notes on Catholic Protestant ecumenism, II

The goal of ecumenism is the union of the Church. I have great hope for Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism simply because it’s possible. A group of Patriarchs could get together with a group of Bishops, sign a sheet of paper, and declare unity. The following week, the parishioners would gather and mass would continue the same as it did the week before.

I have no hope or Catholic-Protestant ecumenism because neither can hold that the other is a Church. As I’ve said before, a right thinking Protestant can believe it’s possible for a situation to arise under which he would have to leave his denomination; but a right thinking Catholic can never believe this. Again, an orthodox Catholic believes that the Church of Christ is, was and will always be identified with a single denomination; but a Protestant can never believe this- for to do so would destroy the possibility of Protestantism. These ways of seeing the Church are fundamentally contrary, which is to say they are the maximum difference within a single genus. It is precisely this contrariety makes it always possible for people to say “look at how much Catholics and Protestants have in common!”

Again, I stress that this contrariety is essential to Protestantism and Catholicism. When a Catholic walks into a Protestant religious service and discerns that everyone there is more or less equal, his natural reaction is to say “Why do I have to be here?” In other words, this is what a Catholic understands as a devotional service, and such a service can be had at home, or on a Tuesday, or once a month, or with friends, or even not at all. When a Protestant walks into a Catholic religious service and discerns that everyone there is not equal, but the priest is distinctively more important, his reaction is to say “Why does he have to be here?” The Protestant mind sees a cleric as a man put between God and other men, and as therefore, at best, a useless addition to the Gospel (this strikes me as true even in the case of High-Church Anglicans).

This was the sense of the crack that I made a few days ago about Catholic-Protestant ecumenism being like an odd dinner party, etc. All sides are waiting for the death of the other because in one way or another they realize that there can never be one Church composed of, say, Catholic and Protestant “rites”. It’s impossible even to speak of how one would form one Church from both. We can of course be polite and cordial with each other, and even learn a few things, but we will never be one and we all know it.

I say this not to be a naysayer, but in an ecumenical spirit. The discussions between Catholics and Protestants will lead to the realization that the split between them is grounded on a principles that neither side can concede without ceasing to exist. Ecumenism can be sobering too, and this is one such moment. What is called for is not more cheerful dialogue, painstaking agreements, and then calls for more study. In this particular case, an action for the unity of the Church demands that we choose the correct side, reject the other, and then dedicate our efforts toward bringing people to it.

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2 Comments

  1. Leo said,

    November 25, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    The goal of ecumenism is the union of the Church.

    The Church is one, it has its unity:

    “‘One faith,’ St. Paul writes (Eph. 4:5). Hold most firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients. Deny this, and you dissolve the unity of the Church … We must hold this for certain, namely: that the faith of the people at the present day is one with the faith of the people in past centuries. Were this not true, then we would be in a different church than they were in and, literally, the Church would not be One.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

    I have great hope for Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism simply because it’s possible.

    Indeed, take the Council of Florence for example.

    A group of Patriarchs could get together with a group of Bishops, sign a sheet of paper, and declare unity.

    That that would imply that they recognize the Papacy, the Trinity in the Catholic sense, and belong to it in unity with the Pope and the one Church:

    Pope Pius XI, Mortalium Animos #9 on the unity of the Church: “… that unity can only arise from one teaching authority, one law of belief and one faith of Christians.”

    I have no hope or Catholic-Protestant ecumenism because neither can hold that the other is a Church.

    Or even Christian for that matter.

    As I’ve said before, a right thinking Protestant can believe it’s possible for a situation to arise under which he would have to leave his denomination; but a right thinking Catholic can never believe this.

    Catholics know that there is only one true Church, and one true faith, one unity, one head, and thus they could not leave it without knowing that they have left that Church which Christ founded, and thus would be abandoning the divinely revealed religion.

    Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum (# 5), June 29, 1896: “The Church of Christ, therefore, is one and the same for ever; those who leave it depart from the will and command of Christ, the Lord – leaving the path of salvation they enter on that path of perdition… He who observes not this unity observes not the law of God, holds not the faith of the Father and the Son, clings not to life and salvation.”

    Again, an orthodox Catholic believes that the Church of Christ is, was and will always be identified with a single denomination; but a Protestant can never believe this- for to do so would destroy the possibility of Protestantism.

    Of course, for a Protestant to assert so would be to deny Protestantism, which has its basis in one’s believing in himself and his own ability to discern truth, it would be to relinquish his precious doctrine of private interpretation, which is the fundamental right of Protestants.

    These ways of seeing the Church are fundamentally contrary, which is to say they are the maximum difference within a single genus. It is precisely this contrariety makes it always possible for people to say “look at how much Catholics and Protestants have in common!”

    But it only takes one heresy for one to be separated from the Church and thus expelled from the body of Christ and salvation, as such was Arius and his followers, and all those heretics who merely denied one dogma, but nevertheless were heretics undermining the faith:

    I Lateran Council: “If anyone does not profess properly and truthfully all that has been handed down and taught publicly to the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of God, to the last detail in word and intention: let him be anathema.”

    St. Augustine – If anyone holds to a single heresy, he is not a Catholic. (“On Heresies,” no.88; PL 42)

    St. Edmund Campion – What is the use of fighting for many articles of the faith, and to perish for the doubting of a few? He believes no one article of faith who refuses to believe any single one.

    they realize that there can never be one Church composed of, say, Catholic and Protestant “rites”. It’s impossible even to speak of how one would form one Church from both. We can of course be polite and cordial with each other, and even learn a few things, but we will never be one and we all know it.

    Right, but the thing is that Protestants are heretics, they deny the Catholic Church and her dogmas, they cannot be united to her unless they renounce their errors and return to the fold from which they have strayed, and this is the unity we should seek, not some outside buddy buddy feel good type unity, but a real religious unity in faith.

    St. Athanasius, De Decretis, #4: “For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers; whereas they who have not this character are to be called not true doctors but evil.”

    Pope Pius XI, Mortalium Animos (#10), Jan. 6, 1928:
    “…the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it…”

    I say this not to be a naysayer, but in an ecumenical spirit. The discussions between Catholics and Protestants will lead to the realization that the split between them is grounded on a principles that neither side can concede without ceasing to exist.

    Exactly right.

    an action for the unity of the Church demands that we choose the correct side, reject the other, and then dedicate our efforts toward bringing people to it.

    Right. You have some good points here, and they’re very thought-provoking.

    Thanks,

    Leo

  2. Gina said,

    January 8, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    I’m just a fly-by visitor, but I have to say, if this is your idea of how recommunion will be established with the Orthodox, you can’t know much about the Orthodox. Reading this, it makes sense why Catholics seem to be shocked and then indignant when they encounter much more ambivalence about reunion in the Orthodox world than they experience in the Catholic world. The Orthodox see the process as requiring the mind of the church to be one, the way we pray to be the first step to unity and what the bishops do in their meetings as *seal* to that internal unity.

    To compare, many Orthodox see substantial hope for reunion of the non-Chalcedonian (Oriental) Orthodox and the Byzantine Orthodox, even though that schism is much older than the East-West one. There is an internal unity that far outweighs what we can see when we look at the shape of Catholicism compared to Orthodoxy.


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