instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The negation of the false doctrine isn't a doctrine

Mark Shea has replied to a question about the Church's teaching on salvation outside the Church (SPOILER ALERT: Outside the Church there is no salvation) by linking to an excellent article he wrote on the subject. The title of the article, "Just Exactly Where Is The Church?," indicates that the actual dogma isn't as triumphalistic as the formula (especially when stated in Latin) makes it sound.

Say what you want about triumphalism, though, at least you know where you stand. "If you don't die as a Catholic, then you are damned," is an appalling thing to believe, but it makes it pretty clear what's at stake.

The odd thing -- well, only odd as a matter of logic; given that we're dealing with people, I'll change it to, the regrettable thing is that we treat the correction of this misinterpretation of the dogma as the dogma. We say that the Church teaches, "If you don't die as a Catholic, then you aren't necessarily damned," as though that's the content of the doctrine instead of a consequence.

To treat it as doctrine means to act as though Jesus commissioned His Church to go out into the world and preach, inter alia, "If you don't die as a Catholic, then you aren't necessarily damned." That would make for a very strange evangelization pitch. What is someone, especially a non-Catholic Christian, supposed to do with that message, other than cross "learn more about Catholicism" off their bucket list?

Moreover, what are Catholics to do -- what have Catholics done -- other than cross "evangelize" off their bucket lists? Dare I call it a sort of Blasé Pascal's Wager? If the cost of evangelizing others (particularly non-Catholic Christians) is high, and the payoff uncertain, why play the game?

Add to that the failure of recent generations of Catholics to pass the faith on to their children, with the attendant unthinkable implications if being Catholic correlates with salvation, and I think we're pretty far along in explaining why so many Catholics (at least where these conditions occur) are universalists in action if not in thought. (A "universalist in action" is someone who expresses a belief in heaven but shows no concern that anyone might not go there.)