Dogmatic Theology, Volume II, Christ's Church,
by Monsignor G. Van Noort, S.T.D.,



CHAPTER III
The Properties of the Church

Article II
THE CHURCH'S UNITY


Preliminary Remarks

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church enjoy unity of faith and of profession (credal unity) which consists in this, that all the members of the Church hold and make profession of the same doctrine as it is presented for belief by the teaching office of the Church.

Proof:
1. from the words of Christ and of the apostles;
2. from the solid conviction of early Christianity.

Scholion 1. What unity of faith does and does not mean.
Scholion 2. The Fundamentalist system.

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church enjoy unity of communion or of (social) charity which consists in this, that all members of the Church, whether as individuals or as particular groups, mutually cohere like the finely articulated parts of one moral body, one family, one single society.

Proof: 1. from the metaphors used by Christ and the apostles in describing the Church;
2. from Christ's prayer after the Last Supper;
3. from the solid conviction of early Christianity.

Scholion 1. The diversity of liturgies and disciplinary laws.
Scholion 2. The opinion of some Anglicans.

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church enjoy unity of rule which consists in this, that all members of the Church obey one and the same visible authority.

Scholion: The Western Schism.
Corollary: Unity of worship.

Article II
THE CHURCH'S UNITY

Preliminary Remarks

It was demonstrated above (no. 9) that Christ founded just one Church; so, the present article is concerned not with the unity of the Church as opposed to plurality, but rather with internal unity as opposed to division within the Church itself. This will involve a study of the bonds of unity which hold together the true Church of Christ.

All Christians agree that the true Church of Christ is unified in one way or another, but non-Catholics acknowledge only a spiritual principle of unity. If they occasionally acknowledge external bonds also, they make them quite elastic.

Catholic teaching has it that the Church, by the institution of its Founder, and hence necessarily and essentially, enjoys a threefold unity which is external and visible, namely, unity of doctrine and profession, unity of communion, and unity of government.1 The Vatican Council says: “Our eternal Pastor willed to build a holy Church in which … all the faithful would be bound together by the bond of the one faith and of charity. And in order that the universal fold might be kept in oneness of faith and communion by priests who would themselves be joined in close union, He gave St. Peter charge over the other apostles and thereby established in his person the unfailing principle and visible foundation of both unities.”2 And Leo XIII: “Since the Church's divine Founder had determined that it should be one in belief, in rule, and in communion, He selected Peter and his successors to be the principle and, as it were, the focal point of unity.”3

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church enjoy unity of faith and of profession (credal unity) which consists in this, that all the members of the Church hold and make profession of the same doctrine as it is presented for belief by the Church's teaching office.

Note the phrase “make profession of”; for a purely internal assent of the mind to truth does not satisfy the requirements of a visible society such as the Church is. This assent must he given clear outward expression as well: Because with the heart a man believes and attains holiness, and with the lips profession of faith is made and salvation secured (Rom. 10:10).

Proof: That our Lord so set up His Church that it must needs be one in oneness of faith is proved:

1. From the words of Christ and of the apostles, which clearly and unqualifiedly demand that everyone profess the faith preached by the apostles and their successors. Read Matt. 28:18—20; Mark 16:15—17; Gal. 1:8; I Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:5, 13—14; Tit. 3:10—11.

2. From the solid conviction of early Christianity. According to St. Justin, real Christians are “disciples of the genuine and unsullied doctrine of Jesus Christ,” and are “one mind, one congregation, one Church.” On the contrary, “those who claim to be Christians but do not hold His doctrine” are heretics.4 Hegesippus stigmatizes as heretics those “who have, each of them, privately introduced their own pet opinions,” because “by introducing strange doctrine … they have rent asunder the unity of the Church.”5

St. Irenaeus:
Just as the sun is one and the same all throughout the world, so too the preaching of the truth shines everywhere and enlightens all who desire to arrive at a knowledge of the truth for the universal Church has the one and the same faith all throughout the world. 6

St. Augustine lists eighty-eight heresies, and then concludes: “There may be or there may arise other heresies, but if anyone espouses one of them, he will not be a Catholic Christian.”7

Scholion 1. What unity of faith does and does not mean.

The unity of faith which Christ decreed without qualification consists in this, that everyone accepts the doctrines presented for belief by the Church's teaching office. In fact our Lord requires nothing other than the acceptance by all of the preaching of the apostolic college, a body which is to continue forever; or, what amounts to the same thing, of the pronouncements of the Church's teaching office, which He Himself set up as the rule of faith. And so, (a) the essential unity of faith definitely requires that everyone hold each and every doctrine clearly and distinctly presented for belief by the Church's teaching office; and that everyone hold these truths explicitly or at least implicitly, i.e., by acknowledging the authority of the Church which teaches them. But, (b) it does not require the absence from the Church of all controversy about religious matters. For as long as there does not exist a clear and explicit statement of the Church about some point or other, even though it may perchance be contained objectively in the sources of revelation, it can be freely discussed without any detriment to the unity of the faith, provided that all the disputants are ready to bow to a decision of the Church's teaching office, should one be forthcoming. Obviously the unity of faith does not extend beyond the limits of the rule of faith.

Scholion 2. The Fundamentalist system.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Pierre Jurieu, a Calvinist minister in France, developed the system of fundamental articles. According to this system, agreement on fundamental doctrines would suffice for the required unity of faith, and people could hold a variety of opinions on other truths, just as surely revealed, but less fundamental. And so even within the limits of the true Church there would be room for an assortment of creeds. This system, to which nearly all Protestants adhere, if not by explicit profession, then at least in practice, is altogether untenable; for, (a) Christ demanded faith not just in some doctrines, but in all those doctrines which the authority set up by Him should teach. Consequently, any distinction between fundamental and nonfundamental articles of belief is contrary to the mind and will of Christ. Furthermore, (b) it is impossible to determine a sure standard for distinguishing fundamental from nonfundamental articles; this system thus paves the way — and a broad way it is — to indifferentism.

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church enjoy unity of communion or of (social) charity which consists in this, that all members of the Church, whether as individuals or as particular groups, mutually cohere like the finely articulated parts of one moral body, one family, one single society.

It follows from this that they all share the same common benefits: sacrifice, sacraments, intercession.

Proof: That Christ so instituted His Church that it should of necessity be one in oneness of communion is proved:

1. From the metaphors which Christ and the apostles used to describe the Church. They compared it to a house,8 a kingdom,9 a sheepfold,10 an organic body.11 All of these imply social unity.

2. From Christ's prayer after the Last Supper, in which He asked without qualification that, just as He and the Father are one in the oneness of perfect love, so the apostles and all the disciples might be united as perfectly as possible in love and social harmony:

“May they be one as we are one . . . All are to be one; just as you, Father, are in me and 1 am in you, so they, too, are to be one in us. The world must come to believe that I am your ambassador . . . I in them and you in me. Thus their oneness will be perfected” (John 17:21—23).

3. From the solid conviction of early Christianity, which abhorred schisms above all else, and precisely because they destroy unity of communion. St. Ignatius Martyr: “If a man runs after a schismatic, he will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”12

St. Irenaeus:
Those who foster schisms for petty or personal reasons rip and tear the great and glorious body of Christ, and—as far as in them lies—they kill it. For they can never make amends in such measure as to match the wickedness of their schism.13

St. Cyprian:
If man does not hold fast to this oneness of the Church, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he resists and withstands the Church, has he still confidence that he is in the Church?”14

St. Chrysostom: “I say in private and in public that to tear the Church apart is no less an evil than to fall into heresy.”15 St. Augustine: “There is nothing more serious than the sacrilege of schism there can never be any just need for severing unity.”16

Scholion 1. The diversity of liturgies and of disciplinary laws.

The diversity of rites in different parts of the Church does not break up the required unity of communion. This variety does not affect the substance of Christian worship, i.e., those rites which Christ personally determined, but only the external ceremonies instituted by the Church. Ceremonies are simply declarations of faith that are expressed in deeds rather than in words. Therefore, as long as the same faith is expressed by these different ceremonies and the necessary submission to legitimate pastors is observed, the communion is not sundered. It is the same with disciplinary laws, i.e., particular regulations by which the divinely established laws of right living are applied in different ways and given specific determination to correspond to varying circumstances of times, locales, and persons.

Scholion 2. The opinion of some Anglicans.

Some Anglicans (Pusey, Palmer, and others) pervert completely the genuine notion of the Church by admitting that unity of communion is indeed desirable hut not absolutely necessary; and by claiming that the true Church of Christ actually comprises three distinct communions: Roman, Greek, and Anglican, which should be joined in an amicable association without destroying their individual independence. Whatever they are in fact, these three societies most certainly do not form one fold, one body. And even should such an association be effected, they would still remain simply several Churches; this is clear from the case of nations which, although they often enter into mutual alliances, still remain several distinct nations. And Gladstone's17 position is hardly tenable, namely, that Christ did at the beginning will the unity of the Church, but that now that circumstances have changed, He no longer requires it!

Proposition: Christ willed that His Church enjoy unity of rule (hierarchical unity) which consists in this, that all the members of the Church obey one and the same visible authority.18

This authority rests in the Catholic episcopate with the Roman pontiff at its head, yet in such wise that it is found full and entire in the latter all by himself.

That Christ so built His Church as to make it necessarily one in oneness of rule is proved by what has already been said about the institution by Christ of the hierarchy and of the Primacy and about their permanent continuity.

The Vatican Council called the supreme pontiff the “principle and foundation” of unity, because by his influence he establishes and preserves unity. Leo XIII called him the “principle and focal point” of unity, especially because all, faithful and bishops alike, must look up to him and stand faithfully by him. This latter description expresses the relationship of the Church to the pope, the former the relationship of the pope to the Church.

Scholion. The Western Schism.

It might seem that unity of rule suffered a setback in the Church at the time of the Western Schism, when for forty years (1378—1417) two or three men claimed to be sovereign pontiff. But with the preservation of unity of faith and communion, hierarchical unity was only materially, not formally, interrupted.19 Although Catholics were split three ways in their allegiance because of the doubt as to which of the contenders had been legitimately elected, still all were agreed in believing that allegiance was owed the one legitimate successor of Peter, and they stood willing to give that allegiance. Consequently, those who through no fault of their own gave their allegiance to an illegitimate pope would no more be schismatics than a person would be a heretic who, desirous of following the preaching of the Church, would admit a false doctrine because he was under the impression that it was taught by the Church.

Corollary

Several popular catechisms and quite a few theologians speak of a unity of worship, or liturgical unity, in addition to unity of faith and rule (and communion), in line with which all share in the same sacraments. This unity does of course obtain and is absolutely necessary to the extent that the worship was determined by Christ Himself. However, liturgical unity is already included in the other unities: in unity of faith, since faith includes also the revealed doctrine on the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacraments; in unity of communion, since this involves the sharing in the same spiritual benefits. This is perhaps the reason that neither the Vatican Council nor Leo XIII in his encyclical on the unity of the Church make any specific mention of liturgical unity.


Notes

1. See J.C. Fenton, “Our Lord's Presence in the Catholic Church,” AER, 115 (1946), 50 ff.; I Salaverri, op. cit., p. 884, ff.; C. Journet, Church of the Word, op. cit., p. 493 ff.
2. Constitudon De ecclesia Christi, Preamble. See J. A. Fitzmyer, S.J., 'The Function of the Papacy,” AER, 121 (1949), 34 ff.
3. Encyclical Satis cognitum (June 29, 1896); Leonis XIII allocutiones (Desclée edition), VI, 183.
4. Dialogus cum Tryphone 63 and 35.
5. Cited in Eusebius HE 4. 21.
6. Adversus haereses i. 10. 2-3.
7. Liber de haeresibus concl.
8. Matt. 16:18; I Tim. 3:15.
9. Matt. 16:19.
10. John 10:16.
11. Rom. 12:4-5; I Cor. 10:17; 12:12 ff.; Eph. 4:16.
12. Epistula ad Philadelphenses 3. 3 (ACW trans).
13. Adversus haereses iv. 33. 7.
14. De unitate ecclesiae (2nd ed.) 4; ACW trans.
15. Homilia in Epistula ad Ephesios 11, 5.
16. Contra epistulam Parmeniani ii. 11. 25.
17. Writing in The Nineteenth Century; cited by Wilmers, De ecclesia, p. 518.
18. Unity of rule and of communion are not at all identical. The former implies the submission of everyone to one head, the latter the mutual cohesion of all the members. Now submission to a single head can occur apart from the mutual cohesion of all the members, as is clear in the case of two countries under one ruler. However, the aforementioned unities are intimately related, for unity of communion cannot exist apart from unity of rule. In fact, to be perfectly accurate, it may be said that they do coincide, for where there is not only just one person in authority, but in addition a regime or authority which is formally one, submission to one head necessarily involves mutual cohesion. In view of this, it is easy to see why authors sometimes suggest a threefold division of the Church's unity: unity of faith, of communion, and of rule, and sometimes a twofold division: unity of faith and of communion, or unity of faith and of rule.
19. See Salaverri, op. cit., p. 931.


(Monsignor G. Van Noort, S.T.D., Dogmatic Theology, Volume II, Christ's Church, Translated and Revised by John J. Castelot, S.S., S.T.D., S.S.L. & William R. Murphy, S.S., S.T.D., The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, 1957. pp 125-132.)


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