Learning from Catholicism

Learning from Catholicism October 7, 2015

“The differences between these two major types of Christianity, at the present time, involve contradictions,” wrote Avery Dulles in The Catholicity of the Church. “Full unity cannot be achieved by convergence alone but only by conversion.”

Dulles believed that the necessary conversion could only take place if each church engaged the other: “each ecclesial body must both give and receive the greatest measure of enrichment and correction that it can through mutual witness and dialogue.”

Nor surprisingly, Dulles believed Catholics have something to teach Protestants: “the Catholic Church, with her greater attention to the structures of mediation, has a role to perform not only for her own members but also on behalf of Protestant Christianity. She can call attention to the danger that, where the proper sacramental and ministerial structures are lacking, the Christian substance is likely to be dissolved or at least attenuated by subjectivism, relativism, individualism, and secularism.”

I think Dulles is right, and Protestants ought to listen. But of course, the problems start when we start asking what is “proper.” Here is his summary of how Catholics answer the question: “Roman Catholicism, committed to the principle of visible and symbolic mediation, is convinced that any church lacking the full sacramental, hierarchical, and dogmatic structures, including the papacy as defined at the two Vatican councils, is institutionally deficient.”

That, for Protestants, is part of what Catholics have to convert from.


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