Ecclesial Unity and Outdoing Christ: A Dilemma for the Ecumenism of Non-Return

Nov 6th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

In an article titled “Finale: A Unitive Vision of Christendom,” PCA pastor Mike Hsu, the pastor of Grace Chapel in Lincoln, Nebraska, recently claimed that I would treat a call for “united hearts” rather than “united ecclesial structure” as ecclesial deism. In that same article Mike then wrote, “The problem with Cross’ argumentation is that it involves the a priori supposition that rather than working towards its realization, the thing itself must be present now (in this case, the Visible Church with a unified ecclesial structure), if Protestants are to avoid the charge of ecclesial deism.” Mike supports an ecumenism that works toward the realization of a unified ecclesial structure to which all Christians are joined, but does not believe that such an effort is guilty of ecclesial deism when it maintains that the unified ecclesial structure pursued by such ecumenism does not already exist. In short, Mike claims that an ecumenism of non-return does not implicitly presuppose ecclesial deism.


Mike Hsu

I’m grateful for Mike’s interaction with my article, because I believe that entering into dialogue is a first step toward attaining that unity Christ prayed that His followers would enjoy. At the same time, I would like to clear up a misunderstanding, and explain why a call to seek to establish a “united ecclesial structure” from one that does not already exist is problematic.

I agree that Christians should seek for “united hearts,” if that means to be united in love for Christ, and thereby in love for one another for Christ’s sake. But just as we cannot love what we do not know, so the foundation of charity between believers is unity of faith. St. Peter wrote, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22) And Pope Leo XIII wrote, “But how can hearts be united in perfect Charity where minds do not agree in Faith?”1 Our capacity for loving one another deeply from the heart as fellow servants of Christ depends on together obeying and sharing the truth from Christ and about Christ. The more a fellow Christian believes that I deny some essential of faith, or believes that I affirm something heretical, the less we are capable of having hearts united in agape. So the pursuit of “united hearts” requires the pursuit of the “one faith” (Eph. 4:5) that has been handed down from the Apostles. But pursuing the one faith by which we can be united in heart requires pursuing a unified ecclesial structure, because otherwise there are as many interpretations as there are interpreters. Therefore, without ever sacrificing truth for unity, all Christians should be pursuing not only unity of faith but also a united ecclesial structure. To deny that would be to abandon altogether the concept of schism as an evil.2 Affirming the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds involves affirming the unity and catholicity of the Church, and so recognizing the sinfulness of schism, and thus the necessity of pursuing and preserving structural unity in one body. No denomination limited to a certain geography or certain ethnicity, and not a member of a worldwide organization can claim to be “catholic,” and therefore can claim to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded.3

Denying the obligation to pursue visible unity with other Christians would require giving up the claim to believe in a visible Church, whether universal or local.4 That is because to deny our obligation to pursue a united ecclesial structure with other Christians is likewise to deny our obligation to belong to a local visible church.5 Claiming that we must belong to a local visible church but that visible churches need not belong to a universal ecclesial structure would be ad hoc and therefore self-refuting. The ad hoc nature of man-made denominations ‘disallowing’ do-it-yourself church’ is not lost on the emergent generation.6 All the reasons one could provide for the necessity of the visibility and structure of the local Church equally support the necessity of the visibility and structure of the universal Church. For these reasons I’ll take as a given that we agree that all Christians ought to be pursuing a unified ecclesial structure, each without ever denying what he believes to be true, or in any other way going against his conscience. The point in question, therefore, is whether the unified ecclesial structure all Christians ought to be pursuing must already exist now.

The reason why the visible ecclesial unity toward which Protestant-Catholic reunion is ordered must already be present can be found in “Pentecost, Babel, and the Ecumenical Imperative.” By his own efforts man can effect only a man-made unity ordered to earthly, temporal ends. Unity of this sort is not in itself evil, nor is the pursuit of such unity in itself evil. Natural virtues are not evil, and neither is the man-made peace that results from peace-treaties, human alliances, human compacts, man-made clubs, organizations, corporations, or other such agreements or societies. But the sort of peace and unity achieved in those cases is not a supernatural peace or a supernatural unity. They are each instances of a merely natural peace and natural unity.7

By contrast, the peace of God surpasses all human comprehension (Philippians 4:7). Jesus, speaking to His Apostles, said, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27) Christ’s peace is not a natural peace that can be established by men. Because this peace surpasses human comprehension, it cannot be established by mere men, according to the natural power of men. Christ’s peace is a supernatural peace that comes only from Him. St. Paul teaches that we are called into one body to be ruled by this supernatural peace in Christ’s mystical Body, i.e. the Church. (1 Cor 12) He writes, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” (Col 3:15) The presence of this peace in His Body is not an accident, because Christ Himself “is our peace,” (Eph. 2:14) and by His Spirit we enter into Christ’s peace through union with Him in His mystical Body.8 The unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:3) is a participation in the peace of Christ, through sharing in His Holy Spirit who animates His Body, the Church.

The Dilemma

For this reason, seeking to establish a visible ecclesial structure, while presuming that the visible ecclesial structure Christ established does not exist, entails a dilemma. Either Christ endowed His Church with a unified ecclesial structure that was later lost, and which mere men are seeking to reestablish, or Christ did not endow His Church with a unified ecclesial structure, and ecumenically minded men seeking to establish a visible ecclesial structure are seeking to establish something beyond what Christ intended. Let’s consider each horn separately.

Horn A: On one horn of the dilemma is the claim that Christ endowed His Church with a unified ecclesial structure that was later lost, and which mere men now seek to reestablish. If that unified ecclesial structure was essential to Christ’s Church, then adopting this horn obviously presupposes ecclesial deism, because it requires believing that Christ allowed something essential to His Church to be lost, and this entails that the Church herself was lost. Moreover, because it affirms the responsibility of all Christians to pursue the realization of a unified ecclesial structure, it either attributes to mere men the ability to establish a supernatural unity, or it treats the sort of unity Christ established in His Church as a merely natural unity that men can establish themselves. The former notion entails an ecclesial pelagianism,9 while the latter notion implicitly denies the unique deity of Christ, by treating the Church He founded as a merely natural society on the same level as any other human society formed by mere men, rather than as a supernatural society which is Christ’s Mystical Body of which He is the Head.

On the other hand, the notion that the unified ecclesial structure Christ established was only a kind of extraneous decoration, nice to have but not essential, is deeply problematic. It treats the unity of the Church’s governing and teaching authority as a mere adornment that is not part of the Church’s nature, but as something that can be removed without any injury to the Church’s life. However, the unity of the governing and teaching authority is essential for the very existence of a divinely established governing and teaching authority. If the Church’s governing and teaching authority could be divided into various competing factions, none having more authority than the others, there would cease to be a governing and teaching authority in the Church.10 So for this reason this position reduces to a kind of biblicism (i.e. solo scriptura), in which each individual retains ultimate magisterial authority for himself.11

This notion that the unified ecclesial structure is not essential to the Church reduces the Church to something that is in essence invisible, and accidentally visible only when the Church happens to possess a unified ecclesial structure, perhaps only at the very beginning of her history. As a result, schism would never be intrinsically wrong. Whenever any Christian disagreed with any other Christians, he could legitimately separate from them and form a different sect, so long as he held no bitterness in his heart. And therefore this notion undermines the very prospect of pursuing a unified ecclesial structure, since such a structure would be entirely devoid of authority, and entirely conditional on unanimous consent among all Christians, something that both common sense and Church history indicate does not happen. Without mutual recognition of divinely established magisterial authority, there are almost as many opinions as there are persons.

Not only that, but whatever unified ecclesial structure men would establish would not be a restablishment of the Church Christ founded. Whatever new institution ecumenically minded Christians established would be a numerically different institution from the one Christ founded, i.e. it would be an altogether new institution that had never before existed. It would therefore not be a divine institution (i.e. one founded by Christ) nor would Christ be its Head, nor would the Holy Spirit be its animating principle. It would be merely a man-made institution. The future unified ecclesial structure intended by Protestants seeking visible ecclesial unity can be a divine institution only if it is the very same divine institution that the incarnate Christ Himself founded during His time on earth, and which was born on the day of Pentecost. And that means that ecumenically minded Protestants seeking a supernatural unified ecclesial structure are in fact, even if unaware of this truth, seeking the same unified ecclesial structure Christ founded and which has existed in unbroken continuity to this day.

For all these reasons, the notion that Christ endowed His Church with a unified ecclesial structure that was later lost, and which mere men can reestablish, is deeply problematic.

Horn B: On the other horn of the dilemma is the notion that Christ did not endow His Church with a unified ecclesial structure, but now all Christians ought to strive to establish a unified ecclesial structure. The primary problem with this notion is that in seeking to establish a unified ecclesial structure for the “one holy catholic Church,” ecumenically minded Christians would be seeking to establish something beyond what Christ Himself intended or instituted when He established His Church. In that case, if Christ did not found a body with a unified ecclesial structure, then to seek to bring all Christians into a body with a structural unity is a form of “outdoing Christ,” that is, it seeks to go beyond the unity that Christ Himself saw fit to establish in His Church by imposing on what He founded as a merely invisible entity a visible unity He Himself did not see fit to establish. But seeking to outdo the omniscient, omnipotent God involves no small hubris. Claiming to worship Christ as God, while seeking to outdo Him in the establishment of ecclesial unity, is likewise no small performative contradiction, and undermines the claim to be following Christ as God.12

Someone might claim that Christ secretly instructed His Apostles to pass along a message through the generations, instructing them to wait until the third millennium to establish a visible ecclesial structure. But the notion that Christ established His Church only as an invisible unity while secretly transmitting the instruction that His disciples should someday (in the third millennium) upgrade the unity of the Church to visible structural unity is a kind of gnosticism. It requires believing in some secret tradition that has not been recorded or developed by any Church Father. Such a claim deserves no further consideration.

This horn of the dilemma faces a further undesirable consequence. Any attempt to build a man-made catholic (i.e. universal) ‘Church,’ rather than being reconciled to the Catholic Church Christ founded, would be the religious equivalent of attempting to restart the building of the Tower of Babel. As I explained in “Pentecost, Babel, and the Ecumenical Imperative,” an attempt by man to form a universal Church is not essentially different from the mission of the Antichrist, who seeks to replace the Church Christ founded with a universal Church founded by man, and thus (despite the appearances) ordered ultimately to the worship of man.

Therefore, the notion that Christ did not endow His Church with a unified ecclesial structure but that we all ought now to establish a unified ecclesial structure, is also problematic.

So both horns of the dilemma are untenable. The only remaining possibility is that Christ endowed His Church with a unified ecclesial structure that has never been lost, and therefore that the full visible reunion of Christians now separated by schism involves a return to that same continuing Catholic Church.13 And that entails that the goal of ecumenical reunion is an ecumenism of return. As St. Jerome said, “We must abide in that Church, which was founded by the Apostles, and endures to this day.”14 Pope Pius XI similarly writes:

[T]he 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, for in the past they have unhappily left it. …

Furthermore, in this one Church of Christ no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors. Did not the ancestors of those who are now entangled in the errors of Photius and the [Protestant] Reformers, obey the Bishop of Rome, the chief shepherd of souls? Alas their children left the home of their fathers, but it did not fall to the ground and perish for ever, for it was supported by God. Let them therefore return to their common Father, who, forgetting the insults previously heaped on the Apostolic See, will receive them in the most loving fashion. For if, as they continually state, they long to be united with Us and ours, why do they not hasten to enter the Church, “the Mother and mistress of all Christ’s faithful”? Let them hear Lactantius (c. 250 – c. 325) crying out: “The Catholic Church is alone in keeping the true worship. This is the fount of truth, this the house of Faith, this the temple of God: if any man enter not here, or if any man go forth from it, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation. Let none delude himself with obstinate wrangling. For life and salvation are here concerned, which will be lost and entirely destroyed, unless their interests are carefully and assiduously kept in mind.”15

Let, therefore, the separated children draw nigh to the Apostolic See, set up in the City which Peter and Paul, the Princes of the Apostles, consecrated by their blood; to that See, We repeat, which is “the root and womb whence the Church of God springs,” not with the intention and the hope that “the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” will cast aside the integrity of the faith and tolerate their errors, but, on the contrary, that they themselves submit to its teaching and government. Would that it were Our happy lot to do that which so many of Our predecessors could not, to embrace with fatherly affection those children, whose unhappy separation from Us We now bewail. Would that God our Savior, “Who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” would hear us when We humbly beg that He would deign to recall all who stray to the unity of the Church!”16

To the ears of many Protestants, such words are sectarian and arrogant. Yet if ‘sectarianism’ is simply defined as the claim that the body to which one belongs is the Church Christ founded, then assuming that ‘sectarianism’ [so defined] is always wrong presupposes either that Christ never founded a visible Church or that, having done so, at some point He allowed it to fall out of existence. Either way, such an assumption is not theologically neutral; it assumes precisely what is in question between Protestants and Catholics, namely, either that Christ did not found a visible Church,17 or that if He did, some kind of ecclesial deism is true. The person making this assumption has placed himself in an epistemic position in which he cannot come to discover whether Christ did in fact found a visible Church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. In his mind he has already ruled out the very possibility, by assuming that such a thing would be sectarian, and that sectarianism is always wrong.18

Nor is it arrogant to claim to be what one actually is. Hence the notion that claiming to be the Church Christ founded is ipso facto arrogant likewise presupposes that there is no body which is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded, just as the notion that claiming to be the Son of God is ipso facto arrogant presupposes that there is no Son of God. So the charge that claiming to be the Church Christ founded is arrogant is a question-begging charge, i.e. it assumes precisely what is in question.

I certainly welcome the call among ecumenically minded Protestants for “united hearts” and a “united ecclesial structure.” What I have done here is show why the pursuit of a “united ecclesial structure” in an ecumenism of non-return faces an intractable dilemma. The solution to that dilemma is an ecumenism of return.19

May the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, and unite our hearts in the one body to which we have been called in Christ.

  1. Praeclara Gratulationis Publicae. []
  2. See “Michael Horton on Schism as Heresy.” []
  3. On ‘catholicity’ as a mark of the Church see comment #21 in the “Collapsing Ecclesiology” thread. []
  4. cf. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXV.2. []
  5. See Baptist pastor Mark Dever’s comments on the importance of being part of a local church. []
  6. See A Reflection on PCA Pastor Terry Johnson’s “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology,”. []
  7. For a helpful explanation of the natural/supernatural distinction, see “Nature, Grace, and Man’s Supernatural End: Feingold, Kline, and Clark” or see Lawrence Feingold’s The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters. []
  8. See Mystici Corporis Christi. []
  9. Pelagianism is the notion that without grace man can attain the supernatural end which is heaven. Ecclesial pelagianism is the notion that mere men can establish a supernatural society. []
  10. See “Philosophy and the Papacy.” []
  11. Cf. “Solo Scripture, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.” []
  12. I first wrote about this horn of the dilemma in 2007, as I explained in “Institutional Unity and Outdoing Christ.” []
  13. This is why Protestantism by its origins is oriented not to the future establishment of a new Catholic Church, but to a return to the Catholic Church; see “Reformation Sunday 2011: How Would Protestants Know When to Return?” []
  14. Quoted in the Catholic Encyclopedia article titled “Apostolicity.” []
  15. Divine Institutes IV.30. []
  16. Mortalium Animos, 10-12. []
  17. Christ Founded a Visible Church.” []
  18. Similar to the claim of ‘sectarianism’ is the claim of ‘triumphalism.’ Triumphalism as gloating is aimed at advancing oneself and diminishing other persons, even when comparing one institution to another. By contrast, claiming that one’s own Church is the Church Christ founded is not triumphalism, even when the person making the claim is mistaken. There is some irony when the person accusing others of triumphalism is triumphalist about his anti-triumphalism, when he holds up his anti-triumphalist position as superior to that of triumphalists, and gloats over his not being among the gloaters. []
  19. See, for example, “Reformation Sunday 2011: How Would Protestants Know When to Return?.” []
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6 comments
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  1. As Mike H has it [bold and italic = my emphasis],

    The problem with Cross’ argumentation is that it involves the a priori supposition …. Cross denies the notion of the “process”… and thereby concludes what he already assumes, that the Catholic church with its visible forms of ecclesial institutionalism is in fact the concrete visible realization of Christ’s organized church… Of course, even Cross’ supposition assumes the global Catholic church itself is in fact a “monolithic structure of polity.”

    Argument by question begging and assumptions is the charge, right?

    Bryan, apparently I missed the part in the ‘Ecclesial Deism’ essay where, on the basis of a denial of ‘a process’, you thereby concluded what you had assumed all along. Where is that, specifically, in the ‘Ecclesial Deism’ article?

    = ; )

  2. Bryan,

    I haven’t read Rev. Hsu’s article, so this simply reflects my own thought, but does Christ establishing ecclesial structure necessitate that Rome is the Church that was established?

    I know you’ve rehashed this here before, so I’m not asking you to continually repeat the claim, but as a conservative Protestant I want to affirm that ecclesial structure was established by Christ and that it . But the biblical data (imo) does not indicate that fellowship with the Rome bishop determines fellowship with the body of Christ (I understand there are qualifications here, but I’m speaking generally). Furthermore, the Patristic period clearly evidences church structure, yet the doctrine of Roman primacy was rejected by those who were in fact members of the universal church (thinking of Cyprian in particular). Why can I not be like Cyprian or other bishops of the time period? I’m fine entertaining the idea that episcopacy is the form of church government that Christ established, but how is Rome the Church that Christ founded then?

    Perhaps I’m not connecting the dots, but all Presbyterians and Anglicans (as well as many Baptists) want to affirm that church government is not an afterthought. That’s why we are called Presbyterians after all :) Why can’t I affirm that church polity is an essential vehicle of the Gospel while rejecting Rome’s claim to be that Church?

  3. RefProt, (re: #2)

    St. Cyprian did not reject the primacy of the bishop of Rome. He took issue with Pope Stephen regarding a particular doctrinal question concerning the rebaptism of heretics, but he never broke fellowship with Pope Stephen over this or any other issue. Rather, he continued to recognize the role of the successor of St. Peter as the divinely established visible principle of ecclesial unity. And it turns out that Pope Stephen was right regarding this question. The issue had not been defined, so St. Cyprian was not a formal heretic (that’s why he can still be a canonized saint). He always remained a Catholic bishop, in full communion with the successor of St. Peter, until his martyrdom. He never formed a schism from the Catholic Church, as did the Donatists. He was not in some Church other than the Catholic Church; he was a Catholic bishop in the Catholic Church. So when you say, “Why can I not be like St. Cyprian” I would say, you can, but you would need to become Catholic to do so. I discussed St. Cyprian’s teaching on ecclesiology in two places: “St. Cyprian on the Unity of the Catholic Church” and the “The Third Century section” of “The Chair of St. Peter.”

    But to your question, “Does Christ establishing ecclesial structure necessitate that Rome is the Church that was established?” No, it does not. I was not here (in this post) intending to establish that the universal Church consisting of all those particular Church in full communion with the bishop of Rome is the Church Christ founded. In this post I am only seeking to lay out a dilemma for those persons who seek to establish a unified [catholic] ecclesial structure not by returning to one that has existed in unbroken continuity from the time of Christ as the visible catholic Church Christ founded.

    You wrote:

    Perhaps I’m not connecting the dots, but all Presbyterians and Anglicans (as well as many Baptists) want to affirm that church government is not an afterthought. That’s why we are called Presbyterians after all :) Why can’t I affirm that church polity is an essential vehicle of the Gospel while rejecting Rome’s claim to be that Church?

    The question I’m addressing here is not whether church government is an afterthought, or “an essential vehicle of the Gospel.” I understand that adherents of every different polity think that their own polity is the one found in Scripture. (And in most cases I think they’re partially right, but like the three blind men feeling different parts of the elephant.) But that’s just not the question I’m addressing here. The dilemma I’m raising here is a dilemma for those who seek to establish a unified [catholic] ecclesial structure by some means other than returning to full communion with a unified ecclesial structure that has existed in unbroken continuity from the time of Christ as the visible catholic Church Christ founded.

    The biblical data does not speak about the bishop of Rome as such, but from the point of view of the Catholic Church, not everything the Apostles had to say regarding doctrine, and not all that they did in terms of setting up ecclesial structure, was included in the books and letters that became the New Testament. So for that reason a Catholic wouldn’t try to reconstruct the Church and its rightful structure from Scripture alone, because such an activity presupposes something contrary to what has been handed down in the Catholic Church, namely, that the Apostolic deposit comes to us through both Scripture and Tradition, including the practices the Apostles taught the first bishops and Apostolic churches. The Apostolic writings were handed down in an ecclesial context of bishops, and the episcopacy is also part of the Apostolic Tradition, even though the essential distinction between bishop and presbyter is not laid out in an indisputably explicit way in the New Testament.

    In addition, the primacy of St. Peter is part of the Apostolic Tradition, even if that’s not clearly made explicit (in your opinion) in Scripture. Jesus did not give the keys of the Kingdom to any other Apostle; He gave them only to St. Peter. Of course the other Apostles also exercise the power of the keys in various respects, but they do so only through their communion with St. Peter, and therefore the same pattern continues with the bishops succeeding the Apostles, it being necessary therefore to remain in communion with the successor of St. Peter, who handed on the keys to his successor in Rome, where he was martyred, and buried. See comment #8 regarding St. Peter handing down his authority in the place where he poured out his blood and is buried.

    Of course I can’t lay out the whole history of the Catholic Church here in a combox, but it was this same Catholic Church (spoken of by St. Ignatius of Antioch at the end of the first century) whose bishops came together for the Nicene Council, and from whom the Marcionites, Novatians, and Donatists separated. The principle by which they were understood to be in schism from the Church (and not just a branch of the Church) is that they separated from communion with the successor of St. Peter. See “St. Optatus on Schism and the Bishop of Rome,” in which I examined the writings of the fourth century north-African bishop’s writings on schism.

    Within the Church there was a widespread recognition of the primacy of the successor of St. Peter, and necessity of remaining in communion with him. See “The Chair of St. Peter” for just a sample of material from the Fathers, only on the chair of St. Peter. See the “Papacy” section of our Suggested Reading, and make sure to read at least the works by Fortescue, Giles, and Chapman. This is the same Catholic Church headed by Pope Leo in the fifth century, and Pope Hormisdas who, sixty-eight years after the Council of Chalcedon, ended the Acacian schism of 484-519 when the bishops in schism signed what is now known as the “Formula of Hormisdas”:

    The first condition of salvation is to keep the norm of the true faith and in no way to deviate from the established doctrine of the Fathers. For it is impossible that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,” [Matthew 16:18], should not be verified. And their truth has been proved by the course of history, for in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept unsullied. From this hope and faith we by no means desire to be separated and, following the doctrine of the Fathers, we declare anathema all heresies, and, especially, the heretic Nestorius, former bishop of Constantinople, who was condemned by the Council of Ephesus, by Blessed Celestine, bishop of Rome, and by the venerable Cyril, bishop of Alexandria. We likewise condemn and declare to be anathema Eutyches and Dioscoros of Alexandria, who were condemned in the holy Council of Chalcedon, which we follow and endorse. This Council followed the holy Council of Nicaea and preached the apostolic faith. And we condemn the assassin Timothy, surnamed Aelurus [”the Cat”] and also Peter [Mongos] of Alexandria, his disciple and follower in everything. We also declare anathema their helper and follower, Acacius of Constantinople, a bishop once condemned by the Apostolic See, and all those who remain in contact and company with them. Because this Acacius joined himself to their communion, he deserved to receive a judgment of condemnation similar to theirs. Furthermore, we condemn Peter [”the Fuller”] of Antioch with all his followers together together with the followers of all those mentioned above.

    Following, as we have said before, the Apostolic See in all things and proclaiming all its decisions, we endorse and approve all the letters which Pope St Leo wrote concerning the Christian religion. And so I hope I may deserve to be associated with you in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which the whole, true, and perfect security of the Christian religion resides. I promise that from now on those who are separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who are not in agreement with the Apostolic See, will not have their names read during the sacred mysteries. But if I attempt even the least deviation from my profession, I admit that, according to my own declaration, I am an accomplice to those whom I have condemned. I have signed this, my profession, with my own hand, and I have directed it to you, Hormisdas, the holy and venerable pope of Rome.

    This same Church was led by Pope Gregory the Great in the early seventh century, and by all the popes since then, Pope Benedict XVI being the 266th pope in the line of succession from St. Peter, and now comprising 1.2 billion people all over the world.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  4. But the biblical data (imo) does not indicate that fellowship with the Rome bishop determines fellowship with the body of Christ (I understand there are qualifications here, but I’m speaking generally).

    Let’s leave aside the Bishop of Rome for now. Would you agree that the biblical data indicates a fellowship with the apostles? That being a Christian meant confessing the same faith as the apostles? Passages like Jude 11 and Rev 2:6,15 criticize groups precisely because they have split in some serious way from the apostles. Eph 2:19-21 talks about God’s household (the church) being built on the foundation of the apostles. So would you say a “united ecclesial structure” was there in the early decades of the church? Is it fair to say the New Testament is written with the assumed reality that such a structure is in place?

  5. Lament for a Divided Church,” by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, in Christianity Today.

    The inescapable implication for the ecumenism of non-return is that it destroys its own raison d’être, much as scientism defeats itself by failing its own test. If such an ecumenism claims that the true unity confessed in the Creed does not involve hierarchical unity, and is already shared by all Christians, then there is no reason for ecumenism, and thus it destroys itself. But if such an ecumenism claims that the true unity confessed in the Creed does involve hierarchical unity, then the Church cannot lose this unity even when persons separate themselves from it, in which case the ecumenism of non-return is false. Either way, the ecumenism of non-return destroys itself. Hence the existence of ecumenism thus holds forth within itself the Catholic Church as its inherent end, though this end lies beyond the perceptual horizon of those for whom ecumenism appears to be only an ecumenism of non-return. As Plato distinguished between discussions proceeding from fundamental principles and discussions leading up to fundamental principles (cf. Nicomachean Ethics 1095a33), so the ecumenism that leads up to fundamental principles is not an ecumenism of return in its starting principles, but only in its terminus ad quem. Hence the true ecumenism of return is not a denial of one’s own faith history, but its completion and perfection. This steers a middle course between the ecumenism of non-return, and a return of abandonment for that to which one is unrelated.

  6. Charles Negy, a professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida, apparently wrote a letter to his class in which he said the following:

    Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry. They are convinced their beliefs are correct. For the Christians in my class who argued the validity of Christianity last week, I suppose I should thank you for demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry looks like. It seems to have not even occurred to you (I’m directing this comment to those students who manifested such bigotry), as I tried to point out in class tonight, how such bigotry is perceived and experienced by the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the non-believers, and so on, in class, to have to sit and endure the tyranny of the masses (the dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).

    Of course we ought to be sensitive to other persons as persons, and be willing to recognized and affirm whatever is good and true in other religions. However, implicit in Negy’s charge of bigotry (insofar as he is speaking of the position, and not the manner in which this position is held, i.e. without a willingness to examine it to see whether it is in fact true, or with a knee-jerk assumption that everyone who disagrees with oneself is wrong) is the presupposition that no religion is the true one (notice he uses the word ‘valid’ instead of ‘true’). In this way, his charge begs the question, i.e. presupposes precisely what is in question. But I see no difference, in essence, between Negy’s charge that believing one religion to be the true one is “bigotry” and the claim by certain Protestants that the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church Christ founded is “sectarianism” or “triumphalism” (see the post at the top of this page). If Negy’s charge is question-begging, by presupposing the very point in question, then so is that of the Protestants who charge the Catholic doctrine with “sectarianism” or “triumphalism,” insofar as these Protestants are speaking of the Catholic doctrine, and not any arrogant or boastful manner in which the position is presented or defended.

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