In this section, I would like to reflect briefly on some Christian beliefs not explicitly mentioned in the Bible and some beliefs that are the result of differing interpretations of the Scriptures among Christians.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, in paragraphs 234:
The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in Himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.
Judaism rejects the concept of Trinity because, to Jews, it represents belief in three gods and denies the belief in one God. But most Christians point out they also believe only in one God, One Who is three Persons and not three gods. It is a great mystery. In the Gospel of John, Jesus claims that He and the Father are one. Jesus promises to send His Spirit to the Church. He also commissions the Apostles to baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. But the word Trinity does not appear anywhere in the New Testament. The doctrine of three distinct Persons having one nature (God) is derived from the Scriptures, yet this mystery is articulated by the Church through several councils, even though not explicitly mentioned in Scripture. It should be noted that this process took several hundred years and faced the challenge of heretics, some of whom even denied the divinity of Jesus.
Eucharist, the Bread of Life:
The Catholic Church has believed and professed from the beginning of its existence that Jesus Christ is truly present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. It is from chapter 6 of the Gospel of John that the Church sees clearly the scriptural foundation for our Lord’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. It is also based on the words pronounced by Jesus at the Last Supper, as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 11:23-26. Most Protestants do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
About a year after I entered the Church, I got into a discussion with a Protestant friend on the interpretation of the Bible. “How does one know the revealed truth?” I asked him. He told me he was taught the Bible by his church and he could know the truth by reading the Bible and praying to the Holy Spirit for inspiration. I then asked him, since I was a baptized Christian who believes that the Bible is the inspired word of God, if I could do the same in order to know the truth. He answered affirmatively. I then asked him about certain Scripture passages dealing with the Last Supper (Luke 22:19-20) and the bread of life (John 6). In addition, I asked him whether he believed that, when Jesus said, “This is My body; This is My blood” and “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life in you,” he was speaking symbolically or literally. He replied, “Symbolically.” I asked him, “How come the Holy Spirit is telling you one thing and me another? Because I believe that Jesus was speaking literally.” I believe that the Eucharist is the same Jesus who walked the earth 2,000 years ago and who now sits at the right hand of the Father. Since the Holy Spirit is incapable of misleading anyone, it seems only reasonable to believe that the gift to interpret the Bible does not reside in every Christian, no matter how holy and prayerful that person may be.
Men Forgive and Retain Sin:
In the Gospel of John we read the following:
‘As the Father sent Me so am I sending you.’ After saying this He breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’ (John 20:21-23 JB)
The New Testament clearly states, as cited in John and Matthew, that Jesus gave sinful men, the Apostles, the power not only to forgive sin, but also to retain sin. Yet practically all Protestant and Evangelical Christians believe that only God can forgive sins, and not priests (men), as is the case in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Because Jews also believed only God could forgive sins, the scribes were furious with Jesus and called Him a blasphemer when He cured a paralytic with the words, “Courage, my child, your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:1-8). They would rather accuse Jesus of performing sorcery with the help of the devil than believe that He had the authority and power to forgive sin. They couldn’t accept the fact that God would give the power to forgive sin to man. The scribes considered Jesus only a man, not God.
During my conversion process, I read in various Protestant writings that the power to forgive sins was meant only for the Apostles and was not passed on to their successors (bishops), as taught by the Catholic Church. This made no sense. Why would Jesus place such a big obstacle before potential Jewish converts if this power would last only for the relatively short life span of a few Apostles? If Jesus gave this great power to the Apostles, He must have done so because it would be of great benefit for all and not to make it difficult for Jews to embrace His Church. And if the Church at its very beginning needed it, why would it not be needed during all the ages the Church awaited our Lord’s return? Where in Scripture is it stated that this power to forgive and retain sins would end with the death of the last Apostle?
One could also argue that if this power was given only to the Apostles and not passed on, after their deaths, to their successors, might not the same be said of the power to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? In that case, there would not have been any valid baptisms after the last Apostle died. Would there have been Christianity and the power and duty to proclaim the Good News to the world without the Sacrament of Baptism?
Salvation Outside the Church:
What does Christianity say about who can be saved and achieve eternal bliss with God? In chapter 14 of John’s Gospel we read:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)
In chapter 3 of John’s Gospel we read:
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)
Many Protestant Churches, and especially Fundamentalist churches, teach and firmly believe that only baptized Christians can be saved. I had a big problem with this type of thinking since it meant my mother, a good person who believed in God and was responsible for my deep faith, could not get to heaven because she did not believe in Christ. Although she could not comprehend why I became a Christian, she continued to love me and support me. But do the Scriptures cited above literally mean we have to believe in Jesus and be baptized in order to be saved? What about all those great people of the Old Testament like Abraham, Moses, and David who were never baptized and were in “hell” (Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek) waiting for Jesus to open the gates of heaven? We know they were saved, for Scripture tells us that Christ, after His death, descended to “hell” and preached the Gospel to them:
For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God. (1 Peter 4:6)
What happens to those who never heard of Christ or who in good conscience are not convinced He is their Savior? After all, it took centuries for the Gospel of Jesus to be spread to the ends of the earth. Millions in the world today have not yet heard and will not hear about Jesus Christ. Can an atheist be saved? What happens to the millions of aborted babies who have not been baptized? We know from John’s Gospel that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to save it. God does not create a soul in order to send it to Hell. He wants salvation for all His people. St. Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Therefore, an all-merciful God must provide for all people a means by which they can be saved through His Son.
Happily, I learned what the Catholic Church teaches regarding this matter. The Second Vatican Council, which was in session during my conversion process, covered this subject summarily in the following manner:
Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does divine Providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life, thanks to his grace. Whatever good or truth is found among them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She regards such qualities as given by him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, No. 16)
However, lacking knowledge of Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church, makes it tougher for one to enter into eternal life with God. Therefore, we must spread the Gospel to all who do not or no longer believe in Jesus, or who have never heard of Him. St. Paul writes in Romans 10:11-17 (NABRE):
For the scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!”… Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
What St. Paul is telling us is that we must still evangelize. The Eucharist, Jesus’ great gift to us must be shared with all God’s people. The Sacraments of the Catholic Church provide the safest and shortest path to heaven.
Christ, the Good Shepherd, selected Peter to be the shepherd of His flock:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
Peter still feeds his sheep today through the guidance of his successor, the Bishop of Rome — the Pope — and those bishops throughout the world in communion with him. It is important to always keep in mind that our Lord Jesus can still feed us through these shepherds, even though many of them may not have been faithful to His Gospel in their own lives in the past, are not now and may not be in the future.
About 1600 years ago St. Augustine wrote:
But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me. (Contra Epistolam Manichaei, 5, 6: PL 42, 176)
May God be praised always!