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Apostates and the Communion of Saints

During the general audience at Candlemas this week, Pope Francis addressed an audience in the building called Pope Paul VI Hall to talk about the nature of the Communion of Saints.  You can read the entire speech here on the Vatican’s official website, but the aspect of the presentation I will focus on is the issue of apostasy, because Pope Francis said this:

“Let us consider, dear brothers and sisters, that in Christ no one can ever truly separate us from those we love because the bond is an existential bond, a strong bond that is in our very nature; only the manner of being together with one another them changes, but nothing and no one can break this bond. “Father, let’s think about those who have denied the faith, who are apostates, who are the persecutors of the Church, who have denied their baptism: Are these also at home?” Yes, these too. All of them. The blasphemers, all of them. We are brothers. This is the communion of saints. The communion of saints holds together the community of believers on earth and in heaven, and on earth the saints, the sinners, all.

Not only did Pope Francis specifically identify “apostates,” but he expressly defined what he meant by apostates by identifying them as “those who have denied the faith.”  And he appears to directly place “apostates” into the “communion of saints.”

This is extremely problematic, and contrary to the perennial teaching of Holy Mother Church.  Bear in mind that the Church’s teaching on the “Communion of Saints” is an established dogma, which means that it will not and can never change, either in its teaching or in its meaning.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Commentary on the Apostle’s Creed addresses the nature of the “Communion of Saints,” and directly identifies those who are in it and those who are not.  He wrote:

As in our natural body the operation of one member works for the good of the entire body, so also is it with a spiritual body, such as is the Church. Because all the faithful are one body, the good of one member is communicated to another: “And every one members, one of another” [Rm 12:5]. So, among the points of faith which the Apostles have handed down is that there is a common sharing of good in the Church. This is expressed in the words, “the Communion of Saints”. Among the various members of the Church, the principal member is Christ, because He is the Head: “He made Him head over all the Church, which is His body” [Eph 1:22]. Christ communicates His good, just as the power of the head is communicated to all the members. This communication takes place through the Sacraments of the Church in which operate the merits of the passion of Christ, which in turn operates for the conferring of grace unto the remission of sins.

We must also know that not only the efficacy of the Passion of Christ is communicated to us, but also the merits of His life; and, moreover, all the good that all the Saints have done is communicated to all who are in the state of grace, because all are one: “I am a partaker of all those who fear You” [Ps 118:63]. Therefore, he who lives in charity participates in all the good that is done in the entire world; but more specially does he benefit for whom some good work is done; since one man certainly can satisfy for another. Thus, through this communion we receive two benefits. One is that the merits of Christ are communicated to all; the other is that the good of one is communicated to another. Those who are excommunicated, however, because they are cut off from the Church, forfeit their part of all the good that is done, and this is a far greater loss than being bereft of all material things. There is a danger lest the devil impede this spiritual help in order to tempt one; and when one is thus cut off, the devil can easily overcome him. Thus it was in the primitive Church that, when one was excommunicated, the devil even physically attacked him.

Already we can see Pope Francis’ contradiction with St. Thomas Aquinas.  Pope Francis appears to claim that apostates are included in “the communion of saints,” but St. Thomas Aquinas points out that those who are excommunicated are “cut off from the Church.”  The law of logic called the principle of non-contradiction specifically states that nothing can both be and not be at the same time.  As such, one cannot both be “in the Church” and “cut off from the Church” at the same time.

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that all apostates are excommunicated:

Apostasy belonged, therefore, to the class of sins for which the Church imposed perpetual penance and excommunication without hope of pardon, leaving the forgiveness of the sin to God alone.

Today the temporal penalties formerly inflicted on apostates and heretics cannot be enforced, and have fallen into abeyance. The spiritual penalties are the same as those which apply to heretics. In order, however, to incur these penalties, it is necessary, in accordance with the general principles of canon law, that the apostasy should be shown in some way. Apostates, with all who receive, protect, or befriend them, incur excommunication, reserved speciali modo to the Sovereign Pontiff (Constitution Apostolicæ Sedis, n° 1).”

The Catholic Encyclopedia also explains that “excommunication” literally means, “exclusion from the communion”:

Excommunication (Latin ex, out of, and communio or communicatio, communion — exclusion from the communion), the principal and severest censure, is a medicinal, spiritual penalty that deprives the guilty Christian of all participation in the common blessings of ecclesiastical society.

All apostates from the Christian Faith, heretics of every name and sect, and those who give them credence, who receive or countenance them, and generally all those who take up their defence." Strictly speaking, an apostate is one who goes over to a non Christian religion, e.g. Islam; to such apostates are assimilated those who publicly renounce all religion; this apostasy is not to be presumed; it is evident that both kinds of apostates exclude themselves from the Church.

Again, there can be no misunderstanding here.  St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Encyclopedia clearly show that apostates are, by definition, outside the Church, which is to say that they are not “in communion” with the Church.

Following Pope Francis’ remarks regarding apostates and the communion of saints, many of his apologists have suggested that apostates, because they are grave sinners like blasphemers, retain the “mark of baptism” and so remain within the “communion of saints” because the mark of baptism is indelible.  While it is true that the mark of baptism applies an indelible mark upon the soul, this does not mean that such individuals remain in “communion with the Church,” and by extension remain members of the “communion of saints.”

The Council of Trent also indicates that those who are “entirely cut off from the Church” (ie, apostates), are not counted among those who are in the “communion of the saints.”  The Second Part of Article IX of the Catechism of the Council of Trent addresses “the communion of saints,” first explaining its meaning, and then specifically defining “Those Who Share in This Communion." In this portion, directly countering what those apologists claim, the Council of Trent makes a clear distinction between those in a state of mortal sin, and those “cut off from the Church”:

Those Who Share In This Communion

The advantages of so many and such exalted blessings bestowed by Almighty God are enjoyed by those who lead a Christian life in charity, and are just and beloved of God. As to the dead members; that is, those who are bound in the thraldom of sin and estranged from the grace of God, they are not so deprived of these advantages as to cease to be members of this body; but since they are dead members, they do not share in the spiritual fruit which is communicated to the just and pious. However, as they are in the Church, they are assisted in recovering lost grace and life by those who live by the Spirit; and they also enjoy those benefits which are without doubt denied to those who are entirely cut off from the Church.”

Apostates and heretics are those who, after baptism, either deny some teaching of the Faith or who repudiate the Faith altogether.  As such, they are “entirely cut off from the Church,” and cannot in any way be counted as being either in communion with the Church or enrolled in the Communion of Saints.  This is absolutely impossible!

In 1943, Pope Pius XII specifically explained this distinction and directly counters what Francis claimed on Wednesday.  From Pope Pius XII’s 1943 encyclical Mystici Corpis:

only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed. "For in one spirit" says the Apostle, "were we all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free."[17] As therefore in the true Christian community there is only one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism, so there can be only one faith.[18] And therefore, if a man refuse to hear the Church, let him be considered - so the Lord commands - as a heathen and a publican. [19] It follows that those who are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit.

23. Nor must one imagine that the Body of the Church, just because it bears the name of Christ, is made up during the days of its earthly pilgrimage only of members conspicuous for their holiness, or that it consists only of those whom God has predestined to eternal happiness. It is owing to the Savior's infinite mercy that place is allowed in His Mystical Body here below for those whom, of old, He did not exclude from the banquet.[20] For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy. Men may lose charity and divine grace through sin, thus becoming incapable of supernatural merit, and yet not be deprived of all life if they hold fast to faith and Christian hope, and if, illumined from above, they are spurred on by the interior promptings of the Holy Spirit to salutary fear and are moved to prayer and penance for their sins.”

Pope Francis’ recent words are a culmination of his entire body of work since the beginning of his reign in 2013.  He has attempted to redeem the heretic Martin Luther; he signed a document in Abu Dhabi claiming that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings;” he has a painting of Judas in his office showing Our Blessed Lord ministering to Judas as well as a statue of Our Lord carrying Judas as a lost sheep; he regularly condemns the notion of “proselytization;” and he permitted the veneration of a wooden idol regarding an earth deity in the Vatican, even setting its effigy on the altar of St. Peter.  Through these and other words and actions, Pope Francis’s most recent statement that even “apostates” are counted among the “communion of saints” points to the ideologies of indifferentism and syncretism.

What he said on Wednesday is terrifying, and the days of sackcloth and ashes are upon us.  Our Lady asked us at Fatima to “pray for the pope,” specifically.  With each passing day, it is becoming more and more clear why she made this request.

As Lent approaches, let us be resolved to pray and fast for Holy Mother Church, and the TRUE Communion of Saints, and most especially, let us pray for Pope Francis.  Whether he is guilty of heresy is for the Church to decide, and I am not levelling that accusation. However, what he said could lead many souls to Hell.

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As always, please pray for the Church, for our bishops, priests, deacons, and for Lepanto's mission as we continue to unearth the truth and "restore all things to Christ." (Col. 1:20)

Christus Vincit!

Michael Hichborn
Lepanto Insititute