Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mother Church or mother of schism?

The Catholic church prides itself on being a beacon of unity in a sea of chaos. It decries the proliferation of religious “sects.” It lays exclusive claim to Jn 17:21-22. It promotes ecumenism, in the one-sided sense of calling on all Christian denominations to return to Mother church.

What’s ironic and indeed hypocritical about all this is that the Catholic church is a very divisive force in Christendom. The Catholic church is a precipitating factor in many “schisms.”

We could run down a very long list. I’ll just cite a few examples to illustrate the point.


Pope Victor unilaterally excommunicated Christians living in the East who celebrated Easter on a different date than Rome. That’s hardly an action that promotes church unity. And it was a completely unnecessary controversy.

The Filioque

At some point the Filioque clause was added to the Nicene Creed, and the church of Rome formalized that addition. I’m not debating the merits of the Filioque. I’m merely pointing out that the actions of Rome were very divisive in that respect.

Tridentine Canon

At the Council of Trent, the Tridentine Fathers were divided over the scope of the OT canon, for tradition itself was divided over the scope of the OT canon. Yet Trent decided to anathematize Christians who rejected the Apocrypha. That was a very exclusionary action.

Assumption of Mary

In 1950, Piux XII elevated the Assumption of Mary to Catholic dogma. This was despite the fact that this dogma lacked any solid foundation in the traditions of the ancient church. Anyone dissident was implicitly forced to leave the church.

Novus Ordo

When, in the wake of Vatican II, the papacy introduced a revised Missal, this was a very disruptive action, and predictably so.

For one thing, Catholic apologists used to invoke the Latin Mass as an emblem of Catholic unity and universality. A Catholic who traveled to any part of the world where the Mass was celebrated would hear the Mass in the same language (Latin). By using the vernacular, this destroyed the unity and universality of worship. (Not to mention additional changes to the Missal.)

Anglican Orders

In 1896, Leo XIII nullified Anglican ordinations. By definition, that was a very exclusionary action.

When the Catholic church takes these actions, there are winners and losers. The winners draw lines which create insiders and outsiders. It generates de facto and de jure schisms.

Now, I’m not saying that’s good or bad. And I don’t have a personal stake in some of these controversies.

My point is simply that the Catholic church has frequently taken provocative actions which disenfranchise many professing believers. The Catholic church has deliberately instigated many schisms through its factious and fractious policies. It uses its unilateral ax to split Christendom into many different splinter groups.

Now, if you’re Catholic, you can claim that all these actions were justified. I’m not debating the merits of each case. I’m simply noting a fundamental tension between the claims of Rome to be a champion of Christian unity, as well as a leader in ecumenical dialogue–on the one hand–and various actions by which she has alienated many professing believers and ejected them from the ranks of the “faithful”–retroactively defined.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. "Mother Church or mother of schism?"


    As in... the Mother Church is the mother of schism.

    BTW Steve, you might be gifted to do a re-write of Dale Carnegie's famous book and to re-title it as:

    "How to Win Catholic Friends and Influence Catholics (to abandon Catholicism)"

    Heh, heh. You seem to enjoy and relish the endless material that the RCC provides you.

  3. Mother Church or mother of schism?

    Both! The Council of Trent was simply a local council of the Latin Church called to deal with Western problems.

    There were no opponents of the papacy invited, neither Catholic or protestant until late in the life of the Council and they were not to be allowed to vote .

    The pope ordered that nothing should be discussed that challenged the papacy.

    Discussion was by separate groups and there was to be no prior knowledge of subject allowed .

    Neither was there to be discussion between groups.

    The opposition was isolated, what there was of it.
    At the end of the Council the participants were not allowed to ratify the conclusions of the Council, but all findings were to be sent to Rome prior for ratification by the papacy.

    A total innovation and simply a papal coup detat!.

    This gave new powers to the pope and in giving him these powers the Council, consisting of most of the European Bishops, abandoned their authority , duties and responsibilities on to the shoulders of one man, the Bishop of Rome.
    Thus, the Council of Trent became no more than a Robber Council and the forerunner of the what John Evelyn called, 'The New Church of Trent'!
    A schismatic church indeed.

    Look at Thorndyke, the theologian of the English Interregnums views, or Bishop Field's views.

  4. So basically the mindset of old-school Roman Catholicism was: "whatever the Pope chooses to say goes, everyone else comply or get out!"
    Never mind what your own conscience tells you? Its like Comrade Napoleon from Orwell's Animal Farm. In that book the ruling elite revise their ideology over and over again, and all their subjects seem to just passively accept that it always was the way the elite say it is now, and that their own memories are faulty for saying otherwise.

    No wonder that once the Reformers realised this, they decided to opt out of this game of "follow-the-Pope" and go back the teaching of Christ and the Apostles.

    This quote from a different context seems apt:
    when a long train of abuses and userpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security