One of the things most commonly said to me by way of criticism of Christians is that they seem to have a hard time getting along with each other; or, as Bosco here often puts it, they say ‘my church is better than yours’. It is natural that someone belonging to a church should think that – indeed, if one pauses for a moment, how astonishing would it be to argue that one was in such and such a church because one thought it in some way inferior to others!
This little reflection was prompted by some characteristically forthright comments from ginny, in the comments section of my last post. Let’s parse it. She begins where I would begin:
Jesus Christ founded a Church. He stated He would do such when He said, “thou are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church….” He spoke to a man, St. Peter, in front of the other Apostles, witnesses to God swearing to do something in the future that all would see and appointing St. Peter the head of that Church that He would and did build. All the Apostles gathered knew His intent and acknowledged these facts in the way they lived their lives as the first Christians in the Church whose “birthday” is the first Pentecost. Jesus swore that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church and they haven’t for 2,000 years. These are just some of the facts.
Thus far, thus good. She goes on in equally confident vein, moving from ‘facts’ to what the current POTUS might call ‘fake facts’:
King Henry VIII founded a church. It is called the Church of England, the Anglican Church and a few other names, including Episcopalian. Its “birthday” I reckon is the the date of the Act of Supremacy in 1534. Quibble if you will about the date, it is still a good 15 centuries AFTER the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven and the fall of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. There was no such raining down from Heaven of the Holy Spirit upon King Henry or his court at that time. God did not found the Church of England – a man did – Henry VIII, King of England.
Why is this inaccurate? It is a partisan interpretation, offered by Roman Catholics who, quite naturally, opposed what Henry was doing. But did Henry set out to ‘found a Church’? No, and even were ginny more learned than she is in Henrician studies, she would be unable to find a single document which states what she asserts with all the confidence of someone who thinks they have a ‘killer fact’, when in fact they have damp squib. Henry set out to reform the Church, a task prompted, certainly, by needs of his own, but at no point did he think he was founding a Church. In the nineteenth century the Vatican declared that Anglican orders were null and void, but then, of course, one might have expected that. But does that mean that the Roman Catholic Church takes the view that its members are the only ones entitled to the name of Christian? The answer is not what I suspect ginny thinks it is, and so I quote from Dominus Iesus:
17. Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.
On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.”
So the Church takes a position of mercy here. There is only one True Church, but there are Churches (the Orthodox) which are not in communion with that Church; this does not mean the Orthodox Church is not a Church. There are other groups of Christians who, unlike the Orthodox, have not preserved the essentials of a valid Church, but these ‘ecclesial communities’ contain Christians.
The polemicist divides, the Church seeks to unite. We win the hearts and minds – and souls – of no one by assuming a position of superiority in such matters. The Church is the field hospital for sinners – and since that is all of us, its doors stand permanently open.