20130130-210940.jpgA dear friend of this blog, and a long-time follower and commentator, David Monier-Williams, asked: ‘At some point of your choosing, it might be very useful to summarize what points all agree upon and the major ones where we each disagree.’ That was a very good point. So here goes.

It can essentially be summed up by the Nicene Creed. That was the standard of orthodoxy for the early Church, and it remains a key in terms of what unites us. Anyone who can subscribe to the Nicene Creed has, I suspect, more in common than they have that divides them.

If we take things historically, the first thing which divided Christians was disagreement over the natures of Christ. Talks over the last few decades have revealed that far less divides us here than our forefathers thought – and both types of Orthodox, and Orthodox and Catholics have made very positive statement here. That may not have penetrated to the laity, but the theological obstacles once so large and imposing are not what they were thought to be.

Practically, there are two main areas which divide Catholics and Orthodox: one is the filioque clause, which few, if any, now think means that the Catholic Church believe in ‘double procession’ (follow the links); the other is the position of the Pope. If pushed, I suspect it is the position of the Pope which is the main stumbling block. Here the Popes have been more accommodating than the Orthodox, but the problem remains.

It is also the major issue which divides the Chalcedonians in the West. From it, most of the other issues derive. After all, old Luther didn’t want to start a new church, he wanted to reform the existing one – something true of those who advised Henry VIII.

Theologically-informed people will go on to talk about sacraments, and their number, but I would lay money that for the people in the pews this counts for little. The major difference here is about the Eucharist and is between the older churches and the Protestants. Although the Orthodox do not hold the doctrine of transubstantiation, that is only because for them it is far too precise a definition of what is a great mystery – the fact that the elements of Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood of Our Blessed Lord. On that Orthodox and Catholics agree. Anglo-Catholics also agree. Many Protestants regard the Eucharist as a memorial of His Saving Passion – a non-sacramental view of the matter. However, surveys show that many Catholics don’t actually believe in it either!

So, here are some of the major differences, but I wonder, as with Transubstantiation, how many lay people actually think most of these things matter enough to divide them? What divides us is history. A long history of division is not easily healed, and whilst some old divisions have been, none of the major ones have been.

Well, clearly, as we have no external enemies and have made such progress in evangelising the world, we are free to do nothing but reinforce that our church is right and all the others are wrong. What’s that? We have many external enemies and we’re not evangelising the world? Well, perhaps we might ponder that one?