October 26, 2007

Gratuitous Crossing the Tiber Posting

Earlier this week I happened to be rereading C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce when a thought wandered into my mind: Lewis never actually became a Roman Catholic himself, yet he is beloved by every Catholic I know (including members of the clergy) and his writings include a great deal which even the strongest advocates of the Church would find unimpeachable. Given this, what would the Church's stance be on the issue of his salvation? Surely it wouldn't automatically say that he was doomed to hell because he could never quite bring himself to swim the Tiber?

I brought this question up at our RCIA meeting this Wednesday. The priest who had the class that night - and who, IMHO, should not have been allowed anywhere near a group like ours, as he had a terrible and unsympathetic manner (but that is a different story)- was set on his own agenda and would not be drawn into the topic. He simply suggested reading the Catechism and noted that Rome had issued some new material relevant to the subject recently.

I also emailed the Colossus with my question, knowing that he is far, far deeper into the intricacies of the Church than I'll ever get and also that his heart is in the right place. He readily obliged me with an answer that I repost here by his permission because I thought it might be of interest to our wider religious-minded audience:

The Church distinguished between the visible church and the invisible church. We see the visible Church, which is, for us, Rome and the churches in communion with her. Christ sees the invisible church, which is everyone whom he sees as being a member of his church – which we don’t, beyond a certain point, presume to judge. To me, I always look at the passage about the exorcist in Mark 9:37-40:

“37 John answered him, saying: Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, who followeth not us, and we forbade him. 38 But Jesus said: Do not forbid him. For there is no man that doth a miracle in my name, and can soon speak ill of me. 39 For he that is not against you, is for you. 40 For whosoever shall give you to drink a cup of water in my name, because you belong to Christ: amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

Not only followers of the apostles, but also those who are kind to them. I assume this even includes all manner of righteous pagans, Muslims, Jews, etc.

Rome assumes the churches in communion with her to be effective vehicles of providing the sacraments; it does not claim to know whom Christ has actually saved, except in the cases of the saints, in which Rome invokes its ability to loose and bind. Protestant churches are not assumed to be doing no good; in fact, the recent document which the pope was criticized for states the Catholic view pretty well (Link here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html)


What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?


Christ “established here on earth” only one Church and instituted it as a “visible and spiritual community”[5], that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted.[6] “This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him”.[7]

In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church[8], in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.

It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.[9] Nevertheless, the word “subsists” can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the “one” Church); and this “one” Church subsists in the Catholic Church.[10]


Why was the expression “subsists in” adopted instead of the simple word “is”?


The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are “numerous elements of sanctification and of truth” which are found outside her structure, but which “as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity”.[11]

“It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church”[12].

In other words, Rome views the Protestant churches as doing good work and saving souls, even though it does not believe all of the sacraments are entirely valid.

Of course, it cuts both ways. As Matthew 7:21 tells us – “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven . . .”

In addition, the Church recognizes baptism as being the key sacrament for salvation – and it recognizes baptisms of all Christian churches that use a Trinitarian formula. It assumes a Protestant baptism to be valid, as it is a sacrament that does not, strictly speaking, have to be administered by a priest. In fact, the church does not even require the person doing the baptizing to be a Christian, provided his intent is to baptize. I’d be surprised if they baptize you again, because it is generally done only once – if they “rebaptize” you, it is done conditionally, because it assumes your Episcopal baptism was valid. [Robbo here - No, they don't plan to rebaptize me provided I can show proof of my Palie baptism. Mom is sending the certificate.]

It also assumes baptism can be done by water, by blood, or by desire. Only Christ himself knows whom those baptized by desire are.

Of course, there is the doctrine of Ex ecclesia nulla salas – “outside the church, there is no salvation”. This is normally held to mean those outside the invisible church. Those who say it means only the visible church are generally held to be promoting heresy (Feeneyites, as they are known most recently, after a Father Feeney, whom the Vatican excommunicated for promoting that view rather vigorously.)

Critics of Catholicism look at that and say “see, Catholics believe everyone who is not a Catholic is going to hell.” In a sense, it does mean that – but in reality, what it really means is that we do not presume to know all of our members.

I assume many, many Protestants are actually Catholics. They just don’t realize it.

I happen to think this is a beautiful sentiment, although when I asked Coloss if I could post it, he suggested many other Protestants might not feel that way.

I also think this answers my question about Lewis to a great extent. And the truth of the matter is that it gives me quite a bit of comfort when I ponder my own family: Mom, my brother and sister and their families are all stolid, old-fashioned 'Palies, who keep the Commandments, and recite the Lord's Prayer and the Nicene Creed with as much conviction as anybody. So far as he ever gave any hint to anybody about his spiritualism, Dad was certainly headed in that direction in his later years. And of course, I myself have steared the Missus and the Llama-ettes there. While I clearly hear the call to Rome myself, the concept that the Church would, in effect, damn the lot of them because they could not or would not yet hear (or perhaps a better word would be "understand") the same call was beginning to make me feel quite queesy.

I'm curious about what others of you have to say on this issue. BUT let me warn you here and now: I understand that feelings can run very high among some of our readers, both for and against Rome. The purpose of this post is not to inflame those feelings, to debate the merits of the Reformation, or to refight the gorram 30 Years' War. Instead, it is to help me air out my thoughts and enrich my understanding of what is for me a complicated question. Good faith responses - from whatever perspective - will be greatly appreciated. Snarling abuse - from whatever perspective - will be given the boot summarily.

Posted by Robert at October 26, 2007 12:01 PM | TrackBack

I think, ultimately, it boils down to salvation - not what church you attend. In that respect, it's like the invisible church of which Colossus speaks if we understand that church to be composed of those who have salvation. Salvation comes solely through the blood of Jesus Christ (ref. John 14:6 where Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.") that was shed as a once for all sacrifice for the sins of the world. Being good, attending church, and receiving the sacraments are outward expressions that hopefully reflect an acceptance of Christ's blood on your behalf. However, you can do all of those things and not have salvation if you have not come to the Father through an acceptance of Christ's blood on your behalf.

Posted by: beth at October 26, 2007 12:25 PM

It may be overly simplistic of me, but I have to think that God will sort it out when the Day of Judgment comes. After all, He's omniscient and we have to put our faith in Him.

When I was having my last chemo treatment, a lady sat down next to me, and a friend she'd brought along to keep her company decided to butt into a conversation I was having with someone else. That lady left and I was stuck having to chat with this friend, while the patient was on the phone with her pastor, telling him her good news, which was that her treatment was working and that her cancer was going into remission. The friend was going on and on about how good the Lord was to give her friend a reprieve. That all of this was because her friend had so much faith in the Lord, that she was devoted to her Bible Study, that she'd helped other people in their church who'd also been diagnosed with cancer, etc. I have to think that the nurses, who were readying her chemo, were a tad annoyed that they weren't getting any credit for this remission, but that's beside the point. In the process of this conversation, the lady had told me that her son-in-law, a doctor, had warned her that her friend probably wasn't going to make it; that her colon cancer was bad because it had made it into her liver, and would probably go into her bones next, and that would be that. Then, in the next breath, she proceeded to tell me that her son-in-law was going to hell because he hadn't accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Like there was a direct correlation between his diagnosis and the condition of his soul in her mind. There wasn't any doubt in her mind about it, and I got the feeling she wasn't too sad about the prospect.

It's always shocking when you come across someone like that. So judgmental, so sure they're following the right path that they have the right to damn someone to hell simply because that person believes differently than they do.

I can't be like that woman. I can't damn someone to hell simply because they don't believe as I do. Like I said up top, God knows what the score is and ultimately He's the decision maker.

Posted by: Kathy at October 26, 2007 12:39 PM

You may consider my Evangelical self a Catholic if it makes you feel better, I like what Colossus says about the church Invisible.

Keep in mind also that Lewis subscribed to the righteous pagan. In The Last Battle one of his Muslim analogues ended up in Heaven, as God counted all his piety and service to His account.

Posted by: Taleena at October 26, 2007 12:46 PM

Alright, I haven't read what everyone has advised on your question Robbo, but the short answer is no.

The Catholic Church does not believe nor does it teach that all protestants are condemned to Hell.

Do some Catholics believe this? Short answer :Yes. But then there are Catholics who believe in birth control, abortion, gay marriage and the dating of attractive animals.

There was once a Catholic priest who taught the heresy that all protestants were condemned. Imagine that? Well, if memory serves, this heretic hailed from Tennessee and his teachings got on like wildfire in Malibu. The Pope at the time (this would be the '20's so do the math) had to write a letter personally addressing this heresy. I have a copy of that letter -it is actually a booklet somewhere in my files. The heretic was defrocked by the Pope too. However his heresy lives on strongly, ironically, more in the Protestant churches than in the Catholic Church.

Perhaps Colossus knows of what I speak and can fill in the gazillion of blanks.

The Truth is everyone is saved through the Catholic Church. The blood of the martyrs has kept the altar and the sacraments safe. People, particularly protestants don't like to hear that but it's true.

Check out Joseph Pearce's book where he makes the case had C.S. Lewis been alive today, he (and D. Sayers as well) would have swum the Tiber. Pearce is an Englishman and a convert.

And God is the final judge as to who gets in to Heaven. Being Catholic doesn't make you a shoe-in, but it does help because actively participating in the sacramental life helps...a lot.

Posted by: Mrs. Peperium at October 26, 2007 01:28 PM

"We are justified by faith" said Paul, and that's all there is to it: All that maters is that you have a saving faith in Christ. I'm sure there are subjects of the heavenly kingdom in every christian denomination, regardless of their level of doctrinal understanding.

Anyone who claims to know the dispensation of another's soul with God is simply lying. Sure, we can be pretty sure we won't run into Adolph Hitler or Pol Pot in the world to come, but come on: The opinion of one denomination or another in the matter holds not a single drop of water.

Posted by: Hucbald at October 26, 2007 01:43 PM

A few notes:

The doctrine should be "Extra ecclesiam nulla salus"; forgive my rather poor Latin. There is an article on it here:


Skip down to the section called "Summary of the Catholic Dogma 'Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus'" for the shorthand view. It accords fairly well with what I am saying, but does not use the terminology of the visible and invisible Church -- oddly enough, though I am a cradle Catholic, the terms "visible and invisible church" are Reformed terminology. Perhaps I am a closet Calvinist? Unlikely -- I am, in term of my theology of predestination, closer to being a Molinist.

I do think the terms are apt, though, in describing those who are, to use the Catholic terminology used by Wikipedia, attached to the church by implicit desire. They are not visibly Catholics, and yet, somehow, they are still Catholics.

I don't know about the '20s, Mrs. P., but in the 1950s it was Father Leonard Feeney.


It is a recurring heresy in the church and, in my mind, wrongly underestimates both the mercy of Christ and underestimates the power of faith conveyed in Protestantism. The followers of Father Feeney maintain his excommunication was not promulgated properly by Rome; and that the excommunication was removed before his death by Rome anyway. To me, if one is a Catholic arguing the finer points of canon law in a disagreement with Rome, well, discretion might be the better part of valor. I am not so fond of my theological notions that I'd disobey Rome.

Hucbald, there is no finer paean to faith than than Hebrews, Chapter 11. Makes me tear up when I read it.

Posted by: The Colossus at October 26, 2007 03:26 PM

I went through a period where I sampled and studied many religions. I was completely disgusted by a group of Baptists who assured me that every last person in my devout Catholic family was going to burn in hell for not being Baptist.

Posted by: Ted at October 26, 2007 05:57 PM

Taking the question from another point of view...

The United Methodist church has various affirmations of faith; usually one is read by the congregation as part of the service. The version of the Apostles Creed refers to "the holy catholic church." Not referring to what I think of as the Catholic church, and what you'd be describing as the visible Catholic church, but all of christendom.

Posted by: owlish at October 26, 2007 06:05 PM

See, I knew Colossus would know. Thank you Colossus. It was Father Feeney. The reason I came to know about him was because a protestant friend said that since I was going Catholic I must believe only Catholics went ot Heaven -totally not kidding. I was extremely disturbed, as some might imagine, that someone could sincerly believe I thought such a thing. How perfectly dreadful to be accused of such a wicked thing but I digress. We were in RCIA at the time and I asked our serious Latin Masser priest what to do. He told me about Father Feeney and told me of the papal letter that was written to address Father Feeney's false teaching. I bought the papal letter and read it. Then when the husband's wife called the house looking for a favor, I told him what I had for the two of them to read (he dropped out of the Catholic Church after a failed mariage -his wife who acccused me was his second marriage and I'm quite sure he had told her Catholics believe such lies. He was flabbergasted to say the least to learn I had a papal letter for them...

They've never called back since. I might add this is the Christian couple who inivted Mr. P and I to go "hottubbing" with them...

We never did, naturally...

Posted by: Mrs. Peperium at October 26, 2007 06:17 PM

But then there are Catholics who believe in .....dating of attractive animals Mrs. P

Well, now, Mrs. P., we prefer to think of the LLamas as handsome instead of attractive, in a rascally sort of way.

Posted by: Steve the LLamabutcher at October 26, 2007 07:01 PM

When my Episcopal wife and I were married, we had to obtain a dispensation from the canonical form (we were married in an Episcopal Church, according to 1928 BCP). Other than that, our marriage is regarded by Holy Mother Church as a Christian marriage, and therefore, a sacramental marriage. The Episcopal priest who married us was recognized as Christian minister. Our children are being raised as Catholics.

I occasionally listen to a Christian Radio show, of a Calvinist bent, where I've gathered, a problem with Catholics is they have not accepted Jesus as their personal Savior - which came as news to me (I thought that Baptism, Holy Communion, Confession and Confirmation, had that covered).

Posted by: kmr at October 26, 2007 07:38 PM

One of the reasons I won't swim/cross the Tiber is because of the bad treatment my family received from my mom's side - the "catholics" (I refuse to use the large "c" in that or calling them christian with the big "C" either. We're all looked down upon and have been told we are going to hell and yet not one in the bunch exhibits the love of Jesus. One aunt calls her grandchildren "bastards" within their hearing. Why? because their parents didn't marry in the RC. What a terrible witness to these children. If just being RC gets your ticket punched while you aren't following Jesus' command to follow His Commanments while someone following Jesus's commands/teachings is excluded because they weren't received/baptised/etc., what would be the point? It has never felt like what Jesus would say much less do - out of character. Peter was corrected by Paul, so infallibility of the Pope...I just don't buy it for myself. I can understand a leader being "tapped into God" so I can see what for me is a stretch. I have met a couple/few sweet people who are Catholic, so I know not everyone is like my relatives.

Step-father-in-law pays $10,000 and his marriage to my husband's divorced mom is accepted in the Catholic Church. Doesn't that make her two sons by her previous marriage bastards? SFIL is not the best example of Christian/Catholic charity either. I'm not slamming Catholics - as I said, "my" examples just haven't been good ones. I recognize that they are sinners just as lowly me is one as well.

I try to leave who gets in up to God, I just hope I make it in the gate and haven't ticked God off somehow!!

I think we've all gotten too wrapped up in the "organizational structure". I've been feeling this way about TEC as well. The Pharisees and Saducees didn't have Jesus' respect either. These are the ones I feel He is referring when He talks about those who call on His name and He says depart from Me, I never knew you. God knows our hearts.

The scripture I would have quoted has already been used. Plus Romans 10:9-13: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Jesus said in John 10, starting at verse 16: I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Also, Jesus says in Matthew 12:46-50 when speaking of His mother and brothers: For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

So the answer to your question...what was it again...oh, yeah! An emphatic NO. I don't feel C.S. Lewis was doomed to hell because he didn't say the right ritual to join the "Catholic" church. He was already a part of Christ's church, just as anyone who chooses to follow Jesus and do His will. Could I be wrong? Yep. BUT, it doesn't flow from what Jesus said throughout the Gospels. As our priest says, go to the Book.

One last thought. Our priest had a new member of the vestry years ago who was just "Average Joe" whom Father said God revealed the following to this man: The Great Comission in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus says Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

What if Jesus meant for us to go make disciples - not just believers - by baptizing them by immersing them in the Word - the name AND knowledge of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit by word and deed, especially us modeling Jesus in our lives. Not just a water baptism. Profound.

Posted by: JB in Florida at October 26, 2007 08:08 PM


I agree with much of what you say.

Catholics are often their own worst witnesses, and there are many, many, Catholics in name who do not practice the faith as they ought. One judges by the fruits, to be sure, but it is a big tree and there are many branches, and not all of them are rotten.

Many Catholics may believe that they get a free pass into heaven, but neither the doctrine of the church nor scripture offer a Catholic anything that says this. The sacraments are a means of conveying grace to a soul that is disposed to receive that grace. If I do not love the lord my God with all my heart, and my neighbor as myself, the sacraments, received in bad faith, will avail me as a Catholic nothing.

A corrupt Borgia pope will still quite likely end up in hell, where a righteous Lutheran will end up in Heaven. I do not doubt that in the least.

So why am I a Catholic? I am Catholic because I believe it all adds up. Apostolic succession, the magisterium, Scripture, the church councils, the sacraments, and the Papacy to me are all mutually reinforcing. In knowing my own sinfulness and in looking at the sinfulness of our age, there is none of these I feel that I can safely do without.

And in looking at how the siren lure of modernism has lured a venerable church like TEC onto the rocks, I am drawn to the conclusion that the boat I want to be in is one with a big, ungainly hull and lots of weatherproofing. If it wasn't the barque of Peter, it would be the boat of his brother St. Andrew on the Bosporus. Rage though the modern age will, those churches are, at their hearts, impervious to change.

And I keep looking for that narrow gate.

Posted by: The Colossus at October 26, 2007 10:56 PM

Ok, want to read something spooky?


This is from one of Cardinal Newman's sermons. He was still an Anglican when he wrote it. It is a meditation on the church visible and the church invisible. If I am reading him correctly, he views it as a useful metaphor, but he gives a pretty good critique of the concept. He's covering a lot of the same ground we're discussing here.

I was struck also by how he used another metaphor I used, which was that of the tree and its branches.

I'm wondering if perhaps I read this essay some years ago and it stuck with me, or if it is a case of great minds thinking alike (I say that in jest, because I'm no Newman).

What's spooky to me is that I have been thinking of Cardinal Newman lately because he is under consideration for beatification once again.


Posted by: The Colossus at October 27, 2007 10:14 AM

Colossus, thank you. I quickly read Newman's article and printed it off for further reflection. Please know that I am not judgmental over your or Robert's choices. Obviously I am interested in this whole swimming the Tiber thing or I wouldn't be visiting here. I'm open to hearing more from reasonable people, and more than likely, more informed people. Sometimes it gets a little over my Anglican head, but I'm trying to keep up. I will continue to ponder these things. Blessings. JB

Posted by: JB in Florida at October 27, 2007 09:43 PM

Well done, all around. And Colossus, it is my very fond hope that I am one of those Protestants who is actually Catholic.

Posted by: ScurvyOaks at October 29, 2007 11:34 AM

I’ve been a Baptist for 25 years, and in much of my youth, when Catholicism was discussed at all, the assumption was that it was Catholics who were not going to heaven. I’ve left that viewpoint behind, but I could never swim the Tiber, either. The Cult of Mary and the presumption to speak for God in the elevation of Saints are just beyond my ken - I equate them with the repudiated doctrines around Simony. I have my own assumptions on where those traditions started, but they mostly depend on me ascribing psychological and political motivations to people who lived in a very different world from me, always a dangerous game. I understand why someone would keep those traditions after millennia, but they are an insurmountable barrier to me. I do still hold the opinion that those who started the abiblical traditions in the Catholic Church will have much to answer for in the next life.

Since my youth, I’ve come to take the view of Colossus and Lewis in “The Last Battle”. How dare I presume to know God’s plan? I’ve been shown the Way, and it is for me to follow it as I read it in the Bible, and not worry what anyone else is doing. I’m more likely to be the prodigal son than the faithful son, anyway. Also, I have several people whom I consider to be righteous Pagans as in-laws. My wife is a Chinese Christian, most of her relatives are Buddhists. I agree - it all comes down to salvation. None may come to the Father except through Him, but there does not have to be only one way to Him.

It’s my studied opinion that the people, both Catholic and Protestant, who harp on this, are guilty of what Harper Lee described in “To Kill a Mockingbird” – so busy preparing for the next world, that they forget to live in this one.

Posted by: John at October 29, 2007 08:35 PM