“For he who is not against us is for us.” — Mark 9:40
Ever since my conversion to the Catholic Church in 1992, I have begun every argument with Protestant disputants by justifying Her claim to be Christ’s true and only Church by adverting—after citing the plain historical fact that She is at any rate His first Church—to Her theological claim to be His mystical body as well.
As a practicing Catholic, I continue to believe that. Recently, though, I’ve been pondering the meaning of Our Lord’s words, quoted above, to His disciples. Those words, which must have been perfectly clear to His hearers during His mission on earth, may seem less so in a world in which the number of non-Catholic churches that call themselves Christian is beyond counting. They make no pretense of representing Christ’s mystical body—and no pretense either of being friends of the Church of Rome, which they denounce as their sworn enemy and defame as the Whore of Babylon.
The Protestants have called themselves Christians—the real Christians—for 500 years, while setting their faces, and at times their armies, against Catholics who believe our Church and Her congregants to be members of Christ’s own body, a claim no Protestant has ever dared to make. For him, Christian identity is a matter of intellectual assent and of faith. For us, it is both of those things, plus physical and metaphysical unity, by virtue of the Blessed Sacrament, with Jesus Christ in His wholeness. Though confessing the New Testament and professing belief in Jesus Christ and Him crucified, as we do, are Protestants really with us, or are they against us? How does Christ, sitting at the right hand of God, view them? How should we view them?
We know the position the Church took with respect to the Protestants and their legion of separated “ecclesial communities,” pretty much from 1517 down to Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. Rarely since the Wars of Religion have popes wished to make war against the Protestant Churches, or against Protestant rulers and the states they governed. Pius X opposed the Church to the liberal philosophy, which he described as “the synthesis of all heresies,” but after 1945 the Vatican began a liberalizing aggiornamento culminating in the Second Vatican Council that promoted a closer and more sympathetic relationship between the Catholic Church and Protestantism (the Novus Ordo is the result of the Council’s desire to modernize the liturgy by protestantizing it) and made the Vatican more open to ecumenism.
The Church’s liberalizing agenda was substantially an expression of its concern for the future of Catholic Christianity at the end of the 20th century, and also, more broadly, for the fate of Christian belief generally in an increasingly secular world. Nevertheless, the growing ecumenical spirit within the Catholic Church was real and increasingly prevalent, a reflection of the times and of a liberalizing world. In the circumstances, a willingness among Catholics to adopt a latitudinarian understanding of “who is for us” in a world progressively more hostile to Jesus Christ, His claims, and His teachings is unsurprising. An inclination within the Church toward an inclusive spirit among Catholics was further encouraged by the relentless advance in a globalizing world of other religions upon the West, as well as their growing presence in Western countries.
What really were the differences (many Catholics wondered) between Catholics, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, and so forth by comparison with those between Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Shintoists, Rastafarians, and the rest of them? Why can’t we Catholics bury our dogmatic differences and divergences and just all be Christians together? The truth is, of course, that there are many reasons: the first is that the majority of Protestants—or a very great number of them, anyhow—don’t feel the same way about Catholics and the Whore of Babylon. (This attitude is entirely logical when one considers that Protestantism began with anti-Catholicism, which is its basis and sole theological justification.)
World circumstances changed radically again after September 11, 2001, when the West was made suddenly and brutally aware that substantial parts of the Muslim world, and many millions of Muslims themselves, hated it to the point of wishing death to it and to all Westerners, Christians especially. This epochal event might have resulted in a powerful ecumenical alliance of all those people who consider themselves Christians, united in solidarity around the world against the mortal enemy of Christ the Son of God and His followers. This did not happen. That is a telling thing. Might it be that Christians are not in solidarity with one another and that the differences in belief between the Christian Churches and sects are greater than the truths they hold in common—as the differences between the Shiite and Sunni versions of Mohammedanism are wider, or as wide, as those between Muslims and the Nazrani?
If that is so, then the obligation of all professing Christians to determine “who is for us” and “who is against us” becomes suddenly much easier, according to the age-old principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Put otherwise, “The enemy of my enemy is he who is for me.” Hence, for a Christian belonging to any Church, denomination, or sect, “The enemy of my enemy is he who is anti-Christian.” Perhaps that is the closest to resolving the issues raised by Christian ecumenism that we Christians will ever get.
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