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
[The Conclusion of this book could be approached many ways: I believe this initial Conclusion in the first Internet Edition hints at what a good conclusion, which brings real hope of real eventual Christian reunification through the power of the Holy Spirit, might look like]
I do not have much interest in individual Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christian readers becoming Catholic. I have much more interest in Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholic Christians all coming to think about Christian Unity as the Undivided Early Church instinctively and actually lived it, as a unity in diversity of different but united Sister Churches pastorally guided by the (particular) patriarchs and the (universal) pope that together made up the One Undivided Universal (Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ of the First Millennium.
I have much more interest in all the currently divided fundamentally orthodox Christians, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, mindful of this lost unity which currently obscures the beauty of and detracts from the effectiveness of the Body of Christ on Earth, consciously holding the future reunification of Christ’s Church as a long-term goal which can really be achieved (in God’s timing) through our cooperation with the Holy Spirit of Love who indwells us and makes us all members of Christ’s One Body. I have much more interest in all Christians starting today to recognize and love each other more as brothers and sisters in Christ already unified in vast common faith who already enrich each other in similar fashion to the Undivided Early Church when we love each other and listen to each other and occasionally borrow good spiritual things from each other, so that we all can already make Jesus Christ and His Love more clearly visible in the World that needs to know Him even for however long we remain formally divided.
I have much more interest in the vast Roman Catholic majority of the current unified Eastern and Western members of the Catholic (Universal) Church coming to truly and fully adopt in heart and mind what is already the official Catholic Church understanding of what the Catholic Church is, which they are already obligated to conform their own understanding to; and thus slowly preparing themselves to no longer dominate the Universal (Catholic) Church even if they remain its numerical majority, but to treat all old and new non-Roman Catholic Sister Churches with the “fully equal dignity” and respect they deserve; and so to prepare themselves to welcome back currently separated Christian brothers and sisters in newly reunified Rites or Sister Churches within the Catholic Communion presided over by their pope who is also their particular Roman Rite patriarch. I have much more interest in my fellow Eastern Rite Catholics also fully conforming their understanding of the Catholic Church to Vatican II’s official Dogmatic Constitution on the Church with its supplementary Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, so that, although they already understand that the Catholic Church is much more than the Roman Catholic Church, they may divest themselves of all traces of “inferiority complex” next to the huge Roman Rite and boldly respect and assert their particularly Eastern contributions to the rich fullness of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ as Sister Churches of “fully equal dignity” with the Roman Rite despite the current disparity of size, so that, in concert with the Roman Catholics doing the above, the ongoing constant reality of the ancient Catholic Communion of orthodox Eastern and Western Sister Churches may be all the more apparent to all and less hidden.
And rather than being interested in individual Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christian readers becoming Catholic (unless they feel so called at this time after reading all this), I have much more interest in whole Protestant and Eastern Orthodox congregations and even whole Protestant denominations or whole Eastern Patriarchates, having recaptured the lost sense of the nature of the Early Church’s unity in diversity, slowly preparing themselves for, when the time is right (as the Holy Spirit leads), reunion with the ancient and ongoing Universal (Catholic) Communion of Sister Churches under the pope’s universal pastoral guidance, the Catholic Church, either by rejoining the particular Eastern or Western Sister Church they left in history, or by being established as a reunified Daughter Rite of the ancient Christian Patriarchate they left, with its own particular contributions to add to and further enrich the Catholic Church, which will become all the more truly and fully itself, all the more truly Universal or Catholic, upon their return.
The Currently Divided Catholic, Orthodox, and Conservative/Evangelical Protestant Churches Which Are Already United in Vast Common Fundamental Christian Faith Will Each Have to Give Something Up in Order to Be Reunified in One Christian Church Modeled after the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity – Yet No Church Will Have to Give Up Anything of What Is Most Important to It, but Only Things Which Prevent it from Being All God Means it to Be
None of the currently divided Christian Churches and churches (ecclesial communities), in a future formal reunification, has to give up anything of what is most important to it, anything of the following vast common elements of Traditional Christian faith which include all of the most basic, fundamental, and important, life-saving Christian truths – nor will they have to give up anything of their distinct worship or devotional customs or practices which are based on these, which is most of them:
None Will Lose this Vast Common Faith of Catholic, Orthodox, and Conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christianity Which Is the Basis for the Eventual Restored Christian Unity in Diversity in One Christian Church as Jesus Prayed for – Nor Will They Lose Any of Their Many Distinct Worship and Devotional Customs Which Are Based on this Common Faith
the One God, Creator of the Universe, who is Love, exists as a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Incarnation (enfleshment) of God the Son in Jesus Christ through Mary’s Virgin Birth, making Jesus fully God and fully man, able to make Atonement for the sins of all humanity, which He did by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead so that humanity can be forgiven and saved (and find human fulfillment) through Him; we acquire this forgiveness from sin and salvation unto eternal life through, drawn and empowered by God’s Grace, our turning away from sin (anti-love), accepting what Jesus has done for us and coming into loving, saving relationship with Him (and His Father and Holy Spirit) through belief and baptism, as He taught (Mark 16:16), which makes us members of the one Body of Christ the Church; Jesus’ literal Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven; Jesus’ future return in glory and judgement and the bodily resurrection of all the dead; the tenets of traditional Christian morality (described in the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, among other passages of Scripture) as how to be loving and so how to please the God who is Love; the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures which testify to all these things. (for more commentary on our common faith see the Common Creed Tab)
Conservative/ Evangelical Protestant Christians Will Only Have to Give up Things like Sola Scriptura – the Doctrine Which Is the Ultimate Source of the Protestant Liberalism and Unorthodoxy They Detest
Conservative Protestant Christians will only have to give up things like their Sola Scriptura or “Bible Alone” doctrine – the doctrine which orthodox Protestants do not actually follow to its logical conclusions anyway, and the doctrine which leads to the doctrinal liberalism they despise when it is taken to its logical conclusions. Surely this is not so hard to give up! For they gain a credible unshakeable certainty that they and their descendants in faith will never lose their grip on the above Christian fundamentals they now hold so dear, as so many other formerly orthodox but now unorthodox Protestant denominations have, when they cease to be Protestant and rejoin the Catholic Communion in a reunified Rite of the Catholic Church governed ultimately by the pope (and more immediately by validly ordained overseers of their own new Rite). They will only have to give up things like this, and their ignorant and uncharitable criticisms of Catholic doctrines and practices which they currently do not understand but which are in fact entirely compatible with the above common faith, as I have shown in Volumes II and III. Since the nature of the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches is that each Sister Church or Rite has its own different theological emphases and different practices and customs for celebrating its faith, which together enrich the Universal (Catholic) Church as a whole, conservative Protestants who entered the Catholic Church in a reunified Rite would not be required to abandon any of their many emphases and practices which are based on the common faith, but only those few based on their few substantial contradictions with Catholic dogma (most of which encourage the Protestant liberalism they hate anyway), and they would not be forced to adopt the particular ways of the huge Roman Rite although they would have to cease their uncharitable criticism and recognize that the distinct ways of each different Rite contributes to the fullest expression of Christ’s Revealed Truth. As most of the Protestant churches/ecclesial communities, because they were not originally constituted according to the pattern of the Undivided Early Church’s particular Sister Churches, are in fact lacking a few elements of the Undivided Early Church’s Sister Churches which are common, universal, among all the other (currently 26) Eastern and Western Rites of the Catholic Church, such reunified Rites would want to incorporate these few universal things into their new Catholic (Universal) structure and practice, but they would ideally be able to decide for themselves just how to add them, likely borrowing some ideas from the examples of the established Catholic Rites. The existing Catholic Rites themselves took centuries to establish their distinct “flavors” of Catholic Christianity, and such reunified Rites would be expected to be “in flux” for some time.
The most important of these few genuine deficiencies of Protestant churches, things vitally important to the Undivided Early Church but lost in the Protestant Reformation, are the understanding of the substantial Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion, and leadership ordained in Apostolic Succession. As most Protestants already have a Holy Communion practice, in a reunion situation it may be simply a matter of changing their understanding of rituals they already have. Altering their understanding of church leadership and having their existing leadership ordained in genuine Catholic Apostolic Succession would not be a big leap for any Protestant church community which has come to desire to rejoin the Catholic Communion (and have their orthodoxy protected by it in the long term), and such ordination would also guarantee they have a valid and licit Holy Eucharist, the Real Presence of Jesus, in their Holy Communion ritual. In my experience, Evangelical Protestants generally have a genuine desire for deeper communion with Jesus, and the many Evangelicals like myself who have become Catholic have been thrilled to discover that Jesus left an awesome and incredible way to have deeper communion with Him in Holy Communion with Jesus as the Early Church understood it, preserved in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. As indicated above, the “Holy Spirit” focused or charismatic-influenced Protestant churches have gradually been coming to understand and accept the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion already, so for many this will not be so great a change.
Eastern Orthodox Christians Will Only Have to Give Up Their Eastern Exclusiveness and Sometimes Prejudice Against the Non-Eastern Which Clearly Shows Eastern Orthodoxy Is Not the Early Church, Which Was a Universal or Catholic Communion of Eastern And Western Churches as Today’s Catholic Church Still Is; and Give up Their Rejection of the Papacy Which Makes Them Not Conform to the Records of the Early Eastern Churches
[a short section which elaborates somewhat on the section title will go here, referring to Volume III Chapter 5]
Roman Catholic Christians Will Only Have to Give up Overly-Roman and Not Universal/Catholic Enough Conceptions of Their Catholic Church Which Vatican Council II Obligated Them to Give up Anyway
Roman Catholic Christians will only have to give up their overly-Roman attitudes and ignorance of true Christian catholicity/universality which makes them less truly Catholic and which wounds the Catholic Church’s true catholicity. They only have to give up that which makes them too Roman and not Catholic enough to present themselves to the world as the Undivided First Millennium Catholic Church did. They only have to give up their attitudes and misconceptions about the nature of their Catholic Church which do not conform to the official and dogmatic teaching of the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, Vatican Council II, the first Ecumenical Council to officially define the nature of Christ’s Church in a Dogmatic Constitution on the Church with its two supporting Decrees promulgated the same day, On the Eastern Catholic Churches and On Ecumenism, the pertinent portions of which are quoted and explained in this book.
Roman Catholics doing so will help them get used to the idea of eventually inviting (Western) Protestant Christians and Eastern Orthodox Christians back into the Catholic Communion as Sister Churches of “fully equal dignity” with the Roman Catholic Church under the pope who is Head Pastor of the entire Catholic Communion and not just of the Roman Catholic Church. Eastern Orthodox Christians already have great reason to want to return to the Catholic Communion under the pope, since their own Eastern history for over a Millennium since Apostolic times is an entirely Catholic history (see Volume III Chapter 5). But they can only feel safe to do so, they can only feel safe to accept the invitation, once they are convinced that most Roman Catholics have mastered the truly Catholic-Universal understanding and attitudes prescribed by Vatican II and will never again seek to inappropriately dominate the other ancient Patriarchates and Sister Churches just because they have a numerical majority and just because their Roman Patriarch happens also to be the Successor of Peter and Universal Bishop, only because Peter happened to die in Rome and not somewhere else.
(Western) Conservative Protestant Christians, that is, those who are already “Catholic at heart” by their firm commitment to the above common fundamentals of Christian faith which are the official Catholic interpretation of the Traditional Catholic New Testament Scriptures, also have much reason to want to come back into the Catholic Communion, once they have come to recognize that the widespread Protestant doctrinal liberalism they despise is the mature form of Protestantism and that by their firm adherence to the above “common fundamentals” they belong in heart to the ancient Catholic Church of Jesus Christ already. But they also will only be able to come back into the Catholic Communion in large numbers if they are invited to do so by today’s Catholic Christians in ways reflecting the Early Catholic Church’s unity in diversity, that is, in their own new Rites of the Catholic Church wherein their many distinctive practices based on common faith (some of which Roman Catholics already borrow from) continue and are valued as part of the mutually enriching diversity of the different unified Catholic Rites. There are already Biblical and papal principles and precedents in place to aid Catholics giving Protestants this kind of invitation when both sides are ready, discussed in the next sections, which Catholic Christians should become familiar with.
The Acts 15 Church Council Provides a Biblical Principle, Already Followed by the Catholic Church and its Popes in History, for the Reunification of “Separated Christian Brothers” with the Ancient Catholic Communion They Left
The very first Council of the Christian Church, recorded in Acts 15, was all about the established entirely Jewish Christian Church (the original, Jewish Jerusalem Rite of the Universal Church!) deciding through the Holy Spirit’s guidance how to receive Gentiles or non-Jews who wanted to be Christian into their loving Christian Communion. It is significant to remember here too that the Gentiles themselves are nothing other than fallen-away members of the God’s primitive Covenants with Adam and Noah and their descendants (all humanity) who needed to be reconciled to God’s one ongoing Covenant Family throughout history (the “Olive Tree” – Romans 11) which they had left in the past.1
The Holy Spirit-led Council decided that “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19), and thus that Gentiles who became Christian did not have to become culturally Jewish as all the original Christians were, they did not have to express and practice their Christian faith exactly as the original Jewish Christians did (which included many Old Covenant practices reinterpreted in terms of Christ’s fulfillment of them). Instead, the Council’s official letter to the Gentiles stated, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28 NKJV). It was only “necessary things” – some translations say “necessities” or “requirements” or “essentials” – which did not include most particulars of the current Jewish Christian devotional and worship customs and practices – which were required of Gentiles in order for them to become Christian, in order for them to be reconciled to the ongoing Covenant Family of God which their ancestors had left at various times after the time of Noah. This Scriptural Council furnishes the Biblical principle applicable to the reunification of the currently divided Christian Church, that “no more than is necessary” should be required of separated Christian brothers who wish to return to the ancient and ongoing Catholic Communion of orthodox Eastern and Western Christian Sister Churches which is commonly known as the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict XIV in the 1700s furnished a further principle based on this Biblical one, when he prescribed punishments for Roman Catholic missionaries working in Eastern Orthodox territories, who were trying to Romanize the Eastern Orthodox Christians who accepted Catholicism. The Pope said, “the point is to make them Catholics, not Romans.” Pope Benedict XIV, who, as all popes since the earlier Eastern tensions and the permanent schism of 1472, had a significant minority of Eastern, Byzantine Albanian Catholics under his immediate jurisdiction as the local bishop of the city of Rome, knew the difference between being Roman and being Catholic, and that one did not have to be Roman at all in order to be Catholic and in order to be under his ultimate jurisdiction as pope. The Pope knew that those Eastern Orthodox Christians who became Catholic had already been following a completely valid way of being Catholic, they had only lacked Catholic Communion under the pope, and having reestablished this communion, that was all they needed to do. The missionaries were in the wrong for trying to make them more Roman as well, since the whole point of their missionary activity in Eastern Orthodox territories was, as the Pope said, “to make them Catholics, not Romans.” The Catholic Church for many centuries has in fact occasionally formally welcomed smaller schismatic groups of Christians and even heretical groups of Christians who recanted their errors back into the Catholic Communion in reunified Rites of the Catholic Church which are those Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church today which were formerly out of the Catholic Communion (some Eastern Rites were never out of the Catholic Communion).
“No More Burden than Is Necessary” (Cf. Acts 15:28) Should Be Required of Non-Catholic Churches Coming Back into the Catholic Communion, since “The Point Is to Make Them Catholics, Not Romans” (Pope Benedict XIV)
These two principles, one Biblical, and one papal, that “no more burden than is necessary” should be required of people coming into the Catholic Church, since “the point is to make them Catholics, not Romans,” together show the proper way to receive the “separated brothers” of the non-Catholic Christian Churches (the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Churches) and churches/ecclesial communities (the Protestant churches) back into the Catholic Communion.
The Catholic Church has in fact already followed these principles in reunion situations for many centuries. Most of the over 20 Eastern Catholic Rites or Sister Churches of today were temporarily out of the Catholic Communion, but were received back simply by professing their belief in the traditional essential “rule of faith” and by recognizing the papacy. These include formal Patriarchates, like the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate, originally a daughter Rite of the ancient Antiochene Patriarchate from the original Pentarchy of Patriarchates from the Early Ecumenical Councils. Cardinal Agagianian, also known as Patriarch Gregory Peter XV of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate, was even considered a “front-runner” to be elected pope as recently as the 1958 conclave of cardinals which elected Cardinal Roncalli instead (who took the name John XXIII). While it certainly would have helped the truly Catholic (Universal) nature of the Catholic Church to become more evident to all if a non-Roman Catholic had been made pope at that time, I think we must agree that God had something even better in mind with Cardinal Roncalli, who as Pope John XXIII called the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) which actually formally defined the truly universal nature of the Catholic Church and dogmatically clarified the Catholic Church’s ancient structure as a Universal Communion of different orthodox Eastern and Western particular Churches each possessing “fully equal dignity.”
Even some former Nestorian heretics, who had been separated from Catholic Communion since they rejected the 3rd Ecumenical Council of 431AD which dogmatically defined Jesus as one person with two natures, Divine and human, and condemned Nestorius (who had been Archbishop of Constantinople) for his position against this view, were received back into the Catholic Church in the mid-16th Century as the Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church. The Chaldeans recanted of their formerly-held Christological heresy, and, according to the principles above that “no more burden than is necessary” should be asked of people coming into the Catholic Church, because “the point is to make them Catholics, not Romans,” after accepting all necessities of Catholic faith they were allowed to keep all of their worship customs and practices which they had developed in over 1000 years of separation from the Catholic Church, which were based on their majority of common Christian faith and not based on their one heresy (their worship and devotional customs in any case were similar to that of their original “Mother Rite” before they left the Catholic Church in the 5th Century, the Antiochene Patriarchate).
So, formerly Antiochene Catholic Christians who left the Catholic Church when they embraced a gross heresy against the true nature of Jesus Christ were received back into the Catholic Communion after recanting their Nestorian heresy, but still kept the bulk of their particular distinctive worship and devotional practices which were in no way contrary to the Catholic faith even if they were different than the practices of the other Eastern and Western Catholic Rites. In this case, surely those formerly Roman Catholic Christians who left the Catholic Church when they embraced Protestantism can also be received back into the Catholic Communion after recanting their errors which are not near so serious as the Nestorian heresy, and still keep the bulk of their particular distinctive worship and devotional practices which are in no way contrary to the Catholic faith even if they are different than the practices of the Roman and the other Catholic Rites. Sola Scriptura is a Protestant error that when followed strictly leads ultimately to uncertainty about Christian essentials and even to heresies in a natural progression, as it has in the doctrinally liberal Protestant churches, but it is not a gross heresy itself. So the precedent of even Nestorian gross heretics who became Chaldean Rite Catholics while maintaining their church buildings and (repentant) leadership and most of their Christian rituals, traditions, and customs which were not tainted by their former heresy surely proves that at least conservative Protestant/Evangelical Christians who are ready to recant their errors which have made so many other Protestants prone to unorthodoxy in much more serious matters can be effectively reincorporated into the Catholic Church in new Rites, without losing many of their distinctives, except the very few which are directly tied to their errors. Indeed, some Protestant Christians today in the classic Protestant denominations like the Lutherans and Anglicans/Episcopalians, which did not stray so far from 16th Century Roman Catholic norms as later Protestants did, still have more solemn and “traditionally Roman Catholic” worship habits and styles than those of many more modernized Roman Catholic parishes do today! The older and the newer forms of Christian worship and devotion, like the Eastern and the Western forms of Christian worship and devotion, are all valid expressions of Christianity as long as they do not contradict the Rule of Faith!
In all this, “no more burden than is necessary” and “the point is to make them Catholics, not Romans” are the key principles for the Catholic Church, following the groundwork laid in Vatican II, to eventually invite back into the Catholic Communion whole non-Catholic denominations and congregations which are ready, for their own benefit and for the benefit of the Catholic Church which is much more clearly seen as truly the Universal Church of Jesus Christ the less other Christians are outside of its Universal (Catholic) Communion.
As far as just what are the “necessary things” non-Catholic churches or congregations must be ready to accept in order to be ready for reunification within the ancient Catholic Christian Communion they left, the first “necessary things” are the above vast “common creed” of essential Christian beliefs, without which noone can be truly Catholic. These things are the essential tenets of Catholic Christian faith. These must be accepted as non-negotiable articles of Christian faith or dogmas. Most Eastern Orthodox Christians and most conservative Protestant Christians already hold these fundamental things with certainty, which is why they are already “Catholic at heart,” so this part of becoming Catholic is not very difficult for most of them. But even currently liberal Protestant churches could become ready to be Catholic if they are willing to accept these things with absolute certainty in faith, on the basis of accepting the mystery revealed in the Bible of the Church as the Living Body of Christ Himself.
Secondly, since belief in the authority of the Living Body of Christ the Church expressing itself in the Catholic Church hierarchy including the pope is necessary for any Christian to have truly unshakeable confidence in the above essential fundamental tenets of traditional Christianity which were permanently established in the Christian Church only by the Catholic hierarchy, formally professing belief in the authority of the Catholic Church as truly “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) is also necessary for non-Catholic communities or Churches to become Catholic. The Eastern Orthodox Churches are almost there already and only need to acknowledge the papacy’s role in that Catholic hierarchy, in order to be reunified. Conservative Protestant Christians who have come to see that the above fundamentals they are already devoted to are indeed the Catholic faith and not strictly necessary to Protestant faith at all (as liberal Protestantism demonstrates), and who thus recognize the need to believe in the Catholic hierarchy as a function of the Church as the Body of Christ in order for any church to maintain confidence in the fundamentals in the long term, should not have too much problem accepting this “necessary thing.” It is the only sure long-term guardian of the above “necessary things.” Their own commitment to the Bible will help them to see that the Church is supposed to be regarded as truly “the profound mystery” of the Bride and Body of Jesus Himself and “pillar and foundation of the truth,” as the Catholic Church sees itself but Protestant churches really do not, and this also will aid their acceptance of this “necessary thing.”
Once the authority of the Church Magisterium has been accepted on the basis of its being necessarily connected to all the traditional fundamentals and essential for their long-term maintenance, this will obligate non-Catholic Christians to accept other Catholic dogmas as well, or the whole edifice falls apart. One cannot logically accept the Early Catholic Church’s dogmas like “Jesus is fully God and fully man” with absolute certainty and doubt the later Catholic Church’s dogmas – for the same authority of the Living Body of Christ the Church throughout history has established both the earlier and the later dogmas. Fortunately, there are not all that many Catholic dogmas beyond the above fundamentals already commonly believed by non-Catholic Christians, and they are generally logical results of the above earlier dogmas. I have demonstrated in this volume and in the attached Volume II: Who is Mary in the Church? how the Marian and papal dogmas, which at first appear to be the most offensive Catholic dogmas to non-Catholic Christians, are not very objectionable at all once they are looked at closely, and once one realizes that all the later Catholic dogmas are subject to and perceived in the light of the earlier Catholic dogmas which orthodox non-Catholic Christians already recognize as essentials. Fundamentally orthodox non-Catholic Christians, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant, are already committed to the above fundamental Christian beliefs which are only truly unshakeable within the Catholic Communion of Eastern and Western Sister Churches under the pope which established them in history. To logically believe in the fundamentals with absolute certainty, one has to believe in the Catholic Church as essentially the Living Body of Christ on Earth, and its hierarchy (including the pope) as capable of speaking infallibly at those (rare) times it makes dogmatic pronouncements as it did concerning the common fundamentals. And this means accepting all of the Catholic Church’s dogma in faith, even if one does not understand all of it at first, recognizing that it contains nothing contrary to those fundamentals but all later dogmas are subjected to them and are usually simple logical extrapolations of them, as the Marian dogmas are logical consequences of the true Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ. Thus accepting in faith the other Catholic dogmas should not be too difficult for those who have already come to recognize the importance of accepting the Catholic Magisterium for absolute certainty about traditional fundamental Christian doctrine. These are the last “necessary things.”
It should be noted here that becoming Catholic does not at all mean ceasing to ask questions of the Bible and theology, since there are very many areas of legitimate theological discussion and debate within the Catholic Church. It is only the small number of theological propositions which have been dogmatized which Catholic Christians (of whatever Rite, old or new) must accept in faith. Every new dogma in fact raises new questions which draw Christians ever deeper into the infinite mysteries revealed and grasped personally in Christ Jesus, so the work of theology will never be finished. Any reunified Rites of the Catholic Church, Rites of former Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians,2 will have different perspectives to add to the ongoing Catholic discussion of certain issues, which will enrich the discussion and may later help to further clarify current disputes dogmatically.
[the following section is very rough]
As a final thought in this direction, I posit that
If All Christians start thinking about Christian unity the way the Undivided Early Church lived it, it would be easy to reincorporate the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Churches into the Ancient Catholic Communion as the distinct Rites or Sister Churches they were before they left, and severely divided Protestantism could also be reunified in a way that allows it to gain the benefits of Catholic Communion including permanent invulnerability to Protestant doctrinal liberalism/unorthodoxy but also to give its particular strengths to the Catholic Church’s mutually enriching unity in diversity.
[I would like to add something here about the real value the Protestant/Evangelical Churches can add to the Catholic Communion as they return in to it in new Rites, even as they themselves benefit from what the Catholic Church has that the Protestant Reformers cut themselves and later Protestants off from. I have discussed in the introduction to So That The World May Believe and elsewhere that despite the many things which the Catholic Church best preserves from the Undivided Early Church which called itself the Catholic Church and had the same nature and structure preserved in the Catholic Church today (which makes the Catholic Church the only possible platform for Church reunification as in the Undivided Early Church), still conservative/ Evangelical (and Pentecostal/ Charismatic) Protestants generally speaking have best preserved the Undivided Early Church’s passionate love for Scripture, and Bible reading, as well as its spontaneity in prayer and its evangelical zeal for transforming the greater culture for Jesus. Thus they definitely have very important things to add to the Catholic Communion to enrich it and make it all the more like the Undivided Early Church.
Moreover, not only do many Protestant churches have wonderful praise and worship music and other good ideas Catholics have already borrowed from which would become formally Catholic, but as a new Catholic Rite most Protestants are already used to 45 minute teaching sermons from their pastors (many Catholics complain if the sermon/homily goes beyond 10 minutes!), which will surely make such reunified Catholic Rites quickly among the most educated of all Catholic Christians, when their pastors start giving them 45 minute teaching sermons not simply on “the Bible Alone” but on the Bible as interpreted by the Catholic Magisterium over 2000 years of increasingly rich loving Christian reflection upon the Scriptures contained in Catholic Sacred Tradition (which is the Bible as lived in Christian history3), and how the current documents of the Catholic Magisterium apply the truth in the Bible to current situations.
The current Catholic Rites indeed have very rich worship and devotional customs, rituals, and traditions which draw those Christians who delve into them ever deeper into the mysteries of Christ, of a richness most Protestant traditions lack simply because most of the 35,000 Protestant denominations are very young, and none are even quite as old as 500 years. But Protestants still have much to add to the overall richness of the Catholic Communion. Evangelicalism is very much a distinctly North American cultural response to the Gospel, in principle just as valid as the ancient Roman and Byzantine/Greek cultural responses to the Gospel (the thousands of Evangelical denominations could theoretically be incorporated as one “North American Rite” that is flexible in style). As reunified Rites, most of the distinctions of the various Protestant denominations are differences in expression of the vast common faith they already share with Catholics, not of those few lesser items which are actually contradictory to Catholic dogma and must be called errors to be recanted before reunion can occur. Thus most of their current practices would be valid Catholic practices after reunion. The Protestant churches do lack a few things which are universal in the Undivided Early Church which they would want to incorporate into their existing traditions once they reunified, but we must remember that it took centuries for the currently established Catholic Rites to fully develop their character, and thus any new Rites would be “in flux” for quite some time, while still in Catholic Communion.]
I predict that with the Holy Spirit of Unity’s aid, as the new Rites or Sister Churches to aid reunification eventually get set up within the Catholic Church as a form of Vatican II implementation to restore the fully ecumenical character and structure of the Undivided Early Church’s Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches, it will eventually make less and less difference to not be Catholic, since the Catholic Communion’s mutually enriching variety of Rites (currently 26) will then include most of the distinct worship practices and different emphases and even theology (that not directly opposed to Catholic Dogma) of the different currently divided churches who already share vast common faith (just like the ancient and ongoing Catholic Communion today already includes all of the ancient Eastern Rites of the Church, meaning that already there is very, very little about the non-Catholic Eastern Orthodox Churches which is truly distinct from Catholicism, since the Eastern Rites since earliest times have always been included within Catholicism).
So, eventually the remaining Protestant/Evangelical Christians who have not rejoined the Catholic Communion in a newly established “reunion Rite” which keeps much of the character and particulars of their current orthodox Christian practice and distinct emphases and even theology will find that there is not near so much difference as there used to be in their remaining non-Catholic. They will start finding that there are more and more Catholic Christians of the newly-reunified Rites or Sister Churches who share not only vast common fundamentals with them (as Roman Catholics already do) but also the majority of their worship forms and devotional practices, theological approaches, and so on.
I predict this will eventually help to educate even the minority of still extremely ignorant and prejudiced Protestants who mistakenly see the Ecumenical Movement as heading for “reunion with Rome,” “Rome” being to them a horribly disfigured caricature of the Catholic Church which confuses the Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches with its Roman Rite only, which they still describe using the grossly ignorant and bigoted terminology of the Protestant Reformation era when their churches first left the Roman Rite. But the whole point and goal of Christian reunification and Vatican II implementation is not at all to make Protestant Christians who left the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church 500 years ago come back to it, but to reform the entire (currently 26-Rite) Catholic Church visibly to its First Millennium Undivided Early Catholic Church ideal as a Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches which merely includes the Roman Rite as one of many mutually enriching Sister Churches of “equal dignity,” each having their own Patriarchs or other Overseers. The current huge size of the Roman Rite is irrelevant to the nature of the Catholic Communion. As even popular wisdom maintains, “size doesn’t matter.” The Roman Catholic Church made up only one quarter of all Catholic Christians in the Undivided Early Catholic Church and there is no reason why it should remain the largest Rite forever (perhaps in the future the now-underground Chinese Church will become a formal Chinese Rite which will outnumber it). Even the fact that the entire Catholic Communion’s Head Pastor/Universal Overseer is the Pope in Rome is merely incidental, since the Pope’s office as the Patriarch of the Roman Rite (first among equals with the Patriarchs/Head Overseers of the other 25 Catholic Rites, most of them distinctly non-Roman cultures renewed in Jesus) is distinct from his office as Pope (Successor of Peter the Head Apostle). If Peter had died in Antioch, the Overseer/Bishop of Antioch would be the Pope instead of the Bishop of Rome. So properly there is no “reunion with Rome” for ex-Roman Rite Protestants to fear, only a reunion with the Undivided Early Church’s Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches which in history “turned the [ancient] world upside down” and transformed it with Jesus’ Love.
It will take a long time to implement and there will be many steps along the way, but I predict that as the fruits of reunion become evident, eventually the remaining Protestant Christians will see that it really was not worth the damage it did to the attractive unity of Christ’s Body the Church, their holding for so long onto a few Protestant secondary doctrines when they were acting like Catholics the whole time anyway with respect to primary Christian doctrines. Though retaining even their finer points of “doctrinal distinctiveness” will be a powerful habit, I predict that as the fruits of the reunification become more seen, those non-Catholic Christians who held out against it will eventually come to see that it is surely worth giving up just a very few truly incompatible lesser doctrines in exchange for not only a beautiful loving unity which draws all the more people into the Body of Christ but also in exchange for a rock-solid explanation and justification of primary Christian doctrines they hold already but cannot justify holding on Protestant principles, since the “fundamentals” of “historic” Christianity are nothing other than the Catholic Church’s official interpretation of the New Testament Canon which the Catholic Church declared was Scripture in the first place!
All Three Major Branches of Christianity Have to Give up Any Remaining Conceptions That There Is Only One Proper or Best Way to Express and Celebrate the Common Christian Faith, Which Is Totally Against the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity
The One Half of All Christians Who Are Roman Catholic must Take Ecumenical Leadership in this by Actively Seeking to Conform Their Minds to the Mind of the Catholic Church Expressed in the Holy Spirit-Guided 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) Which at Last Clearly Expresses the Proper Nature and Structure of the Catholic Church as it Was Lived in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church
Roman Catholic Christians should note that this book presents an explanation of the Catholic Church’s beliefs and nature which is all the more powerfully compelling and all the harder for non-Catholic Christians to dispute against (and all the more likely to inspire non-Catholics to seek unity together with Catholics) specifically because it presents the Catholic Church in its true and unbroken (though for centuries harder to see) fullness as a Catholic Communion of different but mutually enriching orthodox Christian Patriarchates or Sister Churches or Rites, and does not present the Catholic Church according to the overly-Roman misconceptions of many Roman Rite Catholic Christians (currently the vast majority of Catholics) which mistakenly identify the Roman Catholic Church with the Catholic Church entire. These long-held and deep seated misconceptions which still remain in many Roman Catholics despite things steadily improving in this area since Vatican II, is still a major barrier to the restored unity of Christ’s one Church, the truly Catholic (Universal) Church. If Roman Catholic Christians do not acknowledge and believe in their hearts the fully equal dignity of the Eastern Rites and their particular ways with their Roman Rite and its particular ways, as Vatican II itself requires them to (at the highest level of the Catholic Church’s authority), then the beauty of the Catholic Church is marred and it becomes much harder for Roman Catholics to explain why it is better to be Roman Catholic than Eastern Orthodox, when so many great Early Catholic saints and doctors were not Roman at all (including Saint Athanasius who first put the New Testament itself together!), but practiced their Catholic faith according to rituals still used by Eastern Orthodox Christians! In fact it is not better to be Roman than to be Eastern, and in fact it is better to be Catholic than non-Catholic, so that one helps to display to the world the beautiful worldwide loving unity in diversity of the one Church of Jesus Christ, whether one is a Roman Rite Christian or an Eastern Rite Christian. And no one Rite of the Universal (Catholic) Church can effectively display this alone.
Thus Roman Catholics must not smugly think “our Church is the true Church and those who broke away from us in the past have to come back.” Roman Catholics have work to do on themselves, to make themselves more truly Catholic and less Roman (becoming appropriately Roman instead of overly-Roman), and work on conforming their understanding to that of the Catholic Church’s most recent and mature Ecumenical Council, the 21st (Vatican II), so that they can effectively work towards Ecumenism as the Catholic Church has now officially required of all its members.
My own Sister Church in the Catholic Communion, the Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church or the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, is the largest non-Roman Rite or Sister Church within today’s Catholic Communion (Pope John Paul II agreed that our over-1000-year existence and contribution to the Catholic Church warrants our being recognized formally as a Patriarchate; however, the timing is not right since in the current state of Catholic/Orthodox relations this would offend the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs). Together with the over 20 smaller Eastern Catholic Sister Churches, the about 30 million of us are a living witness to the ongoing unity in diversity of Christ’s one Church established by Jesus and His Apostles, which almost from the very beginning called itself the Catholic Church and which was a true and loving communion of different orthodox Christian Sister Churches and never a single monolithic, uniform Church (Roman or otherwise). Since our very existence as a particular Church is based on the formal unity in diversity of the Early Church under the universal pope and the particular patriarchs or equivalent overseers which has been lost from general view for many centuries, my Sister Church has produced a number of “Apostles of Unity,” like Demetrios Kydones in the 14th Century and Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, and it is in this tradition of my Church within the Catholic Communion that I seek to teach my fellow Catholics of the majority Roman Rite, as well as my orthodox Eastern and Protestant “separated brothers,” about the full beauty of the entire Catholic Church – for the Glory of Jesus Christ and for the ultimate reunification of His Body the Church.
[As I put the final touches on this first draft and Internet Edition 1.0 of Volume III of So That The World May Believe, I for now will insert here the “proposal” for Church reunification which I wrote for the end of my book The Bible’s Big Picture, drawing from material earlier in this present chapter.]
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
At the outset I wish to explicitly express the fact that both the Catholic and (orthodox) non-Catholic Christian Churches have best preserved different aspects of the Undivided Early Church’s character and spiritual life along with their common fundamentals of orthodox Christian faith, which means we need to learn from each other for all of us to be all that we are meant to be as the Body of Christ on Earth. For example, the Catholic Church of today has best preserved the Undivided Early Church’s Universal/Catholic Communion of Orthodox Christian Sister Churches based on Scripture as interpreted by a Sacred Tradition and Magisterium (functions of the Church as the Living Body of Christ) which guarantees traditional Christian orthodoxy in the long term (and with the Orthodox Churches it has best preserved some other doctrines and practices very important to the Early Church). But those “doctrinally conservative” Protestant/Evangelical churches which (unlike “doctrinally liberal” Protestant churches) maintain fundamentally orthodox Christian faith have best preserved the Undivided Early Church’s passionate love for Scripture and Bible reading and its Evangelical zeal to transform the greater culture for Jesus Christ. I personally quite literally received “the best of both worlds” by having been raised Evangelical Protestant but later becoming Catholic, I have personally experienced the best of what each tradition has best preserved from the Undivided Early Church and so, although I am a thoroughly committed Catholic Christian, I do not simply wish to promote Protestants becoming Catholic but rather I wish to promote their doing so by bringing with them their special gifts to greatly enrich the Catholic Communion to help make it all it was meant to be, as it was in the Undivided Early Catholic Church. And I wish to promote Catholics getting ready to receive such Protestants returning to the Catholic Communion (in large numbers in their own new Sister Churches, “daughter” Rites of the ancient Roman Patriarchate) with open and loving arms, enriching their returning brothers with those vast treasures of Early Undivided Christianity which Catholic Christians have never lost at the same time as being enriched by the evangelical zeal and great love for God’s Word in the Bible of their returning brothers and sisters. As my professor, Protestant pastor turned Catholic scholar Scott Hahn wrote,
“in the writings of the early [Christian Church] fathers … I ran smack up against a Church I could only recognize as Catholic. It was liturgical, hierarchical, sacramental. It was Catholic, and yet it held all that I loved about the Reformation tradition too: a deep devotion to Jesus, a spontaneous life of prayer, a zeal to transform the culture, and, of course, a burning love for scripture”
– so it must be possible to genuinely reform the Catholic Church according to the Undivided Early Catholic Church model for reformers and Catholics to once again belong to one Church.
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 2(scroll down for footnote 2 below) 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 Magisterium 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).
Having said this, it should be noted here that it is not only the Protestant Churches which can benefit from Christian reunification. Although orthodox Protestant/Evangelical churches, in a future formal restoration as new ‘Sister Churches’ within the ancient Catholic Communion of orthodox Christian Sister Churches which they already belong to in heart, would gain the solid foundation for their “Catholic at heart” traditional orthodoxy which they currently lack (which leads many once-orthodox Protestant denominations, including the one I was raised in, to eventually lose their grip on even basic Christian orthodoxy), the Catholic Communion itself would also greatly benefit from their formal return to the Catholic Communion NOT by rejoining the Roman Rite they left but within their own unique Rites or Sister Churches. The Catholic Church is not as truly Catholic (Universal) as it should be as long as there are orthodox Christians outside of its ancient and vast Christian communion, and the huge Catholic Church has a not unique but more noticeable problem of nominalism (having many more or less nominal or “in name only” members) than Evangelical Protestantism does, meaning in reunification Catholics can help Protestants with their “tendency towards doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy” problem and these returning Protestants can help Catholics with their nominalism problem. In reunion we can help each other with our different strengths, as well as being a much better witness of Jesus Christ to the world, as God intended when Jesus prayed that we would be one “so that the world may believe.”
It is also worth noting that there is important precedent for the return of the Protestant churches to the ancient Catholic Christian Communion of the Undivided Early Church not by being absorbed into the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church they left but by being constituted as their own new Sister Churches within the Catholic Communion, “daughter” Rites of the ancient Roman Patriarchate. Even some former Nestorian heretics, who had been separated from Catholic Communion since they rejected the 3rd Ecumenical Council of 431AD which dogmatically defined Jesus as one person with two natures, Divine and human, and condemned Nestorius (who had been Archbishop of Constantinople) for his position against this orthodox view, were received back into the Catholic Church in the mid-16th Century as the new Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church, which is one of the over 20 Rites within the ancient Catholic Christian Communion today. The Chaldeans recanted of their formerly-held Christological heresy, and, according to the Biblical principle from Acts 15 that “no more burden than is necessary” should be asked of people coming into the Catholic Church, because “the point is to make them Catholics, not Romans” (as Pope Benedict XIV in the 1700s said of returning Eastern Orthodox Christians), after accepting all necessities of Catholic faith the Chaldeans were allowed to keep all of their worship customs and practices which they had developed in over 1000 years of separation from the Catholic Church, which were based on their majority of common Christian faith and not based on their one heresy (their worship and devotional customs in any case were similar to that of their original “Mother Rite” before they left the Catholic Church in the 5th Century, the Antiochene Patriarchate of the Catholic Church). Only the very few Protestant ideas or practices which are directly tied to their errors would need to be altered or abandoned for reunification. Indeed, some Protestant Christians today in the classic Protestant denominations like the Lutherans and Anglicans/Episcopalians, which did not stray so far from 16th Century Roman Catholic norms as later Protestants did, still have more solemn and “traditionally Roman Catholic” worship habits and styles than those of many more modernized Roman Catholic parishes do today! The older and the newer forms of Christian worship and devotion, like the Eastern and the Western forms of Christian worship and devotion, are all valid expressions of Christianity as long as they do not contradict the common Rule of Faith! (See below, The “Common Creed” of Christianity).
In all this, the Biblical principle “no more burden than is necessary” and the papal principle “the point is to make them Catholics, not Romans” are the key principles for the Catholic Church, following the groundwork laid in Vatican II for restoring the Undivided Early Catholic Church’s unity in diversity, to eventually invite back into the Catholic Communion whole non-Catholic denominations and congregations which are ready, for their own benefit and for the benefit of the Catholic Church, which is much more clearly seen as truly the Universal Church of Jesus Christ the less other orthodox Christians are outside of its ancient and vast Universal (Catholic) Communion of orthodox Christian Sister Churches.
As we seek the Holy Spirit’s loving guidance in this endeavor, the practical “nuts and bolts” of full Christian reunification will surely still take many years to work out. Today’s divided Christians must conquer their prejudices against other Christians; we must eliminate habits of divisive thinking successfully sown by the Devil, whose work we have been doing for centuries, marring the attractive beauty of the Body of Christ. Since the Hebrew word for accuser is in fact satan, and the Greek word for accuser is in fact diabolos (devil in English), this means that when Christians accuse each other of being wrong for being different we are doing the Devil’s work, and we Christians are showing the world Satan, the Accuser, instead of showing the world Jesus. We must first master unity in love despite our differences, based on our vast common saving Christian faith (below), keeping the Undivided Early Church’s unity in diversity in mind, before even attempting full, formal, structural reunification, which is a process that must be worked on lovingly and cannot be rushed. But Reunification is a goal that is worthwhile to work towards and indeed, all Christians are obligated to work towards this goal, since Jesus Himself linked the success of His Church’s mission to the unity of His followers:
Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another … By this all men will know that you are [Christians], if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus prayed to His Father “that all [Christians] may be one … so that the world may believe that You have sent me … May [Christians] be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.” (John 17:21,23)
The Common Creed of Christianity: The Great Common Faith of Catholic, Orthodox, and Conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christianity (and “Messianic Judaism”) Which is the Basis for Restored Christian Unity
the One God, Creator of the Universe, who is Love, exists as a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Incarnation (enfleshment) of God the Son in Jesus Christ through Mary’s Virgin Birth, making Jesus fully God and fully man, able to make Atonement for the sins of all humanity, which He did by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead so that humanity can be forgiven and saved (and find human fulfillment) through Him; we acquire this forgiveness from sin and salvation unto eternal life through, drawn and empowered by God’s Grace, our turning away from sin (anti-love), accepting what Jesus has done for us and coming into loving, saving relationship with Him (and His Father and Holy Spirit) through belief and baptism, as He taught (Mark 16:16), which makes us members of the one Body of Christ the Church; Jesus’ literal Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven; Jesus’ future return in glory and judgement and the bodily resurrection of all the dead; the tenets of traditional Christian morality (described in the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, among other passages of Scripture) as how to be loving and so how to please the God who is Love; the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures which testify to all these things.
The Catholic Church’s 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II) Which Recently and for the First Time in an Ecumenical Council of the Church Clearly Defined the Nature and Structure of the Ancient Undivided Early Church (Which Has Tremendous Implications for the Eventual Re-establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity), Officially Recognizes the Holy Spirit as the Source of the Church’s Unity and “Places its Hope [For Reunification] 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”
In any case, it is only the Holy Spirit of God’s Divine Love who can unify currently divided Christianity, who can help us to overcome our human sin and weakness in love, even with the Undivided Early Church model of Christian unity in diversity clearly in view. The Catholic Church officially recognizes this, and Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism (UR) states:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4–5). For “all you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ …for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27–28). It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church’s unity. ” (UR 2)
“Today, in many parts of the world, under the influence of the grace of the Holy Spirit, many efforts are being made in prayer, word and action to attain that fullness of unity which Jesus Christ desires. The sacred Council exhorts, therefore, all the Catholic faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism. ” (UR 4)
“There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from self-denial and unstinted love, that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. We should therefore pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble, gentle in the service of others and to have an attitude of brotherly generosity toward them. The Apostle of the Gentiles says: “I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1–3). ” (UR 7)
“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).” (UR 24)
Final Word: Since the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) in the 1960s, “Average Catholics” Have Not Yet Had the Council’s Dogmatic Teaching on the Nature and Structure of the Church, Which Clearly Articulated the Lived Reality of the Unity in Diversity of the Undivided Early Church, Sink Deeply into Their Minds and Hearts. When this Happens and the World’s 1 Billion Roman Rite Catholic Christians Start Thinking about and Working Towards Christian Unity like the Undivided First Millennium Catholic Church Lived It, the Non-Catholic Christian Churches Will Seriously Examine Vatican II’s Ecclesiology and See How its Holy Spirit-Guided Teaching Brilliantly Paves the Way for the Third Millennium Re-Establishment of the First Millennium Christian Unity in Diversity Lost in the Second Millennium. There Is Real Hope for the Third Millennium Fulfillment of Jesus’ Prayer to His Father “That All [Christians] May Be One. . . So That the World May Believe That You Have Sent Me. . . May [Christians] Be Brought to Complete Unity to Let the World Know That You Sent Me and Have Loved Them Even as You Have Loved Me” (John 17:21, 23).
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
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1See Volume I, and see my book The Bible’s “Big Picture”: Using “Family Theology” to Understand the Single Overarching Story Told Throughout the Scriptures, Which Makes the Bible Our Family History as Christians.
2Eastern Orthodox Churches coming back into Catholic Communion, I think, would have a choice of whether to be incorporated into the small existing parallel Eastern Catholic Rite, or to come in as a new “daughter Church” of whichever Eastern Catholic Patriarchate they belonged to before they left the Catholic Communion. The first is the ideal, wherein (for example) all Ukrainian Christians of the three denominations of Ukrainian Orthodox Christians and the Ukrainian Catholic Church are united as one Ukrainian Rite of the Catholic Church, wherein the formerly Orthodox Christians help the always Catholic ones to overcome past Romanization of their Rite, and the always Catholic ones help the formerly Orthodox to be more truly Catholic/Universal. One Rite for each culture, as before the schisms. However, there may be complications with this ideal, including just how to blend the current different hierarchies (which current overseer will be its Patriarch?), and long separation has meant different development of customs over time. Rather than to possibly challenge the charity of currently divided Christians to breaking point by forcing them into one Rite under one hierarchy, in some cases it may be advisable to maintain different Rites with separate hierarchies (all answerable to the pope) which share a common cultural heritage but which have developed into somewhat different Rites over long separation. Perhaps this may be a good way to start, and these Rites because of their common cultural heritage and because of their new common Catholicism may gradually grow closer together and reunify according to the ideal at a later time.
3For a more thorough description of Catholic Sacred Tradition, 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.
4Like me, my professor Dr. Hahn has the benefit of having belonged to both the Protestant and the Catholic arms of Christ’s Body the Church, and he has used this richly varied Christian background to bring rich insight and great Christian refreshment and renewal to his readers.
5That is, they do not follow Luther’s “Bible Alone” doctrine strictly and to its logical conclusions, as unorthodox Protestants do. They do follow Luther’s personal example of remaining unconsciously “Catholic at heart” despite his protest. Luther insisted the Bible must be interpreted according to the traditional fundamentals of orthodox Christianity, mistakenly believing that these truths were “obvious from Scripture alone,” not realizing that they were only “obvious” to him because he was a Catholic priest who had been steeped since birth in the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to properly interpret the Bible. Many of those Protestants since then who were not raised in the Catholic Sacred Tradition but strictly followed Luther’s “Bible Alone” doctrine eventually ended up coming up with many of the same linguistically valid possible Bible interpretations as did those Early Christians who did not take the Church’s Tradition and Magisterium seriously – such as the Arian heresy which denied the Divinity of Jesus! A great many “doctrinally liberal” Protestants today are modern-day Arian heretics after centuries of following “the Bible Alone,” while “doctrinally conservative,” orthodox Protestants strictly follow not “the Bible Alone” but also the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to properly interpret the Bible which is preserved in their orthodox (“Catholic at heart”) Creeds or Statements of Faith.