Only One Catholic Church?
ASK any good Catholic, “How many Catholic Churches are there?” And he will no doubt proudly and promptly reply, “There is but ONE Catholic Church.” And then, perhaps, with a bit of pride for his own church, he will point at Protestantism, as did The New Mission, book of the Redemptorist fathers, sold in Toronto, Canada, and say: “Protestantism is split into countless wrangling sects. The few remnants of Christianity that hide the leprosy of heresy are wearing away, and the grinning skeleton of infidelity appears in all its blasphemous deformity!” But not the Catholic Church. She is one. As one Catholic zealot wrote: “For over 1900 years there has been only one Catholic denomination. The Catholic Church has as its visible head His Holiness, the Pope, whose proclamations on matters of faith and morals are infallible. The word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal’, and throughout the world there is ONE CATHOLIC CHURCH!”a Such wild assertions are often made because they are seldom challenged.
True, Protestantism is divided into more than 250 different ways; but what about Catholicism? Is there truly just one Catholic Church? If it be right and proper for Catholics to point out the “countless wrangling sects” in Protestantism, surely it is just as proper to do the same with Catholicism. If Catholics find it expedient to warn one of the “grinning skeleton of infidelity” of Protestantism, it should be just as expedient for Catholics to be warned of the “blasphemous deformity” of Catholicism. “For with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged, and with the measure that you are measuring out they will measure out to you. Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother: ‘Allow me to extract the straw from your eye’; when, look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! first extract the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to extract the straw from your brother’s eye.”—Matt. 7:2-5, NW.
It is an easy thing for Catholics to see the strawlike divisions in Protestantism, but they appear totally blind to the rafterlike divisions in Catholicism. These raftersize divisions in the eye of Catholicism are indelibly recorded in history, “before whom we—even his holiness Pius IX—must prostrate ourselves and be silent and bow our heads. That dictator is history. This is not like a legend, which can be made as the potter makes his clay, but is like a diamond which cuts on the glass what cannot be cancelled,” said Bishop Strossmayer. It is before this “dictator” that the frequent Catholic assertions about there being only one Catholic Church must stand or fall.
Does history show there to be but one Catholic Church? Did not the eleventh-century separation leave Catholicism divided between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox sectors, and the Reformation leave Continental Europe and the British Isles divided between Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed Churches, with further divisions as denominationalism increased? Are there not Eastern Orthodox Catholics? Old Catholics? Liberal Catholics? Polish National Catholics? Or are we to assume that these religions existed side by side with the Roman Catholic Church down through the centuries? Is not Protestantism itself an offshoot of Catholicism? Roman Catholicism not only is divided into many directions as spokes in a wheel, but also is a center of a great magnetic force drawing in every kind of pagan knickknack into her fold by calling them “Christian”. The Roman Church, instead of being a one-way highway, is a highway of many lanes, divided and subdivided, named and renamed, intermingled with an endless chain of confusing traditions, relics, idolatries, and formalisms.
MORE THAN ONE CHURCH
History testifies that with the organization of the Papacy after A.D. 440 the great schism between the Latin and the Greek parts of the Roman world began to develop. Up to this time the church in the West, centered at Rome, and the church in the East, with headquarters in Byzantium, were one church. But there were certain basic differences which made for confusion. Racially, socially, linguistically, mentally, morally and philosophically there were deep gulfs between the two. The East was Greek in blood and in speech; the West was Latin. The conflict deepened between the East and West.
Ignatius in Constantinople refused to administer the sacrament to Caesar Bardas, knowing he was immoral. At the Council of St. Sophia, Photius bitterly condemned the Latin Church for adding the word “filioque” to the Nicene Creed. On this point the Handbook of Denominations, by F. S. Mead, says: “The Eastern Church held that the holy spirit proceeded directly from the Father; the Western Church held that it came from the Father and the Son—filioque. Political and ecclesiastical jealousies fanned the flame, the pope excommunicated the patriarch and the patriarch excommunicated the pope, and the result of the long friction was that there were two churches, Eastern and Western, instead of one.” No longer one church but two. The New World, Chicago’s official Catholic paper, has this to say regarding this break: “An orthodox Catholic is a member of either the Russian or Greek Orthodox church which broke away from the Church of Rome in the year 1054. They deny the supremacy of authority of Our Holy Father, the Pope, and likewise Papal infallibility. . . . According to Catholic teaching, they are considered to be in schism. Their clergymen have valid orders, and the administration of Sacraments in this Church are valid. They number about 45,000,000, and are the second largest Christian body in the world.”
The Eastern Orthodox Churches reject the teaching of the surplus merits of the saints and the doctrine of indulgences. The use of carved images, except for the crucifix, is forbidden. Purgatory is denied. In the Roman Catholic Church all beneficed clergy must be celibate, whether they are in monastic order or not. In the Orthodox Church those who are engaged in parochial work must be married, though they are debarred from the higher offices. Another striking difference is found in the administration of the mass, for the Roman Catholic Church allows the laity to partake of the bread only, the wine being reserved for the clergy, while in the Orthodox Church both elements are received by the laity. Further, in the Orthodox Church the elements may be administered to infants immediately after baptism, while in the Roman Catholic it is postponed till adolescence, though not necessarily till after “confirmation”. Also Orthodox Church worship may be conducted in the vernacular; the Roman Catholic service is always read in Latin.—Handbook of Denominations; The Byzantine Patriarchate, by George Every.
In 1870, at the time the infallibility of the pope was proclaimed as a matter of faith, another split took place. A large body of Roman Catholics refused to accept the definition of papal infallibility and formed what is known today as the Old Catholic Church. These rallied around the archbishop of Utrecht in the Netherlands as their leader. They profess adherence to the first seven General Councils of the Church, and likewise believe in the Nicene Creed. But Roman Catholics mark them as a “Protestant and Modernist body”. According to Roman Catholic authority, ‘their orders and their administration of the Sacraments are valid.’
The relationship between church and state caused another division within the Church of Rome. These divided Roman Catholics contend that “all laws are either derived from the authority of the state, or, while granting a juridical authority to the Church, deny that the Church is in any way supreme or superior to the State, and maintain that the Church’s authority is over consciences only, and that she has no external or social authority”. (The New World, December 27, 1946) These call themselves Liberal Catholics.
And another division. On March 14, 1897, the Polish National Catholic Church was born in resentment against certain resolutions passed by the Roman Catholic Council at Baltimore in 1884. Mead writes: “These resolutions seemed to the dissenting Polish congregations to give the Roman hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church an unwarranted religious, political, and social power, and to permit ‘an unlawful encroachment upon ownership of Church property and to pave the way for the political exploitation of the Polish people.’” While this is the only body of any considerable size to break away from the Roman Catholic Church in America, there are other groups among Slovaks, Lithuanians, Ruthenians and Hungarians which have also broken away; several of the Slovak and Lithuanian parishes have merged with the Polish National Catholic Church.
Recently a smell of schism in the Roman Catholic Church in Soviet territory has come to the attention of the pope from under the Iron Curtain, according to the London Catholic Tablet of September 6, 1947. Both the London Soviet News and the Moscow radio have announced the consecration of two new Catholic bishops in St. Jacob’s cathedral in Riga, Latvia. One is the well-known Catholic theologian Peter Strud, rector of Riga Ecclesiastical seminary, and the other Professor Kazimir Dulbinsky, also of the same Roman Catholic seminary. It appears that this action was taken without Vatican authorization.
From this brief recount of Catholic history, we find her not one solid church-mass extending down through the centuries, but split into various sects and cults. Therefore, Jesus’ words at Matthew 7:1-5 are most applicable to her. Further, history testifies against her as being divided in politics, divided over domestic and international issues, divided in claims of capital and labor, divided over fascism, divided over communism, divided over democracy, divided in war and divided in peace. And “every kingdom divided against itself comes to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand”.—Matt. 12:25, NW.
a See The Watchtower, March 15, 1952. pp. 177-181.