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.
© 2008 Peter William John Baptiste, SFO
The Catholic Church’s Official Understanding of the Nature and Structure of the Church as the Mystery of the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-32) organized in the World as a Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Christian Rites or Particular (Sister) Churches Pastorally Guided by the (Universal) Pope and the (Particular) Patriarchs, in the Words of Vatican II (the 21st Ecumenical Council)
On The Nature of the Church as Mystery
Chapter I: The Mystery of the Church Since the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men — she here proposes, for the benefit of the faithful and of the whole world, to set forth, as clearly as possible, and in the tradition laid down by earlier Councils, her own nature and universal mission. The condition of the modern world lends greater urgency to this duty of the Church; for, while men of the present day are drawn ever more closely together by social, technical and cultural bonds, it still remains for them to achieve full unity in Christ. (Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium (LG) 1, emphases added)
Really sharing in the body of the Lord in the breaking of the eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with him and with one another. “Because the bread is one, we, though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). In this way all of us are made members of his body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:27), “but severally members one of another” (Rom. 12:4).
As all the members of the human body, though they are many, form one body, so also are the faithful in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12). Also, in the building up of Christ’s body there is engaged a diversity of members and functions. There is only one Spirit who, according to his own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives his different gifts for the welfare of the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 12:1–11). Among these gifts the primacy belongs to the grace of the apostles to whose authority the Spirit himself subjects even those who are endowed with charisms (cf. 1 Cor. 14)1. Giving the body unity through himself, both by his own power and by the interior union of the members, this same Spirit produces and stimulates love among the faithful. From this it follows that if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is honored, all the members together rejoice (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26).
The head of this body is Christ. He is the image of the invisible God and in him all things came into being. He is before all creatures and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body which is the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might hold the primacy (cf. Col. 1:15–18). By the greatness of his power he rules heaven and earth, and with his all-surpassing perfection and activity he fills the whole body with the riches of his glory (cf. Eph. 1:18–23). …On earth, still as pilgrims in a strange land, following in trial and in oppression the paths he trod, we are associated with his sufferings as the body with its head, suffering with him, that with him we may be glorified (cf. Rom. 8:17).
From him “the whole body, supplied and built up by joints and ligaments, attains a growth that is of God” (Col. 2:19). He continually provides in his body, that is, in the Church, for gifts of ministries through which, by his power, we serve each other unto salvation so that, carrying out the truth in love, we may through all things grow unto him who is our head (cf. Eph. 4:11–16, Gk.).
In order that we might be unceasingly renewed in him (cf. Eph. 4:23), he has shared with us his Spirit who, being one and the same in head and members, gives life to, unifies and moves the whole body. Consequently, his work could be compared by the Fathers to the function that the principle of life, the soul, fulfils in the human body.
Christ loves the Church as his bride, having been established as the model of a man loving his wife as his own body (cf. Eph. 5:25–28); the Church, in her turn, is subject to her head (Eph. 5:23–24). “Because in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), he fills the Church, which is his body and his fullness, with his divine gifts (cf. Eph. 1:22–23) so that it may increase and attain to all the fullness of God (cf. Eph. 3:19).
(LG 7, emphases added)
The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ, the visible society and the spiritual community, the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches, are not to be thought of as two realities. On the contrary, they form one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element. For this reason the Church is compared, in a powerful analogy, to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed [human] nature, inseparably united to him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a somewhat similar way, does the social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ who vivifies it, in the building up of the body (cf. Eph. 4:15).
This is the sole Church of Christ which in the [ancient Nicene] Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (Jn. 21:17), commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it (cf. Mt. 28:18, etc.), and which he raised up 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 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 [particularly in the non-Catholic churches which left the Catholic Communion in history but remain “Catholic at heart,” wholly committed to the essentials of traditional (Catholic) Christian faith]. Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity [the orthodox, traditional Christian faith “belongs” to the one Church of Christ which subsists in the Catholic Church, so the non-Catholic but orthodox or “Catholic at heart” churches rejoining the Catholic Communion is the best guarantee of their long-term Christian orthodoxy, as mature Protestantism (which is “ doctrinally liberal” or unorthodox) demonstrates].
(LG 8, emphases added, with gloss in parentheses)
On The Structure of the Church
The holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government. They combine into different groups, which are held together by their hierarchy, and so form particular churches or rites. Between those churches there is such a wonderful communion that this variety, so far from diminishing the Church’s unity, rather serves to emphasize it … These individual churches both Eastern and Western, while they differ somewhat among themselves in what is called “rite,” namely in liturgy, in ecclesiastical discipline and in spiritual tradition, are none the less all equally entrusted to the pastoral guidance of the Roman Pontiff [the pope], who by God’s appointment is successor to Blessed Peter in primacy over the Universal Church. Therefore these churches are of equal rank, so that none of them is superior to the others because of its rite. They have the same rights and obligations, even with regard to the preaching of the Gospel in the whole world (cf. Mk. 16:15), under the direction of the Roman Pontiff [the pope]. (Vatican Council II, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, (OE) 2,3, emphases added)
The one People of God is accordingly present in all the nations of the earth, since its citizens, who are taken from all nations, are of a kingdom whose nature is not earthly but heavenly. All the faithful scattered throughout the world are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit so that ‘he who dwells in Rome knows those in most distant parts to be his members’[Chrysostom].2 (Vatican Council II, LG 13)
Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions, without prejudice to the Chair of Peter which presides over the whole assembly of charity, and protects their legitimate variety while at the same time taking care that these differences do not hinder unity, but rather contribute to it. (LG 13)
It has come about through divine providence that, in the course of time, different Churches set up in various places by the apostles and their successors joined together in a multiplicity of organically united groups which, whilst safeguarding the unity of the faith and the unique divine structure of the universal Church, have their own discipline, enjoy their own liturgical usage and inherit a theological and spiritual patrimony. Some of these, notably the ancient patriarchal Churches, as mothers in the faith, gave birth to other daughter-Churches (LG 23)
The patriarchate as an institution has existed in the Church from the earliest times, and was already recognized by the first ecumenical councils … By the term … “patriarch” is meant the bishop who has jurisdiction over all the bishops, metropolitans [called archbishops in the West] not excepted, clergy and people of his own territory or rite (OE 7) … The patriarchs … are all equal in patriarchal rank, without prejudice to their legitimately established precedence of honor (OE 8) … and without prejudice to the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. (OE 7)
… This multiplicity of local Churches, unified in a common effort, shows all the more resplendently the catholicity of the undivided Church. (LG 23)
I would like to note that all of the suggestions in my books towards Christian reunification are intended to help Christians come to think about unity like the Undivided Early Church lived it, in order to prepare us for our future reunification in the Holy Spirit’s love and timing. For right now, Roman Catholic Christians, the current great majority of Catholic Christians (and by far the largest group of all Christians), will have to get used to these ideas as much as Protestant Christians will before reunification can happen, since the Catholic Church’s 21st Ecumenical Council, which laid the groundwork for real Christian reunification as in the Undivided Early Catholic Christian Church, is so recent, and its teaching has not yet filtered down thoroughly into the minds and hearts of the “average Roman Catholic.”
© 2008 Peter William John Baptiste, SFO
Ecumenical Conclusion of these Excerpts
The ancient Living Body of Christ the (unified Universal or Catholic) Christian Church in its 1st Ecumenical (worldwide) Council at Nicea (325 AD) dogmatically and irrevocably clarified, against the Arian Christian heretics with their sophisticated and thorough but not Traditional interpretation of “the Bible Alone,” the vital Christian belief that Jesus is God, “one in being with the Father.” The 2nd Ecumenical Council of 381 AD (which Pope Saint Damasus declared to be of Ecumenical (worldwide) authority although no Western overseer/bishops were present), first authoritatively articulated and clarified the Divinity of the Holy Spirit as well and thus the primary Christian doctrine of the Trinity, ending all the previous disputes among Christians about the Trinity. The 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon (451 AD) under the direction of Pope Saint Leo the Great similarly precisely clarified in the Holy Spirit, against the Monophysite Christian heretics, the central Christian belief in the Incarnation, that Jesus is in fact “fully God and fully man.” Vatican Council II (1962-5) was the 21st Ecumenical Council of the same Catholic Church (the ongoing Universal/Catholic Communion of today 26 Orthodox Christian Rites or ‘Sister Churches’) , and it likewise precisely articulated something that had always been part of the Christian faith at least implicitly but had never been explicitly clarified, which had likewise resulted in some Christians coming up with incorrect notions that caused many problems (and divisions). Vatican II was the very first Ecumenical Council of the Living Body of Christ the Church to dogmatically clarify the nature and structure of the Christian Church, precisely articulating the instinctively lived reality of the Undivided Early Church of the First Millennium (a reality continued in the Catholic Church today but much harder to see since unlike in the First Millennium, the great majority of Catholics today are Roman Rite Catholics). This has tremendous implications for the eventual reunification of Jesus’ Body the Church which became divided in the Second Millennium, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity. As all Christians, including majority Roman Rite Catholic Christians who often have a more particularly Roman and less truly Catholic (Universal) understanding of their Church, come to fully understand and appreciate the nature and structure of the Undivided Early Church, it will become easier for today’s different Christian churches already united in vast common saving Christian faith (see The “Common Creed” of Christianity) to better reflect the Undivided Early Church’s loving and mutually enriching unity in diversity, “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21) in Jesus when it sees the love of Christians for “one another” (John 13:35) – even for as long as our current formal divisions remain.
© 2007, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Go To Next Section 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 (Above) 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”
1Like 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.
2 That is, orthodox Protestants 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.
3The Catholic Church since Vatican II re-studied the history of charisms or supernatural gifts in the Church and re-emphasized these Charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. Not surprisingly the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement began shortly after the Council. But that history of charisms in the Church shows the danger of those with charismatic gifts (which can be counterfeited by the supernatural power of God’s Enemy) not being subject to the Apostolic authority passed down in the ordained leaders of the Christian Church who are entrusted with guarding the Apostolic Deposit of Orthodox Christian Faith. The Montanist heretics of the 2nd Century began as “charismatic” Christians but, following their apparent “gifts” and not the ordained Church leaders in line of succession from Christ’s ordained Apostles (to whom Christ promised He would give a special “charism of truth” – John 16:13), they eventually became heretics, losing orthodoxy, as have some groups on the fringes of the 20th Century Protestant Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements.
4Saint John Chrysostom, who wrote this, was the Eastern Archbishop of Constantinople (before it was made a Patriarchate). He is the most prolific of the Early Eastern Saints and Doctors of the Church, and most Eastern Orthodox as well as most Eastern Catholic Christians celebrate the Divine Liturgy he wrote at their Sunday Christian worship services. While the main point of this quote is that a Catholic (Universal) Christian from anywhere knows Christians far away are members of the same Body of Christ he belongs to, he likely also has the pope in Rome in mind when he says “he who dwells in Rome [specifically] knows those in most distant parts to be his members.” Chrysostom, the greatest doctor of Eastern Orthodoxy, recognized the pope as Peter’s Successor and referred to the pope in Rome in terms such as “fisherman of the universe” and “pillar of the Church.”