I am once again drawn to the question of ecumenism.
The understanding of what that word means perhaps encapsulates the Catholic position in contrast to the current protestant position. (Which hasn’t always been the protestant position unsurprisingly)
Ecumenism means dialogue within the Church, the Catholic Church. Sorry but that is how the word has historically been understood.
One of the dangers of the new understanding of the word ecumenism is that people think that protestants and Catholics are actually united if they turn up and have an ‘ecumenical’ service, are polite to one another and have tea and cakes afterwards. (Things that are all well and good in and of themselves, and indeed much better than the old enmities and bitterness of old)
(Oh and most importantly don’t try and convert one another and the service can’t be a mass because then the illusion is shattered since we are in actuality not united in communion at all.)
This represents a massive historical shifting of the goalposts and is very misleading, the sad truth is that unless you are in communion with Rome you aren’t united to the heart of the Church.
This even goes for eastern Orthodox church’s, whilst they are very much part of the Church, you can’t really say they are united to Rome, certainly not in the fullest extent. Roman Catholicism is the heart and eastern orthodoxy the lungs of Christianity to give a metaphor used by JP2, but in the Catholic understanding, given the choice, it is better to be united to the heart.
There are different conceptions of what unity means and entails. The Catholic Church believing that there should be unity of doctrine, unity of form, unity of authority. See this post by Fr Dwight Longenecker and here and again here which most concisely puts the issue in context.
For example, High Anglicans have unity of doctrine to a great extent, but they don’t yet have the unity of authority which comes from being properly united to the pope and the magisterium and since they aren’t (hopefully yet is the operative word here) in communion with Rome so it can’t be truly said that they have unity of form.
Why are Anglicans so angry about the ordinariate? because it strikes so effectively at their diminished understanding of what it means to be united. Where they have unity, in that they all stand under one banner, but believe a myriad of different things.
Whereas Catholics stand under one banner and agree on everything that is dogma (otherwise you are being heretical), and should endeavor to believe all beliefs of the Church which aren’t of full dogmatic belief but are yet to be refuted. Though Catholics are technically free to disagree on these, they should try to place themselves within the tradition of the Church as much as possible on these issues and also never say to someone of a differing opinion that they are not Catholic.
I was called dogmatic today, by an Anglican, and I was slightly confused because it wasn’t meant as a compliment. Yes I am dogmatic, I have a faith that I can grab hold of, it is rock solid, and on some issues it will never change its position. This is a great relief to me that my faith has definition, I can know what I believe and I can offer a rock solid understanding of what the Christian religion entails to people who want to know what Christianity is, which is hopefully to know who Christ is.
That dogma is seen as a dirty word represents the most fundamental shifting of the goalposts, and it was an automatic response, it required no forethought, it was the instant ingrained response. It was at the same time a religious and a cultural response, perhaps even more cultural than religious.
Perhaps it is the final inevitable result of the Elizabethan settlement, but even more importantly the English revolution, (or the English civil war as it is widely known) which very quickly gained religious connotations and elements.
The gradual emergence of the ideal of tolerance in England came after the English civil war, starting with religious tolerance by the establishment for the less extreme protestant sects first, and eventually a long time down the line that great enemy of everything that was English, in the eyes of the establishment at least; Catholicism.
On the other hand Martin Luther, and other early protestants still believed in one true Church, and believed it was theirs, the Catholic Church, which had once been that true Church had lost its way, and thus new protestant foundations represented a continuation of the one true Church. Ergo the Pope had to be the Antichrist for still claiming to be head of the Church that was misleading the faithful.
Most protestants have come to see that as ludicrous as it is. Yet since they are becoming ever more divided in doctrine and authority they have to claim that all sects are equally valid and even contrary to all logic ‘united’, even though they disagree on virtually anything and everything and are in no tangible way united. To say that one sect is loopy is to say that objective truth, dogma, is important, and thus it is seen as an attack on all.
This is perhaps why evangelicals are so quick to defend what they see as objective truth, and have to spend a great deal of time and effort doing so, because they have no dogma, no religion, no authority to turn to, except perhaps their own interpretation of the Bible, which is always slightly (or very) different from that of everybody else.
The only reason why I can write about religion at all is because I hope and intend and endeavor to ensure that everything I believe is united in doctrine to the Catholic faith, to the magisterium and to the Pope.
What is my personal authority? nothing. If I say something which isn’t in agreement with the faith, or Rome, even heaven forbid, heretical, I would hope that someone would quickly point this out to me, correct me, so that I can be united to the Rock of the Church.
Yes lets go back to that most ancient of metaphors. Peter, is the rock that Christ built his Church upon. The parable of the man who built his house on the rock makes a heck of a lot more sense in this context.
Lets talk about heresy, the only reason why heresy can be understood for what it is, is that it places you outside the Church, this was and is the natural logical consequence and the only possible response to people who hold beliefs contrary to the faith. Throughout Christian history, being united to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church was seen of such infinite importance. Go back to the Church fathers and you will see that this is true.
Excommunication was rightly feared, and it was used as a tool to call people to repentance and to recant their heresy, as a disciplinary measure it is intended as a call to come back to the Church because heretics needed to be shown that they had strayed from the true faith.
Protestants who consider themselves part of the one true Church, need it to be pointed out that in fact they aren’t. Why? because first and foremost a lot of protestants don’t believe in transubstantiation. This is a fundamental belief of the Church of perhaps the highest practical importance. The Mass and the early church are two totally inseparable notions. The Church without the Mass has no function or reason to exist.
If this is understood then it should be a painful truth, that it should hurt to be divided contrary to the wishes of Christ, it should deeply hurt to be divided from the Church, it should very deeply hurt to be denied the Eucharist.
That is a truth which protestants do understand, even though they no longer believe virtually anything concrete about the Eucharist, they are offended that Catholics don’t offer them communion. Though it is precisely because we believe so much about the Eucharist that we cannot offer it to just anyone, least of all to people who don’t believe it is the body and blood of Christ.
I know how much it hurts, and indeed it should hurt, it is not a desirable state of affairs. It hurts me that Christians united in baptism should be so very divided in reality. This is a painful reality we must understand and confront if we want it to change and as Fr Longenecker put it so adeptly, Catholics have the only idea of Christian unity that makes any kind of sense, to which I would add we also have the only true understanding of the Eucharist; transubstantiation.
Yes I am a convert, by now that fact should be fairly obvious, I am aware that the more information I give about myself the quicker people will work out who I am, and the more likely I am to get into trouble in the Church for being of a relatively traditional bent but I guess I have given away the game on that front.
The reason why I converted was that I came to believe wholeheartedly in transubstantiation. There was a time when I was converting that I believed in transubstantiation, but was not yet in communion with Rome, and was thus denied the Eucharist, this time I also began to realise that the Anglican Church as an institution not only didn’t believe in transubstantiation, but that I didn’t think Anglican priests had the power to say a valid mass even if they intended to.
In effect I was being kept hungry for the Eucharist and at the time I felt like I was starving. Consequently I am of the opinion that if someone is converting to Catholicism a priest should make the process as fast as possible. Check that the candidate does believe and assent to Catholicism, and intends to conform himself to the Church then get him through the doors to the Eucharistic life of the Church as soon as possible.
If I had been hit by a bus and died during that stage in my life then I would have died without recieving the body and blood of Christ. Hopefully I would have been saved by baptism of desire, but still what a nightmare and what a thing to have lived without having partaken of for the sake of doing an RCIA course which didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already believe. Hmmpf!
Anyway. Yes it is now 3am and I have work in five and a half hours time! So I’m going to leave it there.