As part of its ecumenical efforts, the conciliar church calls non-Catholics by the name “Christian”. For example:
But even in spite of [obstacles to unity] it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church . . . .
Vatican II document, Unitatis Redintegratio, §3 (emphasis added).
However, Catholics should never call heretics and schismatics by the name “Christian” because:
Catholics do not call non-Catholics by the name “Christian” because they are not true followers of Christ. Pope Pius XII made this clear, when he taught us that:
To be Christian one must be Roman. One must recognize the oneness of Christ’s Church that is governed by one successor of the Prince of the Apostles who is the Bishop of Rome, Christ’s Vicar on earth.
October 8, 1957 allocution to Irish pilgrims (emphasis added).
Pope Leo XIII made this same Catholic teaching clear, when he wrote:
So long as the member lives in the body, it lived; separated, it lost its life. Thus the man, so long as he lives in the body of the [Catholic] Church, he is a Christian; separated from her, he becomes a heretic . . .
Encyclical Satis cognitum ¶5 (emphasis added).
The Doctor of the Church, St. Peter Canisius, teaches the same thing, that non-Catholics are not truly “Christian”:
Q. Who is to be called a Christian?
A. He who confesses the doctrine of Jesus Christ in his Church. Hence, he who is truly a Christian thoroughly detests all cults and sects found outside the doctrine and outside the Church of Christ, everywhere and among all peoples, as for example the Jewish, the Mohammedan, and the heretical cults and sects.
The Sum of Christian Doctrine, Pt.1, Q.1.
St. Augustine, Father and Doctor of the Church takes as obvious, the distinction between heretics and Christians (i.e., Catholics), where he says: “The people I was describing know and observe these things; for they are Christians, not heretics.” On the Morals of the Catholic Church, ch. 33, ¶72 (emphasis added).
The Father of the Church, St. Cyprian, teaches the same thing, in his treatise against schismatics: “[A schismatic] professes himself to be a Christian in such a way as the devil often feigns himself to be Christ”. Treatise I, On the Unity of the Church, ¶14.
Thus, it is clear from these Popes, Doctors and Fathers, that Catholics do not call non-Catholics by the name “Christian”.
Could it be that the Church’s teaching needs to be “updated”, because of the many people of good will, now born in heretical or schismatic “churches”?
It is a very old situation that persons are born into religious errors and have (perhaps) not examined those errors carefully. In fact, this problem is as old as the Church Herself. Not only have there been many occasions for persons to be born into heresy almost from the beginning of the Catholic Church, but this situation is also the same as for all other non-believers. Pagans and Jews have been born into their errors too, during the entire life of the Church. Thus, we are not now in a new situation that the great doctors of the Church could not foresee, which would require “updating” of the Church’s teaching and would make it permissible to start calling non-Catholics by the name “Christian”.
Shouldn’t we call a non-Catholic by the name “Christian”, to give him the benefit of the doubt that he might be of good will? We first address this hypothetical person’s ignorance and then whether Catholics should call him a “Christian”.
Every sin involves some element of ignorance. As St. Thomas teaches:
Unbelievers are in ignorance of things that are of faith, for neither do they see, nor know, them in themselves, nor do they know them to be credible. The faithful, on the other hand, know them, not as by demonstration, but by the light of faith which makes them see that they ought to believe them . . . .
Summa, IIa IIae, Q.1, a.5 ad 1.
In some way, every sin involves an element of ignorance, because no one would commit any kind of sin if he fully understood all of the consequences of his actions. But all culpability for sin requires some knowledge in some way, that particular conduct is wrong; otherwise, the person would not be culpable for his sin.
To avoid concluding that we know a particular non-Catholic is subjectively culpable for his mortal sin, we might assume that he is invincibly ignorant. We might suppose that he has never had the full Catholic Faith explained to him, and thus we might suppose that he is not culpable for rejecting the true Faith. God knows the hearts of men. We don’t really know every opportunity that such person has had (or didn’t have). His subjective culpability is known to God, not to men (or at least it is known to men only imperfectly).
God judges on a basis that might not appear to us. For example, to us a person might appear invincibly (i.e., inculpably) ignorant of the Catholic Faith because we have good reason to think the Faith was never explained to him. But, however respectable such a person appears, we don’t know his interior. Perhaps the person commits sins which are contrary to reason (such as lying and theft). God might judge such a man as having rejected Catholicism because he rejected the truth or justice based on the Natural Law. Again, God will judge the internal forum (the conscience) of that person. Man makes mistakes by doing so.
Thus, from the last few paragraphs of this article, it is clear that: 1) all sin involves some ignorance and this ignorance does not necessarily remove culpability; and that 2) man can err regarding the interior culpability of another man.
It is a dogma of the Catholic Church, that There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Thus, for a person who is not visibly/externally part of the Catholic Church, the only way for him to get to heaven is if he has the Catholic Faith, Sanctifying Grace, Hope and Charity in a hidden and unknown way and is really, truly and interiorly part of the Catholic Church but has some errors for which he is not blamable, which cause him through ignorance to not explicitly embrace the one true visible Catholic Church.
Thus, it is false to call anyone a “Christian” (i.e., a true follower of Christ), unless he is Catholic. It would be false to call anyone a “Christian”, if he is outside the visible Catholic Church, unless he is truly a member of the Catholic Church but because of his invincible, inculpable ignorance, he is not part of the Church visibly, i.e., exteriorly.
Suppose we were to call Protestants by the name “Christians”, on the theory that we can’t rule out the possibility that they are of perfect good will but invincibly ignorant. This means we would suppose that they are truly part of the Catholic Church, although they neither appear to be nor know that they are members of the true Church. If we call heretics (and schismatics) “Christian” on these suppositions, then for the same reason, we should call all Jews and pagans by the name “Christian”, because we cannot rule out a similar, interior, complete good will.
Not only that, this same principle applies not only to the name “Christian” but also to the name “Catholic”, since anyone who is truly Christian (i.e., truly a follower of Christ), is also a Catholic. Thus, according to the harmful and foolish conciliar practice of blindly presuming that every heretic (or schismatic) has perfect good will, then we should call all heretics, Jews and pagans by the name “Catholic”.
Based on this same supposition that we cannot rule out that all men are (interiorly) Catholics, we similarly cannot rule out the possibility that they are not only Catholic but also are extremely saintly because we cannot rule out their good will, invincible ignorance and presumed charity! Thus, if a person is consistent when applying the foolish conciliar notion that we should call heretics (or schismatics) by the name “Christians”, it leads to the conclusion that we should also call everyone a saintly Catholic, including rock-music-blaring, drug-addicted, blaspheming derelicts.
We see then, the absurdity of calling non-Catholics by the name “Christian” because the same “reasoning” leads to the further absurdity that we should call them all “Catholics” and even “saintly Catholics”.
We name men according to what is exterior (what we see), not according to a presumption of what unknown and might theoretically be inside the man. It has never been the practice of men (nor is it reasonable) to assume in the external forum (where men judge) the complete lack of interior (subjective) culpability of all men for all of their actions, simply because they could possibly lack culpability in the internal forum of their conscience, which is known with certainty, by God alone.
We don’t say “Hitler was a good man”, simply because we can’t rule out the possibility that God will judge him to be good because of some completely hidden (invincible) ignorance and (hypothetical) good will. Similarly, with Stalin, Attila the Hun, Luther and all of the rest of the enemies of mankind. We don’t assume they are good and blameless and call them such, although we acknowledge that we cannot entirely rule out this possibility of hidden goodness, nor can we be positive they are in hell.
For this reason, by judging according to our natural wits and common sense (as men have always judged), we should never call heretics and schismatics by the name “Christian”.
Likewise, the Church judges the same way that men do, according to our natural wits. This is the only way men can judge, even in the Church. We call an outward schismatic by this name, just as men call an outward thief, by that name. St. Thomas explained: “[W]ith regard to man's internal disposition we consider his spiritual state in relation to the Divine judgment, while with regard to his external actions we consider man's spiritual state in relation to the Church.” Summa, IIa IIae, Q.184, a.4, Respondeo. Because the name “Christian”, when used by Catholics or the Catholic Church, pertains to the external which we know and can see, no non-Catholic should ever be called a “Christian”.
Similarly, Pope Leo XIII explained that: “Of the state of mind and of the intention, the Church does not judge, as they are interior; but insofar as they are apparent, she must judge them”. Apostolicae Curae, ¶33. Thus, the Church does not judge whether someone is invincibly ignorant before God but does judge (and label a man) if he is a non-Catholic in the exterior forum.
Pope St. Pius X explained this principle the same way, when judging of the modernists:
Although they express their astonishment that we should number them amongst the enemies of the Church, no one will be reasonably surprised that we should do so, if, leaving out of account the internal disposition of soul, of which God alone is the judge, he considers their doctrines, their manner of speech, and their action [which are the objective criteria upon which one judges]. Nor, indeed, would he be wrong in regarding them as the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church.
Pascendi Dominici gregis, ¶3 (bracketed note added). Again, because the name “Christian”, when used by Catholics or the Catholic Church, pertains to the external forum (i.e., what we can see and know), no non-Catholic should ever be called a “Christian”.
Pope Benedict XIV explains this same principle, in connection with the hypothetical case of a heretic dying for a dogma which he held in common with the Catholic Church. The pope explains that even if that heretic were invincibly ignorant of his heresy, and thus, even (hypothetically) if he were a martyr in God’s Eyes, the Church would never call him a martyr, since the Church judges only what is outward and judges the heretic to be outside the Church, since that heretic publicly professed heresy. Citing and following St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Benedict XIV further teaches that the Church judges the heretic to not have the gift of supernatural Faith. De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione, Bk.III, ch.20, ¶3.
We cannot rule out that a particular person outside the visible Church, is holy, blameless and could go to heaven (which requires him to be Catholic). But man judges outward, blamable conduct in the external forum. Thus, Catholics should never call heretics and schismatics by the name “Christian” because: