By Kennedy Hall
Unity is an important part of the Christian life. We are part of the Mystical Body of Christ, thus unity between members is paramount when we consider the optimal functioning of the Church. There is a true spiritual reality between Christ and His Church, and the Body to which we belong is not simply a metaphor. However, the imagery of the Body is helpful in understanding what we might call the Christian Organism.
And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell. And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell (Mt. v. 29-30).
Christ in this passage teaches us that we must avoid the near occasion of sin, and that we should flee or avoid these occasions when they appear. Arbitrary self-mutilation is of course sinful, but if we see sin for the disease that it is, then we must metaphorically sever the diseased tissue or limb. By no means do we as laymen have the authority to anathematize anyone, and we should not pass public judgement on a person as if we were in charge of their standing in the Church. However, we must recognize the truth above all, and unity must ultimately be with Him Who is Truth, even if a superficial unity with persons or organizations might be strained.
In The Charitable Anathema, esteemed philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand puts forth the following statement about the lamentable state of affairs in the post Vatican II world:
The valuing of unity over truth plays a central role in the crisis of the Church; for the Church of Christ—the Holy, Roman, Catholic, Apostolic Church—is based on this fundamental principle: the absolute primacy of divine truth, which is the very primacy of God.
The eminent Catholic scholar means to say that the so-called Ecumenism that comes forth from the Spirit of Vatican II is often misguided. While it is a good thing to seek organizational unity within the Church and with non-catholic Christians, this unity can only come from a true unity with Christ. Unfortunately, many have reduced the dogmatic demands for true unity with Christ, and therefore have carelessly eschewed the essential truth that unity with the Roman Catholic Church is unity with Jesus Christ.
Pope Pius XII dealt with this error in Humani Generis:
Some say they are not bound by the doctrine, explained in Our Encyclical Letter of a few years ago, and based on the Sources of Revelation, which teaches that the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing. Some reduce to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation (27).
Pope Pius XII, of holy memory, condemns the separation of the Mystical Body of Christ from the Catholic Church. Furthermore, there can be no contradiction between the Mystical Body and the Lord Jesus Christ. For instance, one cannot remain part of the Mystical Body of Christ in the truest sense while denying infallible doctrine. To deny infallible doctrine, i.e. the Teaching Authority of the Church, would be like rejecting the Mystical Body, which is a problem to say the least.
Pope Pius XII deals with this reality in the aforementioned document:
In theology some want to reduce to a minimum the meaning of dogmas; and to free dogma itself from terminology long established in the Church and from philosophical concepts held by Catholic teachers, to bring about a return in the explanation of Catholic doctrine to the way of speaking used in Holy Scripture and by the Fathers of the Church. They cherish the hope that when dogma is stripped of the elements which they hold to be extrinsic to divine revelation, it will compare advantageously with the dogmatic opinions of those who are separated from the unity of the Church and that in this way they will gradually arrive at a mutual assimilation of Catholic dogma with the tenets of the dissidents (14, Emphasis mine).
In essence the Pope is explaining that unity is truly predicated on unity of dogma, and not a mere superficial unity of association. Again, a layman is not in a position to decide whether a person shares true unity with the Church, however, we must be as wise as serpents when assessing theological propositions or organizations that claim Catholic identity, yet seem out of step with orthodoxy.
Often, we look for unity in a superficial manner. We assume that if the word Catholic is present, then there must be a unity of purpose. Unfortunately, the word Catholic can be attached to very anti-Catholic realities, as when a pro-abortion politician appeals to his Catholicity to gain voters. In addition, we confuse unity with uniformity. True unity requires an unyielding loyalty to Jesus Christ and the Deposit of Faith, among other things. At times we may confront the very real possibility that appeasing uniformity with groups or individuals, may strain our unity with Truth. For example, Saint Athanasius was forced to operate in an extra juridical sense, by the letter of the law that is; yet, in unity with the true spirit of the law, he acted justly in continuing his priestly ministry in a time of great crisis.
We must be careful, as unity is highly important, but it is unity with the Truth Who is a Person which must hold primacy. Many a prideful man has erroneously set himself up as a personal magisterium, which has led to disaster. However, this happens when a man claims something in opposition to the Tradition. To resist uniformity with abstract novelty is not to resist true unity with the Church.
In these difficult and confusing times for Catholics, be prudent about where your unity lies.
Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity (Mt. vii. 22-23).
Kennedy Hall is a Catholic High School teacher, rugby coach, and part time writer on Catholic topics. He has written for the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation, Serviam Ministries and the Fatima Center. He teaches Catholic Religion courses to French Immersion students and also speaks Spanish and Italian. Kennedy has spoken at various youth events, as well as on the topic of true Catholic masculinity. He has a passion for the Traditional Latin Mass and the restoration of traditional piety. A prodigal son, he was brought back into the Church with the help of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and prays for the day that all men depend on the Blessed Mother. He lives with his wife and 4 children in Stratford, Ontario. Follow him @kennedyhall.