The Church regards Christians of different denominations with great respect. The Catechism of Catholic Church tells us something central concerning this issue:
“However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church” (Un. Redintegratio, 3; CCC # 818).
The Church also acknowledges that:
“Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth” are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements” (Un. Redintegratio, 3; CCC # 819).
The Catechism of Catholic Church also affirms that:
Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity” (Lumen Gentium 8; CCC # 819).
These words do not mean that we should indifferently accept the unfortunate reality of the division inside the Christian family “as something natural”. No, it is not all right for brothers to be divided. Nevertheless, true ecumenism cannot happen by forcing an artificial agglomerate of many different denominations; true ecumenism only happens if all Christians realize that there is one single Church founded by Jesus that guarantees faith and the plenitude of all means of salvation.
Although the Catholic Church is aware of all that, She also knows that She holds the plenitude of all tools of salvation, or as John Paul II said, “all the tools of Grace” (Un. Redintegratio, 3-4).
Our Christian brothers who were born inside other denominations cannot be blamed for historical events of the past; nevertheless, they are deprived of many tools of salvation and sanctity that Jesus has left us: Sacraments, the devotion to Mary, the intercession prayers of the saints and so on.
It is important to take into account that, when the Catholic Church refers to protestant churches, She means the historical traditional denominations. She does not mean the numberless sects that are uncontrollably multiplying at present, in an independent way.
Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, makes it very clear:
“Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation (9*) through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element (10*) For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body (73) (11*)
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic (12*) which our Savior, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd (74) and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority (75) which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth” (76) This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him,(13*) although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.
Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route that it might communicate the fruits of salvation to men. Christ Jesus, “though He was by nature God . . . emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave” (77) and “being rich, became poor”(78) for our sakes. Thus, the Church, although it needs human resources to carry out its mission, is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice. Christ was sent by the Father “to bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart” (79) “to seek and to save what was lost” (80) Similarly, the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve their need and in them it strives to serve Christ. While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled (81) knew nothing of sin (82) but came to expiate only the sins of the people (83) the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal. The Church, “like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God” (14*), announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes.”(84) By the power of the risen Lord it is given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light (Lumen Gentium # 8).
Professor Felipe Aquino
Professor Felipe Aquino is a widower, father of five children. On TV Canção Nova he presents the program “Escola da Fé” [School of faith] and “Pergunte e Responderemos” [Ask and respond], on Radio he presents the program “in the heart of the Church”. On weekends he preaches deepening meetings throughout Brazil and abroad. He wrote 73 books of Catholic background by publishers, Loyola and Cleopas and Canção Nova. His teacher’s page:www.cleofas.com.br Twitter: @pfelipeaquino