Pope to Protestants: “Piss off.”

The Vatican just released a new document reiterating that protestant churches aren’t really churches because they don’t have apostolic succession, hence no sacraments. That’s boring–the Vatican II teaching there was pretty clear. What was interesting is that Papa Benedict felt the need to defend Vatican II against conservative catholics.

The text starts off with this:

First Question: Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?

Response: The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council[1]. Paul VI affirmed it[2] and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: “There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation”[3]. The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention[4].

Now I personally love it when catholics claim their dogma isn’t reversing. It sends me back to the history books digging out anti-reformation catholic propaganda. 45 seconds of googling returned this interesting paragraph from the Council of Florence:

[The Roman Church] firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

Now let’s compare that with the text from Papa Benedict:

“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].

Sometimes the spirit even uses Protestant ‘churches’ to save people. Doesn’t that beat all? It’s almost as if somebody would have expected that no protestants would have been saved. But where would a good catholic have gotten an idea like that? Well, the Council of Florence (among others) implies it. If no schismatics will go to heaven and all protestants are schismatics, then no protestants will go to heaven. It’s that simple.  And indeed for generations of Tridentine catholics it was just that simple.

Fortunately nobody in the post Vatican II world believes that any more (which is all to the good). But now the Pope has the unenviable job of trying to tell everybody in the world with a straight face that this is what the Vatican has been saying all along when anybody with ten minutes and an internet connection can look at the texts and show him wrong.


15 Responses to Pope to Protestants: “Piss off.”

  1. […] on the Pope’s “line in the sand” I noted yesterday, from a Protestant and Orthodox […]

  2. Halden says:

    Yeeeaaahhhh. Oh well. Sometimes I need the Catholics to do stuff like this to make me more securely Protestant.

    It feels great! I’m gonna go interpret my Bible without presuppositions as an individual now…

  3. scholasticus says:

    I think you’re confusing Luther and Descartes.

  4. Halden says:

    Heh heh. Yeah. Just doing a little ecumenical innocent stereotyping.

  5. scholasticus says:

    For a catholic take, check out Sacramentum Vitae.

  6. mamasboy2100 says:

    “But now the Pope has the unenviable job of trying to tell everybody in the world with a straight face that this is what the Vatican has been saying all along when anybody with ten minutes and an internet connection can look at the texts and show him wrong.”

    A) This is not what has been said all along. It is an obvious clarification of points in question and discussed.
    B) The sad thing is not that anybody with ten minutes and an internet connection can go understand a 500 year old document and “prove” the pope wrong, but that many people with 10 minutes and an internet connection will go out and misunderstand things and then speak in uncharitably in their pseudo-knowledge about Catholicism.

    Do you really think all Protestants are heretics and schismatics in the sense that the Council of Florence meant? There surely are some, especially of the educated variety, but many aren’t. I have much more fear for the soul of a lapsed Catholic than somebody raised Protestant. The lapsed Catholic often knows that he or she has committed a grievous sin in leaving the Catholic Church. Most lapsed Catholics can’t bring themselves to attend another Protestant church. If they know that they are rejecting the Church, they will burn in hell. A person raised Protestant is often ignorant and innocent of mortal sin.


  7. scholasticus says:

    Re: A, read the document again. As far as I can tell, the effect of the pope’s response is that this is not a new teaching–it is clarifying what is presented as having been the official catholic teaching since pre-vatican II. (I think it certainly is the case that this has been the catholic teaching since Lumen Gentium and perhaps the general sentiment of the curia since the end of the 19th century.

    If you would like to argue that I don’t understand Catholic ecclesiology or the council of trent you are more than welcome to try to prove what it is that i misunderstand. Shaking your head at me disapprovingly and then claiming that I don’t understand is not likely to persuade me.

    The vatican wants to have its cake and eat it too. They want nice ecumenical photo-ops to prove to the secular world that they aren’t medieval but then they want to keep the “we are the only one true church” rhetoric at the same time.

    And–please recall–in previous times there was no hesitation whatsoever that protestants were going to hell and not just the big leaders or pastors. This was the justification of the inquisition–better the body to burn a while on the earth than the soul to burn forever in hell.

  8. scholasticus says:

    It’s not that I’m asserting the Pope and his curial minions are stupid or that they haven’t read their own tradition. Let’s put it this way. I’m sure somewhere in the bowels of the Vatican there are a cadre of Italian Cardinals who spend 12 hours a day tearing their hair out trying to find ways to put all the little bits of catholic dogma together into some sort of plausible, coherent whole. What I think most Catholics don’t realize is exactly how difficult their job is. What I’m asserting is that their job is so difficult that in fact it is impossible without fudging.

    What counts as fudging? Well, suppose I were a very old catholic priest and I actually remembered growing up at a very conservative parish before Vatican II where the dominant assumption (which was as old as living memory) was that all non-catholics (including protestants, Jews, pagans and unbaptized infants) went to hell. Now, you watch vatican II happen and then you ask, “wait a minute . . . the council of florence and a whole passel of papal bulls from the middle ages make it pretty clear that you have to be a catholic in good standing to make it through the pearly gates, so why are we all of a sudden saying that some protestants get to go to heaven?” The response from the Vatican would be this, “Dear Brother, interpretation of the deposit of faith does not belong to private judgment but belongs to the magisterium alone–what we are saying now is not a change. We have always said that everybody gets to go to heaven if they obey their conscience and you if you dare to claim otherwise, then you will be excommunicated for obstinancy.”

    Don’t tell me this is not how things actually go on in the Vatican. In fact, this has happened before with Feeneyism. (Feeney was a bit of a jerk and he probably got what was coming to him when they excommunicated him, but still.)

  9. mamasboy2100 says:

    S: I think you are reading the council of Florence outside of a Catholic understanding of mortal and venial sin in general.

    MB: Being a heretic or a schismatic is grave matter. Such actions can send a person to hell, and the Pope has not denied this. However, grave matter is a necessary but insufficient condition for sin to be considered mortal. For sin to be mortal, it must also be involve a voluntary, knowledgeable act of free will.

    “Some sins admit of no lightness of matter, as for example, blasphemy, hatred of God; they are always mortal (ex toto genere suo), unless rendered venial by want of full advertence on the part of the intellect or full consent on the part of the will.”

    “Error and ignorance in regard to the object or circumstances of the act to be placed, affect the judgment of the intellect and consequently the morality and imputability of the act. Invincible ignorance excuses entirely from sin. Vincible ignorance does not, although it renders the act less free (see IGNORANCE). The passions, while they disturb the judgment of the intellect, more directly affect the will. Antecedent passion increases the intensity of the act, the object is more intensely desired, although less freely, and the distrubance caused by the passions may be so great as to render a free judgment impossible, the agent being for the moment beside himself (I-II:6:7, ad 3um).”

    “The true malice of mortal sin consists in a conscious and voluntary transgression of the eternal law, and implies a contempt of the Divine will, a complete turning away from God, our true last end, and a preferring of some created thing to which we subject ourselves.”

    One cannot take the discussion of heresy and schism outside of the context of the Catholic ideas on sin in general and come to correct conclusions. Heresy and schism as simply general categories of sin. All Florence did was classify them as undeniably grave matter, which wasn’t really a revelation in light of the pre-C of F teachings of the church.

    ““wait a minute . . . the council of florence and a whole passel of papal bulls from the middle ages make it pretty clear that you have to be a catholic in good standing to make it through the pearly gates, so why are we all of a sudden saying that some protestants get to go to heaven?””

    The council of Florence took place at a time when many people where consciously rejecting what they knew was right. They had lived and breathed the air of Catholicism. Vatican II took place in an entirely different cultural scene and acknowledged that fact. It did not say that those who “knowingly” and “freely” reject the Catholic Church are going to heaven. That would have been a contradiction of the Council of Florence, since Florence clearly delineated several heresies and stated emphatically that they were grave matter. Even today, the Catholic Church teaches that rejecting the Catholic Church is grave matter, capable of sending a person to hell. Dominus Iesus and Lumen Gentium, etc, do not contradict that idea. When I said VII’s position was a clarification of points discussed, I meant that it was an acknowledgment of a different cultural situation and a clarification of the particular application of general principles that have not changed.

    S: “And–please recall–in previous times there was no hesitation whatsoever that protestants were going to hell and not just the big leaders or pastors.”
    MB: I didn’t say it was just the big leaders who are going to hell. I simply stated *my opinion* that they are much more likely reject the Church with knowledge and free will. I will give you two examples of people I know who will likely go to hell if they don’t repent. My sister-in-law has rejected the Church and begun attending Lutheran services. My friend’s wife appears to know that the Catholic Church is correct, but has chosen to avoid converting, most probably because she doesn’t want to hurt her parents, since she grew up as a pastor’s kid. At least that’s the best explanation my friend has been able to come up with in over 10 years of marriage. The Catholic Church clearly teaches that their souls are in danger. I know several people who are praying for them and very fearful for their souls. To give a contrasting example, when I was growing up as a Protestant, there was no way that one could say that I or many of my friends had rejected the Catholic Church. We didn’t even know what she was. Almost everything we had been taught about her was false. While we held to heretical and schismatic ideas and actions, we did so out of ignorance. It was only after I began to learn what the Catholic Church really was and taught that I began to acquire the necessary knowledge to make my further rejection of the Catholic Church a mortal sin. It would have been much more difficult in the mid-1400’s to claim ignorance of the Church.


    PS: Regarding the inquisition, how does burning a heretic save their soul? If they die unrepentant, they are still going to hell. It is only helpful if A) it keeps them from spreading the heresy and causing others to go to hell or B) it causes a last minute conversion. Otherwise, it is simply sending them to hell more quickly without any eternal benefit whatsoever.

  10. scholasticus says:


    There are a couple problems here.

    First, you are quoting Thomas Aquinas as if he were the definitive expositor of these questions. He’s a useful tool to get the pulse of the theologians at the end of the 13th century, but his explanations of this are not de fide truths of the faith. I’m purposely trying to limit myself to these de fide claims.

    Second, the distinction between mortal and venial sins does not come into it. The word “cannot” implies impossibility. If the CoF teaches a non-catholic “cannot” go to heaven, then it does not matter to me why. There is simply no way to construe “cannot” to mean “may in some circumstances”.

    Third, you keep asserting that the teaching is really directed against people who know catholicism is true and choose against it anyway. The problem here is that this is a null set (or a practically null set). If you knew catholicism were true, then you would be a catholic (except perhaps for some strange anomalous situations). I have at least as good an understanding of catholicism as any catholic lay person I’ve ever met and a much better understanding of medieval theology than most of my catholic seminarian friends and yet I feel no attraction whatsoever to the church of rome. I am not invincibly ignorant, nor am I ideologically opposed–i simply think that catholic theology is a litany of superstition, historical obfuscation and ad hoc justifications for the absolutizing of papal political power. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ll certainly not convert till i’m proven otherwise. If on the other hand, I believed that the catholic church were the only one true holy apostolic church I would join in a heart-beat. But my current position is not based in ignorance, but rather in historical knowledge.



  11. scholasticus says:

    Also, i think you understood the two motivations of the inquisition perfectly, except that stopping the spread of heresy is a political concern as well as a religious one, which is why the spanish king was such a big supporter of the inquisition. This is why dutch-speaking belgians are all still catholics unlike their calvinist neighbors to the north–at the time this area was called spanish flanders and if you started talking like a calvinist, well . . . . the cardinal would like a word with you.

  12. Michael Westmoreland-White says:

    I’ve known even Catholic scholars who admit that Councils and popes change without ever admitting it. I had one Catholic colleague characterize any papal encyclical that declared something new as always quoting a former pope: “As our brother in Christ of blessed memory Thus-and-So said so clearly, XXX” before using that quote to mean YYY–or nearly the opposite of what old Thus-and-So meant. 🙂

  13. mamasboy2100 says:

    “First, you are quoting Thomas Aquinas as if he were the definitive expositor of these questions. He’s a useful tool to get the pulse of the theologians at the end of the 13th century, but his explanations of this are not de fide truths of the faith. I’m purposely trying to limit myself to these de fide claims.”

    The problem with this approach is that you are trying to understand Catholic de fide truths using only Catholic de fide truths. This is a Protestant way of looking at things (e.g., sola scriptura). Catholics don’t approach councils this way. We feel that we need to look outside councils to understand what was meant by what they wrote. That is why understanding the view of mortal and venial sins that was held by the bishops who composed the decisions of the Council of Florence is essential for understanding the meaning of the texts you cite regarding Protestant heretics.

    The council of Florence decided that holding to specific Protestant heresies was grave sin. Undoubtedly (to a Catholic) there will be many who held those views in hell. It doesn’t mean that *everybody* who committed that grave sin will end up there.

    Regarding the null set claim, that is certainly not the case. As I have stated previously, I personally know two people who have made the decision to reject the Catholic Church in spite of not denying the truth of its claims. This is readily admitted to by their husbands and is the cause of much prayer on their behalves. Does it really come as a surprise that such situations were much more common back in the days of the Council of Florence when the secular powers were very concerned about the faith of their subjects and wielded tremendous influence in that regard? Do you really think that all the people involved in the mass Protestant conversions in Germany and other Protestant areas were solely due to people being convinced of errors in Catholicism? It seems pretty obvious to me that there were many who converted to save their asses/power/wealth. We certainly have record of persecutions, even to martyrdom, for those who didn’t follow along when the secular rulers left the Catholic Church.

    “But my current position is not based in ignorance, but rather in historical knowledge.”

    Heh, heh. If you cannot see the error in your interpretive methodology regarding the Council of Florence, I would say there’s a good case that could be made for invincible ignorance. 😉


  14. scholasticus says:


    I don’t have time to waste on this nonsense. The only “error” with my methodology is that it doesn’t give you the answer that you want. Like all catholic apologists it doesn’t matter what evidence I would ever adduce for you, you will persist in your opinion regardless. If we don’t confine ourselves to the de fide propositions, but look to the other beliefs held by the fathers of the councils then i have a much easier time indeed generating contradictions in catholic teaching. (The Father of Trent undoubtedly believed that the word of God was partly in the bible in and partly in catholic tradition, which Vatican II repudiates, for instance). I purposefully limit myself to the de fide propositions since the core of the catholic claim is that these are true claims, regardless of what the actual fathers of the council might have thought about them. i.e. the good catholic apologist needs some wiggle room that would allow him to say “well yes, of course most of the fathers of council X believed that, but clearly that isn’t what the holy spirit meant, since later councils have elaborated the point differently.”

    I don’t intend to discuss this any further.


  15. a thomist says:

    Benedict calls Protestants “instruments of salvation” which derive all of their value from another. This does not contradict Florence. Good grief, the greatest instrument of salvation was the Cross and the malice of a certain first century society.

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