for “Priestly Celibacy: Its Scriptural, Historical, Spiritual, and Psychological Roots” (Mt. Pocono, Pa.: Newman House Press, 2001), edited by Father Peter Stravinskas.

St. Francis Prayer?

Q. I recently read that the popular prayer usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, beginning with the words, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace,” did not actually originate with him. Is that true? If not, how did it come to be attributed to Francis?

A. Though the prayer is typically attributed to St. Francis, it is almost certainly a modern creation. Historians came to this conclusion some time ago, but recently the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, raised the issue anew when it reported that the prayer first appeared in France at the start of the twentieth century and became popular during World War I.

The prayer was first published, in French, in a Catholic weekly newspaper in 1912. Also known as the “Simple Prayer,” it was then republished on the front page of the Vatican newspaper in 1916 at the request of Pope Benedict XV. The Holy Father especially liked it message of peace in the midst of World War I.

The actual author remains anonymous. So why was the prayer attributed to Francis?

Historians note that it’s inspired by Franciscan themes, but the language is not typical of 13th-century Italian, which Francis spoke. There doesn’t seem to have been any organized attempt by anyone to deceive people into believing that Francis was the author. Perhaps it was later attributed to him because it was made popular by a French Franciscan between the two World Wars, who printed it on cards with an image of Francis on the back.

St. Timothy and Stomach Disorders

Q. I read that St. Timothy is the patron saint of those with stomach disorders. Why is that particular need associated with him?

I.T., Casper, Wyo.

A. St. Timothy, who shares a feast day today with St. Titus, was a young disciple of St. Paul; the Apostle apparently loved and trusted him deeply. He is mentioned as a friend and companion of Paul in a number of biblical passages (see, for example, Acts 16:1; Romans 16:21; 1 Corinthians 4:17), and the two books of the New Testament that carry his name (1 and 2 Timothy) are letters addressed to him from St. Paul.

According to the ancient Roman Martyrology, St. Timothy became bishop of Ephesus, and he died in his eighties after being beaten by pagan attackers.

In his first letter to St. Timothy, St. Paul advised him: “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23). No doubt Timothy’s role as patron saint of those with stomach disorders developed as a result of this biblical passage. He knows from personal experience what we’re up against when we have stomach problems!

Why Are They Called “Doctors”?

Q. Why are great Catholic teachers of the past known as “Doctors” of the Church? Because their teaching is good spiritual “medicine”?

A. That’s a clever explanation! Actually, the term comes from the Latin word doctor, which literally means “teacher.” It’s related to our English word doctrine, literally, “teaching.”

In the old sense of the word, then, a doctor is actually a teacher, which is why college professors often have Ph.D.s — an abbreviation for “Doctor” (Teacher) of Philosophy.”

The standard generic term in English for someone in the healing arts is physician. The Latin word for this kind of “doctor” is medicus, related to our English word medicine. Maybe the question we should be asking is how physicians came to be called doctors!

Evangelists’ Deaths?

Q. I just am curious: What caused the death of the Evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John ?

A. St. Matthew was of course one of the twelve apostles. According to ancient tradition, he preached in the East and died as a martyr for the Faith. One tradition says he died in Ethiopia; another says it was in Persia.

St. Mark was according to ancient tradition a companion of St. Peter in Rome and wrote his Gospel from that apostle’s perspective. One tradition also reports that he died a martyr’s death in Alexandria, Egypt, after having preached the Gospel there.

St. Luke was one of St. Paul’s traveling companions and wrote his Gospel under the influence of that Apostle. He is believed to have died at Boeotia, a region of Greece, at the age of eighty-four.

St. John was the only one of the twelve apostles who did not die a martyr’s death. He had the responsibility (given to him by Jesus) of caring for Our Lady after Our Lord’s death. According to ancient tradition, he spent his latter years in Asia Minor in the city of Ephesus (in what is now Turkey) and died there at an advanced age.

Tradition and scripture

Q. A Protestant friend recently commented to me that the Catholic Church is wrong to rely on Tradition as well as Scripture. How should I respond?

A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:

You can also tell him that he too, like all Protestants, also relies on tradition. He invokes that tradition (called sola scriptura, scripture alone) when he demands scriptural proof for belief in saints. It’s an extra-biblical axiom that Protestants assume, incorrectly, is itself scriptural.

Ask him to show you where the Bible says that all Christian teaching must be explicitly spelled out in Scripture. Scripture nowhere teaches — indeed, nowhere even implies — that all Christian belief must be “proved” from Scripture.

I once heard a priest tell of having met a fundamentalist preacher in a ministerial meeting. The preacher introduced himself aggressively: “I’m Brother So-and-So. You know, I belong to the Church that’s based on the Bible.”

The priest responded by giving his name, and said, “And I belong to the Church that wrote that Bible.”

The priest’s response was not a put-down. It was a statement of fact. Members of the Catholic Church wrote the New Testament. Out of dozens upon dozens of writings from the early centuries, the Catholic Church decided which were to be canonical.

The criterion for including a text in the Church’s canon was simple: Does a given book authentically reflect the Church’s tradition? On this basis the Church selected the twenty-seven books which all Christians now have in the New Testament.

G. K. Chesterton was once asked what the Bible says on a particular topic. He replied that the Bible doesn’t say anything. He said you can’t put the Bible in a witness chair and ask it questions and get answers. Like all other books (in this basic regard), the Bible has to be interpreted.

The New Testament is the Church’s book. She wrote it. She alone understands it correctly. In the light of her total life (her “Tradition”) she is guided by the Holy Spirit in her interpretation of Scripture.

She does not seek to “prove” her teachings from her book. Rather, she shows how her teachings — which came to her from Christ through the apostles — are reflected in the books she wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Apart from the Catholic Church’s teaching authority, which she received from Christ, there is no way to gain certain knowledge of scriptural teaching. Look at what happens to those Christians who are separated from that authority. There are over thirty thousand separate denominations, all claiming to be based on the Bible, and all contradicting one another in some or in many respects. And the number of new denominations grows steadily, year after year.

What was the Decapolis?

Q. The Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark refer to the cities (and the region) of the “Decapolis.” What and where was this region?

A. Decapolis, which means in Greek “ten cities,” is the name given in Scripture and by other ancient writers (such as Josephus, Ptolemy, Strabo and Pliny) to a region in Palestine lying to the east and south of the Sea of Galilee. It took its name from a political alliance of the ten cities that dominated the area (though the area included other cities as well).

The Decapolis is referred to in the Gospels three times: Matthew 4:25, Mark 5:20 and Mark 7:31. Many Gentiles (non-Jews) lived in the region, including veterans of the army of Alexander the Great who had conquered the Middle East.

Today the cities of the Decapolis, with the exception of Damascus, are deserted ruins. I once toured the ruins of Gadara, on the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus cast the demons out of a man into a herd of pigs. I was struck by how Greek a city it had been, with Hellenistic architectural styles and buildings, including a theatre and forum.

In addition to Damascus and Gadara, another city of the Decapolis of special interest to Christian history is Pella, the city in the Jordan Valley where Christians fled at the first siege of Jerusalem (in obedience to Our Lord; see Mt 24:15-16).