one, holy, CATHOLIC, and apostolic church…

When we say that we are “catholic” what in the world do we mean?

Recently, a friend said to me, with straight face, “you’re not catholic”. I think he meant, “catholic enough”, because any formerly Baptist Boy who chooses to come under the authority of a Bishop because it is good for his soul and has a deep desire for the Unity of the Body of Christ as demonstrated in his job choices– well, there’s a sliver of catholic in that boy somewhere!

So what does the word Catholic mean? To answer this I went searching. And in my particular search, I limited myself to Roman Catholic sources. After all, as they say being “anglo-catholic” is an oxymoron! So, what do the sources say?

In essence to be “catholic” boils down to two basic components; structural unity and theological unity. To have one without the other is to not be “catholic”. St. Ignatius, in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, writes in 110: “Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal [katholike] Church.” In these comments he is making the point that the Bishop is the structural footing upon which the Church is organically discovered. The Bishop is the right person for this job because, in Ignatius’ time, this was a person who was taught by the apostles themselves to carry, embody, and tell “The Story” to the world. This is structural unity centered around a person of a Bishop.

Vincent of Lérins (c. 434) points us to the other pillar of Catholicity when he defines the word “catholic” as “That which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” “This”, he adds, “is what is truly and properly Catholic” (Commonitorium, I, ii). The doctrine, is just as important, Lerins is saying, as the structure.

Thus, when we say the creed, we emphasize two pillars. First the pillar of structure and secondly the pillar of theology. Their point is unified… to connect us to The Story which leads to no other conclusion but that “Jesus is Lord”.

One thought on “one, holy, CATHOLIC, and apostolic church…

  1. iain boyd says:

    Greg, thanks for the response. I kinda fired off quickly on that one. I realize what objection you are trying to respond to. My response would be a little different. My problem is that we are governing our decision making process on an idea that a) isn’t scriptural b) doesn’t have a strong pedigree in historic anglicanism and c) does not honor the true catholicity of the church. I guess where I have a real problem is with the idea that catholicity is structural. It is my understanding that catholicity refers to the universality of the church. Thus, when we say only the episcopal churches (i.e. w/ bishops) are catholic, we deny that presbyterian churches (governed by elders) and congregationalists are part of the church. The end game is that in trying to be ‘catholic’ we have restricted the universal church to our own little sect. Just to answer your points 1) When Ignatius says ‘where the bishop is there is the church,’ the office of bishop is much more like the office of presbyter is today. Because there weren’t numerous denominations, the bishop in a city was more like the senior pastor of the church in that city. In fact, in the early church, the title ‘bishops’ and ‘presbyters’ seem to be interchangeable. So, Ignatius seems to be saying, “if you want the catholic church, go to the local church under the appropriate authority.” 2) I think I answered that. I don’t think ‘catholic’ refers to structure, but rather to the organic unity of all faithful believers throughout the ages. Catholicity is determined by unity of faith. To relegate ‘catholic’ to a certain structure is to lose the true catholicity of the church. 3) I don’t think you can use the Roman structure without being a roman catholic! In other words, Roman Catholicism teaches the indefectability of the church, whereby, the true catholic church does not err in her teachings. The Episcopal Church has obviously erred. The point is, I don’t see how you can arrive at the roman catholic teaching on the church, bishops, and apostolic succesion without accepting some roman doctrines on revelation (i.e. the indefectability of the church). Once you’ve accepted those doctrines, you have to follow Newman across the Tiber! 4) My point isn’t that the current catholic teaching isn’t old, it is simply to state that it is a newcomer in the realm of anglicanism, and it seems to be the only universal doctrine in the anglican world right now! Richard Hooker goes to great lengths not to prove that Episcopacy is the proper structure, but to show that within the catholic church, different churches have freedom to structure themselves differently. Thus, the pre-Oxfordian Anglican Church did not see catholicity as a matter of structure but solely one of faith. In the end, we’re on the same team. I’m very distressed that concern for ‘catholicity’ is trumping a plethora of issues that are much more clearly stated in scripture! To put it bluntly, you don’t need apostolic succesion (or a bishop for that matter) in order to get to heaven! You do, however, need to repent, come to Jesus, and worship the God of the Bible, actions which our denomination finds distasteful currently!

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