“One body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father of us all” — Eph. 4: 4-6
Every ecclesial community brings its tradition(s) to bear in the exegesis and understanding of Scripture. Even independent Protestant Fundamentalist pastors and larger Protestant denominations employ their traditions [i.e., their received community understanding of texts] as a normative principle in biblical interpretation, and indeed often split from each other on that account.
The question is whether one’s interpretive tradition (including the sacramental) stretches back in essential organic continuity with all of the Fathers to the time of Our Lord, or whether one’s traditions emerge only very late and disappear as one goes backwards in time to the early Church.
Sacred tradition in the Catholic sense simply sets the boundaries of genuine interpretation, outside of which one is bound to stray.
That the Church was from the beginning one mystical body replete with the gift of bishops, presbyters, sacraments and one body of received teachings centered around the Eucharist is clear from the New Testament record itself; and Christians were admonished not to be seduced from this one body of tradition by false teachers and private interpretations. (Gal.1:7,8)
Protestants and Other Friends Want to Know
This one Church of Christ and Faith, the Church Fathers have always insisted, must then include three certainties according to Catholic theology:
1. She must go back in time to Our Lord; she cannot disappear as one traces history backwards in time, as do the interpretive traditions and ecclesial structures of Luther, Calvin, Photius, etc.
2. She must always have had the same essential doctrines, sacraments and government, though it will surely have developed, but only from implicit to more explicit as heresies arose. No new doctrines, teaching structures, etc.
3. While she will have always suffered and survived great persecutions and assaults, she must experience the most terrible and unprecedented apostasy, many ‘falling away’ from the Faith (2 Thess 2:1-4) before the Second Coming of Our Lord, a great evil unleashed leaving in the end a global Eucharistic remnant of Catholic believers (Lk 18:8) in union with Peter’s successor, though there is no knowing how long the time of apostasy will last. (1)(2)
We recall that Judas among the Twelve did not negate the truth of Christ but affirmed it, precisely in betraying it.
This great apostasy can only happen to the true Church of Christ, fulfilling #’s 1 &2 above, and is further proof of the divine constitution of the Church which is destined for persecutions (Rev 12) especially near the end of time.
And while there will be this great “falling away,” an apostasy from the faith near the end of time, the Church will always remain a worldwide remnant of believers who maintain that same unchanged faith with the Holy Father (Peter) and his bishops (apostolic succession). The Church’s sacraments and offices cannot be annihilated even by apostasy and persecution. These will always be supplied and occupied according to the will and promise of Christ Himself (Mt 28:19f) (2).
In the New Testament there is no apostolic college without Peter as its earthly head under Christ(2). The gift of infallibility is simply the Promise of the Holy Spirit (Jn chs 14-17) to recall to the Church “all” things in time, so that she will never officially depart from the apostolic Faith. Peter only very rarely exercises this charism when a doctrine is threatened from within or without. A Pope’s personal opinions, which may or may not conflict with sacred tradition, are of no lasting consequence.
False Teachers Within and Without
St Paul says of false teachers of every age, “having itching ears they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim 4:3); this means that there cannot be a cacophany of churches with different doctrines but only one unchangeable body and doctrine, one “household of faith” (2 Tim 3:15), the one Catholic (i.e, universal) Church “which is the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15) existing from the time of Jesus Himself with Peter as its earthly head under Christ (Mt 16:18f) from which one must never depart. One could multiply text upon text.
Apostolic Hierarchical Succession
When Paul says “lay hands on no man suddenly” (1 Tim 5:22) he was indicating the unbroken apostolic episcopal hierarchical succession. From the time of our Lord until the end of time there will ever be only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” just as there is only “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:5-6). When the same apostle declared an “anathema” on those who departed from the one body of dogma / doctrine “received,” (Gal 1:7-10) he showed forever that doctrinal coherence abides in the Church and that a chaos of churches was not possible, except as apostasy intrudes.
Protestantism is not “one” thing but many, amounting to the Catholic mind as a wild doctrinal incoherence, conflicting bodies which do not agree what Christian doctrine or praxis is or means, and therefore does not ‘fit the bill’ of one Faith in unity through history, and must be ruled out ahead of time, a latecomer to the religious scene in salvation and ecclesial history. Catholics cannot accept that God was inactive in history, or the Church a chaos and dispersed, until Photius or Martin Luther appeared very late. Church history precludes such a notion a priori.
Protestant bodies find unity in one thing, a negative, in that they reject Catholicism, and in so doing join the world in this.
The Protestant confessions will often differ, de facto, from one another on the meaning of baptism, and the meaning of sacraments in general, the Eucharist especially, on the meaning of the Cross, atonement, the teachings and Person of Jesus; also on election, what it means to be “saved,” the nature of holiness and sanctification, the meaning and implications of grace and free will, on what it means to be “born again,” eschatology, general interpretation of biblical texts, etc., etc.
The same is true of other bodies which did not persevere but broke off from the Church over time.
“You cannot put a book in the witness-box and ask it what it really means. The Fundamentalist controversy itself destroys Fundamentalism. The Bible by itself cannot be a basis of agreement when it is a cause of disagreement…” —G.K. Chesterton
The novelist Evelyn Waugh, an English convert to Catholicism, referred to Protestantism as “chips off the old Block”.
Justification by faith alone is not even a biblical doctrine (ct.James 2:24, etc.). Which is why Luther was tempted to throw the epistle of James into the stove. And faith, like efforts towards sanctification, is not a work. It is a response to grace. “Works” in Ephesians ch. 2 and elsewhere has reference to the Jewish works of the Law prior to the New Covenant, as the entire Pauline context shows. Circumcision was a controversial case in point, as well as keeping the Hebrew Sabbath, etc.
But having stated all this, there is very much Catholics and Protestants can do together as neighbors in this world apart from any irenic spirit, especially works of mercy, pleading on behalf of the poorest of the poor, the unborn, the sick, the weak and meek who may be the victims of injustice anywhere; and to work for peace in the world and against all unjust wars.
As neighbors and friends we are called to love one another and to will only the good for each other and for all. — SH
(1). Cf. Fr. Francisco Radecki’s summary of patristics on these certainties, Tumultuous Times, St. Joseph’s Media, Wayne, Michigan. 2004 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church #675
(2) “The Lord made St. Peter the visible foundation of his Church. He entrusted the keys of the Church to him. The bishop of the Church of Rome, successor to St. Peter, is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth (CCC936). The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. [Mt 16:18-19; Jn 21:15-17]
“Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; [Mk 3:16; 9:2; Lk 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5] Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Our Lord then declared to him: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” [Mt 16:18] Christ, the “living Stone”, [1 Pt 2:4] thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it [Lk 22:32] (CCC552).
“Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Mt 16:19] The “power of the keys” designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: “Feed my sheep” [Jn 21:15-17; 10:11].
The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles [Mt 18:18] and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom. (CCC553).”—comparingviews.com
— For a comprehensive study of papal primacy in the early Church in one volume see Upon This Rock by Stephen K. Ray, 1999 Ignatius Press, San Francisco. Amazon.
— The Catholic Mass 155 AD
2.) The Catechism of the Catholic Church on “The Church’s ultimate trial”:
“675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.
676 The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.
677 The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.”
— See also Our Blessed Mother in the Order of Grace