Some Things That Catholics Do Not Believe
Very Rev. Joseph Di Bruno, D.D.
We have already passed in review what seem to be the principal points of Catholic belief, and now, in order to meet the most common of the misapprehensions and misrepresentations on these matters, we will here state, though it may be in part a repetition, some things that Catholics do not believe.
1. Catholics do not believe that there is any other Mediator of Redemption than our SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST, "For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved" than that of JESUS (Acts of the Apostles, iv.12); and when they call the Blessed Virgin or any other Saint a mediator, it is not in the sense of Mediator of Redemption attributed to our Saviour, but in the sense of intercessor or pleader, in which sense any Christian may be called a mediator, whenever he intercedes, or mediates between God and his fellow-man, as Abraham and Moses and St. Paul did, and thus prays for his neighbor. God Himself commanded Eliphaz and his friends to apply to the Patriarch Job that he should pray for them, and God promised to accept his prayers. Go to my servant Job, and offer for yourselves a holocaust; and my servant Job shall pray for you; his face I will accept, that folly be not imputed to you" (Job xlii. 8.) In this sense Moses could also say, "I was the mediator, and stood between the Lord and you". (Deuteronomy v. 5)
2. Catholics do not believe that the blessed Virgin is in any way equal or even comparable to God, for she, being a creature, although the most highly favored, is infinitely less than God. Nor do they claim for her any power beyond that which she derives from Him; for she is entirely dependent on God for her existence, her privileges, her grace and her glory.
The strong, loving expressions used oftentimes by Catholics, which seem to attribute to the Blessed Virgin more than is here stated, are to be understood in the limited sense meant by Catholics themselves, as here explained; that is, in a way consistent with the Catholic teaching and not in the unlimited, un-Catholic sense which persons not understanding that teaching may be led to apply to them. These tender expressions, I say, ought not to be judged of by cold or hostile criticism, for they spring from fervent, heart-felt devotion and unmeasured love.
If it were permitted to take offence at expressions which are only true in a limited sense, surely from those words of Scripture: "I have said; you are gods" (Psalm lxxxi. 6), one might argue that Holy Scripture holds certain men to be really gods. From the words of the Gospel: If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, . . . . he cannot be by disciple" (St. Luke xiv. 26), one might pretend that Christ encourages the hating of parents and other relatives. That direction of our Lord: "If thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off" (St. Matth. v. 30) might be taken to justify self-mutilation. And from the words: "How knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife;" (I Corinth. vii. 16) some might argue that according to Scripture, a man can be the saviour of his wife.
If, therefore, even in the interpretation of Holy Scripture, it would be wrong to take in the full extent expressions that were meant in a qualified sense so still more unjust would it be to apply this wrong principle to expressions found in books of devotion or in religious poetical compositions, in which a certain latitude to the expansion of a warm heart is allowed.
It is a common practice among men to use expressions which are true only in a secondary and limited sense. For instance, a great poet or artist is spoken of as "divine," mothers often call their children their little "angels," "kings," and "queens," and are said to "adore" or "idolize" them, and no one thinks of blaming such tender exaggerations. And again, in the Marriage-Service in the Book of Common Prayer of the Established Church of England, the bridegroom has to say to the bride: "With my body I thee worship".
No one should take offence at these expressions; indeed, it would seem captious to do so; more especially when the speaker declares his meaning.
3. Catholics do not believe that there is any authority upon earth or in heaven that can give leave to commit any sin, even the least; or that a sin can be forgiven for money; or that a Priest can give valid absolution to a sinner who does not repent and truly purpose to forsake sin and amend his life.
4. Catholics do not believe that a man can by his own good works, independently of the Merits and Passion of Jesus Christ and of His grace, obtain salvation, or make any satisfaction for the guilt of his sins, or acquire any merit.
5. Catholics do not believe that it is allowable to break a lawful oath, or tell a lie, or do any other wicked thing whatever for the sake of promoting the supposed interest of the Church, or for any good, however great, likely to arise from it. The false and pernicious principle that the end justifies the means, or that we may do evil that good may come, is utterly condemned by the Catholic Church.
6. Catholics do not believe that it is in the power of the Church to add to the truths contained in the "deposit of faith," that is, to frame or enforce any doctrine which has not for its source the written or unwritten word of God, or authority from the same. Nor do they believe, when the Church makes a Definition in matters of faith, that this definition or article of faith is a new doctrine; it is only a solemn declaration and a clearer statement of what was believed, at least implicitly (that is, in an implied way, or inferentially), in the time of the Apostles, though some private persons might have doubted of it.
7. Catholics do not believe that Protestants who are baptized, who lead a good life, love God and their neighbor, and are blamelessly ignorant of the just claims of the Catholic Religion to be the one true Religion (which is called being in good faith), are excluded from Heaven, provided they believe that there is one God in three Divine Persons; *that God will duly reward the good and punish the wicked; that Jesus Christ is the Son of God made man, who redeemed us, and in whom we must trust for our salvation; and provided they thoroughly repent of having ever, by their sins, offended God.
Catholics hold that Protestants who have these dispositions, and who have no suspicion of their religion being false, and no means to discover, or fail in their honest endeavors to discover, the true Religion, and who are so disposed in their heart that they would at any cost embrace the Roman Catholic Religion if they knew it to be the true one, are Catholics in spirit and in some sense within the Catholic Church, without themselves knowing it. She holds that these Christians belong to, and are united to the "soul," as it is called, of the Catholic Church, although they are not united to the visible body of the Church by external communion with her, and by the outward profession of her faith.
Very different is the case of a person who, having the opportunity, neglects to learn from genuine trustworthy sources what the Catholic Religion is and really teaches, fearing, that were he to become convinced of the truth of the Catholic Faith, he would be compelled by his conscience to forsake his own religion, and bear the worldly inconveniences attached to this step. This very fear shows a want of good faith, and that he is not in that insurmountable ignorance which could excuse him in the sight of God, nut that he is one of those of whom it is said in Psalm xxxv. 4, "He would not understand that he might do well."
Fairness, no less than common sense, teaches that a man should study and examine the teaching of the Catholic Church from Catholic sources before condemning her. Surely no man ought to reject Catholic doctrine if he has not made himself well acquainted with them. Nor is is fair to form a judgment from misrepresentations made by ill-informed, interested, or prejudiced persons; one should rather, by the study of authorized Catholic works, judge of the truth with that calm and unprejudiced mind which the all-important subject of Religion deserves. Thus having heard both sides, you will be in a state to pass a right judgment and not in danger of being misled by prejudice.
Our Saviour gave no hope of salvation to the Samaritan woman unless she entered the one true Church of the tine, saying to her who was destitute of a sure guide: "You adore that which you know not; we adore that which we know; for SALVATION IS OF THE JEWS". (St John iv. 22.) So likewise there is no salvation for any one who, having by God's grace come to the knowledge of the truth, obstinately refuses to join the true Church of God.
There was no safety out of the Ark of Noah during the deluge, and no one can be saved who is in no sense within the true Church, prefigured by the Ark. According to St. Cyprian: "No one can have God for his Father who has not the Church for his Mother. If any one could escape the deluge out of the Ark of Noah, he who is out of the Church may also escape." (Book on the Unity of the Church.)
It is hard to understand how a Protestant can daily say in the Apostles' Creed, as many happily do still say, "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church," without at least a thought arising in his mind, that perhaps after all the Church which alone is truly Catholic or universal, both in name and in fact, has more claim on his love and obedience than his own denomination, which really is not Catholic.
Catholic Belief: A Short and Simple Exposition of Catholic Doctrine, Chapter XLIV.
(NY: Benzinger Brothers, 1884).