Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Christian Unity

Like a beacon to guide us between the shadows of the divisions inherited from so many centuries of sinning against unity, our steadfast hope endures that Christ's Spirit will sustain us on this crossing, healing our weaknesses and reticence and teaching us to live his commandment of love to the full: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13: 35).


Suppose we actually take him at his word. Suppose we judge the church of Rome by Jn 13:35.

When this verse refers to “all men,” who does that denote? Well, it’s set in contrast to the disciples. So it represents outsiders, unbelievers.

Those, outside the Church, who witness the mutual love among Christians inside the Church.

And a further implication of this passage is that some outsiders will join the Church when they witness this outpouring of loving fellowship. Certainly that’s how an ecumenist like John-Paul II is using this verse. It’s is a fundamental feature of their witness to the world. The mutual love of the members has an evangelistic dimension. A magnetic, missionary attraction. It draws outsiders into the fold.

Assuming that this is the correct interpretation of John-Paul’s appeal–and I don’t see what other interpretation is tenable–let’s measure the church of Rome by the yardstick which he has given us.

When outsiders survey the history of Roman Catholicism, what impression do they come away with? Are they impressed by how loving the papacy has been over the centuries?

Put another way, when outsiders object to Roman Catholicism, what do they single out? Don’t they generally seize on things like the Inquisition and the Crusades? Aren’t they put off by Roman Catholicism because it strikes them as being a very violent, autocratic, iron-fisted organization–at least when it had that power at its disposal?

For the moment I’m not debating whether or not the Inquisition, the Crusades, or other suchlike, can be justified on their own terms. Even if, for the sake of argument, these are justifiable, this doesn’t change the fact that, by the standards of Jn 13:35, the church of Rome strikes many outsiders as an institution which has frequently been the very antithesis of a loving institution–even in the way it treats fellow Catholics (e.g. dissenters).

So if we measure the church of Rome by John 13:35, it comes up short. The claims of Rome are falsified by this appeal.

No comments:

Post a Comment