The Catholic Church Since the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) Has by Far the Most Well-Thought-Out and Sophisticated Position on its Own Participation in the One Body of Christ the Church and That of its “Separated Brothers” in the Non-Catholic Christian Churches, a Strong Position That No Christian Who Values the Christian Unity Jesus Values Can Afford to Ignore but must Seriously Consider
[This unfinished chapter of Internet Edition 1.0 is somewhat rough in places, but gets out many ideas which lead towards a good conclusion, in full sentences and paragraphs which are very readable]
The First Step to the “Complete Unity” (John 17:23) Jesus Desires for His Church Is in Fundamentally Orthodox Christians (Eastern & Western Catholic; Eastern Orthodox; Western Conservative/Evangelical Protestant; ‘Messianic Jews’) Seeking and Mastering Unity in Visible Love for Each Other on the Basis of Their Vast Common Faith Even While the Formal Divisions over Unresolved Lesser Issues Remain
To aid this first goal of loving each other for the love of our Lord and for the love of the world He loves, in the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II), the Catholic Church has officially declared at its highest level of authority (cited fully in Volume III Chapter 3) that
“[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.”
So, as indicated in Volume III Chapter 3, despite some Catholics unfortunately still having to “catch up” with their Church on this point, 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 (whichever it is) 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.
As we continue to seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit of love, Catholic Christians (Eastern and Western) and non-Catholic Christians (Eastern Orthodox and Western Protestant/Evangelical Christians united in the same vast common and fundamental Christian beliefs) will gradually get better and better at truly loving and ecumenical attitudes towards each other, attitudes which will greatly aid the Christian mission to the world which will then more easily see Christian love “for one another” long before we even get close to the formal structural Church reunification which we must take to be part of Jesus’ prayer for our “complete unity” (John 17:23). We must first strive to master the unity in visible love for each other even while we remain formally divided into separate churches and church communions, which must be the first step before we ever even attempt full formal Church reunification (as different ‘Sister Churches’ in one Universal Christian Communion, following the Undivided Early Church model described in detail in So That The World May Believe Volumes I and III). The closer we fundamentally orthodox Christians, whether Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant/Evangelical (or ‘Messianic Jewish’), get to first unity in visible love and later to full formal reunification, the world will more and more take notice of the sublime beauty of the Christian Church as we come closer together as one loving worldwide Christian family like Jesus prayed for, devoid of the hatred, ignorance and judgments of the past. Not only will the unbelieving world take notice of our beauty; those “doctrinally liberal” or unorthodox Christians (liberal Protestants and those of the “Lesser” Eastern Churches), upon seeing those Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical churches which are already united in the above vast common fundamentals of traditional, orthodox Christian faith, start to really “love one another as [Christ] has loved [them]” (John 13:34) and display all the more supernaturally-life-changing power and Christian beauty in the world, the deficiencies of their unorthodoxy will become all the more apparent to them and ideally they will become jealous of the beautiful unity of the orthodox Christian churches, and seek to become more orthodox themselves so they may join this wonderful communion in Christ’s love, adopted into the Loving Family of the Trinitarian God who is Love. Large numbers of liberal Protestant Christians are not so much unorthodox as they are lacking in the certainty they should have about the fundamentals of orthodox Christian faith, so these will be the most likely to adopt Christian orthodoxy when the gradually reunifying orthodox churches lose their hatred and bigotry over lesser-order differences, stop fighting and start loving each other so as to better display to all the beauty of orthodox Christianity.
Something similar happened in the 4th Century. There were large groups of “Semi-Arian” Christians, temporarily even the majority of Christians, who were uncertain whether to believe either
1) the orthodox position of Jesus’ full Divinity, “one in being with the Father,” defined, clarified and proclaimed by the 325 AD 1st Ecumenical Council at Nicea (as a function of the Church being the living Body of Christ) and championed by Alexandrian Catholic Patriarch Saint Athanasius (who was exiled 5 times by Arian Christian rulers for his orthodoxy though sheltered by the Roman Catholic Patriarch, the Pope) or
2) the heretical position of the Arian Christians, who denied the full Divinity of Jesus, and who claimed the Council had no authority to settle the dispute since the Bible on its own did not contradict the Arian heresy (with its sophisticated and thorough use of Scripture) as the Council’s newly clarified traditional interpretation of the Bible did.
These uncertain Christians had often adopted a compromise “middle position” between the two and thus were called “Semi-Arians” by those who were firmly orthodox. The uncertain or in-between majority of “Semi-Arians” were eventually converted to orthodox Christianity, particularly through the ministry of Patriarch Saint Athanasius (who also first put together the New Testament Canon as we know it in 367 AD) and the later ministry of the “Cappodocian Fathers” (Saints Basil the Great, Gregory of Nanzianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa), who were able to articulate and explain and demonstrate the beauty of the orthodox positionof the full Divinity of Jesus. Today’s “mainline” Protestant denominations (including the one I was raised in) have plenty of modern-day Arians who deny Jesus is God and even more modern-day “Semi-Arians” who are unsure if Jesus is God (the Catholic and Orthodox Churches do not have this problem, though as all churches in our highly secularized society they do suffer from “nominalism,” having many more or less “in name only” members). We must remember the victory of the Early Church over both paganism and over the Arian heresy (both of which have been revived in our day). Showing unorthodox, uncertain, or nominal Christians, and the whole unbelieving world, the beauty of essential Christian orthodoxy through our Christian “love for one another” because of it should become our goal as Christians, “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21).
The Great Majority of Our Differences Are Differences in Theological or Practical or Customary Expressions of Our Common Christian Faith Which Did Not Divide but Mutually Enriched the Undivided Early Church’s Different but United Sister Churches
As long as we fundamentally orthodox Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians remain in separated churches without reunifying, we do so because we believe that the Christian church body or communion of church bodies we are in is in some way “superior” to others, that other groups of Christians, even though we (ideally) recognize them and love them as genuine Christian brothers and sisters united in common saving faith, suffer certain defects or lack certain things which we believe make “our” Church “better” in some way, which is why we choose to belong to it and not another. These things which we perceive other churches as lacking to their own detriment as Christians are worth us talking to each other about in non-accusatory ways, conscious of the vast and intensely profound family unity we already possess, united as we are already in 90% or more of what we believe has been revealed by God and must be accepted in faith, and which leads to salvation.
However, if we follow an Early Church model, understanding the mutually enriching unity in diversity of the Undivided Early Church with its Universal (Catholic) Communion of different Sister Churches which make different contributions to the whole Church of Jesus Christ, we will come to recognize that in most (though not all) cases different bodies of Christians having different strengths is normal and good and ultimately enriches the whole church: we should be able to freely say that another Sister Church does some things “better” than our Sister Church does, simply because of their different history and different perspectives which have perhaps led them to reflect upon and emphasize and to develop a certain aspect of the common and universal Christian Faith much more than our Church has, while our Church has concentrated on and has more advanced reflections upon other aspects of the common Christian faith. For example, when considering the two biggest mysteries of the Christian Church, the primary mystery of Trinity and the central mystery of the Incarnation, and when considering the major Christian events of the Passion and Death of Jesus on the one hand and the Resurrection of Jesus and Eternal Life on the other hand, it must be admitted that the Western, Roman Sister Church has concentrated more on, developed more worship and devotional customs related to, and has deeper insights into the Incarnation and the Passion and Death, while the Eastern, Byzantine Sister Church has concentrated more on, developed more worship and devotional customs related to, and has deeper insights into the Trinity and the Resurrection and Eternal Life – and Catholic (Universal) Christians benefit from and can be enriched by both of these traditions within their Catholic Communion while personally belonging to only one Sister Church within the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion.
In fact most of the many respects that Eastern and Western Catholic Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and doctrinally conservative (not liberal) Western, Protestant Christians differ are in the areas of different theological and practical or customary expressions of common faith which did not divide the different orthodox Christian Sister Churches in the Undivided Early Church, the truly Universal (Catholic) Church – but instead enriched them all.
Catholic, Orthodox, and (Conservative/Evangelical) Protestant Christians Are Already Much Closer to the Early Church’s Unity in Diversity than We Usually Realize, and We Already Borrow Good Things from Each Other and So Enrich Each Other as Did the Early Church’s Different But United Sister Churches
This means that Catholic, Orthodox, and (conservative/Evangelical) Protestant Christians are already much closer to the Early Church’s Unity in Diversity than we usually realize. Moreover, as the Undivided Early Church enriched each other, each of its Sister Churches contributing to the overall developed theological understanding of what God had revealed and throwing further light upon different aspects of the Faith through different worship and devotional customs, and as they borrowed good things from each other,1 so the divided fundamentally orthodox Christian churches of today already enrich each other and borrow good things from each other, which is easy to do because we are already united in vast common faith. Catholic and Protestant and Orthodox scholars (theologians and exegetes) regularly read and quote each other’s works to further their own theological work. Some Protestant/Evangelical Christians have come to look into the Eastern Orthodox spiritual traditions and have borrowed appealing things, notably “The Jesus Prayer” (which is also an integral part of an Eastern, Byzantine “prayer bead” devotion sometimes used by Roman Catholic Christians and called “the Byzantine Rosary”). The entire Eastern Orthodox Christian Tradition is already part of the Catholic Communion in the Eastern Catholic Sister Churches, and Western, Roman Catholic scholars regularly draw from Eastern sources (Orthodox or Catholic) for a different but valid liturgical or theological perspective. The beautiful and highly advanced symbolic Christian iconography of the Eastern, Byzantine Churches is greatly admired by Roman Catholics and Eastern, Byzantine icons are often found in Western, Roman Catholic Churches. The “Ark of the New Covenant,” a symbolic article patterned after Noah’s Ark and blessed by the pope for use at the 49th Eucharistic Congress of the Catholic Church in Canada in 2008, is decorated with numerous Byzantine icons depicting New Testament events, icons which were commissioned from Romanian Orthodox Church artists by the Roman Catholic Church! At the famous Protestant and Evangelical “Crystal Cathedral” in California, I saw a Protestant book on iconography which likewise was inspired by and referred a great deal to Eastern, Byzantine iconography (the art of making religious pictures). The grounds of the “Crystal Cathedral”2 are loaded with metal statues of scenes from the Bible and of some famous modern era Christians, including one of American Roman Catholic Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, which indicates the Evangelical Protestants associated with the Crystal Cathedral, who are responsible for the “Hour of Power” broadcast which reaches millions of Protestant Christians, respected and even drew inspiration from this Catholic hierarch’s pioneering work in Christian television.
Roman Catholic singer John Michael Talbot has had over 50 albums, including many tracks which are arrangements of the Roman Catholic Mass liturgy, which are popular among Protestant Christians as well as Catholic Christians. Classic spiritual works of Catholic monks like Thomas à Kempis (The Imitation of Christ) and Brother Lawrence (The Practice of the Presence of God) have long been popular among Protestant Christians, and I have even seen an Evangelical Protestant daily devotional book series consisting of excerpts from the writings of very spiritual Christians of history, which includes the writings of Catholic mystics (who focus on the intimate love relationship with God) like Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Theresa of Àvila, and Saint John of the Cross.3 Of course, to the list of good things Protestants have borrowed from Catholics who had them first must be added the Bible itself (as Luther admitted) and the clearly articulated fundamental doctrines of Christianity!
The Catholic Church in its Eastern and Western Rites has also borrowed a huge number of good things from Protestant Christianity, particularly wonderful classic hymns and modern “praise and worship” songs written by Protestants. The current daily Roman Catholic “Liturgy of the Hours” or “Christian Prayer” which priests and monks and nuns are usually required to pray (and all Roman Catholics are invited to pray) includes a hymnal with Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” which proves Catholics have no problem borrowing something good that expresses common Christian faith even from the first Protestant, who divided Western Christianity! Despite our very few serious disagreements, most of our expressions of our Christian faith in song and other media are entirely compatible because most of our faith in what God has revealed which we believe in faith is the same! Protestant Christians have also developed many excellent multi-media “Vacation Bible School” resources for children which teach and celebrate Christian faith in ways that are very engaging for children during the summer holidays, which are used by many (Eastern and Western) Catholic parishes as well as by Protestants. The faith they teach and celebrate is the same for both Catholics and Protestants! The excellent Alpha program developed within the Protestant Church of England by Anglican pastor Nicky Gumbel, which is designed to introduce non-Christians to Christianity and refresh and re-inspire Christians in all the important basics of their faith, is also used not only by other Protestants like Evangelicals and Pentecostals, but by many Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic parish communities, because it is so good at explaining the basics of Christianity which are essentially the same for Catholics as well as Protestants (I have personally attended Alpha courses at both Pentecostal and Eastern Catholic churches). The Catholic Saint Joseph Covenant Keepers men’s movement was also borrowed from Protestants by Catholics, patterned after the Evangelical Protestant Promise Keepers men’s movement.
All this is evidence that the currently divided different churches united in common faith still borrow good things from each other as the Undivided Early Church’s different Sister Churches did. It is extremely important for all of us currently divided fundamentally orthodox Christians to consciously recognize those ways we already act like One Body in Christ, one Christian communion of different churches whose differences are mutually enriching and can help us enter more deeply into the saving, sanctifying, and supernaturally empowering mysteries of our common faith (as in the Early Church) – and start to add to the ways we already act like one Body. We must cease the ways we act like we are separated Christian bodies who are rivals with each other, who all-too-quickly pass judgement on the differences of other Christians without even trying to truly understand them and how they might enrich our own understanding and appreciation of our own faith, or at least trying to understand how they are compatible with the common fundamentals which the currently divided fundamentally orthodox churches are already agreed upon.
Even When We Appropriately Recognize Each Other Lovingly as True Brothers and Sisters in Christ Despite Our Differences, Presumably All Christians Still Believe Their Own Church or Communion of Churches Has Something Significant Other Church Communions Lack Which Makes it Closer to God’s Ideal for His Church: We Can and Should Discuss and Share These Differences as Loving Brothers Seeking Eventual Resolution to Our Current Disputes and the Eventual Restoration of the “Complete Unity” (John 17:23) We All Know Jesus Desires for Us
The Catholic Church Has by Far the Most Well-Thought-Out and Sophisticated Position on its Own Participation in the One Body of Christ the Church and That of its “Separated Brothers” in the Non-Catholic Christian Churches, a Strong Position That No Christian Who Values the Christian Unity Jesus Values Can Afford to Ignore but must Seriously Consider
Some individual Catholic Christians sadly still have an immature and unnuanced attitude of Catholic “triumphalism” wherein they regard the Catholic Church over-simplistically as “the one true Church” and any Christians outside of its visible structure over-simplistically as “heretics and schismatics.” Fortunately, those who call themselves Catholics who are most likely to exhibit such triumphalism are those of the tiny Roman Rite groups who rejected the Catholic Church’s 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) and were subsequently excommunicated from the Catholic Church, and are not truly Catholic at all themselves! (see Volume III Chapter 6). The Catholic Church since Vatican II has effectively condemned such Catholic “triumphalism” and has instead officially defined the pilgrim nature of Christ’s Church on Earth, as the mystical Body of Christ which is indeed protected from officially teaching heresy by the Holy Spirit which indwells it, but is also still made up of imperfect and sinful individual human beings who have sinned and made other mistakes in the past and will continue to do so until Jesus returns to perfect His Kingdom of which the Church on Earth is the seed and beginning. The Catholic Church identifies itself substantially with the One Body of Christ the Church on Earth, but it does not claim to be perfect in its human members and all their actions, and it officially recognizes that other Christian Churches than itself also participate (in less complete ways) in the Mystery of the One Body of Christ the Church on Earth. Vatican II, representing the highest authority in the Catholic Church (an Ecumenical [worldwide] Council of over 2000 Catholic overseer/bishops in communion with their chief overseer the pope), in addition to defining all this, set a mature example for Christian churches by formally acknowledging the role of Catholics in the sins that resulted in divisions in Christ’s One Universal (Catholic) Church in the past, and committed the Catholic Church to work towards Christian reconciliation and eventual reunification. In the genuine spirit of Vatican II, later popes, notably John Paul II, have publicly apologized for various sins of Catholic Christians throughout history.
The Catholic Church’s Official Position on its Own Substantial Identification with the One Church of Christ and the Substantial (but Lesser) True Participation of the Non-Catholic Christian Churches Which Do Not Enjoy the Same Christian Unity the Catholic Communion of Eastern and Western Sister Churches Does, in the Words of Vatican II
The following is a quotation from a lengthy passage of section 3 of Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio, UR), interspersed with my commentary in between sections [and within sections in square brackets]:
“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 [true 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.”
“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 which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.”
The Catholic Church understands that since everything Eastern Orthodox Christians and (at least conservative) Protestant Christians have that (genuinely) leads to salvation (including the Bible itself and the clearly articulated fundamental interpretations of the Bible which are the standard of Christian orthodoxy) is what they took with them from the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches (headed by the pope) which they left, the efficacy unto salvation that Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Churches indeed truly have only comes from how very Catholic they are where it matters most. I would say they are still “Catholic at heart” despite their formal separation from the Catholic Christian Family of united Sister Churches and certainly they are effective tools of God for salvation only in as much as they conform to the standards of orthodoxy of the Early Catholic Church of East and West pastored by popes; they genuinely bring Christian salvation into the world only in as much as they conform to the Catholic Christian Faith. It is not in the areas where Protestants strongly disagree with Catholic Christians that makes Protestant and Evangelical Churches effective at bringing Jesus to people; it is in the “very many” areas where Protestant and Evangelical Churches are in complete agreement with the Catholic Church (and its popes like Leo I who bound the Church to interpret the Bible to mean that Jesus is “fully God and fully man”) that makes them effective at accurately introducing people to Jesus, “fully God and fully man.” Historically the “commonly held” Christian faith was first undisputedly the Catholic Christian faith, and Protestants are effective at bringing salvation to their converts because they are communicating the saving orthodox fundamentals of Catholic Christian faith to the world. However, Vatican II correctly notes that despite their genuine usefulness as instruments of God’s salvation, because Protestant and Orthodox Christians only borrowed and do not properly own the fundamental Catholic faith they profess,
“Nevertheless, our separated brethren [true brothers, sadly separated!], whether considered as individuals or as communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those to whom he has given new birth into one body and whom he has quickened to newness of life—that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim.”
It is hardly possible for non-Catholic Christians to dispute this understanding of the Catholic Church comparing the unity of the Catholic Communion with that of the Protestant or Eastern Orthodox arms of Christianity. The Protestant churches suffer from 35,000 formal church divisions between themselves, many of them no longer even fundamentally orthodox, and the always “loose” communion of dozens of Eastern Orthodox Churches are also less unified as time goes on – currently there are even 3 separate denominations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church! In contrast, the Catholic Church is one Christian Church made up of over 1 billion members in over 20 unified Eastern and Western Rites or “Sister Churches” which hold all the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy and which recognize a common Catholic leadership hierarchy under the pope.
“For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God.”
This part clearly states the Catholic Church’s self-understanding that among today’s separated different Christian Churches or communions the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches commonly known simply as “the Catholic Church” is uniquely identifiable with the “one Church” Jesus founded in history. Likely very many of the separated Christian churches think their particular church or communion of churches is “the best” or “the closest to God’s ideal for the Church” or “the most like the Early Church,” and so this Catholic Church understanding of its own communion should not be a barrier to Ecumenical dialogue with those who disagree – this is part of what the separated churches need to talk about, and on the basis of our vast common faith we should be able to lovingly discuss together just why each of us thinks “our” church is still somehow “better” (even though we are clearly brothers already united in great common saving faith!). Certainly the Catholic Church in humility does not over-simplistically say “we are the one true Church and all other churches are false churches,” but it has the most sophisticated understanding of both why the true Church of Christ is most fully present on Earth in the Catholic Church throughout history, and also why non-Catholic Christians are also truly part of the one true Church who effectively contribute to Christian salvation in the world.
Non-Catholic Christian Churches and communions may indeed also think they are the “best” church or the church “closest to God’s ideal for the Church” or “the most like the Early Church,” but we Catholic Christians believe none of the others can back up this conviction from history or from comparison today the way the Catholic Church can. The Eastern Orthodox Churches contribute nothing to the legitimate diversity of Christian expression that the Catholic Church does not also contribute within its Eastern Rites, Eastern Catholic Sister Churches which have a closer connection to the Early Church than the Eastern Orthodox Churches do because they are also Catholic like the First Millennium Eastern Orthodox Churches clearly were (see Volume III Chapter 5). And certainly Eastern Orthodox Christians do not deny (as it is impossible for them to honestly deny) that “the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils” which they claim to be was a Church in communion together with the Western, Roman Patriarchate and its Roman Patriarch (the pope) – so in comparison today it is easy to see that the Eastern Orthodox Churches are no longer a Universal Communion of Eastern and Western Sister Churches like the Early Church clearly was. In comparison, the Catholic Church still remains a Universal (Catholic) Communion of orthodox Eastern and Western Sister Churches like the Early Church, despite its current Roman Rite majority population (note the Catholic Church would not remain so numerically unbalanced on the Western side if the Eastern Orthodox Churches reunified, which would make the Catholic Church even more like the Early Church…). Meanwhile, Protestant Christianity cannot reasonably claim to be like the Undivided Early Church ideal when so many Protestant churches, including the largest streams of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” churches (even the Anglican/Episcopalian Church which is otherwise the most “Catholic” of Protestant churches), are “doctrinally liberal” and doubt or deny even the most basic fundamentals of the Early Church’s faith and morality! Many Protestant Christians are modern day Arian heretics, and this is their “connection” with early Christianity! The currently orthodox (or “Catholic at heart”) Protestant and Evangelical churches are hopelessly splintered into tens of thousands of separate church denominations and they also look nothing like the unity in diversity of the Undivided Early Church, while the Catholic Church still does. The Catholic Church of today, like the Undivided Early Church which called itself the Catholic Church, is still a Universal (Catholic) Communion of different but united Eastern and Western orthodox Sister Churches organized into Patriarchates headed by a patriarch (or equivalent overseer) and under the universal pastorship of the pope. Despite the Muslim conquests of the Catholic East and the subsequent over-Romanization of the past centuries which has made it harder to see, the Catholic Church today is still structured just like the Early Catholic Church of the Early Ecumenical Councils which historically established the fundamental, orthodox Christian faith conservative Protestants still hold (which is why they can be considered “Catholic at heart” already). It would be impossible to restore Christian unity in diversity as the Undivided Early Church had it without it looking very much like the ancient and ongoing Catholic Communion of Sister Churches, which is why the Catholic Church feels justified in holding that all those who truly belong to the people of God ( a group which includes Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christians!) “should” be incorporated into the one Body of Christ which is closely identified with the Catholic Church specifically. Once the Catholic Church’s true and constant (though for some time hard to see) nature as a Universal (Catholic) Communion of different orthodox particular Churches is understood, it becomes practically impossible to imagine some other platform for eventual Church reunification than the Catholic Church – and any other conceivable platform would not be the one which gave the Early Church its loving unity in diversity. This is why Reform of the Catholic Church according to the Undivided Early Catholic Church model, so that the non-Catholic Churches can feel comfortable rejoining the Catholic Church Communion they left, such as Vatican II calls the Catholic Church to work towards, is the only possible way to even conceive of eventual real, full, “complete unity” as Jesus prayed for “so that the world may believe.”
“During its pilgrimage on earth, this people, though still in its members liable to sin, is growing in Christ and is guided by God’s gentle wisdom, according to his hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Vatican II, UR 3, emphases added)
At the end of this section of the Decree on Ecumenism the Catholic Church here acknowledges the sinful human weaknesses of those Christians (Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox) “who belong in any way to the people of God.” Included here is the admission (which appears elsewhere in Vatican II) of sinful human weakness in the human members of the Catholic Church, weakness and sin in Catholics which has contributed to the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant divisions away from the one Undivided Early Universal (Catholic) Christian Church. The Catholic Church here (and elsewhere) formally acknowledges that sin on the part of those who remained within the Catholic Church, as well as sin on the part of those who left the Catholic Communion in history, was responsible for the current divisions in the one Body of Christ which for the majority of Christian history called itself simply the Catholic Church.
Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium, LG) also refers to the Catholic Church’s official position that the one true Church and Body of Jesus Christ founded by Christ and His Apostles is particularly identifiable with the Catholic Church throughout history to today, while still acknowledging the true participation of non-Catholic Christians within this one Body of Christ the Church:
“This [one, true] Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines. Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.” (Vatican II, LG 8, emphases added)
As above, this passage refers to how the “commonly held” elements of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical Christian faith, which indeed make all three major branches of Christianity fruitful unto salvation, properly “belong” to the Catholic Church which had them first, specifically developing the common fundamentals against heretical challenges within the Early Church using a very Catholic process of Catholic overseers (bishops/eparchs, patriarchs, and popes) citing and interpreting both the Bible (which they canonized) and Catholic Sacred Tradition at the Ecumenical Councils. The non-Catholic Christian Churches and communions which indeed are effective instruments for bringing God’s salvation into the world by their use of these elements of Catholic Christianity do not “own” them but have only “borrowed” them. But the fact they use these gifts belonging to the one (Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ is in itself a force which impels them towards Catholic unity, towards reunification with the Catholic Church from which they borrowed every essential thing they have. This is particularly easy to see in reference to the Protestant churches. The core “ecclesial (or church) elements” orthodox Protestant Christians have is fundamental Christian orthodoxy, that is, the fundamental interpretations of the Bible they borrowed completely from the Catholic Church they left, without having borrowed other Catholic Church elements necessary to sustain Protestantism in orthodoxy in the long term, hence the widespread Protestant doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy within Protestant Christianity today. The remaining vulnerability of Protestant churches to liberalism especially once fundamental orthodoxy is recognized as the historic Catholic interpretation of the Bible, truly impels towards Catholic unity among those Protestants who are serious about maintaining orthodoxy and resisting liberalism. Those conservative or Evangelical Lutheran and other Protestant churches, who are already unconsciously “Catholic at heart” and serious about maintaining traditional (Catholic!) Christian orthodoxy in the long term, once they realize that Luther’s “Bible Alone” doctrine (which rejected the authority of the Living Body of Christ the Church with its Councils and popes to canonize and interpret the Bible), is the very root of the widespread Protestant doctrinal liberalism they despise (for its unorthodoxy or uncertainty about orthodoxy and Bible Canon), they will be motivated, truly “impelled,” to seek reunion with the Catholic Church in order to best guarantee their own long-term maintenance of basic Christian orthodoxy (borrowed from the Catholic Church) which they know in their hearts is the saving Christian faith. Even if their anti-Catholic prejudice is too strong at first to make them immediately seek reunification with the Catholic Church, they will at least, at first, be impelled to study the Early Church or today’s Catholic and Orthodox Churches which do not have the problems with maintaining basic orthodoxy Protestantism does, in order to find out just what the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have that protects their basic orthodoxy in the long term, and in doing so they will gradually become much more like the Catholic Church, and thus all the closer to restoring Catholic unity, because of the many fundamental Catholic Church elements of “common Christian faith” they only borrowed which are so important to them and which they want to keep indefinitely. The Eastern Orthodox Churches, of course, unlike Protestants, borrowed so very much from the Catholic Communion they left, being nearly indistinguishable from Eastern Catholic Churches, that they do have a basic Christian orthodoxy which is not vulnerable to liberalism and unorthodoxy. But they still can only logically remain certain of it as long as they do not examine too closely the very papal history of the first seven Ecumenical Councils they accept as having authoritatively settled the early Christian disputes over Bible interpretation, and they still suffer significant disunity amongst themselves which the Catholic Sister Churches do not suffer. The very fact they have borrowed the first seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Early Catholic (Universal) Communion of Eastern and Western Sister Churches under the pope’s pastoral guidance also impels the Eastern Orthodox to Catholic unity, because without being in the Catholic Communion under the pope, if they read the documents of the Councils themselves and their eras closely they will be left very uncomfortable and very uncertain of why, as Christians who reject the pope’s authority, they have confidence in the first seven Ecumenical Councils at all. This is likely why Eastern Orthodox leaders like the last few Ecumenical Patriarchs of Constantinople (who hold the highest office with the widest recognition within Eastern Orthodoxy) have met and worked with the last few popes and signed joint declarations that they are looking towards full Church reunification, even though some Eastern Orthodox lay faithful sadly have quite blatant cultural prejudice against “dirty Romans.” Some ignorant Orthodox laity may indulge in bigoted hatred of Roman Christians who are different and still hold grudges for centuries old sins of Roman laity against the Eastern churches, but educated Orthodox leaders still read the ancient Eastern Christian documents and Ecumenical Council documents themselves, which contain much that proves the proper way to be Eastern Orthodox is to also be Catholic under the pope (though not to be Roman). Of course, some ignorant Roman Catholic laity also indulge in bigotry against non-Roman Christians, but their educated Roman Catholic leaders, in reading the ancient Christian documents, likewise cannot help but see that the Catholic Church never was and is not supposed to be only Roman, hence the reforms of Vatican II which officially correct overly-Roman conceptions of the Catholic Church. As I have indicated above, the real and only substantial reason for continued East-West schism is that before Vatican II most Roman Catholics were as ignorant about the truly Universal (Catholic in Greek) nature of the Catholic Church and as prejudiced against non-Roman forms of Christianity as most Eastern Orthodox Christians are against non-Eastern (and even non-Byzantine) forms of Christianity. Vatican II has corrected this in principle and it only remains for the great majority of Roman Rite Catholics to have Vatican II’s official and dogmatic understanding of the nature of the Catholic Church sink into their minds and hearts, a process that is underway but which will which take some time yet, so that when ready they can welcome the Eastern Orthodox back into the Catholic Communion without any hint of the Roman superiority which threatens the Eastern Orthodox into denying their own history as both Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
The simple historical facts are that the Undivided Early Church of the First Christian Millennium, which clarified and defined the Canon of the Bible and the fundamental interpretations of the Bible Christians know today as the fundamental tenets of traditional, orthodox, saving and supernaturally-empowering Christianity, called itself the Catholic Church, and it had the same essential structure of the Catholic Church of today, as a Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of different orthodox Christian Sister Churches, Eastern and Western, united in common faith expressed in common dogma (fundamental doctrine) but expressed according to a mutually enriching diversity of theological and practical and customary expressions of that common faith in theology and worship and devotional practices. I have demonstrated in Who is Mary in the Church? and in this current book The Papacy and Christian Unity in Diversity – The Pope Was the Historic Guarantor of Christian Unity and Orthodoxy in the First Christian Millennium of the Undivided Early Church, that this Undivided Early Church also had the distinct essential beliefs of the Catholic Church of today regarding Mary and the papacy. All of today’s Christian Churches which do not currently call themselves Catholic have a history of breaking away from the Catholic Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Sister Churches collectively known as the Catholic Church which recognizes the pope in Rome as its Head Pastor. The Protestant churches cannot and do not deny they originally left the Roman Catholic [Sister] Church specifically. The Eastern Orthodox Churches sometimes try to claim their history is as old as the Roman Catholic Church’s history but they can only claim this if they are inappropriately counting as their own the history of Eastern Orthodox Sister Churches which were part of the Catholic Communion of both Eastern and Western Sister Churches of the First Millennium Ecumenical Councils which, I have demonstrated in Volume III Chapter 5, clearly recognized the pope as their Head Pastor. Even though they are less numerous than today’s Eastern Orthodox Churches, only the Eastern Catholic Churches of today can properly claim that early Eastern history as their own Eastern and Catholic history, and those Eastern Catholic Churches which were temporarily out of the Catholic Communion only have to acknowledge that over 2000 years there were brief periods when their churches were outside the Catholic Communion, most notably when they were forced out by the Muslim conquerors of Byzantium, but they later returned.
So it is excessively clear from history that anything the Protestant or Eastern Orthodox Churches share in common with the Catholic Church, including the life-saving fundamentals of orthodox Christianity, was indeed Catholic first and only “borrowed” by those Protestant and Eastern churches which left the Catholic Church. Those many common elements of Christianity “belong” to the Catholic Church which originated them and only the Catholic Church (understood as the Living Body of Christ the Church) has a solid grounding to remain in them – it is logically inconsistent for Eastern Orthodox Christians to be so certain about traditional Christian orthodoxy if they do not believe in the papacy, and vast numbers of Protestant Christians have in fact already lost their fundamental orthodoxy or at least have become uncertain about it because as long as they believe in the Bible Alone they cannot logically be certain the traditional, orthodox Bible Canon and Bible interpretation of the early Catholic Councils and popes is correct.
Defining Terms to Avoid Needless Confusion and Offense Between Catholics and Protestants: Understanding the Formal Definitions the Catholic Church Uses for (Catholic and Orthodox) “Churches” and (Protestant) “Ecclesial Communities,” Which I Refer to in Writing as “Churches” and “churches” – the Term “Ecclesial (Or Church) Community” Recognizes the Genuine Saving Participation of Protestant Communities in the One Body of Christ the Church Even Though They Usually Are Not Constituted as Particular Churches the Way the Undivided Early Church’s Different “Sister Churches” Were
It is always important in Ecumenical dialogue for both sides to be clear about how the other side defines the terms they use, or needless confusion and offense can result. Catholics including Pope Benedict XVI freely acknowledge the fully valid status of the Eastern Orthodox Churches as particular Churches but sometimes make comments indicating they do not regard Protestant denominations or other organized groups of Protestants as “Churches” at all, and Protestants are inclined to be offended by this because they do not understand how the Catholic Church defines its terms. Protestant Christians should not take offense at Catholics calling many Protestant churches “not true churches” since when the Catholic Church says this it has a very specific definition of what constitutes a “particular” or “Sister” Church as in the Undivided Early Church’s communion of such Churches, and according to this Early Church definition very few Protestant Churches can be described as “Churches” in this formal and proper sense, particularly since they lack a hierarchy of ordained overseers in line of succession from the Apostles, and the centrality of Eucharistic worship for Holy Communion with Jesus (even though Protestants have generally better than Catholics preserved the Undivided Early Church’s love for Bible reading and some other characteristics of the Undivided Early Church with which they can truly enrich the today’s Catholic Communion).
However, it is because the Catholic Church genuinely respects the true Christianity of Protestant churches which truly participate in the saving mystery of Christ’s Body the Church on Earth, that even though most Protestant churches are not true particular “Churches” after the Early Church’s example, the Catholic Church has coined the term “ecclesial communities” to describe such Protestant church groups. This is the Catholic Church’s way of acknowledging the Protestant churches as genuinely participating in the saving mystery of Christ’s Church on Earth even though their organizational structure does not conform to what made groups of Christians into particular or “Sister” Churches in the Undivided Early Church’s Universal Communion of such particular Churches. As the descriptive adjective “ecclesial” comes from the Greek “ekklesia” which means church, this means that though they are not distinct and formal Churches in the full sense of the Churches that made up the Early Church’s Universal (Catholic) Christian Communion, the Protestant communities still bear important and saving elements of a full proper church and thus they are called ecclesial or church communities though not full proper particular Churches. In order to avoid the confusion and potential for offense that comes from not using the word “church” to refer to Protestant communities when this is the common usage, but to still maintain the significant and reasonable distinction the Catholic Church makes by distinguishing “Churches” from “ecclesial communities,” it is my own convention used throughout this book to refer to full proper Churches with the word “Church” capitalized, and to refer to Protestant ecclesial or church communities as “churches” using the lower case.
Protestant Christians Should Understand That the Catholic Church’s Affirmation of its Unique Identity with Christ’s One Church Which Other Churches Only Share in or Borrow from Protects the Fundamentals of Saving, Orthodox Christianity More than Anything in Protestantism Does or Can
The Catholic Church occasionally finds it prudent or necessary to clarify elements of its previous official teaching through newer official documents. The Catholic Church’s above Vatican Council II (1962-5) teaching on the nature of Christ’s one Church and just how the Catholic Church fully participates in and other Christian churches in less full ways participate in the Mystery of the Body of Christ the Church was quoted and clarified in the year 2000 Declaration “Dominus Iesus” on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church. Aided by the very incomplete reporting of the secular media, this document is frequently misunderstood by Protestants who, especially after having come closer to the Catholic Church in Ecumenical dialogue over recent years, are shocked and offended by the Catholic Church affirming it is to be uniquely identified with Christ’s one Church and even calling Protestant churches “not churches.”
In addition to understanding that it is no insult and they are only “not Churches in the proper sense” according to the technical distinction explained in the last section, Protestant Christians should understand that the Catholic Church’s affirmation of its unique identity with Christ’s true Church which other churches only share in or borrow from protects the fundamentals of saving, orthodox Christianity more than anything in Protestantism does or can. If the Catholic Church did not maintain its affirmation of its being uniquely identifiable with the Body of Christ the Church, the basic fundamentals of Christianity would be at risk of eventual loss. This is because the Protestant churches as a whole already have a shaky grip on the fundamentals, many Protestant denominations and congregations, particularly of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations, have already become fundamentally unorthodox or at least lost their certainty about Christian orthodoxy (including the large one I was raised in). Those “conservative” Protestant churches which for now affirm the fundamentals of the Early Christian Church are still also vulnerable to in the long-term becoming uncertain of them or denying them, since they still affirm the Protestant “Pillar Principle” that the Bible Alone is authoritative for determining a Christian’s faith, which means the classic creeds of conservative, orthodox Protestantism (borrowed from Catholicism), which are not directly from the Bible but which only proclaim a certain interpretation of the Bible, ultimately have no authority over Protestant Christians to bind Protestants to interpret the Bible in the traditional, orthodox, and Catholic way of the Early Church. Protestant Christianity, which is defined by “Bible Alone” doctrine as its foundational principle, “the Pillar of the Protestant Reformation,” just has no foundation upon which to guarantee the Protestant acceptance of the traditional fundamentals of orthodox Christianity in the long term. This means that if the Catholic Church did not declare that the true, mysterious Body of Christ the Church, mystically and inseparably joined to Christ as a Head to its Body, “subsists in” the Catholic Church, with its Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to interpret the Bible and its Catholic Magisterium of overseer/bishops, patriarchs and popes which in history authoritatively and for all time settled the early Christian controversies over Bible interpretation (and Canon) – then no Christian Church could be sure that centuries from now it would still hold the fundamentals of orthodox Christianity, as Protestants most certainly have no credible basis to be sure. Even the Eastern Orthodox Churches are only unshakeably orthodox as long as they continue to affirm the first seven Ecumenical Councils as authoritative expressions of the one true Body of Christ the Church infallibly interpreting the Bible – but their own rejection of the papal authority of the pope as Head Pastor of the Christian Church is in logical opposition to this affirmation. They cannot reasonably justify accepting the basic fundamental Christian orthodoxy established by the Councils and rejecting the popes who led or ratified the Councils or otherwise were an integral part of the leadership of these Councils. Thus the Catholic Church’s affirmations about itself are not self-aggrandizing nor “power-grabbing” but are in fact the best protection the supernaturally empowering, saving, orthodox Christian faith has in the long term from its current adherents eventually losing their certainty about it or rejecting it. Only the Catholic Church’s affirmations about itself as being essentially the Living Body of Christ Himself (a mystery which the non-Catholic churches participate in only if they are essentially Catholic at heart) can logically justify the long-term maintenance of Christian orthodoxy.
The Solidly Biblically Grounded Teaching of the Catholic Church about Christ’s Church in the Year 2000 Declaration “Dominus Iesus” [Latin for “Lord Jesus”]on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church
I present below three sections or articles of the Declaration “Dominus Iesus” [Latin for “Lord Jesus”]on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, the importance of which I discussed in the last section, for the reader’s reflection [I occasionally gloss in square brackets, and the emphases are mine]. Protestant readers may be surprised how much Scripture is quoted in this official document about the Catholic Church’s self-understanding – Scriptures that Protestant churches make comparatively little use of, because the “Pillar Principle” of the Protestant Reformation, “the authority of the Bible Alone,” is in opposition to giving any real or practical authority to the Church. I remind Protestant readers that “the Bible Alone” in fact declares clearly that the Church being the very Bride and Body of Jesus Christ Himself is “a profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:22-32), and thus any view of the Church which holds the Church to be anything less than “a profound mystery” tied up intimately with Jesus Christ Himself, any view of the Church which holds the Church to be less than “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) because of this “profound mystery,” is not a view that any Christians who calls themselves “Bible Christians” (as Protestants often do) should be holding. I would say that “The Bible Alone” testifies very clearly to the truths articulated in the Catholic Church’s official self-understanding. For much greater detail on this topic see my book 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. Also see Chapter 2 of my attached Volume II: Who is Mary in the Church?, which is entitled “The Mystical Body of Christ – The Extension of the Incarnation in Us, the Church,” which delves into this great mystery.
DOMINUS IESUS IV. UNICITY AND UNITY OF THE CHURCH
Dominus Iesus Article 16: The Lord Jesus, the only Saviour, did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him (cf. Jn 15:1ff.; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:15-16; Acts 9:5). Therefore, the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery belongs also to the Church, inseparably united to her Lord. Indeed, Jesus Christ continues his presence and his work of salvation in the Church and by means of the Church (cf. Col 1:24-27), which is his body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13, 27; Col 1:18). And thus, just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute a single “whole Christ” [Saint Augustine]. This same inseparability is also expressed in the New Testament by the analogy of the Church as the Bride of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-29; Rev 21:2, 9).
The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity – rooted in the apostolic succession – between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church: “This is the single Church of Christ. . . which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (cf. Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other Apostles to extend and rule her (cf. Mt 28:18ff.), erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [the official Latin text reads subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him”. With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”, that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church [but once were in communion with the Catholic Church they left]. But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.
Dominus Iesus Article 17: Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches [the Eastern Orthodox Churches are in this category]. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church [as even Saint Clement of Rome did while some of the Apostles were still alive].
On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church [most Protestant/Evangelical churches are in this category]. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church [the current reality of their genuine though imperfect communion with the One Catholic (Universal) Church of Jesus Christ already impels them towards future reunification with the Catholic Church they left].
“The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection – divided, yet in some way one – of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”. In fact, “the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities“. “Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been 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 which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.
The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the Church; not in the sense that she is deprived of her unity, but “in that it hinders the complete fulfilment of her universality in history.”
To further gloss this section: The One Church founded by Jesus Christ, which since the generation after the Apostles called itself the Catholic Church, has always existed and stills exists today in its fullness, possessing all the gifts Jesus left for His Bride and Body the Church, in the Catholic Church of today, which is still a Universal or Catholic communion of orthodox Eastern and Western Sister Churches fully unified around the Successor of Peter (the pope). But the fact there are many smaller groups of orthodox Christians (Eastern Orthodox and Protestant) which are in only “imperfect” communion with this One Church “hinders the complete fulfilment of her universality in history.” As long as there are basically orthodox but non-Catholic Christian churches, the ideal universality of the One Christian Church is wounded. However, the Early Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ and His Apostles still exists in unity from East to West in different but united Sister Churches, as in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church; but it now also has many branches still attached to it but only partially, drawing life-saving fundamental doctrines and supernatural saving power from it without being in full communion with it and without possessing the fullness of the gifts which Jesus left for His Church.
The Church and the Kingdom: The Earthly and the Heavenly Perspective on the One Mysterious Reality of the Body of Christ
Regarding the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God (the Church being in a sense the “beach-head” of the Kingdom of God on Earth, for on Earth only in the Church does Jesus reign already as King), Dominus Iesus also clarifies,
Dominus Iesus Article 18: The mission of the Church is “to proclaim and establish among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is on earth, the seed and the beginning of that kingdom“. On the one hand, the Church is “a sacrament – that is, sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of unity of the entire human race”. She is therefore the sign and instrument of the kingdom; she is called to announce and to establish the kingdom. On the other hand, the Church is the “people gathered by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”; she is therefore “the kingdom of Christ already present in mystery” and constitutes its seed and beginning. The kingdom of God, in fact, has an eschatological dimension: it is a reality present in time, but its full realization will arrive only with the completion or fulfilment of history.
The meaning of the expressions kingdom of heaven, kingdom of God, and kingdom of Christ in Sacred Scripture and the Fathers of the Church, as well as in the documents of the Magisterium, is not always exactly the same, nor is their relationship to the Church, which is a mystery that cannot be totally contained by a human concept. Therefore, there can be various theological explanations of these terms. However, none of these possible explanations can deny or empty in any way the intimate connection between Christ, the kingdom, and the Church. In fact, the kingdom of God which we know from revelation, “cannot be detached either from Christ or from the Church. . . If the kingdom is separated from Jesus, it is no longer the kingdom of God which he revealed … Likewise, one may not separate the kingdom from the Church. It is true that the Church is not an end unto herself, since she is ordered toward the kingdom of God, of which she is the seed, sign and instrument. Yet, while remaining distinct from Christ and the kingdom, the Church is indissolubly united to both”.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (who was considered a front-runner to become pope in the 2005 conclave which elected Pope Benedict XVI) has a very helpful way of looking at the Church and the Kingdom as two different perspectives on the same mysterious reality of the Body of Christ. Two things about the Kingdom are obvious from the Scriptures: that there is a sense where it is already here, and there is a sense where it is still to come in fullness. The Church is the only place where Jesus reigns as King that is indeed already here, while we still await the coming of the Kingdom in fullness. Certainly whenever Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox Christians speak of “building up the Kingdom of God” they are always referring to ministries of some individual member or some portion of the Church on Earth, the Body of Christ on Earth today. It is helpful to consider that the Church is what the Kingdom looks like from an earthly perspective, and the Kingdom is what the Church looks like from a heavenly perspective. But both perspectives are looking upon the same mysterious reality revealed in the Bible of the Body of Christ.
Because of the earthly, present reality of the kingdom here already in the Church, Jesus repeatedly preached that the Kingdom of heaven was near, not far away. (Matthew 3:2 and many other passages). Jesus used the terms “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God” interchangeably (even in one passage, as in Matthew 19:23,24), and He said of it “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” (Mark 9:1; see also Luke 9:27). Jesus further declared the present reality of the Kingdom by saying, “The kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28) and when asked when the kingdom would come in the future Jesus responded in the present, “the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). People were already living in the Kingdom and so Jesus said “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12). Thus it is not surprising that in Romans 14:17 and 1 Corinthians 4:20 the Apostle Paul uses the term “kingdom of God” in contexts where he is clearly talking about the current Church of his day. We Christians are already living in that portion of the Kingdom of Heaven which has established itself on Earth, called the Church, and so Paul speaks in the past tense to say “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”(Colossians 1:13). The Apostle John in his Revelation confirms the essential equivalence of the Church and the Kingdom when he writes to the seven Churches in Asia Minor that Jesus “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (Revelation 1:6). John even identifies himself to his brothers in Christ’s Church as “I, John, your brother and companion in the…kingdom … that [is] ours in Jesus.”
However, there is also a definitely future sense the Scriptures use when speaking of the Kingdom, a Kingdom come in fullness, not only a beach-head of the Kingdom “among us” now while the world still suffers under the burden of sin and evil. Thus many verses speak of the future reality of “inheriting the kingdom of God,” or of other future Christian possessions of the kingdom such as 2 Timothy 4:18, 1 Thessalonians 2:12, and 2 Peter 1:11. In this future sense Jesus even taught a parable to dissuade “the people [who] thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once” (Luke 19:11) and He confirmed the ultimately heavenly reality of the Kingdom come in fullness by saying “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
What this comes down to is that the Body of Christ the Church is the Kingdom present in mystery. Although the Church on Earth is not the fullness of the heavenly Kingdom, it cannot be separated from the heavenly Kingdom. The members of Christ’s Body the Church in Heaven and on Earth are One Body united to Christ the Head. The Church cannot be distinguished from the realm where the King rules – for where does Christ reign on Earth, if not in the Church? The Church and the Kingdom are simply the same reality viewed from different perspectives. Thus the Apostle says of Christians that “our citizenship is in Heaven.” We already belong to the heavenly Kingdom that has its beach-head or consulate here on Earth in the Church, so the kingdom is indeed already “among us” as Jesus said (Luke 17:21).
Those (Western) Protestant “Eccesial Communities” or “churches” Which Are Most Consciously and Directly Led by the Holy Spirit (Or “Charismatic”) Are Being Led by the Holy Spirit to Restructure Themselves into a Form Which Will Eventually Put Them on More Equal Footing with the Full Proper Eastern and Western “Churches” or “Sister Churches” Which Continue Today from the First Millennium’s Universal Christian Church – Which Means the Holy Spirit Is Preparing Them for Eventual Reunification as Proper “Sister Churches” Within a Restored Universal (Catholic) Communion of Sister Churches
Most of the Protestant churches or “ecclesial communities” being not a “real Church” in the full and proper sense (of the Undivided Early Church’s particular or ‘Sister’ Churches) means they are not on equal footing with the various Eastern Orthodox particular or “Sister” Churches, the (Protestant) Anglican Church with its effective patriarch, the Archbishop of Canterbury,4 and the various particular Eastern and Western Catholic Sister Churches. Yet it is worth noting that the Holy Spirit is preparing the Protestant churches or “ecclesial communities” for eventual reunification with the formal proper Churches.
In this first draft and first Internet Edition I insert below two excerpts from my book Understanding the Nature of Christian Unity in Diversity in the First Christian Millennium of the Undivided Early Church, As a Guide Towards Renewing Christian Unity in Diversity – and Therefore Increasing Christian Witness and Missionary Effectiveness – in the Third Christian Millennium, excerpts which deal with what I wish to discuss in this section – how Charismatic and other Holy Spirit-focused Protestant churches, which are among the most vibrant and growing Protestant church communities today, are actually becoming more Catholic by the Holy Spirit’s leading, the Holy Spirit is restoring to these Protestants who are particularly open to Him elements of Early, Catholic Christianity which were rejected by the Protestant Reformation. Most notable among these elements are the belief in the mysterious Real Presence of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion (even if they do not [yet] regard the mystery in terms of the particular advanced theology of transubstantiation), and in the real spiritual authority of Church leaders over their flock (not strictly of “the Bible Alone” although so far they usually still pay lip service to this doctrine). In many cases the genuine spiritual authority given by God to their leaders to lead them is even being seen by these Protestants in Apostolic terms, as the Catholic Church regards the authority of Church leaders in terms of Apostolic Succession. Whereas classic Protestantism maintains there is no Apostolic authority continuing after “the Bible Alone” was finished by the Apostles and the Canon of Scripture was closed, such Holy Spirit-led Protestants speak of “the Gift of Apostleship,” or the “Five-fold Ministry of the Church” including Apostles (Ephesians 4:11-13) – and they even have often organized themselves into City-wide Protestant church councils of at least like-minded Protestant church leaders. Such Protestants are being shaped to be more like a Catholic diocese or eparchy [church jurisdiction based around a city] with leaders who have Apostolic authority. As this trend continues it will put such Protestant “ecclesial communities” on more equal footing with proper Catholic and Orthodox Churches constituted according to the Undivided Early (Catholic) Church’s individual Sister Churches, which will aid Protestant/Catholic dialogue, and in a reunion situation such Protestant leaders who are certain the Holy Spirit gave them “the gift of Apostleship” (as indeed Paul himself had it after the resurrection of Jesus) could be formally ordained overseer/bishops over their reunified Rites of the Church within the Catholic Church’s constantly maintained Apostolic Succession since Apostolic times.
All this may seem strange to some, but Vatican II and other official Catholic Church documents regarding Church Unity mention the necessity of Catholics and other Christians being open to the Holy Spirit of Unity doing whatever He wills to aid Church reunification, since although to human minds the Church of Christ may seem hopelessly divided, the Divine Holy Spirit who indwells us all is capable of truly uniting us, since after all “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). In the words of Vatican Council II,
“This sacred Council firmly hopes that the [Ecumenical] initiatives of the sons of the Catholic Church, joined with those of the separated brethren, will go forward, without obstructing the ways of divine Providence, and without prejudging the future inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Further, this Council declares that it realizes that this holy objective—the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ— transcends human powers and gifts. It therefore places its hope entirely in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. “And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). ” (Vatican Council II, Decree on Ecumenism, UR 24)
I mention all this so that Catholic and non-Catholic Christians may be aware of some of the things the Holy Spirit is already doing which I believe will lead in the long-term to true and full reunification of at least the fundamentally orthodox non-Catholic Christian churches with the one Catholic Church as in the First Millennium of Christian Unity, and perhaps move the more liberal and less orthodox Protestant churches to a jealousy which motivates them to seek both orthodoxy and Christian reunion.
Note that there are major movements in (Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic) Protestant Christianity today to restore the Biblical Apostolic office or “five-fold church ministry” including Apostles (Ephesians 4:11-13) – but this office was only ever lost in Protestantism, since the Early Christian Church continued it in the Apostolic Succession of overseer/bishop/eparchs ordained in line from the Apostles , and particularly in the Patriarchs and the Pope (who are overseer/bishops who exercise far more than local church authority) – and they used this Apostolic authority precisely to defend the Apostolic Christian faith in new eras with new questions of the Bible text and define Apostolic faith in clear expressions of the Apostolic way to interpret the Bible which we now know as the fundamental doctrines of Christian orthodoxy.
Differences Between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians Today Are Not near as Big as They Were at the Time of the Protestant Reformation, Because Both Sides Have since Been Moving Towards Appreciating the Insights of the Other (Being Enriched by Each Other, as the Different but United Sister Churches of the Early Undivided Church)
[…Because theologies and doctrines based on them change with time and further Christian reflection, and because only dogmas/fundamental doctrines are binding on a Christian’s faith whatever their theological opinions on some topic] it is silly for Protestant Christians to say “Catholics are not my Christian brothers” on the basis of past (or even current) doctrines and theologies they disagree with which were or are held by Catholics, which were never and are not binding on the faith of all Catholics, may be believed by only a few Catholics today, and may even have been more or less formally repudiated by the Catholic Church since the time of their past relative popularity. It is likewise silly for Catholic Christians to say “Protestants are not my Christian brothers” on the basis of Protestant Reformation theologies and doctrines, which a great many Protestant Christians have explicitly/consciously or implicitly/unconsciously rejected, often (usually without realizing it) leaning back towards the ancient Catholic position! In the charismatic movement in particular, the Holy Spirit has been restoring to Evangelical and other Protestant communities ancient Christian perspectives, approaches, doctrines or offices (usually worded and practically expressed differently than in the Early Sister Churches and in the Catholic Sister Churches today) which are retained in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (sometimes in a more developed form), but which were rejected entirely in the Protestant Reformation on the basis of certain popular misconceptions of Roman Catholic doctrine or abuses of it. As Saint Augustine said in the 4th and 5th Centuries, “the abuse does not take away the [proper] use.” The 16th Century Protestant Reformation simply rejected wholesale many Catholic or Roman Catholic doctrines, practices and offices which had been popularly misunderstood or abused at the time, even if they were part of the ancient Christian faith, considered an integral part of the “one faith” by the early Christians who protected the orthodox fundamentals Protestants still accept from all the many early heretics! The Catholic Reformation to correct these 16th Century abuses and restore the proper use began before the Protestant Reformation (its success in Spain under the saintly Cardinal Ximenes resulted in the Protestant Reformation not taking root in Spain – there were no clerical abuses to protest against!), and many of the issues of needed reform were addressed in the 18th Ecumenical Council (Lateran V) from 1512-1517 (before Luther posted his 95 Theses, almost all of which Catholic authorities agreed with as problems needing to be corrected, which were corrected by the time of the 19th Ecumenical Council at Trent later in the century). So the Roman Catholic Church was eventually able to correct abuses and restore the proper use of ancient Christian beliefs,5 and many branches of the Protestant churches, which at the time simply abandoned ancient Christian beliefs and practices on the basis of abuses, are now, centuries later, especially with the charismatic aid of the Holy Spirit, gradually rediscovering the proper use of these ancient Christian truths, including the mysterious Real Presence of Jesus in (Holy) Communion (which after all, means Communion with Jesus, not just a simple “remembering Jesus”) and the legitimate spiritual authority of Church leaders as functions of the Church as the Living Body of Christ, even the continuance of Apostolic authority in the Church (hence the Evangelical and charismatic Protestant movements towards a Biblical “five-fold Church ministry” including Apostles and the “New Apostolic Reformation”6). So in many ways, the differences between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians today are not even near as big as they were at the time of the Protestant Reformation, because both sides have since been moving towards appreciating the insights of the other (being enriched by each other, as the different but united Sister Churches of the Early Undivided Church!). Many Protestant Christians are coming to recognize and appreciate Mary as the first believer in and disciple of Jesus, the insight which, together with the common fundamental Christian belief in the Incarnation of God the Son through Mary’s Virgin Birth, is the foundation of all Catholic Marian doctrine. Conservative and Evangelical Protestant scholars are slowly realizing more and more the necessity of in some way (they have not yet worked out how) recognizing the importance of Tradition (the Living faith as passed on [Latin tradere] in the Living Church) as the tie-breaker between opposing fundamental interpretations of Scripture, as the way to justify the Traditional fundamental orthodox interpretation of the Bible, which Liberal Protestant scholars doubt or reject as binding on Christian faith (even to the point of embracing ancient heretical interpretations of the Bible) precisely because the Protestant Reformation said that Tradition had no binding authority (Liberalism is originally and still primarily a Protestant problem because of this). Catholic scholars meantime have come to appreciate the centrality of the Biblical Revelation which is only served by Tradition and the Apostolic magisterial (teaching) offices of the Church. Many important Catholic theologians – including Cardinals and Pope Benedict XVI – would affirm Prima Scriptura (Scripture First or Primarily), and the “practical sufficiency of Scripture” (which points beyond itself to an authoritative Tradition and an authoritative, teaching Church7) though not Protestant Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) understood as the “formal sufficiency of Scripture Alone” which is the source of Protestant Liberalism.8 Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) has said that Catholic dogma is nothing more than the Church’s interpretation of Scripture, and many papal encyclical letters of the past 100 years have encouraged an increasing Catholic focus on the Bible. In fact the Catholic Church has allowed itself in many ways to be enriched by Protestant Christian insight and experience, and a great many hymns and praise and worship songs written by Protestants have become common in Catholic worship (such borrowing good things among the different Rites of the Early Church was also common). My copy of the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, an ancient formal prayer practice rooted in the first Jewish Christians’ participation in formal morning and evening Temple worship, even has Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” The “Saint Joseph’s Covenant Keepers” men’s movement is an example of Catholic Christians borrowing a good idea from Evangelical Christians who first started the “Promise Keepers” men’s movement. So Protestant and Catholic Christian Churches have been moving closer towards each other for a long time, there are more and more “Ecumenical movements” in which Protestant and Catholic Christians meet, worship, and do works of love for Jesus together, and, despite the continued formal separation, Protestant churches and the Catholic Church have been in some ways acting like ancient Catholic Sister Churches already, enriching themselves with each other’s insights into their common faith and borrowing some of each other’s practical faith expressions.
[end of excerpts]
All Christians, Whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, Have Been Wrong in Ways That Contributed to or Still Contribute to the Current Scandalous Division Within the One Body of Christ the Church, and All Christians, Whether Catholic, Orthodox, or (Conservative) Protestant, Have Been Right about the Saving Basic Essentials of Christianity on Which We Are Already Agreed and Which Make All of Us Genuinely Members of the Body of Christ the Church and Instruments of God’s Salvation in the World
In this book I have shared, in a spirit of loving Ecumenical dialogue which hopes that this book will stimulate further loving Ecumenical discussion, the Catholic perspective on Christian unity and how the papacy relates to it. I realize that many of the claims of the Catholic Church for its uniqueness tend to provoke knee-jerk reactions in non-Catholic Christians and I have attempted to circumvent this reaction by stressing our vast common faith and the genuine and official Catholic respect for other Christian churches as genuine instruments of God’s salvation in the world (even if we remain divided). I have done all this in the genuine interest of helping all Christians to think about unity like the Early Church, whether they now be Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant (in which category I include “Messianic Jews” who combine the Protestant Christian and Jewish traditions). This book has never been about saying “the Catholic Church is right and all other churches are wrong.” Rather, this book is about how all Christians, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, have been wrong in ways that contributed to or still contribute to the current scandalous division within the one Body of Christ the Church, and all Christians, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or (conservative) Protestant, have been right about the saving basic essentials of Christianity on which we are already agreed and which make all of us genuinely members of the Body of Christ the Church and instruments of God’s salvation in the world.
Nevertheless, in the Spirit of Ecumenical Dialogue Catholics Posit That the Catholic Church “Owns” and Can Explain and Justify its Belief in the Traditional Fundamentals of Orthodox Christianity, in Terms of the Uniquely Catholic “Secondary Doctrines”; and That in Contrast the Eastern Orthodox and Conservative Protestant Churches Only “Borrow” the Life-Saving Fundamentals of Christian Faith from the Catholic Church They Left and They Cannot Justify Why They Believe the Bible must Be Interpreted in the Traditionally Orthodox Way of Those Early Catholic Church Councils Led or Ratified by Early Catholic Popes, in Terms of Their Contradictory Commitment to Reject the Papal Primacy or in Terms of Their Contradictory Commitment to Recognize the Authority of the Bible “Alone”
As indicated since the beginning, my priority is to simply help currently divided Christians gradually master loving each other on the basis of our great common faith, to counteract the massive damage to the general Christian witness which is done by our remaining divided in unloving manner. Yet I must also say, speaking as a former (Western) Protestant Evangelical Christian and a current Eastern Christian (but one in communion with the Catholic Church instead of being part of the Eastern Orthodox schism), that I really believe the case for the Catholic Church’s claims is very powerful, and moreover, holds the key to the true and full and “complete” (John 17:23) Christian unity all Christians know Jesus desired for His Church. Majority Roman Catholic Christians themselves had lost clear sight of the Catholic Church’s truly Catholic (Universal) reality for centuries, and had become overly Roman in ways that hid the Catholic Church’s continuing proper catholicity (universality), and I believe the Catholic Church’s recent official rediscovery and dogmatic clarification of its true nature in Vatican II, the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Church, has laid the groundwork for the Catholic Church to consciously recapture its First Millennium Unity in Diversity from East to West in a way that clearly shows the whole world what Christian Unity is supposed to look like. Not a uniformity in theological faith expressions and practices (not even that of the large Roman Rite of the Catholic Church spread over the world) but a mutually enriching diversity of Christian faith expressions, devotions, customs, and practices all centered around common faith expressed in common dogma (fundamental doctrine), all within a loving communion of different orthodox Sister Churches united under the Successor of Peter who since the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church has been recognized by East and West as the Head Pastor of the Church.
Christian Unity Is Catholic Unity: Those Non-Catholic Christian Churches Which Retain the Basic Fundamentals of Orthodox Christianity Only Do So by Being What I Call “Catholic at Heart,” Unconsciously Acting as If the First Millennium Popes Genuinely Had Papal Authority as the Catholic Church Understands it – and the Catholic Church in Vatican II Officially Recognizes this Catholic Connection Which Makes Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christians True Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Though Separated
Thus, in repetition of themes stated above which, challenging as they are for non-Catholic Christians, I believe are important Catholic contributions to the Ecumenical discussion, I share again the Catholic perspective that everything that the separated, non-Catholic Churches and churches (ecclesial communities) have which makes them powerful, effective, a source of salvation, and genuinely part of the Body of Christ which is still used and empowered by the Holy Spirit – is what they took with them from the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches, the One Catholic Church, at the times in history that they broke away from that Catholic Communion (any particular useful practice they invented is still based on what they took)! So everything they have which makes them truly Christian, recognized by the Catholic Church as brothers, genuinely part of the Body of Christ, used of God for the salvation of souls, is the very large parts of their religious belief and practice which are Catholic. They are orthodox Christians at all only because they are so Catholic, because they are Catholic at heart, the core of their faith is still the faith of the Catholic Church which they broke formal ties with but remained in communion with at heart (this is the “imperfect communion” with the Catholic Church which the Catholic Church’s official documents speak of). Everything they have that is good and useful for salvation belongs by right to the Unified Catholic Church of East and West from which they got it. All of it is ultimately from the Catholic Church. The Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Protestant) non-Catholic Christians have no efficacy for God at all except through their close connection in faith with the Unified Catholic Church of East and West they left, having retained the Catholic Church’s fundamental faith on most points.
Where the fundamental Catholic interpretations of the Catholic New Testament are rejected, as in Protestant Liberalism, Protestants cease to be truly Christian at all. Certainly they cease to be in any way orthodox or traditional Christians, even though they remain truly Protestant “Bible Alone” Christians, who interpret the Bible differently than did the ancient Undivided Catholic Church. The test of a Protestant Church’s genuine and orthodox Christianity is the test of their conformity to the early declarations of the early Catholic Magisterium in the early Ecumenical Councils and some undisputed local Councils regarding the proper canon and interpretation of the Bible! If you are a traditional, conservative, orthodox Protestant, it means you believe in the Catholic Church’s New Testament and the Catholic Church’s official interpretation of the Bible with respect to the traditional fundamental doctrines of orthodox Christianity. Liberal Protestant Christians may or may not believe in the same New Testament nor the same Christian essential fundamentals even if they believe firmly in the inspiration of the entire “Bible Alone.”9 This is why I say conservative and Evangelical Protestant Christians are already “Catholic at heart.”
The “distinctive” practices of the Eastern Orthodox which are useful for salvation are already part of the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches through the Eastern Churches which never left or which returned to Catholic Communion (they are “distinctive” at all only in comparison with the Roman Rite – in the Catholic Church as a whole the Eastern Orthodox are not distinctive at all, but part of Catholic Church and its universal [not just Roman] practice). The distinctiveness of the Protestant Churches which is good and useful for salvation are only those practices and devotions which are based in the Scriptures and beliefs (for example, fundamental Christian orthodoxy!) of the Catholic Church which Protestants retain from their Roman Rite Catholic parents (their Roman “Mother Rite” whom they are no longer on good speaking terms with). While Protestants indeed have good things which they did not get directly from their mother Rite, the Roman Catholic Church, but developed on their own, they have no good things which are not based in their conformity to the Scriptures and the fundamental faith norms of their Mother Rite, the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants are truly and genuinely and effectively Christian only so far as they are already truly and genuinely Catholic, by their adherence to the faith of the early Catholic Church in the Ecumenical Councils of Catholic bishops/eparchs and patriarchs in union with the pope!
All conservative or orthodox Protestants (including Evangelicals) are very much Catholic at heart already by this means (I speak from personal Protestant experience on this point). All liberal or unorthodox Protestants are precisely those who do not take the early declarations of the Early Catholic Magisterium as to what is orthodoxy and what is heresy seriously, but are at least open to the possibility of the truth of what the early Catholic Magisterium defined as heresy. The Catholic Church properly owns the goods which make separated, non-Catholic churches truly Christian and a source of salvation for their members, and only the Catholic Church can fully explain and justify their adherence to these traditional treasures of life-saving Truth. The Eastern Orthodox cannot justify why they are still out of communion with the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches East and West, since the Undivided Early Church was clearly and obviously Eastern and Western like the Catholic Church is and they are not; more importantly they cannot justify why the Eastern bishops submitted to Pope Leo’s directions to the 4th Ecumenical Council and why many of the Councils they say they accept (or the Council secretaries, as Saint Nicephorus of the 7th Ecumenical Council) acknowledged the primal Papal authority explicitly. Conservative and Evangelical Protestants cannot explain and justify where their certainty about the fundamentals comes from, in the face of the overwhelming historical evidence that the fundamentals are the product of the Catholic Church with its councils and popes whose authority as Protestants they deny. They cannot win arguments with their fellow Protestants who are liberal, since their common Protestant (but not Christian) belief in “the Bible Alone” logically can only produce a stalemate regarding which Bible interpretation they should believe (remember that the first “Bible-only” Christians were the 4th Century Arian heretics who rejected the 1st Ecumenical Council’s definition of the Divinity of Jesus in favor of their own very thorough and sophisticated interpretation of the Bible alone). Conservative Protestants can only win arguments with liberal Protestants if they do not rely on “the Bible Alone” but (unknowingly) appeal to Catholic Sacred Tradition by saying things like “the Church has always interpreted its own Scriptures this way,” or by otherwise impressing liberals with elements of love and truth which the Catholic Church had first and they only borrowed. Remember that however solidly traditionally orthodox any Protestant church seems today, its orthodoxy is ultimately unstable as long as they still hold to the “Pillar of the Protestant Reformation” that “the Bible Alone is authoritative” – which prevents any binding authority from being given to their formal, orthodox creed or “statement of faith” which is not the Bible but only interprets it. All of the currently liberal Protestant churches used to be orthodox Protestant churches too (such as the one I was raised in), but they did not remain orthodox in the long term, and no currently orthodox Protestant church can justifiably feel confident they will still be orthodox a century from now as long as they remain Protestant. The essential “Protestant Pillar” which caused the formerly but no longer orthodox Protestant churches to gradually lose their grip on fundamental Christian faith will still make them vulnerable to doctrinal liberalism as well (however, the more Catholic they become, the more likely they are to remain orthodox! The many ways in which conservative/ Evangelical/ Pentecostal Protestants are already unconsciously leaning back towards Catholic positions and against Protestant Reformation positions will protect their basic orthodoxy if they retain this trend and do not go back to a stricter practice of “Bible Alone” doctrine).
I posit (as a topic of Ecumenical Discussion to be carried out lovingly and without accusations in either direction) that only the Catholic Church can say, with full certainty, explanation, and justification that the traditional New Testament Canon is absolutely correct, and the fundamental interpretations of the Bible in traditional Christian orthodoxy are absolutely correct, because the Catholic Church, with its Catholic Sacred Tradition and Catholic Magisterium of overseers (bishops and patriarchs) in Apostolic Succession in union with the pope as chief overseer, successor of Peter the Chief Apostle, which in history made the official and binding declarations on the Canon and fundamental orthodoxy, IS the Living Body of Christ Himself, mysteriously united to Christ as a Body to its Head, animated and kept from error by the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised would lead the Apostles (and their successors) into all the truth (John 16:13) such that this Catholic Church throughout history is indeed “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), in the “profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:32) of the Body of Christ, despite the to-be-expected human failings of Catholic Christians in history which liberal Protestants use to justify their rejection of both the Catholic Church and its traditional Christian orthodoxy .
Thus it is that as Article 3 of the Decree on Ecumenism says, all who belong in any way to the people of God should be in the Catholic Church’s communion! Only in this is even the certainty of remaining true to Christian fundamentals in the long term!
[the following is an excerpt from the end part of 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, which draws out the ecumenical implications of Family Theology which shows how since Adam and Noah and Babel (the source of today’s different human cultures) God intended the Christian Church to be a Family Communion of different culturally-based “Sister Churches” united in a loving Universal (Catholic) Christian Communion, as the Undivided Early Catholic Church was (thus getting back to the Undivided Early Catholic/Universal Church is the ideal for Christian reunification). This particular excerpt from that end part covers many of the same ideas presented in the previous section, but is worded in not quite as challenging ways for my non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters, and it also discusses today’s Catholic Church’s responsibility to reform itself more and more according to its own Vatican Council II in order to best accommodate Christian reunion according to the ideal of the Undivided Early Catholic Church. I add it here in this first draft of Volume III as either an alternate for or addendum to the previous section].
“Catholic at Heart” – What Fundamentally Orthodox Protestant/Evangelical/Pentecostal Christians and Eastern Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians (of the Eastern and Western Rites) Are Already United in Is Precisely the Catholic Faith of the Undivided Early Catholic Church
According to the standards of the Early Church (which called itself the Catholic Church, because it was the Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches, Eastern and Western), “doctrinally conservative,” traditionally orthodox Protestant/Evangelical Christians are “Catholic at heart” while “doctrinally liberal” Protestant Christians who question, doubt, or deny the traditional Christian fundamentals and the traditional Bible Canon itself are “Protestant at heart.” This is because the vast common Christian faith which fundamentally orthodox Protestant/ Evangelical/ Pentecostal Christians (and Eastern Orthodox Christians) and Catholic Christians (of the Eastern and Western Rites) are already united in is precisely the Catholic faith, with its traditional New Testament and its traditional essential “fundamental” Christian doctrines as articulated by the Early Church Councils of Catholic overseers (Eastern and Western bishops/eparchs, patriarchs and popes) in official settlement of the many early Christian CONTROVERSIES over these issues (Catholic Tradition and Magisterium understood as functions of the mystery revealed in the Bible (Ephesians 5:32 etc.) that the Church is the “Body of Christ” and the thus the “pillar and foundation of the truth” – 1Timothy 3:15). For Protestant Christians to attack or criticize the Catholic Church out of desire to remain in protest against it is to attack the historical and the only solid foundation for the New Testament Canon and the traditional fundamentals of orthodox Christianity.
All non-Catholic Christians who believe in the traditional fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity believe in the Bible (including the Catholic Church’s New Testament fixed in a very Catholic process from 367-405 AD) as interpreted by Catholic Sacred Tradition as clarified by the Catholic Magisterium (teaching office) of overseers (bishops/eparchs, patriarchs and popes) at the Undivided Early Catholic Church’s Ecumenical and other major Councils . God has revealed Himself not only through the written Word of the Bible, but through the Living Word, Jesus Christ Himself, and the Bible calls the Church on Earth the Body of Christ. Jesus the Head of the Body spoke through His Body, the Undivided Early Catholic Church (with its Sacred Tradition and Magisterium of overseers [bishops/eparchs, patriarchs and popes] guided “into all truth” by the Holy Spirit as per Jesus’s John 16:13 promise), when this Catholic Church collected and officially defined the New Testament Canon and clearly articulated and developed the only proper fundamental interpretations of the Bible which all orthodox (non-heretical) Christians accept, and which make them all Catholic at heart. All traditional, fundamentally orthodox Christians act just like Catholics where it matters most!
To expand this point in a few paragraphs borrowed from A Proposal for the Reunification of Today’s Divided Christians According to the Model of the Undivided Early (Catholic) Church’s Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches, for the Great Benefit of Both Today’s Catholic and Non-Catholic Churches and Towards the Belief of the World Which Jesus’ Prayer Linked to Our Christian Unity:
The Church is the “profound mystery” of the Bride and Body of Jesus Christ Himself (see Ephesians 5:22-32). Jesus Christ the “Head” of the Body directs the Church His Body through His Holy Spirit who indwells individual Christians and who animates the Body of Christ the Church as a whole and guides its ordained leadership offices into “all the truth” (John 16:13) as Jesus promised His Apostles and their successors the ordained overseers (bishops or eparchs and patriarchs, including the chief overseer/bishop and patriarch, the pope). The Non-Catholic Christian Churches which left the ancient Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches collectively known as the Catholic Church in the Second Millennium can indeed be fundamentally orthodox and share in the above common saving Christian faith, and can indeed be used of God as instruments of His salvation in the world, but only by being “Catholic at heart,” and acting as if the First Millennium Ecumenical and other major Councils of the Catholic Church, directed or ratified by Catholic popes, had genuine Holy Spirit-guaranteed authority to settle for all time the many disputes among early Christians over just which books should be in the New Testament and just how the Bible should be fundamentally interpreted.
Catholic Christians consider the traditional New Testament Canon and the traditional fundamentals of Christian faith as absolutely certain truths because they trust that the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to interpret the Bible and the Catholic Magisterium (teaching office) of overseers/bishops (including the chief overseer/bishop, the pope) which settled the early Christian controversies in First Millennium Christian history are functions of the “profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:22-32) revealed in the Bible that the Church is the Body of Christ Himself, led by the Holy Spirit into “all the truth” (John 16:13) such that the Body of Christ the Church is indeed, as the Bible itself proclaims, “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Luther’s foundational Protestant doctrine that “the Bible alone is authoritative and binding on a Christian’s faith,” which deliberately excluded any authority belonging to the Catholic Sacred Tradition and Magisterium of the Church, logically excludes any certainty being given to the judgements of the Early Church Councils in settlement of the early controversies as to just what constituted basic Christian orthodoxy and even the New Testament Canon (list of Sacred Books) itself, which is precisely why the character of “Liberal” Protestantism is to not be certain about just which parts of the Bible are truly inspired Scripture and to not be certain even that Jesus is God – orthodox Protestants do not really follow Luther * but are unconsciously “Catholic at heart” by their insistence that the New Testament must be the traditional (Catholic) New Testament and it must be interpreted according to the Catholic Sacred Tradition clarified concisely in the traditional (Catholic) fundamental Christian doctrines by the early Catholic Magisterium in the Early (Catholic) Church Councils (this Catholic Sacred Tradition is usually preserved in fundamentally orthodox Protestant creedal “Statements of Faith” which include words and phrases not from the Bible Alone such as Trinity, Incarnation, “Jesus is one in being with the Father” and “Jesus is fully God and fully man”).
The early 20th Century Protestant Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements were (unconscious) movements away from Protestantism and back towards Catholicism, wherein orthodox or “Catholic at heart” Protestants clung to the Catholic Sacred Tradition preserved in their traditional creeds instead of clinging to Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine the way “Protestant at heart” liberal Protestants do. In response to the huge 19th and 20th Century trend of “doctrinal liberalism” and unorthodoxy within the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” churches, which was simply the result of Protestant churches maturing in their Protestantism and thus naturally and logically becoming uncertain of the traditional Catholic New Testament Canon and fundamentals, those Protestant Christians whose traditional orthodoxy was vitally important to them reacted with the early 20th Century Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements. These movements stressed the traditional fundamental Bible interpretations of Catholic Sacred Tradition (not realizing the fundamentals were simply the official Catholic interpretation of the official Catholic New Testament Scriptures), and thus “Evangelical” and “Fundamentalist” Protestants no longer strictly followed the “Bible Alone” doctrine which leads logically to doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy (even though Evangelicals still pay “lip service” to “Bible Alone” doctrine, they do not truly practice it as historical Protestants did, which led the mainline Protestant churches over centuries to gradually lose their grip on even the basic Christian fundamentals). Conservative, Evangelical, orthodox and therefore “Catholic at heart” Protestants cannot win arguments based on the Bible Alone with their fellow Protestants who are “doctrinally liberal,” because on the basis of the Bible Alone they cannot justify why the Bible must be interpreted according to Catholic Sacred Tradition and why the New Testament must be the traditional collection of 27 books that the Early Catholic Church said it was in the late 4th Century. The only way the “Bible Alone” can be used to win arguments against knowledgeable “doctrinally liberal” and unorthodox Protestant Christians is to recognize that the “Bible Alone” testifies that it is not meant to be taken alone but in concert with an authoritative Tradition and Magisterium as functions of the Mystery revealed in the Bible that the Church is the Living Body of Christ Himself. (For much more on this, see my book 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). Catholic Christians can explain and justify their belief in the common fundamental doctrines of traditional, historic Christianity in terms of their beliefs in certain of the uniquely Catholic secondary doctrines, especially the Succession of Apostolic authority including the papacy as functions of Mystery revealed in the Bible that despite the weaknesses of its human members the Church is the Living Body of Christ; Protestant/Evangelical Christians cannot explain or justify their belief in the common fundamental doctrines of traditional, historic (Catholic!) Christianity in terms of their beliefs in the uniquely Protestant secondary doctrines, especially “Bible Alone” doctrine, the “Pillar of the Protestant Reformation,” which is exactly why so many of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” churches have lost their beliefs or their certainty about their beliefs in the traditional fundamentals of historic (that is, Catholic) Christian faith and morality (for more on this see Volume III Chapter 7 of So That The World May Believe).
Since orthodox Protestants already unconsciously act just like Catholic Christians where it matters most, in order for them to avoid in the long term the Protestant “doctrinal liberalism” which is the mature form of Protestantism, with its uncertainty or unorthodoxy, currently orthodox Protestant churches must eventually (this process cannot be rushed) formalize their relationship with the Catholic Church they already belong to “in heart” by their commitment to the traditional Catholic New Testament and traditional Catholic Christian fundamentals. But, according to the model of the Undivided Early Catholic Church’s Catholic Communion of orthodox Sister Churches and the precedents of former Nestorian and other heretics or schismatics who later recanted their errors and rejoined the ancient Catholic Christian communion they had left in their own reunified Sister Churches (such as the Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church), “Catholic at heart” Protestant churches must not simply rejoin the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church they left but form new Rites/Sister Churches within the Catholic Communion. Such new Rites would allow them as Catholic Christians to be permanently solid in Christian orthodoxy (to ensure they avoid the fate of so many once-but-no-longer-orthodox Protestant churches, like the one I was raised in), while at the same time formally enriching the Catholic Communion with their particular Evangelical strengths and gifts from God, as one of its Sister Churches (they already informally enrich the Catholic Communion which has already borrowed many good things, especially worship songs, from “Catholic at heart” Protestants).
This formal reunion of “Catholic at heart” Protestant Christians with the Catholic Church (for the benefit of all sides) is something that will take much time, as both Catholic and Protestant Christians have to get used to thinking about Christian unity the way the Undivided Early Church lived it. The great majority of today’s Catholic Christians are Roman Rite Catholic Christians who because of their numerical dominance for centuries got used to mistakenly thinking the Catholic Church was just their one Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, and these Roman Catholic Christians are only just starting to learn and get used to the fact that their huge Rite is only one of the Sister Churches in the ancient and unbroken Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of orthodox Christian Sister Churches known collectively as the Catholic Church – as their own recent 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II) at last clearly and officially defined (at Vatican II all the minority Eastern Rite Catholic overseers [bishops/eparchs and patriarchs] were appropriately influential, getting the majority Roman Rite overseer/bishops to recognize the Catholic Church always was and was always meant to be much more than the Roman Catholic Sister Church, despite its current huge size). So not only will fundamentally orthodox, therefore “Catholic at heart” Protestant/ Evangelical/ Pentecostal churches (and Eastern Orthodox Churches already virtually the same as Eastern Catholic Rites) have to become ready to formalize their relationship with the Catholic Church they already belong to in heart by their traditional Christian orthodoxy, but today’s Catholic Christians will also have to become ready to welcome large numbers of non-Roman Rite Christians of many older and newer Rites back into the ancient Catholic Communion of orthodox Sister Churches. The 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) has already laid the groundwork for serious dialogue about this to happen, which will have to be engaged in by all sides patiently and lovingly “so that the world may believe,” as Jesus made it clear the world’s belief in Him is contingent upon our loving Christian unity (John 17:21,23).
[The following are three rough ideas which could be added to this chapter]
More Evidence That Conservative/Evangelicals Are Already Catholic at Heart: The Da Vinci Code Is a Specifically Anti-Catholic Fictional Book Which Tells Lies about the Early (And Current) Catholic Church – Yet Evangelical Protestant Christians Have Found Themselves Having to Defend Their Christian Faith from this Attack on the Catholic Church
The Da Vinci Code is a specifically anti-Catholic fictional book which tells lies about the Early (and current) Catholic Church – yet Evangelical Protestant Christians have found themselves having to defend their Christian faith from this attack on the Catholic Church! This is because they are “Catholic at Heart” and so an attack on the Catholic faith is an attack on their faith! There are other Protestant Christians, who are more truly “Protestant at heart,” who do not take offense to The Da Vinci Code, simply because these liberal or unorthodox Protestants, in accordance with their Protestantism, have already lost their certainty about the traditional fundamentals of orthodox Christian faith which are nothing other than the Catholic Church’s official interpretation of the Bible!
Suggestion: Catholic Christianity Has Indeed Contracted Some Nasty Rashes from Time to Time over the Millennia, but Young Protestantism Was Born with a Terminal Congenital Birth Defect by Which Protestant Churches Die Spiritually in Doctrinal Liberalism and Unorthodoxy as They Mature in Their Fully Logical Adherence to the Protestant “Pillar Principle” of the Bible Alone
Catholic Christianity may have contracted some nasty rashes at various times over the centuries, but Protestantism was born with a terminal congenital birth defect. The doctrinally liberal or unorthodox Protestant churches are the ones which have matured the most in Protestantism, and they are dying spiritually. All the many charges (legitimate and otherwise) which may be brought against the Catholic Church simply because it is the one organized Church which has existed throughout history (and is therefore mud-splashed with history) are ultimately superficial, and are usually cases of individual Catholic Christians, especially kings and others in authority, not living up to the Catholic Church’s ideals. In contrast it is precisely the strict adherence to the “Pillar of the Protestant Reformation” that “the Bible Alone is authoritative” which is killing the oldest and largest and most mature Protestant churches with doctrinal liberalism.10
In Reunion We Can Help Each Other: Catholicism Can Help Protestant Churches with Their Vulnerability to Doctrinal Liberalism and Unorthodoxy; Evangelical Protestants with Their Typically Vibrant Faith Can Help the Massive Catholic Church with its Noticeable Problem of Many Nominal Members
Nominalism, especially in our highly secularized society, is a problem in all Christian churches. Perhaps more noticeably in the Catholic Church simply because it is so big. The Catholic Church has both more total members and more nominal (“in name only”) members. Evangelical church communities compared to a Catholic parish community tend to be comparatively teensy-tiny in numbers but more close-knit with a higher percentage of the smaller numbers very seriously committed to their faith or even “on fire for God.” This difference in the make-up of the Sunday worship community is a barrier to many Protestant Evangelicals who are more comfortable in their own style of church. But conservative Protestants who are Catholic at heart anyway should want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The division in the Church is a problem. The doctrinal liberalism in Protestantism which is the mature form of Protestantism is a problem. The nominalism in any church is a problem. By joining the Catholic Church because they are Catholic at heart already, Protestants become part of the solution of all three problems: the division in the Church is reduced as less Christians are outside the ancient orthodox Christian Catholic Communion; the liberalism which is natural to Protestantism is reduced as there are less Protestants who are vulnerable to liberalism and unorthodoxy; and an influx of “on fire” Evangelical Protestants into the Catholic Communion means there is then a smaller percentage of “nominal” Catholics in the Catholic Church (and a larger percentage of seriously devoted Catholics encouraging those more nominal to grow in faith)! Ecumenism and the eventual reestablishment of Christian unity is all about different churches enriching each other as they did in the Undivided Early Church’s Catholic Communion of Sister Churches. The Catholic Church can help Protestants with their liberal problem, and Protestants can help Catholics with their more noticeable nominal problem. It would be a great boon to the Catholic Church to have many more devout Evangelical Christians within its Catholic Communion, to stir the more nominal members into greater devotion!
And within the Catholic Church former Protestants will find that there are very many formal organizations and associations (even “Third Orders” associated with formal religious orders) and informal prayer groups (and these days more and more Bible study groups) in which they can still have the close-knit, seriously committed Christian community they are used to, even if they belong to a huge Catholic parish community which is unlike what they are used to. Moreover, in the future case of Protestants coming into the Catholic Church en masse in a formal “reunion Rite” of the Catholic Church, they could keep their own communities and buildings and styles as they come back into the Catholic Communion. This is something which the Catholic Church, building on the groundwork laid in Vatican II and following the precedent of the former Nestorian heretics who recanted their errors and were received en masse into the Catholic Church in their own Eastern, Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church, should one day be in a position to offer to Protestants who as whole communities come to be convinced that according to the standards of the Early Church they are “Catholic at heart” already anyway and properly belong within the Catholic Communion.
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Go To Chapter 8 Conclusion – The Goal of this Book: To Help Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, And Catholic Christians All Come to Think about Christian Unity as the Undivided Early Church Instinctively and Actually Lived It, in Preparation for Our Future Reunification in the Holy Spirit’s Timing and Through His Power and Love Working in Us
1As one example, the Roman Catholic custom of “The Stations of the Cross,” which are pictures or statues which display different events in the course of Jesus’ Passion and Death and Burial, which are displayed of the sides of Roman Catholic worship sanctuaries and sometimes outdoors at Catholic retreat centers, for Catholic Christians to pray at each one and symbolically follow in Jesus’ footsteps, was originally borrowed from the Eastern, Jerusalem Rite of the Catholic Church. In Jerusalem, which has the actual sites of Jesus’ Passion and Death, Eastern Christians had a devotional custom of tracing Jesus’ footsteps and praying at the actual sites of His Passion and Death and Burial. Roman Catholic Christians who came to Jerusalem on pilgrimage participated in this ritual and, finding it very spiritually edifying, took the idea back with them (borrowed it) and gradually developed the current Roman form of the ritual.
2Technically, the “Crystal Cathedral” is misnamed, since the word “Cathedral” comes from the Latin cathedra, which literally means “chair” or “seat” and in reference to a church building specifically refers to the “chair” or “seat” of office of a bishop (overseer). The “Cathedral” is specifically the home church building of the overseer or bishop of a whole Christian territory (usually centered around a city). Historically, and not surprisingly, often the church where the bishop stayed was built larger and/or more ornately than other church buildings in the same territory. So it is not too surprising that Protestants, who abandoned the New Testament office of overseer or bishop and abandoned the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church’s use of Latin, came to forget the word cathedra refers directly to the “chair” or “office” of the bishop and instead came to associate the word “Cathedral” with large, beautiful church buildings, such as the Crystal Cathedral.
3True to Protestant custom, this Protestant book series does not use the appellation “Saint” for these Catholic Christians, but it recognizes the genuine and great Christian spiritual value of their lives and writings. The Catholic Church has the same saving faith and so it also recognizes the great value of the Christian example and writings left by these Christians, but more formally, by approving a great many small religious orders patterned after the reforming spirituality of Saint Francis and his original three orders of friars and nuns and laypeople; and by declaring Saint Theresa of Àvila and Saint John of the Cross not only Saints but “Doctors” of the Church. The Latin “Doctor” literally means “Teacher,” and 33 Saints of the Church have been so declared “Doctors” or “Teachers” of the Church because, in addition to living lives of exceptional Christian holiness even in adversity, they left behind writings which teach Christians how to best be Christian. The majority of the Doctors of the Church are Early Church theologians who were involved in clarifying, defining, and establishing the fundamentals of Christianity against the early heretics. But Teresa of Àvila and John of the Cross have been named specifically “Doctors of Prayer” or “Teachers of Prayer” because of how their writings teach Christians to reach a very advanced level of Christian spirituality and prayerful communion with God.
4The Archbishop of Canterbury is the head cleric of the Church of England and its Anglican/Episcopalian Communion. The Church of England began when Pope Saint Gregory the Great sent Saint Augustine of Canterbury, the very first Archbishop of Canterbury, to establish Christianity in England in the First Millennium. So the Church of England was initially a distinctively English or Anglican “daughter Rite” of the ancient Roman Catholic Patriarchate of the Universal (Catholic) Church, in the same way the Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church I belong to is a distinctively Ukrainian “daughter Rite” of the ancient Byzantine Catholic Patriarchate of the Catholic Church. In as much as the term “patriarch” can be generically applied to the head overseer of any Rite or particular Church within the Universal (Catholic) Christian Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury before the schism could have been regarded as the effective patriarch (head overseer) of the Roman Anglican Rite of the Catholic Church. Thus initially the Anglican schism from the Catholic Church of English King Henry VIII left the Church of England in essentially the same status as the Eastern Orthodox Churches – entirely Catholic except for their lack of communion with the pope. But later Thomas Cranmer, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury under King Henry VIII’s reign and that of his son, adopted many elements of Luther’s Protestantism, making the Church of England and its Anglican/Episcopalian communion truly Protestant, though still much more Catholic than any other Protestant church, retaining much more of the Early Church’s structure and practice than any other Protestant church did. Today there is still a “high church” or “Anglo-Catholic” stream of the Church of England which is very like the Eastern Orthodox Churches in that they are virtually Catholic except for communion with the pope. But since the Anglican Church as a whole is mixed with Protestantism, unlike the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Anglican hierarchy in its Protestant history has not always been strict about being sure to maintain the direct Apostolic Succession of overseer/bishops and their priests. This leaves it open to question whether or not Anglican bishops or priests are legitimately ordained in a true succession of authority since Apostolic times. Thus, while Eastern Orthodox priests who rejoin the Catholic Communion are generally not re-ordained, since the Catholic Church acknowledges the Eastern Orthodox Churches have maintained a valid Apostolic Succession and Sacrament of Holy Orders, Anglican priests who become Catholic (there have been many since the largest stream of Anglicanism today is the “liberal” stream which is losing its grip on traditional Christianity) are “conditionally ordained.” This “conditional” ordination means that if the particular Anglican priest or bishop undergoing the ceremony happened to be validly ordained in true Apostolic Succession while an Anglican, the ceremony merely confirms the genuine Christian priesthood the Anglican priest or bishop already possessed; but if he did not receive a truly valid ordination in Apostolic Succession because of his particular line of hierarchs at some point in history losing the Apostolic Succession during periods when the Protestant influence in Anglicanism made church authorities not strict about making sure to maintain the genuine Apostolic Succession, then the current “conditional” ordination ceremony has full force and makes him who previously was not validly ordained most certainly validly ordained as a Christian priest or bishop within the Catholic Church. Note that although the largest stream of Anglicanism today is the “liberal” stream which has uncertain orthodoxy at best, both the Anglo-Catholic stream and the Evangelical stream of the Church of England are “Catholic at heart,” since unlike liberals both unquestioningly maintain the fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity, which are the essentials of the Catholic Christian faith.
5As it had done a number of times before. As the Old Covenant People of Israel went through cycles of greater and lesser faithfulness, so did the New Covenant People of God. There is no way to avoid this cycle when whole societies belong to a faith. Christendom’s perennial problem was civil rulers using political power to interfere with Church affairs, particularly with appointments to Church offices resulting in poor quality spiritual leadership, but the Church had always eventually reformed itself no matter how bad things got – usually in part by effectively protecting its independence from the State.
6In my understanding the “New Apostolic Reformation” movement, despite some concerns mentioned below, holds certain promise towards renewed Christian unity in diversity because, like other Protestant movements to restore the New Testament “5-fold ministry” including Apostles, which was retained in the Early Universal (Catholic) Church through the Apostolic Succession which continues unbroken in the Catholic Church and even the Orthodox and (less perfectly) the Anglican Churches (who did not maintain it as rigorously due to Protestant Reformation doctrine), it removes a major distinction between Protestant Christians and Catholic Christians by establishing in Protestant Churches an Apostolic Authority similar to that continued in the Early Catholic Church to today through the Apostolic Succession of overseer/bishop/eparchs. In the genuine Charismatic Renewal Movement, which is transdenominational, the Holy Spirit who makes us all – Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox – adopted children of God the Father, has been uniting Christians of all denominations in love in the Family of Christ, and engendering in Protestants who had lost it a sense of the legitimate spiritual authority of Church leaders. The “New Apostolic Reformation” has patterned itself after the charismatic movement in a specific attempt to harness the principle of great Church growth in charismatic churches – but its focus has been Church growth at the expense of doctrine, which is seen to divide (even fundamental doctrine), and unlike the transdenominational genuine Charismatic Movement it tends to be specifically anti-Catholic. Hopefully the movement will outgrow these early deficiencies and help contribute to renewed Church unity in diversity, genuinely helping to show the world Jesus in the love of Christians one for another, Catholic and Protestant. But if it does not outgrow these deficiencies, it runs serious risk of falling into the early heresies. Any Protestant anti-Catholic prejudice potentially leads to heresy as soon as Protestant Christians realize (as Liberal Protestant Christians already have) that the traditional fundamental tenets of Christian orthodoxy are merely the Early Catholic Church’s interpretation of Scripture against the alternate Scripture interpretations which were only branded heretical by the Early Catholic Church Magisterial authority which the Protestant Reformation said had no genuine authority. From what I understand of the beginnings of the New Apostolic Reformation, although its new charismatic, “Holy-Spirit-guided” Apostolic authorities for the most part still (so far) affirm fundamental orthodoxy, they are not committed to continue to do so, since they are primarily “led by the Holy Spirit into the truth.” Many such Holy-Spirit charismatic movements in Christian history, from the Montanists in the 2nd Century to fringe elements of the Protestant Quakers and Pentecostals, have had it happen that the “Holy Spirit-guided” leaders sometimes get “told by the Holy Spirit” things which are against fundamental Christian orthodoxy (because Satan can counterfeit any genuine spiritual gift). The “New Apostolic Reformation” must respect the ancient fundamental Christian interpretive Tradition as an authority its “Holy-Spirit-guided Apostles” are accountable to, as the Catholic pope and overseer/bishops/eparchs in Apostolic Succession are accountable to the interpretive Catholic Sacred Tradition clearly articulated in the Ecumenical Councils which first clearly defined Christian orthodoxy, or it runs serious risk of eventually falling into heresy like the early charismatic Montanists and others.
7For a consideration of the pertinent Scriptures, see my essay, Sola Scriptura? What Scripture Alone Testifies Concerning 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. The Protestant Reformation failed to integrate many Scriptures into its doctrines the way the Early Church did, and this failure has led logically and naturally to Liberal Protestant Christianity which doubts or denies traditional Christian fundamental orthodoxy.
8Important Catholic theologians like the late Cardinal Congar have even proposed a theory of “the material sufficiency of Scripture Alone,” which is all the closer to the Protestant understanding of “Scripture Alone” while being distinct enough to avoid the problem of doctrinal liberalism which Protestantism suffers because of its understanding of the complete and formal sufficiency of Scripture independent of an authoritative interpretive Tradition and Magisterium for settling interpretational disputes among Christians.
9Some Liberal Protestant Christian churches no longer effectively believe in the full Divine Inspiration of the Bible Alone, but they got this way through logical and consistent commitment to Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine. Such Liberal Protestant churches gradually became uncertain just how much of the traditional Bible is actually divinely inspired because the traditional Canon of the Bible is what the Catholic Church decided was the Divinely Inspired Bible between 367-405 AD. Since the Protestant Reformation they uphold said the Catholic Church had no authority, they are now uncertain about just how much of the traditional Bible they should treat as divinely inspired (Luther himself did not treat the Letter of James as divinely inspired), and they are sometimes even open to other early Christian era texts being inspired, like the texts of the Gnostic heretics who were only declared heretics by the Catholic Church’s authorities.
10It must be admitted that “Bible Alone” doctrine is not the only thing spiritually killing the liberal Protestant churches. Enlightenment era anti-supernatural philosophy also has a large influence which gives much of liberal Protestantism its distinctive anti-supernatural character. However, it must be remembered that Enlightenment thought grew out of the currents of thought of the Protestant Reformation in the first place, and it must be remembered that even without the Enlightenment’s anti-supernatural influence, liberal Protestants would not be any more likely to be orthodox Christians than were the many early heretical Christians who like Protestants did not consider the Catholic Church which established orthodoxy to have legitimate authority.