Thursday, 20 March 2008

Unity & Catholicism

I was having a little mental ramble a while ago, and I thought I'd blog it, just because.

I went to the U-nite ecumenical prayer event, which was more of a U-evnin' this year. It was pleasant enough, and it's good that something ecumenical happens at the University (for the city, one of the more visible things is the Good Friday Walk of Witness, which this year has been re-branded the Exeter Passion Play by well-intentioned zeitgeist yoofy people) but it was a bit limp. The Christian Union has a habit of ignoring it - draw your own conclusions - which I think is a pretty important factor. So I was thinking about unity and ecumenism, and that for the benefit of the CU it would probably be best to use something scripturally heavy-handed to encourage them to come along, and it reminded me of these verses:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? - 1 Cor 1:10-13
The bit in bold (my emphases, obviously) struck me the last time I read it. Whenever the subject of ecumenism comes up in a mixed-denominational setting, someone is always at pains to point out that we all follow Christ and that's the important thing. It's good that we all follow Christ of course, but I think it does tend to get used as an excuse for not seeking unity. I think it would be over-egging the pudding to suggest that we can't all call ourselves Christians, but it certainly doesn't seem to be getting a lot of approval from St. Paul. C.S. Lewis, as I don't doubt most of you know, wrote a very good little book called Mere Christianity on the core of Christian belief, but he took the time to say that it couldn't end there, likening it to a hallway from which it was necessary to choose a room (or presumably get in the way of the cleaners). And it's quite possible to use mere Christianity as a vehicle for smugness - it depends on the individual of course, but it's possible for "But we're all Christian." to be quite as self-satisfied as "I'm sure it's true for you."

I thought of a nice parallel too - at least I liked it:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. - Rm 6:1-4
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. - Eph 4:1-6
In the same way that Christians have died to sin, yet are commanded not to sin, Christians have unity in Christ, yet must seek unity:
["]Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. [...] I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.["] - Jn 17:11,20-23
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul[.] - Acts 4:32
I was thus reminded of how "catholic" is a very good word, as and when "Christian" doesn't seem to be delivering the goods, for it derives from the Greek kata and holou (genitive of holos, as in "holistic" and "holocaust" - a sacrifice burnt whole), meaning 'according to the whole'. In other words, it has unity built in, something which might be slightly less apparent from the briefer definition of "universal". This is a reason that you'll never hear me describing myself as a Roman Catholic; it doesn't make any sense. It's like proposing a Mancunian universe - just silly. I'm quite happy with English Catholic, because I am in fact English, but you can't put an imaginary hyphen between the two adjectives. Our head office is in Rome, but Catholicism is a property of existence, not a city-state within Italy.

It also occured to me that I can't think of another Christian group that takes as its appellation on of the notes of the Church as set out in the Nicene Creed (one, holy, catholic, apostolic).

I think I've done.
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