Roman Catholics constantly attack the Protestant distinction between the visible and invisible aspects of the church. For a classic statement of the Protestant distinction, see chap. 5 of the Westminster Confession.You may think Steve was joking about this, but serious Roman Catholics are very serious about this distinction. It’s the only way that an organization so obviously corrupt as the Roman Catholic Church can, with a straight face, say it is “the Church that Christ Founded®”.
Bryan Cross has coined the phrase “Ecclesial “Docetism” to designate this altogether appalling distinction.
But what’s ironic about all this is that Catholic epologists like Bryan have a conception of The One True Church® which is at least as dualistic or “Docetic” as the Protestant conception (or their caricature of the Protestant conception). Catholic apologists constantly alternate between two One [True] Church(es). They dichotomize The One True Church® into the functional equivalent of the visible/invisible church.
Let’s take some examples. In the same breath as Bryan touts the “visible Body” of Christ, he also touts the “Mystical Body” of Christ. Yet, on the face of it, a “Mystical Body” is conspicuous for its lack of empirical properties. Has anyone ever seen a “Mystical Body”? What color is a “Mystical Body”?
But that’s just for starters. Catholic epologists bifurcate The One True Church® into a phenomenal church and a noumenal church. They conveniently relegate all the bad stuff to the phenomenal church. That’s just a shell. A simulacrum.
No matter how bad the church becomes, that can never impinge on the real church. For the real church is an inner, ethereal, indetectible, unfalsifiable quintessence of one true churchliness.
The real church is a suprahistorical entity which requires no historical evidence commensurate with the scope of its historical claims. The real church is impervious to historical counterevidence. The real church is a timeless, spaceless, airtight ideal.
For instance, the True church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. However, under no circumstances should the marks of the True church be confused with concrete, identifiable properties.
It doesn’t matter how much actual disunity you have in the church of Rome. That can never count as evidence against the unity of the church. Rather, any degree of disunity, however, wide and deep, is shunted off to the phenomenal shell of the church. That can never penetrate the essence of what makes the church “one.”
Likewise, it doesn’t matter how unholy the Roman church may be in practice. However corrupt, in time and space, from top to bottom, that only pertains to the outer shell of the church. For the True church remains spotless underneath the accumulated layers of turpitude.
Even though no amount of turpentine will ever be able to peel away the accumulated layers of turpitude to expose the hidden holiness of the church, buried beneath centuries of corruption, the faithful know in their heart of hearts that at the inaccessible core of the church there resides a pristine essence of sanctity.
The True church is indefectible. But not for a minute should that be connected with the actual performance of the church. No matter how error-ridden the Roman church may be in the actual administration of its internal affairs, each and every declension, however large or small, is automatically reassigned to the accidental shell of the church, while the unseen substance of The One True Church® remains intact and inviolate.
Now, I myself grew up as a “Cradle Catholic” – I grew up devoutly Roman Catholic; I left as a teenager, for what I thought were all the right reasons. I drifted back “home to Rome” as an adult in part, because of a story like this one. But the more you look at it, the more you look at the particulars, the more stretched and strained this notion becomes.
This is one reason why I continue to have hope for even the most hardened Roman Catholic apologists. It’s one thing to submit your will to “the Church that Christ Founded®”. It’s quite another thing to use the brain that Christ gave you.