On Unity Within the Catholic Church
From The Catholic Religion by Vernon Staley, unabridged edition, pages 62-66
…The divisions between East and West, and between Rome and England, may be described in St. Paul’s language as “schism in the body,” rather than schism from it. No one of these three portions of the Catholic body lost any of the essentials of Church unity; – the possession of the apostolic succession, the divinely-appointed sacraments, the creeds, and the moral law. 1
There is good reason to believe that the divisions in the Church are of such a nature, that her organic unity through union with Christ and the indwelling of his Holy Spirit, has not been broken. There is such a thing as internal unity, as well as external unity. We believe that external unity may be broken, whilst internal unity remains undisturbed; or as Dr. Pusey puts it, that “suspended inter-communion alone does not destroy unity.”
These divisions in the body are of the nature of serious wounds, rather than of amputation of limbs. They are as deep fissures or cracks upon the surface of the earth, which do not separate the earth into two or more worlds. We may regard the divisions in the Church under the figure of a serious quarrel amongst brothers, by which the natural bond of a common parentage is not broken. Brothers may be disunited, but they remain brothers still.
The only thing which can mortally affect the unity of the Church, is the loss of any of the essential links ordained by our Lord to keep us united to himself. We may believe that nothing was done in either of the cases we are considering, to cut off any of the portions of the Catholic church from Jesus Christ.
At present the Eastern, the Roman, and the Anglican portions of the Church, make up the Catholic body – the Universal Church. 2
“The Church is to be regarded as the divinely-ordained organ and keeper of doctrine and the means of grace, and as standing or falling by the apostolic succession. And this can only be found in the three great Churches whose continuity has never been interrupted, – the Western, and Eastern, and English, these three together make up the true universal Church. The body of the Church, one in origin, has in course of time, through the sin of man, by divine permission, become divided into three great branches – outwardly separated, but inwardly united – which, when the right time is come, will grow together again into one tree, overshadowing the world with its foliage.” 3
No one of these three communions forms the whole Church, but is only a part. If a mirror was broken into three pieces, and the largest of these, having had its edges cut straight, was separately framed, this newly-framed portion would have a unity if its own, but not the unity of the original mirror; it would represent such an unity as is exhibited by the Roman Catholic Church at the present time.
Each of the three portions of the Church possesses, as we have said, the creeds, the order of bishops apostolically consecrated, and, with the bishops, the sacraments or channels of grace, by which members of the Church are united to Christ the center of unity. Though outwardly separated, the Church is inwardly one, – the body of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Ghost, the Life-Giver. These divisions of which we have been speaking are exceedingly sad; – they are sad, as being contrary to the mind of our blessed Lord, expressed in his great Eucharistic intercession the night before He died; – they are sad, as hindering the spread of the gospel, and the conversion of the world to Christ; – they are sad as a ground of perpetual reproach.
It is our duty to possess a spirit desirous of re-union, and to keep up such a spirit by earnest prayer, and it all ways of speech and feeling as ever ready for re-union when the path shall be open to us. The touching words at the conclusion of Dr. Pusey’s third and last Eirenicon are worthy of record, and with them we will bring the sorrowful chapter to a close, –
“But we are children of common fathers, of those who, after having shown with the light of God within them upon earth, and having set on a candlestick which shall never be hid the clear light of their inherited faith, now shine like stars in the kingdom of their Father. Sons of the same fathers, we must in time come to understand each other’s language….Evil days and trial-times seem to be coming up on the earth. Faith deepens, but unbelief too becomes more thorough. Yet what might not God do to check it, if those who own one Lord and one faith were again at one, and united Christendom should go forth bound in one by love – the full flow of GOD’s Holy Spirit unhemmed by any of those breaks, or jars, or manglings – to win all to his love whom we all desire to love, to serve, to obey. To have removed one stumbling-block would be worth the labor of a life. But He alone, the author of peace and the lover of concord, can turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers. ‘O Lord. in the midst of the years revive thy work; in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.'” 4
Prayer for Unity
O Lord Jesus Christ, who saidst unto thine apostles, Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto; regard not our sins, but the faith of thy Church; and grant her that peace and unity which is agreeable to thy will, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
1 “The communion of Christians one with another, and the unity of them altogether, lie, not in a mutual understanding, intercourse, and combination, not in what they do in common, but in what they are and have been common, in their possession of the succession, their episcopal form, their apostolical faith, in the use of the sacraments. Mutual intercourse is but an accident of the Church, not its essence.” Newman, Tract 90, page 12
2 “Unknown in face, in place separate, different in language, opposed, alas! in some things to one another, still before the throne of God they are One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church.” Pusey, Eirenicon I, page 57
3 Döllinger, The Reunion of the Churches, pp133,134
4 page 342