"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

On the catholic visible Church

Recently Joel Garver posted an article titled "Of the church visible" in which he shows from the history of the Westminster Assembly that the Westminster Confession affirms that there is one catholic visible Church. I have argued here and here that given Protestant ecclesiology, necessarily there can be no such thing as a catholic visible Church. Only if there is a Catholic Church can there be such a thing as a catholic visible Church. In short, either one must affirm that the visible Church is the Catholic Church, or one must give up the notion of a catholic visible Church.

Here I wish to consider another objection to my claim that Protestant ecclesiology cannot support its affirmation of the catholic visible Church. That objection is that the catholic visible Church is an actual unity (and not a mere conceptual unity) because believers are all joined to Christ. Since Christ is one, therefore, goes the objection, all those who are joined to Him are one. Therefore all embodied believers are one, since they are all joined to Christ. And therefore the catholic visible Church is an actual unity, and not a mere conceptual unity.

One problem with this objection is that while it provides a ground for the union of *all* believers (embodied and disembodied) it fails to unify the subset of embodied believers, i.e. the catholic visible Church. The catholic visible Church would then simply be an arbitrary subset of the invisible Church, i.e. the subset consisting of all those believers embodied at time t. In other words, the catholic visible Church per se would still be a mere conceptual unity. The actual catholic Church (since there can be only one catholic Church) would be the invisible Church.

Another problem with this objection is that given the position that the catholic visible Church is an actual unity because each embodied person is joined directly to Christ, "institutional aspects" or "institutional dimensions" in the catholic visible Church would be entirely irrelevant to the unity of the catholic visible Church. Moreover, schisms between individual embodied believers (or between congregations) would in themselves have absolutely no effect on the unity of the catholic visible Church, since [in Protestant ecclesiology] schisms between embodied believers (and between congregations) do not in themselves detach individuals (or congregations) from union with Christ.

One implication of there being no catholic visible Church is that baptism cannot incorporate a person into the catholic visible Church. Either baptism would incorporate a person into the invisible Church, or baptism would simply make a person a member of the mere conceptual unity of the set of baptized embodied persons.

But if the catholic visible Church is the Catholic Church, then it makes sense that those "who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church." (CCC 838)

1 comment:

The Scylding said...

I've written some more on the godel argument over at my blog, if you're interested....