Catholicity -Foundational Documents
In considering the use and application of the term “catholicity,” as it pertains to our vision of an communion of Catholic churches being a valid, contributing part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, we intend to define said term as it has been universally understood, particularly in the time of the undivided Church of the first thousand years of Christianity. Unfortunately, use of the term, “catholic” or “catholicity” has come to suggest many things to many people in all expression of the Christian Church.
Equating “catholicity” with the term “universal” or “general” as though it were comprehensive or inclusive or merely something spread throughout the world, decidedly leaves room for much debate and diversity of application, particularly between Protestant mainline Reformed churches, Protestant evangelicals and Catholic Christians tracing their historical continuity back through every generation to the time of the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. Telephone booths, mailboxes, and sin could all be considered “catholic,” in the sense of “universal” and spread throughout the world. Again, unfortunately, for others “catholic” or “catholicity” immediately conjures up reactions against the Roman Catholic expression of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church and certain abuses that crept into specific areas of the faith and practice of that Church during medieval times. This common reaction is referred to by some as “Romophobia,” which sad to say, negatively colors a true understanding of historic and biblical “catholicity.”
As a communion of Catholic Churches, we recognize that there is much more substance to this term than the above-stated understandings. In the first place, we recognize and affirm that historic, apostolic, biblical and patristic Christian faith and the historic Church of Jesus Christ understood as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, consists in the three major communions known as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican. It may be helpful to use the terms Eastern Catholic (all Eastern Orthodox auto- cephalous Churches), Roman Catholic (all catholic bodies in the communion with the Bishop of Rome) and Anglican Catholic (all catholic bodies springing from the Church of England). Each of these major communions would include related, smaller or autocephalous communions deriving their apostolic succession and orders from one of them and holding to the tenants of Catholic Christian faith and practice. Examples of this second order would include The Philippine Independent Church, The Brazilian Catholic Churches, The Old Catholic Church, The Mar Thoma Church of India, The Orthodox Catholic Church, among others.
Because of our understanding of “catholicity,” we do affirm the true deposit of historic, apostolic, catholic faith and practice within and among all of them and embrace them as true and valid members of the “Household of Faith” that comprises the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Historically, there has been a diversity of understandings involved in the definition of the term “catholic” or “catholicity.” Its various uses include:
- The universal Church as distinct from local Christian communities
- The Church founded by Jesus Christ through His Apostles that claims to be in possession of a historical and continuous tradition of faith and practice, secured and passed on through a successive line of leaders originating from the Apostles and known as the historic episcopate or apostolic succession
- The faith of the whole Church, i.e., the doctrine believed “everywhere, always and by all,” to quote the ancient Vincentian Canon or formula for determining true Catholic faith and doctrine from heretical or heterologica
- The sense of “orthodox,” as distinct from “heretical” or (later) “schismatic.”
- As a term used by historical writers and the Fathers of the undivided Church before the final schism of East and West in 1054, to refer to the whole of the true Church and faith of Jesus Christ
- Since the Reformation the Roman Catholics have used the term “catholic” to refer to themselves exclusively, although Anglicans and Old Catholics, as well as Eastern Orthodox use the term to apply to themselves, as well.
In one very definitive sense, the origin and application of the term does not, indeed, mean comprehensive or inclusive, in the sense of the catholicity of the historic Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds but very “exclusive,” that is, determining and articulating the true Christian faith from all other claimants, be they heretical or heterodox. Therefore, “catholicity” in its truest sense defines something of substance held to clearly as the essence and heart of historic Catholic Christian faith as opposed to a generic and general term able to be validly used by any and all comers.
We do, however, recognize that certain diversities within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church do and always have existed from the earliest times-not a diversity of faith, but in terms of cultural expressions of nonessentials in worship, liturgy and custom, as well as in types of spirituality and theological perspective. As long as these types of diversity have not wandered from the heart and essence of that which is considered the irreducible, non-negotiable facets of historic Catholic faith, order and practice, they have been embraced as an inherent element of the Faith, culturally expressed.
The use of the word “catholic” was coined by Aristotle for his work in natural science. It derives from the Greek combination kata and holon and means “in accord with the whole.” Aristotle was fascinated by the variety of species that occurred within the unity of a genus. For example, the oak constitutes the genus carcass, of the beech family. There are obviously many varieties of oak – some 500 in fact – in the whole world.
As Reverend Christopher Kelly states in an article titled “The Catholic Oak,”
“Some oaks are evergreen, most are deciduous, some are tress, a few are shrubs, some have rounded leaves, some pointed. And yet they share certain readily identifiable characteristics: they all have acorns, a certain type of trunk and bark, leaf structure and temperate habitat. The acorn is the simplest proof of oakhood, but of these, some are bitter and other are not.”
“A single oak is catholic,” according to Aristotle’s usage, when it is in accord with the whole oak world. No single oak can say to the others, “I am the True Oak; therefore, you must all be like me.” The precise opposite is true: a single oak must agree with all the others to be an oak. And it is not simply all the living oaks that must be consulted, all the oaks throughout history must agree that our single oak conforms to them. Thus, (if any expression of the Catholic Church, adds novelty to the faith once delivered to all the saints…it cannot require that all the other “oaks” conform to it…that is not Catholic, since it conforms neither to the rest of the Churches nor to the early Church doctrine and practice.”
“St. Ignatius of Antioch is the first author we know to have used the term “catholic” to describe the true Church of Jesus Christ. In a letter to Smyrna, written between 107 and 117 A.D., he wrote, “Wherever the bishop is, there let the multitude also be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. In other words, around the bishop, the apostolic man, the authorized commission bearer of Jesus, the man who conveys unchanged the original Apostolic message, who is in union with other such bishops: there is the Catholic Church.”
“As the oak is identified by its characteristics in accord with the whole oak world, so Catholic worship, theology (dogmatic and moral), and evangelism down the ages determine what we must do now, if we are to be truly Catholic. We may still be an English species (Anglican), a western European species (Roman), an Eastern species (Orthodox), (or an ecumenical species – CASC), but the genus (catholica) must be plain to everyone.”
In light of the above, the vision for The Communion of Catholic and Apostolic Churches holds that there are some key, essential elements we believe to be common identifying characteristics of true “catholicity.” The heart of these common elements we believe to be embodied in historic statements. These include the Vincentian Canon, the Declaration of Utrecht 1889, the Old Catholic Statement of Union, 1911 and the Bonn Agreement 1925. Our prayer is that these essentials will be a starting point for a fresh work of the Holy Spirit in our day leading to a renewed and deepening impetus towards a true Catholic spiritual ecumenism.
The Vincentian Canon
This document comprises a part of the work of St. Vincent of Lerins (d. before 450 A.D.) known as the “Commonitorium.” As a monk on the island of Lerins, he composed the “Commonitorium” to provide guidelines in the determination of the true Catholic faith. The “Vincentian Canon,” as it has come to be known, laid down a threefold test of true Catholicity, as over against heretical, schismatic, or heterodoxical expressions of faith. The threefold test of Catholicity thus laid down by St. Vincent was “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” His thought here is summarized as the three principals of “universality” (or ecumenicity), “antiquity,” and “consensus.”
“Universality” refers to that content of apostolic and catholic faith that has been universally held or believed by the Church from the beginning in every place throughout the world. However, to give root and anchor to that content so that it may be differentiated from heresy or heterodoxy, the additional principal of “antiquity” was included. In other worlds, the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” identified as “catholic,” or according to the whole, is that which has been believed from the beginning, universally. This principal excludes innovations to catholic Christian faith which developed in later periods of the church’s life, particularly in the latter stages of the medieval period and the nineteenth century, as well as those in the earlier centuries known as Gnostic heresies, or theological heresy, and schismatic heterodoxy. We, together with may other Catholic Christians, would include in this category of innovations additions such as the concept of universal jurisdiction and infallibility of the Bishop of Rome, as well as the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, all being given the status of saving dogma. The early Church of antiquity knew nothing of such concepts as elements o f the true faith of Christ or Lord.
In light of this, the principle of antiquity is extremely important in determining true catholicity, and, as such, would encompass for us as a communion of the Holy Catholic Church, the period of the first seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church up to 1054 A.D.
These thoughts quite naturally lead us to connect with the third principle of the “Vincentian Canon” designated as “consensus,” or “that which has been believed…by all.” This final principle is extremely important, in our estimation, clearly and with confidence being able to determine that which defines true catholicity, historically understood. The practice of consensus is that which safeguarded the faith of the early Church and its transmission to succeeding generations. This consensus by all the faithful-bishops, priests, deacons, and the laos, or people is most clearly distilled in the dogmatic definitions and summaries of faith contained in the three Creeds of the universal Church -the Apostles, Nicean-Constatinopolitan (known as the Nicene Creed), and the Athanasian. It is further reflected in the whole body of decisions and definitions and the principles of basic Catholic practice and order arrived at by the seven Ecumenical Councils applying to the faith and worship of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. These elements of orthodox Catholic faith were arrived at based upon the principle of consensus by the bishops who met in council, following the model of the Council of Jerusalem described in the 15th chapter of the book of Acts. The mind of Christ for His Church was revealed by the Holy Spirit to the whole, assembled group-the apostles, the elders, and the brethren, or all the people. Thus, true catholicity, while acknowledging diversity in local or provincial customs, liturgies, and canons, has drawn clear boundaries for determining that which is truly catholic and apostolic in faith and worship. In other words, unity in the acknowledged essentials of the “primary tradition” and diversity within unity in the matter of “secondary layers of tradition.” As St. Augustine of Hippo stated, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, diversity; in all things, charity.”
As The Communion of Catholic and Apostolic Churches, we believe the Vincentian Canon lays down the foundational categories for the whole Church to be able to determine the essence and heart of authentic catholic, apostolic and biblical faith and practice known as that which has been believed, “everywhere, always and by all” and as seen in the teaching and interpretation of the consensus of early Fathers of the Undivided Church. In the following section we will attempt to outline the elements we believe historically, biblically and theologically comprise the elements of true catholicity.
CASC Statement of These Essentials of Catholic Faith and Unity
We do hereby affirm that Christian unity can best be restored only by the return of all Christian communions to the principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first stages of its existence, which principles we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and His Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world, and therefore incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees for the common and equal benefit of all people.
As inherent components of this sacred deposit and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity, as well as to the communion of local congregations and geographical dioceses from various traditions of authentic orthodox, catholic and apostolic Christian faith in one body, we hold to the following:
- OF HOLY TRADITION AND HOLY SCRIPTURE – We hold fast that the ultimate standard of Faith is demonstrated through Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture as defined by the Holy Spirit.
- OF THE CREEDS – The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith. We do also acknowledge the Athanasian Creed, or Quicunque Vult, as of great value in articulating the essentials of true catholic and orthodox Christian faith. We hold it as essential that the meanings of the Creeds, as originally understood, interpreted, and confessed be adhered to for genuine catholic faith and unity to be preserved and proclaimed.
- OF THE SACRAMENTS – The Sacraments are outward signs which confer the very grace they signify. These Sacraments were ordained by Christ and are at least seven in number:
- OF THE EPISCOPATE – The Historic Episcopate, locally adopted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the people called of God into the unity of His Church. Therefore, sincere unity and relationships among bishops preserve and protect the future stability and security of the Body of Christ through apostolic accountability and the consecration of future bishops.
- OF THE DEFINING COUNCILS – There have been seven General or Ecumenical Councils only, which are recognized by the whole of Catholic Christendom, held respectively in Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (430, Chalcedon (451), Constantinople (553), Constantinople (680), and Nicea (787). At no other councils was the entire body of the Orthodox and Catholic Episcopals representatively assembled; and while we recognize that other provincial councils throughout the history of the Church may contain certain elements of Christian truth which may be helpful and illuminating, the decrees and pronouncements of no other councils beyond the seven enumerated must be of themselves accepted as binding upon the conscience of the Faithful.
1. Baptism 2. Confirmation 3. The Holy Eucharist 7. 4. Reconciliation 5. Anointing the Sick 6. Matrimony 7.Holy orders
(Accepted from The Statement of Union, 1911, Organic Articles, Article #5.)
It is then our firm conviction that to be an authentic Catholic communion a group must be able to trace its Apostolic Succession back to the original Apostles. That same group must maintain a faithful adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as expressed through Apostolic Tradition – the teaching or doctrine of Christ and His apostles embodied in Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the Ecumenical Creeds, the dogmatic-doctrinal teaching of the seven Ecumenical Councils of the first thousand years of the Church. Finally, that group must actively participate in the sacramental ministry of the historic Catholic Church having a community of faith.
Diversity and Unity Within the CASC
Historic, biblical and patristic understanding of genuine catholicity, embraces diversity within the essential spiritual and organic unity of Catholic faith. For example, St. Paul states clearly in Ephesians 4:1-6,
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep (or preserve) the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and throughout and in all.”
It is a historically undeniable fact that a diversity of catholic, orthodox liturgies were used by the various geographical provinces of the early Church. Father David Abramatov in his article titled, “A Brief History of Western Orthodoxy” states:
“From the beginning of the Christian Church there were divergences in the manner in which the Eucharist was celebrated in the various regional Churches. Within these Churches, with their mixed populations, differing historical development, local traditions, diverse racial temperaments and the like, it was inevitable that a large number of varying types of Eucharistic prayers or anaphors should emerge. The unity of the Church of Christ and the unity of Eucharistic sacrifice did not require a uniformity in the celebration of that sacrifice. The liturgical liberty, the variation, and differences were not only tolerated, but were constantly being elaborated upon. What is more important, they manifested the Catholic nature of the Church…
By the eighth century a process known as the “Western Synthesis” was well underway. (A similar process took place in Byzantium.) The use of various Roman sacramentaries spread in Southern Gaul. By the time of Charlemagne, half the churches of Gaul were using the Roman rite with Frankish adaptations and material from the Roman rite was being incorporated into the Galican rite used in the remaining churches…”
These did not even take into account the Celtic usages, plus those of Northern Africa and the Spanish peninsula.
Fr. Abramalov continues…
“…The process of the “Western Synthesis” had taken about three hundred years, but the missals that evolved were to serve the Western Church substantially in their same form down to the present: The basic structure remaining the same in the West after this, there continued to be considerable variation in details, in the prayers of the proper, etc., and in many local usages and derived rites, e.g., Sarum usage.
Serious attempts to impose uniformity in the West by legislation came only in the Counter Reformation period in the Sixteenth century and was assisted by the invention of printing. Even today, however, considerable differences in the details of the Roman rite can be noted in the provincial Church of Europe. It is simply a myth that liturgical diversity is a thing alien to the “orderly” Western mind. In this respect, the Eastern mind tends to be far more “orderly”…
…Although most orthodox people may have forgotten the ancient ideas of the catholic diversity of rites, there occasionally were those who saw light in the darkness. In the mid-seventeenth century, when Patriarch Nikon of Moscow had recourse to Patriarch Paisius of Constantinople, with a long list of questions on various aspects of ritual, he received, in 1855, remarkable answers composed by Meletios Syrigos of the same Patriarchate.
Meletios stated clearly that it was only in matters of Faith, in the things of principle, that uniformity was required. In the order of the Divine Service, and in external ritual, diversity of form was not only fully tolerable, but historically inescapable. The Divine Service, said Meletios, was composed and developed gradually; it was not created at once. Much in the offices of the Church depended upon the “discretion of the pastor.” He continued: One must not think that our Orthodox Faith is perverted if anyone possesses an order of service differing somewhat in unessential matters but not in the articles of Faith, if only agreement with the Catholic Church is preserved in that which is chief and important…”
Referring again to the previously mentioned article by Fr. Christopher Kelley, “The Catholic Oak,” the following similar thought is expounded from another ancient Father of the Church.
“Our Lord prayed for such visible unity as would compel the wonder of unbelievers and lead them to the knowledge that He is the Messiah. This means catholic unity, being united in accord with the whole. We must seek diligently to model ourselves on the united practice of East and West, wherever they are in accord.
Where they are not in accord, there is reasonable freedom, and we should heed the wise counsel of…St. Gregory, who wrote to St. Augustine of Canterbury about 600 A.D., responding to the question why the method of saying Mass differed in Rome and the Churches of Gaul.”
“My brother, you are familiar with the usage of the Roman Church, in which you were brought up,” wrote Gregory. “But if you have found customs, whether in the Church of Rome or of Gaul or of any other that may be more acceptable to God, I wish you to make a careful selection of this, and teach the Church of the English …whatever you have been able to learn with profit from the various Churches…Therefore, select from each of the Churches whatever things are devout, religious and right; and when you have bound them, as it were, into a sheaf, let the minds of the English grow accustomed to it.
(Quoted in St. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History: (27.ii).
In light of the above principles, the CASC, within the confines of her communion, affirms and accepts among her various local congregations and dioceses the diversity of recognized, historic catholic liturgies, as used by the major branches of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity from the beginning. This would apply in particular to those local congregations or dioceses received into the communion of the CASC coming from these particular and varied backgrounds. This principle of diversity or catholic ecumenicity would also apply in the case of church planting missions orientated around groups with those backgrounds. The genuine catholicity of faith, worship, order, and practice of those congregations and dioceses and their divergent but historically recognized liturgical usages, would therefore, be recognized and supported within our communion in the spirit of Ephesians 4:1-6 and our Lord’s prayer for unity of His body among men.
This recognition, acceptance, and support does not, however, mean that in all points of custom, ceremony, or theological perspective, all must maintain a strict uniformity. The embrace of catholic diversity, that which is in accordance with the whole of the undivided Church of the first thousand years, is accepted in the spirit of humility, fraternal love, and charity, while clearly not accepting certain innovations to the Faith and doctrine (dogma) of the Church developed apart from the substance and content of that conciliar heritage and tradition.
Prophetic Vision and Purpose
As a communion of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, we believe that God has called us at this time to cry out with our Lord Jesus Christ, “Father, let them be one, as You are in Me and I in You, that they also may be open in us…that the world may believe that You have sent Me…”
To that end we believe that the Blessed Holy Trinity has given birth to this expression and branch of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ to bear witness in his worship, its ministry and its life to the essential unity that already spiritually exists among all the branches of the historic Catholic faith. We acknowledge the one true Holy Catholic Church to include equally, the Roman Catholic communion and all those in communion with her, all of the autocephalous communions and jurisdictions of the Eastern Orthodox Church, those provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion which hold to orthodox, historic apostolic faith and order (including the “Continuing Church” movements within Anglicanism), as well as the orthodox, valid communions of the Old Catholic Church and other valid and orthodox branches or autocephalous communions with true apostolic succession, faith and worship.
We consider as “valid and orthodox” those ecclesial communions who can clearly trace their lines of apostolic succession back through the historic episcopacy directly to our Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles and who are holding to historic, apostolic and catholic order and practice in their faith and worship, as defined by the ancient and undivided Church, reflected in the teaching of the first seven ecumenical councils of the early Church.
We further believe that God has commissioned us as a communion to affirm, recognize, and pray for all of these branches as members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and to embrace and receive the clergy and laity of all these branches as true brothers and sisters in the communion of Christ’s One, Holy Church. His body in heaven and on earth. We believe that God has called us to this expression of Ecumenical Catholicity, not as the model or even as a model of Catholic Christian unity, but hopefully, by the grace and mercy of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, to be at least a prophetic pointer of a prototype of such unity, both in an underlying attitude of humility and charity, as well as by the works, worship and mission that we pray may constantly bear witness to that divine hope and calling outwardly.
In practical terms this unity, or prototype of unity as Catholic Christians, will be worked out in our embrace of a diversity of historic, orthodox catholic liturgies, as used by the major branches of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity from the beginning. These would include the St. John Crysosium Divine Liturgy, the Novus Ordo of the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican liturgies, Western Rite Orthodox liturgies, and others recognized as expressions of rites used historically within the broad scope of orthodox, catholic Christianity worldwide.
Ministering to Our Culture
As a communion of the Holy Catholic Church, we believe it imperative that we seek God the Holy Spirit’s guidance, empowerment, and renewal for the Church in our day, that the message, call and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ may be presented, proclaimed and demonstrated with fresh relevance to a generation fast approaching the third millennium since our Lord’s incarnation. In responding to this imperative, we believe it is important to integrate principles of flexibility, spiritual renewal and fresh, contemporary means by which to reach contemporary cultures with the timeless message of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We seek to continually find fresh empowerment by God; the Holy Spirit for our bishops, clergy and laity to enable us to carry out this apostolic ministry and task with spiritual impact, creativity and freshness of approach, being all the while careful never to equate these elements with “Innovations” to the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” Our sense of mission is to find fresh ways, empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit to make historic, revealed, catholic and apostolic Christianity relevant and accessible to a new generation of people yet to find the saving grace, love and power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
THE CASC AGREEMENT
- Each communion (Jurisdiction) recognizes the catholicity and independence of the other and maintains its own.
- Each Communion agrees to admit members of the signing communions to participate in the sacraments.
- Intercommunion does not require from the other Communions the acceptance of all doctrinal opinion, sacraments, devotions, or liturgical practices and/or characteristics of the other but implies that each believes the other to hold the essentials of the Christian faith.
- We embrace the classical Christian beliefs which regard marriage as the sacramental union of one man and one woman.
- We affirm and support the right to life; therefore we stand opposed to Abortion and Euthanasia.