(Read the series so far.)
Among Roman Catholics, Vatican II, and thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), is interpreted across a spectrum from essential rejection to continuity with the past to rupture.
Essential rejection is the position of extremely traditional Catholics who remain in communion with the Pope but who continue to give or take the Mass in the wafer alone and who gravitate toward the Latin Mass. Their interpretation of CCC has the greatest continuity with pre-Vatican II statements and tends to minimize the discontinuity.
Continuity with the past is the mainstream interpretation of serious Catholics. “Serious” does not include politicos who claim Augustine supported abortion or who have purchased multiple annulments. Pope Benedict XVI, now emeritus, appears to me to be a very conservative proponent of the continuity view, and he is the mind behind the current universal Catechism. This view is represented by Catholic voices like the magazine First Things.
The rupture view is held by the likes of the theologian and priest Hans Küng. In this view, Vatican II is seen as breaking with the past in significant ways; the proponents tend to expect further modernizing and aggressively push for change. Googling an English language interview of Küng airing his complaints and issuing veiled threats against Ratzinger will provide readers with the basic position.
When you’re witnessing to many traditional Catholics, the Catechism’s inclusivism towards non-Catholics will be minimized. However, those in the rupture camp may allow if not speak in terms of universalism. Establishing where sophisticated Catholics are on the spectrum can be helpful to focus your apologetic efforts.
Below, I’ve arranged comments and quotes from the Catechism that I hope will help you use God’s word to witness to your Roman Catholic neighbors. Please note that the citations are often not in the order they appear in the CCC. Also, I scattered in some of the wholesome doctrine found in the CCC.
On the Bible
The CCC contains about 5,000 scriptural citations. Less than 100 citations come from the Apocrypha.
All Roman Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible:
CCC-133: The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful… . to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’” (Ellipsis in original)
However, interpretation of Scripture must submit to the Pope/Church, and interpretation is only for the Pope. Reading is allowed; interpretation essentially forbidden:
CCC-100: The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.
CCC-119: “For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God.”
The four Gospels are given a special position and in my interaction with conservative and serious lay Catholics are considered more appropriate and perhaps safer for devotional reading:
CCC-127: The fourfold Gospel holds a unique place in the Church, as is evident both in the veneration which the liturgy accords it and in the surpassing attraction it has exercised on the saints of all time.
On the Pope and the Magisterium of the Church
The Pope and the bishops are all considered apostles, but the Pope reigns supreme:
CCC-862: “Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops.”
CCC-882: The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”
CCC-883: “The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the the Roman Pontiff… .” As such, this college has “supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.”
Oddly enough the Pope and his cohorts agree that they do not meet the biblical qualifications found in 1 Corinthians 9:1 and Acts 1:22 to be an apostle:
CCC-860: In the office of the apostles there is one aspect that cannot be transmitted: to be the chosen witnesses of the Lord’s Resurrection and so the foundation stones of the Church.
The CCC teaches that the Pope and the magisterium of the church are infallible:
CCC-889: In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed down on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith.”
CCC-891: “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office… .The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,’ above all in an Ecumenical Council.”
The official position of the Roman Catholic Church is the magisterium. Practically speaking the teaching is the consensus of the cardinals with the pope as the head today. Because the magisterium participates in the divine knowledge, absolute contradictions between the Scripture, tradition, and magisterium are perceived as impossible. Any contradiction with past or present statements is by definition only apparent. Thus, all past statements are interpreted as if the modern consensus was the intended outcome, and the contemporary consensus is amendable or can develop into a new and future consensus.
Reading back current practice as the historical tradition of the church or the correct interpretation of Scripture is the habit of mind of Catholics. This behavior helps us to understand why Pope Francis speaks of Catholics breeding like rabbits and clever Vatican handlers and apologists will explain it away.
There is no predictable criterion for deciding what statements by a pope are infallible. The self-conscious dignity of Rome requires that “Catholics shouldn’t breed like rabbits” will be ignored. Yet bizarre and self-contradictory actions abound: John XXII (1249-1334) rejected papal infallibility and the next pope decided John was fallible but he wasn’t. The Jesuits were suppressed under one pope (Clement XIV, 1773), brought back under another (Pius VII, 1814), and now the current pope is a Jesuit.
C. S. Lewis describes the issue of attempting to join with the ever evolving Rome with stark clarity:
The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say. “Christian Reunion”, in Christian Reunion and Other Essays, edited by Walter Hooper (London: Collins, 1990), 17-18.
Further, the Catechism makes almost no attempt to expose the vast disagreement of past doctors of the church with the current magisterium. As an example Augustine in CCC-1372 is cited in support of the current practice of Rome in the Eucharist. However, Augustine rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, as should be clear by his comparing the physical presence of Christ in the elements to cannibalism in On Christian Doctrine:
If the sentence is one of command, either forbidding a crime or vice, or enjoining an act of prudence or benevolence, it is not figurative. If, however, it seems to enjoin a crime or vice, or to forbid an act of prudence or benevolence, it is figurative. “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man,” says Christ, “and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.” This seems to enjoin a crime or a vice; it is therefore a figure, enjoining that we should share in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us. (On Christian Doctrine, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 2, ed. Philip Schaff. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997, pg. 562, 3.16.24)
The Catechism explicitly notes the evolution of the Marian doctrine:
CCC-491: Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception.
CCC-499: The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man.
Mary’s role in salvation parallels Jesus and is as necessary:
CCC-501: “The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, that is, the faithful in whose generation and formulation she cooperates with a mother’s love.”
Jesus replaces the fallen Adam and Mary is the second Eve.
CCC-511: The Virgin Mary “cooperated through free faith and obedience in human salvation.” She uttered her yes “in the name of all human nature.” By her obedience she became the new Eve, mother of the living.
Mary is given divine titles and roles in salvation:
CCC-969: “Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation… .Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.” (Ellipsis original)
Mary is not given the title of Co-Redemptrix, but she is described as such:
CCC-964: There [at the foot of the cross] she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim… .
At least some of the language of the Catechism suggests, perhaps unintentionally, that Mary had a pre-existence prior to her conception:
CCC-721: In this sense the Church’s Tradition has often read the most beautiful texts on wisdom in relation to Mary. [Citation to Prov 8:1-9; Sir 24]. Mary is acclaimed and represented in the liturgy as the “Seat of Wisdom.”
Sirach 24:9 states speaking of wisdom, “From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall not cease to exist” (ESV).
On Baptism and Conversion
Baptists should be delighted with the following:
CCC-1214: This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptzein) means to “plunge” or “immerse”; the plunge into the waters symbolizes the catechumen’s burial into Christ’s death from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as “a new creature.”
However, the Catechism also teaches:
CCC-1257: “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.”
CCC-1213—Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.”
CCC-405—Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.
Also, the salvation granted can be given up:
CCC-1446—“Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace…
CCC-1861—Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell… .
It is the expectation of the CCC that all Roman Catholics often lose their salvation and thus must be reconverted: And this leads to the doctrine of the second conversion(s):
CCC-1428—This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church… .
CCC-1429—St. Peter’s conversion after he had denied his master three times bears witness to this… . St. Ambrose says of the two conversions that, in the Church, “there are water and tears; the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance.”
Some Closing Hopes
I have shown above that Roman Catholics have an almost exhaustively accurate paragraph on baptism and that all Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible. I have also shown that an argument can be made that Rome is preparing to declare Mary had a pre-incarnate existence and is co-Redemptrix. Such is the wholesome and diabolical extremes of the Catechism.
Part of being a thoughtful Christian requires that we be able to use both extremes in a godly way. It’s not helpful to proclaim the Pope the Antichrist or to behave as if Vatican II was a tectonic shift towards the true gospel. Revelation’s whore of Babylon may be Rome, but she may also be lead by a Southern or Bob Jones grad.
Encourage your Catholic neighbor to read the whole Bible. Expose them to grace as taught by the Bible by studying the Bible with them and being gracious through the Spirit. But most importantly show them the Jesus Christ of the Bible.
The Jesus of the Bible knows nothing of his mother as Meditrix, Advocate, or Helper. Jesus taught eternal security not multiple conversions. Jesus rules his Church through the Word and the Spirit. And it is Jesus who paid the only real penalty for sins.
The hopeful request of all those who are saved is found in John 12:21, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Show them Jesus.
Shane Walker became the pastor of Andover Baptist Church, Linthicum, MD in June of 2007. Raised in Iowa, Shane graduated from the University of Iowa in 1996. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Kimberly, have four children: Hannah, Malee, James, and John.