Vatican II and Crisis in the Theology of Baptism: Part III

by Thomas Pink

This is the third and final part of a three-part series. Parts one and two can be found here and here respectively.

The efficacy of grace – through or apart from explicit faith and visible participation in baptism and other sacraments

Even before Vatican II the magisterium taught that salvation is possible, at least in principle, even for those who are not Catholic. Pius XII taught that non-Catholics may be related to the Church through some kind of unconscious desire, and implied that this may be a (less than certain) help to their salvation:

As you know, venerable brethren, from the very beginning of our pontificate, we have committed to the protection and guidance of heaven those who do not belong to the visible body of the Catholic Church, solemnly declaring that after the example of the Good Shepherd we desire nothing more ardently than that they may have life and have it more abundantly. Imploring the prayers of the whole Church we wish to repeat this solemn declaration in this encyclical letter in which we have proclaimed the praises of the “great and glorious Body of Christ” and from a heart overflowing with love we ask each and every one of them to correspond to the interior movements of grace, and to seek to withdraw from that state in which they cannot be sure of their salvation. For even though by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer, they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church. (§103 Mystici Corporis)

But even if a chance of salvation is offered to all, this hope was always accompanied by equally magisterial warnings of the kind provided by Pius XII here – that detachment from the visible Church is spiritually highly dangerous, not just for the non-baptised but also for those who though baptised lack the fullness of the faith in communion with the Church and, most importantly, the further sacraments of eucharist and penance. Such detachment might not remove the very possibility of salvation. But it will still endanger salvation. Certainly, God is not bound by his own sacraments. But the magisterium has historically taken care to remind us not to presume on God’s not being bound.

The current official theology on this matter is now very different. This author knows through direct testimony that a Protestant cleric was quite recently discouraged at the topmost level of the Church from becoming Catholic. Ecumenical dialogue is no longer consistently treated in official circles as Vatican II’s Unitatis Redintegratio still treats it, as a path to genuine unity under Peter within the one Church for whole ecclesial communities separated from her that is parallel to, and not in any way opposed to, the other path of individual reception. Rather ecumenical dialogue is often treated in practice as a substitute for genuine unity, as if its real purpose were merely to initiate harmonious co-existence between a plurality of ‘Christian churches’ that nevertheless remain separated. Just because the outcome being aimed at is a harmonious co-existence without real unity, ecumenical dialogue is even treated in some quarters as if it were somehow inconsistent with also encouraging individual receptions. For the open pursuit of individual receptions might threaten the harmony of this co-existence.

And so we arrive at a form of ‘zombie’ ecumenism, that effectively blocks the path to Christian unity rather than providing it. The ecumenism is a ‘zombie’ form, because although it appears living, it is really dead, serving not to end but to preserve the existing separateness of Christian bodies, and to do so precisely through its prioritisation of harmonious co-existence above all else. This degenerate ecumenism just provides complacent support for a status quo. In particular it blocks any public encouragement of individual receptions, just because such public encouragement would threaten that status quo. The possible spiritual loss to those denied ‘those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church’ no longer matters.

Complacent presumption on God’s mercy in official theology extends beyond the other sacraments to baptism itself. In historic magisterial teaching, because all need to be rescued from the dominion of the devil, and because the New Covenant provides for but one sure means of rescue that applies to all – baptism – all are called to baptism, and the Church’s mission to convert and baptise is a mission to all peoples. There is no alternative covenant or way of salvation available. The Church is indeed exactly as the magisterium in Lumen Gentium describes her, the New Israel replacing the Israel of old, for Jew and Gentile alike.

But that is no longer the view taken in modern official theology. One body in particular – the practitioners of Torah-based rabbinical Judaism – is treated as somehow exempt from the call to baptism and visible unity within the one Church. The issue here is not that we are now being allowed at least to hope for salvation even apart from membership of the visible Church. As we have seen, some magisterial licence for such a hope might not be new, though certainly any licence given was only for hope, not complacency. The problem is that in the case of Judaism, hope is now being replaced by complacency – a complacency that is supposedly divinely sanctioned. Where the Jewish people are concerned, a public mission to convert and baptise is now being officially excluded.

It is very important that a mission to the Jews is not being excluded just as a matter of temporary or local prudence. For example, given the appalling persecution of the Jewish people, a persecution that took a radically murderous form in modern times, and the disgraceful participation of Christians in that persecution, it could be argued that missionary work specifically and overtly directed at the Jewish people might in our particular context be counter-productive as offensive or intimidating.[1] But this is not the way a mission to the Jews is being excluded. It is being excluded in principle – as supposedly dictated in some way by the very nature of the Church and her mission, and by the terms of a supposedly different mission divinely given to Judaism apart from the Church.

It is impossible to reconcile the rejection of a mission to the Jews on this supposedly principled and quite general basis with the practice of the apostles themselves – the model and origination of the Church’s mission. Such a rejection is also opposed by the Council of Florence that not only teaches the universality of the call to and need for baptism, but specifically condemns any continued reliance for salvation on the ceremonies of the Old Law.[2] And, as we have already seen, an ecclesial mission to Jew and Gentile alike is taught by Lumen Gentium. The new official theology has therefore to be accompanied by much alternative history – by much silence about or outright denial of the Church’s past commitment to such a mission to the Jewish people, as if right up until Vatican II whole religious communities had not been dedicated to it.

This rejection of a public mission to the Jews is accompanied by continued lip-service to the universality of Christ’s saving covenant. That is, official theology tends still to deny any dual covenant theory – the clearly heretical position that the Jewish people have a saving covenant distinct from that offered by Christ through baptism into the Church to the Gentiles. But while the doctrinal content of dual covenant theology is still officially rejected, nonetheless a pastoral programme presupposing that content is being adopted. And with that pastoral programme, the content of dual covenant theology still slips in at least at the margins of theological expression, again at the very highest levels of the Church. Take Judaism’s denial of Christ’s identity as the saviour of all mankind. If dual covenant theology is false, this denial must be a very serious error and so an evil which God, as the author of truth and no deceiver, must permit but not directly will. Yet Joseph Ratzinger, writing when pope but as a private theologian, associates this error with a supposed distinctive mission for the Jews – as if their rejection of Christ were not opposed to God’s salvific will for them, as it surely must be, but were somehow an expression of it.

In this regard, the question of Israel’s mission has always been present in the background. We realize today with horror how many misunderstandings with grave consequences have weighed down our history. Yet a new reflection can acknowledge that the beginnings of a correct understanding have always been there, waiting to be rediscovered, however deep the shadows. (Joseph Ratzinger – Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week p.44).

What is this mission, special as Israel’s ‘own mission’ as Ratzinger terms it (p.46)? Certainly not to respond here and now through conversion and baptism to Christ’s universal saving call. For Israel’s ‘mission’ implies, on Ratzinger’s understanding, that by her very nature the Church really has no public mission of her own to convert and baptise the Jewish people as she has to convert and baptise the Gentiles. What of the inconvenient truth that the apostles themselves began with and always maintained a public mission to their fellow Jews? Ratzinger equivocates, rather unconvincingly:

But it was becoming increasingly clear that the evangelization of the Gentiles was now the disciples’ particular task – thanks above all to the special commission given to Paul as a duty and a grace. ibid p.46

But this really is misleading. St Paul’s own prioritisation of a mission to the Gentiles hardly excluded even in his case a public call to Jewish conversion as well; and as special to him this prioritisation had nothing whatsoever to do with what Ratzinger implies – a supposed general detachment of the apostles as a whole from a public mission to all humanity, to Jew and Gentile alike.

Romans chapter 11 is a famous proclamation of God’s continuing concern for the Jewish people, and of God’s determination to remain faithful to his promise of salvation for them. It predicts the persistence of Judaism as a religion rejecting of Christianity until at the end times, when the mission to the Gentiles is finally concluded. Now when St Paul writes that at that time ‘so all Israel will be saved’ (Romans 11, 26) he seems to have meant, at least, that all that is left of Judaism at that time will then be converted and saved. But that does not guarantee a route to salvation for practitioners of Judaism living now that is independent of faith in Christ and baptism as Gentile salvation is not. Nor does St Paul seem to have envisaged such a route. After all St Paul claims in that same chapter that he advertises his own ministry to the Gentiles to make his fellow Jews jealous of what the Gentiles are being offered ‘and thereby save some of them’.[3]

Ratzinger, however, does take this chapter to exclude, on scriptural grounds, any mission to the Jews here and now. Quoting a theological speculation of Hildegard Brem, Ratzinger concludes:

In the light of Romans 11:25, the Church must not concern herself with the conversion of the Jews, since she must wait for the time fixed for this by God, ‘until the full number of the Gentiles come in’ (Rom 11.25). ibid, p.45

But this is effectively to admit dual covenant theology in some form. However much, or little, actual baptism may matter here and now to the salvation of an individual Gentile, it is being treated as especially irrelevant to the salvation of an individual Jew. Even if Christ is still supposed to be in some way saviour for Jew and Gentile alike, baptism clearly does not matter to Jewish salvation as it matters to Gentile salvation. For where the Jewish people are concerned, the Church is specifically forbidden by the very terms of her mission openly to encourage it. Contrary to Lumen Gentium, the Church is not after all in the business of calling ‘together from Jews and Gentiles a people that would be bound together in unity not according to the flesh but in the Spirit’ – a new and universal people of God to replace the old Israel of the flesh.

This is part of a wider phenomenon. Even when the letter of magisterial teaching is still preserved by official theology, at least for a while, its pastoral implications are often abandoned in Church policy – where this is necessary to avoid some especially unwanted conflict with an unconverted world. And then, inevitably, official theology begins to compromise or elide that past magisterial teaching.

Summary – the sacraments as salvation theatre

We see official theology omitting or even denying magisterial teaching about baptism – and in ways that consistently underplay the implications of the Fall. The need for baptism for salvation is soft-pedalled, its role in subjecting the baptised to the jurisdiction of a potestas is effectively denied, as are its political implications – baptism’s clear involvement of the state. In all of this it is assumed that even prior to baptism and real conversion somehow the world is already released from the dominion of the devil and oriented towards salvation, so that, as with Maritain’s new vision of Church-state relations, harmony with the world no longer presupposes its conversion.

Of course, if this official theology is taken seriously there arises an obvious question about the point of actual membership of the Church and actual participation in her sacramental life. This threatens to become a form of salvation theatre, at best a representative sign of salvation merely, where what actually saves us is some invisible and universal supernatural orientation eschatologically linked to Christ. As one Italian priest preached in my hearing to his congregation in Verona in September 2016, participation in penance and the eucharist is simply a sign of something Christ has already achieved. For we are all già salvati – all already saved.

This is a transformation in the Church’s official theology of baptism, and in clear conflict with the historical magisterium. At the heart of it lies a vision of the Church’s relation to the unconverted world – be it the world of the state, of non-Catholic Christian communities, or of non-Christian religions and of Judaism in particular – as primarily directed at attaining spiritual harmony, and so as excluding spiritual conflict, and to this end as prioritising dialogic harmony over conversion, and even in some cases (the state and the Jewish people) as precluding conversion altogether. Central to this vision of harmonious coexistence with an unconverted world is the abandonment of any conception of the world as still, until its conversion, lying under diabolic dominion.

4. Church and state – and the operation of grace to heal

How far can the operation of grace really be detached from visible membership of the Church? Is receipt of the sacraments really no more than a form of salvation theatre – the representation of a communication of grace that is really effected independently? This is the fundamental issue, to which the relationship between baptism and release from diabolic dominion is key. Is baptism the means by which we are liberated from the devil’s power, or a mere sign of a liberation that occurs independently of actual baptism – that has, in effect, already happened?

While the Church allows for the possibility of salvation even of the unbaptised, the magisterium has never treated visible membership of the Church and actual participation in her sacramental life as a matter of indifference. Hope has certainly been offered, but not the comfort of complacency. But perhaps the historical magisterium was just wrong. Perhaps modern official complacency is really warranted, and we have to draw the lesson of a New Pentecost – that for her entire history until Vatican II the Church was consistently betraying her own Gospel by trusting insufficiently in the divine mercy.

How consistent though is such a theory of the New Pentecost with the doctrine that revelation was complete with the death of the last apostle – and that the Church was equipped by Christ from the very beginning to preach that revelation without error, preserving it faithfully without adding to it? For if we are all living, only now, through a New Pentecost, it would seem that for centuries, from the very beginning until the last Council, the Church was woefully in error about her own mission, and that only now after two millennia does she understand that mission aright – a mission that, it now appears, may even leave actual membership of her and actual reception of her sacraments of symbolic significance only, and no more than elaborate salvation theatre.

At this point someone might raise an important difficulty. We are debating how grace is made present and effective in human life to save us – whether in a way that significantly depends on actual receipt of the sacraments of the Church, or in a way that is largely assured independently of them. But who can tell with precision who is saved and who is not? So whilst the theory of invisible salvation may seem presumptuous, opposing scepticism might seem equally presumptuous too.

But in fact the operation of grace is not entirely hidden from us. For the same grace that elevates us to the supernatural end also operates to heal nature, and repair the moral damage done to human nature by the Fall. Grace repairs, in particular, the damage done by sin to the human will and intellect. Here the operation of grace is far more visible – and in a way that suggests a significant dependence for its operation on membership of the visible Church and actual and worthy participation in her sacraments.

The Fall did not remove the natural law entirely from human nature. We retain an understanding of its foundations, that goodness should be pursued, evil avoided. We also remain capable of doing good and avoiding evil at the level of natural morality. But sin, original and actual, has still done real damage. As Aquinas noted, without the help of grace we cannot now avoid all serious wrongdoing. And even our understanding of the detail of the moral law may be impaired, so that at certain times and places particular groups or societies of people might cease to understand that, for example, theft is wrong, or that innocents should not be killed. Such failure to acknowledge even the content of the natural law, Aquinas notes, can affect the political order. In a fallen world, states may pass laws that conflict with, and reflect a failure to understand, important parts of natural law.[4]

So grace operates at two levels – to raise us above nature, and to repair nature. And its operation to repair nature is by no means invisible. Where we find failure not only to apply the natural law, but even to acknowledge important parts of its content, then we can empirically determine that grace is not operating effectively. And such evidence becomes plentiful precisely when whole human societies are detached from the Church, or where groups of people remain visibly members, but collectively abandon worthy participation in her sacramental life – as where the habit of communion without confession becomes typical. We arrive at the phenomenon of widespread dissent, both outside the Church and in the post-conciliar period within the Church as well, from the natural law concerning human life and marriage

As for private individuals, so for political communities as well – as the nineteenth century popes consistently predicted. It is with the operation of grace to heal that, as we have seen, the political teaching of the nineteenth century popes was immediately concerned. Thanks to the Fall humanity in general is threatened with a degradation of their nature – and the political community is in no way exempt from this threat. The popes were quite explicit that at the political level grace would only reliably operate to heal nature through a genuine conversion of the political community, and its membership of and participation in the life of the Church at the public level. Without that conversion, as Leo XIII predicted, ‘human reason fails’ in relation to the public good. Secularisation of political life has led only to ever increasing levels of state denial and violation of those parts of the natural law that are central to issues of life and death – marriage and respect for the right to life of the innocent. The political community is returning in its public life to the dominion of the devil – an allegiance that opposes it to natural law and therefore also to the mission of the Church. There is indeed no neutral space.

What stops the Church from living in a stable harmony with an unconverted world?  Ultimately, of course, for as long as the world does remain unconverted, Christ himself is the obstacle, given the unconverted world’s subjection to the devil, and his enmity with Christ. But the unconverted world is at war too with the law of its own created nature – the natural law conformity to which is basic and essential to any conformity to Christ. Without a restoration of respect for natural law, which can only come through the healing grace of Christ, there can be no harmony between Church and world. The case of the secular state shows, with particular clarity, that the Church cannot expect any such harmony without conversion.

5. The pursuit of harmony with the unconverted world

The Church’s ultimate goal is harmony with all mankind – with a world both as God’s creation and as redeemed by Christ. According to the new official theology, however, not only is this harmony to be aimed at – but it is supposed to be attainable already, even without the world’s conversion. Yet we can now clearly see, and the magisterium has historically taught, that such harmony is not possible. The Church cannot coexist in spiritual peace with the dominion of the devil.

Nevertheless, because the new official theology dictates this, the contemporary Church still persists in her pursuit of harmony without conversion. What then if, as it must, this pursuit consistently proves unsuccessful? The one lesson the new official theology will not allow to be drawn is the traditional one; that harmony with the unconverted world is impossible precisely because the world is unconverted.

Since, where attaining harmony between Church and world is concerned, the world’s non-conversion is nowadays not supposed to be a problem, the modern official theology encourages the idea that the solution must instead lie in the other way left open – not in a transformation of the world, through its conversion, but rather in a transformation of the Church. The new pastoral programme of the Church towards the unconverted – the programme of the New Pentecost – is supposed to be one of a stable dialogic harmony, a harmony no longer dependent on conversion. When the harmony fails to arise, renewed effort must be made to find remaining obstacles to it that can safely be removed – no longer from the side of the world, through its conversion, but from the Church’s side. To prevent conflict, then, the Church will increasingly attempt to adapt herself to the unconverted world, where she thinks she somehow can, and especially at the level of pastoral policy.

The first to go will be any conflict-producing prioritisation of conversion. The strict doctrinal letter behind that mission to convert may still be respected – but in cases where conflict is particularly feared, the pastoral commitment to that mission will be rapidly ended, and may even be ended on grounds of alleged principle, and not some simple temporary prudence. Lip-service continues to be paid to the universality of the Church’s mission – but this universality can still be thoroughly contradicted at the pastoral level.

Thus in a 2015 statement on the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, [5] the Church’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews still excludes dual covenant theology at the level of doctrine:

Since God has never revoked his covenant with his people Israel, there cannot be different paths or approaches to God’s salvation. The theory that there may be two different paths to salvation, the Jewish path without Christ and the path with the Christ, whom Christians believe is Jesus of Nazareth, would in fact endanger the foundations of Christian faith. Confessing the universal and therefore also exclusive mediation of salvation through Jesus Christ belongs to the core of Christian faith. (§35)

Now, surely, if Christ’s saving covenant is universal, and the body by which Christ saves is the Church, the Church’s public mission must include, at least in principle, a call to the Jewish people. Yet, the Commission urges that, as a matter of principle, the Church’s public mission excludes any such call – simply because the Jewish people’s self-identity depends on not being converted.

It is easy to understand that the so–called ‘mission to the Jews’ is a very delicate and sensitive matter for Jews because, in their eyes, it involves the very existence of the Jewish people. This question also proves to be awkward for Christians, because for them the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ and consequently the universal mission of the Church are of fundamental importance. The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelisation to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views. In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews. While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah. (§40)

The Church does not call on Jews to convert and be baptised as she might still call on Gentiles to convert and be baptised. Does this not risk the salvation of those unbaptised Jewish individuals passed by? It had better not do so. If giving even the impression that conversion to Christ was not needed in their case did risk Jewish salvation in any way, abandoning a public mission to the Jews, and doing so as a matter of principle, would be an act of profound hostility to the Jewish people. The Commission’s policy – the Jewish people are not to be invited to convert and be baptised as other peoples are – makes sense only on one assumption. Jewish salvation must not depend at all on conversion and baptism.

Yet the Commission still insists that the Church’s mission is universal. It maintains that for Christians

the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ and consequently the universal mission of the Church are of fundamental importance.

But now the Commission faces a dilemma. Jewish salvation, it seems, is radically independent of baptism and conversion. If even then the Church’s mission of salvation still includes the Jews under the very same covenant as the Gentiles, the covenant offered by Christ in the New Testament cannot after all depend on actual baptism and conversion. These are mere signs of Christ’s mission, not means needed to effect it. The mission of the Church involves the sacraments simply as a form of salvation theatre.

Suppose on the other hand that the Church’s mission does importantly depend on the sacraments as means to effecting it. Then that mission cannot after all include the Jewish people. If baptism is taken to be radically dispensable in the salvation of the Jewish people but is not so for the Gentiles, this is to concede dual covenant theology in some form. There must be a different salvific deal for the two peoples, and the Church’s mission, as sacrament-dependent, is to the Gentiles alone.

Notice of course one important consequence of an official theology that does ever radically detach salvation from actual conversion to Christ, whether for the case of the Jewish people alone or more generally. The spiritual conflict required to ensure conversion centrally involves confronting error about matters vital to salvation – in particular about the identity and significance of Christ himself. But if the removal of error on this point is no longer seen as vital to salvation – if the error is no longer seen clearly as spiritually dangerous, or even a real error at all – then the spiritual conflict that attempts at conversion would inevitably lead to is increasingly seen as an unnecessary evil. The attempt to convert becomes an unnecessary and offensive intolerance – something that has to be avoided to facilitate harmonious coexistence and the better to enable those forms of cooperation that can be common property with the unconverted world. And so we see the Church Commission concluding:

One important goal of Jewish-Christian dialogue certainly consists in joint engagement throughout the world for justice, peace, conservation of creation, and reconciliation. In the past, it may have been that the different religions – against the background of a narrowly understood claim to truth and a corresponding intolerance – contributed to the incitement of conflict and confrontation. But today religions should not be part of the problem, but part of the solution. Only when religions engage in a successful dialogue with one another, and in that way contribute towards world peace, can this be realised also on the social and political levels. (§46)

The solution to the plight of a fallen world is no longer first and foremost the public acknowledgment by all of Christ, but cooperation towards no doubt valuable but entirely secular ends. And this especially excludes pressing the religion-dividing issue of Christ, the very issue that a public mission to the Jewish people would raise. Suddenly, in official theology it seems, the Church’s mission to convert is no longer the solution, but the very problem.

If the sacramental life of the Church is increasingly understood no longer as effecting of salvation, but instead as a form of salvation theatre, then even in relation to that sacramental life other values, those acceptable to the unconverted world, may come to dominate. If the attempt to convert and invite into the Church’s sacramental life causes offense and disharmony then, since we are dealing with a symbol, a sign strictly inessential or unimportant in itself to actually effecting salvation, the symbol may be sacrificed. Equally if, within the life of the Church, denial of a sacrament would be offensive and conflict-producing, then again, since unworthy receipt of the sacrament no longer threatens salvation, offence may carefully be avoided there too. The denial of communion to whole categories of people because their way of life is in public contradiction of the gospel may come to look unacceptable – especially when an unconverted world increasingly insists that the way of life is not objectionable at all, but right and liberating.

Thus the prioritisation of harmony over conversion corrupts the Church’s mission not only ad extra, but ad intra too. The pursuit of harmony with the world but without the world’s conversion will not only stifle the Church’s mission to convert those without, but weaken the internal life of the Church. And this will happen in two ways. First, in placating that world without converting it the Church will inevitably encourage her own membership actually to conform to the unconverted world themselves. But of course, with lowering levels of worthy participation in the full sacramental life of the Church – especially through communions unaccompanied by confession – the pursuit of harmony with the unconverted will increasingly dominate the internal life of the Church herself. For the unconverted world will increasingly extend to include more and more of the Church’s own members who cease to participate in her sacraments worthily, and so cease benefit from the life of grace, even in their beliefs. The unremedied consequences of sin for the human intellect – the ‘clouding of human reason’ – will damage the internal life of the Church herself, and lead to ever increasing levels of dissent not only with revelation but with the plain content of natural law. And so we come to the crisis in the Church’s treatment of marriage – the crisis of Amoris Laetitia.

We now see the source of the pressure to adopt pastoral programmes that seem primarily designed to defuse conflict with the unconverted – and in doing so muffle the content of magisterial teaching that is conflict-threatening, even when the letter of that teaching is still respected.

A common thread emerges, linking the Church’s official policy towards and theological understanding of her relations to those unconverted without to her treatment of those effectively unconverted within. Dual covenant theology is still formally denied, but a pastoral programme is adopted that presupposes some form of a dual covenant – a path to salvation special to practitioners of Judaism that is left mysterious but that, at least in the here and now, bypasses the Church and baptism entirely. And then we have an internal parallel to this. The indissolubility of marriage is formally taught – but to remove conflict with the unconverted within as much as without the Church, the pastoral implications of that teaching begin to be ignored, and a pastoral programme is adopted that treats marriage as in effect dissoluble. Indeed some of the same figures can be found in both programmes of conflict-precluding pastoral adjustment. Walter Cardinal Kasper has denied the letter of dual covenant theology – but is a notable proponent of adopting its pastoral programme. He is also a notable proponent of adopting a pastoral programme that treats marriage as, in effect, dissoluble.

Inevitably in both cases the magisterial teaching itself is soon watered down. Just as official theology begins to inch towards dual covenant theology at the level of theory as it concedes to it outright in pastoral practice, so likewise concessions begin to be made in relation to marriage doctrine as well. So it is increasingly suggested, even by senior prelates, that not all sexual relations outside marriage should be classed as adultery or fornication. Some ‘conscientious’ cases of such relations, it is even suggested, may become morally equivalent to a form of ‘marriage’.

Much of ‘conservative’ Catholicism has been deeply shocked by Amoris Laetitia, but is prone to see the problem of official theology detaching itself from the historical magisterium as a peculiarity of the current pontificate. But now we see the deeper source of the crisis – which lies in a revolution, occurring with Vatican II, though apart from any new magisterial teaching of the council, in the official theology of the sacraments and of baptism in particular.

6. Conclusion

The revolution in the official theology of baptism is twofold. Dialogic harmony is given priority over conversion – and the sacramental life of the Church is seen as signifying of salvation, rather than something on which salvation actually depends.

There is a common root – the assumption that diabolic dominion over humanity has already been removed even in advance of baptism, and without any need for the world’s conversion. That assumption is what makes the modern Church’s pursuit of harmony with the world without its conversion appear feasible, and even a goal to be prioritised over conversion itself.

But the goal of harmony without conversion is not feasible at all. What reveals this is what also provides strong evidence that the operation of grace really does significantly depend on worthy participation in the sacramental life of the Church. This evidence lies in the very visible failure of grace to heal nature without nature’s conversion – a failure that lies at the heart of moral conflict between the Church and an unconverted world.

Central to magisterial teaching about baptism is the grim reality, so clearly taught dogmatically at Florence, that the unconverted world remains under the dominion of the devil. Consequently, as Christ himself clearly proclaimed, baptism is a source not of harmony with the unconverted world but of spiritual confrontation of it and spiritual conflict with it – a spiritual conflict that can be ended only by the world’s conversion.

The crisis of Amoris Laetitia is not a theological crisis of the current pontificate alone, It is not isolated, and it has parallels elsewhere that had already arisen under previous popes. One especially glaring parallel to the pastoral muffling of the Church’s marriage teaching, we have seen, is the equally serious compromising of the Church’s mission publicly to call all humanity to Christ – the Church’s flirtation at an official level, at least at the level of pastoral strategy and even to a degree beyond, with dual covenant theology. Both are parts of a more general crisis in official theology that has followed Vatican II. This crisis involves a revolution in understanding of the sacraments, and of baptism in particular – a revolution which immediately implicates the Church in pastoral programmes that prioritise harmony over conversion, and which, to protect this prioritisation at the pastoral level, inevitably compromises the Church’s presentation of magisterial teaching too. Until this general crisis of official theology is generally understood for what it is, and fidelity to magisterial teaching is recovered at every level of the Church, but especially at the highest levels, the general crisis of the Vatican II period will only continue, and take new forms.

[1] One might wonder whether all such evangelisation would be quite as counterproductive as is often supposed – but we need not debate this here.

[2] See the Council of Florence, Bull of union with the Copts, Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils eds Tanner and Alberigo, volume 1, p. 576; and then, citing Florence, Pius XII in Mystici Corporis: ‘On the Cross then the Old Law died, soon to be buried and to be a bearer of death, in order to give way to the New Testament of which Christ had chosen the Apostles as qualified ministers’.

[3] ‘Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.’ Romans, 11, 13-14. And the Jews are described as to be grafted back into salvation ‘if they do not persist in their unbelief’ (Romans, 11, 23).

[4] See Summa Theologiae 1.2ae q94 a6 and q109 a2

[5] “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29) A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic–Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of “Nostra Aetate”, Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, 2015