Doubletalk: The Art of being Deliberately Ambiguous
Question: I grew up in a Catholic family and my only concept of the "Saints" was that pantheon of Roman Catholic super-humans whose statues we saw inside and outside of our churches. I didn't know at all that a saint is someone who is forgiven and justified by God. I had to become a born-again Christian, and eventually leave the Roman Catholic Church before this biblical fact made a transformation in my life. It really took me years to unlearn the Catholic concept of sainthood and to re-learn the biblical truth. Just because the Catechism says that "the members [of the Catholic Church] are called ‘saints’ (Paragraph 823) means absolutely nothing to the average Catholic!
Answer: This is a typical example of the ambiguity and vagueness of modern Roman Catholic literature. Through the process of canonization the Vatican declares a few departed Catholics as "saints." In practice these alone are recognized as saints in the Catholic Church. But to neutralize the massive biblical evidence that all living Christians are saints, the Catechism includes a short statement saying that the members of the church are called saints.
Rome has this unusual skill to speak out of both sides of its mouth. Let me give you some examples:
You may think of different reasons for Rome's equivocations.
If any person desires to know for certain the way of salvation, Rome is not the place to find it. The Bible is able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. The Bible is clear and true.
References to The Catechism of the Catholic Church are given as paragraph number in brackets.
(1) The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism (1250).
If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life – if so be, however, that he depart in grace, -and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema (Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 32).
(2) Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in the unity of his divine person; for this reason he is the ONE and only MEDIATOR between God and men (480).
Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix (969).
Mary's function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power (970).
(3) "In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ's Passover, and it is made present the sacrifice Christ offered ONCE FOR ALL on the cross remains ever present. [Cf. Heb 7:25-27.] 'As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which 'Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed' is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.' (1364).
But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper 'on the night when he was betrayed,' (he wanted) to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented (1366).
The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood (1382).
However, it is in the eucharistic cult or in the eucharistic assembly of the faithful (synaxis) that they exercise in a supreme degree their sacred functions; there, acting in the person of Christ  and proclaiming his mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass they make present again and apply, until the coming of the Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 11:26), the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ offering himself once for all a spotless victim to the Father (cf. Heb. 9:11-28) (Lumen Gentium).
(4) The same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; it is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the uniqueness of Christ’s priesthood: ‘only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers' (1545).Whilst not having the supreme degree of the pontifical office, and notwithstanding the fact that they depend on the bishops in the exercise of their own proper power, the priests are for all that associated with them by reason of their sacerdotal dignity; and in virtue of the sacrament of Orders, after the image of Christ, the supreme and eternal priest (Heb. 5:1-10; 7:24; 9:11-28), they are consecrated in order to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful as well as to celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament (Lumen Gentium).
(5) Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches (Dominus Iesus).
(6) "Outside the Church there is no salvation" How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body (846).
To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation (845).
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation. (847).
The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day" (841).
(7) Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church (Dominus Iesus).
The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all. For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. (Pope John's Opening Speech to the Second Vatican Council).
Council of Trent, Session 6:
CANON 11. If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.
CANON 13. If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.
CANON 24. If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.
CANON 30. If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.
CANON 32. If any one saith, that the good works of one that is justified are in such manner the gifts of God, as that they are not also the good merits of him that is justified; or, that the said justified, by the good works which he performs through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of that eternal life, if so be, however, that he depart in grace, and also an increase of glory; let him be anathema.
(8) If anyone denies that the sacramental confession was instituted, and is necessary for salvation, by divine Law; or says that the manner of confessing secretly to a priest alone, which the Catholic Church has always observed from the beginning and still observes, is at variance with the institution and command of Christ and is a human invention, anathema sit (Council of Trent, Session 14).
Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably. During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this 'order of penitents' (which concerned only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain regions only once in a lifetime. During the seventh century IRISH missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the 'private' practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day (1447).
Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A