The “Catholics are Divided Too” Objection

Nov 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

When Protestants become Catholic, one reason they typically give for doing so is the prospect of attaining unity. They recognize both that the perpetual fragmentation between Protestant denominations cannot be the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer in John 17 that His followers be one, and that this fragmentation is perpetually insoluble by way of sola scriptura and the assumption that Scripture is sufficiently perspicuous to establish or preserve Christians in the unity for which Christ prayed. In the Magisterium of the Catholic Church they see a divinely established way of preserving doctrinal and visible unity through the role of the episcopal successor of St. Peter in Rome.1


Disputation with Simon Magus (1481-1482)
Filippino Lippi

The Objection

However, there is a seemingly powerful objection to this argument, an objection raised frequently in response to the prospect of finding in the Catholic Church the unity for which Christ prayed in St. John 17. The objection is the following claim: Catholics are divided too, no less than are Protestants. According to this objection when a Protestant becomes Catholic he does not enter into a greater unity, because he is merely moving from a relatively unified Protestant denomination among many other Protestant denominations, to the structurally unified institution of the Catholic Church composed of members who, it seems, disagree over just about everything.

Nor is there any shortage of high profile Catholics whose public statements and positions illustrate the point of the objection. We might think of the present Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic who publicly supports both the legalization of abortion and the controversial HHS mandate requiring Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities to provide to their employees coverage for contraception, abortifacients, and sterilizations. Or we could point to the recent disagreement between the Holy See and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Or we could point to Notre Dame theologian Richard McBrien’s opposition to the Catholic practice of Eucharistic adoration, or the Call To Action group in Minnesota supporting the legal recognition of same-sex ‘marriage.’ There are outspoken Catholics in the media voicing support for and opposition to the legalization of same-sex ‘marriage,’ voluntary abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, torture of terrorist suspects, as well as women’s ordination, the use of drones as military weapons, and many other issues. 2

The situation is not limited to high profile Catholics. Most of us have encountered Catholics who think of themselves as good Catholics but are quick to list the matters about which they disagree with the Pope; the use of contraceptives is typically first on this list. Moreover, it is common knowledge that Catholics in the United States do not fall neatly or predominantly into either major political party. In view of all this disagreement among Catholics, the “Catholics are divided too” objection might seem to be quite accurate and compelling, and thus to undermine the notion that the Catholic Church possesses any more unity than any particular Protestant denomination, let alone possesses exclusively the supernatural unity that is the first of the four marks of the Church recited in the Nicene Creed. In order to explain why the objection is mistaken, we must first consider the nature of the Church’s unity.

The Nature of the Unity of the Catholic Church

The unity of the Catholic Church is constituted of three bonds, each stemming from Christ’s own unity in three redemptive roles. In the Old Testament, the roles of prophet, priest, and king were each held by different groups of persons. The prophets were distinct from the Levitical priests, and these in turn were distinct from the kings of Israel, typically anointed to this role by the prophets. These three roles, however, all came together and were fulfilled in the incarnate Christ. He is the Prophet, the Priest, and the King of the New Covenant people. He is the Prophet because He brings the fullness of divine revelation, as the eternal and exhaustive Word of God the Father. He is the Priest because He offers once and for all to the Father the only perfect Sacrifice (i.e. Himself) that can take away our sins and redeem man from death and hell. He is the King because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, and He is the Son of David and eternal heir to David’s throne.3

The Kingdom of Christ, which is the Church, therefore possesses each of these three bonds of unity.4 Because of Christ’s unity in His role as Prophet, His Church believes and teaches one faith in all places and times. Because of Christ’s unity in His role as Priest, His Church shares all the same sacraments in all places and times, offering in the Eucharist through the New Covenant priests who stand in the Person of Christ, the very same Sacrifice of Christ Himself. And because of Christ’s unity in His role as King, His Church possesses in all places and times a unity of government through the hierarchical unity of the bishops in communion with Christ’s Vicar, the episcopal successor of St. Peter, to whom Christ as King entrusted the keys of the Kingdom.5 These three bonds of unity are also referred to as unity of doctrine, of cult, and of authority. Through these three supernatural bonds of unity, the unity of the Holy Spirit and charity reigns in Christ’s Church. When we do not maintain one or more of these three bonds, we do not share in the full communion of Christ and His Church.6

Addressing the question of unity as a mark of the Church, the Catholic Encyclopedia article on this subject states the following:

The Catholic conception of the mark of unity, which must characterize the one Church founded by Christ, is far more exacting. Not only must the true Church be one by an internal and spiritual union, but this union must also be external and visible, consisting in and growing out of a unity of faith, worship, and government. Hence the Church which has Christ for its founder is not to be characterized by any merely accidental or internal spiritual union, but, over and above this, it must unite its members in unity of doctrine, expressed by external, public profession; in unity of worship, manifested chiefly in the reception of the same sacraments; and in unity of government, by which all its members are subject to and obey the same authority, which was instituted by Christ Himself.7

The unity of the Church is not any mere accidental unity in the sense that persons who happen to agree concerning some particular interpretation of Scripture come together to form some federation or denominational organization. Such a unity would not have been established by the incarnate Christ, but by mere men. Nor is the unity of the Church merely an invisible or spiritual unity.8 As Pope Leo XIII wrote in 1896 in his encyclical Satis Cognitum (On the Unity of the Church),

Jesus Christ did not, in point of fact, institute a Church to embrace several communities similar in nature, but in themselves distinct, and lacking those bonds which render the Church unique and indivisible after that manner in which in the symbol of our faith we profess: “I believe in one Church.”9

And in 1943 Pius XII wrote similarly:

Hence they err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something merely “pneumatological” as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are united by an invisible bond.10

Rather, the unity that is the first of the four marks of the Church is constituted by the profession of the one faith received from Christ, sharing one and the same sacraments instituted by Christ, and enjoying one hierarchical government established by Christ. How then, are these three bonds of unity compatible with the sort of disagreements among Catholics described at the beginning of this article?

The Reply to the Objection

In order to answer the objection, we must first distinguish between two different kinds of disagreements among Catholics, because the reply to the objection differs for each kind:

Disagreements of faith: Disagreement with (a) what has been divinely revealed either in Scripture or Tradition, which the Church, whether by solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium has set forth to be believed as divinely revealed, or (b) what has been definitively proposed by the Magisterium regarding faith and morals, or (c) the authentic teaching of the Magisterium not by a definitive act but nevertheless requiring religious submission of will and intellect;11

Disagreements not of faith: Disagreement regarding (d) open theological questions that have not yet been determined definitively or non-definitively by the Church’s magisterium and not under any of the three grades of assent described just above, or (e) concerning prudential judgments regarding the implementation or application of theological or moral truths, or (f) regarding matters not directly theological or moral.12

When we are speaking about “disagreements not of faith,” the Catholic reply to the “Catholics are divided too” objection is that disagreements of this sort are fully compatible with the preservation of all three bonds of unity, including the bond of faith, because disagreements concerning such matters do not entail disagreements of faith or detract from our unity in the one faith of the Church. If we recall the old principle “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity,” disagreements not of faith are matters about which we have liberty. For example, for centuries the Dominicans and the Jesuits have held differing beliefs concerning the doctrine of predestination.13 On this question the Magisterium has considered the matter, declared certain positions to be incompatible with the faith, but left open a number of theological positions. This is not to say that the question between the presently open positions will not be definitively resolved by the Church’s Magisterium in the future. But for now the Jesuit and the Dominican positions on this question are each within the bounds of the one faith of the Church. Unity of faith does not mean that there cannot be a diversity of opinions on matters that the Magisterium under the guidance of the Holy Spirit has allowed to remain open questions.14

When we are speaking about “disagreements of faith,” however, the Catholic reply to the “Catholics are divided too” objection is quite different. In these matters, the Magisterium of the Church has taught something either as divinely revealed or as definitively proposed by the Church or simply to be adhered to with religious submission of will and intellect. In these three cases the disagreements can be of two sorts: (1) disagreement concerning the proper understanding or interpretation of the Magisterial teaching or (2) disagreement with the Magisterial teaching.15 The latter sort of disagreement is generally called dissent. With regard to the former, the disagreeing Catholic parties each affirm the authority of the Magisterium, but do not yet agree concerning what it teaches. Honest disagreement concerning the proper understanding or interpretation of Magisterial teaching need only be a temporary condition because of the potential for Magisterial clarification if consulting the local ordinary does not resolve the disagreement.16

Whether a Catholic has accidentally misunderstood Magisterial teaching or has purposely dissented from Magisterial teaching, in either case, to the degree he has denied or rejected a teaching of the Magisterium, to that degree he has separated himself (either unintentionally or intentionally) from the one faith of the Church.17 When that happens, the one faith of the Church and the bond of unity enjoyed by the faithful through their profession of that one faith is in no way diminished, just as the holiness of the Church is not diminished when one of her members sins.18 When a Catholic departs from Magisterial teaching, rather than diminishing the Church’s unity or dividing the Church’s one faith, that Catholic instead separates himself to that degree from participating in the unity of the Church’s faith. In this way he loses participation in the Church’s unity; the Church does not lose unity. If he returns to the Church’s faith, either through further catechesis or through repentance, he is restored to participation in the one faith that was not diminished by his departure from it.19

This is why the unity of the Catholic faith does not consist in the level of doctrinal agreement among all those who call themselves Catholic. The bond of faith as one of three bonds constituting the visible unity that is the first mark of the Church specified in the Creed is the bond of unity manifested visibly in all those Catholics who profess the one faith taught by the Magisterium. In order to treat dissenting Catholics as evidence against the unified faith of the Church, one would have to assume that the beliefs of the dissenters belong to the faith of the Church. That we recognize them as dissenters shows that we already know that they are at odds with the teaching of the Church. Dissenters, in spite of themselves, by their very dissent testify to the unity of the Church’s faith. Only where there could be no such thing as dissent could there be no unity of faith.

When we apply this to the examples of disagreement mentioned at the beginning of this article we find that each of these disagreements fall into either what I have categorized as “disagreements of faith” or “disagreements not of faith.” Disagreements among Catholics concerning, for example, prudential judgments regarding the right application in public policy of binding Catholic principles can be fully compatible with the simultaneous agreement between the disagreeing parties concerning matters of faith, and thus the simultaneous preservation of the unity of the bond of faith. And the same is true of disagreements between Catholics concerning open theological questions about which the Magisterium has offered no authoritative teaching. In such cases it is possible to be wrong, even foolishly or culpably wrong, while maintaining the unity of the bond of faith. However, when Catholics dissent from the teaching of the Magisterium, either about theological doctrines such as transubstantiation or women’s ordination, or about moral issues such as contraception, abortion or the essential heterosexual character of marriage, they separate themselves from the unity of the Church’s faith. Although they do not harm or diminish the unity of the Church or the bond of unity in the profession of one faith by the Catholic faithful, dissenting Catholics do give scandal by their dissent, by obscuring to the world the unity that is to be a testimony of the unity of the Father and the Son, and of Christ’s having been sent from the Father.20 When a Protestant points to dissenters as evidence of the disunity of the Catholic Church, he is in essence pointing to Protestants. And just as the existence of Protestants is no evidence that the Catholic Church does not enjoy the three bonds of unity, so the existence of dissenters from the Catholic faith is no evidence that the Catholic Church does not enjoy the three bonds of unity. In short, both kinds of disagreement leave intact both the unity of the Catholic faith as well as the unity of the Catholic Church.

Where then does the “Catholics are divided too” objection go wrong? The objection mistakenly assumes that the unity of the Catholic Church is the degree of agreement concerning matters of faith among all who call themselves Catholic or receive the Eucharist, rather than recognizing that the unity of the Catholic faith is determined by the unity of the doctrine taught by the Magisterium. In this way the objection implicitly presupposes that there is no difference in teaching authority between the laity and the Magisterium. It treats Catholic unity through the Protestant paradigm’s way of judging unity, and thus presupposes the falsehood of the Catholic faith.

The mistake underlying the objection is understandable for two reasons. The early Protestants claimed that the two marks of the Church were the right preaching of Scripture and the right administration of the sacraments. Discipline in the sense of rightly excluding those not prepared to receive the sacraments was sometimes listed by these Protestants as a third mark, but even those who did not treat it as a third mark subsumed it under the right administration of the sacraments. For this reason, from the Protestant point of view, Catholics who are allowed to receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church are assumed to be in full communion with the Catholic Church. Thus when known Catholic dissenters are allowed to receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, whatever dissenting position they affirm, even if logically incompatible with the teaching of the Magisterium, seems therefore to Protestants who raise this objection to be acceptable within the Catholic Church, thus driving the “Catholics are divided too” objection. But for reasons explained above, when a bishop whether for justified pastoral reasons unknown to us or even out of cowardice chooses not to excommunicate a Catholic who publicly dissents from Catholic teaching, the unity of the Catholic faith nevertheless remains intact. The dissenter separates himself from the Church’s one faith by his dissent, and his receiving the Eucharist does not make his dissent part of Magisterial teaching or part of the one faith of the Church.

A second reason why it is understandable that Protestants raise this objection is that since there is no Protestant magisterium to provide an authoritative and singular body of doctrine by which Protestants could enjoy a bond of unity in faith, within Protestantism the only way to determine the unity of faith is to survey the range of beliefs held by Protestants, and determine what is held in common. Agreement concerning the faith occurs within a Protestant denomination formed by persons brought together by sharing the same interpretation of Scripture, subsequently joined by persons who share that interpretation and abandoned by those who come to hold a different interpretation. But while the Catholic Church teaches that she is the Church Christ founded, almost no Protestant denomination claims to be the very Church Christ founded. Each typically views itself as a branch within the “catholic Church.”21 Nor within Protestantism can there be any authoritative or definitive delineation of what belongs to the essentials and what belongs to the non-essentials.22 No one person’s determination of what belongs to the essentials and what does not, is authoritative over all other Protestants. Without a magisterium what belongs to the essentials and what does not, therefore is ultimately a matter of private judgment for each Protestant. For this reason, claims that Protestants are “agreed upon the essentials” are claims that Protestants are agreed on what the claimant himself has determined to be the essentials, on the basis of his own interpretation of Scripture. In this way the Protestant denial of magisterial authority undermines even the authority of creeds and confessions.23 For these reasons, therefore, unity of faith within Protestantism can be determined only by the degree of doctrinal agreement among Protestants across all Protestant denominations. And this is why the “Catholics are divided too” objection arises from a Protestant way of conceiving the unity of faith in the Catholic Church.

A Possible Protestant Response

A Protestant could respond to my reply to the “Catholics are divided too” objection by claiming that Protestants have just as much unity of faith as do Catholics, because while the Catholic unity of faith derives from the single body of doctrine taught by the Magisterium, the Protestant unity of faith derives from the single body of doctrine taught by the Bible. The Protestant could claim that in the same way that Catholics who dissent from or misunderstand the Magisterium separate themselves from the unity of the Catholic faith, so Protestants who dissent from or misunderstand the Bible separate themselves from the unity of the Protestant faith, even when they remain visible members of a Protestant ecclesial community. In other words, as a Catholic might point to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to show the one faith of the Church, the Protestant could simply point to the Bible as the source and evidence of the unity of Protestant doctrine. In this way, the Protestant interlocutor could attempt to claim parity between the unity of Catholic faith, and the unity of Protestant faith.

There are a number of problems with this response. First, it overlooks the relevant difference between persons and texts, as I have explained elsewhere.24 Because of that difference, the unity of faith possessed by the Catholic Church is an actual unity maintained in the present by a living Magisterium, whereas the unity of faith referred to by this Protestant response is only a potential unity, because Scripture has to be interpreted, and within Protestantism there is no living magisterium to resolve the plethora of interpretive disagreements. The unity of Scripture as uninterpreted does not constitute a unity of the Apostolic deposit interpreted. The former is a potential unity that could in actuality lead to many contrary faiths, and in fact has done so. In the Catholic case, by contrast, the unity of faith is located in the interpretation through the authoritative organ of interpretation, not just in the text of Scripture. For that reason, the unity of faith at the level of interpretation is not compatible with many contrary faiths, and is thus not comparable with the potential unity of faith contained in Scripture alone as uninterpreted.

Second, this Protestant response is not supported by early Church history, as though the early Church believed that Christ established His Church to be perpetually preserved in visible unity by means of the sixty-six book Protestant Bible without any magisterial organ for definitively settling doctrinal or interpretive disputes, contrary to what we see in the first four centuries of Church history and the early ecumenical councils.

Third, empirical observation clearly testifies to the difference between the unity of faith possessed by those Catholics submitting entirely to the teaching of the living Magisterium, and an alleged unity of faith possessed by all those Protestants who in good faith seek to submit to Scripture apart from the guidance of the Magisterium. Protestants cannot point to any particular Protestant community as the Church Christ founded and which preserves faithfully the Apostolic deposit. Individual Protestants can make such an identification only by determining which existing ecclesial community comes closest to their own interpretation of the meaning of Scripture. Nor is Protestantism capable of providing a definitive or exhaustive list of the essentials of the faith, or a principled basis by which all persons of good will can distinguish in each case between what is essential and what is not. The Catholic has no corresponding problem precisely because the identity of the Catholic Church is defined through communion with the very Magisterium by which the content of the one faith is determined authoritatively and definitively.25

Fourth, this Protestant response is not supported by the history of Protestantism. Protestant scholar Anthony Lane writes that for the Reformers:

Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding. This came close to creating anew the infallible church…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between Protestants so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Lutheran or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies. But even in 1530 Casper Schwenckfeld could cynically note that ‘the Papists damn the Lutherans; the Lutherans damn the Zwinglians; the Zwinglians damn the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists damn all others.’ By the end of the seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent.26

If the Protestant perspicuity thesis were true, then over the past five hundred years we should expect to see not an explosion of fragmentation into various Protestant sects, but a coalescing into one body of all persons who in good faith attempt to discern the meaning of Scripture. In this way the history of Protestant fragmentation over the last five hundred years is incompatible with the truth of the Protestant perspicuity thesis.27 The multiplication of sects into the thousands, while each in good faith attempts to interpret the Bible rightly, either falsifies the Protestant perspicuity thesis, or reveals that the perspicuity thesis has no discernible bearing on reality, because if in fact it were false, there would be no discernible difference than there is at present in the degree of fragmentation among those who presume its truth. For this reason the Protestant position has no adequate answer to the following question: if Scripture were, in fact, not sufficiently perspicuous for the unity Christ intended His Church to have between His Ascension and His Parousia, and all the fragmentation of Christians were in fact evidence of Scripture’s not being sufficiently perspicuous for the unity Christ intended His followers to have in this present age, how would we know?

Treating the Protestant perspicuity thesis as unfalsified by the last five hundred years of Protestant fragmentation treats the thesis as compatible with the coming into existence of a million additional Christian sects, each basing itself on Scripture and each holding a theological position incompatible with all the others and remaining divided and in disagreement with the others not just for five hundred years, but an additional five hundred years, even ten thousand more years. In short, it allows the formation, multiplication and endless perpetuation of any number of Christian sects, each basing itself on Scripture, and each coming to interpretations incompatible with all the others. The Catholic, however, is not even faced with a comparable question, because the very idea of thousands of Catholic sects each divided from the others and disagreeing with the others regarding what the Magisterium teaches, while each in good faith attempts to submit to Pope Benedict XVI, is unimaginable. This again is due to the ontological difference between persons and texts, explained at the link provided in footnote #16. The perpetual and pervasive interpretive pluralism and visible fragmentation over the last five hundred years among those who seek to be guided by Scripture apart from a divinely established interpretive authority indicates that Scripture was not intended to function in this way as the means by which Christ’s prayer in John 17 for the visible unity of all His followers is to be preserved.

Conclusion

The supernatural unity with which Christ endowed His Church is the goal of love, and in this way this supernatural unity is at the heart of Christ’s gospel. This is why unity is the first mark of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” Christ founded. As the world will know that we are His disciples by our love, so this love will be evident through our unity. This unity, therefore, will always draw men to itself as part of the good news of the gospel. Where it does so it signifies the presence of Christ’s gospel. The “Catholics are divided too” objection seeks to undermine this reason for becoming Catholic by claiming that Catholic unity is no greater than the divided condition evident within Protestantism. Here I have shown both that the disagreements among Catholics fall into two general categories, and how neither category of disagreement detracts either from the Church’s essential unity or from the unity of faith which is one of the three bonds of the Church’s unity. I have also provided some reasons showing why Protestantism has not and cannot provide a parallel response establishing a parity of unity of faith on the basis of Scripture alone. The visible unity that the world is to see in those who follow Christ can be had only through communion with the Magisterial authority Christ authorized and established in His Church for the preservation of that unity until He returns.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (St. John 17: 20-23)

Feast of Christ the King, 2012.

  1. See, for example, Scott McKnight’s article “From Wheaton To Rome: Why Evangelicals Become Roman Catholic,” discussed here. []
  2. See, for example, this article. []
  3. Mt. 28:18. Ps. 89:4, 29; 132:11; Dan. 7:13-14. []
  4. Cf. CCC 567, and 815. []
  5. St. Matthew 16:19. See also Satis Cognitum, 11, and “The Chair of St. Peter.” []
  6. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, paras. 813 – 816. []
  7. Catholic Encyclopedia entry “Unity (as a mark of the Church).” []
  8. See “Christ Founded a Visible Church.” []
  9. Satis Cognitum, 4. []
  10. Mystici Corporis Christi, 14. []
  11. These three come from the last three paragraphs of the Profession of Faith. See also the CDF’s doctrinal commentary on the last three paragraphs of the Profession of Faith, as well as Ad Tuendam Fidem, all included at that same link. See also Canons 750-752 in the Code of Canon Law. The different degrees of certainty calling for different grades of assent should not be confused with the “hierarchy of truths,” as explained by Douglas Bushman in “Understanding the Hierarchy of Truths.” []
  12. Bishop Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois clarifies the distinction between binding principles and prudential judgments in his October 7, 2012 Red Mass Homily. []
  13. See, e.g., Taylor Marshall, Canterbury Tales, “Is the Thomist Doctrine of Predestination Calvinistic?,” available here. []
  14. We can see that same principle of unity-in-diversity in the many different Catholic liturgical rites, in which the very same seven sacraments are celebrated. []
  15. Culpability for dissent from or misunderstanding of Magisterial teaching is a separate question from the “Are Catholics divided too?” question, and I do not address it in this essay. []
  16. See III. Persons and Texts in my reply to Michael Horton. []
  17. Setting aside the question of culpability, the objective gravity of a Catholic’s deviation from the Catholic faith depends both on the relative importance of the rejected teaching in the “hierarchy of truths” and the three grades of assent, and on the proportion of the Catholic faith rejected. []
  18. See “The Holiness of the Church.” []
  19. It is also worth pointing out here that participation in the unity of the bond of faith does not mean that each person who professes truly the whole of the Catholic faith is in a state of grace. Formal heresy is not the only grave sin, and therefore it is possible to maintain the Catholic faith while committing a mortal sin (e.g. adultery) or remaining in a state of unrepentance after having committed a mortal sin. The loss of sanctifying grace and agape through committing mortal sin does not entail a loss of faith proper, only living faith, through the loss of the agape that makes faith to be alive. See the section titled “Members of the Church Militant” in the relevant section of the Catechism of the Council of Trent. []
  20. St. John 17:21,23. []
  21. See “Branches or Schisms?” []
  22. See “Bad Arguments Against the Magisterium: Part IIIA.” []
  23. See “IV.C. The Delusion of Derivative Authority” in “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.” []
  24. See III. Persons and Texts. []
  25. See “Tu Quoque.” []
  26. A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey,” Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45. []
  27. See Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible (Brazos Press, 2012). []
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  1. Thank you, Bryan.
    This is so useful!

  2. This is so helpful. I’ve been dealing with Protestant friends recently who have been highlighting this exact concern. CRI (via Kenneth Samples and Kenneth Kantzer) refers to this as the “Catholic Montage”, meaning the theological diversity between ultratraditionalist Catholics (ex. sedevacantists), traditionalist Catholics, liberal Catholics (ex. Hans Kung, Matthew Fox), charismatic Catholics (ex. Ralph Martin), evangelical Catholics (ex. Francis Beckwith), cultural Catholics (ex. JFK), folk Catholics (ex. Latin American animistic syncretism), and American Catholics (i.e. primacy of individualism; ex. Charles Curran).

    I think it’s safe to say that those who identify themselves as Catholic are not monolithic. But your article helps communicate that this is not what is claimed by the Church in the first place.

    At the same time it’s important to recognize the damage done to the Church by this fact. Even if we ignored the Protestant and Orthodox schisms, the remaining discord within the confines of those who self-identify as Catholics is a barrier to non-Catholics entering the Church.

    I have extended family in both Latin America and the Philippines (all fundamentalists and/or charismatics), and my Catholic faith is utterly foreign to the animism and syncretism they see in Catholic Church with which they are familiar. For them, syncretism and animism are obvious results of the “cultic” behavior they see in the Catholic Church. And so we continue pray Christ’s prayer for unity in Jn 17. That this scandal will end and that the world will know Christ and His Bride.

    This article is helpful in better understanding the nature of unity the Catholic Church claims for itself. I just need to become better equipped to communicate this to my family.

    In the past I’ve simply asked that they not compare the Catholicism they see lived out poorly with the Catholicism of the Church. Just as one would not judge medicinal value based on effects seen in those who disobey the dosage instructions.

  3. Eva (re:#2),

    Welcome to CTC, and thank you for your comment. You wrote:

    I have extended family in both Latin America and the Philippines (all fundamentalists and/or charismatics), and my Catholic faith is utterly foreign to the animism and syncretism they see in Catholic Church with which they are familiar. For them, syncretism and animism are obvious results of the “cultic” behavior they see in the Catholic Church.

    I am somewhat familiar with Catholic practices in various countries, but obviously, as an American living in the U.S., I don’t know exactly what your extended family is seeing in the Church, in their respective countries, which seems to smack of animism and syncretism. Such problems do exist among some Catholics, including in the U.S.

    However, as a former, rather “fundamentalistic” (in retrospect) Reformed Baptist, myself, who has “reverted” to the Catholic Church, I can tell you that, from the outside, even simple, daily, practiced, orthodox Catholicism can seem very alien and troubling to certain Protestant mindsets. Asking Saints for prayers? Necromancy! Veneration of Mary? Goddess worship! And the misconceptions about Catholic doctrine and practice go on and on…

    Among the many and varied Protestant denominations and groups, fundamentalist Protestants are often *the most* disconnected from the history of the Church, from circa 95 to 1517 A.D (the common dating of the first year of the Protestant Reformation). This makes a huge difference, in terms of fundamentalists’ perceptions and understandings of the beliefs and practices of Catholics– even very faithful, orthodox Catholics.

    Fundamentalists often either have very little knowledge of the Church Fathers, or wrongly consider many of them to be early “proto-Protestants,” or simply believe that most of them became “corrupted by heresy” early in the second century, which then spread throughout the whole Church, until Martin Luther supposedly “rediscovered the Gospel” in the sixteenth century and began setting things aright.

    One of my sincere, Bible-loving friends actually believes that the Trinity itself is a pagan doctrine which the early Fathers wrongly “brought into” Christianity– which further confirms his belief that the Catholic Church, and Protestantism too, for that matter, are shot through with paganism! This is where certain kinds of fundamentalism can take a person.

    Again, I don’t know what your family members in the Latin America and the Philippines have seen among Catholics there. It’s quite possible that there objectively is error in some of the practices. Of the many Catholics in the Philippines with whom *I* am in regular contact though, I know them almost all of them to be very Christ-centered. Do a few of them have an unhealthy fascination with heterodox concepts, such as astrology? Yes, a few of them do. I also know some American evangelical Protestants who have similar unhealthy fascinations. More to the point though, to a Protestant fundamentalist mindset, even orthodox Catholic veneration of Mary will seem “syncretistic,” because fundamentalists often just do not have the theological and historical context for Mary in their understanding, which the Catholic Church has had and taught from the early centuries of the Church.

  4. Someone wrote a note in response to this post, wondering why I didn’t mention the SSPX and their complaints. The soundness of my argument does not depend on mentioning the SSPX position. In the history of the Church, it has always been possible to complain about certain Catholic leaders, certain decisions by these leaders, etc., and use these complaints to rationalize schism from the Church. That’s been the temptation for rigorists from the beginning, including the Montanists, the Novatians and the Donatists. These complaints, even when they are legitimate complaints, have never justified schism from the Church, that is, breaking communion with the Pope. Moreover, for reasons explained in the post, neither the unity of the Catholic Church nor the unity of the Catholic faith is diminished by imprudent decisions on the part of bishops, whether in support of unworthy persons, or not to discipline particular dissenters, or not to speak as clearly and firmly about some issue as we might wish. The three bonds of unity, including the unity of the faith, remain intact even when bishops make imprudent decisions or fail to make prudent decisions. The person who separates himself by schism from the Church’s unity loses the credibility to complain about Catholics who by dissent have separated themselves from the Church’s one faith. Both give scandal by their separation from the Church.

  5. Bryan,

    This is going to be an abstract question and one that may get pegged as interpretting the Catholic position through the Protestant one, but what happens if Rome wrongly excommunicates or cuts off someone from the Church who was actually in the right (whether morally or theologically)? What if they did not desire to be cut off from the church (we may say “schism”) but Rome separated with them?

    Is this an impossible hypothetical for the Catholic position?

    In your discussions of schism you continually cite historical movmenets like Donatism, Montanism, etc where those movements did break from the Church on their own initiative. The Reformation is a little more complex because the Reformers were excommunicated while they attempted to reform the Church. The desire truly was reformation and they were removed.

    My question is not really directed at the historical questions (as important as they may be), but whether Rome can be culpable for schism.

    Thanks, Bryan.

  6. RefProt (#5),

    I’m by no means an expert, but I think the answer to your question would be that excommunication in itself is not an act of the Magisterium. It is an exercise of the Church’s governing authority, not Her teaching authority, and (as history plainly shows) the Church is not infallible in her governing authority. So yes, it is absolutely possible for a bishop to excommunicate someone for an offense they did not in fact commit – St. Joan of Arc would be the obvious example of this. As her title indicates, the Church soon realized that Joan had been treated unjustly by the ecclesiastical authorities.

    Of course, the church can declare teaching X to be heretical and then excommunicate person Y for refusing to recant said teaching, which I think may be closer to the situation you are imagining. In this case, the declaration that a teaching is heretical is an act of the Magisterium (and is infallible under the usual conditions: ecumenical council or ex cathedra pronouncement). Whether to sentence someone to ecclesiastical penalties (such as excommunication) for holding such a teaching, though, is a separate question that is decided based on prudential and pastoral considerations.

    So to sum up: Can the Church excommunicate someone for teaching X when in fact they did not teach X? Sadly, yes. Can the Church infallibly declare X heretical when it is not in fact heretical? No, because the Christ has promised that His Church will preserve the deposit of faith.

  7. Hi RefProt,
    If you don’t mind, I’d like to offer my thoughts on this.
    The church is generally very slow to officially excommunicate anyone. Usually those who knowingly and willfully reject tenets of the faith excommunicate themselves. Common examples are the “Catholic” politicians who openly support abortion, birth control, so-called homosexual “marriage” and other issues that are gravely sinful and bring scandal upon the church. They have in fact incurred a latae sententiae excommunication, meaning something like the sentence has already been decided.

    Frankly, I wish they would use formal excommunication pronouncements more often, especially on these public figures. They are allowing these people to commit sacrilege whenever they participate in communion.
    There are some bishops who have openly said that they would turn away such people from communion, but not nearly enough.
    We recently had a nun working at a Catholic hospital (now a former Catholic hospital) who recommended and participated (in some form) in an abortion. She incurred an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication. From what I have heard, she repented of her actions and has been restored to communion.

    Anyway, I see no scenario where anyone could be excommunicated over a misunderstanding or mistake, especially in the modern era.

    When it came to Luther, it wasn’t his complaints about abuses in the church that were troublesome as there had beeen calls for the church to reform for many years. He wrote his 95 theses in November, 1517 and did not even receive the threat of excommunication until the Papal Bull Exsurge Domini was issued nearly 3 years later. The Bull gave him 60 days to recant of the theological errors that he had been espousing. Of course, Luther burned the Bull upon receipt and thus sealed his fate.
    As I recall, there were over 50 items that Luther was espousing that were contrary to the orthodox faith.
    While Luther’s desire may have been to reform the church, what he eventually did was to revolt against the church by introducing new doctrines. The church had no choice except to either allow what was considered heresy, accept one man’s opinions as dogma, or excommunicate him.

    I wonder how it would be taken if a singular Reformed theologian proclaimed even one new “truth” for all in a particular confession to follow as dogma. I think its pretty clear that he would be put on trial, convicted and cast out.

  8. RefProt (re: #5)

    I agree with what Faramir and JC said above, but would add just a couple things:

    but what happens if Rome wrongly excommunicates or cuts off someone from the Church who was actually in the right (whether morally or theologically)?

    Acts of excommunication are not infallible.

    What if they did not desire to be cut off from the church (we may say “schism”) but Rome separated with them?

    Schism is defined in relation to the bishop of Rome on account of the keys Christ gave to St. Peter. (CCC 2089) The Catholic Church in communion with the pope cannot become a schism from the Church, because she cannot separate from herself. So in your merely hypothetical example, the excommunicated person would be truly excommunicated, even if prudentially or theologically the person ought not to have been excommunicated.

    In your discussions of schism you continually cite historical movmenets like Donatism, Montanism, etc where those movements did break from the Church on their own initiative. The Reformation is a little more complex because the Reformers were excommunicated while they attempted to reform the Church. The desire truly was reformation and they were removed.

    Many times when present day Protestant leaders refer to the Protestant-Catholic separation that resulted from the Reformation, they say that Luther and Calvin never intended to separate from the Church, or to cause a schism. I’ve heard that or read that hundreds of times. The problem with that claim is that it does not entail that they by their actions neither caused the Protestant-Catholic separation or were inculpable for it. Good intentions do not right actions make. An action can be objectively disordered and harmful, and one can be culpable for doing it, even if one does it with good intentions. In the case of Luther and Calvin, they did want to reform the Church. But they also chose not to submit to the Magisterium of the Church on matters of faith, and even took to themselves ecclesial authority they did not have (e.g. think of Calvin’s assuming to himself a divine calling, without having been called by the Church). If we do not draw a principled distinction between “reforming” the Church and “remaking the Church according to our own interpretation of Scripture,” then we can attempt to rationalize the latter under the pretext of the former. Luther (and Calvin) were separated from the Catholic Church not fundamentally because of their attempt to reform it (since there were Catholic reformers of the sixteenth century who devoted their whole lives to reforming the Church, and were never excommunicated). Rather, the early Protestants rejected the divinely established Magisterium of the Church. That action went beyond ‘reforming’ the Church; in this way they separated themselves from the Church.

    My question is not really directed at the historical questions (as important as they may be), but whether Rome can be culpable for schism.

    There is no doubt that by poor pastoral judgment or insensitivity, the pope and bishops can contribute culpably to a person’s decision to form or enter a schism from the Church, or to make choices that lead to his excommunication. But the Catholic who chooses to form or enter a schism, rather than submit to the Magisterium of the Church, is never justified in doing so:

    Wherefore as no heresy can ever be justifiable, so in like manner there can be no justification for schism. “There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism….there can be no just necessity for destroying the unity of the Church” (S. Augustinus, Contra Epistolam Parmeniani, lib. ii., cap. ii., n. 25). From the encyclical, “Satis Cognitum“)

    Meaning, there can be no just necessity for breaking with the unity of the Church. I know you’re focused on the hypothetical example of the Catholic who is wrongly excommunicated, not a person who willfully forms or enters a schism. But an innocent Catholic who has been wrongly excommunicated does not form a schism and set up his own ‘church’ and collect a following. Instead he seeks reconciliation with the Church, in prayer and humility, knowing that the Church is the ark of salvation, and not wishing to imperil anyone’s soul by causing them to fall into schism. See the Catholic Encyclopedia article on ‘Schism’ for more detail.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. Bryan,
    You mentioned this above:

    “…since there were Catholic reformers of the sixteenth century who devoted their whole lives to reforming the Church, and were never excommunicated”

    Are there any Catholic reformers today who are dedicated in like fashion? Or is the general consensus that there is no such parallel need for reformation today?

    Thanks
    S.

  10. @SS (#9),

    Are there any Catholic reformers today who are dedicated in like fashion? Or is the general consensus that there is no such parallel need for reformation today?

    I’ll speak for myself here, and I’m not a theologian (I’m also just a layman…) I wouldn’t know if I can dedicate my whole life to reforming the church (I’ve got a family to take care of), but one of the things I want to do as a layman is help, er, “reform” Catholic laity. Joe Catholic has a lot of Biblical ignorance, knows next to nothing about Catholic theology, etc. Let me explain.

    I’m a grad student in philosophy and I very frequently have Catholic college freshman in the “Intro to Philosophy” classes that I teach. Sometimes I’ll ask them basic questions about theology or Catholic philosophy when they stop by my office hours and >90% of the time they know pretty much nothing about their faith – and these are kids that went to 13 years of Catholic elementary, middle, and high schools. Yet they don’t know that the Eucharist is the substance of Christ, they’ve never heard of Aquinas’ 5 Ways (his 5 proofs for God’s existence), they think gay marriage is okay, etc. From where I sit, most of these freshmen don’t know enough Aristotle to even begin to comprehend Catholic ethics (natural law) or Catholic theology (transubstantiation). So at least for my part, I’d like to do something about that. I really think an educated Catholic laity in America could do great good.

    Anyways, not sure if that’s what you had in mind or not by way of “reform”, but I see great need not for “reform” of doctrines so much as “reform” of practice. Specifically, “practice” of the Catholic faith (and knowledge of the Catholic faith) among the laity. That’s where I’m helping out – you hop on the boat too and there’ll be some work for you to do too. But things don’t get fixed unless someone does the fixing. Such is life. :)

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

  11. Hello everyone my name is Vincent and I am new here to ctc. I have been visiting this website for the past year or so and found it very informative. I hope to dialogue with the experts here about issues relating to catholic doctrine in order to gain new insight and I am always willing to learn more. I found this article very interesting and a good rebuttal to Protestant objections.

  12. Unity In Catholic Theology

    While Dr. Cross’ essay promotes his theory of unity, it is not the only theological viewpoint within Catholic Theology. It seems that the essay promotes the idea that the Church of Christ is united only when one joins the Roman Catholic Church. All other ecclesial communities and churches can not be included in the Church of Christ. The theory therefore necessarily does not see all other communities as being part of the Church of Christ and therefore does not recognize that the Church exists in multiplicity of communities but rather in the heirarchical allegiance to the Roman Catholic institution alone. This has been the traditional perspective due to several writings from the past such as Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis stating that the “Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing.” Thus, for Dr. Cross, the protestant communities with valid sacramental baptism and other non catholic churches being not part of the Roman Catholic Church heirarchically are divided among themselves.

    This viewpoint however is not shared by all catholic theologians. With Vatican II and Lumen Gentium in particular, the view of unity developed. LG now states that “the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Curch”. Catholic theologians now sees the church of christ as broader than Roman Catholic Church. For example, Cardinal Dulles wrote, “The Church of Chirst is of Chirst is not exclusively identical to the Roman Catholic Church. It does indeed subsists in Roman Catholicism but is it also present in varying degrees in other Christian communities to the extent that they too are what God initiatiated in Jesus and are obedient to the inspiration of Christ’s spirit” (Vatican II, The Works that Need to be Done). Cardinal Ratzinger, now pope, explains the word “subsists” instead of the word “is” as deliberately chosen by the council fathers to mean that “the being iof the Church as such is broader than the Roman Catholic Church”. (L’Osservaotore Romano, October 8, 2000). A further clarification was made by Cardinal Ratzinger in his book Theological Highlights of Vatican II, p 73:

    The recognition of churches within the church implies two lines of change:

    (a) The Catholic Church ihas to recognize that his own church is not yet prepared to accept the phenomenom of multiplicity in unity; he must orient himself toward this reality. He must also recognize the need for a thorough Catholic revolution something not to be accomplished within a day. This requires a process of opening up, which takes time. Meantime, the Catholic Church has no right to absorb the other churches. The church has not yet prepared for them a place of their own, but this they are legitimately entitled to.
    (b) A basic unity – of churches that remain churches, yet become one church – must replace the idea of conversion, even though conversion retains its meaningfulness for those in conscience motivated to seek it.

    —————————-

    With this perspective held by authorities of the Catholic Church challenges the secatrianism view espoused by some with the antidote that the church is broader and the theological definition of unity has developed within the church writings.

  13. Joey, (re: #12)

    You are proposing a basic “hermeneutic of rupture” with regard to Vatican II. But the Magisterium of the Church, especially under Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly and explicitly condemned the hermeneutic of rupture, and taught instead the “hermeneutic of continuity.” Pope Benedict XVI did this his first year as pope (see here, for example). In 2000 under Pope John Paul II, the Church clarified how the ecclesiology of Vatican II was to be understood, in sections 16-17 of Dominus Iesus. In 2007 the Church made this still clearer in its Responses To Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church, and the commentary accompanying that document. With that in view, it is clear that what I have said in my article is fully compatible with the statements you cite from Cardinal Dulles and then Cardinal Ratzinger. The problem arises only when reading those statements while wearing “hermeneutic of rupture” glasses.

    UPDATE: The prefect of the CDF just recently [Nov. 2012] stated that those who see the Second Vatican Council as a “rupture” espouse a “heretical interpretation” of the Council and its aims. He added that “the hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in continuity” is the “only possible interpretation according to the principles of Catholic theology.” Thomas Joseph White also addresses this in his article “The Tridentine Genius of Vatican II.”

    And Pope Francis has also recently affirmed the hermeneutic of continuity. (See also here and here.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. Bryan,

    You stated:

    Nor within Protestantism can there be any authoritative or definitive delineation of what belongs to the essentials and what belongs to the non-essentials. No one person’s determination of what belongs to the essentials and what does not, is authoritative over all other Protestants. Without a magisterium what belongs to the essentials and what does not, therefore is ultimately a matter of private judgment for each Protestant.

    I recently read a two part article by Norman Geisler (originally written for Christian Research Journal) on this very topic. He contends that the essentials (what I’ve heard others refer to as the “conceptual core”) can be identified by both historical and logical means. I was not entirely convinced by his principled means for distinguishing essential from nonessential, but I’m not sure the Protestant position is quite as bleak as your above statement suggests. Most Protestants stand on an historical foundation that includes what Geisler refers to as “one Bible, two testaments, three confessions, four councils, five centuries”. In other words, within a few centuries basic Christological and anthropological doctrines crucial to salvation theology were laid down and agreed upon, and they are still agreed upon. As I survey the doctrinal landscape that is my own family, I see a variety of denominational commitments (Anglican, Baptist, Reformed) but a core agreement that we all share the same faith and are saved by the same Lord Jesus Christ. I know that this lacks the rigorous logical principled means that has drawn many at this site to embrace Roman Catholicism (hope I am not being too presumptuous there), but I’m not sure that at the practical level it can be discounted as merely each individual deciding for themselves what is essential and what isn’t. Is it not possible that the Holy Spirit has, in fact, held the Church together over the centuries by an adherence to a basic set of core beliefs, even if the Spirit’s means of doing so cannot be defined by logically and philosophically airtight rational principles? The “facts-on-the-ground” agreement about core doctrines shared by so many Protestants of various stripes seems to corroborate this idea. As my other comments on other threads have suggested, I have long been entertaining the claims of the RCC because of my own sense that Sola Scriptura does not allow for doctrinal unity, and that doctrinal unity is an essential mark of the true Church. I am simply wondering out loud if perhaps there is a type of doctrinal unity present in Protestantism that falls outside of the definitions and means I have been seeking and that you are proposing.

    Burton

  15. Hey Bryan I just want to let you know to keep up the good work. I am just wondering can you somewhere down the line make a post about the formal cause of justification according to Trent and Aquinas. I think it would make an interesting topic.
    Blessings

  16. Thanks for the response, everyone.

    Bryan, RE #13,

    I’m still trying to figure this all out…. what authority does Dominus Iesus have? It is a really interesting read but I’m not sure what status it holds in the Church. I notice that John Paul II undersigned it and the current pope authored it, but what is the status of the document? Is this merely an interpretation of the churches teaching or official dogma?

  17. Burton (#14)

    Most Protestants stand on an historical foundation that includes what Geisler refers to as “one Bible, two testaments, three confessions, four councils, five centuries”.

    Woooh! My Reformed pastor and elders would certainly not want that ‘five centuries’ bit! The Church certainly was completely off the rails, pace them, by Constantine (which does, indeed, make the fact that they would – with major limitations – accept Ephesus – minus the terrible ‘Mother of God’ business, of course! – and Chalcedon – a little odd).

    The problem with talking about ‘most Protestants’ or ‘most Christians’ is, it seems to me, circularity. Indeed, I think the vast majority of my Baptist friends would not accept any of these accept the first two: “one Bible, two testaments.” Many, perhaps most, are anti-confessional, uninterested in councils except as historical facts (but not as something to be ‘accepted’), and certainly do not think the Church was what it ought to be for the first five centuries. Indeed, few of them have much interest in any church history until the Reformation.

    The problem is the same as the problem with the Vincentian canon: to suggest that:

    …the Holy Spirit has, in fact, held the Church together over the centuries by an adherence to a basic set of core beliefs…

    must, I think, assume that you already know what ‘the Church’ is. Have the Mormons been ‘held together’ by these core beliefs? If not, then they must not be part of ‘the Church’ – and so forth.

    In other words, it seems to me that this approach amounts to defining ‘the Church’ as ‘those who adhere to these beliefs.’

    But I don’t see how one decides in advance that just these are the right core beliefs.

    FWIW, it seems to me that one needs to go the other way around. The Church is those who held to the authority of the Apostles – and their successors. That, at least, seems to me what those first five centuries held. They defined ‘the Church’ not by core beliefs but by adherence to the Body – and that Body was visible.

    If, as I think Augustine somewhere says about the various groups in his day, a man came along looking for the Catholic Church – he would know where to go. If Augustine came along today looking for the Catholic Church, I doubt, once he had been informed of the sociological and organisational situation, that he would have any trouble identifying it.

    jj

  18. Dr. Cross,

    Thanks for your response. I expected that you will bring up the recent document “Response To Some Questions” and Dominus Iesus. Note that I’ve used the term “developed” rather than “change” in viewing the perspectives laid down in Lumen Gentium and the spirit of Vatican II. This is to avoid the hermenuetics of discontinuity and rupture in interpreting these documents. I believe that since cardinal newman the concept of development has been the standard of most thelogians in interpreting church documents.

    The two documents you’ve mentioned does not clarify who belongs to the Church of Chirst (i.e. who are members or joined to the church). It indeed clarifies the fulness of the roman church possessing all the attributes of of what it means to be a church, but nevertheless phrase the documents in such a way that other communities are part of the church of christ though defective. Again Cardinal Ratzinge, now Pope, explains:

    “When the council fathers replaced the word “is” wth the word “subsistis” (subsists), they do so for a very precise reason. The oncept exprressed by “is” (to be) is far broader than that expressed by “to subsists”. “To subsist” is a very precise way of being, that is, to be as a subje t, which exists in itself. Thus the council fathers meant to say that the being of the church as such is a broader entity than the roman catjolic church, but within the latter acquires, in an incomparable way, the charcter of a true and proper subject.” (L’Osservatore Romano, Italian Edition, October 8, 2000, p.4)

    “The first schema of 1962 still clung to the traditional scholastic formula which saw membership in the Church as dependent on the joint presence of three prerequisites: baptism, profession of the same faith and acceptance of the hierarchy headed by the Pope, (That’s Saint Robert Bellarmine’s precise definition, Ed.). Only those who met these requirements could be called members of the Church. Obviously, this was a very narrow formulation… the result was that the notion of ‘member of the Church’ could be applied only to Catholics. With such an answer to the question of Church membership, it became very difficult to describe the Christian dignity of the non-Catholic Christian… Accordingly, modifications were made in the text submitted in 1963 to the Council Fathers.” (Theological Highlights of Vatican II, p. 65-66)

    Yves Congar’s, an expert lf Vatican II documents, interpretation is telling:

    “The problem remains if Lumen Gentium strictly and exclusively identifies the Mystical Body of Christ with the Catholic Church, as did Pius XII in Mystici Corporis. Can we not call it into doubt when we observe that not only is the attribute “Roman” missing, but also that one avoids saying that only Catholics are members of the Mystical Body. Thus they are telling us (in Gaudium et Spes) that the Church of Christ and of the Apostles subsistit in, is found in the Catholic Church.There is consequently no strict identification, that is exclusive, between the Church of Christ and the “Roman” Church. Vatican II admits, fundamentally, that non-Catholic christians are members of the Mystical Body and not merely ordered to it.” (‘ Le Concile de Vatican II, p. 160)

    Of course the idea laid out in Mystici Corporis not giving legitamcy to Orthodoxy and heretics as having any pary of the church catholic must be interpreted in light of the new developments laid out in newer church documents. Thus, in conclusion, the ecclesiology developed in the last decade showed that. the church., as roman catholic defines it, even if it exists partially ior defectively in some churches and communities is not to be interpreted as an assault against the unity of the church. Lumen Gentium said, “The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the Church; not in the sense that she is deprived of her unity, but ‘in that it hinders the complete fulfillment of her universality in history.”

    I’m reminded again of Cardinal Ratzinger’s, now Pope, interpretation of these documents which to espouse a different concept of unity:

    “… the recognition of a plurality of Churches within the Church implies two lines of change:
    (a) The Catholic has to recognize that his own Church is not yet prepared to accept the phenomenon of multiplicity in unity; he must orient himself toward this reality. He must also recognize the need for a thorough Catholic renewal (translation: revolution, Ed.), something not to be accomplished in a day. This requires a process of opening up, which takes time. Meantime, the Catholic Church has no right to absorbthe other Churches. The Church has not yet prepared for them a place of their own, but this they are legitimately entitled to.
    (b) A basic unity – of churches that remain Churches, yet become one Church – must replace the idea of conversion, even though conversion retains its meaningfulness for those in conscience motivated to seek it.”

    Regards,
    Joey

  19. Burton,

    The “facts-on-the-ground” agreement about core doctrines shared by so many Protestants of various stripes seems to corroborate this idea.

    I think you should do some more focus grouping or census work (I’m being in jest of course). The truth of the claim might appear to be the case, at first blush, in some of the creeds or over coffee. “Jesus saves” is a large banner, one that even a new age follower might be able to groove with (and us Catholics would count as unified with Protestants too on this theme). However, what Jesus demands of us is quite different. “Getting wet” might not be on the list of essentials — it wasn’t in my Pentecostal camp, and I would argue rather forcefully, against Geisler et. al, that baptismal and Eucharistic theology loom large in Scriptural theology, and any claim that says most Christians agree as to the fundamentals of those doctrines — such a claim can be dismissed summarily. If “get wet” and “eat” count as unity on doctrine, then we might as well all just put a WJJD bracelet on our wrists and stop there.

    I’m not sympathetic to this claim because I’ve lived in many different theological communities and could experience and see the obvious theological differences that portended, directly, a disturbing theological relativism — one in which I was uncomfortable raising my children given the current tide in society at large. .

  20. Hi Burton,

    A few questions regarding your “conceptual core,” the two testaments, three confessions, four councils, and five centuries.

    1) Do you exclude from your “confessional core” those uniquely Protestant doctrines that are not reflected in these sources? In particular, sola fide and sola Scriptura? Clearlrly, these doctrines are not reflected in the first five centuries, or those creeds and councils. On the Contrary, the Christology of Athanasius, Nicaea, and Chalcedon presupposes a very different soteriology, and view of the relationship of Scripture to tradition. Would you then affirm that sola fide is a mere theological opinion, and not part of the deposit of faith?

    (On this topic, please see the article http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/03/tradition-i-and-sola-fide-2/)

    2) How do you know that this criterion (2 testaments, four councils, five centuries, etc.) possesses divine authority? Did Christ give us this as our Rule of Faith? Or, does it possess only human authority? Authority only insofar as it agrees with my interpretation of the faith?

    3) On a related note, why not two councils instead of four (so as to let the Nestorians and monophysites back in)? or 7 Councils, so as to include Nicaea II? or 20 Councils? You settle on 4 either because you think these possess some intrinsic authority, or because they merely agree with your interpretation of Scripture. If you think it is some intrinsic authority, what is that authority? From where it is derived, and how is it recognized? If they don’t have some intrinsic authority, then they have only as much authority as they agree with your interpretation of the faith – in which case, we are back to private judgment as the ultimate rule.

    Thanks for posting,

    David

  21. Joey Henry (#18):

    In your first paragraph, you wrote:

    Note that I’ve used the term “developed” rather than “change” in viewing the perspectives laid down in Lumen Gentium and the spirit of Vatican II. This is to avoid the hermenuetics of discontinuity and rupture in interpreting these documents.

    I was pleased by that. But then, in your last paragraph, you quoted then-Cardinal Ratzinger (without attribution) thus:

    “… the recognition of a plurality of Churches within the Church implies two lines of change:

    (a) The Catholic has to recognize that his own Church is not yet prepared to accept the phenomenon of multiplicity in unity; he must orient himself toward this reality. He must also recognize the need for a thorough Catholic renewal (translation: revolution, Ed.), something not to be accomplished in a day. This requires a process of opening up, which takes time. Meantime, the Catholic Church has no right to absorb the other Churches. The Church has not yet prepared for them a place of their own, but this they are legitimately entitled to.

    (b) A basic unity – of churches that remain Churches, yet become one Church – must replace the idea of conversion, even though conversion retains its meaningfulness for those in conscience motivated to seek it.”

    With your interpolation of that little word ‘revolution’, you’re implying that Ratzinger was embracing, precisely, an ecclesiological hermeneutic of rupture. In conjunction with your first paragraph, then, you’re implying that you’re more of a hermeneut of continuity than Ratzinger himself! But that gets it all wrong.

    The Catholic attitude Ratzinger was criticizing in (a) was the once-common presumption that churches not in full communion with Rome belong in no sense to “the Church” and are thus “outside” that church outside of which there is no salvation. That attitude needed to change, and has been changing. As Rome now affirms, the Orthodox churches are “true, particular churches” which are in imperfect communion with “the Church.” Thus, Orthodox believers need not as a rule “convert” to Catholicism; they have the deposit of faith, apostolic succession, and valid sacraments; what’s desirable, rather, is that full communion between the Roman and Orthodox communions as a whole be restored. Moreover, just by virtue of baptism, any Christian is in some degree of communion with “the Church,” however imperfect such communion may be, even though Protestant churches as such are not true churches. But it does not thereby follow that the unity of the “one,” holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is or would be manifest in a multiplicity of churches not in full communion with Rome. In fact, the opposite is the case.

    When Lumen Gentium said that the Church of Christ “subsists in” the Catholic Church (the Roman communion), it did not imply that said church also subsists elsewhere. In scholastic terminology, with which many of the Fathers of Vatican II were familiar, to say that some X “subsists” means that X exists as an inherently unitary whole, not just as a part of something else, and certainly not as a mere agglomeration of parts. According to Vatican II, then, it is in the Catholic Church that the Church of Christ exists as an inherently unitary whole. That’s what Dominus Iesus, and this 2007 CDF document, affirm. It does not thereby follow, however, that all other churches, in conjunction with the Catholic Church, manifest the unity of the one subsistent Church. It is the Catholic Church, and she alone, which manifests such unity; to the extent that others remain only in imperfect communion with her, they do not manifest such unity, even though “elements of truth and holiness” exist in them to varying degrees, and derive those qualities from her.

    What, then, of (b)? Since the two Orthodox communions–the “Eastern” Orthodox and the “Oriental” Orthodox–contain true, particular churches, they belong properly to the one, subsistent Church–i.e., the Catholic Church–which is thus wounded by their lack of full communion with her. But that does not mean that the one Church of Christ “subsists” in them; nor does it mean that the subsistence of the one Church is destroyed by the aforesaid lack. On the Catholic understanding, the Church of Christ continues to subsist in the Roman communion alone, even though not all the parts belonging properly to her are fully integrated, because they are not in full communion.

    What Ratzinger called for in (a) and (b), then, is not a “revolution” in or rupture with the Church’s previous self-understanding, but rather a development of our understanding of how the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is related to Christians not in full communion with her, and vice-versa. It is precisely that development which radical traditionalists and progressives in the Catholic Church don’t get or accept. Both groups believe that Vatican II contradicted the dogma of extra ecclesiam nulla salus. But the Council did no such thing. Nor does Ratzinger believe it did.

    Best,
    Mike

  22. Burton, (re: #14)

    Thanks for your comment. I wrote a reply last night, but the internet gremlins deleted it, and I was too tired to retype it. So here’s the second attempt, which agrees with and adds to what John, Brent, and David have said above.

    You wrote:

    I recently read a two part article by Norman Geisler (originally written for Christian Research Journal) on this very topic. He contends that the essentials (what I’ve heard others refer to as the “conceptual core”) can be identified by both historical and logical means.

    Would you provide a link to the article, if it is available online? Or at least the title of the article and where and when it was published? That might be helpful.

    I was not entirely convinced by his principled means for distinguishing essential from nonessential, but I’m not sure the Protestant position is quite as bleak as your above statement suggests.

    I agree that those Christians traditions that have separated from the Catholic Church have tended to preserve much of the Catholic tradition, and of course I’m thankful for that. It provides some common ground from which to work mutually toward reconciliation and reunion. There is a ‘Catholic inertia’ in these traditions, by which the Catholic tradition can continue long after the separation. Yet because of their separation from the Church, that inertia wears down over time, at different rates depending on the historical and cultural circumstances and on what has already been lost. (The more that is lost, the more quickly what remains is lost, all other things being equal.) That can be seen in the history of Protestantism, in the evolution of Evangelicalism in the twentieth century, and in its current collapse. See the article Michael Spencer (aka “IMonk”) published the year before he died, titled “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” See also my “A Reflection on PCA Pastor Terry Johnson’s “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology”.” Or read Viola and Barna’s Pagan Christianity, which embraces ecclesial deism in all its implications.

    You wrote:

    Most Protestants stand on an historical foundation that includes what Geisler refers to as “one Bible, two testaments, three confessions, four councils, five centuries”. In other words, within a few centuries basic Christological and anthropological doctrines crucial to salvation theology were laid down and agreed upon, and they are still agreed upon. As I survey the doctrinal landscape that is my own family, I see a variety of denominational commitments (Anglican, Baptist, Reformed) but a core agreement that we all share the same faith and are saved by the same Lord Jesus Christ.

    Again, I agree with you that there is much common ground. But I think you are implicitly doing three things here. First, you are overlooking the points of disagreement; second, you are arbitrarily excluding those who disagree with you; and third you are arbitrarily picking what is and isn’t to belong to the ‘rule of faith.’ Mark Galli did this too. See especially the section titled “Confidence and the Consensus Criterion” in my reply to Galli, and in the combox discussion following that post. Even limiting ourselves to the confessions, you are excluding all the liberal Protestant groups that deny the virgin birth taught by the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds, and that deny the punishment of “everlasting fire” for the damned as taught by the Athanasian Creed. What about the Protestants (conservative in other respects) who deny that Mary is the “Mother of God,” as taught by the fourth council? What about those Protestants (conservative in other respects) who deny that Christ is “eternally begotten of the Father” [natum ante ómnia sæcula], persons such as Mark Driscoll and Robert Reymond? Which of the bishops who crafted the Creed would have endorsed the social trinitarianism espoused by Cornelius Plantinga, the president of Calvin College, and other Protestants who now prefer social trinitarianism to that ‘philosophical stuff’ “imported” from the Greeks into the creeds? Neither social trinitarianism nor the denial of “eternally begotten” are compatible with the Trinitarian theology laid out in the Athanasian Creed. What is driving a lot of this Protestant confusion about the Trinity is the notion that three Persons requires three wills, and that notion was denied by the sixth council (see comment #2 in the social trinitarianism thread).

    You also overlook the difference between the Calvinist notion of the Apostles’ Creed’s “he descended into hell” and the Catholic understanding of that article. For the Calvinist position, see Taylor’s post “Calvin’s Worst Heresy: That Christ Suffered in Hell; for the Catholic understanding of that line of the Apostles’ Creed, see “The Harrowing of Hell,” and the corresponding section of the Catechism of the Council of Trent. In addition, for Catholics, the line “the communion of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed includes the notion of an exchange of spiritual goods (see CCC 955 and the corresponding section in the Catechism of the Council of Trent.) But for Protestants generally, this article does not include that meaning.

    You say “one Bible,” but you are aware that Catholics and Protestants do not agree regarding what books belong to the canon of Scripture. You say “three confessions,” but does Geisler believe in “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” as that article of faith was believed by the Church Fathers? I would be very surprised if he did. The PCA doesn’t. Geisler might confess the words “one, holy, catholic and apostolic,” but which Church Father believed that “one” here meant only an invisible, spiritual unity, and thus treated schisms as branches, and reduced schism to heresy? And which Church Father believed that “apostolic” meant only ‘having the Apostles’ doctrine’ and not also having ordination in a line of unbroken succession from the Apostles? You say “five centuries” but where in the first five centuries do we find in the Church anything but a Catholic (and Orthodox) conception of apostolic succession?

    Perhaps in your mind these are only minor points of disagreement, but that’s just the point I was making in the line you refer to in my article above, that a Protestant can claim “this is the list of essentials” only by glossing these differences, arbitrarily picking what is essential according to his own interpretation of Scripture, and arbitrarily picking the persons among whom there is this alleged consensus (as explained in the reply to Galli).

    In addition, it implicitly presupposes that agreement needs to be only for the most part, and that disagreement about a few things thought to be essential isn’t really a problem. But, from a Catholic point of view, the whole of the deposit hangs together. To reject one article of faith is, in that way, to reject the whole faith, even if by inertia profession of other articles continues. I’m not speaking here of culpability, invincible ignorance, or the possibility of salvation – I’m referring to the theological unity and interdependence of the deposit of faith. For example, here’s a paragraph from section 9 of Pope Leo XIII’s Satis Cognitum:

    The Church, founded on these principles and mindful of her office, has done nothing with greater zeal and endeavour than she has displayed in guarding the integrity of the faith. Hence she regarded as rebels and expelled from the ranks of her children all who held beliefs on any point of doctrine different from her own. The Arians, the Montanists, the Novatians, the Quartodecimans, the Eutychians, did not certainly reject all Catholic doctrine: they abandoned only a tertian portion of it. Still who does not know that they were declared heretics and banished from the bosom of the Church? In like manner were condemned all authors of heretical tenets who followed them in subsequent ages. “There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole cycle of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, infect the real and simple faith taught by our Lord and handed down by Apostolic tradition” (Auctor Tract. de Fide Orthodoxa contra Arianos).

    The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium. Epiphanius, Augustine, Theodoret, drew up a long list of the heresies of their times. St. Augustine notes that other heresies may spring up, to a single one of which, should any one give his assent, he is by the very fact cut off from Catholic unity. “No one who merely disbelieves in all (these heresies) can for that reason regard himself as a Catholic or call himself one. For there may be or may arise some other heresies, which are not set out in this work of ours, and, if any one holds to one single one of these he is not a Catholic” (S. Augustinus, De Haeresibus, n. 88).

    Here’s my point. There is no principled difference [again not regarding culpability, but regarding the denial of an article of faith] between the heresies Pope Leo XIII refers to here, and the examples I cited above of denying in some way or other one or more articles of the faith.

    You wrote:

    I know that this lacks the rigorous logical principled means that has drawn many at this site to embrace Roman Catholicism (hope I am not being too presumptuous there), but I’m not sure that at the practical level it can be discounted as merely each individual deciding for themselves what is essential and what isn’t.

    That statement does not make sense to me. If there is no principled means, then how can the individual but decide arbitrarily? Even if the Holy Spirit had preserved all the essentials in a set of persons including but larger than the Catholic Church, how would an individual go about determining in a non-arbitrary way what are all those essentials and distinguish them from what is not essential?

    Is it not possible that the Holy Spirit has, in fact, held the Church together over the centuries by an adherence to a basic set of core beliefs, even if the Spirit’s means of doing so cannot be defined by logically and philosophically airtight rational principles?

    Ok, I think I might understand what you were saying in your previous sentence. You are suggesting that even though from our human point of view there is no principled way of distinguishing between the essentials and the non-essentials, nevertheless the Holy Spirit could have (and did) preserve within the Church the confession of the essentials. Of course you know that I believe that the Holy Spirit has preserved within the Church the confession of the essentials. But at this point we are talking past each other, because even though we are using the same term (i.e. ‘Church’), we don’t have the same referent in mind. When I say ‘Church,’ I’m referring to the Catholic Church, but you are (I think) using the term ‘Church’ to refer to a set of persons that is broader than the Catholic Church. So, in order to determine whether your claim is true, we need to know what exactly is the referent of the term ‘Church’ as you are using it. And if you reply, “All those who hold the essentials,” then what you are claiming when you say that the Church adheres to the essentials is “All those who hold the essentials hold the essentials.” And that would be an unhelpful tautology. And if by “essentials” you mean the three creeds (Nicene, Apostles’, and Athanasian), then by claiming that the Church adheres to the essentials what you are really saying is “all those who affirm those three confessions affirm those three confessions.” And you can see that that’s an unhelpful tautology. It initially seems like it is claiming something substantive, but when you tease out the meaning of the concepts, you see that it is saying something like x=x. This was the problem I was trying to point out with Mark Galli’s position.

    If this doesn’t answer your question, or if I have misunderstood you, please follow up. I always appreciate your objections and challenges, because they are sincere and offered in the genuine pursuit of truth and agreement.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    Feast of St. Campion

  23. Vincent (re: #15)

    Such a post is in the queue, in the “Aquinas and Trent” series (see the Index tab above). But it will be some time before I get to it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  24. RefProt (re: #16)

    Dominus Iesus belongs to the authentic Magisterium of the Church, to which Catholics are obliged to give religious submission of will and intellect. In my post above, it falls under (c) in the paragraph preceded by the words “Disagreements of faith” in bold font. The document contains dogmas, but its purpose is not to define any particular dogma.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  25. Bryan, David, Brent, JTJ:

    Thanks for your comments. I’ll respond more fully when I have time. The links to each of the two parts of the Geisler essay are here:

    http://www.equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one/

    http://www.equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-two/

    Burton

  26. Burton,

    For time’s sake, feel free to just respond to the others. I think my review of Christian Smith’s book, The Bible Made Impossible, covers my criticism pretty well. If you want to critique that article, feel free, otherwise just ignore me.

    Peace brother!

  27. Mike,

    I have already explained that I am not using the hehermeneutic of discontinuity or rupture. If you want to use other words than “revolution” as translation then that is ok. What I want to point out idoes not depend on that word. I have gone through this topic to raise a question on Dr. Cross’ definition of unity as a unity of doctrine, cult and authority.

    Do the newer Church documents discuss who are the members of the Church of Christ? I would say they do. It recognizes that the orthodox churches are legitimate churches and that there is a popular view among catholic theologians that their conversion is unnecessary. If so, what is the force of Dr. Cross’ definition if the developments espoused by these church documents failed to meet Dr. Cross’ standards? The orthodox church recognized by Roman Catholicism as true Churches of Christ therefore members are not one with them in doctrine, cults and authority. If there are legitimate churches outside the roman catholic confines which differs in heirarchical authority, differs in some theological doctrines and rituals and yet considered true churches, then by Dr. Cross’ definition of unity, his church paradigm failed the test.

    Regards,
    Joey

  28. Joey:

    One minor and one major point of correction.

    1. Bryan does not yet have his PhD, though I expect he will in a matter of months if not sooner. I’ve had mine for 25 years. Since I don’t sign myself ‘Dr’ or advertise that status, I don’t expect people to call me that unless they want to. But if you want to call Bryan or anybody else “Dr,” you need to know who has the doctorate and who doesn’t!

    2. Bryan is well aware that the Catholic Church recognizes the Orthodox churches as “true, particular churches.” Indeed he is well aware of the ecclesiology I presented in my previous comment, and subscribes to it. I’m sure he does not see his “standards” of unity as incompatible with it. I sure don’t. Why not?

    The standards he invokes are those to be met by “the” Church of Christ. That church subsists in the Catholic Church; what that means, I explained in my previous comment. The Catholic Church certainly does have unity of doctrine and authority; as to “cult,” the basic structure of the liturgy is the same in all of the 20-odd sui juris churches that make up the Catholic Church. Such liturgical unity does of course admit of local variations and development within that same invariant structure. So the unity is a unity-in-diversity, which does not violate the standard of unity of “cult.” Orthodox liturgies are legitimate and valid by the same standards; indeed, the Eastern Catholic churches follow liturgical traditions virtually identical with those of the Orthodox. The schism between the Roman and the Orthodox communions is about primarily about authority, and secondarily about a few doctrines; it is not about liturgy at all.

    Best,
    Mike

  29. Dr. Liccione,

    Thank you for your correction regarding who are “Drs” in this blog.

    I think your response does not address the question I was raising. Mr. Cross’ theory of unity revolves on these three factors: authority, doctrine and cults. The problem is that, the Magisterium (which you and Bryan subscribed) recognizes other “legitimate churches” outside it’s confines and therefore view them as “true, particular churches” (using your phraseology). Yet, these “legitimate churches” are not one with Roman Catholicism in doctrine (I don’t believe that there is a minor difference between your dogmas versus Orthodoxy), rituals and cults, and heirarchical authority. Therefore, if the ecclesiology espoused by these modern documents be tested against Mr. Cross’ theory of unity, then the presence of these “legitimate true churches” (outside Roman Catholicism; not needing conversion yet distinct in all three factors of unity from Roman Catholicism) disqualifies the ecclessiological paradigm espoused by these newer documents.

    Regards,
    Joey

  30. Joey:

    It isn’t just Bryan and I, but also the Catholic hierarchy as a whole, who fail to see the incompatibility you do. That should give you pause. I submit that you have misunderstood Catholic ecclesiology on the points in question.

    In #21, I explained how, despite the existence of churches not in full communion with her, the Church of Christ exists in the Catholic Church as “an inherently unitary whole.” The old way of saying that was: “The Catholic Church is the Church.” That at least is something people thought they understood. But in Lumen Gentium, Vatican II put the truth more precisely, if not as simply:

    This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.

    So, while the Church of Christ “subsists in” the Catholic Church, those “elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure” are “gifts belonging to the Church of Christ” and, as such, are “forces impelling toward catholic unity.” The Church of Christ thus exists as an inherently unitary whole in the Catholic Church, satisfying the criteria of unity Bryan set forth; the Orthodox churches “belong to” that one, subsistent Church of Christ, and ought to believe and act in a manner consistent with that reality; but they do not so believe and act, and are thus not in full communion with her. They are, as it were, partially detached parts of the Church, and that reality does wound the Church; but it does not destroy the subsistence of the Church of Christ in the Catholic Church, which remains as an inherently unitary whole. The Church is thus like a human being who’s missing a kidney and a limb: wounded, but still subsisting as an inherently unitary person.

    Many people miss that point because they believe that, in order for there to be “one” universal Church, all the baptized have to agree on what that church is and act accordingly. But given human freedom and human sin, that has never been the case and never will be. The inherently unitary whole that is the Church has nevertheless always existed and always will exist, and is one in the sense Bryan intended.

    Best,
    Mike

  31. Dr. Liccione,

    I will leave to the readers whether you have successfully defended the view of Mr. Cross on his theory of unity. I believe you don’t speak for the catholic hierarchy therefore any claim that the catholic hierarchy teaches only Mr. Cross’ theory of unity is highly suspect. There are many post Vatican II theologians who see things differently than the demand Mr. Cross upholds in order to define unity. The argument fallssimply because the church paradigm that the newer church documents embrace can not maintain anymore, by virtue of it’s recognition that there are legitimate true churches outside her confines, that the church of christ as a whole is united in doctrine, authority and cults. Note that, several prominent theologians denies the necessity of conversion among the adherents of these other true churches therefore it places all the more the theory of Mr. Cross in a difficult position.

    Regards,
    Joey

  32. Joey (#31):

    You write:

    I believe you don’t speak for the catholic hierarchy therefore any claim that the catholic hierarchy teaches only Mr. Cross’ theory of unity is highly suspect.

    Although I did not claim that “the Catholic hierarchy teaches only Mr. Cross’ theory of unity,” Bryan’s “theory” is in fact no different in substance from what the Magisterium of the Catholic Church does teach. The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes that teaching as follows, in §815:

    But the unity of the pilgrim Church is also assured by visible bonds of communion: profession of one faith received from the Apostles; common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments; apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God’s family.

    As you can see, Bryan did not just make his theory up out of whole cloth. It expresses the authoritative teaching of the Church, as is appropriate for a Catholic theologian in this case.

    You wrote:

    There are many post Vatican II theologians who see things differently than the demand Mr. Cross upholds in order to define unity.

    In his post, Bryan already explained why the phenomenon of “dissent”–whether on the part of theologians or others–does not invalidate the teaching of the Magisterium about the unity of the Church. Your remark does not show what’s wrong with his argument.

    You wrote:

    The argument falls simply because the church paradigm that the newer church documents embrace can not maintain anymore, by virtue of it’s recognition that there are legitimate true churches outside her confines, that the church of christ as a whole is united in doctrine, authority and cults.

    With that remark, you’re just rejecting the argument I’ve given to the contrary, without doing a thing to show what’s wrong with my argument.

    …several prominent theologians denies [sic] the necessity of conversion among the adherents of these other true churches therefore it places all the more the theory of Mr. Cross in a difficult position.

    The Pope himself does not think it necessary for Orthodox believers as individuals to become Catholics. Neither do I. But it simply does not follow that the Church is not one. All that follows is that the best way to heal the wound of the Catholic-Orthodox schism is for full communion to be restored between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches, precisely as churches. That’s what the Pope is working for, and everybody who writes articles for this site approves of that.

    Best,
    Mike

  33. Dear all,

    There is no truth to the claim that the Catholic Church is divided. To put it simply, there is no such faction as:
    – Fundamental Catholic Church with its own pope
    – Evangelical Catholic Church with its own pope
    – Pentecostal Catholic Church with its own pope
    – Full Gospel Catholic Church with its own pope
    – Reformed Catholic Church with its own pope

    Dissenters among the Catholics do not found their own Church. They remain under the Roof of St. Peter’s Basilica (so to speak) and receive the sacraments of the Church like children who dissent their father and disobey him but continue to reside, sleep, sit and eat at the same table, and mingle with his brothers and sisters in the same house of their father. Of course there are children who leave their father’s house because of their dissent or disobedience. There are Catholics who leave the Church because of dissent. These are those who become Protestants.

    Constantino

  34. Dr. Liccione,

    I thought I implicitly answered your argument already. Your argument mainly (correct me if I am wrong) states that although there are dissenters and true churches that differs in doctrine, heirarcy and cults with the Roman Catholic Church (but are still part of the church of christ), it still makes sense to talk about unity as Mr. Cross defines it because the Roman Catholic Church (having unique substitence of the nature of the church) teaches one doctrine, has one heirarchy, and one cult.

    But the claim to “unique/sole subsistence” begs the question as the “dissenters” (in the RC perspective) and other true churches, which are still part of the “church of Christ” in Roman Catholic ecclesiology, can claim the same “unique/sole subsistence”, or can say that “substitence” of the nature of the church resides in all true churches taken as a whole, or they believe in a completely different meaning of what it means to be a part of the church of christ. In addition, what authority does the Pope have to resolve doctrinal differences over these true churches outside the confines of Rome in which his infallible authority is denied? The answer to this is obviously, nothing.

    Thus, “unique/sole subsistence” claim is not workable. It can not unite the churches in one doctrinal stance nor resolve conflicts in doctrinal disagreement among true churches; it can not unite the churches in one heirarcy nor compel each other to submit to each other’s authority among true churches; and it can not unite the churches in one cult nor resolve conflicts or differences in cult among true churches. In point of fact, this claim to “unique/sole subsistence” seems to be the ultimate reason of disunity rather than unity among true churches.

    Regards,
    Joey

  35. Joey (#34):

    The objection you’re raising now seems to me rather different from the one I’ve been answering. The one I’ve been answering is that the the Catholic Church does not fulfill her own criteria of unity for the one Church of Christ. Of course, the Catholic Church claims to be, and to have always been, the one church Christ founded. You had objected that the Church of Christ is not one in the sense Bryan had explicated, because there are true churches not in full communion with the Catholic Church. I believe I’ve demonstrated that the Catholic Church fulfills in herself the criteria of unity that she herself acknowledges for the existence of the one church Christ founded. Schism from that one, universal church is possible even for true, particular churches such as the Orthodox churches, and is a fact compatible with the Catholic Church’s claim for herself. For the fact of schism leaves the Church of Christ subsisting as an inherently unitary whole in the Catholic Church. Such was my answer.

    Now you’re objecting that my answer begs the question, because other churches do not acknowledge the Catholic Church’s claim to be the one, subsisting Church of Christ, and the Catholic Church cannot make them do so, thus reconciling them to her. But that is not an objection to what I wrote, for I was not endeavoring to demonstrate that the Catholic doctrine is true and that the several doctrines of other churches about the unity of something called “the Church” are false. All I showed is that Catholic ecclesiological doctrine is self-consistent, and that the criteria of unity set forth by said doctrine are fulfilled by the Catholic Church herself. The mere fact that other churches disagree with the Catholic doctrine is not a rebuttal of that doctrine, any more than my argument so far is a proof of that doctrine.

    Furthermore, it seems to me that you’re relying on a question-begging assumption yourself. You seem to assume that, unless all true churches are in full communion with each other, we cannot say that the Church of Christ is one. But that is simply to substitute your own criterion of unity for those set forth by the Catholic Church. Behind that substitution, I suspect, lies a confusion of the concepts of authority and power.

    If the Catholic Church is what she says she is, then she teaches and subsists with the authority of Christ, as well as being one by the criteria set forth with the authority given her. But that is fully compatible with the refusal of some particular churches and ecclesial communities to acknowledge that authority and that unity. The fact that the Catholic Church lacks the power to compel them to acknowledge her authority and unity does not derogate from that authority and unity. If her authority is legitimate to begin with, rebellion against it does not deprive it of its legitimacy, or destroy the unity of those who acknowledge it.

    Best,
    Mike

  36. I look forward to studying this article and posts carefully. I am in a protestant church but have come to a catholic understanding of my faith, and I have recently been asking myself some of the same questions about the Catholic church and unity.

    Searching,
    Jeff

  37. Dr. Liccione,

    You said:

    All I showed is that Catholic ecclesiological doctrine is self-consistent, and that the criteria of unity set forth by said doctrine are fulfilled by the Catholic Church herself. The mere fact that other churches disagree with the Catholic doctrine is not a rebuttal of that doctrine, any more than my argument so far is a proof of that doctrine.

    It is also my aim to point out that the self-consistency of the theory of unity that Dr. Cross proposes is quesitonable given that newer church documents acknowledge that there are true churches outside the Roman Catholic Church with different sets of doctrine, cult and hierarchy which members are not subject to conversion and upon which papal authority has no power to effect or impose unity of doctrine, cult and authority among these churches. The claim for “sole/unique subsistence” does not cure this defect but rather relay the inconsistency. Note that one of the dogmatic proclamations made by Boniface in Unam Sanctam is this:

    And so, the one and only Church is one body, one head, (not two heads like a monster), Christ certainly, and the vicar of Christ, [who is ] Peter and the successor of Peter. For the Lord said to Peter himself, “Feed my sheep.” [John 21:17] He said “my” generally, not solely of these or of those. By this, it is understood that all [universas] were committed to him. Therefore, if either the Greeks or others declare themselves not to be committed to Peter and his successors, they necessarily admit themselves not to be among the sheep of Christ, just as the Lord says in John, “there is one sheepfold, and only one shepherd.” [John 10:16]

    The argument of unity proposed in this document for oneness is the church members to be in submission to the Roman Pontiff to effect one doctrine and cult in the body of Christ. Those who do not do so are not part of the sheep of Christ. Apparently, the existence of true churches which are indeed part of the church of Christ who are not in submission to Papal Authority as revealed in newer church documents puts the claim for “sole/unique subsistence” to define “unity” in the church of Christ as inconsistent.

    Regards,
    Joey

  38. Jeff, not sure if you have posted here before but if not Welcome! Thank you for your honesty in admitting where you are in your “searching.” I’m sure you know if you’ve spent any time around here at all that there are a ton of people who would love to discuss any questions or concerns you may have (myself included). My wife and I (and our 2 little ones) came into full communion with the Church just this past Easter from a Reformed church and I spent my childhood and teen years mostly in pentecostal and charismatic congregations. Please feel free to reach out to me privately if you’d like…

    aaron.m.goodrich@gmail.com

    Shalom,
    Aaron Goodrich

  39. Joey, (re: #37)

    You wrote:

    It is also my aim to point out that the self-consistency of the theory of unity that Dr. Cross proposes is questionable given that newer church documents acknowledge that there are true churches outside the Roman Catholic Church with different sets of doctrine, cult and hierarchy which members are not subject to conversion and upon which papal authority has no power to effect or impose unity of doctrine, cult and authority among these churches. The claim for “sole/unique subsistence” does not cure this defect but rather relay the inconsistency.

    As for the term ‘questionable,’ I address that in comment #79 of Taylor’s “John Calvin’s Worst Heresy” post. The fact that there are particular Churches not in full communion with the universal Church is fully compatible with everything I wrote in the post above.

    Regarding the statement from Unam Sanctum, I have addressed that objection in comment #15 and comment #20 of Jeremy’s “Graduating Catholic From a Reformed Seminary” post.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  40. Joey (#37):

    In addition to what Bryan just said, I note that your objection to the Catholic ecclesiology of Vatican II and subsequent magisterial documents is essentially the same as that of traditionalist-Catholic groups. The attendant ironies abound, but since noting those wouldn’t contribute much to the substance of the dispute, I shall leave it to you to discern them. Substantively, the replies Bryan and I give you are essentially the same as those of the Vatican itself to said groups, especially the SSPX. Appreciating those replies requires making and understanding another distinction that the critics, including you, fail to make and understand.

    Before I get to that, however, I shall take your latest on its own terms. Thus you write:

    It is also my aim to point out that the self-consistency of the theory of unity that Dr. Cross proposes is quesitonable [sic] given that newer church documents acknowledge that there are true churches outside the Roman Catholic Church with different sets of doctrine, cult and hierarchy which members are not subject to conversion and upon which papal authority has no power to effect or impose unity of doctrine, cult and authority among these churches. The claim for “sole/unique subsistence” does not cure this defect but rather relay the inconsistency.

    The “true churches” you refer to are the Orthodox churches. About them, CCC §838 says:

    Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.”

    Other magisterial documents, some of which were authored by Joseph Ratzinger himself, make clear that the “little” which is lacking is acceptance of the Catholic doctrine of papal primacy. Aside from that, there is unity of doctrine, cult, and hierarchy. Why? Well, the Orthodox hierarchy enjoys apostolic succession, just like the Catholic, and the forms of liturgy or “cult” celebrated by the Orthodox churches are also celebrated by the Eastern-Catholic churches. That has always been the case, and the Catholic Church has always acknowledged that it’s the case. What’s more, almost all the doctrinal issues between the Roman and Orthodox communions are about whether certain Catholic distinctives are binding developments of doctrine, as distinct from acceptable theological opinions–issues that would be instantly resolved if the Orthodox accepted the Catholic doctrine of papal primacy. In the meantime, the Orthodox have the true Gospel and the sacraments, which are salvific for those Orthodox, i.e. the majority, who are not culpable for failing to be in full communion with Rome. That is why they need not convert, but instead should join the Catholic Church in working for reconciliation. Thus the Orthodox churches are indeed “subject to the Roman Pontiff,” as Unam Sanctam says; the challenge is simply to get them to see that. That they don’t believe it to be so does not mean that it isn’t so.

    Doubtless you’ll want to reply that the differences are greater than the Catholic Magisterium says, but that is beside the point. You have returned to pressing the objection that Catholic ecclesiology is internally inconsistent by virtue of recognizing the Orthodox churches as true, particular churches, which in fact the Church has always done. But that objection fails to note the distinction between the indefectible unity of the Church Christ founded and what’s done to that unity by the refusal of some churches to observe all its conditions. The former is not destroyed by the latter, but merely wounded by it. Thus the ongoing fact of the unity of the Church is not fully manifest historically, and rarely has been, because there have always been schisms–and for the last millennium, the East-West schism has largely persisted. But the fact that some parts of the Body of Christ, the Church, are semi-detached does not destroy that body as an organic, inherently unitary body.

    Again, that does not show that Catholic ecclesiology is true, only that it is self-consistent. Hence it does not beg the question. What does beg the question is your insistence that the failure of the unity of the Church to be fully manifest entails that the Catholic doctrine of the Church’s unity is inconsistent. Your position entails that the mere fact of schism between true churches destroys the subsistent reality and unity of the Church Christ founded. But that begs the question simply by substituting your theological criterion of unity for that of the Catholic Church.

    Best,
    Mike

  41. Dr. Liccione,

    In addition to what Bryan just said, I note that your objection to the Catholic ecclesiology of Vatican II and subsequent magisterial documents is essentially the same as that of traditionalist-Catholic groups.

    I believe the argument stands even without associating my argument with any particular group.

    Substantively, the replies Bryan and I give you are essentially the same as those of the Vatican itself to said groups, especially the SSPX.

    I’ve read the church documents you referred to. The responses you made are interpretations of those documents, not necessarily the substance of those documents. As you well know, there are many readers both layman and educated who read the same documents and see things differently than you do especially on the theory of unity you propose.

    Appreciating those replies requires making and understanding another distinction that the critics, including you, fail to make and understand.

    I leave it to the readers if this is true. Have you made an argument for concluding this? I don’t believe so.

    The “true churches” you refer to are the Orthodox churches. About them, CCC §838 says:

    I’ve read CCC 383 and this does not refer to the Orthodox churches alone. The full text thus reads:

    “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.” Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.”

    The question on the theory of unity that you propose is further put into question with this statement from the Catechism. If the validly baptized (which most Protestant and Orthodox Churches have in the perspective of RC theology) is joined to the Church and have certain (note the word “certain”) communion with the Church, how then can Dr. Cross and you argue against the disunity of Protestant communities when point of fact you recognize them as part of the Church? You are shooting at your own Church using this very definition. In other words, if you can criticize those you consider as members for disunity then in point of fact you are accusing your own “Church” of the same charge because these communities, by virtue of valid baptism, are legitimately part of the “Church”.

    Other magisterial documents, some of which were authored by Joseph Ratzinger himself, make clear that the “little” which is lacking is acceptance of the Catholic doctrine of papal primacy. Aside from that, there is unity of doctrine, cult, and hierarchy. Why? Well, the Orthodox hierarchy enjoys apostolic succession, just like the Catholic, and the forms of liturgy or “cult” celebrated by the Orthodox churches are also celebrated by the Eastern-Catholic churches.

    I hope I could believe you on this. But the actual data show otherwise. I will not cite all the evidences in this post but from original sin to the most treasured dogmas of Rome regarding the Eucharist, the Mariology of Rome, the cultus of Icons to the mode of salvation and authority issues… there are major differences. It is a blind leap of faith to believe your claim here. Perhaps, you share with them in the belief of “apostolic succession” and acceptance of “tradition” but has this provided for the ground of unity? No. Even the very concepts of “succession” and “tradition” differs between RC and Orthodox perspective. If Sola Scriptura is criticized for the accusation of seeming disunity, then by the same standard, those who look to “apostolic succession” and “tradition” failed also.

    What’s more, almost all the doctrinal issues between the Roman and Orthodox communions are about whether certain Catholic distinctives are binding developments of doctrine, as distinct from acceptable theological opinions–issues that would be instantly resolved if the Orthodox accepted the Catholic doctrine of papal primacy.

    But the RC Church dogmatize and anathemize those who do not accept the dogmas. The argument does not carry any weight here to those who are familiar with the church documents which explicitly condemns those who hold contrary opinions to the dogmas of Rome is anathema! This is not an issue of mere theological opinions as opinions is not acceptable when dogma has been defined. As you implicitly note, papal primacy can not resolve this issue as the Orthodox Church does not accept that claim and in her view of “tradition” and “succession” successfully views such claim as heresy.

    In the meantime, the Orthodox have the true Gospel and the sacraments, which are salvific for those Orthodox, i.e. the majority, who are not culpable for failing to be in full communion with Rome. That is why they need not convert, but instead should join the Catholic Church in working for reconciliation.

    The audience of this thread can read Unam Sanctum. Then they can read the post vatican II documents. I’ll let them read the data at hand and let them decide how is it that prior to the vatican II, there is no question that those not in submission to the Pope have no recourse to salvation. The Orthodox denial is not a matter of ignorance because they know about the claim and yet they reject the claim. They reject the Vicar of Christ on earth and his claim. And yet, now, they are members of the Church not needing conversation and rightly called “true particular churches”. Therefore, I’ll let the readers decide whether this has been answered adequately.

    Thus the Orthodox churches are indeed “subject to the Roman Pontiff,” as Unam Sanctam says; the challenge is simply to get them to see that. That they don’t believe it to be so does not mean that it isn’t so.

    I am not sure how this argument works. Do you mean to say there are churches that are unaware that they are “subject to the Roman Pontiff” even while consciously they deny to be “subject to the Roman Pontiff”? I am sorry but this claim will not convince anyone.

    Your position entails that the mere fact of schism between true churches destroys the subsistent reality and unity of the Church Christ founded. But that begs the question simply by substituting your theological criterion of unity for that of the Catholic Church.

    The readers can decide.

    Regards,
    Joey

  42. Joey (re: #41)

    You wrote:

    If the validly baptized (which most Protestant and Orthodox Churches have in the perspective of RC theology) is joined to the Church and have certain (note the word “certain”) communion with the Church, how then can Dr. Cross and you argue against the disunity of Protestant communities when point of fact you recognize them as part of the Church?

    (Please just call me ‘Bryan.’) You seem to be assuming that if a Protestant or Orthodox believer is in a certain imperfect communion with the Catholic Church, that is somehow incompatible with something I said in the article above. But it is not incompatible with anything I said in the article above. (If you disagree, please point to exactly what in my article is incompatible with that truth, and show why it is incompatible.) Just as dissenters within the Church do not detract from her unity (for the reasons I explained in the article), so likewise [and a fortiori] Orthodox and Protestants visibly outside the Church (yet possessing this imperfect communion with her) do not detract from her unity. I have addressed the question of this imperfect communion retained by Protestants and Orthodox with the Catholic Church in more detail in “Baptism, Schism, Full Communion, Salvation.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  43. Bryan,

    Which group of disagreements includes 1 Corinthians 1:10-12 ? Of faith, not of faith, or both ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  44. Eric, (re: #43)

    The disagreement between the Corinthian believers was about their relation to particular apostles, on account of those apostles’ authority and/or their having baptized the believer or having preached the gospel first to the believer. The Corinthians had begun to boast about these relations, and on this basis favor some Corinthian Christians over others, and this was causing dissensions among them. So your question, more precisely worded, is “Which kind of disagreement (of faith, or not of faith) was the disagreement described in 1 Corinthians 1:10-12?” In order to answer that question, we would have to know what the Corinthian believers had already been taught, prior to receiving St. Paul’s letter of 1 Corinthians. If they had already been taught that Christ is the baptizer, and that there is no more grace or virtue received in baptism by one apostle over another, and that the identity of the one by whom one receives the gospel and is baptized is no justification for showing favoritism or forming schisms, then this was a disagreement of faith, and those causing the schisms were dissenters by rejecting in practice this prior apostolic teaching. If however, they had not already been taught these things, then at that point, until receiving St. Paul’s instruction in his first letter to the Corinthians, it was for them still an open theological question, and thus a disagreement not of faith.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  45. Bryan (re: #44),

    Thanks for the response. I wanted to know your thoughts on this because VII focuses on the Corinthians as an example of small rifts within the early church. It seems to me that Christ the baptizer was a teaching prior to the letter, but the other issues were not.

    I want to address the possible Protestant objection.

    You wrote:
    There are a number of problems with this response. First, it overlooks the relevant difference between persons
    and texts, as I have explained elsewhere. Because of that difference, the unity of faith possessed by the Catholic Church is an actual unity maintained in the present by a living Magisterium, whereas the unity of faith referred to by this Protestant response is only a potential unity, because Scripture has to be interpreted, and within Protestantism there is no living magisterium to resolve the plethora of interpretive disagreements. The unity of Scripture as uninterpreted does not constitute a unity of the Apostolic deposit interpreted. The former is a potential unity that could in actuality lead to many contrary faiths, and in fact has done so. In the Catholic case, by contrast, the unity of faith is located in the interpretation through the authoritative organ of interpretation, not just in the text of Scripture. For that reason, the unity of faith at the level of interpretation is not compatible with many contrary faiths, and is thus not comparable with the potential unity of faith contained in Scripture alone as uninterpreted.

    Response:
    The Protestant cannot exist in a state of pure potential unity. It must be admitted that he shares in the unity Christ founded, otherwise, Scripture’s presence outside the visible confines could not impel towards Catholic unity. Protestants are actually united to Christ through the highest truths in the hierarchy of truths, and potentially united to the Catholic Church governed by the Pope. John 17 is a text containing a reference to those who will believe through the Apostles. I have believed through the Apostles, therefore, the text refers to me (among others). What is problematic is how I know this in a state of fragmentation outside the visible bonds you listed. If Scripture outside the Catholic Church has produce many contrary faiths, and scripture is an element impelling towards unity, then what is the difference ? I would say the Holy Spirit. The Scripture and the Holy Spirit together is the source of Protestant unity and VII supports it.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  46. Eric, (re: #45)

    You wrote:

    The Protestant cannot exist in a state of pure potential unity. It must be admitted that he shares in the unity Christ founded, otherwise, Scripture’s presence outside the visible confines could not impel towards Catholic unity. Protestants are actually united to Christ through the highest truths in the hierarchy of truths, and potentially united to the Catholic Church governed by the Pope.

    I agree with you, but I think you may have misunderstood me. By “potential unity” I am referring here to the potential unity of faith among Protestants, i.e. the potential unity among all Protestants concerning the interpretation of Scripture. I’m not referring to the imperfect communion Protestants have to the Catholic Church through their baptism.

    John 17 is a text containing a reference to those who will believe through the Apostles. I have believed through the Apostles, therefore, the text refers to me (among others). What is problematic is how I know this in a state of fragmentation outside the visible bonds you listed.

    You assert that your knowing that John 17 refers also to you is problematic, but you do not explain why or how it is problematic, and presently I do not see how it is problematic.

    If Scripture outside the Catholic Church has produce many contrary faiths, and scripture is an element impelling towards unity, then what is the difference?

    Here are the relevant statements:

    This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity. (Lumen Gentium 8)

    Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ. (Unitatis Redintegratio, 3)

    Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth” are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.” Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity.” (CCC, 819)

    It would be a mistake to claim that Vatican II’s teaching that Scripture, as one of the elements of sanctification and truth than can be found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church, is a force impelling toward Catholic unity, is an embrace of the conception of perspicuity underlying sola scriptura. In teaching that Scripture is a force “impelling toward catholic unity” the Second Vatican Council was not teaching a Protestant conception of the perspicuity of Scripture, as though the Magisterium is unnecessary, and that Scripture alone is sufficient to govern the Church and determine all questions of orthodoxy, heresy, schism, etc. That would be both heretical and self-contradictory. Rather, in these passages from the Second Vatican Council the Magisterium was teaching that what can be known of Christ through Scripture alone impels us to find the Church Christ founded, and to seek out the means He established by which His prayer in John 17 is answered, by which we are to be in full communion with all those who in sincerity seek union with Christ. This is often why Protestants become Catholic, not because Catholic teaching matches up with their own interpretation of Scripture, but because Scripture impels us to seek out this Church Christ founded almost two thousand years ago, to search for precisely that divinely instituted means by which all these interpretive disagreements and divisions-based-on-intepretive-disagreements can be overcome. The fact that Scripture impels us toward catholic unity does not imply or entail that Scripture is perspicuous in the sense presupposed by sola scriptura.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  47. Bryan (re:#46),

    Sorry for any confusion. I understand that “potential unity” was in the context of showing a disparity between unity claims. The other ecumenical themes from VII were presented as a backdrop for discussing interpretive unity.

    Your response to the Interlocutor successfully prevented the parity:
    The unity of Scripture as uninterpreted does not constitute a unity of the Apostolic deposit interpreted.

    Whenever the Magisterium interprets and transmits Revelation or the word of God, it always does it through Sacred Tradition. Sacred Tradition, as a living transmission, continues and preserves the gospel in Apostolic succession. So, the act of interpreting is participation in the same power and authority the Apostles had for interpreting. Apostolic interpretation constituted the full deposit entrusted to the Church.

    However, the parity can be revived when the deposit is considered as interpretation prior to church-magisterial interpretation. The deposit functions as revelation interpreted for a principle of unity. How ? The principle serves as an exemplar for any derivative interpretation. At this point, the Magisterium plays a passive-receptive role that is parallel to the Protestant. It places Magisterial and Protestant interpretations on a level field. This applies to text and person, unless you can show me how it does not.

    In my opinion, your view makes Protestant interpretation lead to a state of pure potential doctrinal unity. Truths from catholic doctrine may be found in this state, but never in a way that avoids contradiction. This reduces those truths to opinions on the part of the Protestant. Faith did not find them. Scriptures cannot impel (a teleological drive) towards Catholic unity for the Protestant because he would need the ability to segregate those truths from falsehoods and contradictions. A successful segregation reduces the power of your argument. I think this forces an admission that Protestants share in the interpretive unity founded by Christ. If the Protestant possess the highest truths of the hierarchy, and knows it through Scriptural interpretation, then you may need to rethink what ability Protestants have, i.e., gifts and powers of the Holy Spirit.

    You wrote:
    You assert that your knowing that John 17 refers also to you is problematic, but you do not explain why or how it is problematic, and presently I do not see how it is problematic.

    Response:
    Your argument for fragmentation together with Scripture impelling causes a problem. Bi-directional is my best description. John 17 directs me toward Catholic unity, but the same non-perspicuous John 17 directs toward fragmentation.

    You wrote:
    It would be a mistake….

    Response:
    VII did not endorse the Protestant position. It painstakingly searched out commonalities to build on. If Protestant interpretations, which are subject to fragmentation, can know anything of Christ from Scripture alone, then you need to explain why fragmentation can co-exist with that knowledge. It seems that the lowest degree of supernatural faith is the highest degree of strong natural opinion. Did Catholic teaching unwittingly blur the faith-opinion distinction ?

    Eric

  48. Eric, (re: #47)

    You wrote:

    However, the parity can be revived when the deposit is considered as interpretation prior to church-magisterial interpretation. The deposit functions as revelation interpreted for a principle of unity. How ? The principle serves as an exemplar for any derivative interpretation. At this point, the Magisterium plays a passive-receptive role that is parallel to the Protestant. It places Magisterial and Protestant interpretations on a level field. This applies to text and person, unless you can show me how it does not.

    If one conceives of the Bible as though prior to its being interpreted by any human person it is already interpreted by some human person, one could achieve in one’s mind the appearance of parity, as one could do if one conceived of the Magisterium as though it is a text. The problem with such conceptions is that they do not correspond to reality. Prior to its being interpreted by any human person, the Bible is not already interpreted by any human person. Moreover, the Magisterium does not start in a merely passive receptive role. The Magisterium received the deposit directly from the incarnate Christ, and then, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote the texts of the New Testament. (See “The Tradition and the Lexicon.”) In addition, the Magisterium is not only divinely authorized to explicate the deposit, but has also been given a divine charism in doing so (cf. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.26.2)

    You wrote:

    In my opinion, your view makes Protestant interpretation lead to a state of pure potential doctrinal unity. Truths from catholic doctrine may be found in this state, but never in a way that avoids contradiction. This reduces those truths to opinions on the part of the Protestant. Faith did not find them. Scriptures cannot impel (a teleological drive) towards Catholic unity for the Protestant because he would need the ability to segregate those truths from falsehoods and contradictions. A successful segregation reduces the power of your argument. I think this forces an admission that Protestants share in the interpretive unity founded by Christ. If the Protestant possess the highest truths of the hierarchy, and knows it through Scriptural interpretation, then you may need to rethink what ability Protestants have, i.e., gifts and powers of the Holy Spirit.

    This is the not-so-uncommon strawman of the Catholic conception of perspicuity. It is not the case, from the Catholic point of view, that when any plain person picks up the Bible, it must remain entirely for him a black box. A denial of the Protestant notion of perspicuity does not entail a black box conception of the perspicuity of Scripture. If Scripture were a black box outside the Catholic Church, Scripture could not impel toward Catholic unity. Nor is it the case that the Protestant must be able accurately (and independently of the Magisterium) to distinguish between all his true interpretations and his false interpretations, in order for what he finds in Scripture to compel toward Catholic unity. One does not, for example, need to be able to determine with certainty that one’s interpretation of Romans 2 is false (or true), in order to know that Christ founded a Church or that Jesus prayed that all His followers would be one. From the fact that Protestants can rightly determine some things in Scripture, it does not follow either that the Protestant conception of perspicuity is true, or that Scripture does not compel toward Catholic unity in the way I described in comment #46.

    VII did not endorse the Protestant position. It painstakingly searched out commonalities to build on. If Protestant interpretations, which are subject to fragmentation, can know anything of Christ from Scripture alone, then you need to explain why fragmentation can co-exist with that knowledge. It seems that the lowest degree of supernatural faith is the highest degree of strong natural opinion. Did Catholic teaching unwittingly blur the faith-opinion distinction ?

    Again, you construct a strawman of the Catholic conception of perspicuity. Fragmentation can “co-exist” with what Protestants do know rightly from Scripture because (1) not all Protestants agree concerning what some Protestants rightly know from Scripture and (2) the fact of interpretive disagreements on matters that divide Protestants is fully compatible with their agreeing about other things that are not the source of those fragmentations. For example, the disagreement between Baptists and Pentecostals concerning spiritual gifts is fully compatible with agreement concerning the deity of Christ and the resurrection of the body. And so on.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  49. Bryan (re:#48)

    You wrote:
    If one conceives of the Bible….

    Response:
    A Papal document proposing revelation is the written interpretation of the Pope interpreting. The principle author is the Holy Spirit interpreting. That document, along with both interpreters, serves as a principle of doctrinal unity for Catholics. Do you think that this document, with the Holy Spirit alone, would not unify during a papal interregnum ? The visibly absent Christ, Apostle, or Vicar of Christ is the same thing.

    (1) Christ the Son, appointed by the Father, is a material revealed truth interpreted by the Holy Spirit in Apostolic written tradition. This amounts to the Son’s appointment being interpreted, the Bible as interpretation, and the Holy Spirit as interpreter.

    (2) Timothy, appointed by Paul, is a material revealed truth interpreted by the Holy Spirit in the Apostolic written tradition. This amounts to Timothy’s appointment being interpreted, the Bible as interpretation, and the Holy Spirit as interpreter.

    The parity remains because (1) and (2) are prior to church-magisterial interpretation. Both of these are principles of doctrinal unity to be believed and obeyed by the Protestant and Catholic. The argument limiting “person” to human person shows prejudice against the role of the invisible Holy Spirit.

    You wrote:
    This is the not-so-uncommon strawman of the Catholic conception of perspicuity….

    Response:
    The order of faith proposes for belief certain truths known by reason and experience. If it did not, then catholic faith would be defenseless against the charge of irrationality. You contrast a didactic (Romans 2) example with a factual one (Christ founded a Church). So, determining the truth or falsehood of each example would be accomplished by slightly different methods. Only faith, directed by authority, can know which Christ or which Church. Scripture impels Protestants toward Catholic unity because Catholic teaching includes truths known through reason and experience. If it is faith in the Protestant beyond reason and experience, then a problem with previous Church teaching is exposed:

    ….Besides this, in connection with things which must be believed, it is nowise licit to use that distinction which some have seen fit to introduce between those articles of faith which are fundamental and those which are not fundamental, as they say, as if the former are to be accepted by all, while the latter may be left to the free assent of the faithful: for the supernatural virtue of faith has a formal cause, namely the authority of God revealing, and this is patient of no such distinction. For this reason it is that all who are truly Christ’s believe, for example, the Conception of the Mother of God without stain of original sin with the same faith as they believe the mystery of the August Trinity, and the Incarnation of our Lord just as they do the infallible teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, according to the sense in which it was defined by the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican. Are these truths not equally certain, or not equally to be believed, because the Church has solemnly sanctioned and defined them, some in one age and some in another, even in those times immediately before our own? Has not God revealed them all? For the teaching authority of the Church, which in the divine wisdom was constituted on earth in order that revealed doctrines might remain intact for ever, and that they might be brought with ease and security to the knowledge of men, and which is daily exercised through the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops who are in communion with him, has also the office of defining, when it sees fit, any truth with solemn rites and decrees, whenever this is necessary either to oppose the errors or the attacks of heretics, or more clearly and in greater detail to stamp the minds of the faithful with the articles of sacred doctrine which have been explained. But in the use of this extraordinary teaching authority no newly invented matter is brought in, nor is anything new added to the number of those truths which are at least implicitly contained in the deposit of Revelation, divinely handed down to the Church: only those which are made clear which perhaps may still seem obscure to some, or that which some have previously called into question is declared to be of faith. – Pope Pius XI, On Religious Unity

    …. all who are truly Christ’s believe…. John 17 cannot refer to me if Pius is right.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  50. Eric, (re: #49)

    You wrote:

    A Papal document proposing revelation is the written interpretation of the Pope interpreting. The principle author is the Holy Spirit interpreting.

    No papal document “proposes revelation.” Revelation ended with Christ (cf. CCC 65-65). Nor is any papal document inspired by the Holy Spirit. Only Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    Regarding the quotation from Pope Pius XI, he is referring there to those not in a condition of invincible ignorance. So it does not follow from what Pope Pius XI says there that John 17 cannot refer also to Protestants. He is not teaching that only those persons who assent to all Catholic dogmas have the virtue of faith. Otherwise there would be no difference between formal heresy and material heresy. See the discussion following “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  51. Bryan (re:#50),

    I am providing some magisterial statements below to justify “proposed revelation” and “the Holy Spirit” interpreting”. As a Protestant trying to understand the “other”, I have learned to distinguish between revelation / proposing divinely revealed truths and inspiration / divine assistance. Please reconsider my interregnum example knowing I intended catholic teaching with my words.

    At the very least, any written directives of a living Pope pertaining to the election of a new Pope would unify Catholics during the interregnum. A satisfactory response to my example will answer the Protestant and the Sedevacantist.

    Wherefore, by divine and catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium.
    – Vatican I, On Faith

    But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.
    – Dei Verbum, Handing on Divine Revelation

    For the holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.
    – Vatican I, On the infallible teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff

    You wrote:
    Regarding the quotation from Pope Pius XI, he is referring there to those not in a condition of invincible ignorance…..

    There is a kind of tender mercy in invincible ignorance and formal / material distinctions. Anyone who concentrates solely on species, habits, objects and ends will eventually exclude many catholics and protestants from communion. The will, being so much closer to the passions and irrational nature, struggles in a way different from the intellect. I do agree that Pope Pius XI was not referring to those in a condition of invisible ignorance.

    Invincible ignorance renders Papal authority arbitrary. Man does not have a clear authoritative revelation of God in the penetralia of conscience, or through surrounding facts, or even inspired prophets. All revelation is committed to the Church for interpretation and transmission. This too is arbitrary. The conditions preventing a certain knowledge of revelation outside the Church are the same for those in your visibile Church. The soul is blunted and imprisoned by the body. Invincible ignorance and heresy distinctions are designed to sweeten and dilute the painful truth that God’s authoritative Word is silenced the moment it enters our condition. Can we expect anything else when the principle of individuation is irrational ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  52. Eric:

    I was struck by a sentence you wrote just above:

    Invincible ignorance and heresy distinctions are designed to sweeten and dilute the painful truth that God’s authoritative Word is silenced the moment it enters our condition.

    Now in the most basic sense, “God’s authoritative Word” is the Person of Jesus Christ. That Person is God the Son incarnate, “the Word made flesh.” He decisively entered “our condition” as a baby and shared it even to the extent of of suffering and dying for us. All that and more is central to divine revelation. Although your prose often leaves me mystified, the above-quoted sentence suggests that you don’t believe divine revelation, as orthodox Christianity understands it, can be successfully communicated to us who did not directly experience the Christ-event.

    That is not a difficulty for us. It is a difficulty for you. Pray from the heart.

    Best,
    Mike

  53. Eric, (re: #51)

    The statements you cite from the first and second Vatican Councils concern the authority of the magisterium to determine the content of divine revelation, and the obligation of the faithful to receive this. If when you said “proposing revelation” you had these statements in mind, then I misunderstood you.

    You wrote:

    Invincible ignorance renders Papal authority arbitrary.

    How so?

    Man does not have a clear authoritative revelation of God in the penetralia of conscience, or through surrounding facts, or even inspired prophets. All revelation is committed to the Church for interpretation and transmission. This too is arbitrary.

    How so? Merely asserting that something is arbitrary does not show how it is arbitrary, or demonstrate that it is arbitrary.

    The conditions preventing a certain knowledge of revelation outside the Church are the same for those in your visibile Church.

    Again, this is a mere assertion. You offer no evidence to substantiate this claim.

    The soul is blunted and imprisoned by the body.

    If you are describing your own position, ok. But the Catholic position is not one in which the soul is “blunted” or “imprisoned.” If you disagree, then you’ll need to make an argument showing this. Merely offering assertions is not helpful, nor does it relate to the topic of the article above.

    Invincible ignorance and heresy distinctions are designed to sweeten and dilute the painful truth that God’s authoritative Word is silenced the moment it enters our condition.

    Again, this is a mere assertion. What evidence do you have that these distinctions were “designed” to do this?

    Can we expect anything else when the principle of individuation is irrational ?

    What exactly do you mean by “the principle of individuation” and how do you think that the Catholic position entails that this principle is irrational?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  54. Bryan (re:# 53),

    I wish to take some blame for the misunderstanding because many Protestants do not take the time to absorb the finer points of catholic dogma and theology. This is not to say I excel. I was hoping to discuss any responses to my interregnum example.

    The last part of my comments were reactions to invincible ignorance as it is taught by the catholic church. My words were unguarded and assertions alone are weak.

    (1) Papal authority is arbitrary when it is exerted on someone who is able to ultimately resist grace in the face of God’s absolute authority. An interior cooperation with grace is a precondition of obedience to papal authority. Invincible ignorance and resistance to grace produce the same effect, i.e., a privation of grace that participates by hope in a supernatural end. Someone in this condition of “non-being” does not hide from God’s gaze; so, if the One who knows all truth and reveals certain truths witnesses the ignorance, then any other authority purporting to deliver revealed truth is rendered arbitrary. There is nothing necessary about Papal authority at this point. As an aside, I believe God’s operation of interior saving grace can precede the exterior offer of material revealed truths. This is on account of God’s authority and truth (as formal) being identical with the primary revealed truth (as material) in reality.

    (2) Church interpretation and transmission are rendered arbitrary for the same reasons as papal authority. To the invincibly ignorant, under God’s gaze, no revelation within or without can impress the will of God’s absolute authority.

    (3) The conditions preventing a certain knowledge of revelation outside the Church are the same for those in your visible Church. Who can mark the limits of invincible ignorance ? I know we are unable.

    (4) You wrote:
    If you are describing your own position, ok. But the Catholic position is not one in which the soul is “blunted” or “imprisoned.” If you disagree, then you’ll need to make an argument showing this. Merely offering assertions is not helpful, nor does it relate to the topic of the article above.

    Response:
    We have a different view of what is catholic teaching.

    Evidence: Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma #1647

    ….Now, in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to mark the limits of such an ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things ? For, in truth, when released from these corporeal chains “we shall see God as He is” [ 1John 3:2 ]….but, as long as we are on earth, weighed down by this mortal mass which blunts the soul….

    (5) I wish to withdraw the comment that includes “designed”. It is too laborious to defend here and it suggested something to Mike (#52) that I reject. Fruitful exchange is not served if I press it.

    (6) The conditions that make invincible ignorance possible are dependent on the principle of individuation. Matter is the principle. In itself, it has no existence or intelligibility. Things are difficult at the epistemic and metaphysical level. My use of “irrational” was ambiguous because I meant that matter is non-intelligible of itself.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  55. Hi Mike,

    You never asked me to demystify my words. I would do my best if asked. I do believe in clear natural and supernatural revelation.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  56. Eric, (re: #54)

    You wrote:

    (1) Papal authority is arbitrary when it is exerted on someone who is able to ultimately resist grace in the face of God’s absolute authority.

    The ability of someone to resist papal authority and grace in the face of God’s absolute authority does not render papal authority arbitrary. Your conclusion (i.e. that papal authority is arbitrary) does not follow from your premise (i.e. that people can resist papal authority in the face of God’s absolute authority).

    if the One who knows all truth and reveals certain truths witnesses the ignorance, then any other authority purporting to deliver revealed truth is rendered arbitrary.

    Again, that is a non sequitur.

    There is nothing necessary about Papal authority at this point.

    Again, that is a non sequitur. The ability of criminals to break the law does not show that the law is not necessary. Likewise, the ability of persons to resist divinely established papal authority does not render such authority unnecessary.

    Your other claims about Church interpretation, transmission, etc. being “rendered arbitrary” make use of the same mistaken line of reasoning.

    In comment #51 you had written:

    The conditions preventing a certain knowledge of revelation outside the Church are the same for those in your visibile Church. The soul is blunted and imprisoned by the body.

    In comment #53 I replied, “If you are describing your own position, ok. But the Catholic position is not one in which the soul is “blunted” or “imprisoned.” If you disagree, then you’ll need to make an argument showing this. Merely offering assertions is not helpful, nor does it relate to the topic of the article above.”

    In comment #54 you replied by saying:

    We have a different view of what is catholic teaching. Evidence: Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma #1647: ….Now, in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to mark the limits of such an ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things ? For, in truth, when released from these corporeal chains “we shall see God as He is” [ 1John 3:2 ]….but, as long as we are on earth, weighed down by this mortal mass which blunts the soul….

    The statement of Pope Pius IX does not mean “blunts the soul” in an unqualified sense as you used it in comment #51 but rather with respect to the beatific vision and thus the hidden workings of God in the union of justice and mercy. Because of the present “bluntness of soul” by which we do not have the beatific vision, no man can “mark the limits” of invincible ignorance (i.e. determine who is, and who is not, in a condition of invincible ignorance).

    At this point, I think we’ve wandered quite far away from the topic of the article above, and so I’m going to table this particular discussion. A blessed feast of the Epiphany to you.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  57. In the following video Doug Wilson answers the question “Is the Protestant Church Fragmented?”

    Ask Doug: Is the Protestant Church Fragmented? from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

    There are three things to note regarding what Doug says in this video. First, notice the title, “Is the Protestant Church fragmented?” In actuality there is no such thing as “the Protestant Church.” There are Protestants, of course, but there is not some one thing made up of all Protestants and only of Protestants, just as there is not some one thing made up of all the oranges grown in Florida. The notion that there is such a thing as “the Protestant Church” makes the mistake of reifying a mere idea (i.e. the set of all Protestants). That can be shown by observing that if in fact there were no such thing as “the Protestant Church,” but only the plurality of Protestant persons, nothing would be any different, just as nothing would be any different if there were no entity composed of (1) “the Protestant Church” and (2) all Protestants. (See “Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church.”“)

    Second, regarding the unity question, Doug attempts to depict an “apples to apples” parity between sixteen Catholic traditions denoted by David Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia, and Barrett’s list of twenty-one fundamental Protestant traditions. (See the breakdown here.) Doug’s answer side-steps the point in question (i.e. the unity question), however, because traditions are not necessarily divisions of communities into schisms. Diversity is not necessarily division. There can be multiple liturgical and local traditions maintained within communities while these communities all hold the very same faith, the same sacraments, and the same ecclesial government. For each of the sixteen Catholic traditions Barrett lists, either all the persons within that tradition are in full communion with the Catholic Church, or some of them are not. Doug specifically refers to Old Catholics, who separated from the Catholic Church after the First Vatican Council, and Sedevacantists, who separated from the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. Groups of persons who share the Catholic faith and possess the same sacraments as the Catholic Church, but are not in communion with the bishop of Rome are not in full communion with the Catholic Church and are in [material] schism from the Catholic Church, as explained in CCC 2089. As explained in the post at the top of this page, persons and communities who do not hold the Catholic faith or are in schism from the Catholic Church are separated from the Catholic Church and thus are not cases of divisions within the Catholic Church (and thus a loss of her first mark), even if these separated persons practice a liturgical or local tradition that is also practiced by persons who are in full communion with the Catholic Church. The existence within the Catholic paradigm of a principled basis for distinguishing between heresy and orthodoxy, and between branches within and schisms from the Church allows unity as a mark of the Church to be both real and compatible with the existence of heretical and schismatic groups.

    By contrast, Protestantism cannot claim the same, because there is neither a Protestant Church to which all Protestants belong, nor a principled basis within Protestantism for distinguishing between orthodoxy and heresy, or between a schism from the Church and a branch within the Church. (See “Branches or Schisms?” and “We don’t need no magisterium: A reply to Christianity Today’s Mark Galli.”) So the existence of the sixteen traditions Doug mentions is not a successful tu quoque to the “Protestants are divided” objection, because within Catholicism there is a principled means of determining whether for each tradition the persons within that tradition are or are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, whereas there is no such principled means of determining the same regarding each Protestant community’s relation to “the Protestant Church.”

    Third, toward the end of minute 3 of the video, Doug says that it is fair to say that Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants are all “inhabiting the same basic world. There is not a radical distinction between them.” Then he says,

    Unless you pull out the trump card that all sectarians always pull out: “Well, our body is unified and its all you guys who are fragmented. I’m doing ok; the rest of the army is out of step.” If you do that, then, of course, a lonely sectarian Church of Christ can say “We’re it. We’re unified, and all you guys are fragmented.” But that’s to win the argument by definition. That’s the argument of the sectarian.

    What Doug has done here is attempt to “win the argument by definition,” by defining as ‘sectarian’ any claim to belong to the Church Christ founded, from which others are in schism. That’s not a neutral definition of ‘sectarian.’ That’s a question-begging, theologically loaded definition of ‘sectarian,’ because it presupposes either that Christ never founded a visible Church, or that if He did, she has lost her unity and divided into many fragments. To stipulate this definition of ‘sectarian’ is to presuppose that the one Church Christ founded no longer exists or no longer exists as one. If, however, the Church Christ founded still exists, and is still one, Doug’s definition would not allow him to discover this to be the case, because by his definition of ‘sectarian’ the truth would automatically be dismissed as ‘sectarian.’ So not only is his definition question-begging, it eliminates the opportunity of discovering a possible truth about the Church Christ founded, namely, that she is still one. I addressed this use of the term ‘sectarian’ in more detail in the last three paragraphs of “Ecclesial Unity and Outdoing Christ: A Dilemma for the Ecumenism of Non-Return.”

    Regarding Doug’s claim that Evangelicalism has more unity than Catholicism, because Evangelicals of all different streams show up at the same conferences, buy the same books, and listen to the same radio stations, my reply to that claim is the same I gave to Mark Galli, mentioned a few paragraphs above.

  58. Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary, and Darryl Hart, of Hillsdale College, recently claimed that the Catholic Church is “a communion riven by the same kind of divisions that characterized the modernist-fundamentalist controversy.” This is another example of a Protestant tu quoque claim that the Catholic Church is just as divided as Protestantism, and that returning to the Catholic Church is therefore no solution to the framentation/disunity problem. However, disagreements of the sort referred to in the NCR article fall under the “not of faith” category explained in the post above, and are therefore fully compatible with possession and preservation of the three bonds of unity maintained in the Catholic Church: the unity of faith, the unity of the sacraments, and the unity of visible hierarchy. By contrast, as explained in the post above, and in my reply to Christianity Today‘s Mark Galli, Protestantism has no non-arbitrary unity of faith, unity of sacraments, and unity of visible hierarchy.

  59. I don’t know if this thread is now dead but if not, here’s a late comment as I only came across this today. As soon as I read the title I was reminded of a debate between Fr Mitch Pacwa and Kenneth Samples on Sola Scriptura. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsZhUgdqAxM) And then, lo and behold, the second comment refers to the same Kenneth Samples and his arguments that Catholics are just as divided as Protestants. Anyway, if you want to hear Mr Sample arguing that the Catholic Church is as divided as Protestantism you can hear him at 31.30 in the above You Tube video. Incidentally, in defence of Protestant divisions Mr Samples says that there were schisms in the Apostolic times. He appears not to understand the difference between schism and heresy.

  60. Bryan,

    I think you may have left out one sort of disagreement that I think would be considered “not of faith” but am not entirely sure. I learned that Catholics are bound to obey canon law regarding all disciplines, but that they are free to disagree with such disciplines or argue that they should be different. Is that the case? If so, where would that type of disagreement fall?

    For example, is a Catholic in line with Church teaching if he argues for a change in specific fasting guidelines or other aspects of discipline?

    Peace,
    John D.

  61. JohnD ( re: #60)

    Yes, disagreements with canon laws as such are matters “not of faith.” We may rightly argue for a change in canon law, even as we abide by these laws. Canon law as such is neither de fide nor infallible.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  62. Bryan,

    I know it was not the purpose of your article, but in footnotes #15 and #17 you mention that you are setting aside the question of culpability. Do you address this issue elsewhere? If not, where could a person go to wrestle with issue of culpability for dissent/denial of Church teaching? Catechism? Other documents? I’m all ears.

    Peace,
    John D.

  63. Bryan (re: Original article),

    This piggybacks off the question I asked in the previous comment. You said in footnote #11:

    The different degrees of certainty calling for different grades of assent should not be confused with the “hierarchy of truths,” as explained by Douglas Bushman in “Understanding the Hierarchy of Truths.”

    And then in footnote #17:

    Setting aside the question of culpability, the objective gravity of a Catholic’s deviation from the Catholic faith depends both on the relative importance of the rejected teaching in the “hierarchy of truths” and the three grades of assent, and on the proportion of the Catholic faith rejected.

    I read the article linked in footnote #11 and found it somewhat helpful in explaining the “hierarchy of truths”. However, it did not touch upon the subject of culpability of dissent and how this relates to the hierarchy of truths. I also could not find an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia on this (or the Catechism), but perhaps I need to look more carefully? Where can I go to find more information on this?

    Peace,
    John D.

  64. JohnD (re: #63)

    The culpability of dissent committed by culpable ignorance is not tied to the place in the hierarchy of truths of the truth from which the dissenter dissents. The higher the truth in the hierarchy of truths, the greater the objective error in rejecting that truth. Material heresy is objectively a greater error than denying authentic teaching of the Magisterium not taught by a definitive act but nevertheless requiring religious submission of will and intellect. But the degree of culpability for rejecting any truth by culpable ignorance is directly related to the sinfulness of the neglect of finding the truth and putting away ignorance. As Fr. Slater writes in A Manual of Moral Theology, “the degree of malice which attaches to a sin committed in more or less culpable ignorance is measured rather by the sinfulness of the neglect to put away the ignorance, than by the sinfulness of the act in itself.” Likewise, the degree of culpability for dissent by culpable ignorance from Church teaching is not dependent on the place of that teaching in the hierarchy of truths, but on the sinfulness of the neglect in putting away ignorance of what the Church teaches. The various types of culpable ignorance are reflected in canon law (cf. Can. 1325).

    As for the person who dissents with full knowledge and deliberate consent, and thus not by ignorance, the higher the doctrinal truth in the hierarchy of truths, and the higher the grade of assent called for by the Church to that doctrine, the more sinful the dissent from that doctrine, all other things being equal.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  65. Below is a video compiled from interviews at a recent conference at the University of Notre Dame on the topic of polarization in the Catholic Church, and very relevant to the post at the top of this page:

  66. […] Moreover, the Protestant objection that Catholics are disunified too commits the tu quoque fallacy. The defender of the Catholic Church makes the claim that Protestantism is theologically divided over essential theological issues. The Protestant cannot claim, on pains of committing the tu quoque fallacy, that Catholics are also theologically divided. In order to properly rebut the Catholic claim, the Protestant must demonstrate that the Catholic claim is either false or is not a good reason to consider Catholicism. The Protestant cannot point out a putative theological diversity within Catholicism to show that the Catholic claim that Protestants are theologically divided over essential doctrines is false. For a more robust response to this particular Protestant objection, see Bryan Cross’ article here […]

  67. Protestant here, hoping to clarify a bit.
    This article does not address the argument in question. (Or, it addresses a very weak and non-representative version of it.) It is, at best, a “weak-manning” of the Protestant position.
    (See here http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/05/12/weak-men-are-superweapons/ for clarification on the idea of a “Weak Man”)

    “…the unity of the Catholic faith does not consist in the level of doctrinal agreement among all those who call themselves Catholic. The bond of faith as one of three bonds constituting the visible unity that is the first mark of the Church specified in the Creed is the bond of unity manifested visibly in all those Catholics who profess the one faith taught by the Magisterium.”

    The real point- the fundamental point- of the Protestant attack is that there does not exist any “visible unity” that includes all who actually accept the teaching of the RCC magisterium, and not any other.
    This visible unity is a fiction.
    Either:
    1) it excludes those who disagree – in which case it is not a *visible* unity.
    OR:
    2) it includes all those who are visibly unified, in which case the unity in question does not even include agreement.

    (It might seem for a moment that the key word is “profess,” so that unspoken dissenters are unified with the church. This does not resolve the problem, however: it makes complete (unspoken) atheism entirely compatible with “unity.”)

    This is not a tu quoque, because invisible unity is not a problem for Protestants. Classical Protestants believe that visible unity is possible, but is separate from and founded on the presence of true (invisible) unity. When spiritual unity is worked out by people, it becomes visible in that case and only in that case.

    Let me try to clarify some of what would need to be addressed to formulate a genuine response:

    Countering the strawmen (or, as stated above, perhaps “weakmen”):
    1) Unity in the classical Protestant sense is not mere belief about an interpretation. It is shared belief that the thing (they agree the Bible is saying) happens to be *true.*
    2) “The unity of the Church is not any mere accidental unity in the sense that persons. . . come together to form some federation or denominational organization” is actually the Protestant argument.
    The externalities -the history- don’t make a/the church. The externalities are a necessary consequent of the unity. Internal unity precedes all organization. This, at least, is the Classical Protestant position, expressed notably by Luther as the priesthood of all believers, and by Baptists in (their meaning of) regenerate church membership.

    Clarifying (the Protestant view of) the RCC’s place in the debate:
    1) Either a “federation or denominational organization”,” (that is, some organized institution of a church) can be called true unity, or it cannot. (Unity established by Christ is -technically- a separate discussion).
    2) The RCC is a “federation or denominational organization.”

    Clarifying the Protestant argument:
    1) Either shared fundamental-beliefs are a constituent element of (the relevant sense of) unity or they are not.
    2) The group of individuals the RCC claims to hold in unity (including throughout history) do not all have shared fundamental-beliefs.
    Therefore:
    3) Either shared fundamental-beliefs are not a constituent element of (the relevant sense of) unity, or the RCC is not unified.
    4) Shared fundamental-beliefs are a constituent element of (the relevant sense of) unity.
    Therefore:
    5) The RCC is not unified, in the relevant sense.

    The pivotal assumption is that “fundamental beliefs” is a valid objective category that applies to belief in Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, Baptists, Pentacostals, Stoics, Marxists, and any other category of thought. Either you have fundamentally unified beliefs or you don’t- nothing Christian about this. (Protestantism allows that there may be other kinds of unity- the question is whether *this* kind of unity is valid.)

    The fundamental Protestant assertion:
    An institutional unity is not a spiritual unity; it is a logical contradiction to say that a spiritual unity is created or destroyed by a change in an institutional unity, or that a change in an institutional unity creates or destroys a spiritual unity.
    Put another way:
    Institutions are always contexts of souls. They are always only ever positional-settings of souls. Spiritual unity is always only ever *essential* unity of souls.

    Wrapping up, with a tl;dr:
    Either the RCC is no more unified than Protestants, or the unity (like Protestants) is not (always) a visible unity. This article tries to make unity both internal and inherently-visible, without showing how that is coherent.

  68. JCD, (re: #67)

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Your argument is a criticism of the Catholic claim of having visible unity. Your argument takes the form of a dilemma:

    This visible unity is a fiction.
    Either:
    1) it excludes those who disagree – in which case it is not a *visible* unity.
    OR:
    2) it includes all those who are visibly unified, in which case the unity in question does not even include agreement.

    The problem with your argument is that your conclusion does not follow from the first horn of your dilemma. Yes, persons who do not affirm the Catholic faith (or deny some dogma of the Catholic faith) have thereby excluded themselves from the unity of the faith. But from that truth it does not follow that the unity of the Catholic Church (consisting of all three bonds of unity) is not a “visible unity, enjoyed and participated in by all who belief and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” The Catholic claim on unity is not that persons who deny the Catholic faith enjoy the full unity of the Church. Claiming otherwise would be setting up a straw man of the Catholic position.

    So, your presentation of the Catholic position as being one that affirms:

    2) The group of individuals the RCC claims to hold in unity (including throughout history) do not all have shared fundamental-beliefs.

    is not an accurate description of the Catholic position, because according to Catholic teaching unity is not merely hierarchical unity, but also unity of faith, as well as unity of sacraments. In other words, the “one” in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” is a unity that includes all three bonds of unity, not just hierarchical unity.

    Likewise, your claim:

    3) Either shared fundamental-beliefs are not a constituent element of (the relevant sense of) unity, or the RCC is not unified.

    is a false dilemma, because there is a third position: namely, that believing the dogmas of the Church is one of the constituents of the unity of the Church, and that the Catholic Church is unified, i.e. has all three bonds.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

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