Monday, December 08, 2003

Notes on infallibility

In a comment below, Chris remarks that he has a problem with the bull "Unam Sanctam" and papal infallibility. US says "we firmly believe and simply confess this Church outside which there is no salvation nor remission of sin" and "Furthermore, we declare, say, define, and proclaim to every human creature that they by necessity for salvation are entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Denz) This causes Chris some worries: In that 14th-century document, Pope Boniface VIII wrote, "we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." Now that seems hard to square with the modern Church's teaching that salvation can be found outside the confines of formal membership in the visible Church. I'm certainly open to solutions to this problem that preserve the doctrine of infallibility, but here's the thing: Say that I grant (as I'm willing to) that the line in "Unam Sanctam" could conceivably be interpreted in harmony with the modern teaching -- presumably on the theory that those outside the visible church are "subject" to the Roman Pontiff in a mysterious way, even if they don't know it. All right, having granted that, one thing is now clear: the charism of infallibility doesn't guarantee that CURRENT dogmatic pronoucements won't be similarly reinterpreted, and reunderstood, 500 years from now.

First, I don't think even Boniface himself would have ruled out the possibility that someone who had not been baptized could be saved. After all, as a priest and bishop, Boniface would have celebrated the feasts of martyrs who are venerated as saints who were never baptized. The grace of God can work outside of the sacraments. Thomas Aquinas says that if one has not had the gospel preached to oneself, we can be sure that God will provide some way for that person to be saved, as long as we follow the leadership of natural reason. God will not fail to give us what is necessary: De veritate, q. 14 a. 11 ad 2 Ad secundum dicendum, quod quamvis non sit in potestate nostra cognoscere ea quae sunt fidei, ex nobis ipsis; tamen, si nos fecerimus quod in nobis est, ut scilicet ductum rationis naturalis sequamur, Deus non deficiet nobis ab eo quod est nobis necessarium.

Second, the bull Unam Sanctam isn't primarily about who will be saved, but about the proper relationship of the Church and the state. The answer is then, as it is now: the state should be subject to the Church. In other words, if a law is in conflict with the law of God, it is no law.

Third, the teaching has been reaffirmed, as recently as Lumen Gentium : "They could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it."

Now, you can see, I hope, that Unam Sanctam has not been modified so as to change its meaning. In fact, what it says has been reaffirmed. As far as whether something similar will happen with Humanae Vitae, yes, I assure you, it will continue to be taught 500 years into the future.

Really, usury is a much more worrisome problem than "Outside the Church no salvation. . . ."

UPDATE: As I reread this, the coda sounds a bit snippy to me. I didn't mean it that way. My commentor Chris has a genuine problem with reconciling Unam Sanctam and papal infallibility. I think the problem can be solved, once we cut through and find out exactly what the Church teaches on the issue. And I really do have more trouble with usury than with "Nulla salus."

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