Thursday, October 23, 2003

While I was doing the background reading for my European Civilization class, I came across a mention of the infamous papal bull Unam Sanctum. This was the 1302 document that some of my friends had referred to, (not recalling the name) which seemed to contradict current Catholic teaching on salvation. If this bull truly were irreconcilable with the current doctrine- that those outside of the earthly Roman Catholic Church can find mercy with God as well as those within- I would be forced to alter my ideas on papal authority, at the very least.

The bull's last line states, rather infamously and rather quotably, "We declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." Seems direct enough, eh? However, I read the document in light of today's theology and found the development of dogma, not the contradiction of it. The way that Boniface VIII and his contemporaries undoubtedly understood it, belonging to the Church meant being baptized, receiving the Sacraments, assenting to the creeds. The present Catholic teaching affirms that Christ saves humanity through the working of the Church, but adds a better understanding: this is not the Church as we see it, but the eternal Body of Christ made up of all the men and women who come to God.

In other words, God is not arbitrary; the sacraments and institutions of the Roman Catholic Church are full of a special grace, but those outside its communion here on Earth are not barred from God's mercy. I don't think there's any decision procedure we can apply to tell us precisely who submits to the Lord, from only what we can see externally. Thus even Aquinas states that we cannot despair of any person's salvation; we cannot place limits on the grace of God.

What does this mean for our understanding of Unam Sanctam? That those who come to God do indeed submit to the Body of Christ in their sanctification; all those who claim eternal life with Him are then a part of the Catholic (universal) Church, whatever their creed or ideas as we saw them in life. Understand this all? I haven't been explaining to well, but I've traded completeness for conciseness here. If you want me to fully explain what I mean, talk to me or contact me. But long story short, my point is that nothing about the papal bull contradicts current theology, which simply interpreted and explained more fully this pronouncement of the Church. The fact that Boniface VIII and his contemporaries did not understand their own bull as we do today doesn't alarm me any more than the fact that we have an understanding of the events of the Old Testament as the preparation for Christ- an understanding which no prophet had in full (though Isaiah came darn close). So I've avoided heterodoxy for one more week...

P.S. Ironically, one of the highest links on Yahoo! for the search on the papal bull was a website aiming to prove that Vatican II was heresy, John Paul II is an antipope and that the true Roman Catholic Church should support only Latin Mass, only Thomistic philosophy and only monarchy. Sigh...

P.P.S. Now confirmed for the U of C fall concert: Ben Folds and Ben Lee. I'ma get some tickets...

Current music:
Hey Jealousy, The Gin Blossoms
Brandenburg Concerto #3, J.S. Bach
Rain King, Counting Crows
Incident at Neshabur, Santana
Fire and Rain, James Taylor

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