The teachings contained in this chapter are based on Holy Scriptures, the Tradition of the Catholic Church [especially the First and Second Vatican Councils, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Fathers of the Church (especially St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine)], the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (especially Saint Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis). All Apostolic Encyclicals and Letters are found on the Vatican Website: Vatican
God has always called people collectively: In the Old Testament, God called Israel to be His people: he intended to found one people with one faith in one God. The 12 Tribes of Israel are the nucleus of God’s people. This collective call was an outward sign of the unity among the people God wanted to make His own. Such a unity does not erase the uniqueness of any individual who is part of the group. It rather fosters the cooperation of all individuals, especially the leaders, toward the faith in the One God of Israel.
The historical Jesus founded only the Catholic Church as it exists today: Jesus Christ historically intended to establish one universal Church that embraces all of humanity. The Greek word “Katholiken” (hence the word ‘Catholic’) that we read in Acts 9:31 means universal. The word “Catholic Church” as we use it today appeared for the first time in the Letter of Saint Ignatius of Antioch in 110 A.D. From that time on the universal character of the Church became Her name: The Catholic Church. Her name (Catholic) became what she is (Universal). Pope Benedict, quoting Vatican II, asserts that the Church established by the historical Jesus and the Church continuing her mission of his resurrection are one and the same Catholic Church. The Pope said: “The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession— between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church: “This is the single Church of Christ… which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (cf. Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other Apostles to extend and rule her (cf. Mt 28:18ff.), erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.” (Dominus Iesus, 16 and Lumen Gentium, 8)
The term ‘subsists in’ is of extreme importance. It has two implications: on the one hand, the Church the historical Jesus himself founded continues to exist today only in the Catholic Church today, despite all division among Churches. In other words, the reality that there are many churches in fact today does not mean that Christ established them all. What is a reality today does not automatically imply a principle. The other implication of ‘subsists in’ points to the elements of holiness that exist in non-catholic churches and communities. These elements, however, are in an exclusive relation to the Catholic Church because only the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth. Pope Benedict VI quoting Saint Pope John Paul II and Vatican II, says: “With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”, that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church. (Dominus Iesus, 16; Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, 13; Vatican II, Unitatis redintegratio, 3)
The Catholic dimension of the Church leads us to second characteristic: The Church is One. It is impossible to separate these two dimensions of the Church because God called everyone (Catholic) to be part of the one Church (see CCC 830-856).
The separation between Christ and the Catholic Church is false: Since Christ established the Catholic Church as his body, one cannot separate the body from the head. The conviction that what Christ historically established and how the Catholic Church developed over the years are two different things, is false. In fact, if Christ sent the Holy Spirit to abide in the Church and teach her the entire truth about God, how can someone deny the truthfulness and the consistency of the Holy Spirit. One cannot deny that the sinful human dimension of the Church often obscures the work of the Holy Spirit; but that does not mean the Church stops being the body of Christ. A weak and sinful body is still Christ’s body. In that sense, Vatican II has brought to our attention that the nature of the Church is ‘semper purificanda‘ (always in need of conversion and purification). St Ignatius of Antioch who in 110 A.D. used the term Catholic in the same way we used it today, has understood the depth of the reality of the Church when he taught: “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church.” (Ad Smyrn., 8, 2)
St. Paul in Corinthians 1:12 teaches how the Church is the body of Christ and compares the relationship between her and Christ to the relationship between the head (Jesus) and the body (the Church). For his part, St. Augustine, one of the greatest minds ever in the history of humanity, analyzed this relationship between Christ and the Apostles to Christ with us. He compared the faith of the Apostles as they followed Jesus to our faith as we follow the teachings of the Church. When they followed Jesus, they saw the head that lead them to the body. The same logic is valid when we see the body: it must lead us to the head. St. Augustine says: “Therefore, as they (the Apostles), seeing the head, believed in the Body, so we, seeing the Body, should believe in the head.” (Sermo, 116)
The historical Jesus intended the existence of One Church: Since there is only one truth about God and the world, the Church must be one by nature and number because Christ established her and only her. Only the Catholic Church possesses the entire truth of faith. St. Paul says the Church is “the household of God…the pillar and foundation of truth”.(1 Timothy 3:15) Even though the Catholic Church started publicly on Pentecost Sunday, the beginning of the Church actually started with the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The oneness of the Church is rooted in the one unique event of Christ’s Incarnation which is God’s ultimate plan to gather the entire humanity into one people in one Church.
St. Paul teaches that the Church is the one Mystical Body of Christ, made up of diverse members, bonded in charity (see 1 Cor 12:27). Jesus has only one body and the Church, therefore, is one in number and quality. The non-catholic churches, even though they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, are still partially part of Jesus’ Church because of some of elements of truth they believe in. Vatican II teaches that those Churches are related to the Catholic Church in a way only known to God. Pope Benedict VI states: “Therefore, in connection with the unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of Jesus Christ, the unicity of the Church founded by him must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith. Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: ‘a single Catholic and apostolic Church’.” (Dominus Iesus, 16)
The existence of these churches and communities should not lead us to believe that Jesus did not intend one Church in number and character. The relativism of today’s culture tries to eliminate the sense of absolute oneness and unity of the Catholic Church reducing her to the sum of all churches that exist today. such an approach is rejected by the Catholic Church: “The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, 1) In fact, “the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities.” (John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, 14)
The fact that many churches exist in fact not in principle (it is not God’s intention for them to exist), does not deprive the Catholic Church of her unity as intended by Christ. The unity is still there, even though in history her universality is not accomplished yet: “The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the Church; not in the sense that she is deprived of her unity, but ‘in that it hinders the complete fulfillment of her universality in history’.” (Pope Benedict VI, Dominus Iesus, 17; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Communionis notio, 17)
As a unity of different members, the Church is the image of the Blessed Trinity: three Persons in an eternal communion in the oneness of Nature. The Church is one in nature with many persons in communion with each other. Their individual differences will not separate them from being part of the one Church and the fact that they are united, does not imply losing their personal identity either.
The historical Jesus intended the existence of an Apostolic Church: In continuity with the 12 Tribes of Israel, Jesus founded the Catholic Church on the 12 Apostles: “He called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he names Apostles.” (Luke 6:13). The number 12 throughout the Bible indicates a perfection of governance. The Apostles are the most perfect body of ‘governors’ who are called to lead the Church on earth to her heavenly fulfillment in God’s Kingdom.
Jesus never wrote a book; all we know about him comes from the Apostles. Therefore, the Church is apostolic by nature. As such, the Apostles role is not confined to the earthy dimension of the Church, but is also extended to heaven where they will be the judges of the 12 tribes of Israel (Luke 22:30). The book of Revelation confirm the apostolic nature of the Church on earth and its completion in the Kingdom of God by underscoring that the names of the Apostles are written on the 12 foundations of God’s heavenly city.
St. Paul teaches that the Church is built on the Apostles, distinguishing the human rock of the Apostles and the divine Rock, Jesus Christ. He says to the Ephesians: “you are members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:19-20) Often in his letters, Paul confirms that the Church the risen Jesus asked him to serve is founded on the Apostles who are responsible to transmit intact the deposit of faith received by Christ.
The historical Jesus intended the existence of a Holy Church: There is a difference between objective and subjective holiness within the Church. The objective holiness comes from Christ the founder of the Church and is expressed through the grace of the sacraments. The communication of Christ’s redemptive grace through the sacrament is a guarantee of an objective holiness that will never be jeopardized.
The subjective holiness of the Church depends on the holy life of its members. The history of the saints is the best example how they embraced the objective holiness of the Church and fostered the subjective holiness of her members. It is very unfortunate that many of the Church’s members are sinful and, therefore, they tarnish the objective holiness of the Church. It is wise to focus on the Church’s objective holiness and on those subjects that were outstanding examples.
The sinful dimension of the Catholic Church: We face a dilemma when we discover that in the Church people are weak and sinful. The sinfulness of the Church affects her holiness and drives away people who don’t understand that the imperfections of the Church members don’t affect the grace of God and the holiness of the sacraments in her. Only the wise accept the imperfections of the Church and focus on the grace communicated by Christ through the Church. Pope Paul VI rightly said that the Church is a giant, her feet are in the mud but Her head is in Heaven. Those who misunderstand the reality of the Church and decide to quit are leaving behind the fullness of salvation instruments that Christ gave the Church. They will be saved in a way only known to God.
God changes the name of his messengers for a special mission: God has always changed the names of his messengers when he asked them to perform a special mission. This mission is not only a task or a job to be fulfilled; it becomes their identity and who they are (Abram became Abraham; Jacob became Israel, etc…). Therefore all names in the Old and New Testament have meanings because they reveal the identity and mission of the Person (‘Mary’ means the ‘gift of God; ‘Peter’ means ‘stone’ or ‘rock’; ‘James’ means ‘the one who follows’).
Peter you are the rock: The historical roots of the Catholic Church being founded on St. Peter go back to the Gospel of Matthew. Just like in the Old Testament, here Jesus changes the name of Simon to be Peter, which means ‘the rock.’ Matthew 16:18-19 reads: “Peter, you are Rock and on this rock I will build my Church… I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This new name of Peter explains the intention of Christ to build his Church on the rock, Peter. The choice of Jesus to establish his Church on Peter happened immediately after Peter’s confession in Jesus’ identity as the Christ. His confession is the result of the Father’s revelation of Jesus’ identity to Peter.
The change of Simon to be Peter is also reported in the Gospel of John. When Andrew, Simon’s brother and the first called among the Apostles, brought Simon to Jesus, Jesus said: “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Ce’phas (which means Peter).” (John 1:42)
Jesus intended to build his Church on Peter, the human rock: The false belief that Jesus did not found His Church on Peter claiming that only Jesus is the rock, has always been rejected by the Catholic Church. Why would Jesus change his name from Simon to Peter (meaning rock) if Jesus didn’t intend to build his Church on this rock? The Greek term for rock (Petros) is an explicit proof of the new identity of Peter: he is the human rock (even though Jesus will always be The Divine Rock).
Jesus intended to build his Church on Peter and the Apostles ~ The Church is Apostolic by nature: Peter is not alone. Even though he is the leader of the Apostles, Jesus called them all to be the foundation of his earthly Church. In that sense St. Paul said: “You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundations, and Christ Jesus himself for its main cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20)
The foundation of the Church on St. Peter and the Apostles is not confined to the earthly Church only. They are to continue to be the foundation of the heavenly Church too. Describing the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Book of Revelation confirms that “the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Rev 21:14)
The Holy Spirit guaranteed Peter and his successors as the human rock: Because of the decent of the Holy Spirit on the Church, Peter extends in space and time (in the Church) the role of Jesus as the Rock. As emphasized before, Jesus’ redeeming work is present in the Church until the end of time through the Holy Spirit. When the Apostles gathered in the Council of Jerusalem in 49 A.D. to decide whether the new converts to Christianity should be circumcised or not, they determined that “it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and ours” that baptism and faith are enough to be part of the Church. (see Acts 15:28-29) Such a bold statement shows that Peter and the Apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, decided how the redemptive work of Christ should continue in history.
The Church is human and divine: Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. The Church, his Body, has therefore a divine dimension and a human dimension. The divine dimension of the Church is God’s divine life communicated to its members. The human elements are those elements that Jesus used to institute the sacraments and establish the Church (Pope, clergy, religious, people, building, altar, bread and wine, water, oil, etc…). If God wanted no human elements involved in the logic of salvation, the Son would have never became authentically human.
The divine dimension is communicated through the human dimension: From the beginning of Her life, the Church has always rejected the tendencies to undermine the essential role of the visible elements. In fact, if Christ used His human nature as an instrument of redemption, the Church can never change this method of receiving the Grace of God through created elements. The visible created elements of the Church are the instruments that communicate God’s Grace.
The mistake of those who believe they only need Christ for salvation: Those who disdain the human dimension of the Church (like the Sacraments, or the Virgin Mary and the saints, etc…) fall in the same error of the beginning: Gnosticism. Gnosticism from the beginning of the Church’s life is the most dangerous approach: Gnostics believe no need for any human element because God’s salvation comes straight from heaven and reaches the elect few. Gnosticism destroys God’s method of salvation: it eliminates the Incarnation. Anyone who thinks that they only need to believe in Christ to be saved without using what Christ himself established for salvation, are deeply mistaken. People need to be saved following the method established by Christ, not the way they like to be saved.
The heavenly Church and the earthly Church are only One Church: There is only one Church; part of her is on earth and the other part is in heaven. Both parts make up one and the same Church in number and in quality. The heavenly part of the Church has already reached the Kingdom of God; the earthly part of the Church is on her way. Therefore, the balance between “already” and “not yet” will always be an essential characteristic of the identity of the Church. The Kingdom of God is already here on earth but it has been fully accomplished in those who passed away to the heavenly dimension of the kingdom.
Jehovah Witness’s approach to the Kingdom of God is erroneous: They commit three major mistakes. First mistake consists in the fact that they don’t believe in the Most blessed Trinity and therefore they cannot be considered Christians. The center of Christian revelation is Jesus Christ being God (the Son) himself who was incarnate, died, and saved the entire human race. They don’t believe Jesus is God and therefore cannot be called Christians.
They separate the kingdom of God from Jesus Christ, which is a grave error. In their opinion, the kingdom of God is exclusively centered on God and, by believing that, they eliminate the Christological dimension of this kingdom. Jesus Christ was very clear that his personal presence and action made God’s kingdom present among us. By ignoring the redemption of Christ, they focus on creation and not salvation, a fact that contradicts the essence of Christian Catholic faith.
Therefore, their perception of the ‘Kingdom Hall’ as being the ‘actual’ kingdom of God on earth is not acceptable. The kingdom of God, although it was brought about by Jesus Christ, is still being accomplished as history progresses. It is here in time and space but its fulfillment will take place in heaven.
The Kingdom of God has its roots in the Church, but will be fulfilled only in heaven: It is ‘already’ here but ‘not yet’ fully accomplished: the Church is the seed and the beginning of the kingdom, not its fulfillment yet (see Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 5). Along those lines too, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Since the Ascension God’s plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at ‘the last hour.’ Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect.” (CCC, 670). Pope Benedict VI rightfully makes a distinction between the already and not yet. Yes, Jesus already established the kingdom on earth, but it will only be fulfilled in the realm of heaven. the Pope says: “The kingdom of God, in fact, has an eschatological dimension: it is a reality present in time, but its full realization will arrive only with the completion or fulfillment of history.” (Dominus Iesus, 18) Therefore, the kingdom of God, even though has its seed and beginning in the Church, cannot be identified with the Church in her visible and social reality. In fact, “the action of Christ and the Spirit outside the Church’s visible boundaries” must not be excluded. (Saint Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 18)
Vatican II, Only the Catholic Church has the Fullness of Means of Salvation: The Second Vatican Council made it very clear that there is a difference between salvation itself (res) and the means of salvation (sacramentum). Since Jesus Christ is the Founder of the Catholic Church, he established in Her all those necessary instruments for the salvation of humanity (see Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegration, 3). Only the Catholic Church has the fullness of the means of salvation. The other non-Catholic churches share only partially in that fullness. Salvation itself is an exclusive decision by God offered to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. They both can reach heaven and enjoy God’s infinite glory in the same way.
The difference between reality of salvation and instruments of salvation: Most Christians fail to make a distinction between salvation as a reality and the instruments that lead to reality. Allow me to illustrate that in an example. Let us suppose that one side of a river is earth and the other is heaven, and the best way to go from one side to the other is to have a boat and four ores. The Catholic Church has a boat and four ores because Christ founded Her and gave Her the fullness of the instruments of salvation. In this sense Pope Benedict VI says: “The Lord Jesus, the only Saviour, did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him (cf. Jn 15:1ff.; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:15-16; Acts 9:5). Therefore, the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery belongs also to the Church, inseparably united to her Lord. Indeed, Jesus Christ continues his presence and his work of salvation in the Church and by means of the Church (cf. Col 1:24-27), which is his body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13, 27; Col 1:18). And thus, just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute a single ‘whole Christ’.” (Dominus Iesus, 16)
Non-catholic churches have less than four ores because they were not established by Christ and therefore don’t have all the necessary elements of salvation. However, they are still capable of going from one side of the river to the other using one, two, or three ores. Now if I am a bad Catholic with four ores but not using them, how can I reach heaven faster than a non-catholic who has only three ores but is using them efficiently? Being Catholic does not make you go to heaven before the non-catholic. It just gives you the prerogative of having four ores. You need to use them all. In this regard, Vatican II teaches: ” All this holds true not only for Christians but also for all men of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery.” (Gaudium et Spes, 22 see also Ad Gentes, 7)
Vatican II emphasizes again that the fullness of means of salvation exists only and exclusively in the Catholic Church. Non-catholic reach salvation and are connected with the Catholic Church in a way known to God: “Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.” (Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio, 3)
Why preach the Catholic faith if non-Catholics can reach heaven without it? It is the responsibility of the Catholic Church to provide all human beings with ‘four ores.’ Just because people can reach salvation with fewer instruments, does not mean we should just leave it alone. Our love and care for all human beings, Catholics and non-Catholics, impose on the Catholic Church the responsibility to share all the instruments of salvation Christ left her. In that sense The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Indeed, God ‘desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:4); that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the promptings of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God’s universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary.” (CCC, 851)
Preaching the Catholic faith, however, does not imply that is one way among other ways leading to salvation. The Catholic Church does not have another equivalent institution that is parallel. God does not have two ways of salvation. Pope Benedict VI teaches: “it is clear that it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God.” (Dominus Iesus, 21)
Can non-Christians reach salvation? Those who believe that if a person died without ever knowing Christ will go to hell are mistaken. God is not stupid to send to hell people who were born in the Amazon jungle and died without ever encountering Christ in any way, shape or form. St. Paul confirmed that those who don’t have the law of the Gospel, their conscience becomes their own law (the voice of God given to every human being at the moment of creation). But Christ is still The Only Universal Savior: no one can ever be saved without Christ. Therefore, as Vatican II wisely teaches, those who never heard of Christ, will be saved by Christ in a way only known to God. People who don’t know Christ will still be able to be saved by Christ. In that sense and entering in dialogue with other religions, “that all men and women who are saved share, though differently, in the same mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ through his Spirit.” (Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Instruction Dialogue and Proclamation, 29: AAS 84 (1992), 424)
Vatican II professes the official teachings of the Catholic Church in regards to the salvation of non-Catholics. It confirms that “those who without any fault do not know anything about Christ or his Church, yet who search for God with a sincere heart and under the influence of grace, try to put into effect the will of God as known to them through the dictate of conscience… can obtain eternal salvation.” (Lumen Gentium, 16)
Conclusion ~ Pope Benedict on the nature of the Catholic Church: Salvation itself (being on the other side of the river) can be attained by all people. Yet, as Pope Benedict in his letter Dominus Iesus affirms only the Catholic Church has the ‘four ores.’ The Catholic Church, being established by Christ himself, becomes what God intended His people to be from the beginning of creation. This makes the Church one, unique, irrevocable, does not have a parallel institution, and will remain until the end of time as Jesus promises. The Catholic Church will remain as the only “place” where the fullness of the means of salvation can be received. Our only task is to use all these means, not only what we like or prefer. Check the outstanding explanation of Pope Benedict by EWTN presentations: EWTN
The statement “I am spiritual but not religious” is false: It is impossible to be spiritual without being religious. People who claim to be spiritual intend to pinpoint that they are close to God. But how can someone be close to God without doing what God wants them to do. Jesus Christ is the image of the Father and his will coincides with the will of the Father. Since Jesus intended to establish a structured Church because we are humans who live in a structured world, why would someone create their own way of connecting with God different then what God himself established?
The spiritual journey of the Church: Pope Paul VI said that the Church is “an expert in humanity.” The spiritual journey of the Church as a mother and a teacher is like a boat journeying through the sea of life until the end of time. The boat is human, imperfect, but her head Jesus still walks on the water to lead her to a safe haven. No matter how strong the evil temptations are that judge the human and sinful dimension of the Church, we are all invited to remain on board because Jesus, her Head, will never be separated from His body, the Church. Jesus promised to be with His Church until the end of time (Matthew, 28), and Jesus does not lie. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in this regard: “since the Ascension God’s plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at the ‘last hour’. Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect.” (CCC, 670)
By Fr. Anthony Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)
Las enseñanzas en este capítulo se basan en las Escrituras Sagradas, la Tradiciones de la Iglesia Católica (especialmente el Catecismo de la Iglesia Católica (CCC)), los Padres de la Iglesia (especialmente San Thomas Aquinas y San Agustín) él Magisterio de la Iglesia Católica (especialmente San Papa Pablo VI, San Papa John Paul II y Papa Benedicto XVI).
Dios siempre llama a la gente colectivamente: En Antiguo Testamento, Dios le habló a Israel que fueran su gente: Dios quiera que ellos tuvieran una Fe y un Dios. Esta llamada colectiva es una signo exterior de la entre la gente que Dios quiere hacer su propio. Esta unidad no borra la unicidad de cada individual que es parte del grupo. Más bien se fomenta la cooperación de todos los individuos hacia la Fe en un Dios de Israel.
Jesús llama a la existencia la Iglesia Única y Universal: Cumpliendo con el Antiguo Testamento, Jesús también fundó la Iglesia Católica para abrazar su gente. Aunque la Iglesia Católica empezó públicamente en Domingo de Pentecostés, el comienzo de la Iglesia empezó con la Encarnación de Jesucristo. Ya que la encarnación es llamada esencial de Dios para unir a la humanidad en una Iglesia, las racias verdaderas están en la Encarnación.
Jesucristo propuso a establecer una Iglesia universal que abarca toda la humanidad. La palabra “Katholiken” que leemos en Actos 9:31 significa universal. La palabra “Iglesia Católica” como lo usamos hoy apareció por la primera vez en la Carta de Santo Ignacio de Antioquía en 110 A.D. Desde ahí en adelante el carácter universal de La Iglesia se convirtió en su nombre: La Iglesia Catolica. Su nombre (Católico) se hizo en lo que es (universal).
Pedro tu eres la Piedra: Las raíces históricas de la fundación de la Iglesia Católica en San Pedro regresan a Matthew, 16. De la misma manera, Dios en el Antiguo Testamento cambió con frecuencia los nombres de los Profetas y Reyes para entregarles una misión especial. (Abram fue cambiado a Abraham y Jacob fue cambiado a Israel), entonces Jesús también cambió el nombre de Simón a Pedro que significa “la piedra”. Este nombre nuevo de San Pedro explica la intención de Cristo tuvo para construir su Iglesia en el. Matthew 16 dice; “Pedro, tú eres la piedra y en esta piedra yo construiré mi Iglesia… Yo te daré las llaves del reino, lo que sea que enlazas en la Tierra es confinado en el Cielo y lo que sea que pierdes en la Tierra se pierde en el Cielo.”. La opción de Jesús a establecer su Iglesia en Pedro sucedió inmediatamente después de la confesión de Pedro en la identidad de Jesús como Cristo. Su confesión es el resultado de la revelación de la identidad de Jesús como Cristo a Pedro.
La creencia falsa que Dios no fundó su Iglesia en Pedro reclamando que solo Jesús es la piedra, siempre ha sido rechazada. Porque Jesús cambiaría su nombre de Simón a Pedro (que significa piedra) si Jesús no tenía la intención de construir su Iglesia en esta piedra. El palabra Griego para piedra (Bracho) es prueba explícita de la nueva identidad de Pedra: él es la piedra (aunque Jesús siempre será La Piedra). Debido al descenso del Espíritu Santo en la Iglesia, Pedro extender su espacio y tiempo (en la iGlesia) la parte de Jesús como la Piedra. Como se enfatizó anteriormente, la dimensión humana de la identidad de Jesús y trabajo está presente en la Iglesia hasta el fin del tiempo por medio del Espíritu Santo.
San Pablo sigue la lógica que el establecimiento de la Iglesia Católica por Jesús cuando él afirmó que somos parte de una construcción fundada en los Apóstoles (Efesios 2). En sus cartas, Pablos frecuentemente confirme que la Iglesia que Jesús resucitado le preguntó a servir, está fundada en los Apóstoles. Nosotros tenemos prueba de eso cuando los Apóstoles se juntaron en Jerusalem en 49 A.D. para decidir si los que se han convertido a la Cristiandad deberían ser circunciso o no. Los Apóstoles determinaron que “es la decisión del Espíritu Santo y de nosotros” que él bautismo y la Fe son suficiente para ser parte de la Iglesia. Esto demuestra que la Iglesia establecida por Cristo, guiado por él Espíritu santo, decide como la misión redentora de Cristo debe seguir en historia.
La Iglesia es Humana y Divina: Jesucristo es completamente Dios y completamente hombre. La Iglesia, su cuerpo, tiene entonces una dimensión divina y una dimensión divina. Los elementos divinos de la salvación en la Iglesia son gracias invisibles de los sacramentos y la vida divina de Dios presente en la Iglesia. Los elementos humanos son los elementos que Jesús usó para establecer los sacramentos y fundó la Iglesia (papa, clero, religiosa, gente, edificó, altar, pan y vino, agua, aceite). Los elementos visibles de la Iglesia son los instrumentos que comunica la gracia de Dios. Desde el comienzo de su vida, la Iglesia siempre ha rechazado la tendencias de socavar la parte esencial de los elementos visibles. De hecho, si Cristo vea usado su naturaleza humana como un instrumento de redención, la Iglesia nunca podría cambiar la manera recibir la gracia de Dios por los elementos creados. Esto le llamamos los ethos de salvación.
La Diferencia entre Salvación y Medios de Salvación en Vaticano II: La segunda junta Vaticana hizo muy claro que había una diferencia entre salvación sí mismo (res) y los medios de salvación (sacramentum). Solo la Iglesia Católica tiene la plenitud de los medios de salvación. En otras, palabras como Jesucristo es el fundador de la Iglesia Católica, él estableció en ella todos los instrumentos necesario para la salvación de la humanidad. Las demás Iglesias que no son Católica comparten la plenitud sólo parcialmente. La salvación sí misma es una decisión exclusiva de Dios que se ofrece tanto a los Católicos como los que no son Católicos. Los dos pueden llegar al cielo y disfrutar la gloria infinita de Dios en la misma manera.
Permíteme ilustrar esto con un ejemplo. Supongamos que un lado de un rió es la Tierra y el otro lado es el Cielo, y la mejor manera de llegar de un lado al otro es tener un barco y cuatro remeros. La Iglesia Católica es el barco y los cuatro remeros porque Cristo la fundó y le dio la plenitud de los instrumentos de salvación. Las Iglesias no Católicas tienen una o dos o tres remeros y por lo tanto son capaz de ir de un lado del rió al otro lado. La salvación sí misma (estando en el otro lado del rió) se puede obtener por todas las personas. Aún, como el Papa Benedicto en su carta Dominus lesus afirme que sόlo la Iglesia Católica tiene las cuatro remeros.
La Iglesia Católica, sida establecida por Cristo sí mismo, se convierte en lo que Dios quiso que fuera su gente desde el comienzo de la creación. Esto hace la Iglesia una, única, irrevocable, no tiene una institución paralelo y quedará hasta el fin del tiempo como Jesús promete. La Iglesia Católica quedara como el único “lugar” en donde la plenitud de los medios de la salvación pueden ser recibidos. Nuestra única tarea es usar todos medios, no solo lo que nos guste o preferimos.
La Iglesia Celestial y La Iglesia Terrenal son Solo Una Iglesia: Solo hay una Iglesia; parte de ella esta en la Tierra y la otra parte está en el Cielo. La parte celestial de la Iglesia ya alcanzado el reino de Dios; la parte terrenal está en camino. Por lo tanto, la entre “aún” y “aun no” siempre será un característico esencial de la identidad de la Iglesia. El Reino de Dios ya está aquí en la Tierra pero ha sido completamente logrado por los que han fallecido a la dimensión celestial. Basado en eso, él “Salon del Reino” de los Testigos de Jehová no son aceptables porque el reino de Dios, aunque fue traído por Jesucristo, todavía sigue logrado como historia progresa.
La Dimensión Pecador de la Iglesia Católica: Nosotros nos enfrentamos con un dilema cuando descubrimos que las personas de la Iglesia son débil y pecadoras. La pecaminosidad de la Iglesia afecta su santidad y aleja a las personas que no entienden que las imperfecciones de los miembros de la Iglesia no afectan la gracia de Dios y la santidad de los sacramentos en ella. Solo el sabio acepta las imperfecciones de la Iglesia y se enfoca en la gracia comunicada por Cristo a través de la Iglesia. Aquellos que malinterpretan la realidad de la Iglesia y deciden renunciar, están dejando atrás la plenitud de los medios de salvación. Serán salvos de una manera que sólo Dios conoce. El Papa Pablo VI dijo con razón que la Iglesia es un gigante, sus pies están en el lodo pero su cabeza está en el cielo.
El Viaje Espiritual de la Iglesia: El viaje espiritual de la Iglesia es una madre y un maestro (el Papa Pablo VI dijo que la Iglesia es una experta en humanidad) es como un barco viajando por el mar de la vida hasta el fin del tiempo. El bote es humano, imperfecto, pero su cabeza Jesús aún camina sobre el agua para llevarla a un refugio seguro. No importa cuán fuertes sean las malas tentaciones que juzgan la dimensión humana y pecadora de la Iglesia, todos estamos invitados a permanecer a bordo porque nuestra cabeza nunca será separada de su gente. Jesús prometió estar con su Iglesia hasta el fin del tiempo y Jesús, nuestro creador, no miente (Mateo, 28).
By Father Antoine (Anthony) Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)