The History of the Early Ecumenical Councils and Their Pronouncements of the Fundamental Christian Truths about Jesus Against Many Heretical Christians Is the History of the Living Body of Christ the Church Living its Life on Earth in Communion with Christ the Head and Animated by His Holy Spirit in Order to Indeed Be “The Pillar and Foundation of the Truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), Such That Traditional, Orthodox Christianity Is Inseparable from Church Authority
[This is a revised draft of a new chapter added when the main body of Who is Mary in the Church? was essentially finished, but I think it adds a powerful and important impact by dealing briefly with the other of the two biggest issues that divide Christians, linking it with what has been established earlier in this volume about the Church as the Living Body of Christ, and presenting it as another invitation for divided Christians to contend with each other in Christian love regarding our differences.]
Currently Divided Catholic And Orthodox and Protestant/ Evangelical Christians Can Also Discuss Their Different Views on Church Authority in Brotherly Love on the Basis of Their Vast Commonly-Held Christian Faith
I realize that the issue of Church authority is the first of the two biggest issues of difference (Mary being the second) between Catholic and Protestant Christians. As with the Mary issue, this issue is not near so big between Catholic and Orthodox Christians, since Eastern Orthodox Christians are entirely Catholic in their understanding of Church authority except as regards the exact nature and limitations of the pope’s authority over the other united Christian overseer/bishop/eparchs and patriarchs, and they will even readily recognize the pope as “first among equals” of the five ancient Christian patriarchs who each headed a distinct cultural Sister Church in Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople, and Jerusalem.
Current Eastern Orthodox Christians dispute the Catholic understanding of the papacy as the pinnacle of the Holy Spirit-animated Church’s authority, but current Eastern Rite Catholic Christians (including myself) who share the Eastern Orthodox spiritual traditions and who share the Catholic understanding of the papacy would say that we are “Eastern Orthodox Christians” in the original sense of that term, which meant “not heretic” and did not mean “not Catholic.” We Eastern Catholic Christians can say, with great historical justification, that recognizing the pope as Head Pastor of the Christian Church is part of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Tradition and an integral part of the first Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Universal (Catholic) Christian Church wherein fundamental Christian orthodoxy was permanently established against the early heretics – the very Councils which the non-Catholic Eastern Orthodox Christians say they accept, even defining themselves as “the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.” See Volume III, The Papacy and Christian Unity – The Pope Was the Historic Guarantor of Christian Unity and Orthodoxy in the First Christian Millennium of the Undivided Early Church: The Ancient Eastern Orthodox Tradition from the Beginning Recognized the Papacy and Was Through it Part of the Undivided Early Church’s Universal (Catholic) Communion of Different Orthodox Eastern and Western Christian Sister Churches Collectively Known as the Catholic Church, Celebrating Christianity Differently while Unified in Orthodox Christian Faith Against Many Early Christian Heretics.
The true root problem between Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christians has been that since the near-total (but never completely total) separation of the Eastern and Western Churches which was forced by the Muslim conquerors of the East (see Volume I Chapter 7 and Volume III), the Catholic Church has been so predominantly Western and Roman (Eastern Catholics have been such a small minority) that most Roman Catholic Christians lost sight of what it means to be a truly Universal (Greek katholikos, or Catholic) Church, and mistakenly came to associate their Roman Catholic Church with the Catholic Church entire, instead of recognizing it as the Roman Catholic Sister Church within the Universal (Catholic) Communion of orthodox Christian Sister Churches, Eastern and Western, which met together in Ecumenical (worldwide) Christian Councils of East and West in the First Christian Millennium and only collectively called itself the Catholic Church. Through these events Satan (whose name literally means accuser) has sown much confusion, ignorance, and prejudice and thus has had tremendous victory over Christ’s Body the Church by getting both Eastern and Western Christians to accuse each other of being wrong for being different in the very same ways they were different but thus enriched each other in the Undivided Early Church of East and West. The result of this Roman Rite Catholic ignorance of the Eastern Catholic “Sister” Churches which together with the Roman Catholic “Sister” Church make up the truly Catholic (Universal) Church has in the past resulted in periods of substantial Roman Catholic culturally-based prejudice against not only Eastern Orthodox Christians (who are likewise culturally prejudiced against the West, seeing “their way” as the only or best way) but even against their minority Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters who are fully united with Roman Rite Catholics in the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion presided over by the pope (even the traditional papal triple-crowned bishop’s mitre on the Vatican Flag, properly understood, proclaims the truly Universal and not just Roman nature of the Catholic Church under the pope’s overseership – see Volume III). Eastern Orthodox Christians have seen how poorly many Roman Catholic Christians in even the not-too-distant past have treated Eastern Catholic Christians, and this has firmed the Eastern Orthodox in their resolve to stay out of the Catholic Communion presided over by the pope even though their own Eastern Christian tradition is thoroughly Catholic and traditionally recognizes the pope as Head Pastor (see Volume III’s Chapter 5 for a list of historical proof of this tradition since Apostolic times). Satan’s victory in dividing the ancient Catholic Communion of Sister Churches still today has resulted in a fair bit of Roman Catholic ignorance about the Catholic East and about the exact nature of the ancient and ongoing Catholic (Universal) Communion of East and West, but this is greatly improving thanks to Vatican Council II, the first Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church ever to dogmatically describe the nature of Christ’s Church itself. See Volume I Chapter 7: How the Unity in Diversity of the Undivided Early Church Was Lost in History, and How the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II) Laid the Groundwork for its Eventual Restoration, and see Volume III.
The Catholic View of Church Authority:
The Stable “Tripod of Truth” of Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium
The ancient Catholic Church understands that the elements or articles of a Christian’s faith are determined by the stable “tripod of truth” of:
1) the Bible, the written Word of God;
2) the Apostolic Sacred Tradition passed on implicitly or explicitly within the Living Body of Christ the Church through successive ages of history, including how to properly interpret the Bible (tradition being how the present is directly linked with the past); and
3) the Magisterium or teaching office (magister means teacher) of the Living Body of Christ the Church animated by the Holy Spirit, which speaks through the Christian overseers/ bishops (ordained in line from the Apostles) united with the chief overseer/ bishop (the pope). This Magisterium functions most formally through the dogmatic pronouncements of an Ecumenical (worldwide) Council of these united Christian leaders which settle Christian disputes over the Bible’s proper interpretation by clearly and explicitly articulating for all Christians the previously more implicit content of Sacred Tradition in the ongoing life of the Living Body of Christ since Apostolic times.
The Protestant View of Church Authority:
The Bible Alone is Authoritative
The 16th Century Protestant Reformers, in reaction to various abuses of authority and other sins in ordained Christian leaders of their day and in previous history, and in reaction to abuses of various secondary doctrines taught by the Catholic Magisterium of bishops and pope citing Sacred Tradition, rejected the authority of both Catholic Sacred Tradition and the Catholic Magisterium, and declared their belief that the Bible Alone is authoritative in determining the elements of a Christian’s faith. This belief that “the Bible Alone is authoritative for the Christian” is considered the first “Pillar” of the Protestant Reformation, and it distinguishes all the many forms of Protestant Christianity (including ones which no longer use the term “Protestant” to identify themselves) from Catholic (and Orthodox) Christianity which acknowledges the Bible and Living Sacred Tradition as interpreted by the Living Magisterium of the Living Body of Christ the Church as authoritative for the Christian.
Loving Ecumenical Dialogue Between Divided Christians United in Common Fundamentals Includes Sharing Our Concerns about Other Christians’ Secondary Doctrines and Practices We Do Not Share in Non-Accusatory Ways (Towards Eventually Finding Common Solutions to Current Disputes)
Since conservative Protestant/Evangelical and Catholic/Orthodox Christians despite this difference are still united in such vast common faith (listed in the “common creed” in the Forward), this Church authority issue too, like the Mary issue wherein we seem so different, must be discussed frankly and patiently in Christian love, and we must refuse to degenerate into accusations about our different perspectives and we must really listen to each other that we may truly understand just how we each see our different perspectives in light of our common essential or fundamental Christian beliefs. As the joint document Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium1 declares, Catholic Christians and Evangelical Protestant Christians must “contend together” regarding our differences, including this major area of difference in our understanding of Church authority, so as to show the world a Church united in love even though we are not yet structurally united, in order to minimize the great harm our current divisions do to our common Christian mission to the world. The most important thing is to have loving dialogue about our differences on the basis of our great common faith. This book is part of my contribution to that loving dialogue between Catholic and conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christians.
Our honestly and lovingly contending together over our differences includes expressing our concerns about “the other side’s” different doctrines and practices, not as accusations that these differences are in fact heretical (since we must give each other the benefit of the doubt here on the basis of our vast common faith through which we each see our differences), but as concerns that these differences might, depending on how they are understood, take some people farther away from the common core of Christian faith which makes us brothers and sisters in Christ, especially if they are misunderstood (in which case through our mutually “contending together” we may help each other to better and more clearly articulate our different secondary doctrines so they are not so prone to misunderstanding, and this may also help us eventually resolve our differences by coming to a mutually accepted understanding on an issue we once disagreed about). As a former “mainline” conservative and then Evangelical Protestant Christian, I know the major concerns or fears that Protestant Christians have about how the Catholic Christian beliefs about Mary and about Church authority may take some people farther away from the living core of the saving Christian faith, the personal life-changing relationship with Jesus, and I have attempted to write this volume in a way which promotes true understanding and thus eases those concerns (by God’s Grace perhaps this volume, which uses newer and I believe clearer ways of articulating the Catholic Church’s constant beliefs about Mary, may even contribute to a future resolution of our current difficulties with each other’s Marian beliefs). I myself as an Evangelical Protestant came to truly understand these secondary Catholic doctrines and found that, properly understood, they did not at all compromise the essential saving Christian faith, and so they did not at all justify my not accepting and working together lovingly with Catholic Christians towards the salvation of the world. I will not be offended if Protestant readers do not take the next step which I did, and come to believe that these Catholic doctrines are not only consistent with the Christian fundamentals but also true and therefore join the Catholic Church (in one of its Eastern or Western Rites). The unity of love between conservative Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholic Christians is what is most immediately important for the sake of the Christian witness of Jesus’ love to the world, and full visible structural Christian unity is not something to be rushed. Indeed, I would prefer we take as much time as we need to become one fully unified Christian Church which preserves all of that rich Christian insight into our vast common faith which each of the currently divided fundamentally orthodox Christian churches has.
Any Future Reunion of the Currently Divided Fundamentally Orthodox Christian Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) to Fulfill Jesus’ Prayer for Our Unity Should Be Based on the Early Church’s Unity in Diversity So That Nothing Good That Each Church Has Is Lost
I personally have been greatly enriched as a Christian by my experience of all the different expressions of fundamentally orthodox Christianity, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, so I know that none of this bounty God has given us should be lost in our eventual reunification to fulfill God’s Will for His One Church, the Body of His Son. We will certainly have to organize ourselves according to the model of the Undivided Early Church, which was not a single monolithic Church but rather a Universal (Catholic) Christian Communion of different orthodox Christian Sister Churches sharing a wonderful and mutually enriching unity in diversity. To see how the entire Bible leads up specifically to the establishment of the Christian Church as it actually existed in this period of the Undivided Early Catholic (Universal) Christian Church, and what can be done to help re-establish this ancient Christian unity in diversity, see my book The Bible’s “Big Picture”: Using “Family Theology” to Understand the Single Overarching Story Told Throughout the Scriptures, Which Makes the Bible Our Family History as Christians – and see Volume I of So That The World May Believe.
As a former Protestant Christian I understand why Protestant Christians since the Protestant Reformation are extremely hesitant to accept the authority of the Catholic Church (with its Sacred Tradition and Magisterium) alongside the authority of the Bible, even though it was the Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Early Catholic (Universal) Christian Church in history which settled all the early Christian controversies over the Bible’s interpretation and clearly defined the essential fundamental tenets of Christianity still accepted by Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Pentecostal, and other conservative Protestant Christians (including “Messianic Jews” who combine the conservative Protestant Christian and Jewish traditions). I know that the major reason for this hesitancy is because Protestant Christians believe the Catholic Church’s authorities of overseer/bishops and popes citing Sacred Tradition have also authorized secondary doctrines (and practices based on them) which compromise some of these essential fundamentals of Christianity held in common by Protestant and Catholic (and Orthodox) Christians. However, most of the secondary Catholic doctrines and practices which Protestant Christians are most offended by and which they most fear compromise the common Christian essentials are related to Mary and the Saints. So, it is my hope that this present volume, which explains the Catholic Church’s teaching about Mary (and the Saints and even Purgatory as a bonus in Appendix I) in terms of the common Christian fundamentals and how the Catholic Church’s teaching (correct or not) does not compromise them, will assuage most of the Protestant concerns about the Catholic Church authority having in the past compromised the fundamentals.
I took the time to write this book for the purpose of furthering loving dialogue between Catholic (and Orthodox) and conservative Protestant Christians on the basis of their vast commonly-held faith because I recognized that based on their misconceptions of Catholic (and Orthodox) teachings relating to Mary and the Saints, Protestant Christians have serious concerns about or objections to these secondary Catholic (and Orthodox) beliefs, fearing that they compromise or lead people away from the essential core of saving Christian faith. It is worth it for the sake of the Christian unity Jesus prayed for “so that the world may believe” for Catholic Christians to seriously consider and try to answer these Protestant Christian objections. In this book I usually do not list specifically the typical Protestant objections to Catholic Marian belief and practice, but, knowing what they are (as a former Protestant), I explain the Catholic Marian doctrines in ways which address these concerns, as part of our loving dialogue with each other towards the Christian unity Jesus prayed for.
As Protestant Christians Have Several Concerns about the Catholic Marian Doctrines and Practices Which this Book Addresses Without Taking Offense at Them, So Catholic Christians Have Concerns That Protestant Sola Scriptura (“Bible Alone”) Doctrine Is the Very Root of the Widespread Protestant Doctrinal Liberalism and Unorthodoxy in the Oldest and Largest Protestant “Mainline” Denominations Which Is Not a Catholic Problem
But Catholic Christians also have serious concerns about or objections to certain aspects of Protestant Christian belief, especially regarding the “Pillar of the Protestant Reformation” that “the Bible Alone is authoritative for the Christian” (which denies the important role of the Living Body of Christ the Church), and Catholic Christians have grave fears that this uniquely Protestant doctrine leads people away from the essential core of saving Christian faith, by being the very root of the Protestant “doctrinal liberalism” which questions, doubts, or outright denies essential aspects of traditional Christian faith and morality in the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations (including the large one I was raised in which lost its grip on fundamental Christian orthodoxy and morality in my own lifetime – its leaders publicly saying they are not sure if Jesus is God, and claiming heterosexual and homosexual sins are not sinful). It is true that the Catholic Church suffers from the different problem of “nominalism,” from many of its members in our highly secularized society being members more or less “in name only,” more or less “non-practicing” members. This is not a uniquely Catholic problem, for it affects all religious groups in our highly secularized society, whether Catholic, Protestant, or non-Christian (it is all the more noticeable in the Catholic Church, perhaps simply because the Catholic Church has far more total members than any other religious group in our society). “Nominal” Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, simply do not hold and practice the Christian faith of the Christian Church they associate themselves with. While this is indeed a problem, and is indeed more noticeable within the Catholic Church, it is not near as serious a problem as the doctrinal liberalism which now characterizes the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations. Unlike nominal Christians who rarely if ever practice their faith at all, liberal Protestant Christians are often active, churchgoing members of their Protestant denomination who are members “in good standing” of their faith communities – yet they doubt or deny fundamental aspects of traditional Christian faith and morality! This very serious problem of doctrinal liberalism is a particularly and essentially Protestant problem which has ravaged the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations to the bewilderment of those “doctrinally conservative” Protestants who continue to conserve the fundamentals of orthodox Christian faith (which the Protestant Reformers took from the Catholic Church they left). In contrast, doctrinal liberalism affects only the fringes of the Catholic Church, and only through liberal Catholic scholars who were trained in methods of Bible study developed by Protestant scholars which incorporate Protestant assumptions.2 Thankfully, although the theologians at the seminaries which train Protestant pastors for a denomination or congregation are effectively the highest doctrinal authority (professionally interpreting the Bible Alone) for Protestant denominations or congregations, whether they be conservative or liberal, in the Catholic Church those liberal Catholic theologians who caught a nasty virus from Protestantism have no authority. Even the overseers (bishops/eparchs and patriarchs and popes) within the Catholic Church who have authority to lead and teach the Church have no authority to change or abandon any Catholic dogma (including all the common traditional fundamental doctrines of Christianity), but it is in fact the primary responsibility of their Church office to guard and protect the traditional, orthodox Christian faith. Thus liberal Catholic scholars typically do not even dare to try to question any of the common fundamentals of orthodox Christianity as liberal Protestant scholars often do, but they only challenge lesser elements of Catholic faith and life which have not been dogmatically defined. Thus the worst effect liberalism has on the Catholic Church is to encourage nominalism (ceasing to practice the Catholic faith regularly or at all) among those already secularized Catholics who listen to liberal Catholic scholars and who from them learn to not take too seriously the ordained hierarchy of the Catholic Church which upholds the traditional essentials of Christianity. In contrast, the worst effect of liberalism in Protestant Christianity is to lead whole Protestant denominations, or the largest streams of the oldest and largest Protestant denominations, into doubting or denying essential fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity like the Divinity of Jesus, and into abandoning traditional Christian morality in sexual and other matters. My own insight as a former Protestant who became Catholic is that the annoying fringe minority of doctrinally liberal Catholics are “Protestant at heart,” since they protest against and challenge the Catholic hierarchy, just like the Protestant Reformers did, while doctrinally conservative, orthodox Protestants are “Catholic at heart,” since unlike their fellow Protestants who are liberal they do not follow the Bible Alone but are absolutely certain of the truth of the traditional fundamental tenets of Christianity which were the Bible interpretations first clearly articulated and declared necessary to Christian belief at the Early Ecumenical Councils of Catholic bishops and popes.
As it is worth it for Catholic Christians to seriously consider and try to answer the Protestant objections to Catholic distinctives, so it is also worth it for the sake of the Christian unity Jesus prayed for “so that the world may believe” for Protestant/Evangelical Christians to seriously consider and try to answer these Catholic Christian objections to the distinctive Protestant belief in “the Bible Alone.” The loving dialogue between Protestant and Catholic Christians on the basis of our great common faith for the sake of the world which needs to see Jesus in our love “for one another” includes each side expressing its concerns and fears in non-accusatory ways, and seriously considering and trying to answer the concerns and fears of the other side in terms of the common Christian essentials. Such loving dialogue will clarify each side’s perspective, identify theological weaknesses and gradually improve each side’s way of expressing itself, emphasizing how each side’s different secondary doctrines are linked to the common fundamentals and making sure these links are well understood by all. It is likely that by reviewing and rewording our different doctrines in terms of their links to our common core beliefs that we will find our differences not near so different as we first thought, and ideally our continuing to so “contend together” over our differences may eventually result in commonly-agreed-on resolutions to our current disagreements. In fact, this very kind of process was involved in the settling of disputes between Christians with different perspectives in the Ecumenical Councils (especially the 17th Ecumenical Council of 1439 which joyfully reaffirmed Eastern and Western Christian unity in diversity in one Universal (Catholic) Church shortly before the sad Muslim conquest of the East which resulted in the current Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic divisions).
I have in this book already attempted to answer what I know to be the major Protestant concerns and challenges to Catholics about the Catholic Marian doctrines, without taking any offence at the Protestant challenges to Catholics over these issues. So in the spirit of mutual loving dialogue over our differences and our concerns about them I also want to share with Protestant readers in particular part of my perspective (as a former conservative and then Evangelical Protestant Christian and a current Catholic Christian) on Protestant Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) doctrine in relation to the Catholic perspective on Church authority. In this spirit of dialogue I will express my perspective on how both the Catholic and the Protestant positions on Church Authority3 relate to the history of the Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Early Church which historically established the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy we hold in common as the basis of our loving brotherhood in Christ, and how both positions relate to the “doctrinal liberalism” and unorthodoxy which has ravaged the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” churches (including the one I was raised in), and how both positions relate to the possible future reunification on the basis of our vast common faith which we both should be working towards for the sake of Jesus’ prayer for our Christian unity for the world’s sake. This perspective of mine will be challenging for my brother and sister Protestant and Evangelical Christians to read, but it is not an attack or an accusation, it is my honest sharing of my perspective and concerns, towards the goal of honest and fruitful inter-denominational dialogue towards our ultimate re-establishing of Christian unity for the world’s sake according to Jesus’ prayer, on the basis of the loving brotherhood in Christ’s Body the Church I already share with you on the basis of our great common traditional, orthodox Christian faith.
Through the Holy Spirit’s Nudging and Through Listening to Each Other Protestant and Catholic Christians Are Already Much Closer to Each Other’s Perspectives than They Were in the 16th Century When They Parted, Including a Common Recognition of the Primacy of the Bible to Christian Faith Despite Different Views on the Extent of Church Authority
In my perspective the early 20th Century Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements in Protestantism (to which I add the Pentecostal and later Charismatic movements, which were also “doctrinally conservative” and orthodox reactions to the huge “doctrinally liberal” and unorthodox trend in the older “mainline” Protestant churches, but with a supernatural emphasis), are unconscious movements away from Protestantism and a big step back towards Catholicism. Evangelicals (and the other doctrinally conservative groups) still affirm the definitively Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine with their lips but refuse to practice it strictly and let it lead them away from certainty about the orthodox Christian interpretations of the Bible known as “the fundamentals” the way liberal Protestants have, and some of them are even starting to recognize the need to incorporate some kind of authoritative interpretive Tradition into their understanding of Church authority in order to prevent Sola Scriptura (the Bible Alone without any authoritative interpretation) from leading to doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy. In the meantime the Catholic Church has been listening to the legitimate complaints of Protestants since the Protestant Reformation and has reviewed, reoriented and refined its understanding of Divine Revelation and Church authority in terms of the primacy of the Bible which is served by Catholic Sacred Tradition and the Catholic Magisterium, such that both Protestants and Catholics now officially understand their faith primarily in terms of the Bible. All this means that orthodox Catholic and Protestant Christians today are already much closer to each other in their understanding of Church authority than they were in the 16th Century when they parted ways. With the nudging of the Holy Spirit we have been moving closer together for a long time already without realizing it, and we need to consciously continue this movement until Jesus’ prayer for our unity for the world’s sake is granted.
It has always been true that the Bible is primary to Catholic faith, which is why only the Bible has ever been read within the Divine Liturgy (Eastern term) or Holy Mass (Western term) when Catholic Christians gather to worship, and not the “Monuments of Tradition” (other Christian writings since Apostolic times) nor the official documents of the Catholic Magisterium. But, as the Holy Spirit has been leading divided Christianity slowly back together, the Catholic Church now officially understands Tradition and Magisterium in relation to the primary Divine Revelation of the Bible. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation as commented on by Father Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) is particularly significant here, and high-ranking Catholic theologians have even proposed “Catholic” versions of “Bible Alone” doctrine, such as “the material sufficiency of the Bible Alone” supported by the late Cardinal Congar, and the “practical sufficiency of the Bible Alone” proposed by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). Both of these Catholic doctrines retain the centrality of the Bible to Christian faith but correct the flaws of “the formal sufficiency of the Bible Alone” taught by the Protestant Reformation, flaws which lead logically and naturally to today’s Protestant doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy because without an authoritative interpretive Tradition and recognized authoritative magisterial (teaching) authority to settle disputes over interpretation, there is no way to authoritatively judge one Bible interpretation over another (the Arian crisis over the Divinity of Jesus in the Early Church happened over two very thorough Bible interpretations by devoted Christians who spoke Biblical Greek as their first language which could not be settled by the Bible Alone but was settled by the Catholic Magisterium at the 1st Ecumenical Council, citing the interpretive Tradition passed on within the Living Body of Christ the Church). While these Catholic versions of “Bible Alone” doctrine are not yet official Catholic teaching, but only legitimate theological opinions proposed by some of the highest-ranking Catholic leaders like cardinals and popes, Catholic leaders today would surely affirm Prima Scriptura if not any version of Sola Scriptura – the Bible first or primarily, though not alone in the “formally sufficient” way the Protestant Reformation taught, which is the root of modern Protestant liberalism and unorthodoxy. For more details on the ways the Catholic Church has refined and improved its understanding of Church authority in response to Protestant Christian concerns, see my book entitled Sola Scriptura? What Scripture Alone Testifies Concerning the Church as the Body of Christ Expressing Himself in Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium: The Biblical Basis for the Early Church’s Formal Repudiation of Heretics, Which Is the Biblical Basis for Refuting Modern Doctrinally Liberal Christianity Which Likewise Rejects or Doubts Traditional Christian Faith and Morality.
As an Evangelical Protestant I Discovered That since I Was Absolutely Certain of the Traditional Bible Interpretations Declared to Be the Basic Fundamental Tenets of Christian Faith at the Early Ecumenical Councils of the Early Catholic (Universal) Church’s Magisterium, I Was “Catholic at Heart” Already
In my own Christian journey I discovered that because I was absolutely certain that the Bible must be interpreted by all Christians so as to yield the traditional fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity (Jesus is Divine, fully God and fully man and so on) which were first clearly articulated and declared to be the norms of orthodox Christianity by the early Catholic Church’s Magisterium of overseer/ bishops and popes citing Catholic Sacred Tradition, even though large groups of professed Christians from ancient to modern times (including huge numbers of my fellow Protestant Christians) did and do not interpret the Bible this orthodox way, this meant that I was Catholic at heart already. I came to understand I already belonged in heart to the Catholic Church, even though I was an Evangelical Protestant, since I insisted that the Bible must be interpreted according to the traditional tenets of orthodox Christianity which are the ancient Catholic Church’s official interpretation of the Bible. In the spirit of loving dialogue with my Christian brothers, I am here sharing my important discovery that Catholic Christianity definitely has something necessary to the long-term maintenance of fundamental Christian orthodoxy which Protestant Christianity lacks, and, since as a former Evangelical Protestant I know how angry and confused I was over the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations going increasingly “doctrinally liberal” and unorthodox, losing more and more of traditional Christian faith and morality, I think conservative Protestant Christians will be very relieved to hear there is a simple and reasonable explanation for this bewildering phenomenon – even though it means re-evaluating a doctrine conservative Protestants traditionally hold dear but which they do not truly practice anymore anyway. I believe that like me, the really committed Evangelicals are already “Catholic at heart” and they do not strictly practice “the Bible Alone is authoritative for the Christian” but they treat their denomination’s interpretational tradition (borrowed from Catholic Sacred Tradition and the Catholic Magisterium’s Early Councils), encapsulated in their creedal “statement of faith,” as effectively a binding authority over them which defines the elements of their Christian faith (whereas liberal Protestant Christians, who strictly practice “the Bible Alone,” cannot logically consider their denomination’s traditional creed as ultimately authoritative over them since it is not the Bible, and since any orthodox interpretive words and phrases like “Trinity,” “Incarnation, “Jesus is one in being with the Father,” “Jesus is fully God and fully man” which may be in their denomination’s traditional creed are not from the Bible). Thus I share with the reader that in my experience, I found that just by being a committed conservative, Evangelical Protestant, utterly convinced of the non-negotiable absolute truth of the traditional understandings of the Bible which are considered essential or fundamental Christian teaching, I was already “Catholic at heart,” my heart had instinctively known that these life-transforming Bible interpretations of the Early Catholic Church (which the Protestant Reformers had taken with them FROM the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church when they left it in the 16th Century) were true and must be accepted as such in order for me to have the supernaturally empowered life of a traditional, orthodox Christian.4 I knew first-hand that under-500-year-old Protestant Christianity could not guarantee its orthodoxy long-term since my own Protestant denomination had lost its grip on the Christian fundamentals as had so many other Protestant denominations while the Catholic Church never had in 2000 years. And so it was not exceptionally hard (though it took a lot of prayer and research) for me to formally become a Catholic Christian, since my supernaturally empowering Christian orthodoxy made me “Catholic at heart” already.5 My mind had been trained to formally resist the Catholicism I already lived in heart on the basis of misconceptions about secondary Catholic doctrines concerning Mary and the like being heretical or erroneous, so becoming Catholic in name as well as in heart was mainly an issue of educating my mind to explore the validity of my Protestant objections to secondary Catholic doctrines and try to really understand what the Catholic Church actually taught about these things and how its understanding flowed from the (Catholic!) fundamentals of Christianity and the (Catholic!) Bible I was already committed to believe as a conservative, Evangelical Protestant.
My research had shown me that the actual documents of the Early Church writers who opposed the many early heretics and defended the true faith common to Catholic, Orthodox and conservative Protestant/Evangelical Christians against the heretics never cite the Bible alone, which the early Christian heretics also based their aberrant faith on, but frequently also cited the apostolic tradition passed down in the Church alongside the Bible and the apostolic authority passed on from the Apostles to the overseers or bishops the Apostles had ordained in each new Church they set up, which was then passed on to those they ordained to be Christian overseers after them. This Early Church not only called itself the Catholic Church but had the visible organizational structure and the same basic understanding of Church authority which the Catholic Church has today. The Ecumenical (worldwide) and local Councils of Christian overseer/bishops and popes which actually settled the early controversies among Christians over fundamental Christian doctrine and the Canon (List of Sacred Books) of the New Testament itself very specifically saw themselves as possessing apostolic magisterial (teaching) authority which they were using under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as in the Acts 15 Council to definitively interpret for all Christians for all time both Scripture and the Sacred Tradition handed down from the Apostles, since the Church they represented as its ordained leaders in line from the Apostles is the Living Body of Christ Himself.
So as part of the loving dialogue between currently divided fundamentally orthodox Christians, which includes sharing one’s concerns in a non-accusatory way, I wish to share that I personally am convinced that there is no way to reject this Catholic Living Body of Christ the Church (expressed through Living Sacred Tradition and Living Magisterium of ordained overseers including the pope) way of understanding Christ’s Church and the history of the Early Ecumenical Councils of Christ’s Church, as the Protestant Reformation did, without undermining the fundamentals of Christianity themselves, and I believe my conviction is confirmed on the basis of the current reality that the Catholic and Orthodox churches who understand the Church and Christian history this way6 have never denied or doubted the basic Christian fundamentals while the Protestant churches (including the one I was raised in) frequently have.
The Very Catholic History of the Early Councils of the Living Body of Christ the Church Which First Clearly Articulated the Common Fundamentals of Christianity and the Canon of the Bible Itself
The Living Body of Christ the Church Lived its Life for Centuries and Authoritatively Defined its Faith in the Divinity of Jesus and the Trinity (Against Heretics) Before the Canon of the Bible (“Alone”) Was Finalized by the Same (Catholic) Church
Over one hundred years before the 3rd Ecumenical Council at Ephesus discussed at the end of Volume II Chapter 5, the 1st Ecumenical Council, at Nicea in 325 AD, had previously authoritatively declared that “Jesus is True God from True God … one in being with the Father” was the only proper and orthodox way for Christians to interpret the Bible, against the very thorough and sophisticated Bible interpretation of the Arian Christians which denied the full Divinity of Jesus (but was not the interpretation handed down from generation to generation at least implicitly in the Sacred Tradition of the Living Body of Christ the Church). This first Ecumenical (worldwide) Council of Christian overseers or bishops ordained in line from the Apostles, as the living voice of that Living Body of Christ the Church, drawing from the Living Sacred Tradition of just how that Body had handed on its faith from generation to generation since Apostolic times at least implicitly, clearly articulated explicitly the orthodox position and declared the Arian interpretation of the Bible to be heretical long before the Canon (list of Sacred Books) of the New Testament was even finalized. Christians had been using somewhat different New Testaments for centuries7 and the 27-book New Testament Canon we know today was first suggested (in different order) by Saint Athanasius, the Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria (Head of the Alexandrian Rite of the Catholic Church), in 367 AD (Patriarch Athanasius had been the greatest defender of the Divinity of Jesus against the Arian Christian heretics. He had been sheltered by the Pope in Rome [who is also the Patriarch of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church] when he was exiled by Arian Christian rulers). Two local (not Ecumenical or “worldwide”) Councils of Christian overseers/bishops8 in his general area of North Africa (at Hippo in 393 AD and Carthage in 397 AD) agreed with Patriarch Athanasius’ list, arranging it in the order we know today, but said this Canon would have to be confirmed by “the church across the sea” in Rome. Pope Innocent I in Rome confirmed the New Testament Canon as all Christians know it today in 405 AD, finally settling all disputes about the Canon such that after this Christians no longer used somewhat different New Testaments – until the “mainline” Protestant Reformation churches of recent times started calling the Canon into question, some Protestants even accepting the Gnostic heretics’ Gospel of Thomas and the like as Canonical, because Protestantism does not accept the authority of the Church, as the Living Body of Christ and “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), to authoritatively settle disputes among Christians. Martin Luther, the first Protestant, himself had called the Epistle of James “an Epistle of Straw” and treated it as non-inspired though he did not actually remove it from the New Testament, setting the precedent for later Protestants to question the inspiration of the whole Bible and which books or sections of books truly belonged in it (See Volume II Appendix II: Sharing Catholic Concerns About Protestant Beliefs: Luther’s Precedent for Today’s Protestant Christians Who Question the Canon of the Bible).
To settle another major dispute over Bible interpretation among the early Christians, the 2nd Ecumenical Council, at Constantinople in 381 AD (confirmed to be of Ecumenical or worldwide authority by Pope Damasus in 382 AD, since the Council itself had no Western overseer/bishops) declared that Christians must interpret the Bible to mean that the Holy Spirit is also Divine, and therefore God is indeed a Trinity, a word coined by the 2nd Century Western theologian Tertullian. This 381 AD Council added the section about the Divinity of the Holy Spirit to the earlier 325 AD Nicene Creed produced at the 1st Ecumenical Council, which is why this combined Nicene Creed, which is still used by over 75% of the world’s Christians as the standard expression of Christian orthodoxy,9 is most accurately referred to as the Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed, though most refer to it as simply the Nicene Creed. This creed of the first two Ecumenical Councils of the Church as the Living Body on Earth of Jesus Christ Himself and therefore the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) was the standard articulation of orthodox Christian faith even before the Bible’s Canon (list of inspired books) was settled years later.
The Series of Ecumenical Councils of Catholic Overseers (Bishops and Popes) of the Undivided Early Church Which Were Necessary to Permanently Establish the True Incarnation of Jesus Christ, “Fully God and Fully Man,” Against Heretical Bible Interpretations
Against the Apollinarian Christians who accepted the Divinity of Christ but not the true humanity, the 2nd Ecumenical Council (ratified by Pope Saint Damasus) also declared that Christians must interpret the Bible (whose Canon was still not finalized) to mean that Jesus Christ was truly God and truly human. The later Nestorians were Christians who accepted this essential Christian doctrine articulated at the 2nd Ecumenical Council, and accepted the full finalized Canon of the New Testament which had recently been settled by councils and pope by 405 AD, but still interpreted the Bible to mean that Jesus Christ our Savior was two distinct persons, the truly human Jesus inhabited by the separate person of the truly Divine Christ, God the Son. The dispute between Christians over this Nestorian interpretation of the Bible was big enough that it required another, third, Ecumenical Council to settle it, held in 431 AD.
This 3rd Ecumenical Council of Eastern and Western Christian overseer/bishops was convened under the direction of Pope Celestine (the chief Christian overseer/bishop), who deputized Saint Cyril, the current Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria (a successor of Saint Athanasius),10 to lead the Council. The Council, speaking as and for the Living Body of Christ the Church, the “pillar and foundation of the truth,” at last clearly articulated the previously more implicit faith of the Christian Church in the explicit Christian doctrine we know as “Jesus is one Person with two natures, divine and human,” declaring this interpretation of the Bible a dogma (an irrevocable fundamental doctrine of Christianity). The Council therefore declared any contrary interpretations, and specifically the Nestorian interpretation, to be heretical. Because the Nestorian heretics had refused to call Mary Theokotos or “Mother of God” on the basis of their heresy, thinking that Mary was only the mother of the distinct person of the merely human Jesus, and not mother of the One Person Jesus Christ who had two natures, human and Divine, the Council in support of its dogmatic declaration about Jesus also dogmatically declared Mary to indeed be Theokotos, God-bearer or Mother of God, as Christians had long called her, since she is the true mother of the One Person of Jesus Christ, who is indeed human but also is indeed God in the Mystery of the Incarnation. This title for Mary the mother of the one divine and human Person of Jesus Christ was so common and so special to orthodox Christians that a huge crowd had gathered around the Council site to hear the verdict of the 3rd Ecumenical Council on the disputed matter, recognizing the Council’s decision as that of the Body of Christ the Church led into “all the truth” by the Holy Spirit, and when they received word that the Nestorian position had been defeated and declared a heresy, they chanted, lovingly, Theokotos! Theokotos!, which they would not have been allowed to say anymore if the Council had ruled in favor of the Nestorian Christians, since that would have meant that Mary was only the mother of the separate person of the human Jesus who was not God but only possessed or inhabited by the distinct Divine person of God the Son, as the Nestorian Christians believed. So this third Ecumenical Council of overseer/bishops including the pope as chief bishop (who deputized Patriarch Saint Cyril to actually preside over the Council), that kind of Council which is the highest authority of the Christian Church, the Body of Christ, declared that Mary was Mother of God specifically to support the Divinity of Jesus Christ against the heretical Christians who refused to call the human Jesus God and thus refused to call His human mother Mother of God or God-bearer in the Divine Mystery of the Incarnation of God the Son in the single human and divine Person of Jesus Christ.
The Church recognized that the truth about the mother protects the truth about the son. It was in fact the Nestorian refusal to call Mary Mother of God as Christians commonly did which initially let orthodox Christians know clearly that there was something wrong with the way the Nestorians understood Jesus, even though Christian theology had not yet articulated explicitly in clear and precise terms the truth that the Christian Church knew about Jesus implicitly from its living Sacred Tradition (Latin: traditio) whereby the true faith was handed on (Latin: tradere) complete but implicit as one generation of Christians introduced the next generation personally to Jesus. The early, infant Church knew Jesus as an infant knows its mother but cannot intellectually articulate the experience yet, and it was the centuries-long process of dealing with Christian heretics who tried to intellectually articulate who Jesus was and did it wrong that forced the Christian Church gradually to articulate more and more clearly what it had always implicitly and instinctively known about Jesus, in an only gradually more precise way.
Note that each dogmatic declaration about the nature of Jesus Christ in the Early Ecumenical Councils was more precise than the last, and excluded more heresies, but still left room for newer heretical misinterpretations. Even the dogma that “Jesus is one Person with two natures, divine and human,” would not be a clear enough expression of what the Bride and Body of Christ (the Church) knew at least implicitly about its Savior and Lord Jesus Christ to preclude all heretical misinterpretations of the Bible. The later Monophysite Christians would accept Jesus was initially one Person with two natures, divine and human, just like the 3rd Ecumenical Council said, but they would argue that the finite human nature was quickly absorbed by the infinite Divine nature “as a drop of water in an ocean,” such that Jesus had only one nature, the Divine nature (monos means “one,” physis means “nature,” hence these Christians were called “Monophysites”). This interpretation caused yet another great dispute within the Church which another Ecumenical Council was called to settle, but the proponents of Monophysite Christianity stacked the council with its supporters and bullied the orthodox representatives. They did not allow Pope Leo’s famous orthodox Tome to be read at the council, and this council declared Monophysite Christianity as the true form of Christianity. Pope Saint Leo the Great, the chief overseer/bishop, understanding himself to be the successor of Peter the chief Apostle,11 who had inherited from Peter the “keys of the Kingdom” Jesus had given to Peter with their authority to “bind and loose” on “earth and in Heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19), then declared this 449 AD council to be an invalid “robber council.” The truly Ecumenical Council, the 4th Ecumenical Council which replaced the “robber council,” held at Chalcedon in 451 AD, at Leo’s insistence (obeyed because he held the keys) accepted the full definition of his famous Tome of Leo (some of the Eastern bishops (or eparchs) were willing to compromise with the Monophysite heretics on the exact definition). Pope Leo’s Tome masterfully combined the insights of the famous theological schools of the Antiochene and Alexandrian Rites of the Catholic Church which respectively emphasized the true humanity and true divinity of Jesus, and clearly and thoroughly defined and dogmatically proclaimed for the first time the non-negotiable fundamental doctrine which would become the Early Christian Church’s final word on the nature of Christ Jesus – a doctrine encapsulated in the phrase that Jesus is and remains “fully God and fully man,” of the same substance as God with respect to His divinity and of the same substance as us with respect to his humanity. Pope Leo explicitly used the “keys” Jesus gave to Peter and his successors as chief overseer and Head Pastor of the Christian Church to “bind” the Church on Earth to interpret the Bible to mean that Jesus is fully God and fully man, and, apart from the sizeable minority of Eastern Christians which rejected the Council (becoming part of the heretical “Lesser Eastern Churches”), the Church of East and West has remained so bound ever since – until Protestant Christianity, which does not accept the authority of either popes or councils as the voice of the Living Body of Christ the Church to dogmatically interpret the Bible for all Christians for all time, and thus many Protestants have also rejected or doubted this essential Christian teaching of the Undivided Early Church.
Early Church controversies over the Bible’s proper interpretation even among those Christians who accepted all the previous Ecumenical Councils’ decisions as the Living Body of Christ the Church’s official and Holy Spirit-guarded interpretation of the Bible did not end with the 4th Ecumenical Council, however. Among other controversies, the Monothelite Christians would later agree that Jesus was and remained fully God and fully man, but said that Jesus had only one will – the Divine will. This idea gained enough support in the Church that another Ecumenical Council (the 6th, held in Constantinople in 680 AD) had to be called to settle the issue. The Council (led by Pope Saint Agatho) would declare Monothelitism heretical among other things because it violated the principle which the Cappodocian Fathers (Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nazianzen, and Saint Gregory of Nyssa) had expressed back in the 4th Century before the 2nd Ecumenical Council which ended the earlier Apollinarian heresy, the important principle that “what Christ did not assume, He did not redeem.” The Apollinarian Christians had accepted the 1st Ecumenical Council’s proclamation that Jesus was Divine, but did not believe that the Divine Jesus Christ had truly assumed human nature, had become truly human. The Cappodocian Fathers in defense of the as-yet-undefined orthodox instinct about Christ had articulated the principle that “what Christ did not assume, He did not redeem” to make the point clear that Christ needed to be truly human or else humanity could not be saved by His obedience unto death. Monothelitism agreed Christ was truly human but said that Jesus had no human will but only the Divine Will. But human sin is primarily a disease of the human will which chooses to go against God’s Will. If “what Christ did not assume, He did not redeem,” how can humanity be saved from sin if Christ had no human will but only the Divine Will? Pope Agatho and the Council proclaimed that all Christians must interpret the Bible to mean that Jesus was indeed fully God and fully man, having a truly and fully human nature including a human will which never disobeyed His Divine Will, though the distinction between His two wills was particularly evident at Gethsemane, wherein His human will, naturally balking at the prospect of immanent painful death, submitted to the Divine Will, “not my will, but yours be done.”
Stepping back a few centuries, note that the 3rd Ecumenical Council of 431 AD which declared Mary was truly Theokotos in support of the true Divinity of Jesus was held the year after the death of Saint Augustine, who had become the Roman Rite Catholic Bishop of Hippo just a couple years after the 393 AD Council of Hippo which was involved in the finalization of the Canon of the New Testament process which was finished by Pope Innocent I in 405 AD – Saint Augustine, who was also the founder of the monk Martin Luther’s religious order. I add these incidental details to all the more emphasize how Catholic a process the clear articulation and permanent establishment of the essential Christian fundamentals was in history, which is why I consider the conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christians who are wholly devoted to the traditional fundamental tenets of Christianity as absolutely certain and non-negotiable elements of Christian faith, to be “Catholic at heart,” while the liberal/unorthodox Protestant Christians who question, doubt, or deny Christian fundamentals are truly “Protestant at heart” – since they are the ones who are truly consistent in believing the “Pillar of the Protestant Reformation” that the “Bible Alone is authoritative for the Christian” such that the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to interpret the Bible and the Catholic Magisterium (teaching office) of bishops and pope “have no authority binding on Christians.”
Luther and the Protestant Reformers Inherited the Clearly Articulated Fundamentals of Christian Faith from the Catholic Church They Left Without Having Taken Part in the Very Catholic Process by Which They Were Articulated
In history it was the early Catholic Christian overseer/bishops and patriarchs and popes, citing the interpretive Sacred Tradition passed down at least implicitly within the Living Church alongside the Bible, who settled all the major early controversies among Christians over the Bible’s proper interpretation. These early Christian overseers ordained in line from the Apostles (bishops/eparchs and patriarchs and popes) settled the early controversies over the Bible’s interpretation by meeting at the Ecumenical Councils of the early Catholic (Universal) Christian Church, trusting in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Mystical Body of Christ the Church which they represented as its united leaders ordained in line from Christ’s Apostles. At these Councils of overseer/bishops, patriarchs and popes, the Living Body of Christ the Church at last clearly articulated and authoritatively declared for all Christians for all time how the Bible must be interpreted, so as to yield the traditional fundamentals of Christian faith as we know them today (and so as to exclude the many different heresies many different Christians had come up with by reading the Bible Alone).
Today’s Living Magisterium is tomorrow’s Living Tradition, meaning that after the Living Catholic Magisterium had precisely and explicitly defined those fundamental Christian beliefs which had previously been more implicitly passed on in the Catholic Church’s Living Sacred Tradition, these same beliefs were now handed on (Latin tradere) within the Living Tradition (Latin traditio) of the Living Body of Christ the Church much more explicitly and clearly. But Protestantism by definition (as a “protest” against the Catholic Church) does not believe the Catholic Church’s bishops, patriarchs and popes had the authority to settle these disputes for all Christians for all time, so nothing the Early Catholic Church settled through its Tradition and Magisterium can be considered settled, which is precisely why so many “mainline” Protestant Christians have lost their certainty about whether or not Jesus is God and other elements of fundamental Christian orthodoxy – as Protestant Christians, they cannot justify any certainty about the traditional fundamental doctrines or dogmas of Christianity which are nothing other than the Catholic Church’s official interpretation of the Scriptures (Scriptures whose Canon was also officially recognized by the Catholic Church, which is exactly why some mainline Protestant Christians also are uncertain about the Canon – list of Sacred Books – of the New Testament itself).
Luther and the Protestant Reformers Had No Realistic Concept of the Early Church Controversies over Bible Interpretation Which Meant the Fundamentals of Christianity Are Not “Obvious from the Scripture Alone” Such That the Church’s Authority (As the Living Body of Christ) Can Be Dispensed With
Luther and the other Protestant Reformers had no realistic concept of the Early Church’s struggle with massive controversies among Christians over the Bible’s proper interpretation on the most basic and fundamental points of Christian doctrine. They had no idea that the 4th Century Arian heretics had rejected the 1st Ecumenical Council’s declaration of basic Christian orthodoxy, that Jesus was Divine, “one in being with the Father,” on the basis of these words not being in the Bible, making the Arian heretics the world’s first “Bible Alone” Christians! Thus, in over-reaction to the much more superficial problems within the 16th Century Roman Rite of the Catholic Church (the only Rite Luther knew), and impatience with the slowness of the Roman Rite Catholic Reformation which had begun before the Protestant Reformation (saintly Cardinal Ximenes had already corrected most of the clerical and other abuses in Spain, which is why the Protestant Reformation never took root in Spain – there was nothing to “protest” against), Luther decided that the quickest way to solve the abuses and problems in the Roman Catholic Church of his day was to declare that “the Bible Alone is authoritative for Christian belief.” Luther thus rejected the Church as the Living Body of Christ Himself, whose living Sacred interpretive Tradition and Magisterium (teaching office of overseers/bishops and patriarchs and pope in succession from Christ’s Apostles) were animated and kept from error in dogma (not all human error) by the Holy Spirit (despite the other human failings of the Church’s human members).
Luther and the Protestant Reformers (All Raised Catholic) Were Unconscious of the “Lens in Their Eye” of Catholic Sacred Tradition Which Made the Traditional Christian Fundamentals Only Seem “Obvious from Scripture Alone”
Luther thought he could dispense with the living authority of the Church which was too slow for him in its needed self-reform because he honestly but mistakenly thought that the fundamentals of orthodox Christianity were “obvious from Scripture Alone.” He was ignorant of the nature of the early Christian controversies over interpretation and he was unconscious of the fact that being raised as a Catholic and later trained as a Catholic priest, he stood within the Living Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church as to how to properly interpret the Bible which had been explicitly passed on in the Living Church for over a thousand years before Luther (but only after the earlier great Christian controversies over Bible interpretation were settled by the Catholic Magisterium). Thus Luther had never read “the Bible Alone” in his life, but had always read the Bible through the lens of the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to interpret the Bible which he and the other Protestant Reformers had been steeped in since birth, which made the orthodox fundamental doctrines of Christianity seem so “obvious from the Bible Alone.”
Later Protestant Christians Who Were Raised Protestant and Not Raised Catholic like Luther and the Original Reformers Gradually Lost Their Grip on Fundamental Christian Orthodoxy, Becoming “Doctrinally Liberal,” as the Logical Ultimate Result of Luther’s “Bible Alone” Doctrine Which Rejects the Church as the Living Body of Christ with Authority to Settle Christian Disputes over Bible Canon and Bible Interpretation
But the next generations of Protestant Christians who followed Luther and the other Protestant Reformers did not have the advantage of being raised from birth in the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to interpret the Bible. Instead they were raised to believe “the Bible Alone is authoritative for the Christian apart from any Tradition or Magisterium,” especially apart from the Catholic Church’s Tradition and Magisterium, and thus through their personal Bible reading which was not formally submitted to any authoritative interpretive tradition, they gradually over the generations lost their grip on the Christian fundamentals and became open to other interpretations of the Bible including many which were condemned in the Early Church (by the Catholic Magisterium) as heresies, thus becoming “doctrinally liberal” or unorthodox Protestant Christians. Although their denominations for a long time had (and may still have) creeds inherited from the original Protestant Reformers (who were raised Catholic) which list the orthodox (and Catholic) Christian fundamentals as part of their “articles of faith,” the very fact that creeds are not actually the Bible means that according to “Bible Alone” doctrine those orthodox creeds ultimately have no authority to compel them to interpret the Bible in the orthodox way.
It is manifestly false that the Christian fundamentals are “obvious from the Bible Alone,” because if they were, there would have been no great controversies among the early Christians requiring the Ecumenical Councils to settle them, and there would be no doctrinally liberal mainline Protestant Christians now. Liberal Protestants got that way precisely from reading the Bible Alone apart from any authoritative Sacred Tradition of the Living Body of Christ the Church telling them how they must interpret it. Sadly, conservative/ Evangelical Protestant Christians typically are just as unconscious as Luther was of the “lens in their eye” of the Catholic Sacred Tradition preserved in their extra-Biblical creedal “statements of faith” when they read the Bible. They are not aware that it is only because they are committed more to the life-changing and supernaturally empowering Catholic Sacred Tradition preserved in their creeds than they are to strictly following “Bible Alone” doctrine like liberal Protestants do that the fundamentals seem to them so “obvious from Scripture Alone.” Thus they, like Luther, insist they do not need the Catholic Church to know their faith, yet they are bewildered by the fact so many of their fellow “Bible Alone” Protestant Christians in the oldest and largest mainline denominations are uncertain about the Christian essentials or even reject them (I speak from my Protestant experience here). Many Fundamentalist Protestant Christians survive in orthodoxy only by ignorance – they refuse to learn about the actual historical Early Church, and hold on to the orthodox fundamentals merely by blind faith. Liberal Protestants are often much more knowledgeable about the historical reality of the Early Church, but as committed Protestants, knowing that the Early Church was very Catholic just makes them all the less committed to the orthodox Christian fundamentals defined and declared by the early Catholic Church. One has to be Catholic to look all the facts of Christian history squarely in the eye and still be fully committed to traditional Christian orthodoxy, recognizing that history as the history of the Living Bride and Body of Christ and “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) which as the Body of Christ Himself has authoritatively clarified, defined, and proclaimed for all Christians for all time the essential fundamentals of saving and supernaturally empowering Christian faith.
As should be fairly obvious by now, the historical reality of Christianity from ancient to modern times is that if the dogmatic pronouncements12 of Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils of Christian overseers/bishops ordained in line from the Apostles (including the patriarchs and the pope as chief bishop) are NOT accepted as the authoritative Living Voice of the Living Body of Christ the Church, led into “all the truth” by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ who animates His Body on Earth the Church, then heresy results or at best the long-term maintenance of fundamental Christian orthodoxy cannot be guaranteed. In the Early Church, the majority of Christians who had supported a heretical theological opinion before the Catholic Church had settled a controversy were basically good Christians who submitted to the Council’s decision as the decision of the Living Bride and Body of Jesus Christ – they abandoned their heretical theological opinion after the Church had ruled it was heretical and adopted the orthodox position the Church had just clarified. But after every Ecumenical Council there were substantial minorities of Christians who did not accept the Council’s decisions as Christ speaking through His Bride and Body the Church, and these who obstinately held on to their heretical opinion after the Church had ruled were now formally heretics. Though most of the many groups of formal heretics died out relatively soon after, some were around for centuries and some to this day. The sophisticated Arian heresy which made thorough use of the Bible but not Tradition and thus denied the full Divinity of Jesus was even stronger after the 1st Ecumenical Council of 325 AD which condemned it because, as the very first Ecumenical Council, Christians were not yet sure of the exact nature and extent of an Ecumenical Council’s authority, and the Arian heretics further confused things by claiming they were not bound to accept the Council’s interpretation that Jesus was Divine, “one in being with the Father,” because these words were not in the Bible. They rejected the 1st Ecumenical Council’s declaration of the basic Christian orthodoxy that Jesus is Divine and justified their heresy on the basis of an early version of “Bible Alone” doctrine and the resulting Arian crisis split the Church in two during the 4th Century. The Church as the Living (and learning) Body of Christ matured and learned through this chaotic experience, and was much more certain of the necessary authority of an Ecumenical Council as the formal voice of the Living Body of Christ by the 2nd Ecumenical Council of 381 AD, after which the Arian heresy died out in the Roman Empire, though it continued for centuries after in barbarian territory which had been visited by Arian Christian missionaries. The “Lesser Eastern Churches” (not Eastern Orthodox Churches) which still exist today were originally groups of either 5th Century Nestorian heretics who refused to accept the authority of the 3rd Ecumenical Council which defined that Jesus was one person with two natures, divine and human, and 5th Century Monophysite heretics who refused to accept the authority of the 4th Ecumenical Council which defined that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Protestant Christians also refuse to accept the Ecumenical Councils of overseer/bishops with their chief the pope as the major way Jesus Christ authoritatively expresses Himself through His Body the Church, and thus it is no surprise that so many Protestants are modern-day Arian heretics or otherwise reject or doubt some of the fundamentals of orthodox Christianity. Protestantism is founded upon the very “Bible Alone” idea which the Arian heretics used to justify their heretical belief that Jesus is not Divine as the Ecumenical Councils of the Living Body of Christ the Church declared He was.
The Church as the Living Body of Christ like Any Living Body Has Had to “Grow Up” as God’s Child and Learn How to Be the Church and “Pillar and Foundation of the Truth” – the Undivided Early Church Learned That Sacred Tradition and Magisterium Were Necessary for the Long-Term Maintenance of Life-Changing Basic Christian Orthodoxy and the Church Is Still Learning How to Be Most True to Itself Today
It is important for understanding Church history to understand that in the “profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:32) of the Body of Christ, the Church is God’s child as the Body of His Son, and the Church has had to “grow up” and learn how to be God’s child. As part of the Living Body of Christ the Church instinctively living its life according to its implicit knowledge of God and His ways, and being directed implicitly by the Holy Spirit which animates that Body, local councils of Christian overseers/bishops (and often the most local patriarch) in an area had long instinctively met to together settle issues including heresies, but for reasons of safety the Christian Church had not been able to have truly Ecumenical or worldwide Councils of bishops before the end of the persecutions by pagan Rome in 313 AD. Because 325 AD was the very first time the Church had had opportunity and occasion to meet in a truly Ecumenical Council, Christians at first were not explicitly certain of the exact nature and extent of an Ecumenical Council’s authority and the Arian Christians whose case the Council had been called to settle claimed the Bible Alone (which did not deny their sophisticated and thorough Bible interpretation) had authority over the decisions of the Council, splitting the Church in two over the course of the 4th Century (Saint Athanasius, the Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria who was the greatest defender of the Divinity of Jesus against the Arian Christians, was exiled five times by Arian Christian rulers, and huge portions of the Church were undecided “semi-Arians” who were not committed to the orthodox position until the later ministry of the younger Byzantine Rite “Cappodocian Fathers,” who succeeded Saint Athanasius as the premier defenders of the Divinity of Jesus, managed to convert them to accepting the 325 AD Council’s decision which declared the orthodox position). The Early Church learned through this century-long crisis which could only be resolved with a second Ecumenical Council that was universally recognized as authoritative for settling Christian disputes (on the basis of the Church being the Body of Christ and “pillar and foundation of the truth”), that Ecumenical Councils are authoritative expressions of the Living Body of Christ the Church and that those who reject their authority are doomed to ultimate uncertainty about the true doctrines of Christianity and prone to falling into heresy – which is exactly what has happened in Protestantism which by definition is a protest against any authority but the Bible Alone.
Chapter 6 Conclusion
The reality of the Early Church was that there were two main types of professed Christians: Catholics who accepted the dogmatic definitions of fundamental Christian orthodoxy declared at the Ecumenical Councils as the authoritative voice of the Living Body of Christ Himself, and heretics who did not. In my perspective, Protestant Christianity is not a new “third” basic type of Christian – Protestants lean towards the one pole or the other. They are essentially “Catholic at heart” if they are fundamentally orthodox and committed to remaining so, and they are essentially “Protestant at heart” if they are not absolutely committed to the traditional Christian faith, potential heretics who already do not enjoy the full supernatural power of the truth they are not certain of, if they are not heretics already. Thus in my journey I came to understand that if I wanted to be sure that my future grandchildren and great-grandchildren in my own Christian denomination still worshiped Jesus as God, fully God and fully man, I had best become Catholic, because as long as “the Bible Alone” was part of my Protestant denomination’s beliefs, it could eventually lead them away from orthodox Christianity, as had happened to my own large Protestant denomination which had been fully orthodox only a generation or so ago but was no longer.
I Express My Catholic Concerns about Protestant “Bible Alone” Doctrine Leading Logically and Naturally to Protestant “Doctrinal Liberalism” and Unorthodoxy in the Hopes That it Will Help Orthodox (Therefore Already “Catholic at Heart”) Protestant Christians to Seek Christian Reunion with the Catholic Church as the Only Way to Guarantee Long-term Fundamental Orthodoxy – yet Not by Simply Rejoining the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church They Left but Rather in Their Own New Reunified “Sister Churches” in the Ancient Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches (See Volume I), since the Gifts Which God Has Placed in Every Fundamentally Orthodox Christian Church Which He Uses as His Instruments of Salvation in the World (Whether Protestant, Orthodox, or Catholic) Should Properly Enrich the Entire Universal (Catholic) Church
In my expressing in this chapter my great Catholic concerns about Protestant Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) doctrine, I do not expect every orthodox Protestant Christian reader to follow my path into the Catholic Church, joining one of its existing united Sister Churches or Rites. As I indicated above, I would in fact prefer that the currently divided fundamentally orthodox Christian churches eventually come together in one Universal (Catholic) Communion of different but mutually enriching orthodox Christian Sister Churches as in the Undivided Early Church, the Church structure still maintained in the Catholic Church but harder to see after a Millennium of Christian divisions which has left the Catholic Church 97% Roman Catholic in its over one billion population even though the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church is only one of over 25 Eastern and Western Catholic Rites unified under the pope as chief overseer of the Universal (Catholic) Christian Church. I have been tremendously enriched as a Christian by my conservative and Evangelical Protestant Christian experience as well as by my Western and Eastern (and “traditional” and charismatic) Catholic Christian experience, and as a Catholic Christian I still enjoy worshiping occasionally with my Evangelical and Pentecostal and Charismatic and even “Messianic Jewish” conservative Protestant Christian brothers and sisters with whom I am already united in such vast, life-changing, common Christian faith. As I have noted since the Introduction to So That the World May Believe, despite my concerns about some Protestant secondary doctrines such as the major concern about Protestant vulnerability to unorthodoxy I have just expressed, in fact there are certain characteristics of the Undivided Early Church which today’s still-orthodox Protestant/Evangelical and Pentecostal churches generally exhibit better than most Catholic Churches, and thus they have much to offer to the Catholic Communion as well as much to gain from it. The gifts which God has placed in every fundamentally orthodox Christian Church (whether Protestant, Orthodox, or Catholic), all churches which He uses as His instruments of salvation in the world, should properly enrich the entire Universal (Catholic) Church.13
[I repeat here that this above Chapter 6 before the concluding chapter is a revised draft of a new chapter added when the main body of Who is Mary in the Church? was essentially finished, but I think it adds a powerful and important impact by dealing briefly with the other of the two biggest issues that divide Christians, linking it with what has been established earlier in this manuscript about the Church as the Living Body of Christ, and presenting it as another invitation for divided Christians to contend with each other in Christian love regarding our differences.]
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
1This important document can be accessed from the “Off-Site Links” in the right-hand column or directly at http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9405/articles/mission.html
2The “Historical-Critical Methods” developed by Protestant scholars, which currently dominate the field of Biblical studies at institutions of higher learning (Protestant and Catholic), are not without real value, but from their foundation they incorporate philosophical assumptions of the Protestant Reformation and of the Enlightenment. Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) has called attention to the need to divest these methods of their philosophical baggage so they can be the most fruitful for the Church. Another huge problem occurs when these methods are used exclusively of other methods of Biblical exegesis and interpretation as they often have been by liberal scholars, whether Protestant or Catholic. The very nature of the methods makes them only useful for throwing light on certain aspects of the Scriptures, and thus much of the meaning of the Scriptures is lost or misinterpreted when the historical-critical methods are used exclusively. This is partly because the historical-critical approach really is critical – it takes nothing at face value but applies systematic doubt to everything, akin to the prosecuting attorney in a courtroom. While the prosecuting attorney is indeed part of the courtroom process by which the whole truth of a matter comes out, using only historical-critical methods is like having the prosecuting attorney in the judge’s seat – which is not good for the whole truth.
3To review: the Protestant position is that the Bible Alone is authoritative over the Christian and determines Christian faith; the Catholic position is that the primary revelation of the Bible and Apostolic Sacred Tradition as interpreted by the Living Magisterium of the Church, all three being functions of the Church as the Living Body of Christ Himself (the New Testament as we know it was written and collected into the form we know it by the Church), are authoritative over the Christian and determine Christian faith.
4As I did in Volume I, I should explain that when I use the term “supernaturally empowering” to define traditional, orthodox Christianity, as I do occasionally, I primarily have in mind the fact that Christians through their relationship with Jesus Christ and His indwelling Holy Spirit by whom they are adopted by God the Father, have direct access to God the Holy Trinity of Love who is the Source of all love, life, and power in the universe, and drawing from this super-natural (“above nature”) Source gives Christians the power to live victorious and eminently meaningful lives on Earth. It is drawing from this infinite and super-natural Source of God who dwells with them that has given Christians the power to change both their own lives and even the course of human history for the better. This is the super-natural Source of the wonderful joy that Christians can have even in great adversity, this is the super-natural Source of the love that Christians display in and pour out upon the world, which transformed the brutal ancient world (before Christianity the “popular entertainment” or “television” of the civilized ancient world was torture and murder in the Roman arenas!) and which continues to change people’s hearts, conquer addictions, and bring peace to the troubled soul. However, although my primary meaning when I refer to the “supernaturally empowering” orthodox Christian faith is referring to that super-natural Presence of God n which Christians live with which fills them with such love and courage for victorious living if they cooperate with it, I also have in mind the fact that this God who indwells Christians also gives them particular supernatural charisms or gifts described in the Bible (on a regular or occasional basis) and even occasionally uses them as His instruments in performing first-order miracles which temporarily bend or suspend the laws of nature He wrote.
5I have even seen Catholic Sacred Tradition alive and well in Evangelical Protestant churches, though not as often in “mainline” Protestant churches. While I was an Evangelical I was at an Evangelical Bible Study in which a new Christian convert to the community asked, “couldn’t this passage we’re studying mean this?” (an interpretation which compromised a fundamental element of Christian faith). The Bible Study leader took him aside and explained to him that the passage definitely meant the orthodox interpretation, and the new convert accepted this pronouncement of orthodox Christian understanding from this authority figure in the church community within the Body of Christ through which he had been personally introduced to Jesus Christ. This was Sacred Tradition, the “handing-on” of the orthodox Christian faith within the living Body of Christ the Church, in action. It was Catholic Sacred Tradition, since it was the orthodox fundamentals of Christian faith as clearly and formally defined by the Catholic Magisterium of bishops and pope in the Early Ecumenical Councils, which was being handed on (Latin tradere) from the Bible Study leader to the new Christian convert. If a truly Protestant “the Bible Alone is authoritative for the Christian and not Catholic nor other Tradition and not the Catholic nor any other Magisterium” approach had been taken, the new convert might have wondered why he should suppress how the “Bible Alone” had spoken to him personally, and he might have done research and discovered that quite a few of his Protestant Christian brothers in the mainline denominations also wonder if the Bible could be interpreted this other way or are even certain it should be, and if he researched Christian history he would find that quite a few early Christians also interpreted the Bible in this other way, and it was only the Catholic Magisterium of bishops and popes which Protestants believe “has no authority binding on a Christian’s faith” which had declared this other interpretation he at first liked to be heretical – so, like his fellow modern Protestants in the mainline denominations, he may have ended up uncertain of which Bible interpretation to accept, and perhaps, like many others, would have chosen the interpretation which he liked best other than the traditional and orthodox Bible interpretation of the Early Catholic Magisterium. Since even Evangelical Protestant churches still pay “lip service” to Bible Alone doctrine even though they in practice are committed to the orthodox interpretation of their particular church’s creedal “statement of faith,” this convert could have stumped his leaders by saying “I don’t see how you have the authority to insist that I as a Christian believe your “statement of faith” that Jesus is “fully God and fully man” (or whichever orthodox proposition) when the Bible Alone does not use that phrase anywhere and many Christians since ancient times have not interpreted the Bible that way” (including the Monophysite branch of the ancient Lesser Eastern Churches, who in the 5th Century rejected the 4th Ecumenical Council [guided by Pope Leo I] which first defined that Jesus is “fully God and fully man,” and have been around all this time). Evangelical and other conservative Protestant Christian churches cannot logically insist that their extra-Biblical orthodox “statements of faith” be accepted by their members on the basis of the Protestant (not Christian) Pillar that “the Bible Alone is authoritative in determining a Christian’s faith.”
6The Eastern Orthodox Churches simply dispute the exact nature of the papacy, and in their dependence upon the authority of the first seven Ecumenical Councils, they are dependent upon the papacy which played an integral part in the permanent establishment of orthodoxy at the Early Ecumenical Councils – see Volume III, The Papacy and Christian Unity – The Pope Was the Historic Guarantor of Christian Unity and Orthodoxy in the First Christian Millennium of the Undivided Early Church: The Ancient Eastern Orthodox Tradition from the Beginning Recognized the Papacy and Was Through it Part of the Undivided Early Church’s Universal (Catholic) Communion of Different Orthodox Eastern and Western Christian Sister Churches Collectively Known as the Catholic Church, Celebrating Christianity Differently while Unified in Orthodox Christian Faith Against Many Early Christian Heretics.
7The four Gospels we know and the letters of Paul were commonly accepted as Scriptural, but some epistles and other books were written in certain areas and had circulated in those areas but not in others, resulting in many different New Testament canons across Christendom (not including the different New Testaments of some heretical/unorthodox groups of Christians like the Gnostics). Many early New Testaments used by orthodox Christians did not have books like Hebrews, Revelation, 2, 3 John, 2 Peter, James, Jude, etc. Many orthodox New Testaments had books like the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didaché, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistles of Clement to the Corinthians, and so on.
8 In the original Greek New Testament, the highest position of local church authority is given the Greek title of episkopos, which is literally translated into modern English as “overseer” and in older English as “bishop.” Eastern Rite Christians (Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic) in English-speaking countries often call their overseers/bishops eparchs, which is linguistically closer to the original Greek. Protestant Christians generally do not maintain the Biblical office of local church overseer except for Anglican/Episcopalian Protestants, though Lutherans and some other Protestant denominations maintain some form of it or at least the title of bishop. Protestant Christians commonly maintain the Greek New Testament’s local church office of presbyteros, usually translated into modern English as “elder,” which is the Greek root word from which the English word “priest” is derived (though the exact functions of presbyters [elders or priests] has followed different paths in Catholic/Orthodox and Protestant/ Evangelical churches, since Catholic and Orthodox priests are also deputies of the local church overseer [bishop or eparch], who share functions of this higher office which most Protestant churches do not maintain at all). The third Greek New Testament local church office of diakonos (deacon in English), a ministry of service, is maintained in some form by Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestant churches.
9This combined 1st and 2nd Ecumenical Council version of the Nicene Creed is also used by major modern Ecumenical initiatives like the Global Day of Prayer – all Christians who affirm this ancient Christian Creed are welcome to participate, so Catholic, Orthodox, conservative/Evangelical Protestant, and even “Messianic Jewish” Christians gather together to pray for the Church and the world on the basis of this ancient creed.
10The overseers or bishops (or eparchs) of the five ancient cities which were the centers of the first five nations or cultures to be renewed in Jesus – Jerusalem (Jewish culture); Antioch (Syrian culture); Alexandria (Egyptian culture); Rome (Roman culture); and Constantinople (or Byzantium, Greek culture) – were declared Patriarchs of the Universal (Catholic) Christian Church by the same Ecumenical Councils which clearly articulated and declared the fundamental doctrines or dogmas of Christianity, as a way of acknowledging that each Sister Church’s different worship and devotional customs were legitimate cultural expressions of orthodox Christianity. There is technically no higher office in the Catholic Church than the New Testament office of overseer, but patriarchs and popes are overseers with additional special functions in the Church. While most overseers since New Testament times have the oversight of a local church (usually centered around a city as the Apostles originally set up one local Christian church for each city and ordained an overseer), patriarchs have the oversight of a whole cultural Sister Church or Rite in the Universal Christian (Catholic) Communion, and popes are “chief overseers” who have the oversight of the entire Universal (Catholic) Church.
12Most Ecumenical Councils were called to settle a disputed issue of Christian truth with a dogmatic declaration, but not everything done at Ecumenical Councils is a dogmatic declaration of irrevocable Christian truth. The Ecumenical Councils, with so many Christian overseers gathered together already (before the time of easy modern travel), were convenient occasions to discuss other, lesser issues, and decide on courses of action in other matters which may or may not have actually even been implemented after the Council.
13The Catholic Church of today is made up of 26 unified ancient and semi-ancient Eastern and Western Rites or Sister Churches which each represent a mutually enriching distinct cultural response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (even though due to Muslim conquest of the East and the like the Roman Rite is currently by far the largest). I consider Evangelicalism to be a distinctly North American cultural response to the Gospel which North American Roman Catholics already borrow good things from to enrich themselves and which ideally has its proper place among the different mutually enriching Rites which make up the Universal (Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ unified under the pope – once divested of the relatively few things which currently make it not Catholic, primarily the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. It is a precedential fact with great Ecumenical implications that a sizeable group of former Nestorian heretical Christians a thousand years later recanted their errors and were accepted back into the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches as the Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church. Most of the particular expressions of Christianity they had developed while out of the Catholic Communion were genuine and valid expressions of the majority of orthodox Christianity they had always accepted despite their previously-held heresy, and so they came back into the Catholic Communion as a reunified Sister Church which, divested of its former errors, still had much good of its own with which to enrich the entire Catholic Communion. The same can surely happen if and when conservative, fundamentally orthodox Protestant churches who never suffered from so serious a heresy one day come back into the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion head-pastored by the pope, in order to permanently escape the Protestant trend towards liberalization and unorthodoxy which is rooted in Protestant Sola Scriptura doctrine.