Marriage, Eucharist and Unity

Written by Joel on June 16th, 2008

Some say that unity must proceed the Eucharist; others say that the Eucharist leads to unity.

We can look at Marriage to serve as an analogy for this question. When a couple first mets, there is little unity. As they learn more about one another that unity grows until one day they may express a desire to be as united in the sacrament of matrimony. That sacrament actually unites the two, and while they are still individuals they continue to grow in love and unity.

Unity is on both sides of that sacrament. A marriage does not actually take place unless both parties truly desire unity prior to the sacrament. At the same time, unity is fulfilled as a result of the sacrament.

So, both statements are true: unity must proceed the Eucharist and the Eucharist leads to unity. However, the unity preceding the sacrament will be incomplete.

I believe the unity which precedes is largely absent from both parties (Catholics and Protestants). With out the desire for unity (again, on both sides), the act unifying us is not possible.

The wide-spread sharing of the Eucharist is certainly the end goal, but this is “putting the carriage before the horse.” Its like proposing on the second date. Even statements of common faith produced by high-level Church officials is a bit too soon.

Unity must begin on the lowest level; between congregations and individuals. We must know each other before we can express our unity with one another. Let us participate in ministry together, have fellowship, and study the Bible together. Through this our unity may grow to a point when we may be able to express it more fully.


 

19 Comments so far ↓

  1. Agellius says:

    I’m sorry if I seem contentious about this, but I really think you’re being too vague about what unity would consist of. It sounds nice for us to do things together and try to get along and all that, but we cannot have full unity as long as our doctrines and practices are directly contradictory.

    When the Protestants broke away from the Catholic Church — which they did, there’s simply no denying it — they rejected certain aspects of the Catholic faith which to Catholics are essential and indispensable. Mainly these are: the authority of the Magisterium to define doctrine and morals, the priesthood, and the sacraments. It may be true that we misunderstand each other on certain issues. But for that reason I think it’s all the more important to be clear on what really does separate us, and what hurdles need to be overcome.

    Since the things I named are essential and indispensable, full unity cannnot take place until Protestants are willing to assent to these things.

  2. Joel Walkley says:

    Thanks for commenting, and forcing me to make myself more clear.

    I think my main point is that discussions of “full unity” are premature.

    We certainly have a long way to go so long as one keeps blaming the other with statements like “Protestants broke away from the Church.” Protestants can very well throw the actuation back and say Catholics broke away from the Church. Neither statement is helpful, nor entirely accurate.

    I am intentionally vague because unity is a process which I cannot define, any more than I could have told you what married life is like before I experienced it.

  3. Agellius says:

    I didn’t say “Protestants broke away from the Church,” I said “Protestants broke away from the Catholic Church”. That is, that Church which identifies itself by the proper name, “the Catholic Church”. I’m hard-pressed to see why that cannot be accepted as a statement of fact. Can you explain your position on that?

    I think I can understand why you say that “discussions of ‘full unity’ are premature”. But if we are to strive towards a goal, should we not try to define what the goal is?

    You may not have been able to describe the experience of married life before having been married. But surely you could have defined it? “Married life is when two people have agreed to enter into an indissoluble bond by vowing to spend their lives together in mutual support of each other and their children.” Something like that?

  4. Against Heterodoxy says:

    I agree that your musings about ‘unity’ are simply too vague, Joel, and to be honest, when a Protestant talks this way I get edgy. In my experience, it translates to “Catholics need to set aside their beliefs and compromise.” I have attended so-called “interdenominational” Bible studies where the Catholic viewpoint is simply not welcome at all and even trying to explain it garners hostility. The internal assault from the ‘progressive’ wing of our own Church is bad enough. I cannot support the Catholic Church abandoning 2000 years of development of understanding of doctrines that we believe were given directly to us by Christ for the sake of a shallow show of ‘unity’ with people who vehemently reject those very doctrines. We simply cannot have it both ways without rejecting Christ Himself. And no, I most certainly do not think Christ wants us separated. The schisms which happened during the Reformation happened largely because of problems within the Church, and those problems have ALL been ‘fixed’ (for lack of a better term). The Catholic Church long ago acknowledged and took care of its part in the split. Now it is up to Protestants whether they wish to return home.

  5. Joel Walkley says:

    I am sorry you have had a bad experience with inter-church Bible studies. I think that is unfair for Protestants to ask Catholics to hide the faith for the sake of a any (false) unity.

    However, it is also unfair to say the ball is solely in our court. The problems may have been ‘fixed’ but there is still a great scar remaining, which simply cannot be ignored.

    Unity for me means mutual recognition of each other’s ministers and sacraments. Recognition allows for mutual reception of each other’s ministers and sacraments. I know it is asking a lot of the Catholic Church to say Protestants have a valid ministry and sacraments. But I can assure you Protestants will be just as stubborn. Needless to say, we are quite far from that.

    I am saddened by all the rhetoric that Protestants must “return home” as if we have not already found our home in Christ; or worse that the present schism is entirely the fault of the Protestants and Rome has no culpability.

  6. Against Heterodoxy says:

    Joel, how can the Catholic Church recognize the validity of Protestant sacraments when an extremely large number of Protestants do not even believe that there is such a thing as a sacrament? Take the Baptists – they do not even use the term “sacrament”. They call them “ordinances”, and they don’t have the same understanding of their purpose. Baptism to them means absolutely nothing beyond an outward symbol. Similarly, many Protestants reject the very center of Christian worship – the Eucharist – as being nothing more than something nice to remember Christ by, to be done once a month or even less.

    I understand that your own understanding of the sacraments is much closer to the Catholic understanding, but that does not change the reality of the situation, which is that Protestantism is far too vast to be able to reconcile en masse with the Catholic Church, unless the Catholic Church takes the position that anyone can believe whatever they want and it’s OK. I just do not see how that is a reasonable expectation.

    Also, you write: I am saddened by all the rhetoric that … that the present schism is entirely the fault of the Protestants and Rome has no culpability.

    That is not at all what I wrote; I wrote that the Catholic Church acknowledged the problems that led to the Reformation and took the necessary steps to correct those problems. That is historical fact.

  7. Joel Walkley says:

    Those are exactly the types of questions that must be raised in a inter-church discussion.

    I too am deeply sadden by such a poor view of ministry and the sacraments that many Protestants have. And I believe this is one area that Protests as a whole need to work on. I think that the World Council of Churches has shown great strides in this area with their document “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Ministry” which can be obtained here: http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=2638

    Reading the document and responses by various communities gives me hope that they type of unity I expressed earlier will one day be possible.

    And, while you didn’t say that Protestants are solely to blame. What does advocating a return home mean then? You are saying Protestants are the only ones who can fix the schism? Should not both parties (whom are both at fault) have responsibility?

  8. Against Heterodoxy says:

    And, while you didn’t say that Protestants are solely to blame. What does advocating a return home mean then? You are saying Protestants are the only ones who can fix the schism? Should not both parties (whom are both at fault) have responsibility?

    I am saying that the Catholic Church has already done its part. Please read on the history of the Reformation, the Council of Trent, and other aspects of Church history. The Church went through a long and painful process of reform after the revolt of the Protestants. The points you are now singling out for criticism are points of doctrine. How far do you expect the Church to go? When does compromise in the name of “unity” turn into an outright rejection of Christ in favor of the worldly desires of man?

  9. St. Ivan says:

    I’m gonna throw in my two cents here, which probably won’t help resolve the issue.

    first, i see an oversimplification grouping two sections of the Church into either Catholic or Protestant. both these terms are grossly misleading and fail to describe the groups of christians they claim.

    three things define the Church as the body of Christ: Catholicity (unity), Apostolicity (authority), and Orthodoxy (right doctrine). there is, was, and ever will be only One Orthodox, Catholic, Apostolic Church.

    the Roman church lost its Catholicity when it broke with the East in 1054; and its loss of Orthodoxy in the middle ages resulted in the Western Schism of 1378 – 1417 and the Protestant Reformation.

    The latter (orthodoxy) i personally believe it slowly regained over the centuries after the wake-up call of the reformation caused it to abandon many of the rampant abuses within the Roman church (concubinage, simony, nepotism etc.).

    The “Protestant church” (which doesn’t exist in any truly identifiable form), likewise lost its apostolicity with its abandonment of the bishops, its catholicity with the reformation, and some groups have lost their orthodoxy without the guiding hand of the first two attributes. and with the loss of apostolicity, the movement has fragmented more and more over the years.

    the point of all this is that currently the Church is in a broken state of affairs, but at the same time is much more than its individual parts.

    yes, protestant groups have a lot of work to do, but catholics need to be patient, as there’s no single protestant governing body that can make the changes necessary for the whole movement to “return home”.

    and catholics themselves need to recognize that the Roman church isn’t home for the whole Church. the Body of Christ is much too glorious, even in its broken state, to be restricted to the leadership of the Roman magisterium, after all the Eastern Churches have as much apostolic claim as the Roman church does.

    this process is gonna be slow, and it needs to be ’cause the wounds to the Church are deep. but whether you like it or not, there is only One Church, that is much bigger than either Protestant, Roman, or Eastern movements. and a movement to begin dialogue and mutual recognition of the sacraments and clergy are vital if both Protestants and Catholics are to realize that if they are in Christ, then they are in the Church, and if they are in the Church then they are part of something that goes well beyond Protestant rebellions or Roman magisteriums.

  10. St. Ivan says:

    one quick second note, ‘against heterodoxy’ asked “How far do you expect the Church to go?” in enacting unity… and i expect it to go to the gates of Hell and back if necessary, to exhibit the redeeming love of Christ.

  11. Joel Walkley says:

    Ivan, you said that very well. That is the position of my Christian tradition – Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

    We are not two separate Churches; for there is only one church. This fact seems to be difficult for Roman Catholics to grasp. Many may say “yes, there is one true church and the Catholic Church is it.” I am attempting to assert my catholicity through this blog.

    I appreciate your better understanding of history than I have. And I find your three criteria helpful – Catholicity, Apostolicisty, and Orthodoxy.

    All Christians need to be open to this dialog.

    Thanks for your comment.

  12. Agellius says:

    In response to Ivan’s posts, and Joel’s in response to Ivan’s: Ivan, you make some valid points. Mainly, you make clear that there is a big difference between the issues separating the Eastern Orthodox churches with the Catholic Church, and those separating Protestants and the Catholic Church. A.H. (Against Heterodoxy) and I were addressing the separation of Protestants and Catholics. The things said in that regard do not necessarily apply to the separation of Orthodox and Catholics.

    Never was it intended to define the division of the Church into Catholic and Protestant only. But since Joel is Protestant, and AH and I are Catholic, and Joel brought up receiving the Eucharist at a Catholic mass, naturally Protestant and Catholic were the only names mentioned.

    To Joel and Ivan both: It’s very easy to say that both sides should be open to dialogue. Although I’m hard-pressed to understand the point of saying it, since dialogue has been ongoing for some time now, and in fact dialogue is what we’re engaging in at this moment.

    It’s also easy to say that the Catholic Church should be willing to go to hell and back in order to achieve unity. Neither AH nor I have denied that whatever can be done towards that end, should be done. For this reason it baffles me that it keeps coming up, as if anyone here is saying “to hell with unity!” No one has said any such thing, and I would appreciate it if others would stop implying that anyone has said any such thing.

    As I said, these things are easy to say. What I want to know, which I have asked before and not got an answer to, is, who is going to renounce which doctrines and practices, so that full unity can take place?

    For example, if the Protestants say there is no sacrificial priesthood, and the Catholics and Orthodox say there is one, obviously we cannot participate together in offering the sacrifice of the mass. But since the Eucharist is the highest and most important act of worship to both Catholics and Orthodox, it’s very hard to understand how we could have any real unity with Protestants without resolving this issue.

    Does anyone here suppose that the Catholic or the Orthodox are going to give up the idea of the priesthood, or of the Eucharist as the highest form of worship? Is there even a showball’s chance in hell of that happening? If not, then what other option is there, except for the Protestants to accept the sacrificial priesthood and the Eucharist as the summit of Christian worship? And if they won’t, again I ask, how will true and full unity be even remotely possible?

    It’s for this reason that I assert that the way to unity is for the Protestants to stop rebelling against the teachings and practices of the apostolic churches. How they will achieve that, I don’t know. I am trying to help bring it about by praying for it, and by discussing it with any Protestant who cares to do so, as charitably as I can, and explaining what the problems are and what the true doctrine is.

    I agree with Ivan that it’s not likely that the Protestants will return to the apostolic fold as a body. They are far too fragmented in belief, in practice, as well as in institutional structure, for that ever to happen. I think it can only happen with individual Protestants.

    But I’m sure that Ivan and I will agree, that neither the Orthodox nor the Catholics are going to give up the priesthood or the Eucharist in order to achive unity. Those at least are absolutely non-negotiable. That may as well be stated up front. Therefore, at least with respect to that issue, the Protestants are going to have to be the ones giving in, otherwise true unity will remain a pipe dream.

    If Ivan disagrees with that I will be extremely surprised.

  13. Joel Walkley says:

    Agellius,

    Unity is not synonymous with uniformity. Look at the many Eastern Catholic Churches which are in full communion with Rome, and yet have very different practices and varying beliefs.

    Why can’t we disagree and yet be united in Christ? Again look at marriage. Must two individuals believe the exact same things about any given issue in order to be united in the sacrament of marriage? Of course not.

    From scripture we can look at the disciples who were intimately untied with Christ at the Last Supper (which we celebrate in the Eucharist today). While united, they did not believe that Jesus had to die; they all ran when Jesus was captured.

    What are the essentials that must be agreed upon for us to declare we are united in Christ. How much “wiggle room” is there?

  14. Agellius says:

    Joel:

    This is the third time I have tried to post this, I keep getting error messages. So I’m not sure if you are getting it multiple times.

    You ask, ‘What are the essentials that must be agreed upon for us to declare we are united in Christ. How much “wiggle room” is there?’

    There are a lot of essentials. But I think it will be most efficient perhaps to concentrate on one at a time. After all, if they are essential, then failure to agree on even one, will doom us to failure. So for now, why not concentrate on the sacrificial and sacramental priesthood.

    It’s absolutely essential to both Catholics and Orthodox. Who by the way, far outnumber Protestants, by more than double. I’m not saying that democracy determines truth. But I am saying that Protestants are asking the vast majority of Christians to adapt themselves to their way of thinking, if they want us to give up the priesthood. Are Protestants that sure of themselves? Maybe they are. Then again maybe not all of them.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “wiggle room”. Either you accept the validity of the sacramental priesthood or you don’t. If you don’t, then it will be impossible for us to worship together. If we must worship separately, what kind of unity is that?

    By the way, there is no difference in belief between Latin Rite Catholics and Eastern Rite Catholics. We’re all Catholics in union with the Pope. There are differences in liturgical style only, not in essential beliefs about what takes place at mass.

  15. Joel Walkley says:

    What I meant by “wiggle room” was how much non-essentials can Protestants reject, which would still allow for a visible unity to take place.

    Could Protestants hesitate to accept purgatory for example, and still be accepted as Christians?

    But still, I wonder if there is much room for disagreement within certain doctrines. The priesthood, for example which you brought up.

    Again, hypothetical, but could someday Protestants accept a more Catholic doctrine of the priesthood, while allowing for women priest? Or do doctrines need to be adopted 100%?

    Also, the differences between East and West (Catholic) are greater than liturgical style. I visited a Greek Melkite Church which administered the Eucharist to infants, which is unheard of in Western Churches for just one example.

    I believe there is room for a great deal of diversity within Christ’s Church, both in style and doctrine.

  16. Against Heterodoxy says:

    Could Protestants hesitate to accept purgatory for example, and still be accepted as Christians?

    The Catholic Church absolutely recognizes that Protestants are Christians, so I am unsure of the purpose of your wording here.

    The doctrine of Purgatory is an extremely important component of the Catholic notion of salvation. The belief that there is a place where souls reside which is neither heaven or hell, and the practice of praying for the dead, goes back into pre-Christian Jewish beliefs. Its rejection by Protestants is relatively recent. I cannot imagine that this would be a doctrine that the Church would compromise on.

    Also, the differences between East and West (Catholic) are greater than liturgical style. I visited a Greek Melkite Church which administered the Eucharist to infants, which is unheard of in Western Churches for just one example.

    Not “unheard of” in the Western churches, just not practiced. The Eastern churches also have some married priests. These things are not differences in doctrine.

    I believe there is room for a great deal of diversity within Christ’s Church, both in style and doctrine.

    Well, if you are speaking of the theory of the larger all-encompassing “invisible church”, sure. That is in fact the reality of the situation. But if you are speaking of the idea that all Christians can unite again as one official church, and that to this end, the Catholic Church should (at the very least) abandon its teachings on things like the priesthood and the Sacraments, then I will go back to my very first response to this posting and repeat: “I cannot support the Catholic Church abandoning 2000 years of development of understanding of doctrines that we believe were given directly to us by Christ for the sake of a shallow show of ‘unity’ with people who vehemently reject those very doctrines. We simply cannot have it both ways without rejecting Christ Himself.”

    Our teachings can be traced back to the Apostles themselves, and then to Christ Himself. We do not believe Christ established a Church of What’s Happening Now, or that He intended humans to deviate from His teachings for whatever feels good at the moment. Christ’s teachings are difficult, and they are difficult for a reason.

  17. Joel Walkley says:

    I am not advocating that the Catholic church abandon any of its doctrines. But I am also not advocating that Protestants necessarily abandon their doctrines either.

    What I am suggesting is that Christians, despite disagreements should come together at the table.

    Can we be united while having different practices and structures (remember many Protestant Churches have episcopal governments)?

    If you recognize that Protestants belong to the universal church (we are Christians), what is the problem?

    Is Christ divided? Should the differing ecclesial structures really divide us to such a degree?

  18. Agellius says:

    Joel: You write, “But still, I wonder if there is much room for disagreement within certain doctrines. . . . could someday Protestants accept a more Catholic doctrine of the priesthood, while allowing for women priest? Or do doctrines need to be adopted 100%?

    I think underlying your questions is a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of the Catholic Church, as it sees itself. Please understand that I don’t mean to demean you or your viewpoint. None of us knows everything, and this just happens to be an area where I know some things that maybe you don’t. And why should you since you’re not Catholic.

    The Catholic Church (the Orthodox too) sees itself as the very same institution which began with the twelve Apostles. It views the doctrines taught by the Apostles as the very same taught by Christ. In other words we’re talking about God’s word, which is not changeable by man and is not a matter of opinion.

    The Church believes itself to have been given the authority by Christ to teach and to act in his name and with his authority. It believes its teachings to be infallibly revealed to the Church by God through the Apostles.

    If you read the New Testament, you see that when the Apostles taught, they expected their teaching and instruction to be accepted and obeyed. In short, they taught with authority. At times they claimed to be speaking in the very name of the Holy Ghost, as in Acts, “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to ourselves that you should do the following. . .” When someone tries to deceive Peter about having sold his land, Peter accuses him of lying to the Holy Spirit and he’s struck dead. Paul states that he’s handing someone’s soul over to the devil.

    Very presumptuous! For human beings, that is. People said the same thing about Jesus when he claimed to have power to forgive sins: “Who can forgive sins but God alone!” they said. Also, “how can this man give us his flesh to eat? Who can accept such teaching?”

    (Excuse me not taking the time to look up the verses. I assume you’re familiar with them. If you need citations, let me know.)

    So while Protestants think the Catholic Church extremely audacious in claiming to have power to forgive sins, to change bread into Christ’s Body, and to speak with Christ’s own authority on earth, it’s no more audacious than the Apostles themselves were. And the Apostles were no more audacious than Christ.

    The point being, God cannot contradict himself. If he has taught one thing infallibly through his Church for 1,000 years, he can’t then teach the opposite. A Church claiming infallibility cannot contradict itself from one century to another. Whatever it has taught authoritatively in the past, it must continue to teach or else admit itself to have been a fraud. For the Church to alter its doctrine would be for it to cease being Catholic.

    So to try to answer your questions: No, there is not room for Protestants to come into the Church disagreeing with its teachings, any more than there is for Catholics to disagree with its teachings. In some areas there is room for disagreement among Catholics. For example we can disagree whether God’s grace is always irresistible as the Calvinists believe, or whether its efficacy sometimes depends on our free cooperation with it.

    The Church has not pronounced a definitive teaching on every area of inquiry, and has not pronounced an infallible interpretation of every passage of scripture. In those areas Catholics are free to disagree, and Protestants who unite with us would also be free to disagree. But in areas where a definite teaching exists, it can neither be changed nor renounced nor disagreed with by anyone who wishes to be in communion with the Catholic Church. This includes women holding the priesthood, as well as birth control, divorce, etc.

    The Catholic Church certainly prizes unity. Schism is considered an extremely grave matter, to be avoided whenever possible. But unity cannot be purchased at the cost of truth.

    So when the Catholic Church pursues unity with Protestants, in my opinion it can only do so by doing its best, in charity and patience, to persuade Protestants of their mistakes. I know, I know, the Church made mistakes too. But there are mistakes in behavior, and mistakes in doctrine. The Church’s may have made mistakes in behavior – surely it did. But the Protestants, rather than trying to rectify the bad behavior within the Church, tried to overturn the entire structure of the Church, rejecting most of its history and tradition, and setting up counter-churches of their own devising. I know some of them believed they were only following the biblical pattern of the Church. But even that idea, of using the Bible alone to reconstruct from scratch the structure, beliefs and practices of the Church, was a rejection of century upon century of belief and practice.

    I might understand your point better if this was the scenario: Suppose the Catholics and Protestants were members of the same Church to begin with. Then one group, the Protestants, rejected tradition and started reconstructing the beliefs and practices of the Church in one way; and the Catholics rejected tradition and started reconstructing the beliefs and practices of the Church in another way. In this scenario, I could understand someone taking the position that both sides were doing the same thing, but in different ways, therefore it’s unfair to arbitrarily accuse one of being worse than the other.

    But this was not the scenario. In reality, you had one Church, and certain members of it began protesting abuses and misconduct. They then went beyond protesting, and started arguing that the Church lacked the authority it claimed, that its very structure was wrong, that its doctrines were wrong, that it lacked the priesthood and valid sacraments. And in fact, that the priesthood and sacraments were positively evil and idolatrous. This goes beyond criticizing misbehavior and rejects the existing faith right down to its roots.

    You may argue that the existing Church was corrupted, was wrong in certain doctrines, had claimed authority without warrant, and so on. Nevertheless, this was the existing Church, and it’s the Protestants who rejected and left it, not vice versa. The Protestants rejected the Catholic Church, the Catholics didn’t reject the Protestant church. The very word “Protestant” shows that they were acting in protest against the existing order of things, i.e. the Church as it stood at that time. They started out within it and ended up outside it.

    The Church against which they were protesting did not change, except to begin cleaning up its act. It did not change its doctrines, beliefs, priesthood or manner of worship, because it believed these things to have been given it by Christ. It still believes this, and that’s why it can’t them. It has cleaned up the abuses that were the occasion of protest in the 16th century, but it has not changed its doctrines because it has never believed they were wrong. And I don’t believe it ever will. If I did, I’d be Protestant.

  19. Agellius says:

    Joel writes, “What I am suggesting is that Christians, despite disagreements should come together at the table.”

    Part of the problem is that we have different understandings of “at the table”. In fact, I’m not sure what you mean by that, I can only assume you mean we should share the Eucharist. I explained previously why that can’t be.

    First, because we believe the Eucharist is truly Christ’s Body and Blood. We cannot have people partaking of Christ’s Body without recognizing it for what it is, so that they can treat it with the reverence and respect which are due. (1 Cor. 11:29.)

    Second, because to us the Eucharist is a sacrifice. We can’t offer the sacrifice in union with people who don’t believe any sacrifice is taking place, or that it’s wrong to offer sacrifice.

    Third, because we can’t have people receiving the Eucharist if they have unabsolved mortal sins on their souls. Since Protestants don’t believe in Confession, they can’t have their mortal sins absolved. Receiving the Eucharist without having your sins absolved would be a terrible sacrilege. Even Catholics are not allowed to do that. Inviting Protestants to commit sacrilege does them a great disservice.

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