So What Does Rome Have To Offer?
Asks an Anglican priest that has recently re-returned to the Anglican Communion from Roman Catholicism. Father Longenecker has a summary of the situation over at his blog including the reasons why this certain father Hart has defected from Rome back to Canterbury. For those of you that are up to date on Roman Catholic vs Protestant/Anglican debates the logic behind Hart's decision are about as worn out and tired as your grandfather's boots. Father John Zuhlsdorf has thoroughly responded to Hart's existential plight in a point by point refutation.
I just wanted to add some thoughts on Hart's implied question, what then does Rome have to offer? Hart's theological questions notwithstanding (they have been answered in full by Zuhlsdorf) why then would a Christian be a Roman Catholic and not say a High Church Anglican or Lutheran for example? The answer is an incredibly simple one, namely because the unity of the Church the very Body of Christ demands it. Although this phrase might sound overly cliche it is cliche only because most of the modern church (of all the branches)1 has forgotten what this truly entails in the historical sense of the term.
The early Catholics had a metaphysical understanding of the unity of the Church. In other words if you were not in unity with the (universal/world wide) Catholic Church who was led by the Roman Congregation (Roman Bishop) you really were not actually part of Christ's Body. It is a one to one correlation from a strict chain of logic. The One True Church is the One Body of Christ on earth. It is this incarnational understanding that is seen throughout the Fathers. For example Augustine writes,
"Sara said. "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of a bondwoman shall not be heir with my son Issac." (Gen 21.10) And the Church says. "Cast out heresies and their children, for heretics shall
not be heirs with Catholics." But why shall they not be heirs? Are they not born of Abraham's seed? And have they not the Church's Baptism? They do have Baptism, and it would make the seed of Abraham an heir, if pride did not exclude them from inheritance. By the same word, by the same
Sacrament you were born, but you will not come to the same inheritance of eternal life, unless you return to the Catholic Church."2
Augustine says much here that can be unpacked. He explicitly says that even heretics who were Baptized as Catholics but then depart the faith (and are thus not in communion with Catholicism and have thus broken the metaphysical bond) will be excluded from eternal life. Augustine here attributes such an attitude with pride. Note what Augustine is not saying. He is not saying that the initial Baptism of these heretics is not valid (for he believed that all Catholic Baptism is valid because it is Christ not the minister who Baptizes). What he is saying is that heretics undo their Catholic Baptism because of their prideful schismatic sin. It is only when they come back to full communion that their Baptism's become once again valid. But to believe such a thing demands a certain metaphysical view of the Church. And unity with this Church is paramount. To leave this Church is to leave the Body of Christ and how can a man be saved without Christ?
So important is this communion with the Church Augustine argues, that the prayers and alms of the living Body can aid those of the same Body that have departed,
"But by the prayers of the Holy Church...and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided...For the whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers, that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ."3
This efficaciousness is a two way street and is only valid when if full communion with the Catholic Church. It is efficacious because the living Body intercedes for the dead and it is received to its full effect only by those in full communion with the Catholic Body.
One more example will be brought out to top off our discussion.4 Communion with this Body of Christ and the unity with it that is essential started with the example of Peter writes Augustine,
"Among these Apostles almost everywhere Peter alone merited to represent the whole Church. For the sake of his representing the whole Church, which he alone could do, he merited to hear, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven." (Matt 16.19) For it was not one man, but the unity of the Church, which received those keys. In that way, therefore, Peter's own excellence is foretold, because he acted the part of the unity and totality of the Church herself."5
This is the answer to the probings of modern man when he asks, "Why Rome?" "Because" the Church responds from the halls of history, "It is the very Body of Christ, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Untainted and immutable from the beginning to the end of time. To break from her is to break from Christ and to cause division in the Body. This division is caused by a spirit of pride and a refusal to submit to Christ. Such a refusal will not be without it costs."
1 When I say "most" I certainly do not mean "all." There is a large contingent of ecclesiastical scholars who still recognize this historical aspect of the unity of the Church, and it certainly is not a coincidence that most of these scholars are Roman Catholic.
2 Sermones. 3.
3 Sermones. 172, 2.
4 Both Augustine as well as the rest of the Fathers are united in this metaphysical unity of the Church and the critical importance of being united to it, examples are numerous.
5 Sermones. 295, 2.