THE o'CANDAL OF CHRISTIAN DISUNITY
By Fr. Gor don Albion
t, last prayer of Cbrist before He
was that His followers salvation of all Manco sacrifice His life
selves in Him: "I in them and light be united among themfor 4 they In Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou bast sent me."
In these last words, Our Lord
expresses the purpose of this unity for which He prayed. He meant it to be a sign, a proof to the rest of the world that He is the world's God-sent Saviour.
Unity was to be at all times the witness of Christians to the Divine truth of Christ's mission. [he converse surely follows. The
non-Christian, or the type Fr. Martindale called the AfterChristian, the man of moral principle hut with little sense of the need for doctrinal truth, feels justified in taking up Christ's challenge and, pointing a finger of scorn at the Babel of disunity among those who call themselves Christians. is able logically to maintain that this disunity is a witness, a proof that Christ isn't what He said He was and what all Christians claim Him to be, namely God-made-man. the Messiah, the Saviour of the World, the only Hope of the World.
A betrayal of Christ
THEREIN lies the essential scandal and shame of Christian disunity: to those whom it is our duty to convert to Christ, it is a betrayal of Christ, a denial of all we claim for Him.
Disunity is a spiritual dishonesty, a spiritual adultery. Christ prays for one thing. His followers frustrate that prayer by doing just the opposite. No wonder that the world says that Christianity has failed. No wonder that the non-Christian, Jew and Pagan, scoffs at Christianity. No wonder that so many, brought up in the Christian tradition, now deny the divine claims of Christ and call themselves agnostic.
No one can deny that the stark fact of Christian disunity is a scandal, an obstacle to the conversion of those who might otherwise accept Christ and His Gospel. Yet the thinking Christian, whatever his so-called denominational allegiance. realizes that disunity has arisen, and persists, from grave, differences of doctrine sincerely held.
The sincerity of such differences of belief is, not unnaturally, questioned by non-Christians because they have been and are still often expressed in terms of a spirit of hostility and intolerance that seems to them a mockery of Christianity. To the scandal of the fact of disunity is added the further scandal of the un-Christian spirit in which it is maintained.
NOW for reasons deeply rooted in both history and doctrine Catholic and Protestant regard the scandal of Christian disunity and approach the problem of reunion from entirely different viewpoints.
The Catholic holds that Christ's prayer for unity must achieve its purpose, for it was a divine prayer of Son to Father. God to God. And as proof that Christ's prayer has in fact succeeded. the Catholic points to his Church's unity of authority under the See of Peter, its unity of belief and worship.
Admittedly, at the end of the Middle Ages there were gross abuses of authority, evil-living among priests and prelates, superstition ram pant among illinstructed layfolk that the Church was so slow to reform that the Protestants took the law into their own hands, but not content with protesting against abuses of authority, they totally rejected that authority, opted out of the Church, and proclaimed new doctrines and practices of their own.
In so doing they did not, and could not, destroy the unity of The Church, safeguarded as it is by Christ's prayer. but they cut themselves off from that unity.
And so it must be the earnest hope and prayer of every Catholic that every Protestant Christian, from the self-styled AngloCatholic to the Free Churchman, will one day return to unity in the One True Church which Christ founded and from which their ancestors broke away so violently in the 16th century.
AT that time, there was not the same sense of shame at the scandal of disunity that there is today among Sincere thinking non-Catholic Christians of all shades of opinion.
Then, the scandal was the abuse of worldliness in the lives and example of those who claimed to represent Christ on earth. That was the main self-justifying cause of the great Protestant revolt of 400 years ago and the Pope of the day, Hadrian VI, was the first to confess it: "We freely acknowledge that God has allowed this chastisement to come upon His Church because of the sins of men and especially because of the sins of priests and prelates. We will take all pains to reform. in the first place, the court of Rome. from which perhaps all those evils take their origin."
Those are penitential words of the successor of Peter and those words were made good in the great Catholic Reform that gave new life and fervour to the Church then and since.
But it was too late to stop what had already taken place. Even the Protestants couldn't stop the avalanche they had started.
The final result of that first break-away from the unity of Petrine and Papal authority that was the only safeguard of unity of faith and worship was a complete breakdown in unity of belief.
And this landslide into disunity has gone on progressively until today, when there are in existence several hundred Christian sects that have splintered off from the original main Protestant churches.
IT is a fact of history which none can deny and which the Protestant can only attempt to justify by alleging that the unity of the Christian Church was in fact broken up al most from the beginning and continued to disintegrate. Yet it is still maintained that the prayer of Christ for unity cannot be said to have failed. because it was a prayer for a future ideal. towards which all must patiently strive, guided by the Holy Spirit, and which will one day be realised.
It is that ideal unity which is the inspiration of the World Council of Churches and the whole Ecumenical Movement that today bear witness to a new and sincere approach to the whole problem.
To us Catholics this movement is a misguided one for, while asserting that: "on the basis of the New Testament the Church of Christ is one" (with which we would agree) the World Council in its own words disavows any thought of becoming a single unified Church structure dominated by a centralized administrative authority.
In other words, the aim of the Ecumenical Movement is a fellow
ship of the spirit which under the comprehensive slogan of declaring for Christ as Lord, will allow the widest divergence in religious tenets and worship and repudiate, as did the original Protestants, all unity of authority.
This manifestly runs counter to Catholic teaching and explains why Catholics could not participate in these ecumenical discussions, unless to speak with an authority which the World Council would not accept and does not even claim for itself.
YET that does not mean that the Catholic Church is not deeply interested in these strivings for unity among those she regards as her separated brethren, who are divided not only from her, "the Mother and Mistress of Christendom," but even among themselves.
After the first meeting of the World Council of Churches at Amsterdam in 1948, Pope Pius XII said: "The Catholic Church takes no part in ecumenical conferences or meetings, but, as may be seen from many papal documents, she has never ceased. nor ever will, from following with deepest interest. and furthering with fervent prayers, every attempt to attain that end which Christ our Lord had so much at heart, namely, that all who believe in Him 'may be made perfectly one.'"
Anglicans and Free Churchmen know quite well, to quote the recent La m beth Conference Report, of our "conviction that the only goal of reunion must be in submission to the Papacy." Yet they are prepared to accept our speakers on those terms, which, in effect, are a demand for unconditional surrender as the price of unity.
In principle that is true. In practice there arc ways of presenting our case with a gentle persuasiveness, scholarly, reasoned
but always courteous, that can make a harsh demand appear much more like a Christ-like appeal.
A striking phrase
WE sometimes forget that our own firm convictions are due not to any personal powers of sound reason hut to the gift of Faith and the clear-cut guidance of the Church.
We also underestimate the power over men's minds of four centuries of anti-papal prejudice and private judgment.
And lastly we tend to treat our separated brethren of today as if they were as personally responsible for the scandal of disunity as were the apostate Catholics who revolted from the Church in the 16th century.
In adopting that attitude are we not forgetting our own distinction between formal and material heresy? And also are we not detracting from the fullness of the Church's Sacramental theology which regards as God's children and hers, all who are regenerated by the Sacrament of Baptism?
Within the last few years, theologians have deepened their study of the Pauline doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, the identification of Christ with His Church and the close union of all members of His Church with Him, who infuses His life-blood with us through the Sacraments.
Pope Pius XII summed up the findings of the theologians in one of the greatest of all Encyclicals Mystici Corporis Christi. There. in a moving appeal to our separated brethren, endowed with the sanctifying grace of Baptism, to return home to live of the fullness of Christ's life, the Hots( Father referred to them not as utterly excluded from the Mystical Body of Christ, but as relined to it. This new and striking phrase as applied to non-Catholic Christians, surely calls for a new approach to them, for relationship at the very least implies close bonds of Christian friendship that it is our duty to foster in thought, word and deed. A cold indifference, a sitting-back and waiting till they come to us must be a failure in our duty to those related to us in the Mystical Body of Christ.