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.
I think your post about obeying leaders is a good reminder. It is not, however, what I meant in talking about not being a follower of any man.
I happen to agree with #751 ... Paul can give deference to ‘twelve’ without it coming from God.
So which leaders should we all be following?
I too must depart - I'll see you again later this evening, Lord willing.
Thank God for you and may God bless you always!
Muchly obliged. Thank you.
We are to obey the orders of those appointed over us, but our allegiance is to the constitution. As soldiers we are constantly reminded that we are not to obey unlawful orders.
"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God." (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).
"I, _____ (SSAN), having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God." (DA Form 71, 1 August 1959, for officers.)
We are not followers of an admired President or General. We obey the duly appointed.
Likewise in our churches and denominations. There is an overall allegiance to Christ that will always reject unlawful orders of those appointed over us.
Who are those who are appointed over us?
then why don’t you stop pinging me?!??
Of course. I should have phrased my comments to indicate that I enjoyed your responses, as Christ worked in you to spread his word. Thanks for that reminder.
You confuse infallibility with impecability. All Popes have been sinners. Even Peter denied Christ when the going got tough. The fact that we have had some bad popes does not mean the truth of the Catholic Faith is wrong. We don't cite to Jimmy Swaggert to show that the Protestant take on Christianity is incorrect because we know the action s of individuals is not the test.
Also, In John 14:26, Jesus said, "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name - he will teach you everything and remind you of all I have told you."
The Bible does not record what the Advocate taught the Apostles. You need Apostolic Succession in order to have that knowledge passed on. We Catholics call it Sacred Tradition.
Paul was appointed an Apostle by Christ just like the others were. He then appointed other bishops, who are the successors to the Apostles
Can a blind person be a witness in a court trial?
It was, with the chosing (by Jesus) of Paul.
If you look at the text, Peter did all this while they were supposed to be WAITING for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Therefore, all that they did until Pentacost was non-binding. They had no Spiritual power or oversite.
Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, says: Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has life everlasting and I will raise Him up on the last day. (John 6:54-55).
They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again." (Ignatius, died c. 105)
Without Apostolic succession, there cannot be the Eucharist and therefore no Church (ecclesial communities, yes, but not the Church).
Take 10 minutes to watch Neil Babcox, once a nondenominational Pastor and then a Presbyterean Pastor for over 30 years, speak on the Eucharist.
God bless you all
Are there Three??? Or is there One???
But the divisions go beyond just the bishops (pinging some Orthodox I know). What I mean is, few Orthodox laymen would go to communion at anything other than an Orthodox church, despite what is printed in the front of most of the Roman Catholic mislets (sp). Beyond that, there are some real differences in theology.
There are one ... which are one depends upon how much of the dimensional universe you’re ‘investigating’.
“Without Apostolic succession, there cannot be the Eucharist and therefore no Church”
That is pure unadulterated nonsense. The 1 Cor. 11 passage and the 1 Cor. 10 passage concerning communion was written to the church at Corinth to critique their practice. There is no mention of who can serve or even “consecrating” the elements. There was a simple prayer of thanks (our grace at the table) for the elements and then a partaking of them. It is a memorial service service pure and simple and it imparts no salvific grace.
This critique was writtten to a church that was abusing the memorial and Paul still calls them a church.
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