Skip to comments.Will the Pope's Pronouncement Set Ecumenism Back a Hundred Years? (Challenge to Apostolicity)
Posted on 07/22/2007 7:40:38 PM PDT by xzins
Wednesday, 11 July 2007
Yesterday's Reuters headline: "The Vatican on Tuesday said Christian denominations outside the Roman Catholic Church were not full churches of Jesus Christ." The actual proclamation, posted on the official Vatican Web site, says that Protestant Churches are really "ecclesial communities" rather than Churches, because they lack apostolic succession, and therefore they "have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery." Furthermore, not even the Eastern Orthodox Churches are real Churches, even though they were explicitly referred to as such in the Vatican document Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism). The new document explains that they were only called Churches because "the Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term." This new clarification, issued officially by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but in fact strongly supported by Pope Benedict XVI, manages to insult both Protestants and the Orthodox, and it may set ecumenism back a hundred years.
The new document, officially entitled "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church," claims that the positions it takes do not reverse the intent of various Vatican II documents, especially Unitatis Redintegratio, but merely clarify them. In support of this contention, it cites other documents, all issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Mysterium Ecclesiae (1973), Communionis notio (1992), and Dominus Iesus (2000). The last two of these documents were issued while the current pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was prefect of the Congregation. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was born in 1542 with the name Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition, and for centuries it has operated as an extremely conservative force with the Roman Catholic Church, opposing innovation and modernizing tendencies, suppressing dissent, and sometimes, in its first few centuries, persecuting those who believed differently. More recently, the congregation has engaged in the suppression of some of Catholicism's most innovative and committed thinkers, such as Yves Congar, Hans Küng, Charles Curran, Matthew Fox, and Jon Sobrino and other liberation theologians. In light of the history of the Congregation of the Faith, such conservative statements as those released this week are hardly surprising, though they are quite unwelcome.
It is natural for members of various Christian Churches to believe that the institutions to which they belong are the best representatives of Christ's body on earth--otherwise, why wouldn't they join a different Church? It is disingenuous, however, for the leader of a Church that has committed itself "irrevocably" (to use Pope John Paul II's word in Ut Unum Sint [That They May Be One] 3, emphasis original) to ecumenism to claim to be interested in unity while at the same time declaring that all other Christians belong to Churches that are in some way deficient. How different was the attitude of Benedict's predecessors, who wrote, "In subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church--for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame" (Unitatis Redintegratio 3). In Benedict's view, at various times in history groups of Christians wandered from the original, pure Roman Catholic Church, and any notion of Christian unity today is predicated on the idea of those groups abandoning their errors and returning to the Roman Catholic fold. The pope's problem seems to be that he is a theologian rather than a historian. Otherwise he could not possibly make such outrageous statements and think that they were compatible with the spirit of ecumenism that his immediate predecessors promoted.
One of the pope's most strident arguments against the validity of other Churches is that they can't trace their bishops' lineages back to the original apostles, as the bishops in the Roman Catholic Church can. There are three problems with this idea.
First, many Protestants deny the importance of apostolic succession as a guarantor of legitimacy. They would argue that faithfulness to the Bible and/or the teachings of Christ is a better measure of authentic Christian faith than the ability to trace one's spiritual ancestry through an ecclesiastical bureaucracy. A peripheral knowledge of the lives of some of the medieval and early modern popes (e.g., Stephen VI, Sergius III, Innocent VIII, Alexander VI) is enough to call the insistence on apostolic succession into serious question. Moreover, the Avignon Papacy and the divided lines of papal claimants in subsequent decades calls into serious question the legitimacy of the whole approach. Perhaps the strongest argument against the necessity of apostolic succession comes from the Apostle Paul, who was an acknowledged apostle despite not having been ordained by one of Jesus' original twelve disciples. In fact, Paul makes much of the fact that his authority came directly from Jesus Christ rather than from one of the apostles (Gal 1:11-12). Apostolic succession was a useful tool for combating incipient heresy and establishing the antiquity of the churches in particular locales, but merely stating that apostolic succession is a necessary prerequisite for being a true church does not make it so.
The second problem with the new document's insistence upon apostolic succession is the fact that at least three other Christian communions have apostolic succession claims that are as valid as that of the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Churches, which split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054, can trace their lineages back to the same apostles that the Roman Catholic Church can, a fact acknowledged by Unitatis Redintegratio 14. The Oriental Orthodox Churches, such as the Coptic and Ethiopic Orthodox Churches, split from the Roman Catholic Church several centuries earlier, but they too can trace their episcopal lineages back to the same apostles claimed by the Roman Catholic Church as its founders. Finally, the Anglican Church, which broke away from the Roman Catholic Church during the reign of King Henry VIII, can likewise trace the lineage of every bishop back through the first archbishop of Canterbury, Augustine. In addition to these three collections of Christian Churches, the Old Catholics and some Methodists also see value in the idea of apostolic succession, and they can trace their episcopal lineages just as far back as Catholic bishops can.
The third problem with the idea of apostolic succession is that the earliest bishops in certain places are simply unknown, and the lists produced in the third and fourth centuries that purported to identify every bishop back to the founding of the church in a particular area were often historically unreliable. Who was the founding bishop of Byzantium? Who brought the gospel to Alexandria? To Edessa? To Antioch? There are lists that give names (e.g., http://www.friesian.com/popes.htm), such as the Apostles Mark (Alexandria), Andrew (Byzantium), and Thaddeus (Armenia), but the association of the apostles with the founding of these churches is legendary, not historical. The most obvious breakdown of historicity in the realm of apostolic succession involves none other than the see occupied by the pope, the bishop of Rome. It is certain that Peter did make his way to Rome before the time of Nero, where he perished, apparently in the Neronian persecution following the Great Fire of Rome, but it is equally certain that the church in Rome predates Peter, as it also predates Paul's arrival there (Paul also apparently died during the Neronian persecution). The Roman Catholic Church may legitimately claim a close association with both Peter and Paul, but it may not legitimately claim that either was the founder of the church there. The fact of the matter is that the gospel reached Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Edessa, and other early centers of Christianity in the hands of unknown, faithful Christians, not apostles, and the legitimacy of the churches established there did not suffer in the least because of it.
All the talk in the new document about apostolic succession is merely a smokescreen, however, for the main point that the Congregation of the Faith and the pope wanted to drive home: recognition of the absolute primacy of the pope. After playing with the words "subsists in" (Lumen Gentium [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church] 8) and "church" (Unitatis Redintegratio 14) in an effort to make them mean something other than what they originally meant, the document gets down to the nitty-gritty. "Since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches." From an ecumenical standpoint, this position is a non-starter. Communion with Rome and acknowledging the authority of the pope as bishop of Rome is a far different matter from recognizing the pope as the "visible head" of the entire church, without peer. The pope is an intelligent man, and he knows that discussions with other Churches will make no progress on the basis of this prerequisite, so the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the pope, despite his protestations, has no interest in pursuing ecumenism. Trying to persuade other Christians to become Roman Catholics, which is evidently the pope's approach to other Churches, is not ecumenism, it's proselytism.
Fortunately, this document does not represent the viewpoint of all Catholics, either laypeople or scholars. Many ordinary Catholics would scoff at the idea that other denominations were not legitimate Churches, which just happen to have different ideas about certain topics and different ways of expressing a common Christianity. Similarly, many Catholic scholars are doing impressive work in areas such as theology, history, biblical study, and ethics, work that interacts with ideas produced by non-Catholic scholars. In the classroom and in publications, Catholics and non-Catholics learn from each other, challenge one another, and, perhaps most importantly, respect one another.
How does one define the Church? Christians have many different understandings of the term, and Catholics are divided among themselves, as are non-Catholics. The ecumenical movement is engaged in addressing this issue in thoughtful, meaningful, and respectful ways. Will the narrow-minded view expressed in "Responses" be the death-knell of the ecumenical movement? Hardly. Unity among Christians is too important an idea to be set aside. Will the document set back ecumenical efforts? Perhaps, but Christians committed to Christian unity--Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant alike--will get beyond it. The ecumenical movement is alive and well, and no intemperate pronouncement from the Congregation of the Faith, or the current pope, can restrain it for long. Even if ecumenism, at least as it involves the Roman Catholic Church's connection with other Churches, is temporarily set back a hundred years, that distance can be closed either by changes of heart or changes of leadership.
See challenges to claims of Apostolic succession.
Since spiritual lineage is more important, than secular lineage, the Apostolic argument is important in the spiritual sense. We want to be in the teaching, doctrinal lineage of the Apostles.
That is truly Apostolic.
Why does everyone get so worked up about ecumenism? There are real, legitimate reasons not to be in union with certain denominations.
What the current pope is saying is just a reiteration of the view they have always held. That is why discussing anything with the officials of the RCC as far as ecumenism goes, is worthless. Laypeople are a different matter.
The eccumenical arguments of this article are certainly part of the article, but the good part is the discussion of apostolicity.
I can see why there’d be disappointment in the RCC holding forth in discussion as if they were saying one thing when actually they had their fingers crossed behind their backs.
Yet, the good part is that the RCC’s claims stand on pretty shaky grounds. As the good book says, “If you think you stand, take heed lest you fall.”
“Yet, the good part is that the RCCs claims stand on pretty shaky grounds”
Ridiculous. It is a fact that the Roman Catholic Church can actually trace it’s leadership (i.e. the priests and bishops) back to the apostles. Or were you referring to something else?
Regarding ecumenism - it’s a good thing to have dialogue, but it is not a good thing to ignore facts. One ought to seek the truth, not just what seems the easiest form of religion.
On the other hand, the Pope did not say that other Christian denominations were without merit. And, contrary to many erroneous people’s beliefs, the Catholic Church does not think all Protestants are going to hell, or that all Catholics are bound for heaven. The Pope restated the Catholic belief that many graces come from various congregations. Yet, the church’s stance has always been that the RCC has the fullness of the faith as handed down from the apostles. Since the church has no army to hit people over the head or coerce anyone into joining it, no one should feel threatened by this statement.
Who ordained the Apostle Paul?
We Orthodox agree, and state that the Western Church lacks the fullness of being in communion with the Eastern Patriarchs. Either way, the Church lacks unity. But that's not the same as saying that the Church in the west or in the east is not a real Church.
Our clergy is valid, our sacraments are valid, and apostolic succession is present, our Eucharist is Real Presence. We do not communewithin the Churchbecause we have not worked out full understanding of our dogmatic pronouncements. Communion is an expression of theological agreement and not means towards achieving one.
Whether you accept apostolic succession or not it makes no difference. Christ established one Church and it's none of the Protestant/Baptist man-made communities. We know that because we have the names of those who made them and the dates when they were made. Not a single one involves our Lord Jesus Christ, or goes back to 33 AD, except one both Greek and Latin, both catholic in scope and orthodox in faith, and both apostolic in authoirty.
This makes the oldest non-Apostolic "church" about 550 years old, circa 1500 years after the Lord established His. Take your pick.
Read the 3 underlined points above.
It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.
I did. The fact is the Church has been around for 1500 years before Protestants came on stage and established their "churches," citing their personal interpretation of the Bible (which bible?) as correct. Nice try.
If you are going to use historical evidence as a source of doubt than begin with Exodus, and all of Torah for that matter. Don't stop there: there is no original copy of any of the apostolic or Old Testament writings. They are all copies of copies.
Truth hurts, and I can understand that. The elements of what constituted the Church for the last 2,000 years is lacking in Protestant/Baptist communities. Unfortunately, for the last 40 or so years of ecumnism they have gotten accustomed to being "included" in this syncretistic falsehood that took over the western world and a sad but obvious "protestantization" of the Catholic Church for some time after the Vatican II.
I wonder how many today can claim Apostolic succession based on Peter’s rules.
Act 1:15 ¶ And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)
Act 1:16 Men [and] brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.
Act 1:17 For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.
Act 1:18 Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.
Act 1:19 And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.
Act 1:20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
Act 1:21 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
Act 1:22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
Act 1:23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.
Oops, strike that reference to Jehovah’s witnesses.
The Apostles should have learned that decisively when Cornelius and family received the Holy Spirit before Peter finished talking or baptizing him.
And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as [he did] unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? - Acts 11:15-17
And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men [and] brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as [he did] unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. - Acts 15:7-9
For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called [me] by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. Galatians 1:11-19
Nice try on this one.
Despite the oaths he took at his consecration/ordination to the episcopacy, and despite the claims he made in the introduction to his Ordinal, Thomas Cranmer had no intention of continuing the priesthood or episcopacy as it had been known in England since the time of Augustine. Nor of continuing the Eucharist as it had been received either.
Otherwise, he would simply have translated the Pontificale Romanum and Missale Romanum of the time into English.
In fact, he wanted to change it so radically he devised rites which, while continuing to LOOK like the Catholic Rites, were changed in their essential formulae to make it very clear that the intention was a wholly new (and essentially different) kind of Eucharist, priesthood, and episcopacy.
Leo XIII reviewed all this and gave what is still the Roman Catholic Church's authoritative judgment on the matter in 1896, in the document Apostlicae Curae.
***Who ordained the Apostle Paul?***
Here is an interesting question I often ask people. “How many times was the Apostle Paul shipwrecked? Most say once in Acts. They forget that Paul says he was shipwrecked three times.
2Cr 11:25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
That is three times before he was shipwrecked in Acts. This shows me that Paul was not resting on his laurels between his 3 missionary journeys but had many more journeys not recorded. Who knows how many other churches he founded without us knowing about them.
This kind of "warm, welcoming, we care about you and your salvation" post should definitely bring the whole Protestant/Baptist communities flocking back to the Catholic Church quickly.
Is this really how you wish for Catholics to present themselves to Protestants/Baptists?
Could you define for me what you feel will be the result if these Protestant/Baptist communities fail to "return to" the Catholic Church?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Jesus spend a fair amount of time and energy trying to get the existing Jewish hierarchy to recognize that they were wrongly focused on their robes, the best seats in the Temple/Synagogue, etc., (what I would call expected human behavior in any human generated hierarchy) and thusly not doing the Lord's work? (my paraphrasing).
I guess I don't understand why the apparent effort of some, to trace lineage back through humans takes precedence over a relationship with Jesus.
Considering that humans are just as fallible now as they were then, is it possible that perhaps the same human mistake the Jewish leadership was making back then was replicated by some under Jesus's New Testament gospel?
For humans, tracking lineage, historical investigations, etc., can be heady stuff, but it doesn't seem to me that this would be what Jesus would wish us to focus on to save our souls and follow his plan for us.
(Using your post as a jump off point to ask these questions.)
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