Closely connected to the error of Religious Liberty is the error of Religious Indifferentism, the idea that all religions are of equal value or that it is permissible to just ignore the differences between them. Traditionally, the Church insisted that “there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church.” Grant for the moment that there might have been some minor discussion about just who was “outside the Church,” and how much ignorance of the Church might excuse one from membership — but the adage was taken pretty literally. For example, the Council of Florence (1438-45) declared:
The holy Roman Church believes, professes, and preaches that “no one remaining outside the Catholic Church, not just pagans, but Jews or heretics or schismatics, can become partakers of eternal life; but will go to the ‘everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matt. 25:41) unless before the end of life they are joined to the Church.1
An enormous body of Catholic literature exists, mirroring the pronouncement cited above; so large that the Modernists couldn’t just ignore it. But Vatican II adopted a truly ingenious way of changing this doctrine — it simply (!) redefined the Church:
This Church constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. (emphasis added)2
The difference between “subsists in the Catholic Church” and “is the Catholic Church” is considerable. “Subsistence” is an accidental relationship, possibly temporary; as if the Church of Christ might subsist somewhere else in the future or the past. Indeed, the terminology would allow the Church to “subsist” in various places, even simultaneously.
It gets better. I won’t bother with the obvious stuff about how we share so much in common with the Orthodox and the Protestants:
To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”; “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.3
I spoke of the Jews as our _elder brothers in the faith._ These words were an expression both of the Council’s teaching, and a profound conviction on the part of the Church.4
The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.5
Thus in Hinduism men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an unspent fruitfulness of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry…. Buddhism in its multiple forms acknowledges the radical insufficiency of this shifting world. It teaches a path by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, can either reach a state of absolute freedom or attain supreme enlightenment by their own efforts or by higher assistance.6
Why should anyone be a Catholic? Wouldn’t it make more sense to find the religion one finds easiest or otherwise most appealing? Indeed, doesn’t being a Catholic constitute a liability to salvation, requiring the observance of all sorts of difficult rules not required of our separated brethren?
In addition to the theological problems caused by this Religious Indifference, there is a very practical one with regard to the Moslems. Western Civilization has been under siege by Islam for over a thousand years. Early on, they invaded Christian North Africa, whence they proceeded up the Iberian Peninsula as far as Tours and Poitiers in France before being beaten back in 711. They held Spain and Portugal for hundreds of years, not being completely expelled until 1492 after an eight-hundred year occupation. The Holy Lands were conquered, liberated and conquered again in the Middle Ages. By the 1500s Moslems had taken Turkey and represented a long term threat to Austria and Hungary. The fight continues in 1995 in the Balkans.
The Church celebrates Western triumphs over Islam in its feasts of Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Victories, and the Holy Name of Mary. But today we are told, “the believers in Allah are especially close to us,” and we are asked to follow the example of a fictional Poland, “a country of deeply rooted ecumenical traditions.”7 In reality, several hundred years ago, John Sobieski, the Polish general who liberated Vienna from the Moslems, said, “I came, I saw, and God conquered.”
1. Jesuit Fathers of St. Marys, The Church Teaches (Rockford: TAN, 1973), no. 165 (Council of Florence, decree for the Jacobites).
2. Lumen gentium #8.2.
3. The JPII Catechism of the Catholic Church, #839. Hereinafter referred to as CCC.
4. H.H. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (NY: Knopf, 1994) p. 99. Hereinafter referred to as CTTOH.
5. Lumen gentium #16.
6. Nostra aetate #2.
7. CTTOH, pp. 91 & 145.