The Unity of the Church

Last year’s post on SS John Fisher and Thomas More, which you can read here, looked at the way in which both men came to understand the choices they needed to make. The question posed by the King’s matter was complex, but ultimately it was the saints’ sense of the unity of the Church which won out. I wonder whether we today are as clear, or brave, as they.

We talk a great deal about Church unity, but it doesn’t stop us sniping at one another. The only difference is that, whereas in Reformation times it tended to be Catholics, Lutherans and Protestants of various kinds taking pop shots at one another, nowadays the fighting is just as likely to be going on within our denominations. For me, one of the saddest things is to see the vitriolic infighting among Catholics. It even affects us here in the monastery. We are accused by some traditionalists of being too liberal, and by some liberals of being too traditionalist. If we value the work of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI we cannot be wholly ‘for’ Pope Francis; if we welcome Pope Francis as the man God has chosen to lead his Church now, we cannot be wholly ‘for’ Pope Benedict. Sometimes I am tempted to reply, ‘A pox on both your houses!’ Or at any rate to quote St Paul, ‘I am for Christ!’ For, of course, the Church is bigger than any party or division within it. I suspect the problem for many is that we don’t necessarily share their views, which must make us suspect, mustn’t it? The fact that those views are formed after much reading and prayer is irrelevant. The fact that I make a profession of faith as religious superior is irrelevant. Sentire cum ecclesia is what matters; and I hope and pray that the community here will always do that.

So, as we celebrate today’s feast, I have a question I address principally to my Catholic readers.  SS John and Thomas died for the unity of the Church. Are we prepared to live for it?


12 thoughts on “The Unity of the Church”

  1. Thank you for your post, which is timely for many reasons, not just the unity of the Catholic Church.

    Divisions between and inside different denominations are a disservice to God and to the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. I pray for unity within my own denomination, but also for the Church universal – that we would all be one.

    I’m not sure that I will ever see one church led by the Pope on earth, but if we could be one church with different streams federated in unity of Worship of God and sharing his witness and work, surely the Kingdom would come.

    But man’s fallibility seems to be in the way of that. If we could overcome the earthly limitations and all be as your, using Paul’s words ‘With Christ’ wouldn’t the world be a better place.

    • I’m sure you understand why, Ernie, I don’t subscribe to the Branch theory of Catholicism that you seem to be propounding, but I am sure we are as one in our love of the Lord and our desire to see his Kingdom come.

  2. That is a challenge indeed. The martyrdom of life is distinctly harder to choose than that of death, in many ways!

    In my perusing of the Internet, I find a lot of bickering and worse within Catholocism – but I also find a lot of joy and acceptance. The difficulty can sometimes be taking a prayerful step back from the bickering, and choosing instead to engage with the joy. Afterall, it is something pretty fantastic, to be a part of a Church so wide as to encompass everyone from conservatively minded Latin Mass attendees to liberally minded NO Church goers.

    I’m very lucky to be involved in a Parish that is being held up as an example, in N.Ireland, at least, for ecumenical unity. So when I discover the discord within the one denomination online, I remind myself of the possibilities that arise out of charity and understanding – in the face of, and out of the ashes of, sectarian discord.

    Many thanks for the thought provoking post, as always.
    Blessings go léor, Danielle

    • Thank you. I was thinking very much of the divisions within the Church which cause so much scandal. Yes, there is much that is positive and encouraging, but I do think we need to get to grips with some of the negatives, too.

  3. On the other hand, perhaps the unity to be found within Christianity as a whole outweighs the disunity within and between individual religions?

  4. Yes. But it took me awhile to get here. Living in the US, I can’t really speak for other western cultures. For me, things seem to have gone beyond respecting another’s beliefs and opinions. Here it appears, you are vilified if you do not agree and accept the opposing opinion. I have decided that there are some things I cannot quietly accept. Homosexual marriage and abortion on demand are the biggest. And now I am seen as backward and ignorant. I am not a belligerent protester, I quietly state my opinion backed by the facts as I know them based upon what scientific evidence I can access and the teaching of my faith.

    I have learned that while it is important for me to accept the beliefs and opinions of others, it is not so for them to accept mine. It sets me apart which can be scary. How far will this go? The early Christian martyrs died rather than make meaningless sacrifices to Roman “gods”. Moore and Fisher likewise, will I be next? If I lived in a Muslim country the answer would be an immediate YES. Here, not so much will I be physically martyred but the other sacrifices that will come for my opposition to the culture and current status quo. Will I be like some Catholics who conform to get along? Not any longer. The unity of the church is based in the truth that is taught and adherence to that truth.

    • Thank you. As I mentioned above, I find the disunity within the Church very sad. There are enough people who, as you say, attack the Church from outside; but it is the division within that is more harmful.

  5. I wonder whether your question is too black and white.
    Church unity has not always been a question but an aim.
    The roman Curia have , and up till now do , often stand in the way of Christian unity .
    Sometimes , as in the early Church, it was the difference , that held the Whole.
    Are many parts perhaps easier than specifics.
    I do hope my use of English is understandable ?

    • Thank you. My view is, as I said above, that the divisions within the Catholic Church are scandalous and we ought to work for unity. The Curia may make the tempers of some rise, but they are not an obstacle to the unity I am writing about. I’m sorry if my post wasn’t clear. I am NOT talking about ecumenism but the polarisation of opinion (and it IS opinion) within the Church: liberal/traditionalist/conservative/progressive or whatever labels individuals like to attach to themselves. The acrimony that this gives rise to is quite shocking. Shocking too is the assumption some make that they have the authority (and presumably the theological knowledge and understanding) to go against the teaching of the pope and bishops. It’s really a very protestant position, though I find it as often invoked by those who would call themselves traditionalists as their enemies, the liberals. May the Lord have mercy on us all!

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