The Catholic Church in its 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II) Has Officially Become a Leader in Ecumenism and Formally Recognizes Non-Catholic Christians “With Respect and Affection as Brothers” Even Though They Are Outside the Catholic Church’s Ancient and Vast Christian Communion
Thankfully, in the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II) the Catholic Church has already come to officially recognize that non-Catholic Christians are related to Catholic Christians as “separated brothers,” sadly separated from the ancient Catholic Christian Communion yet true brothers in Christ nonetheless, since all the non-Catholic Christian churches historically were once part of the one ancient Catholic (Universal) Church of East and West which they left at a certain point in history, and since they all maintain very many important elements of Catholic Christianity which they took with them when they left, enough for them to be used of God as genuine instruments of salvation for their existing and newly converted members even though they disagree with the Catholic Church on various secondary points which Catholics understand to be deficiencies in their separated churches (in the case of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, which are virtually identical to the Eastern Catholic Churches still within the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of East and West, they have maintained almost everything except the Catholic Communion under the pope, therefore their Christian brotherhood with Catholics (Western and Eastern) is extremely profound).
So I need not convince Catholic readers that they should be open to seeing Eastern Orthodox and Protestant/Evangelical Christians as true beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus whom Catholic Christians should be able to work together with as such towards the salvation of the world even while we sadly remain formally divided (to counteract the detrimental effects of Christian division upon the Christian Church’s witness to the world). I only need to encourage some Catholic Christians to adopt the official mind of the Catholic Church in this matter, as they are already obligated to do in order to be good Catholic Christians. The Catholic Church’s mind has been made clear in the words of the Extraordinary Magisterium of the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council of 1962-5 (the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church), the highest expression of the Catholic Church’s authority, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium, LG) and its supporting Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio, UR):
“The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council…[The Catholic Church is] moved by a desire for the restoration of unity among all the followers of Christ, [and so] it wishes to set before all Catholics guidelines, helps and methods, by which they too can respond to the grace of this divine call (Vatican II, UR 1)…The concern for restoring unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. It extends to everyone, according to the talent of each, whether it be exercised in daily Christian living or in theological and historical studies” (UR 5, emphases added).
“The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but who do not however profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter. For there are many who hold sacred scripture in honor as a rule of faith and of life, who have a sincere religious zeal, who lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and the Saviour, who are sealed by baptism which unites them to Christ, and who indeed recognize and receive other sacraments in their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them possess the episcopate, celebrate the holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion of the Virgin Mother of God. There is furthermore a sharing in prayer and spiritual benefits; these Christians are indeed in some real way joined to us in the Holy Spirit for, by his gifts and graces, his sanctifying power is also active in them and he has strengthened some of them even to the shedding of their blood. And so the Spirit stirs up desires and actions in all of Christ’s disciples in order that all may be peaceably united, as Christ ordained, in one flock under one shepherd. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may be achieved, and she exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the Church. ” (LG 15, emphases added)
The Catholic Church here “exhorts her [Catholic] children to purification and renewal” because the Catholic Church in Vatican Council II officially acknowledges that sins among past Catholic Christians, as well as sins among those who left the Catholic Christian Communion, were responsible for the current divisions in Christ’s one Church (which since the time of the Apostles’ immediate disciples called itself the Catholic Church). Section 3 of Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism elaborates:
“serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church — for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers. For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Without doubt, the differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church—whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church—do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.
It follows that the separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from the defects already mentioned, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation ” (UR 3, emphases added)
Moreover, some, even very many, of the most significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to him, belong by right to the one Church of Christ. The brethren [Christian brothers!] divided from us also carry out many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. In ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or community, these liturgical actions most certainly can truly engender a life of grace, and, one must say, can aptly give access to the communion of salvation.
So the ancient Catholic Church in modern times has officially taken the lead, become a model, for separated Christians recognizing each other as true brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, in God’s adopted Family the one Church of Christ, towards the eventual healing of our divisions in fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for our unity “so that the world may believe” when it sees the loving unity of Christ’s one Church. Any individual Catholic Christian who is not so lovingly ecumenically-minded with respect to non-Catholic Christians can be called to accountability to their own Catholic Church, which has officially declared at its highest level of authority (cited above) that “these [non-Catholic] Christians are indeed in some real way joined to us [Catholic Christians] in the Holy Spirit,” “and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers” because “it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in baptism [see Mark 16:16] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” The huge Catholic Church now officially models the loving ecumenical attitude all churches need in order for Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity to ever be granted, that even though “our” Church denomination believes that “other” churches which do not agree with some of our secondary doctrines and practices are missing something, those “other churches” “have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation,” other Christian churches than “ours” indeed have “access to the communion of salvation.” And therefore harshly critical and unloving attitudes towards other Christians with whom we already share so much are not appropriate Christian attitudes, and indeed, they are attitudes which cripple the effectiveness of the one Body of Christ the Church in the world by masking the love of Jesus in us.
Major Ecumenical Milestones of the Holy Spirit Slowly and Patiently Leading the Divided Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Churches Back Together in Fulfilment of Jesus’ Prayer for Unity in His Body the Church
Historically the official directions of Ecumenical Councils always take time to fully trickle down into the minds and hearts of “the average Catholic,” so more and more Catholic Christians will continue to get better and better at displaying these official Catholic ecumenical attitudes as time goes on (in the meantime we will still suffer some ignorant and arrogant individual Catholics who fail to mirror the mind and heart of the Catholic Church towards other Christians, as we will suffer some Eastern Orthodox and Protestant bigots who refuse to display Jesus’ love despite the great bond of vast common Christian faith). But the Catholic Church, by far the largest body of the world’s Christians, since this Council in the 1960s has officially defined excellent attitudes for Christians to strive for towards the goal of the unity all Christians know Jesus desired for His Body the Church. The lead taken by the Catholic Church at this Council has been followed up with many excellent ecumenical initiatives and joint agreements on some issues of past division involving the Catholic Church and other Christian churches. Notable among these are:
1) The 1994 document Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium ,1 written or signed by many leading Evangelical Protestant and Catholic Christian leaders and scholars including some Catholic Cardinals. This document identifies our great common faith, the areas of greater or lesser disagreement between us, and emphasizes the importance of our contending together with love over our disagreements for the sake of the effectiveness of the overall Christian mission to the world.
2) The 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church . In this joint document of the Catholic Church and the first Western, Protestant church division of Luther which left it, Catholics and Lutherans in the spirit of loving dialogue (absent in the 16th Century when the Western Church was divided) formally ascertained, after patiently expressing and explaining in detail their full understanding of Justification (one of the major issues of the Protestant Reformation), that they had a huge common ground in their basic understanding of Justification which their many differences in language and emphasis (once mutually understood) did not take away. The Joint Declaration expressed confidence that the remaining questions which still need further clarification as Catholics and Lutherans “contend together with love” over their differences could surely be clarified in future on the basis of the great consensus already reached in this document, and it expressed the commitment of Catholics and Lutherans to continue to work together towards the visible Church unity that they both know is Jesus’ will. The World Methodist Council in 2006 also adopted this document. In the Declaration’s own words (from paragraphs 40-44):
40. The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this Declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics. In light of this consensus the remaining differences of language, theological elaboration, and emphasis in the understanding of justification described in paragraphs 18 to 39 are acceptable. Therefore the Lutheran and the Catholic explications of justification are in their difference open to one another and do not destroy the consensus regarding the basic truths.
41. Thus the doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century, in so far as they relate to the doctrine of justification, appear in a new light: The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent [the Catholic Church’s 19th Ecumenical Council]. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration.
[In other words, when Catholics and Lutherans who were not dialoguing in mutual respect and love in the 16th Century formally condemned each other as heretics for their different stances on Justification, they were condemning doctrinal positions that neither side actually held when all the subtleties of their understanding were taken into account. Such subtleties only become apparent through genuine loving dialogue seeking true understanding, an attitude which was missing in the 16th Century period of accusations, during which Christians on both sides were quickly imitating Satan “the Accuser of the brothers,” whose name in Hebrew literally means Accuser, instead of slowly, lovingly, and with reflection imitating Jesus.]
42. Nothing is thereby taken away from the seriousness of the condemnations related to the doctrine of justification. Some were not simply pointless. They remain for us “salutary warnings” to which we must attend in our teaching and practice.
[In other words, the doctrinal positions on Justification which were condemned by each side in the 16th Century are truly heresies or errors, misconceptions of the basic truths of Justification which both the Catholic and Lutheran churches officially and formally share with each other. The fact is that some Catholics and some Lutherans have personally held these misconceptions about their own church’s formal teaching, and so the condemnations remain serious warnings or reminders for the authorities of both the Catholic and the Lutheran churches to take steps to ensure that their members are properly understanding the basic truths of Justification. This situation is also an example of how the different perspectives and emphases and concerns of different churches working together (as in the Undivided Early Catholic Communion of different Sister Churches) can help sharpen and clarify and deepen each church’s understanding of Christian truth – by identifying subtleties of the truth, identifying different aspects of and different angles of view on the same truth, and by identifying how far is too far in either direction when theologically extrapolating from different aspects of the truth.]
43. Our consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification must come to influence the life and teachings of our churches [again, both churches need to make sure their members really “get it,” truly understand the basic truths commonly agreed upon, so that an individual’s overemphasis on each church’s different perspective does not result in either the loss of the common basic truths or the loss of our ability to tell that we share the same basic understanding despite our different language and emphasis] … In this respect, there are still questions of varying importance which need further clarification …We are convinced that the consensus we have reached offers a solid basis for this clarification. The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church will continue to strive together to deepen this common understanding of justification and to make it bear fruit in the life and teaching of the churches.
44.We give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ’s will.
3) The 1965 and 2006 Common Declarations of Catholic Popes and Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchs . The 1965 Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I was a watershed moment in Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox Christian relations, which in its own words was
“a joint Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox expression of a sincere mutual desire for reconciliation and … an invitation to pursue, in a spirit of mutual trust, esteem and charity, the dialogue which will lead them, with the help of God, to live once again for the greater good of souls and the coming of the Kingdom of God, in the full communion of faith, of brotherly concord and of a sacramental life which existed between them throughout the first millennium of the life of the Church.”
This movement of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches towards full reunification with each other as in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church was recently followed up by the 2006 Common Declaration by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I, which begins with these words:
“This fraternal encounter which brings us together, Pope Benedict XVI of Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, is God’s work, and in a certain sense his gift. We give thanks to the Author of all that is good, who allows us once again, in prayer and in dialogue, to express the joy we feel as brothers and to renew our commitment to move towards full communion. This commitment comes from the Lord’s will and from our responsibility as Pastors in the Church of Christ. May our meeting be a sign and an encouragement for us to share the same sentiments and the same attitudes of fraternity [brotherhood], cooperation and communion in charity and truth. The Holy Spirit will help us to prepare the great day of the re-establishment of full unity, whenever and however God wills it. Then we shall truly be able to rejoice and be glad.”
This common declaration also called attention to other work that has been going on towards the Holy Spirit’s goal of Christian unity between these two divided churches, such as
“the reciprocal visits of His Holiness Pope John Paul II and His Holiness Dimitrios I. It was during the visit of Pope John Paul II, his first ecumenical visit, that the creation of the Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church was announced. This Commission brought our Churches together with the declared aim of re-establishing full communion.”
Ecumenical Activity Should Become a Routine Part of the Christian Life of All the Currently Separated Churches, If We Are to Be True to Our Calling as the Body of Christ, since Christ Is Not Divided (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
So while Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical Christians on the whole still have a lot of growing to do in the area of fully recognizing each other and truly loving each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, the Holy Spirit which animates the Body of Christ the Church has long been slowly and patiently bringing us closer together according to Jesus’ prayer for our unity. The leaders of the divided Christian Churches find their commonly held Divine Revelation gives them no excuse for any attitude which solidifies Christian divisions or which allows the divisions to continue without seeking to heal these wounds in the Body of Christ. The many Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic leaders quoted above all agree that visible Christian unity in one Christian Church is what our Beloved Lord Jesus wants for His one Body the Church. So they have thankfully been motivated to keep slowly leading the Christian flocks under their care to occasionally engage each other in loving ecumenical encounters in which we start to act like one Body until such time as we are finally ready to formally and visibly become one Body for the world to see – cured of the great wound Satan has inflicted on our unity which discredits the Church’s claims in the eyes of the world which needs to enter Christ’s Body the Church in order to be saved.
So ecumenical activity should become a routine part of the Christian life of all the currently separated churches, if we are to be true to our calling as the Body of Christ, since Christ is not divided. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 shows us Satan has been attacking the Church’s unity from the beginning, and our current divided reality shows us how much victory he has had. We cannot allow it to continue.
We should also celebrate the ecumenical achievements so far as part of Christ’s Church eventually becoming all it is meant to be. In addition to the above joint Christian documents, the Catholic Church recently celebrated the 100th Anniversary of its participation in The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and the great multiplicity of divided Protestant Churches has for a similar duration been moving closer together with its Ecumenical Movement which eventually expanded to include the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. In several cities the local Anglican/Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran bishops have signed joint agreements for their flocks to work together and fellowship together on a regular basis. The Global Day of Prayer on Pentecost Sunday, the “birthday” of Christ’s Church, is a major worldwide Ecumenical event which has been attended by hundreds of millions of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians (and “Messianic Jews,” Jewish believers in Jesus their Messiah) the last few years. We can and must continue to pray for our unity and continue to meet together like this in love to work towards it, however long this takes.
But this ecumenical thrust itself actually leads me to share once more about the papacy, which is already the office of visible unity among over half of the world’s professed Christians, who are Catholics (of whichever of the united Western and Eastern Catholic Rites or Sister Churches).
The Catholic Church must Share its Understanding of the Papacy, the Office of Visible Unity Despite Many Differences Within its Own Catholic Christian Communion of over Half of All Christians in over 20 distinct “Sister Churches,” as Part of the Loving Ecumenical Dialogue among Christians Towards the Unity We All Know Jesus Desires for Us
As stated above, the first of my two reasons for sharing with non-Catholic readers my Catholic understanding of the papacy is for the purpose of seeking true mutual understanding which allows separated Christians to better “agree to disagree” while maintaining Christian brotherly love, in the spirit of loving dialogue between Christians ultimately towards the unity Jesus prayed for “so that the world may believe.” My first and primary goal is not to necessarily convert non-Catholic readers to my Catholic understanding, but much more importantly to stop non-Catholic readers from ignorantly continuing the anti-Catholic prejudice against the Catholic Church on the basis of misunderstandings of its distinct doctrines like the papacy, misconceptions which Satan the Accuser uses as part of his arsenal of weapons against the visible unity in love of the Body of Christ the Church. We do not have to agree on everything to love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, but our visible expression of love despite our disagreements is much more likely when we truly understand each other’s differences and how each of us sees them as consistent with or supportive of the common essentials of Christianity which we do agree on. We do not have to have full agreement in all our disputes and we do not have to have full formal reunification in order to model Christian love for each other despite our differences and disagreements. Indeed, practically speaking we should master the unity in love while formal divisions remain before we even attempt full formal visible Christian unity in one loving Church as the visibly undivided Body of Christ on Earth.
But I also share my understanding of the strong claim of the Catholic doctrine of the papacy as part of the solid foundation of God’s Church on Earth (Jesus called it the “rock” on which His Church is built – Matthew 16:18) , because I honestly believe it is the solution to the greatest problems faced by my Eastern Orthodox and Conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christian brothers and sisters in Christ, which I earnestly desire to share with them for their own benefit. The Catholic Church understands the papacy as the Holy Spirit-graced office of unity which guarantees orthodoxy in the Christian Church. The Catholic Church Family of Eastern and Western Rites or Sister Churches which gathers around the pope (Peter’s successor) as the center of unity of the one Universal or Catholic Christian Church of Jesus Christ possesses an absolutely unparalleled Christian unity among over 1 billion Western and Eastern Christian members worldwide (in over 20 different yet fully unified Sister Churches), and it has never ever since the beginning of Christianity denied any of the common fundamentals of essential Christian orthodoxy. In contrast, those non-Catholic churches which do not recognize the papacy suffer precisely in the areas of unity and orthodoxy. In less than 500 years of existence, the largest streams of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations are the “doctrinally liberal” streams which question, doubt, or outright deny various aspects of traditional, orthodox Christian faith and morality (and Bible Canon), and even the Protestant denominations which (for now) remain fundamentally orthodox suffer from vast and prolific divisions (there are over 35,000 registered Protestant or Evangelical Christian church denominations worldwide and new Protestant church divisions happen constantly). The non-Catholic Eastern Churches of today are grouped into the smaller “Lesser Eastern Churches” and the larger “Eastern Orthodox Churches.” The “Lesser Eastern Churches” are ancient heretical churches which lost orthodoxy by rejecting either the 3rd Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 AD which clarified the Incarnation and declared the irreformable Christian dogma that Jesus Christ is one person with two natures, Divine and human, or rejected the 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451 AD which articulated the Incarnation more clearly and declared the fundamental Christian doctrine that Jesus is fully God and fully man. The non-Catholic Eastern Orthodox Churches are indeed orthodox because they accept the fundamental tenets of Christian orthodoxy which were hammered out during the first seven Ecumenical Councils (in which the pope played an integral role – see Volume III Chapter 5), but they suffer greatly and increasingly from lack of unity even amongst themselves.
The always very “loose communion” of Eastern Orthodox Churches has become more and more divided as time has passed, and not only between the different cultural Eastern Sister Churches like Russians, Malabars, Greeks, and Copts – today there are even three completely separate denominations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church!  And Eastern Orthodox Christians suffer the uncomfortable position of having to deny many elements of their own Eastern Orthodox heritage (listed in Volume III Chapter 5 ) in order to justify their no longer being part of the ancient and ongoing Universal (Catholic) Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Sister Churches which recognizes the pope as its Head Pastor. Similarly but to a much greater degree, Protestant/Evangelical Christians (I speak from long Protestant experience here) often unconsciously cultivate ignorance of the Early Church or only very selectively explore the Early Church in order to maintain the illusion that their particular Protestant denomination is very much “like” the Early Church beyond their (current) acceptance of the Early Church’s saving fundamentals. But without accepting the Holy-Spirit-guaranteed authority of the early papacy or even of the early Ecumenical Councils (led or ratified by the papacy) which historically established the traditional fundamentals against many alternative early Bible interpretations (which were only declared heresies BY the Catholic Church), orthodox Protestant Christians cannot effectively convince doctrinally liberal or unorthodox Protestant Christians, who often have studied the Early Church in more depth and detail, that they too should believe in the orthodox Christian fundamentals. I have discovered it is because liberal Protestant scholars are generally much more familiar with Early Church history than are conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christians that they are much more likely to be uncertain about the traditional essential Christian fundamentals, since they know how strongly bound they are to the papacy and the Apostolic Succession of overseer/bishop/eparchs meeting in Ecumenical Councils which Protestantism rejected as having any authority binding upon a Christian’s faith. This is one of the reasons why I regard the acceptance of the papacy (understood as a function of the Church as the Living Body of Christ Himself) as the solution to Protestant problems with liberalism and unorthodoxy, since it is possible for Catholic Christians who accept the papacy to fully and consciously acknowledge all the historical facts of the Early Church and still maintain unwavering commitment to the traditional fundamental tenets of saving, life-transforming, orthodox Christianity.
Introduction to Volume III’s Chapters 4 and 5 Which Share in Ecumenical Spirit What I Have Come to Learn and Understand about the Undivided Early Church’s Papacy and about its Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western “Sister” Churches Which Gather Around the Pope as Their Head Pastor, Which I Share for the Benefit of the Non-Catholic Christian Churches Which May Find in the Papacy Understood this Way the Solution to Their Substantial Problems with Unity and Orthodoxy Which the Catholic Christian Communion Does Not Have
So non-Catholic readers should understand, as they read these chapters, that it is not my intention to say “the Catholic Church is right and you are wrong and this is why.” I freely acknowledge (as does the Catholic Church officially since Vatican II) that sins and weaknesses of both Catholics as well as non-Catholics initially caused and have since maintained the scandalous divisions in the one Church of Christ our Lord and Savior. I freely acknowledge that the Catholic Church today still suffers from many problems of failing to live up to its own ideals which we Catholic Christians need to work on with Christ our Lord’s help to solve or improve. I freely acknowledge that the non-Catholic churches have many valid expressions of and celebrations of our great common Christian faith which already enrich the Catholic Church Communion which borrows many good things from them. I freely acknowledge that the conservative Protestant/Evangelical churches have in fact generally-speaking better preserved certain characteristics of the Undivided Early Church than the Catholic Church Communion has (such as its passionate love for Bible-reading), meaning that they have much to teach Catholic Christians as we move closer together in loving family unity in the Body of Christ as Jesus wishes us to.
But I honestly believe that all the problems the Catholic Church has are not near as serious as the problems the non-Catholic Eastern and Protestant churches have with either their Christian unity or with the long-term maintenance of their basic Christian orthodoxy, both of which problems do much to hide the truth of Jesus’ love from the world, and I honestly believe that the Catholic Church has the solution to those non-Catholic problems because of its doctrine of the papacy. Furthermore, I believe I can demonstrate convincingly that the doctrine of the papacy is not only solidly grounded in the Bible (in Chapter 4), but that the actual historical Early Church interpreted the Bible along these lines such that the papacy was an integral part of the life of the Living Body of Christ the Church since the beginning and most certainly throughout the First Millennium in which our great common Christian fundamentals were first clearly articulated and established as the norms of Christian faith (in Chapter 5).
As a Catholic Christian (and former Evangelical Protestant Christian), I have to suggest (with the greatest love and affection for Protestants) that is just far too simple and honestly very problematic for Protestant/Evangelicals to just say “we do not believe in the papacy and we think the Catholic Church is wrong to.” Catholic Christians can simply say in response, “then why do you believe Jesus is fully God and fully man, Pope Leo I’s doctrine, and the other Christian fundamentals which the papacy was inextricably involved in defining clearly? Catholic Christians cannot help but notice that there are a great many Protestant Christians who no longer believe in the Christian fundamentals or are no longer certain about them, precisely because the traditional Christian fundamentals historically are the Catholic Church’s official interpretation of the Catholic Church’s New Testament. If the Catholic Church is wrong about its doctrines of infallibility, that the Catholic Church Councils of overseer/bishops and popes (chief bishops) are capable, under certain limited circumstances including those of Ecumenical Councils, of speaking infallibly (on the basis of the Church being truly the Body of Christ and “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), as the Bible itself proclaims) – then Protestant Christians have no guarantee and cannot be certain that either the traditional (Catholic) New Testament Canon nor the traditional (Catholic) fundamental Bible interpretations which they simply borrowed from the Catholic Church they left are correct – Catholic Christians can reasonably say that Liberal Protestantism is just the natural and logical result of Protestantism which claims that the Catholic Church has no authority to settle disputes (including Canon disputes) among Christian Bible readers, and therefore liberal Protestants are uncertain of or deny the traditional Christian New Testament Canon and the traditional Christian essential fundamentals of orthodox Christianity.
Introduction to the Later Volume III Chapters Which Discuss the Historical Reasons Behind the Second Millennium “Over-Romanization” of the Catholic or Universal (Not Just Roman) Church and How this Problem (Which Has Made the Early Church Unity in Diversity Which Continues in Today’s Catholic Church Harder to See) Has Been Solved in Principle by Vatican Council II’s Dogmatic Teaching on the Church Which Is Still in the Process of Being Implemented in the Minds and Hearts of Today’s Majority Roman Rite Catholics (These Chapters also Discuss How the Future Full Implementation of Vatican II in the Huge Roman Rite of the Catholic Church Will Bode Well for the Eventual Reestablishment of the Lost Unity in Diversity of the Undivided Early Church)
At the end of Chapter 5 and in Chapter 6 I will also call attention to some of the historical reasons why the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of Eastern and Western particular or “Sister” Churches which gathers around the pope became numerically dominated by the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church in the Second Millennium, and I will frankly discuss how the Catholic (literally Universal, not just Roman) Church since before the Protestant Reformation became “overly Romanized” as a result of this and has only come to recapture that full, conscious and explicit understanding of just what the Catholic Church is and should look like since the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II, 1962-5), which was the first Ecumenical Council ever to prayerfully discuss and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance so as to clearly define the proper nature and structure of the one Church of Christ. That proper Catholic (Universal) form of Christian unity in diversity among different but united Eastern and Western Rites or Sister Churches or Patriarchates which Christ’s Church had in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early (Catholic) Church is something which the Catholic Church has always had but which has been hidden from the general view for centuries (there have always been Eastern Rite Catholics who still acknowledge the Pope as their Head Pastor in addition to the majority of Roman Rite Catholics, but they have been such a minority that majority Roman Catholics often did not even know about them, especially before modern telecommunications). However, the true Christian universality (not just Romanness) of the Catholic (Universal) Church which gathers around the pope will become ever more manifest the more Vatican II’s official and dogmatic teaching about the Church trickles down into and eventually becomes entrenched in the minds and hearts of the Roman Rite Catholic majority who for centuries have tended to mistakenly associate their particular Roman Catholic Sister Church in the Catholic Communion with the Catholic Church entire. Chapter 6 offers several discussions designed to help majority Roman Rite Catholic Christians to more fully come to understand and accept (as they are required to) the dogmatic teaching of Vatican II about the Catholic Church Communion they belong to. I believe that all Christians coming to truly understand what the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church has formally defined about the Church, which clearly expresses the lived reality of the Undivided Early Church of the First Millennium, is vitally important for the ultimate (long-term) healing of our scandalous Christian divisions, for it even shows us how divided fundamentally orthodox Christians today, whether (Eastern or Western) Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or (Western) Protestant/ Evangelical, are already much closer to the Early Church’s unity in diversity than we usually realize (as discussed in Chapter 7). Chapter 8 offers real hope that, through the power of the Holy Spirit of love who has already made each of us a member of God’s one Family in Christ, in the long term the currently divided Christian churches really may be one as Jesus prayed for “so that the world may believe.”
Thus it is I believe for the great benefit of the 35,000 non-Catholic Christian churches (Protestant/ Evangelical and Eastern Orthodox) that I share what I have come to learn and understand about the Undivided Early Church’s papacy and about its Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Christian “Sister” Churches which gather around the pope as their Head Pastor – and I believe it is also for the great benefit of the world which needs to see the love of Jesus in us for each other that we all (Catholic and non-Catholic) come to think about Christian unity as the Undivided Early Church actually lived it.
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
1This important document can be accessed at http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9405/articles/ mission.html
2One which recognizes the Patriarch of Constantinople as its head, one which recognizes the Patriarch of Moscow as its head, and one which is “autocephalous” or self-governing with its own Ukrainian Patriarch in Kiev. The other branch of Eastern Orthodoxy in Ukraine (in the original sense of the term, “orthodox” meaning “not heretic” and not “not Catholic”) is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church or Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church (Byzantium or Constantinople was the center of Greek culture in the ancient world, and Greek Byzantine Christians brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Ukraine). The Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church – which I belong to as part of its “diaspora,” outside of Ukraine – is one of the Sister Churches in the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion which recognizes the pope in Rome as its head, along with the Roman Catholic Church and over 20 other Eastern and Western Rites or Sister Churches which together make up the Catholic Church. The Pope in Rome is both the Successor of Peter, therefore the Universal Overseer or Bishop of the entire Catholic Communion, and he is also the Patriarch of the Roman Catholic Sister Church in the Catholic Communion, the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, in which capacity he is “first among equals” among the ancient Christian patriarchs, as even many Eastern Orthodox Christians would readily acknowledge him. Each Sister Church in the Catholic Communion has its own patriarch or head overseer. Not all of the semi-ancient “daughter churches” of the five ancient Christian Patriarchates, which are distinct Rites and Sister Churches of their own, are yet acknowledged also as Patriarchates, a term which connotes venerable age and important contribution to the entire Church, so the head overseers or bishops of some of the Sister Churches are not yet known officially as patriarchs. The head of my own Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church within the Catholic Communion is Cardinal Lubomyr Husar. Although the heads of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church have been widely known as Patriarchs (without rebuke) since 1975, and although Pope John Paul II acknowledged the legitimacy of the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s desire to be acknowledged officially as a Patriarchate, the head of my Sister Church for now remains officially a “Major Archbishop” primarily out of the Catholic Church’s desire to not annoy the Eastern Orthodox Churches and thus interfere with the ongoing Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox dialogue. But my Byzantine Ukrainian Patriarch or Major Archbishop Lubomyr Husar, as a Cardinal (though not a Roman Catholic), was part of the conclave of Cardinals which elected Benedict XVI as the current Pope of the Catholic (Universal, not just Roman!) Church.