November 30, 2020

Bryan Cross Interview (Part 2): Unity, Reformation and Tensions in Catholicism

twoguysMy interview with Bryan Cross continues with questions about how Protestants hear talk of unity, tensions in the Catholic Church and how Protestants and Catholics should view the Reformation.

2. Does Christian Unity mean “Protestants becoming Roman Catholics?”

In the Creed we refer to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Those are the four marks of the Church. Unity as a mark of the Church refers to unity of faith, unity of sacraments, and unity of government. These three correspond to the three roles of prophet, priest, and king; all three roles came together in Christ, and remain together in His Church. Even if we share the same faith, and the same sacraments, until we are one in government we are still divided. This is why the Novatians and Donatists were in schism from the Church, not branches of the Church. Unity of ecclesial government requires unity under the bishop having the highest ecclesial authority. Jesus gave this highest ecclesial authority to the apostle St. Peter, when He gave to St. Peter the keys of the Kingdom. That is why the episcopal successor of St. Peter is the divinely established principle of unity for the Church. The only way to avoid being in schism is to be in full communion with the successor of St. Peter. For this reason the Catechism defines ‘schism’ as “the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” (CCC, 2089) Schism is a term rarely used today, but in order to pursue unity we have to recover an understanding of that term, and the unitive principle by which remaining in the Church is distinguished from being in schism from the Church. So the first part of the answer to your question is that full communion with the bishop of Rome is a necessary condition for Christian unity.

However, the Catholic Church includes within it the Latin Church and twenty-two Eastern Catholic Churches, all in full communion with the successor of St. Peter. Strictly speaking, Eastern Catholics are not Roman Catholics; Roman Catholic is reserved for the Latin Church. So in that sense full unity does not require becoming Roman Catholic, but it does require full communion with the successor of St. Peter.

3. There seems to be some tension in Roman Catholicism over the subject of Christian unity. For instance, many Protestants embrace Thomas Merton as a spiritual mentor, but I’ve found many Catholics who are suspicious of him. Are there differing approaches to unity among conservative and liberal tribes in the RCC?

I do not use the terms ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ to refer to orthodoxy and heterodoxy, because those former terms have political connotations that are misleading when applied to the Church. Different Catholic thinkers and writers sometimes emphasize different truths of the Catholic faith, but if they are orthodox, they give at least “religious submission of mind and will” to the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium (i.e. the Church’s living, teaching office). And that is fully compatible with recognizing and affirming what is good and true in other faith traditions, a quality for which Merton was known. As for matters concerning which the Church has not spoken, Catholics may hold any positions. Unfortunately there are some Catholics who either do not understand the Church’s ecclesiology or do not accept it. The errors can be found on both ends of the Church’s teaching. On one end there are a few Catholics who mistakenly think that perhaps no Protestants are saved. On the other end there are some Catholics who think either that all Protestants are Catholics-but-just-don’t-know-it, or that the Catholic Church is just one denomination among many. None of those is the Church’s teaching concerning herself. These errors are the result of poor catechesis, and they lead to confusion among Protestants concerning what the Catholic Church actually teaches.

The Catholic Church believes and teaches that she is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ, who renamed Simon as Peter, and designated him to be the rock upon which Christ would build His Church, and to whom He gave the keys of the Kingdom. Those four marks of the Church are essential to the Church, and cannot be lost. That entails that the Church can never be divided, because she can never lose her unity. The essential unity of the Church and St. Peter’s authority are interrelated. In every schism, should it endure for any length of time, whoever separates from the successor of St. Peter is, by that very fact, in schism from the Church. Whoever remains with the successor of St. Peter, by that very fact, remains with the Church. Since every schism is a separation from the Church, the Church’s unity is undiminished by schism. Nevertheless, Christian disunity is a stumbling block to the world. Full communion among the followers of Christ, from a Catholic point of view, means nothing less than being in the Church Christ founded, sharing the same faith, the same sacraments, and the same government. The teaching of the Catholic Church regarding her ecclesiology and unity can be found in the following documents, which are all available in English online: Satis Cognitum (1896), Mortalium Animus (1928), Mystici Corporis Christi (1943), Lumen Gentium (1964), Unitatis Redintegratio (1964), Ut Unum Sint (1995), Dominus Iesus (2000), Responsa ad quaestiones (2007).

4. Many Protestants come to a place where they view the Reformation as the greatest moment in church history, and many Catholics view it as an event entirely inspired by the devil. What is a balanced view of the Reformation that both Protestants and Catholics could work toward embracing?

What Protestants and Catholics should be working toward with respect to understanding the Reformation is the truth about what happened. The only path to true reunion of Protestants and Catholics is unity based on truth. There were in the Church abuses that needed to be corrected. Various bishops were corrupt, immoral and overly involved in civil government and acquiring personal wealth. The training of priests was in lamentable condition, and superstitions and ignorance were common among the lay people. The Church was clearly in need of reform, and the Reformers were correct to point out such things. These reforms were taken up by the Council of Trent, and when we read through the documents produced by each of the sessions of Trent, we see that not only matters of doctrine but also matters of reform were addressed in almost each session. And many people, including St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Philip Neri, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Vincent de Paul helped reform the Church from within, in what is rather misleadingly called the “Counter-Reformation.” So the Church most certainly needed reforming. That is true, and both Protestants and Catholics can and should agree on that.

Another truth that needs to be recognized universally is that a schism took place between Protestants and Catholics. Much more can be said about this than in this context, but the first step in reconciling the division is acknowledging that a division occurred. From a Protestant point of view, the gospel had been hidden from the people under ceremonies and traditions. Then at the Council of Trent the Church declared the gospel to be anathema, and so separation from the Catholic Church was necessary. From a Catholic point of view, even if the gospel had been hidden to some degree, schism from the Church Christ founded is never justified, and the Council of Trent gave a definitive clarification concerning what is the orthodox understanding of the gospel. There is no ‘balanced view’ possible on this point of disagreement, because on the matter of schism, and on the points of doctrine where they disagreed, either the Protestants were right and the Catholic were wrong, or vice versa. In the one paradigm, the Church at the Council of Trent fell into apostasy, and the pope became a kind of anti-Christ. In the other paradigm, the Council of Trent defined soteriological orthodoxy, and those who rejected Trent thereby showed themselves to be in heresy, just as had those who rejected prior ecumenical councils.

That’s what makes the schism seem at first to be irresolvable, and why it has endured this long. But there is a way forward, I think, and that involves finding the fundamental underlying causes for the disagreement, and the common ground by which to reason together to determine together who was wrong and who was right. Doctrinally, much common ground regarding justification has already been recognized in the Joint Declaration on Justification between Lutherans and Catholics in 1999. And the same is true of the 1994 Evangelicals & Catholics Together document. These are important steps forward in finding and affirming doctrinal common ground. We should also acknowledge the particular gifts that develop in the various Christian traditions, even while recognizing that these gifts can find their full and proper expression only in full communion. Diversity should not be confused with division, and full communion should not be conceived of as restricting the flourishing of various gifts within the Body of Christ.

To effect reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics, the fundamental underlying causes of the division must themselves be addressed, because the differences are not merely first-order differences (i.e. within the same paradigm), but meta-level differences (i.e. not in the same paradigm). These are fundamental differences upon which all the others depend. That’s why examining Scripture together will only get us so far; it won’t resolve the schism because the schism is rooted in paradigmatic differences we bring to Scripture. These fundamental differences involve different conceptions of the authority of the Church with respect to the interpretation of Scripture and the defining of doctrine, the basis for that interpretive authority, the nature of the Church as the Body of Christ, and the relation of Christ to His Church.

Resolving these underlying disagreements upon which the others depend requires, in my opinion, turning to history, to that time prior to the separation, when we were still united. Only if we look back (not in the sense of turning the clock back, but in the sense of remembering together) in history to the point where we were united can we then proceed forward discursively and evaluate together, from a shared conceptual point of view according to shared criteria, the actions of our ancestors in our respective ecclesial traditions. In my opinion, that requires going back much further than the 16th century; it requires nothing less than mutual investigation and understanding of the Church in the first four centuries after Christ. Protestants tend to think of the Protestant-Catholic differences as arising in the sixteenth century, but I think a careful study of the Church Fathers shows that many aspects of Catholicism presently rejected by Protestants go back even to the first century. And that requires us to consider in what way Christ remains with His Church until the end of the age, leads her into all truth and prevents the gates of Hades from prevailing against her so that she remains the pillar and bulwark of truth of which St. Paul speaks. My point here is that in order to go forward together, we must first look back together.

Part 3 on the way….


  1. “So in that sense full unity does not require becoming Roman Catholic, but it does require full communion with the successor of St. Peter.”

    This statement from an earlier answer seems to dovetail into Bryan’s response in #4, and so I was curious to know if Bryan sees any chance for unity should Protestants perpetually reject the idea that communion with “successor of St. Peter” is a necessity – particularly given that this is likely to remain a huge chasm between the two.

  2. Steve Newell says

    When the Catholic Church teaches that we are saved by faith alone, by Christ alone, by Grace alone and by Scripture alone (four solas of the Reformation), then we can talk. However, the Roman Church, as rejected this at the Council of Trent.

    • I don’t think the Reformers said that we are “saved by Scripture alone” — if one wishes to wield the “solas” as swords, one should at least get the context right.

      But I am not so sure that the “solas” ought to be the standard — the real standard is Scripture, the “solas” are simply the human expression of the reformers’ interpretation of Scripture.

      • Steve Newell says

        Scripture Alone means that we look to Scripture not Scripture AND tradition. The Roman Church places tradition on par or close to par with Holy Scripture. Tradition is meaningful, but it cannot be held as equal to Holy Scripture. Likewise, if we are not saved by faith alone, then what is needed in addition to faith in Christ for us to be save. If we are not saved by grace alone, then what merit did we earn to justify ourselves in addition to God’s grace? If we are not saved by Christ alone, then who else saved us?

        You are correct that the Solas are human expressions, but they are human expressions of what Holy Scripture teaches.

        • Laura Short says

          Except that we have the Canon of Scripture as a *tradition* of The Church.

          Or, to put it another way: which came first, Scripture, or the Church which decreed what was Scripture and what was not? And how was this canon then decreed? Because “we’ve always done it this way”? or because we recognise the Holy Spirit as having illumined this writing but not that writing? or some amalgam of these as well as other mechanisms?

          This is the role of Tradition informing the work of the Church in giving us Scripture…

      • Waltizing Matilda says

        Actually, the standard is Jesus Christ – the Scripture is just a true and accurate account of His time here on earth.

    • My goodness, how many “solas” are there?!

      • four

        • Five

          We are saved by
          Sola gratia
          Sola fide
          because of
          Solus Christus
          As revealed by
          Sola scriptura

          And last of all

          Soli Deo gloria

          • Soli Deo gloria could be considered to be redundant.

            But i like the way it sounds in latin so I included it..

          • Steve Newell says

            The last one is not Lutheran, but Reformed.

          • What about sola doctrine?

            Did Jesus really intend for the church to be composed of thousands of sects, each arguing that they’ve got it right and all the other disciples are wrong?

            To me, this incredible wasted effort seems to be the strongest argument for having someone as the head of the church.

            Perhaps He knew what he was doing when he created the Church and put someone in charge rather than worrying about writing scripture.

        • Calvinists would tend to say that there are five solas:

          I’m not sure whether the fifth one is as important with Lutherans.

    • Did you read his “A Reply from a Romery Person” linked in the previous portion of the interview? It was interesting and may address your point.

    • Is there another way to write that? You have named four entities that save, each one ‘alone’.
      Can you re-phrase that to make more sense.

  3. i don’t know if this is an issue that has already been resolved or has already wasted too much ink [type], but wasn’t Saint Peter the leader of the Jewish Church and wasn’t he sort of deposed/replaced by James in Acts? does any of that church history matter when it comes to the first question of governance?

    • Can you provide a reference for that “deposition”?

      I understand that James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem — that in itself says nothing about the role of Peter, especially in the wider church.

      • My understanding was that James’ leadership of the Jerusalem church made him the de facto head of the non-Disapora Jewish Christians. Peter’s leadership seemed to be more overarching and not just limited to Palestine.

        • i guess that’s the question i’m asking. my understanding was that Peter was sort of “deposed” by the Jewish Christians, but i suppose that’s not a necessary reading. i’m not trying to prove anything, just clarifying! thanks guys!

          • Scott Miller says

            I would say that Paul took the helm of the Gentiles church and James took the helm of the Jewish church.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Does Christian Unity mean “Protestants becoming Roman Catholics?”

    It does to the Order of St Borg…

  5. A question that Bryan never could answer when I had interactions with him way back, was that he while he made a case for Protestants having to come back to the Roman fold, based on authority issues, he never put together a descent argument for reconciling the events of 1054, and the actions of pope Leo IX. Also, careful study of ecclesiastical history by somebody like Tim Enloe has shown that the Conciliar Approach to ecclesiastical issues was entrenched long before papal supremacy claims. Also the conciliar movement in the later medieval times, leading up to Trent etc. shed a light quite different to that of Bryan’s argument.

    Furthermore, Bryan’s argument for papal supremacy falls flat when one considers that in his scheme the early councils made binding decisions on the church (the seven ecumenical councils) by virtue of the fact that they were ecumenical councils of the church. The events of 1054, and that which preceded it, as well as those that followed it shows that position of the pope was never clarified by an ecumenical council (to the extent that Rome wants it to be), and though the tradition seems to have been that he is first amongst equals, the insistence on absolute authority, and infallibility (which came later as I recall) are one-sided, not representative of the universal church, and thus a Roman innovation only. If this was legitimate, so was Luther. If this wasn’t legitimate, so was the papal actions of 1054.

    This is not an attack on Roman Catholics, not in the least – one of my favorite bloggers is a very traditional Catholic of the Roman kind. But I do find these type of unification and Papal supremacy arguments to be somewhat revisionist in nature, with on overtly rationalistic bent. History is highly complex and messy.

    • As part of Vatican II, the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration of 1965 lifted the mutual excommunications from 1054. Both sides repented of the 1054 stuff.

      • Lifting the excommunication is a nice gesture. It does not change the fundamental division. It does not change the fact that the East doesn’t accept papal infallibility. Shall we mention other papal additions like purgatory and the immaculate conception of Mary?

        I love my RC friends. In fact, in some matters I am closer to them than to my baptist friends.:) I reject the eternal unspoken assumption that all Protestants are somehow anabaptist in their understanding of Church history and the heritage of the saints who have gone before. I mention this, because in these discussions it crops up again and again.

    • When did the Ecumenical Councils end?

      The Catholic Church still held them after 1054 AD. The Orthodox have not. From what I have read the Orthodox Churches–even to this day–do not know what criteria are necessary for an Ecumenical Council.

    • Waltizing Matilda says

      The arguement for papal supremacy falls flat when one considers the fact that Paul basically called Peter a fat head right across the pages of the New Testament. Obviously, Paul didn’t think that Peter was infallible or the final authority on anything. If you all want chapters and verses, I can look them up.

      The rock Jesus built his church on was the revelation that he was the Christ, son of the living God. The Greek word cephas – is a stone. Probably the size of something I could hold in my hand. You can’t build an entire church on something that small.

  6. Intereact and comment with the post; don’t just state your reason for not being Catholic.

    • Michael – if you were addressing me there – to be honest, I was throwing a stone in into the bush (to translate a saying from another language), trying to get a reaction. Bryan’s comments above, especially in his last paragraph, assume a certain historical view (Newmanesque), which just as revisionist as those of the type of protestants he presumably addresses in the statement “but I think a careful study of the Church Fathers shows that many aspects of Catholicism presently rejected by Protestants go back even to the first century.”….

      Our Orthodox friends couls throw the same stones, based on 1054 and even the inclusion of the filioque in the West. If we start throwing historical stones (even if it is in the very civil manner of Bryan Cross), we should accept them coming back at us. The Newmanesque view of ecclesiastical history is rooted in revisionist Victorian sentimentality. As Enloe demonstrated very well, an ad fontes approach shows that in reality, it was all very messy, with a lot of power politcs, philosophical shifts (the rise of Nomanalism against the prevalence of Platonism, neo-platonism as the East charges the West with etc…).

      • BTW, as I am familiar with some of the history, but no expert, I could point folks to Tim Enloe’s archival posts at – just scroll to the bottom.

        I do think there is an element of over-simplificatin in most of these arguments centred around historical events. I myself was quite taken with some of the Newmanesque approaches to history, till I discovered the extensive historical complexities, as well as the view from the East. Thinking about 1054, and the implications that carried for the reformation, was one of the things which sullied the cohesive argument the papists presented…;)

        • I would like to encourage us to steer clear of loaded terms like “papists” and “romish” — they do not express mutual respect.

        • History is made up of human beings and so is “incredibly messy” everywhere at every time. That does not mean that we cannot come to a good, if nuanced and balanced understanding of many or even most events in the past, say, 2,000 years and evaluate the coherency and consistency of our own beliefs from them.

          Not all histories are “revisionist” though all may certainly have a definite perspective (e.g. Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, some strain of Protestant, atheist, Muslim).

  7. Terrific interview. I’ve never heard a Catholic address the reformation like that. I’d like to hear Bryan’s thoughts on the Great Schism as well.

  8. I’m largely at a loss on these posts. This is simply because of so many terms that I’m not familiar with, and am largely not willing to spend a significant amount of time looking up– unless I’m convinced otherwise.

    Are these terms so conceptually massive that they warrant the use of one and only one word to describe them? Or can they be broken down into “non-theologese” for those of us who read iMonk for its accessibility?

    I realize I’m probably in some kind of minority of the regular readers, but just wanted to register a concern.

    • I’m not sure which ones are tripping you up, but here are some that help me:

      soteriology: pertaining to salvation
      ecclesiology: pertaining to the Church (her governance, structure, etc.)

  9. Steve Newell says

    If the Pope signed on to the Book of Concord, I would be swimming the Tiber.

  10. That’s what makes the schism seem at first to be irresolvable, and why it is endured this long. But there is a way forward, I think, and that involves finding the fundamental underlying causes for the disagreement, and the common ground by which to reason together to determine together who was wrong and who was right.

    Very interesting posts. Dont’ want to be defeatist in my attitude, but color me doubtful reg. going beck into history and deciding who was right and who was wrong. This sounds to me like a couple arguing over finances: you can agree that $$$ woes are causing tension, but THEN WHAT. The assumption that we can see clearly enough into these mists to come to a clear headed decision on whose ecclesiology is backed up by history seems fraught with uncertainty, and at least some level of subjectivity. I’m a little saddened that Mr.Cross’s conception of unity puts the Catholic banner up high, and as protestants, we are to learn from history, come to our senses, and come back to Rome. But, then again, maybe that’s where his take on Peter and the keys of the kingdom must go…

    thanks, IMONK, for the material, now and future;

    Greg R

  11. I’m not sure all Protestants would disagree with the “exegesis” regarding statements in the interview about “keys of the kingdom”, but I certainly do. More broadly, the statements about realizing that we can’t discuss Scripture effectively because we come at it from different paradigms seems to get at the heart of the problem and that is that Scripture itself should dictate the paradigm, rather than human readers dictating the paradigm in their interpretations. Now of course, I realize that it’s difficult to come to Scripture with a complete “blank slate”, but I think good, systematic theology and exegesis honestly attempts to do just that. Just like in science, facts are gathered and a theory is advanced—how well the the theory does in predicting “out of sample” data determines whether the theory is kept or completely dropped and the facts used to formulate another theory. In a similar way, we create a paradigm for interpretation (systematic theology) by starting from the raw data of Scripture and nothing else (as Wolf Paul said earlier, “the real standard is Scripture”) and keep our theology or drop it for something new based on how well it fits with other sections of Scripture. To me, the real issue is the “paradigm” that gives authority to the church on par with (or even above) Scripture. If one decides in advance that there is a Scriptural legitimacy for the papacy, one is likely to find supporting evidence in Scripture, but if one starts from the best, most objective look at the raw data of Scripture alone, I believe one does not find this—if I could be convinced from the raw data of Scripture alone apart from church traditions, I could legitimately become RCC. My point is that I don’t really care what the conclusions come out to be in the end, I just want a method of determining truth that has its “paradigm” determined by Scripture itself and Scripture alone. Hope this isn’t too obtuse an argument, as I *am* trying to say something more than just “why I’m not catholic.” Still think it’s an excellent interview and look forward to the final installment.

    • CastingCrown says

      It’s so hard to comment upon anything anyone says on this post without ending up in apologetics mode, however, I’ll have a go…

      You describe exegesis in scientific terms which is great, yet in this scientific method you focus only on Scripture. Firstly, it presupposes that Scripture is the only data worth examining. If this assumption is incorrect, the test results are invalid. Secondly, considering no sources other than Scripture doesn’t seem to be very thorough. For example, you can reject the Early Fathers if you want, but ignoring them completely seems unwise.

      Now I actually think the Catholic claims can actually stand up rather well under Sola Scriptura scrutiny, but I think this is my question: is reading scripture in a vacuum the best way to read scripture?

    • Patrick Lynch says

      “I’m not sure all Protestants would disagree with the “exegesis” regarding statements in the interview about “keys of the kingdom”, but I certainly do.”


      “Scripture itself should dictate the paradigm, rather than human readers dictating the paradigm in their interpretations.”


      the entire Protestant premise, collapsed into a != a.

      Scripture isn’t a paradigm, it’s a story – the story of our forerunners in the faith. Walk-on lines from the lives of dead saints and sinners aren’t a paradigm and shouldn’t be stretched into one; we have a few words and the knowledge of the shared grace that yokes us both to God, but tradition is our inheritance from that host. Prayers, wisdom, guidance, theology, minted in the centuries of constant communion between Jesus and His church since He inaugurated it.

      Trying to make Scriptural Exegesis a Paradigm over and above everything else ancient and Christian abuses the image – well established IN Scripture, by the way – of our God who confounds our wisdom and enflames and supernates our spirits. Why do we need proof-texts when obedience and kindness is what’s asked for?

      ‘Scripture alone’ is a myth and we need to let go our reticence to trust our lives prayerfully to the ancient inheritance Jesus guaranteed for us when he promised He’d be with us always.

      Or we should quit. Quitting’s good, too.

      • Would focusing on the Grand Story of what God is doing and our part in it (i.e. focusing on the Mission of God to borrow from Christopher Wright) help bridge the divide? I have found locally that Catholics and Protestants (or any other church divide; Brethren/Baptist, etc.) focusing on history/doctrine really goes down hill quickly. When they’ve come together through the work of an organization such as Youth Works or Love INC, we’ve seen genuine unity and collaboration. It’s almost as if working together allows us to see each others hearts for Christ and assume the best of each other in the ongoing theological discussions. Thoughts?

    • To add to the other replies,

      Luther and Zwingli at the beginning of the Reformation butted heads immediately on two completely different interpretations of what Jesus meant when he said “this is my body.” Luther said that if Jesus didn’t somehow really mean “this is my body” and was only being symbolic, the entire Bible could not be understood. Zwingli disagreed and said Jesus meant “this signifies my body.” Which interpretation is correct?

      Also, your desire to use Scripture alone and NO tradition is counter to Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin who thought it was totally legitimate to look to the Church Fathers, especially St. Augustine (who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries) to find traditions formed from true biblical interpretations. Only the Radical Reformers, the Anabaptists, sought to reject all of the Church’s traditions and go back to the Bible alone (which led them to reject infant baptism, the Trinity, and the divinity of Christ). My point is that only one of the four different movements of the Protestant Reformation promulgated a wholesale abandonment of tradition and the Fathers.

    • I didn’t quite follow Patrick’s coming up with ‘a!=a’, but I think the upshot (among other things) of some of the replies to my post has been that reading Scripture in a complete vacuum is going too far and that even the Reformers paid heed to the early church fathers.

      My opinion in reply is that there’s a difference between 1) reading the church fathers and using their wisdom to help you form a paradigm for Scriptural interpretation (or taking theirs and seeing if it still makes sense) and 2) accepting their words as authoritative. Arguably, Calvin was the greatest theological writer of the Reformation and he certainly studied and quoted from the early church fathers extensively—-but he was never afraid to say that they were wrong when they deviated from what he saw as a better understanding of Scripture. And as an aside with respect to Luther, for example, I think many would argue that he (and others) were still very much infused with traditional church teachings on the sacraments and the theological problems early on amongst the reformers were often a case of differing abilities to really follow the idea of “sola scriptura”, not that “scriptura” itself gave such widely divergent interpretations that needed an authoritative church tradition to settle.

      Anyhow, again to make a link with science, physics in the 19th century paid great homage to Newton, but eventually there was simply no way to keep to the paradigm without realizing that quantum physics and relativity better fit the observed facts. We still honor and use Newton today, but in a smarter way, realizing where his work has its limitations—we don’t simply say he’s authoritative because he’s ancient. We follow the facts wherever they lead, using past wisdom as much as possible, but always evaluating whether we’re giving the “best fit” to the data or not. That’s my opinion on how to approach Scripture.

      Thanks for the thoughtful replies.

  12. Mr. Cross,

    Strictly speaking, Eastern Catholics are not Roman Catholics; Roman Catholic is reserved for the Latin Church.

    I’m curious about this point. Would you maintain this in light of the quotations from Vatican I that James White recently posted, where the phrase “holy, catholic, apostolic and Roman church” was used?

    • James White’s post isn’t very forthcoming. When referencing the document, “Rome” is referring to the Roman See and not the “Roman Catholic Church.”. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome and head of the Roman See. So, referring to Rome in that case is referring to the Pope which would be appropriate in a document about Papal infallibility.

      I suspect Mr. White knows this and is trying to mislead his readers.

      • That’s how I was taking the majority of the references in that document–Roman pontiff, holy Roman see, etc. It’s the phrase “holy, catholic, apostolic, Roman church” that was giving me pause. If “Roman church” is supposed to mean “the church in Rome”, calling it “catholic” seems odd. However, since it does go on to say that the “holy, catholic, apostolic, Roman church” is the “the mother and mistress of all the churches”, you’re probably right. It means “Roman see” in this document.

        But that doesn’t make sense of Mr. Cross’s perspective that “Roman Catholic”, properly used, is reserved to the Latin Church. The “valid” use of Roman Catholic–the use accepted by the Catholic Church–is about the unity of Roman Catholicism, centered around Rome.

        So why wouldn’t it apply equally to Eastern Catholics? To all in union with the Bishop of Rome?

        • Jugulum,

          It’s interesting how you notice that while I didn’t. Yes, you are correct that the Eastern Rite churches are in union with the Roman Church, that’s not what is meant by Roman Catholic.

          While I can’t speak for Mr. Cross, I think the reason why “Roman Catholic” refers to the Latin (or Roman) Rite is that the Roman Catholic is considered a subset of Catholic as is Byzantine Catholic or Ukrainian Catholic. Roman Catholic just is more of a specific designation of Roman Rite.

          This is the way it was taught to me in high school way back when. I read the Newadvent link and while I understand it, have never taken offense to the term Roman Catholic.

          Regarding the Vatican I document, the Roman Church is considered catholic as it’s not just the “church in Rome” but rather the Roman See which governs the entire Catholic Church through her Bishops who are designated over every corner of the earth. I’ve heard it said–and haven’t verified–that there is a bishop over Antarctica.

  13. Dolan McKnight says

    “Even if we share the same faith and the same sacraments, until we are one in goverment, we are divided….full communion with the bishop of Rome is a necessary condtions for unity….My point here is that in order to go forward together, we must first look back together.”

    Let’s look back together. Firstly, however one interprets Jesus’ charge to Peter, Peter seems to be the head of the church of Jerusalem after Pentecost (James became the head of the church later), Peter is claimed to have been the head of the church in Antioch as well as later in Rome. This was sanctioned by the First Council of Nicea. How then does this give precedence to the bishop of Rome and not to one of the other two?

    Secondly, Paul certainly didn’t cut Peter any slack in Galatians, but he always gave deference to the leadership in Jerusalem, which seemed to be the case until the destruction of 70 A.D.

    Thirdly, the Council of Constantinople in 359 gave Rome the “prerogative of honor” and Constantinople the second place as the “New Rome.” This was reaffirmed at the Council of Chalcedon a hundred years not because of Peter, but because “the Fathers rightyl granted privilege to the throne of Rome because it was the royal city.” They then “gave equal privileges to the most holy throne of new Rome, justly judging that it was the city which was honored with the Sovereignty and the Senate…” Pope Leo I, who did not send any delegates to the council, protested this declaration because it did not include Alexandrai and Antioch as equals (although he also claimed supremacy for Rome)! (All sound like politics instead of theology to me.)

    Thereafter the four other members of the Pentarchy in the seventh and eighth centuries kept claiming equal rights for all five members in resistance to Rome’s increasing insistence on being number one. The final insult of Rome was when the Pope crowned Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in defiance of the Emperor of Constantinople and its patriarch.

    My point is that the church for a thousand years was ecumenical without recognizing the pope as having any greater authority than the other patriarchs. The patriarchs disagreed, fought, and philosophied as equals, but were able to believe they were one church. Unity was destroyed by Rome insisting on being number one, even when politically it was clearly not.

    Unity cannot occur

    • “The patriarchs disagreed, fought, and philosophied as equals, but were able to believe they were one church. Unity was destroyed by Rome insisting on being number one, even when politically it was clearly not. ”

      Agreed. Unity, with both Protestants and Orthodox, is going to be a problem for the RCC until it realizes the magnitude of that (Pope/authority) issue. Given the answers in the post today, I am not sure that degree is realized.

  14. Dear Mr. Cross,

    “because the differences are not merely first-order differences (i.e. within the same paradigm), but meta-level differences (i.e. not in the same paradigm). These are fundamental differences upon which all the others depend. That’s why examining Scripture together will only get us so far; it won’t resolve the schism because the schism is rooted in paradigmatic differences we bring to Scripture.”

    This is amazing, I never saw it this way, but what you say is absolutely true! A Catholic friend and I were arguing about the Reformation and Martin Luther’s critique against the Church and my friend just could absolutely not understand where Luther was coming from. Instead my friend reduced Luther’s profound problems with God’s law and righteousness as only some sort of personal psychological issue. I was really shocked to find out that there are many Christians (by these I mean many Catholics such as my friend) who really just cannot relate to Martin Luther. These “meta level” difference you describe are almost impossible barriers to overcome…

    Then again, I guess the same could be said of myself when it comes to relating to the Catholic view.

  15. “Even if we share the same faith, and the same sacraments, until we are one in government we are still divided.”
    It is the first two I’m worried about not the third. We Lutherans really don’t care about ecclesiastical government much. But we aren’t sure that we share the same faith. Especially when we show up on All saints day and here a sermon about how we need to get the souls out of purgatory.
    As said above. If the pope signs the Book of Concord….
    But this stuff about Peter being the greatest of the apostles is really well not very well founded. notice Jesus doesn’t actually give the keys in chapter 16, and when he does give them in Matthew 18, he gives them to the church, not to Peter alone.
    Then there is the whole Galatians bit.

  16. “I’m curious about this point. Would you maintain this in light of the quotations from Vatican I that James White recently posted, where the phrase “holy, catholic, apostolic and Roman church” was used?”

    What is peplexing you about “holy, catholic, apostolic and Roman church”? You mention James White; it is interesting that some of the most highly regarded apologists in some Protestant circles do not seem to have a reasonable grasp of Catholic terminologies. Take some time to research the difference between “Roman Catholic Church” and “Roman Church”. They are not the same. For a start, you can review this article about the origin of the term “Roman Catholic Church” from here:

    • See my above response to Dennis. I agree, I was misreading “holy, catholic, apostolic and Roman church”–it also means “Roman see”. There is still an issue with Bryan Cross’s distinction between Eastern Catholics and the Latin Church, however. (The quote from Cardinal Vaughan doesn’t support the idea that “Roman Catholic” in the Catholic-approved sense is reserved to the Latin Church.)

      To answer your question, the problem was that I was reading “holy, catholic, apostolic, Roman church” as saying, “The holy, catholic, apostolic church is Roman”. (I wouldn’t expect to see “holy, catholic, apostolic, Galatian church” or “holy, catholic, apostolic, Ephesian church”.) But since that very line continues with “the mother and mistress of all the churches”, you seem to be correct. I was misreading the terminology, as was Dr. White.

  17. Bryan, Thanks for the thoughtful posts.

    I have a couple questions.

    How do you think the Lutheran Reformation differs from the Reformed or other wings of the Protestant Reformation? Do you think the issues involved with unity in regard to the Lutherans differ in any way from those with the Reformed or others?

    On another track entirely- If what you say regarding the unity of the Church is true, the the Father has not honored the Son’s prayer for us to be one as they are one in well over a thousand years. Am I alone in thinking this is a problem?

    • Patrick,

      In case Bryan doesn’t weigh in, on your last question, Bryan mentioned one of these interview parts that the unity of Christ’s Church is not broken by schism because a schism is a break from the Church.

      The Orthodox schism 1,000 years ago was not the first one. Even in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries, many schisms has broken from the Church. If we took these as meaning that Christ and the Father couldn’t keep the Church in unity even for a few decades or a mere century, we would see more clearly that such an idea is flawed. Just because men disobeyed God and his Church and broken from her to form their own churches doesn’t mean that God is at fault or that his Church is fatally damaged.

      • Ahhh, the old “The Church is not torn asunder, it is whole and undefiled, the schismatics and heretics have left and split apart from the bride of Christ.”

        I suppose thats one way to look at it. But then why worry about unity at all? The heretics and “separated brethren” need to get serious and submit to the Bishop of Rome, meanwhile the Church suffers no real division but only appears to, if you consider the schismatics real Christians.

        • Judas betrayed Jesus and the other 11 Apostles. The Apostles and Jesus were hurt by his actions (though of course God wrought good from them). They no doubt wanted Judas to repent and turn back to God; he despaired instead.

          Analogously, the Church and her members are hurt, as is Christ, when someone rejects the Church and leaves via apostasy or leaves and joins a schismatic Church or Protestant Ecclesial Community. One can be a Christian and yet not be in full communion with Christ’s Church. It is sad that the person is outside of full communion but mitigated by the fact that they have the Holy Spirit and love of God in them and so are rightly called Christians.

          • Devin: you should take a breath and think how posts like the above come across to your protestant brothers. Think about it: did you REALLY mean to compare us to Judas the betrayer ?? On a personal level, I don’t mind that so much, my heart can be pretty rotten, but to make the theological and faith driven choices that the entire protestant community makes equivalent to selling Jesus out for $$$$……. are you SURE you want to go there ? You surprise me.

          • Hi Greg,

            I should have said “this is an IMPERFECT analogy” and it much more closely resembles someone apostasizing rather than a Protestant, who has not committed apostasy. The main point I wanted to make was that someone who goes into schism (as the original reformers did) hurts the Church, hurts Christ, and hurts his brothers and sisters. Arius, Novatus, Sabellius, etc. etc. all did so as well.

            Protestants who are reared in some form of Protestant Christianity are not culpable for the schism caused by Luther and the other reformers. Unitatis Redintegratio talks about this specifically and is very helpful.

            I apologize for my bad analogy. Apostasy vs. honestly following Christ though in a community which broke from full communion with the Church are two very different things.

          • The main point I wanted to make was that someone who goes into schism (as the original reformers did) hurts the Church, hurts Christ, and hurts his brothers and sisters. Arius, Novatus, Sabellius, etc. etc. all did so as well.

            I just had a peanut butter and blackberry sandwich and am feeling expansive (literally). I’m feeling good as I write this,and smiling: dude, you have backpedalled from an admittedly bad ananlogy into an equally bad comparison. You want to make Luther and Sabellius roomies at the same hotel ? I’m not Lutheran, but I’ll make my appeal once again (and I am NOT feeling some kind of personal affront here): IF you call your protestant co-confessors in the shed blood of the LAMB “Brother”, then be careful how you describe them: you are in fact related, family.

            As an aside, I’d say it is hard to ignore the great harm done by the RC in the time period you mention and come to the conclusion that the Reformers did greater harm. That’s a tough one to eat in one bite.

            I do envy your zeal.
            Greg R

          • Apologies again if I offended.

            Are some schisms (and schismatics) worse than others. Yes. To the Catholic Church, the Orthodox are in schism, and yet we still call them a Church with a capital ‘C’. They are our brothers in Christ, yes, but we still say they are in schism. They same the same thing about us. We both agree that the Church and Christ and all of us are hurt by this division. It is neither uncharitable nor untruthful to say so.

            I think Luther was a well-meaning Christian who saw real problems in the Church and wanted to reform it. The Donatists were well-meaning as well, desiring purity for the Church. I would give less benefit of the doubt to Arius and many other schismatics, but they all broke from the Church in schism.

            I have no problem agreeing with your last statements that members of the Catholic Church did great harm to Christ and the Church through their actions. They didn’t schism, but they failed to reform from within when they should have; they acted in worldly and not godly ways; they handled matters horribly and totally bungled crucial decisions; all of these things were bad.

            My only desire with the original comment was to respond to Patrick who rephrased what I said by saying “meanwhile the Church suffers no real division but only appears to.” I wanted to point out that the Church may remain in her essential unity yet be grieved to the core by the divisions caused by schism from her. That’s all.

            God bless Luther and you as well. That’s my final word on this matter–feel free to have the last word if you desire.

          • Devin: I appreciate your efforts at seeing things from my perspective; I was not offended, just taken back a little by some of your comparisons and descriptions. Within my picture of unity, these kinds of things (how we describe each other, are very important).

            God’s peace and rest on you and yours;
            Greg R

  18. Mr. Cross is certainly correct when he points out that one’s chosen (or culturally inherited) paradign plays a huge role in how one interprets scripture and church history. Personally, I tend to subscribe to the “drift” paradign when looking at church history — by which I mean that movements, religions, and institutions tend to drift away from the original intentions and designs of their founders through the course of time, outside influence, and happenstance. For example, when it comes to the church’s drift in leadership and government from a plurality of elders and apostles (each expected to follow Christ’s example as a servant leader), to the ascendency of regional bishops, to the rise of the Papacy, I see the church gradually moving toward and coming to immitate the prevailing model of government at the time — until it finally got married to the Roman government in the fourth century. And I think there were a myriad of factors involved, including the legitimate need for strong, centralized leadership in the face of various threats and persecutions, as well as man’s fallen tendency to both garner power and influence and to look to human agencies (rather than to God) as the source of authority. I believe that the drift principle has and continues to alter and transform just about every aspect of every branching and incarnation of the church. In some points of history change came quickly and dramatically, while in others it came very slowly. And I think a lot of scriptural interpretations amount to reading backwards through the lens of history in order to find justification or precedent for the present state of affairs.
    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hold a totally cynical view in which God’s hand is absent from church history. But I do believe the enemy’s hand has also been present, as well as our own preferences and prejudices.
    So how does one untie the knot of differing paradigns and historical and scriptural interpretations and choose the “correct” version of the church? Don’t ask me. I don’t even pretend to know. And maybe, just maybe, choosing the correct version of the church isn’t nearly as vital in the eyes of Christ as the propagators of religion make it out to be. Call me a heretic if you will, but I think the One who has been granted all authority in heaven and earth is free to serve as head, king, and high priest of any assembly of humans He so desires, regardless of their historical pedigree.
    I do believe that scripture is God-inspired. And I believe the NT writers gave us more than enough to move forward and function as the Body of Christ — if we keep our focus where they placed theirs. As for all the religious baggage, divisions, and arguments of church history, I’ll leave it up to better minds to untie those knots. In the meantime, I’ll regard as necessary or important only those things that scripture plainly indicates as necessary or important when it comes to the spiritual life and health of myself and my church family.

  19. Very simply, the hope for re-union of Christians is alive and kicking. For those who struggle with terminology and theology, take a look at what is happening here:
    you have a Southern Baptist blogger who has opened his doors and let us all in so that we could have a place to talk. And we are here. What are the odds of something like this ‘really happening’ in our world without the intervention of the Holy Spirit?

    You’ve got to look at it as I do: once we all get a taste of this dialoguing thing, there is no going back, only forward. Small steps, maybe, but steps. We can be amazed.

  20. Scott Miller says

    I find the Evangelical/Catholic converts who visit White Horse Inn and other places to have the same message, essentially “the Reformation resulted in the Church reforming at the Council of Trent and later at Vatican II. Now it is time for you Protestants to give up the schism and come back to the RCC”.
    Like papal church corruption and indulgences were the only issue. Luther in the Smalcald Articles had a great many more things to say. This article was originally to be taken by Luther-leaning followers to the council in Mantua, which was delayed and eventually became the Council of Trent.
    Luther railed about many things, including the discontinuation of the Mass (!), and, of course priests, marrying.
    The fact remains that unless we (Protestants) recant and return to the RCC, we are essentially viewed as not Christians, since salvation can only come through the Church.
    On another note, we have a significant amount of Evangelicals here in Wichita who convert not to the Catholic church, but to the Orthodox, for many of the same reasons that I have heard from ones that convert to RCC – permanence, tradition, and the essential beauty in the liturgy. I am not one of them, but there sure are alot of them. Most of them were Pentecostals or very fundamentalist Baptists.

    • “The fact remains that unless we (Protestants) recant and return to the RCC, we are essentially viewed as not Christians, since salvation can only come through the Church.”

      Actually, according to the Catechism we are viewed as Christians, and as a part of the Church, whether we know it or not; but unless we are in a state of “invincible ignorance” we are sinning by refusing to submit to the Church.

      If I put myself into “detached theologian” mode I understand what they are saying; if I am in normal mode, I find this highly patronizing and offensive.

      • “Invincible ignorance.”
        Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen those two words paired together. So, if ignorance is bliss, does invincible ignorance result in a blissful state that can never be altered or destroyed? And if so, how is that bad thing?

        • Technical terms there, RonP. I know I’m setting myself up for theologians and canonists to jump all over me, but here goes. Very roughly, invincible ignorance means ‘cannot accept or believe the requirements though making an effort in good faith’.

          It differs from culpable ignorance in that it isn’t someone sticking their fingers in their ears, their head in the sand, and saying “Don’t wanna know!” or deliberately saying “I don’t care if it’s true, I won’t believe it”.

          It’s an answer to “If someone genuinely cannot believe or understand – not deliberately refuses to investigate, or is convinced but will not change through pride or fear – but genuinely after making a reasonable attempt in all good faith, is he guilty or blameworthy or damned?” and it ties in with the part of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, where some say “But Lord, when did we see you… ” and are obviously surprised to have been saved 🙂

          It can’t be used as a defence or an excuse, for example ‘how was I supposed to know which God was the right one to worship?’ You’re supposed to make the effort to distinguish between Jesus and Krishna and Thor and Osiris and Zeus, for a start, not say “Oh, it’s all the same in the end, all religions mean the same thing deep down, and as long as I’m a good person, I’m okay.”

          • Thanks for clarifying that, Martha. I just saw the term in Wolf Paul’s post, and (not knowing what it meant) the combination of the two words just struck me as humorous.

  21. “From a Catholic point of view, even if the gospel had been hidden to some degree, schism from the Church Christ founded is never justified” — sometimes I think you scholars send to much sitting in your libraries , smoking your pipes(i imagine you smoke pipes). how can you say this? If you were in the peoples shoes in this time & the gospel was hidden from you & all of a sudden it was given to you wouldn’t you be good to take it??? what you think Jesus spend his time here on earth doing sharing the Good News or spreading the Joy of his Church structure???? Do you really believe these people spent their time reading & hearing all about the Council of trent???? they probably had no idea it even happen! Why would they concern themselves with these admittedly corrupt POLITICAL leaders???? schisms happen, they happen naturally, sometimes due to human mistakes & corruption. Anabaptists who i identify with were not flawless many considered the Pope to be the anti-chirst, of course i disagree, but than again our current pope is not trying to burn me @ the stake! There is unity to be made in the Chirstian world. our unity is Jesus & his gospel. I LOVE many Catholics, few i believe would say the quote from above. Let us unite in his Love!!!!!
    peace in chirst