Hope and Unity

Feb 8th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

God the Son, taking our lowly form and walking among us, left us many imperatives which require faith first, but also hope. Believe in Me, He said, but also hope. Faith causes hope and hope, like faith, is a theological virtue. To follow through with an imperative requires faith in the imperator which precedes the hope.  This faith in the imperator is what tells us that the end might actually be achieved. We Christians have such an end for which to hope, an end to which we are directed by an imperative; that end is unity. 

Unity is not optional for the Body of Christ anymore than it is optional of our physical bodies. Those members which would take part in my life must partake of my bodily unity for if not found there, it shall not be found elsewhere. Those who would take part in the life of Christ must likewise join to that in which His life already exists in Bodily unity.

To have enough faith in Christ to follow the unity imperative is one thing; it is another altogether to maintain the hope that it shall indeed be realized. No doubt, this hope seems unreasonable; but as one famous journalist who achieved this very hope for himself said, hope is only useful when it is unreasonable.

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  1. Tim,

    I don’t know any Christians who do not hope that visible unity “shall indeed by realized” in heaven. What I hear quite often from some Protestants is that the very notion of pursuing present visible unity is an expression of over-realized eschatology, expecting to achieve or establish something this side of heaven, that won’t be realized until Christ returns, like trying to live sinlessly or expecting to be healed now of every disease, or trying to gain certainty concerning theological questions that must remain mysteries to us until the eschaton. In other words, it is precisely their hope of visible unity in heaven by which these Protestants reason that we should not expect to successfully realize visible unity here and now. From that point of view, ecumenicism is a great ideal and a noble activity, but this side of heaven, divisions will always be with us, as the poor will always be with us. What is most important now is that Christ is preached; He will remove our divisions when He returns, just as He will then wipe away every tear.

    The notion that visible unity of the Body is something to be hoped for implies that visible unity of the Body is not something already present. For who hopes for what he already has? On this point, precisely, Catholics believe what Protestants do not believe, namely, that Christ endowed His Church with perpetual, indefeasible, essential visible unity, a unity preserved in a unique way through the keys given to St. Peter and his episcopal successors. So in my opinion the difference between Catholics and Protestants, on this point, is rooted in a difference of faith. The Catholic Church believes and teaches that the Church is already visibly united, and that this essential visible unity has been present throughout her existence through the three bonds of unity (CCC #815). That’s a unity we already have by Christ’s institution, and which we refer to in the Creed (i.e. “one, holy, …”). The unity that we hope for with the supernatural virtue of hope is the unity of the Beatific Vision, in which the saints, with unveiled faces and pure hearts, see God face to face, and in which those who, through no fault of their own were not in full communion with the Church Christ established, but who died in grace, are perfectly united with God and all the saints in glory. That is the blessed hope. (Titus 2:13)

    We do also pray and hope that those who have faith in Christ but are presently divided in some respect from Christ’s Church will in this present life enter into full communion with the already existing visible unity of His Church. We pray and hope not only that those in material heresy would come to the truth, but also for the repentance of those in formal heresy, and likewise for those in schism from the Church, whether culpable or not culpable. This hope is based on our assurance that God in His mercy hears and answers prayer, in accordance with His will, and that the full visible unity of His followers is His will and prayer (John 17). Yet it does not deny the capacity of men to resist grace and suppress the truth, nor does it ignore the work of the evil one in deceiving men by distorting and cloaking the truth. Nevertheless, our hope for the full visible unity in this present age of all Christ’s followers is also based on there already being a divinely established perpetual visible unity to which such persons can be united, as were we. This hope would be a mere pipe dream if Christ hadn’t already divinely established such unity permanently in His Church.

    Our hope for the Beatific Vision, on the other hand, is based on dogmas of the faith. We have no divine promise or dogma that at any point in this present age there will be no Christians who, through no fault of their own, are not in full communion with Christ’s Church. This is a hope by prayer and a participation in the sacred heart of Christ. So, these two hopes (i.e. for the full visible unity of all Christ’s followers in this present age, and for the Beatific Vision) are distinct in important ways.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. Bryan,

    The hope can be and is different depending on where you are. Those who have unity do not hope for their own unity; they hope that others will join them to share in the unity that they already possess. The Church necessarily has unity; hence I said, “Unity is not optional for the Body of Christ,” so anyone who is in the Church already has that unity. But not all Christians are in the Church and so they do not all share in that unity. We should hope that all Christians would be in the sacramental unity of the Church.

  3. I had a thought today concerning the subject of unity. I don’t know if this thread is the best place for it, but I will give it a shot.

    I’ve read that the Apostle Thomas started the church in India, and that in doing so he left the people with no written text. Yet, that church grew and exists still today, in communion with Rome.

    On the flip side, one notices the coincidence of the cleavage in the church with advent of the printing press. In more modern times, increased literacy rates and more access to the Bible seem to have correlated with further splintering among Christians into various sects.

    My question is: Is there something about the spoken word that facilitates unity more so than does the written word? Or is disunity foremost the result of the claim to private interpretation?

  4. Jesse,

    Interesting question.

    According to Eusebius, the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, and to the Malankara Orthodox Church, their founder is St. Thomas. But that has been disputed by some historians (e.g. George Smith in the late 19th century). Smith believed that Pantaenus (St. Clement of Alexandria’s predecessor at the catechetical school) was the first Christian missionary to India near the end of the second century. Eusebius also confirms this missionary journey and notes that Pantaenus returned with a copy of Matthew’s gospel in Hebrew. If that is the case, then St. Thomas would have left them writings.

    As to your question, I don’t think it’s so much of an issue about the medium. It is the magisterium that actively keeps the Catholic Church unified but almost all of us learn of her decrees through writing, not spoken word. I don’t think its the spoken word per se, but the nature of its origin that better facilitates unity. A spoken word (here and now) necessarily comes from a living source. But writing (even if possessed here and now) might have been written by a source that is no longer living (and hence cannot clarify itself should questions arise). That is why it appears that spoken word better facilitates unity; every time we hear a spoken word, the source has the power to clarify itself. But that is not always the case when we read something.

    I think disunity most often arises as a result of one’s refusal to place faith in an objective authority. We all use private interpretation to some degree; the question is whether that interpretation is subjected to an objective authority (that is living). Protestantism has no such option and hence will continue to splinter so long as they refuse to have faith in the Church.

  5. Tim,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. What you wrote makes a lot of sense to me. You guys are good! Thank you for taking the time.

  6. Tim,

    I noticed this today in 3 John:

    “13 I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.”

    It would be a mistake, no doubt, to read too much into that statement. But it is a reminder that the NT epistles weren’t a sort of “Christianity 101”; rather they were follow-up letters. The faith was spread primarily orally and not through writing. I think this is why some topics which are so central to the Christian message (e.g. baptism, Eucharist) aren’t a central point of the NT epistles; the writer presupposes that the reader has knowledge of them. The fact that these topics are relatively absent indicates just how important they are.

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