Pope Francis: Controversy over the Communion of the Saints

Pope Francis spoke about the communion of the Saints at a general audience Wednesday (2-2-22). Nothing he said was in error. It is easily explained as orthodox. Yet LifeSiteNews and many commentators on social media attacked the Pope for his teaching.

And yet many arrogant persons have accused the Pope of grave error and even heresy for his teaching. Among these accusers are persons who have publicly committed schism and heresy by rejecting the authority of Popes and Councils. And they complain when the Pope teaches that heretics and schismatics, such as themselves, are still in the communion of the Saints. This is a contradiction and a clear hypocrisy. They are unwittingly proclaiming themselves to be not in the Church.

Then there is another contradiction in their position. If Pope Francis were a heretic, as some are saying now, or if he were an apostate or idolater, as some have said in the past, according to their position, he would not be in the communion of the Saints, would not be a member of the Church, and therefore could not be a valid Roman Pontiff. Yet these same persons say “Recognize and Resist”, meaning that they recognize Pope Francis as the true successor of Peter and a valid Pope. So how can he be a heretic, and a valid Pope, but not a member of the Church at all?

Catholic Teaching on the Communion of the Saints

The general audience is here. I encourage you all to read it. The parts that people are complaining about should be put in context. This is the context:

Pope Francis: “Even when we rely fully on the intercession of a saint, or even more so that of the Virgin Mary, our trust only has value in relation to Christ. As if the path toward this saint or toward Our Lady does not end there, no. Not there, but in relationship with Christ. He is the bond, Christ is the bond that unites us to him and to each other, and which has a specific name: this bond that unites us all, between ourselves and us with Christ, it is the ‘communion of saints‘. ”

All human persons are created in the image of God. So we are all brothers and sisters, one human family, for that reason. Then those who are in any way united in Christ are part of the communion of the saints. But this communion has different types and degrees. The fullest communion is to be one of the blessed in Heaven, who have the Beatific Vision of God. The holy souls in Purgatory are also in the communion of the saints, and they cannot lose their salvation, yet they do not have the fullness of that communion and that salvation until they have remitted the punishment due for their sins in Purgatory.

On earth, all who are in the state of grace are members of the communion of the saints. For the Council of Trent teaches that those who receive a baptism with water — the formal Sacrament of Baptism — and those who receive only the baptism of desire are both children of God by spiritual adoption [Decree on Justification
Chapter IV.]. This certainly makes those non-Christians who are in the state of grace by that baptism of desire members of the communion of the saints. For they are called children of God by the Council of Trent. And that teaching is dogma.

Now membership in the Church is attained by either formal Baptism with water, or by non-formal baptism by blood or desire. Non-Christians, then, can be implicit members in the Church by the latter, but their membership is less than full without the former. And this certainly means that membership in the Church, which unites us to Christ and makes us a part of the communion of the saints, admits of different degrees and types. A non-Christian believer might have an implicit baptism of desire, and so be in the state of grace; dying in that state, with invincible ignorance about the need for the Sacraments of the Church, means that non-Christian believer is saved by implicit membership in the Church — saved by Christ.

{25:37} Then the just will answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when have we seen you hungry, and fed you; thirsty, and given you drink?
{25:38} And when have we seen you a stranger, and taken you in? Or naked, and covered you?
{25:39} Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit to you?’
{25:40} And in response, the King shall say to them, ‘Amen I say to you, whenever you did this for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did it for me.’

They didn’t know that they were loving Christ by loving their neighbor. So they were saved by implicitly loving Christ.

In the encyclical Mystical Body of Christ, Pope Pius XII teaches this:

“23. Nor must one imagine that the Body of the Church, just because it bears the name of Christ, is made up during the days of its earthly pilgrimage only of members conspicuous for their holiness, or that it consists only of those whom God has predestined to eternal happiness. It is owing to the Savior’s infinite mercy that place is allowed in His Mystical Body here below for those whom, of old, He did not exclude from the banquet. For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy. Men may lose charity and divine grace through sin, thus becoming incapable of supernatural merit, and yet not be deprived of all life if they hold fast to faith and Christian hope, and if, illumined from above, they are spurred on by the interior promptings of the Holy Spirit to salutary fear and are moved to prayer and penance for their sins.”

So membership in the Church, the body of Christ, which unites us in the communion of Saints, applies variously, in different ways to different situations. Pius XII says that even some persons who will end up in Hell can be members of the Church in this life. He also says that some persons in a state of actual mortal sin, who had a fuller membership by the state of grace but lost that fullness, are still to some extent members of the Church (implying membership in the communion of saints).

Now schism, heresy, and apostasy are grave sins against faith, and so an actual mortal sin of this type would cause the loss of not only love and hope, as does every actual mortal sin, but also faith. This type sin results in automatic excommunication by the very nature of the sin against faith. So the person is cut off from the Church. Yet this does not imply that they are no longer Christian, or no longer Catholic. For they can repent, by the grace of God, and can received the Sacrament of Confession. They have the character of the Sacrament of Baptism, and so they can receive the Sacrament of Confession — which is not available to persons in the state of grace who are non-Christians. So the excommunicated heretic, schismatic, or apostate is not entirely outside of the Church. In some cases, by a sincere but mistaken conscience, they might still be in the state of grace, making them clearly still children of God by spiritual adoption, who have the indwelling of the Trinity. So how can these not be considered to have the communion of saint? But they lost the fullness of membership in that communion, they lost the fullness of membership in the body of Christ by grave sins against faith itself.

What if a Catholic commits apostasy, heresy, or schism as an actual mortal sin? They have lost love, faith, and hope, and they are automatically excommunicated. Yet they have the character of the Sacrament of Baptism and so can repent in grace and receive Confession — a Sacrament only open to members of the Church. They are still, to a very limited extent, members of the communion of saints and members of the Church. And what if an apostate repents at the end of his life, and attains eternal life? Then he or she was always predestined to life and to that communion of the saints.

The point here is that membership in the communion of the saints is varied and admits of degrees and types. In one sense, but not in another, apostates, heretics, and schismatics may still be members. And while Pope Pius XII says they are not, and Pope Francis says they are members, the correct understanding is quite simple and clear: they are members of the Church and the communion of the Saints in one sense and not in another sense. For membership is various. There are apostates, heretics, and schismatics who are still in the state of grace, by a sincere but mistaken conscience. There are apostates, heretics, and schismatics who also lost the state of grace, yet they retain the character of the Sacrament of Baptism. For in order to commit any of these sins, one must first be a Catholic Christian, who later unfortunately rejects the authority of the Church by schism or the teaching of the Church by heresy or the Faith in apostasy.

What Pope Francis Said

“What, then, is the “communion of saints”? The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “The communion of saints is the Church” (no. 946). See what a beautiful definition this is! “The communion of saints is the Church.” What does this mean? That the Church is reserved for the perfect? No. It means that it is the community of saved sinners. The Church is the community of saved sinners. It’s beautiful, this definition. No one can exclude themselves from the Church, we are all saved sinners. Our holiness is the fruit of God’s love manifested in Christ, who sanctifies us by loving us in our misery and saving us from it. Thanks always to him we form one single body, says St Paul, in which Jesus is the head and we are the members (cf. 1 Cor 12:12). This image of the Body of Christ and the image of the body immediately makes us understand what it means to be bound to one another in communion: Let us listen to what Saint Paul says: “If one member suffers”, writes St Paul, “all the members suffer together; and if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with him. Now you are the body of Christ and, each according to his part, his members” (1 Cor 12:26-27). This is what Paul says: we are all one body, all united through faith, through baptism… All in communion: united in communion with Jesus Christ. And this is the communion of saints.”

Notice that the communion of the saints depends upon Christ. So it does not include everyone. However, persons who are neither formal nor informal members of the Church, are nevertheless offered that union with Christ. This is the universal salvific will of God. And some who are not at all members, neither by grace, nor by the Sacraments, might become members before they die, like the Good Thief.

Then we have the example of the Good Samaritan, who had wrong beliefs, but loved his neighbor. The Samaritans were Jews who broke away from Judaism, in a type of schism and heresy, and yet the Good Samaritan was chosen by Christ to be an example for us all. So here we have the teaching of Christ, about a man who was essentially a heretic and schismatic against the Jewish faith established by God, found in our Old Testament. And yet he certainly is a member of the communion of saints, by his love of neighbor and therefore by his implicit union with Christ.

{10:25} And behold, a certain expert in the law rose up, testing him and saying, “Teacher, what must I do to possess eternal life?”
{10:26} But he said to him: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
{10:27} In response, he said: “You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, and from your whole soul, and from all your strength, and from all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
{10:28} And he said to him: “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”
{10:29} But since he wanted to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
{10:30} Then Jesus, taking this up, said: “A certain man descended from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he happened upon robbers, who now also plundered him. And inflicting him with wounds, they went away, leaving him behind, half-alive.
{10:31} And it happened that a certain priest was descending along the same way. And seeing him, he passed by.
{10:32} And similarly a Levite, when he was near the place, also saw him, and he passed by.
{10:33} But a certain Samaritan, being on a journey, came near him. And seeing him, he was moved by mercy.
{10:34} And approaching him, he bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. And setting him on his pack animal, he brought him to an inn, and he took care of him.
{10:35} And the next day, he took out two denarii, and he gave them to the proprietor, and he said: ‘Take care of him. And whatever extra you will have spent, I will repay to you at my return.’
{10:36} Which of these three, does it seem to you, was a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”
{10:37} Then he said, “The one who acted with mercy toward him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go, and act similarly.”

Now what is the worst case for a member of the communion of saints might be an apostate who is also guilty of apostasy to the extent of actual mortal sin. Another worst case would be a Bishop or Cardinal who commits many actual mortal sins, such as crimes against children, and also is a heretic and schismatic. (I have no particular person in mind for these examples.) Sinners can sometimes be extraordinarily sinful. But should we not pray for all sinners, including those who are the worst sinners (at least as far as we mere weak and mortal sinners can discern)? When we pray for those who have fallen so far from the fullness of membership in the communion of saints, we obtain grace for them. They at least receive prevenient grace, which readies them to cooperate with subsequent grace. They at least receive the offer of subsequent grace. So does Christ stand before them, in person, calling them to the fullness of life in His communion.

The Accusations

LifeSiteNews has published many articles of heresy and schism. Its editor, John-Henry Westen, has openly opposed Pope Francis. The publication has promoted the severely heretical and schismatic articles of archbishop Carlo M. Vigano. They have promoted accusations of heresy against the Roman Pontiff, which is itself a schismatic and heretical accusation. (For it is dogma that no Roman Pontiff can fail in faith, and to accuse him of such is to imply that no one should obey him.) And yet they complain when the Pope says that heretics and schismatics can still be in the communion of saints.

LifeSiteNews complains about this portion of the talk by Pope Francis in particular:

“Even by death. In fact, the communion of saints does not concern only those brothers and sisters who are beside me at this historic moment, or who live in this historic moment, but also those who have concluded their journey, the earthly pilgrimage and crossed the threshold of death. They too are in communion with us. Let us consider, dear brothers and sisters, that in Christ no one can ever truly separate us from those we love because the bond is an existential bond, a strong bond that is in our very nature; only the manner of being together with one another them changes, but nothing and no one can break this bond. “Father, let’s think about those who have denied the faith, who are apostates, who are the persecutors of the Church, who have denied their baptism: Are these also at home?” Yes, these too. All of them. The blasphemers, all of them. We are brothers. This is the communion of saints. The communion of saints holds together the community of believers on earth and in heaven, and on earth the saints, the sinners, all.”

Notice that this communion of the saints, which includes some of the worst sinners, is “in Christ”. These apostates and persecutors and blasphemers “have denied their baptism”. So this refers to baptized Christians, who continue to have the character of baptism and the right to return to the Church by Confession if they repent. Non-Christians do not have a right to receive the Sacrament of Confession; they must be baptized when they are ready.

Then Pope Francis makes the same point I already explained at length above, that there are different types and degrees of membership in the communion of saints: “only the manner of being together with one another them changes.” So when a Catholic Christian commits apostasy, heresy, or schism, the manner of being together, in other words, the type or degree of communion changes. It is not as if these grave sins have no effect on their membership in the communion of saints. But they are still brothers and sisters, whose repentance we seek because we wish them to have the fullness of this membership, rather than to lose it forever by eternal damnation.

LifeSiteNews complains: ‘A number of Catholics have accused Francis of “heresy,” while others wrote that his address essentially “denies the existence of hell.” ‘

It does not deny the existence of Hell, since this communion is “in Christ” and since “those who have concluded their journey, the earthly pilgrimage and crossed the threshold of death” are only still in the communion of the saints if they remain in Christ. The damned in Hell have no love for anyone, neither for God nor neighbor, so they do not remain in the communion of saints. This is implied by what Pope Francis says: “it is the community of saved sinners”. This means that the damned in Hell, who lost their salvation won for them by Christ are not in the community of saved sinners. Obviously.

Edited to add (2/10/22): Francis also said: “The communion of the saints holds together the community of believers on earth and in heaven.” Again, this excludes those souls in Hell, and it does not include everyone on earth.

People are so quick to accuse Pope Francis of grave error, and so slow to see their own grave errors. If you and the Pope disagree, any Pope, what is more likely, that the Pope departed from the true faith and is a heretic, or that you erred? How filled with pride do you have to be to assume, at every turn, at every point of controversy, that you must always be right and the Pope must continually be wrong? Is LifeSiteNews indefectible? Does OnePeterFive have the charism of truth and never-failing faith? This is Pride to such an extent as to be laughable.

As for the claim that Pope Francis is guilty of heresy for this teaching, I’ve already shown that it is orthodox. And it is implied rather clearly that LSN agrees Pope Francis may be guilty of heresy. The article supports those who are rejecting the teaching of the Pope, and makes it seem as if they must be right.

LifeSiteNews complains: “What Francis left out when quoting from the CCC was a subsequent paragraph stating that this communion must be shown first by a “communion in the faith” and “of the sacraments.” ”

No, he did not leave that out. He referenced baptism, saying that apostates and others have denied their baptism. He called the communion of saints a community of saved sinners. And he based this communion on union with Christ.

The LSN complaint continues:

Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The term ‘communion of saints’ therefore has two closely linked meanings: ‘communion in holy things (sancta)’ and ‘among holy persons (sancti)’.”

This text automatically contradicts his suggestion that one can be a member of the Church and the communion of saints, while also being an unrepentant heretic or apostate.

The teaching of the Church on the communion of saints is not entirely contained in that quote. See the teaching in Mystical Body of Christ, n. 23 by Pope Pius XII. Someone can “lose charity and divine grace through sin”, yet if he still retains faith, Pius XII says he is still a member of the Church. But clearly this type of membership is not full. The offer of salvation is universal, but not everyone accepts that offer. So while the CCC states correctly that the communion of saints is, in its fullness and in what God intends, a communion in holy things among holy persons, there is more to it than that. Even someone unrepentant from actual mortal sin can still be a member of the Church and of the communion of saints, to some extent, in some way, as Pope Pius XII and Pope Francis teach.

So the CCC text does not “automatically contradict” the teaching of Pope Francis. As for unrepentant heretics or schismatics, many of those who are accusing Pope Francis over this general audience — which falls at best under the non-infallible magisterium — are themselves guilty of at least material heresy and material schism. They reject Vatican I and II. They reject teachings of recent Popes since Vatican II. They reject the authority of the Church over discipline and over the Mass. The promote their own ideas over the decisions of proper authority in the Church. And they speak as if they can never be wrong about anything in doctrine or discipline. They are unrepentant heretics and schismatics, at least materially.

But they themselves do not distinguish between material and formal heresy, nor between those who commit an actual mortal sin, and those who might be formal heretics without actual mortal sin. Is not a Catholic who is still in the state of grace in the communion of saints? He or she would still have the indwelling of the Trinity, despite possibly holding to material heresy. Without any distinctions, they wish to throw many persons away from Christ, including themselves.

I quoted the encyclical Mystical Body of Christ above. LSN quotes it also:

In his 1943 encyclical, Mystici corporis Christi, Pope Pius XII teaches that “only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.”

Here, Pius XII is speaking of formal membership in the Church. As Saint Thomas Aquinas and Pope Saint Pius X and many others have taught, implicit baptism of desire makes one a member of the Church implicitly.
Here is a summary of Catholic teaching on implicit baptism of desire.
And Pope Saint John Paul II teaches in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio: “10. The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all.”

What Pius XII teaches is correct, as concerns formal membership in the Church. But the Council of Trent teaches that those with a baptism of desire, but not a baptism with water (the full Sacrament), are still children of God by spiritual adoption. So when we look at the teaching of the Church more broadly, we see that the claims of LSN are false. Here is the full text of the quote LSN gives:

Pius XII: “22. Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed. “For in one spirit” says the Apostle, “were we all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free.”[17] As therefore in the true Christian community there is only one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism, so there can be only one faith.[18] And therefore, if a man refuse to hear the Church, let him be considered – so the Lord commands – as a heathen and a publican. [19] It follows that those who are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit.”

LSN refuses to hear the Church. OnePeterFive refuses to hear the Church. The many accusers of Pope Francis, of other Popes, and of Vatican I and II, are refusing to hear the Church. Let such persons be considered as a heathen and a publican, says the rest of the quote offered by LifeSiteNews. They complain that Pope Francis only gives part of the text from the CCC, and then they do the same with a quote from Pius XII.

All these papal accusers, who refuse to accept the authority of the Roman Pontiffs, and of the Ecumenical Councils, who refuse to accept the teachings of the Church, instead advancing their own distorted and heretical teachings, are not fit to judge anything that Pope Francis teaches. For they themselves do not listen to the Church. Thus, they fall under their own condemnation.

But as the teaching of the Church presented above clearly implies, they are still in the communion of the saints, to some extent, and they can return to its fullness by the grace of God. May God bring them to repentance.

LSN complains: “The trustworthy and highly praised Baltimore Catechism (No.3 q. 170) defines the communion of saints by noting that this union must be centered on Christ, thus also ruling out those “who have denied the faith…their baptism” from such a union.”

It is not faithfulness to accept only those teachings of the Magisterium which one finds agreeable to one’s own fallen faculty of reason. Faith accepts teachings which are not clear to one’s own reasoning. It is not faithfulness to listen to the Baltimore Catechism, and not to the Roman Pontiff or the Second Vatican Council.

Then the Baltimore Catechism does not actually rule out those who have denied their baptism from the union of the saints. That is a conclusion that LSN draws by refusing to draw any distinctions within the communion of saints. Pius XII distinguishes those who are in a state of grace from those who have lost the state of grace (MBC 23), yet holds both groups to be members of the Church. Then Pope Francis certainly does refer the communion of the saints to Christ, just as pointed out earlier in this article.

LSN then cites the Baltimore Catechism on Hell, which is not really relevant to Pope Francis’ talk, since he clearly states that the communion of saints is a community of saved sinners — obviously excluding those who have eternally lost their salvation in Hell.

In the nearly nine years of Pope Francis’ pontificate, most if not all of the accusations against him are based in large part on an uncharitable interpretation of his words. There is a clearly orthodox interpretation, yet they ignore this in favor of an interpretation that is easily refuted. This is seen in the continued false claim that Pope Francis does not believe in Hell.

LSN: “Father Ron Vierling highlighted Francis’ apparent rejection of the role of free will in salvation….”

LSN quotes a tweet from Fr. Vierling. Nothing that Pope Francis said indicates that all are saved. Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken of eternal damnation in Hell. So that is a false claim.

LSN then quotes Nick Donnelly:

“(pope) Bergoglio includes apostates and blasphemers in the communion of saints. What more proof do we need that Bergoglio does not believe in sanctifying grace, that he does not believe in divine filiation!! This is why he’s not bothered about people committing mortal sins”

Donnelly was one of the original signatories to the “Filial Correction for the propagation of heresies” accusing Pope Francis of heresy. If a heretic is not in the communion of saints, then he is also not a member of the Church. So how can he be a valid Pope? Some of the papal accusers contradict themselves by calling the Pope a heretic but recognizing him as a valid Pope.

Donnelly seems to reject the validity of Pope Francis entirely. He puts “pope” in parentheses, and calls the Pope by his name used prior to becoming Pope, rather than by his papal name. He accuses Pope Francis of the heresy of not believing in sanctifying grace nor in divine filiation. This accusation by Donnelly is itself heretical, since the charism of truth and never-failing faith is a dogma of the ordinary universal Magisterium and of Vatican I. A Pope cannot fail in faith by failing to believe in sanctifying grace. And Donnelly also rejects the very authority of Pope Francis, as indicated by the way he speaks about the Roman Pontiff, which is schismatic.

So again we have an example of a heretic and schismatic who does not believe that heretics and schismatics are members of the communion of saints, nor of the Church.

The article by LSN ends with these two remarks:

Meanwhile the Lepanto Institute also levied the possible charge of heresy against the Pope, saying: “Someone care to explain how this isn’t outright heresy?”

Shortly before the Pope Francis’ comments, a man attending the audience shouted up at the Pontiff in English and then Italian, protesting the Pope’s teaching, and saying “God rejects you.”

This article by LSN clearly promotes the ideas that the Pope is a heretic who is rejected by God. Nothing is said to contradict these two claims, the one by the Lepanto Institute and the other by a man who seemed emotionally disturbed or perhaps mentally ill. LSN is using its promotion of the accusations of others to make the same accusations themselves, implicitly.

God does not reject the Vicar of Christ. For as Pope Pius XII teaches in Mystical Body of Christ, the encyclical quoted by LSN, “Christ and His Vicar constitute one only head” of the one Church. And the authority of Peter and his successors is the authority of Christ, so much so that whatever the Pope determined on earth under the keys of Saint Peter, is confirmed in heaven. And these two Keys of Peter and his successors are the authority over doctrine and the authority over discipline. But the papal accusers refuse to accept this authority, preferring their own ideas over what Christ teaches through His Church.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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7 Responses to Pope Francis: Controversy over the Communion of the Saints

  1. Davi says:


  2. Todd Voss says:

    The attacks are becoming ever more sloppy and reckless. And shameless .

  3. Robert L Fastiggi says:

    Thank you very much, Ron, for your excellent insights on what Pope Francis said about sinners and the Communion of Saints. I was happy to read this article on the issue, which cites the Cistercian theologian, Fr. Roch Kereszty:https://www.ncregister.com/cna/what-did-pope-francis-say-about-sinners-baptism-and-the-communion-of-saints

    In his 1968 Credo of the People of God, St. Paul VI notes that the Church is “holy, though she has sinners in her bosom, because she has no other life but that of grace” (no. 19). If the Church, as the Catechism no. 946 notes, is the “communion of saints,” then the communion of saints has sinners in her bosom on earth. St. Paul VI has in mind the the teaching of Vatican II that “the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the path of penance and renewal (Lumen Gentium, 8). What Pope Francis teaches about the Communion of Saints in his General Audience is in perfect accord with Catholic doctrine (when understood correctly).

    I wonder whether some of the papal critics critics would accuse Jesus of rejecting the burial of the dead because of what He says in Luke 9:60: “Let the dead bury their dead.” Perhaps they might also accuse Jesus of advocating self multilation because of what He teaches in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-30). My point is that we must interpret what anyone says within its proper context and meaning.

  4. Lawrence says:

    It’s just getting crazier and crazier by the day..

  5. Memento Mori (@mementomori_mt) says:

    Although public apostates and heretics, schismatics and “excommunicati vitandi” are outside the legal organisation of the Church, still their relationship to the Church is essentially different from that of the unbaptised.

    As the baptismal character which effects incorporation in the Church is indestructible, the baptised person, in spite of his ceasing to be a member of the Church, cannot cut himself off so completely from the Church, that every bond with the Church is dissolved. The obligations arising from the reception of Baptism remain, even when the use of the rights connected with it are withdrawn by way of punishment. Thus the Church claimsjurisdiction over baptised persons who are separated from her.

    Ludwig Ott. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 311.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I’ve edited out of the above comment a couple of paragraphs. One claimed that material heretics, who err in good faith, lose membership in the Church. This is certainly false. Only formal heresy and formal schism excommunicate, not mere material heresy or mere material schism.

      The other paragraph concerned secret apostates, heretics, and schismatics; it claimed that they do not lose membership. To the contrary, just as actual mortal sins which are secret still cause the loss of the state of grace, so also secret grave sins against faith — apostasy, formal heresy, formal schism — obtain automatic excommunication in the eyes of God, who sees all our sins, and in the eyes of our conscience.

      There is a distinction between mere visible membership and true spiritual membership in the Church, and membership admits of different degrees and types. But visible membership cannot be simply a ruse, where a person who has abandoned Christianity in the sin of apostasy, for example, would still be somehow a member of the Church (except in the very limited way discussed in the last paragraph in the comment above.

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