Cracks in the Wall

Foto courtesy of funeralStock

Many who live and work in the palaces of the Roman Catholic Church would have us believe that there is unity within Catholicism; that Catholic religious all march in lockstep. While the more honest of Catholic spokesmen may admit there are a few priests and nuns who march to a different drummer, they will insist that even these hold to the party line on dogmas and disagree only in matters of discipline. Of course, little mention is made of the Catholic laity who, after all, really appear to be not terribly important in the RCC scheme of things. Lay Catholics are expected to believe what they are told to believe and do as they are told to do. Beyond that, so long as they continue to volunteer their services and offerings to the Church, the Catholic machine is expected to operate smoothly.

Now and then, however, the Roman Juggernaut encounters a pothole in the road to world domination. When this happens, Mother Church reacts swiftly to minimize damage and fix anything that was broken. In ancient times, when the Holy See enjoyed worldly power and influence over secular rulers, damage control sometimes involved application of draconian measures. In the violent period known as the Dark Ages, excommunication not infrequently was sealed by fire and sword.

Not only were individuals excommunicated for holding beliefs not in line with those held by Rome; entire populations of villages, towns and cities and even nations at times were set outside the pale. The 4th Ecumenical Council, for example, excommunicated the heretic Eutychus, in the fifth century. The Franks were excommunicated in the 8th Century for not accepting the Seventh Ecumenical Synod.

When a heretic or group of heretics is excommunicated, they no longer are numbered among the ranks of Roman Catholic faithful. Excommunication of those who will not agree with RCC dogmas results in a church membership that, in essence, is fully in agreement with the dogmas and doctrines of Mother Church. Sure, there are a few variations in practice, but nothing so significant as to constitute a crack in the wall of monolithic Catholicism.

It is not always the Roman Catholic Church that casts out dissidents. At times, though I am sure those who would defend Mother Church at all costs will disagree, it was the Roman Church leaders or her doctrines that were cast out. Among such occasions were the Great Schism and the Eastern Schism. Cracks in the walls of Fortress Rome.

In the first millennium of Roman Catholicism there were 37 so-called antipopes. These pretenders to Peter's Throne were sometimes supported by fractional or dissident groups of clergy and faithful. Some were raised up by heretical, schismatic or political groups and a few were placed on the throne by secular rulers. Bearing in mind that it is the winners who write the histories, these antipopes were declared to have been false popes. I do not doubt that, should any one or more of the 37 losing contestants have been winners in their struggles for power, they would have been declared canonically elected and legitimate members of that mythical unbroken succession of popes stretching from Peter to the present. In any event, the fact that antipopes rose to power at all points to more cracks in the walls of monolithic Roman Catholicism.

Even today, cracks are to be seen in the pretended religious monolith that is the Roman Catholic Church. A few groups intrude into public consciousness every now and then. There are the Feeneyites, adherents to some of the doctrines of excommunicated priest Leonard Feeney, who held a hard line on extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church there is no salvation). FYI, Feeney eventually was "un-excommunicated."

There is the Society of St. Pius X, which has been labeled by some of today's more liberal Catholics as sectarian, schismatic, disobedient and fundamentalist. A few RCC apologists have informed me that the Society has been excommunicated. This is not the case, though its bishops reportedly are considered by the Holy See to be excommunnicated and its priests are suspended from priestly duties.. The Society has been under virtually unrelenting attack by liberal modernists in the RCC because of its rigid holding to the Latin Tridentine Mass and rejection of the Novus Ordo Mass, but it has not been excommunicated. More cracks in the single pillar that is Roman Catholicism.

The Old Catholics have enjoyed virtual autonomy within Catholicism from as far back as 1145 AD. This church, by papal concession in 1520, is not in submission to the Roman Catholic Pope. It is organized in the USA along the lines of the church of Ignatius of Antioch -- a local and regional model of administration with self-governing dioceses and provinces. It most assuredly is Catholic, though some RCC polemics may not agree. In 1823, Old Catholic Archbishop Willibrord van Os of Utrecht made it clear: "We accept without any exception whatever, all the Articles of the Holy Catholic Faith. We will never hold nor teach, now or afterwards, any other opinions than those that have been decreed, determined and published by our Mother, Holy Church..." More cracks in the wall of monolithic Catholicism.

Fringe groups, some of which do not enjoy, nor even claim to have, the approval of the Holy See, represent other cracks that can be seen in the Roman Catholic ivory tower. One of the more interesting of these groups is the White-Robed Monks of St. Benedict. This group is more concerned with Catholic spirituality than religion, per se. They are not Roman Catholic, nor Orthodox Catholic, nor Old Catholic nor even Orthodox Catholic. They are just Catholic, they say. Their priests are drawn from the other Catholic jurisdictions. The White-Robed Monks of St. Benedict claim to be guided by the documents of Vatican II and Sacred Scripture. Their doctrine is essentially based on the suggestion of St. Vincent of Lerins':

Let us hold to what has been believed everywhere, always and by all, for that is truly and properly catholic.

Their ecumenical tradition is summed up in the words of Peter Meiderline (and maybe Augustine of Hippo):

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

Have you ever heard of the American Catholic Union? It is an association of independent (Old) Catholic priests, organized as a California non-profit, tax-exempt religious corporation for the purpose, they say, of furthering the work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. According to their mission statement, they are:

open to brotherly cooperation with other churches and associations with similar aims and dedication. We are also dedicated to providing our expertise in organization and computer technology to other Old and Independent Catholic jurisdictions who need and want them. By working together, we can make the ideal of "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church" come true.

The mission statement of the Old Catholic Church in North America reads:

The Old Roman Catholic Church in North America, a present day successor of the historic Catholic Church and its undivided apostolic Faith, is committed to the life-long process of developing the individual's personal relationship with God. Realizing the frailty and fallen nature of humanity, the Old Roman Catholic Church in North America proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Word, Sacrament and Service. Further, the Church proclaims the teachings of the historic undivided Church as expressed by the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The Church also affirms the primacy of conscience and the formation of right conscience. Mindful of the present divisions within the Body of Christ, the Old Roman Catholic Church in North America remains faithful to the teachings of Our Lord concerning the peace and unity of the Kingdom of God, and is therefore aware of its role in furthering ecumenical relationships. -- © The Old Roman Catholic Church in North America.

There are many, many more of these cracks in the fantasy of monolithic Roman Catholicism. Those who defend the banner of Rome against all comers will likely argue that those groups that do not cleave fully to the RCC party line but still are in submission to the pope merely differ on matters of discipline and, in some cases at least, they would be correct. Those groups that differ significantly from the RCC way of doing business, they will tell us, are not really Catholic, in that their disobedience to basic RCC dogmas has resulted in their having been excommunicated latae sentencia.

Catholic polemics now and then raise the argument that Roman Catholicism has been around for 2000 years (which is, of course, not at all true) and is the True Church, uniting Christians (read Catholics) in a single body. This is followed by a reminder that there are 28,000 (more or less) “Protestant denominations.” It indeed is true that there are a great many non-Catholic professing Christian churches, not all of which are truly Christian nor even separate denominations. It is not true that there are even close to 28,000 Protestant denominations. It also is not true, however, that Roman Catholicism is a single, monolithic body.

Churches, churchmen and apologists may and do lie, but the Bible is God's revelation to man. Seek unchanging truth there.

Home | More Apologetics | Catholic Stuff | My Delphi Forum
(C) 1994-2011 Ron Loeffler