Satis Cognitum

It is so evident from the clear and frequent testimonies of holy writ that the true Church of Jesus Christ is one, that no Christian can dare to deny it. But in judging and determining the nature of this unity many have erred in various ways. Not the foundation of the Church alone, but its whole constitution, belongs to the class of things effected by Christ’s free choice. For this reason the entire case must be judged by what was actually done. We must consequently investigate not how the Church may possibly be one, but how He, who founded it, willed that it should be one.

But when we consider what was actually done we find that Jesus Christ did not, in point of fact, institute a Church to embrace several communities similar in nature, but in themselves distinct, and lacking those bonds which render the Church unique and indivisible after that manner in which in the symbol of our faith we profess: “I believe in one Church.”

“The Church in respect of its unity belongs to the category of things indivisible by nature, though heretics try to divide it into many parts….We say, therefore, that the Catholic Church is unique in its essence, in its doctrine, in its origin, and in its excellence….Furthermore, the eminence of the Church arises from its unity, as the principle of its constitution–a unity surpassing all else, and having nothing like unto it or equal to it.”[1] For this reason Christ, speaking of the mystical edifice, mentions only one Church, which He calls His own–”I will build My church”; any other Church except this one, since it has not been founded by Christ, cannot be the true Church. This becomes even more evident when the purpose of the divine Founder is considered. For what did Christ, the Lord, ask? What did He wish in regard to the Church founded, or about to be founded? This: to transmit to it the same mission and the same mandate which He had received from the Father, they they should be perpetuated. This he clearly resolved to do: this He actually did. “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.” [2] “As thou hast sent Me into the world I also have sent them into the world.” [3]

But the mission of Christ is to save “that which had perished”; that is to say, not some nations or peoples, but the whole human race, without distinction of time or place. “The Son of Man came that the world might be saved by Him.” [4] “For there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.” [5] The Church, therefore, is bound to communicate without stint to all men, and to transmit through all ages, the salvation effected by Jesus Christ, and the blessings flowing therefrom. Wherefore, by the will of its Founder, it is necessary that this Church should be one in all lands and at all times. To justify the existence of more than one Church it would be necessary to go outside this world, and to create a new and unheard-of race of men.

-Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum, 11-14

[1] St. Clemens Alexandrinus, Stromatum, lib. viii., c.17.
[2] John 20:21
[3] John 17:18
[4] John 3:17
[5] Acts 4:12


2 thoughts on “Satis Cognitum

  1. You say this:

    “we find that Jesus Christ did not, in point of fact, institute a Church to embrace several communities similar in nature, but in themselves distinct, and lacking those bonds which render the Church unique and indivisible after that manner in which in the symbol of our faith we profess: “I believe in one Church.””

    But how do you reconcile this with the worldwide Catholic church itself? Forget about Protestants and Evangelicals and Charismatics being distinct communities…what about all of the distinct communities within the Catholic church? For instead, the Eastern Churches have distinct theological ideas and practices, and yet the Roman Catholics hold them in special communion. The Western churches advocate celibacy and a life of singlehood for all priests, and yet you have identified on this blog that certain Catholic traditions in South America (forgive me if I’m wrong on the place) do allow priests to marry and not be celibate. Consider the changes that happened with Vatican II: some parishes hold strongly to the Latin masses, others have done away with them completely. Or consider the many orders of monks and nuns within the Catholic church: Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits on the male side, and whatever the corresponding orders are on the female side. These are all separate, but distinct communities, are they not? And yet they are all united within the Catholic church.

    Even Catholic theology has distinct camps. St. Augustine’s theology is quite different from St. Thomas’s theology. St. Augustine hails from Plato, and Augustine believed that ideas supersede reality, that ideas are more real than things. St. Thomas has an opposite assumption: he hails from Aristotle. St. Thomas believes that the material reality is greater than the ideal reality. St. Thomas argued we can discover God by going back to the First Cause, that everything in the material universe has a cause-and-effect relationship with everything else. Everything we see was caused by something, and that cause was caused by something, and so on back to the beginning. At the very beginning is God, the First Cause. So for Thomas we discover God by looking at the material world, whereas Augustine held that we discover God by looking within ourselves. These two theologies could not be more opposite, and yet the Catholic Church embraces both.

    The Catholic Church also has a strange way of incorporating local religious beliefs into their theology. Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico is one such example: Our Lady is not so popular in other parts of the world, but in Mexico she’s a huge deal. Some Catholic parishes, gasp!, look startling similar to Charismatic churches, where people do speak in tongues from time to time.

    And the Catholic church in various parts of the world has a different worldview than Rome. You can bet that the Irish Catholics have different concerns than the Chinese Catholics, and those Catholics have different concerns from persecuted Catholics in Africa.

    This admittedly brief survey of the Catholic Church, then, shows that even within this “one true church” there is incredible diversity of opinion, theology, and practice. And yet you are united behind all Catholics, but you reject as valid other forms of Christianity not affiliated with the Catholic Church. You say Jesus didn’t intend for THOSE sorts of communities to develop.

    So define this: what makes a community “united” with the Catholic church? How distinct can a community be and still be part of that “one true church”? And how do you know when a community has become “too distinct” that it is no longer considered part of the church? An answer beyond “whatever the Pope says” would be appreciated, as even the Catholic hierarchy has standards when considering who is “in” and who is “out.”

    And remember this about the history of salvation: God makes incredible allowances for our sins, especially when plans don’t go as intended. God intended for people to live with him in Paradise. Adam and Eve sinned; so God made allowances with sacrifices. God intended people to be sinless even with this sacrificial system in place, but humans were still sinful, so God wiped them out in the flood and started over. God intended to rule over Israel, but they wanted a king like the pagans, so God allowed them to have a king (Saul being the first). God intended Israel to be a special people set apart from all nations, but they weren’t, so God destroyed them over and over again and opened up salvation to the entire world. God intended the temple system to cover our sins, but it didn’t, so God sent Christ.

    Similarly, I believe God wanted us to all be united in the Church, but we are sinful, and the Church is sinful and easily corrupted by men. So God allows the church to fracture if that means more people can come to Him. Is it the perfect system? Of course not. None of God’s allowances for our sins have been perfect, from the human perspective, but God has His ways, and will set everything right at the end.

    While the body of Christ is indeed one, the body has many parts. And God, being infinitely multifaceted like the greatest cut diamond, can be worshiped in a variety of ways. Two people looking at complete opposite sides of the diamond might contend they are seeing two different gods. But because the diamond is so big and the people so unwilling to switch positions once and awhile, they don’t realize they are looking at the same thing. I tend to think Catholics and Protestants are worshiping the same God in nearly valid ways, and yet we don’t see it because we stay in our camps too often and don’t visit the other.


    • First of all, these are not things I have said. These are things that the Church has said.

      Second, you are missing the point. One of the major points that defenders of the atrocious splintering of Protestantism make is that the Church is founded as a mere collection of individual and autonomous churches. That these individual communities in turn decide for themselves what is true and what is not true. That these communities answer to no other community. Essentially that the church as a whole is made up of communities that are similar in nature, not congruent in nature.

      The Catholic Church however actually is made up of communities of congruent natures. Every Catholic, every parish, every diocese is under obedience to the universal dogmas of the Catholic Church. Whether you are a Franciscan, a Benedictine, a Carmelite you hold all of the same dogmas. Whether you are a layman in a huge parish in Los Angeles, or a aborigine farmer in a parish that worships in a hut in the outback, you hold all of the same dogmas. The unity of the Church is not dependent on practice, on whether you go to a Tridentine Mass or a Novus Ordo Mass, on whether you come from a community with a deep devotion to Mary or whether your community has a charismatic air about it. The unity of the Catholic Church finds itself in the very essence of its nature. That it transcends time and space, that it is in all places and in all times. It’s unity is that it was given the very mission that the Father gave Jesus, as Pope Leo XIII mentions in this encyclical “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” It’s unity is the answer to Jesus’ prayer before being lead of to the crucifixion. No matter if you read the works of Augustine or Aquinas when you get to the depth of their theology, they are one as Jesus and the Father are one. We have one faith.

      This is just simply not true of Protestants. They have many faiths. They may be similar, but they are not congruent. Sure, you can look at one individual church and say, “well look, these people are all of one mind and spirit just like the Catholics are of all one mind and spirit,” but that’s only one aspect. Does this community transcend time and space? No. Were they founded by Christ? No. Were they sent as Christ was sent by the Father? No. Nobody can confer that on a church but Christ himself, which he did with the apostolic church.

      I understand that this isn’t the message that people want to hear. People would much rather say “we all love Jesus, can’t we get along?” and ignore that there are MAJOR differences between us. They like to downplay these things as “nearly valid” or “insignificant”, but how can something that Jesus did be insignificant? How can the nature of the Church, the institution that Jesus gave the world to share in his mission be insignificant? When some of us look at a host from a Catholic Mass and one says “Jesus” and another says “bread” how can we claim that these things are unimportant? When one says “be baptized for the remission of sin” and another says “be baptized as a public testimony of faith” how can we reconcile these things?

      Yes, we may worship the same God, but that doesn’t mean that God approves of or is pleased with the ways that we worship.

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