Extra communitatem nulla salvatione?

[After reading this, please refer to the follow-up post here.]

“The underlying principle [of Americanism] is that, in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions. Many think … it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them. It does not need many words … to prove the falsity of these ideas if the nature and origin of the doctrine which the Church proposes are recalled to mind. …

“We cannot consider as altogether blameless the silence which purposely leads to the omission or neglect of some of the principles of Christian doctrine, for all the principles come from the same Author and Master…. They are adapted to all times and all nations, as is clearly seen from the words of our Lord to His apostles: “Going, therefore, teach all nations; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all days, even to the end of the world.”-Matt. xxviii, 19. …

“Let it be far from anyone’s mind to suppress for any reason any doctrine that has been handed down. Such a policy would tend rather to separate Catholics from the Church than to bring in those who differ. There is nothing closer to our heart than to have those who are separated from the fold of Christ return to it, but in no other way than the way pointed out by Christ.”

— Pope Leo XIII, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae (1899)

Mundabor recently drew attention to a tweet by Pope Francis which reads: “No one saves oneself. The community is essential.” It’s 91 characters out of a possible 140, and has been retweeted/favorited over 6,000 times. This tweet typifies the ongoing problem with much of Francis’s teaching witness. While it’s not false per se, it is truncated in a seriously misleading way. Even on a very mild reading, it’s inane. My immediate internal response was, “Yes, and?” (You might say I was left waiting for the other [black] shoe to drop.) Why not just retweet “It takes a village” and be done with it?

My patron saint is Francis de Sales, so I am cognizant of what is probably his most famous counsel: “Always be as gentle as you can and remember that one catches more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar.” Therefore, in a positive spirit, let me propose the tweet I think the world community (or at least the 3.62 million followers of the @Pontifex community) needs to see: “No one saves oneself. The community is essential. Yet no community saves on its own. The Church is essential for salvation in Jesus.” That’s only 132 characters, so failing to express the whole truth on the matter cannot be blamed on the technical limitations of Twitter. Sending that truncated bromide was a choice.

It may, of course, be the case that Pope Francis does not compose all of his own tweets, but that just raises as many questions as it might aim to answer. If taking time to craft his tweets is not important to him, why should they be important to the world? If, as I have been told by two Catholic correspondents in Rome, much of what he says is just a friendly reconstruction of various passing remarks (e.g. in this case), how does a loyal son of the Church attend to the actual words of the Holy Father?

The grim reality is that this papacy is very much guided by the prevalent “Mistakes Were Made” ethos. If “the pope” causes scandal, it is written off to bad translations, unsympathetic media, convoluted contextual allusions, theologically deficient Catholics, pastoral accommodationism, and so on. In a word, there’s nothing wrong with this papacy–it’s just that mistakes were made. After all, “This isn’t Denzinger.” If you prefer not to label the tendency feckless, the programmatic superficiality of this papacy so far is probably most charitably labeled “loyal but benighted.” Sadly, “At least he means well” can be taken in two very divergent senses. The medium is the message, as McLuhan taught us, so the triviality of the tweet that motivated this post is a feature, not a bug, of a pastoral strategy that exceeds “meeting people where they are” and errs on the side of normalizing the post-verbal, sound-byte culture which is largely driven by anti-Christian ideology.

Nor is there any shortage of ecclesial pseudo-events to match the pseudo-catechesis that falls like water from the misty witness of Marx, Maradiaga (again and again), O’Malley, Dolan (and again), Kasper, and Woelke, to name only a handful of those given to vapid sound bytes. Blessing the papist parrot of a part-time porn star is a perfect, presumably unwitting, parable for the problem of pastoral adventurism. Acting without reflecting; endorsing without discerning; rejoicing without repentance; images without meaning.

Life has taught me a few things, and one of them is this: Over time, incompetence becomes indistinguishable from malfeasance, and vice versa. To paraphrase @Pontifex, “No tweet writes itself; the complete truth is essential.” Sloganeering is no prosthesis for catechesis; at best it is an overused crutch in pursuit of that precious yet ultimately suicidal commodity known as “relevance.” As Pope Leo XIII reminded us in the opening quotation, may God save us from the comfort of relevance, in other words, from compromised conformity.

About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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8 Responses to Extra communitatem nulla salvatione?

  1. Steve Fowler says:

    “Such a policy would tend rather to separate Catholics from the Church than to bring in those who differ.”

    I think that is the major blindness at Vatican II and after. We did indeed help convert some with the newer approaches (although the overall rate of conversions dropped dramatically), but those same approaches suggested to Catholics that there was not much need to remain Catholic, and/or Catholicism had changed so much that it was no longer the Church when they had entered.

    Overall, the new approaches have been catastrophic.

  2. Yes, Steve, but “they meant well.”

  3. Branch says:

    “The community is essential.”

    Hegel was also enamored with “community”.

  4. Murray says:

    Early in my journey into the Church, I remember being impressed by the teaching that “Catholics are saved in community”, in contrast to the overtly individualist, me’n’Jesus attitude of many Protestants. But even at that rudimentary stage in my catechesis, I understood that “community” applied to those in communio, rather than to some larger, ill-defined body. And it’s this distinction that the Holy Father utterly fails to capture in his tweet.

    And so we find ourselves once again in the same familiar position. Technically, once all terms are defined and relevant distinctions are drawn, we can read the Holy Father’s words in a manner consistent with orthodox teaching, and our neo-Catholic brethren can do their “Move along, nothing to see here!” act. Jimmy Akin can write 500 carefully chosen words to explain 8 poorly chosen ones, all the while ignoring the fact that almost nobody will understand the Pope’s words in their correct, technical sense.

  5. AmoPapam says:

    The linked article at Catholic Culture is interesting, but Americanism was(is) a complex issue, as it was juxtaposed in its times against the Catholic monarchies, and against monarchies in general ( from 1908 to 1922, over 35 Monarchies became Republics.) The desire for self rule, which has found its way into the Church with the ‘freedom of conscience’ mantra, is a hallmark of the Spirit of Vatican II. We’re in for a long dark night, here.

  6. Branch says:

    That may be. But is it even correct to use the word “community” in this context? It’s a bit too humanistic it seems to me. We are saved as a body (Body) of believers who are, as you say, in communio.

    There is also a trend in theological thinking that emphasizes the “community” (in the liturgy, for instance) over and above all else (like focusing and worshipping God in the liturgy). “Community” is a buzz word, sort of like “social justice”. It comes with a lot of baggage and can trigger other ideas. That we are saved as a “community” could be stressing the horizontal over the vertical which seems to me has been largely forgotten this entire Papacy.

  7. Murray says:

    I agree that the phrasing is problematic, especially given the horizontalization of the Church and the liturgy over the past half-century. And it’s quite possible that if I read the same book now (Five Great Catholic Ideas, by Edward Wm. Clark), I’d have reservations about its theology.

    But at the time, I was only ready for milk rather than solid food, and the book helped me overcome some of my reservations about joining the Church. And I think the author was pretty careful to make the right distinctions–which, again, the Holy Father neglected to do.

    But I think the basic teaching is still defensible: The community of the Church includes not only those currently living, but also those in Heaven and Purgatory–and our salvation is indeed assisted by the intercessions and ministrations of this broad community.

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