The New Ecclesiology: An Overview
Most Rev. Donald J. Sanborn
Vatican II’s teaching about the nature of the Church, about who belongs to it, and about salvation outside of it, is explicitly heretical.
I. A Neglected Topic
Much ado has been made, in the efforts of traditionalists to combat Vatican II, about the Mass, ecumenism, and religious liberty. It is true that in these areas, Vatican II and its effects have departed from the essence of the Catholic Faith. There is, however, a topic which receives little attention, although one in which bears glaring and bold heresy. It is the new ecclesiology.
Ecclesiology is the doctrine concerning the nature of the Church. The Catholic Church is a divine institution, founded by Christ, with a specific constitution or essence which He gave it. Depart from this constitution or essence, and you have a false church. An organization which claims to be a christian church must prove that its constitution or essence is the same which Christ intended for His Church. It must have essentially the same doctrine, worship, and disciplines as the Church which Christ intended, and must also have the same essential characteristics, such as a hierarchy which is traceable back to the Apostles.
What I have just described has been the Church’s classical method of proving that she is the true Church of Christ. It is known as the science of Apologetics.
Vatican II received an analytical critique only gradually. As Vatican II happened, nearly all Catholics gave to it the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time sensed, unmistakably, that there was something deeply, deeply wrong in the Church during and after Vatican II. By analogy, you tend to believe your doctor when he tells you that you will not have any bad side effects from a new medication. But when the severe side effects come, the reality which you experience overcomes whatever faith you had in your doctor’s word. So when the hierarchy which engendered Vatican II told us that nothing essential changed, we tended to believe it. But as the changes gradually unfolded, and the evidence mounted more and more that Vatican II was a pill of deadly poison, we gradually took a longer look at Vatican II and its causes. In fact, this work is far from done. Much more needs to be written about Vatican II, particularly about those who organized it and directed its content and outcome.
Because the Mass is the "face" of the Catholic Faith, the contrast of the traditional Mass with the new has received the most attention over the years. In fact, there are many who desire to see only the retention of the traditional Mass as the solution to the Church’s problems. They see no problem with Vatican II, or are willing to accept it in a traditional interpretation, in order to save it. The Mass, they say, is the unique problem and therefore the unique solution.
But what gave us the New Mass is Vatican II and the heretical underlying theology of the council. Ecumenism is the spirit of Vatican II, which is the abandonment of the very notion of dogma, the very notion of absolute, unchanging revealed truths. Ecumenism detests the rigid dogmas of the pre-Vatican II Church. Instead, these dogmas must have their lines blurred, and become negotiable, at least in their meaning and import, with the contradicting doctrines of false religions.
It is ecumenism that is at the root of all the problems after Vatican II. Ecumenism could not tolerate a Church that said that it alone was the one true Church of Christ, and that outside of it there is no salvation. It demanded a new ecclesiology, one in which the Church would be seen as a "communion" to which you can partially belong and partially not belong. Salvation could not be restricted to the Catholic Church; you cannot do ecumenism with those whose religions are leading them to hell. Rather all religions lead to God some more directly, some less directly. All religions have value.
Since the papacy is the greatest obstacle to ecumenism, as Montini (Paul VI) himself said, it was clear that it, too, had to go. As a result, collegiality was taught by Vatican II, the doctrine that the supreme authority of the Church is vested in the college or body of bishops.
Likewise in the moral sphere, ecumenism could not tolerate a Church which insisted that civil society recognize it as the one true Church of Christ, to the exclusion of others. Ecumenism could not tolerate that those who profess false religions be told by the state that they had no right to profess or practice these false religions, since to do so would be an insult to God. As a result, the council taught the doctrine of religious liberty.
We say, therefore, that there are four major heresies in Vatican II: (1) ecumenism itself, the basis of the rest of them; (2) the new ecclesiology; (3) collegiality; (4) religious liberty.
The New Mass is but a by-product of ecumenism in the domain of liturgy. There would be no New Mass if the ecumenism had not been triumphant in the minds of the Vatican II clergy.
Besides the heresy of ecumenism itself I think apostasy is a better term it is religious liberty which has occupied the attention of most, as the point in which Vatican II makes its departure from tradition. It is true that it does make a departure, and it does so with striking contradiction to the teachings of recent popes on this issue.
The implication is, however, that there is nothing else wrong with Vatican II, except ecumenism and religious liberty. There are two other very important heresies, heresies which open the door to ecumenical abominations: the new ecclesiology and collegiality.
Here we concern ourselves only with the new ecclesiology.
II. The Traditional Ecclesiology
There is but one Church of Christ, and it is the Roman Catholic Church. It is the one true Church outside of which there is no salvation.
They are members of the Roman Catholic Church who are validly baptized, and who have not been alienated from it by (a) the sin of heresy, (2) the sin of schism, (3) the censure of excommunication. Those who are validly baptized in non-Catholic sects are presumed by Church law to participate in and assent to the sins of heresy and/or schism of their respective sects. Privately, however, they may be not guilty of these sins, owing to invincible ignorance of the true Faith, in which case they may belong to the Catholic Church by desire, provided they fulfill other conditions. In these cases, their adherence to the Roman Catholic Church by desire is sufficient for salvation.
The Roman Catholic Church is absolutely and exclusively identified with the Mystical Body of Christ. They are one and the same thing. There is no distinction to make. The Mystical Body is the Roman Catholic Church considered as a comparison to Christ’s physical body, where He is the Head and we the members.
Absolute requirements for belonging to the Roman Catholic Church and the Mystical Body of Christ are (1) that one profess all the truths which are taught by the Church as pertaining to faith, and (2) that one be submitted to the Roman Pontiff as the visible head of the Church. If either of these conditions is failing, one cannot be a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
Because the Roman Catholic Church is the unique Church of Christ, it is the unique means of salvation. No other church has the means to bring people to heaven. While it is true that they may have certain elements of the truth, both natural and supernatural, and in some cases valid sacraments, these elements are insufficient to lead people to heaven. For they are mixed with poisonous false doctrines which, if they are believed with pride and stubbornness, will necessarily lead to hell. All of the "elements of truth" in the world a true religion do not make, nor a means of salvation. By analogy, to have many elements of an automobile does not make a working vehicle which will bring you to your destination. An aircraft which has only certain "elements" of what an aircraft should have will necessarily crash and burn at the end of the runway, together with all of the people in it. The only way in which people who adhere to these false religions can avoid the inevitable result of being on a ship which is going to the bottom, is if they adhere to the true Faith by desire, at least implicit, and adhere to the false religion through no fault of their own. But they must fulfill many other conditions in order to achieve the justification of their souls and persevere in grace.
III. The New Ecclesiology
In contrast to this simple and logical doctrine concerning the nature of the Catholic Church, and the obligation to belong to it, the Modernists have concocted a new doctrine, a novelty, a heresy.
The new ecclesiology is, as I have said, a product of ecumenism. You cannot do ecumenism with the ecclesiology I have just described, in which all non-Catholic religions are perceived as death-ships, Titanics bound for the mud below. The mania for ecumenism drove the progressive theologians even in the 1930’s toward a theology whereby all religions had a certain value, to the extent that they all possessed some religious truth.
A pioneer in this thinking was Dom Beauduin, a Benedictine. Most prominent however, was Henri de Lubac, whose theology was condemned under Pius XII, but which later became the very teaching of the Council under Montini. De Lubac was later made a "cardinal" by Wojtyla. Yves Congar, a Dominican, was also influential. Ratzinger has become the most notable of all of the promoters of the new ecclesiology, writing two major documents which describe it, his 1992 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion, and his 2000 Dominus Jesus. Both of these were approved and signed by Wojtyla. Both contain explicit heresies concerning the Church.
What is the new ecclesiology? Here it is in summary:
- The Church of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are not one
and the same thing, since non-Catholic churches belong to the Church
of Christ, but not to the Catholic Church.
- The Church of Christ "subsists in" the Roman
Catholic Church, inasmuch as the Roman Catholic Church has the
"fullness" of all of the elements of the Church of Christ.
- The Church of Christ, although it does not subsist in
non-Catholic churches, because they lack the "fullness,"
is nevertheless found in these non-Catholic churches in an imperfect
- Non-Catholic churches are therefore truly "particular
churches" which make up, together with the Roman Catholic
Church, the one Church of Christ.
- The Roman Catholic Church is in "partial communion"
with these non-Catholic churches, to the extent that they have
elements of the Church of Christ, such as valid sacraments and true
- Non-Catholic churches are "means of salvation" to
the extent that they preserve the genuine elements of the Church of
- In those non-Catholic churches that have a valid Eucharist
(e.g., Greek Orthodox), the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic
Church becomes present every time they offer a valid Eucharist.
- Non-Catholic churches which are not subject to the Roman Pontiff (which means all of them) are "wounded" because of this lack of subjection. Yet they continue, despite their repudiation of the Roman primacy, to be "particular Churches," i.e., member-churches of the big Church of Christ.
IV. Analysis and Critique
The new ecclesiology reduces the Church of Christ to an amalgam of many different churches with different and opposing doctrines, disciplines, and hierarchies. Membership in this great and broad Church of Christ is subject to degrees. The more elements you have, the better off you are, and the closer you are to the "fullness," which is found in the Roman Catholic Church.
It is something like bingo. If your card has all the numbers, you have the "fullness" you have bingo. But even if you miss bingo, your card could be half filled or a quarter filled. While you do not have bingo, your card nevertheless has value, since you have an imperfect collection of what makes up bingo.
Everything in this new ecclesiology is "partial" and "full." You are partially Church of Christ if you are non-Catholic, but fully if you are Catholic. Catholics are in "partial communion" with non-Catholics, but wait for the day when they can be in "full communion," i.e., when Modernism erodes the faith enough that people will not care anymore if they are Protestant, Orthodox, or Catholic. Likewise these non-Catholic churches are means of salvation to the extent that they possess valid sacraments and true doctrines. This is as silly as saying that an aircraft has the capacity to take you to Europe to the extent that it has a half a tank of fuel. The fact that it is lacking the other half of the fuel means that you and your fellow passengers are going to be food for the eyeless aquatic creatures that inhabit the dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
In other words, the true Church of Christ is not a collection of true elements, like a pile of rocks, but is a unified essence, a single thing, just as Christ, its head, is one Person. What is outside of Christ cannot be "partially Christ." You cannot be partially a member of Christ, and partially not, any more than you could be partially someone’s son, and partially not. Essence does not admit of degrees or separable parts. Either the whole essence (nature) is there, or none of it is there. Imagine a gas station that advertised that it sold a product "with elements of true gasoline." Imagine an airline that boasted of a fleet of aircraft which possessed "elements of true airplanes," or bragged that its pilots had "elements of true pilot training." Imagine if a waiter put a steak in front of you, and said that it came from an animal that had "elements of true cow." I think the point is made.
"Elements" of the true Church of Christ do not constitute any false sect as a partial member of the Church of Christ. The "elements" are stolen, like so much booty, from the Catholic Church. They are false churches, sects, and their use of Catholic doctrine and Catholic sacraments is under false pretense and sacrilegious. They are involved in a shameful lie when they present themselves as true Christianity, and their lie should be exposed and condemned.
But let the popes speak. I have prepared a triple-column comparison1 of the new ecclesiology and the traditional ecclesiology. In the third column, I draw the conclusion from the comparison.
I have reduced the comparison of the two systems to four questions:
- Whether schismatic and/or heretical churches are part of the
Church of Christ?
- Whether it is possible to be part of the Church of Christ without
being submitted to the Roman Pontiff?
- Whether it is true that in every valid celebration of the
Eucharist, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church becomes
- Whether the Holy Ghost uses schismatic and/or heretical sects as means of salvation?
Read it, and see if you can honestly say that Vatican II is not guilty of heresy.
(Catholic Restoration, Sept-Oct 2004)
1 It is entitled "Part III," since Parts I and II, on ecumenism and religious liberty, respectively, have already been done and appeared in Sacerdotium in the 1990’s.