ASK FATHER: Why MUST one be in communion with Rome?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Why MUST one be in communion with Rome? The Eastern Church has celebrated the sacraments without communion with Rome for 1000 years, but still they have wonderworking Saints.

GUEST “ASK FATHER” ANSWER from a priest who participates here:

Why MUST one be in communion with Rome? Well, I suppose, on one level, one need not be in communion with Rome. Some perfectly wonderful people have lived wonderful lives without being in communion with Rome. God’s grace and mercy is beyond our comprehension, and it is entirely possible that He may welcome into heaven some of those who have lived their lives outside of the visible bonds of communion with Rome. As you note, there are elements of sanctification and truth found outside the visible structure of the Roman Catholic Church. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council affirmed this as well, while noting that these elements of sanctification and truth that can be found outside the visible structure of the Church are also found within the Church and are elements that impel towards Catholic unity (Lumen Gentium, 8).

Jesus Christ clearly wanted His followers to be united. John 17:21 was not just a fond, impossible wish of Our Lord, but was a fervent prayer He uttered as He entered into the most solemn moments of His life. He offered no exception either. He did not pray, “…that they may be One as Thou, Father, in me, and I in Thee, except when being One causes hardship, stress, confusion, or difficulties. Then, forsooth, mayest they be not more than two thousand or so, depending on the varied and sundry interpretations of Thy Holy Word that may perchance arise.”

No other Church, or denomination, or ecclesiastical gathering expresses the unity which Christ willed for His Church more effectively than the Roman Catholic Church. No stronger principle ensures unity of the faithful in this world than the visible successor of St. Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the task of confirming the faith of the brethren. For some 1,983 years, despite the sometimes motley characters that have sat on the throne of St. Peter, and even occasional confusion about who was, truly, the Pope, the papacy has served that role of a principle of unity and a beacon drawing attention to that fervent prayer of Our Lord on the night before He died.

Why MUST one be in communion with Rome? Well, if one truly loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and takes His words seriously, and strives to do what He has told us, I can’t see how one could not wish to be in communion with Rome.

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28 Responses to ASK FATHER: Why MUST one be in communion with Rome?

  1. CatholicMD says:

    “No stronger principle ensures unity of the faithful in this world than the visible successor of St. Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the task of confirming the faith of the brethren. ”

    That statement is kind of hard to believe at the present moment.

  2. iamlucky13 says:

    It seems to me a desire to know God as best we can is another reason, that is to say – we must be united to Rome for doctrinal fidelity.

    Aside from matters of governance, the other driving factor in the Great Schism was disagreements over doctrine. To be sure, the differences were generally not of a sort that directly affect our individual daily lives (although I’m unaware how the Orthodox practices on divorce and remarriage can be reconciled with Roman Catholic teaching), but they are differences nonetheless.

    So aside from asking ourselves how we should live up to Our Lord’s expressed desire for unity, we should also be asking ourselves which Church has the better claim to the Truth. Since the question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or from the Father through the Son is beyond most of our abilities as theologians to individually answer, perhaps instead we should consider the magisterial authorities of each.

    If one is inclined to believe the Eastern Orthodox Church has a more certain claim to infallibility than the Catholic Church, then one must have a valid reason for believing so. Just to reiterate an oft-made point, neither church claims in-flight press conferences are inherently infallible, so reasons based on something said during an in-flight press conference are not valid.

  3. excalibur says:

    As an aside, this from a retiring Anglican archbishop. The dying Anglican church.

    https://www.queerty.com/archbishop-wales-gay-sex-not-sinful-20160915

    Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

    JMJ

  4. torch621 says:

    Hit the nail on the head, he did.

  5. Nancy D. says:

    “That statement is kind of hard to believe at the present moment.”

    That is because the pope, himself, is not in communion with Rome.

  6. JonPatrick says:

    “No stronger principle ensures unity of the faithful in this world than the visible successor of St. Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the task of confirming the faith of the brethren. ”

    I still believe this to be true even when the successor has flaws, being that he is human. But is he any less flawed than St. Peter himself was, who denied knowing our Lord 3 times then fled from the scene of the Passion? God uses these flaws as he used St Peter’s. We do not know how this will play out yet.

  7. tradition4all says:

    With due respect, I find the beginning of the answer and end of the answer contradictory. There’s major tension, anyway. At the beginning:

    “Some perfectly wonderful people have lived wonderful lives without being in communion with Rome. God’s grace and mercy is beyond our comprehension, and it is entirely possible that He may welcome into heaven some of those who have lived their lives outside of the visible bonds of communion with Rome.”

    This is effectively the same as saying one *need not* be in communion with the Pope (unless the author means that these peopled lived their lives outside the Church, but were reconciled to her at their deaths).

    Then at the end:

    “Why MUST one be in communion with Rome? Well, if one truly loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and takes His words seriously, and strives to do what He has told us, I can’t see how one could not wish to be in communion with Rome.”

    If I understand the original question that was posed, it *seems* that there are people who truly love the Lord Jesus Christ and *don’t* wish to be in communion with Rome. That wish just doesn’t factor in. The original question was, “Why MUST one be in communion with Rome? The Eastern Church has celebrated the sacraments without communion with Rome for 1000 years, but still they have wonderworking Saints.”

    Instead of the tricky question of what God “can” do, I think it’s safer to focus on what God has revealed that He actually does. If the question is, “Does God save people who at the moment of death are not united to Rome?” we have the answer here: http://catholicism.org/category/outside-the-church-there-is-no-salvation

    As for people who seem to be living saintly lives outside the Church, there are several ways of accounting for this:

    1.) Possibly they are only material heretics or schismatics.

    2.) If they are formal heretics or schismatics (some of them purposely reject Rome), remember that there were wonderworkers outside the circle of the Apostles even before the Crucifixion. Our Lord said not to get too worked up about it. Wonderworking alone doesn’t actually indicate much.

    3.) Sometimes wolves wear sheep’s clothing.

    At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s our responsibility to decide which is the case for these “non-Catholic saints.” We’ll find out at the Last Judgment. I think we just need to pray for unity, evangelize, and continue to insist (on Faith, which is different from experiential knowledge) on the necessity of union with Rome.

  8. William Tighe says:

    From an historical perspective one may also say that it was the unanimous view of both the Early Church Fathers and of great early heresiarchs (concerning their own “churches”) that “the Church” was one visible and indivisible sacramental communion. There was, in other words, nowhere to be found anything like the later Protestant/Evangelical view that “the Church” is an invisible body consisting of all “true Christian” believers (whether “true believers” is defined loosely or narrowly) in whatever “denomination” they may be located, nor anything like the classical Lutheran view that “the Church” is partly visible and partly invisible, and consists of those “churches” which profess “the True Faith” (whether understood strictly or more loosely) but which are not necessarily in sacramental fellowship with one another, nor anything like the post-Reformation “High Church” Anglican “Branch Theory,” according to which a certain number of “churches” or “communions” sharing a common “valid episcopate” but not in communion with one another constitute the (now sadly divided) “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” in which faith is professed in the Creed.

    On this “historical” view there are only at most four “communions” that still embody this claim: the Catholic Church (or perhaps I should say the Catholic communion of sui juris churches in communion with the Pope of Rome), the Orthodox Church(es), the Oriental Orthodox Church(es) – Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians, Syriacs, and the like, who rejected and still reject the Council of Chancedon – and the “Church of the East” (the remnant of the so-called Nestorians). It does put all Protestant and Anglican bodies out of the running if one wishes to arrive at a “purely historical” understanding of Patristic ecclesiology.

  9. Vincent says:

    And of course, “But He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Matthew

    This quote comes almost immediately after the “you are Peter” line! I think there’s a kind of worship of popes as though somehow they become ‘demi-gods’ once they are elected; Peter himself proves they’re human!

  10. Benedict Joseph says:

    The heterodox within Roman Catholicism cling to the current structure in order to claim the credibility provided by its pedigree. That is the best that can be gleaned regarding their intention. The financial security provided by the institution they debase is vital for the inauguration of their new and improved kungian kasparian katholicism and ultimately to their personal security.
    The tactics employed by this connivance over the last fifty years appear all too apparent to those of us who live in the Church – disparage, distract, deceive, disarm, defeat. This is their arsenal in their attempt to undermine the papacy and once done refigure the office to suit the purpose of the new “church” they are confecting. Those who respect the papacy are thus demoralized, neutralized. Wielding boldly “evangelical obedience” as a weapon, and subconscious appeals to loyalty to silence orthodox, pious and devout clergy, religious and laity, the vipers are having their way. How is one to defend the papacy when it has been debased – and from within? It is urgently necessary for those who can – bishops – to call to a halt the works and the pumps now set in motion to render impotent the Church of Jesus Christ.

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It’s basically the same thing as being a wonderworking Protestant. Sure, you can be a holy person who sincerely tries to serve Jesus Christ, even if you never have access to any of the Sacraments. But why would you want to be, if you knew what the Sacraments were? Why would you turn your back on a visible sign instituted by Jesus Christ, a sign meant to help you and give you grace?

    The unity of the Catholic Church is a visible sign and a mystery. If you are deprived of that mystery through no fault of your own, that’s one thing. If you know better and turn your back on it, you are not serving Jesus Christ all that well.

    As St. Joan of Arc said, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing.”

  12. Why should we be in communion with Rome? Because that is what Christ demands of us.

    Opinions about the Pope or some evil bishop is weak compared to the fact that Christ founded His Church for our salvation. Obedience to that Church is crucial.

    One of the biggest flaws in today’s teaching about the Church is Apostolic Obedience. You get nothing from a bishop who is not in communion with Rome. Sure, you might get ‘natural’ knowledge or mental comfort – but only the Church gives sacramental graces. If you want to be Catholic, you must believe that there is no salvation outside the Church. When you really understand that, then you ‘get’ how critical the bishop is to your salvation. How critical that delegation of authority from Pope to bishop to priest works. This delegation of authority is also known as ‘faculties’. Without faculties, that power of grace doesn’t happen – confession, marriage, preaching, even receiving converts into the Church cannot happen without faculties.

    There is a story in the life of St. Francis of Assisi and his followers who were having difficulty preaching in countries outside of Italy. Outside of Italy, his reputation had not reached and the monks needed paperwork to show that the Order was recognized by the Pope. There were cases of furious bishops refusing to allow them to preach. The monks would be beaten by laity if they tried to preach or even walk by because they were not recognized as accepted. Who were these half-starved strange men in ragged clothes?
    The monks approached St. Francis begging for that paperwork to carry, to prove themselves and obtain permissions. They also wondered if they couldn’t just go ahead and preach without the permission of a local bishop. At that, St. Francis lit into them furiously. He was SO mad – in no uncertain terms he explained that without obedience their words and works were worthless. Therefore without permission, they would not preach anywhere.

    Today we have come so far from understanding the critical value of obedience. In America especially where we are fed ‘individual rights’ from infancy, deciding for ourselves is extremely hard to uproot. All this crap about ‘blind obedience’, “no obedience to sin” is just crap, an excuse to decide for ourselves so we can indulge in feelings, pretty Masses, pretty words – all staging. In most cases obedience is demanded of us – obedience in real sin is a rarity and is not understood.

    If we have a problem it is idleness – the laity should have been rioting 50 years ago as the hierarchy destroyed our churches, liturgy, music and catechisms. Pointing fingers from schismatic organizations doesn’t count.

  13. Phil_NL says:

    We should drill deeper regarding the word ‘must’.

    One must do something to achieve a certain end, and as long as the end is not specified, this question will continue to generate different (aspects of) answers. So, let’s examine a few variations:

    Must one be in communion with the successor of St Peter in order to attain Heaven? Probably not, at least not in the form of visible, complete communion which defines membership of the Catholic Church in the narrow sense. God will honor his promises, which to me seems to make it easier on those who avail themselves of the sacraments, but is free to scoop up anyone else who He pleases as well. We won’t know till the End.

    Must one be in communion with the successor of St Peter in order to fulfill one’s duty to God? Well, if one’s aware of Christ’s command to be as one, and one believes that the Catholic Church is the successor of the Apostles, then yes. The Orthodox would dispute the latter, presumably.

    Must one be in communion with the successor of St Peter in order to prevent stupidity? In so far we’re talking theological stupidity, yes. And even then there may be some frayed edges, to put it diplomatically. But not to be in communion in this respect would mean not to recognize the teaching authority of the Pope, and part or all of the tradition of 2 millennia as well. The alternative is to make it up for yourself, and then you’re essentially a protestant.

    So in other words: must one be? Depending on what your aim is, perhaps not. But it looks terrible risky to me, provided one believes in a couple of premises. (which makes it very hard to attach conclusions to it about others, as you never know what they really believe). Yet stuff like risking Heaving, risking not doing your duty to God, and risking to make a fool of yourself by whipping up a homemade doctrine sounds like unpleasant risks to me.

  14. mysticalrose says:

    Why? Because it is much harder to get to heaven without the sacraments. Consider how difficult it is for we, who are Catholic, to conform ourselves to the will of God in all aspects of our life and to overcome sin. And we have baptism and confession and Holy Eucharist. Consider the present problem of divorce in the Church or of the scandals in the priesthood, and we have sacramental marriage and holy orders. It does not appear (emphasis on appear — I am judging no one here), that most Catholics are saved, let alone most people in the world. It is safest to proceed to God through the only Church that He, Himself, founded.

  15. Matthew Gaul says:

    It’s much more complicated with the Orthodox than with Protestants or others. Evendors canon law reflects this, note the recent changes allowing Latin Catholic priests to, in certain circumstances, baptize Orthodox children whose parents intend to raise them a Orthodox.

    Lest one think this is a Pope Francis thing, this change was 15 years in the making and already allowed under Eastern Catholic canon law.

    The story about the Schism of 1054 is just a convenient story. In truth individual Eastern churches and persons have floated in and out of communion, over and over. It may surprise some of you to learn that Photius died in communion with Rome, and is a saint on several Eastern Catholic calendars, with Rome’s tacit or explicit approval. In other words, he is a Catholic saint.

    In fact, for much of the 20th Century, arguably a Latin Catholic could have fulfilled his Sunday obligation at an Orthodox church. Not anymore, though.

    The Orthodox are true particular churches, that, from a Catholic perspective, lack certain things. Now that does not mean that a Catholic, who from our perspective has the fullness of faith, presuming he knows what he is doing, can become Orthodox blamelessly. But the born Orthodox, provided they are not convicted in conscience that Catholicism is true, have full access to grace. Don’t get me wrong, it would still be better for them to be Catholic.

    This barely begins to scratch the surface of an extremely complicated issue, one that makes the Reformation look straightforward in comparison.

    If I am wrong in any wording, forgive me, I am neither a cleric note a professional Catholic. But I believe I am presenting an accurate depiction of the situation. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  16. Matthew Gaul says:

    And please forgive my auto correct above. :-)

  17. Maineman1 says:

    Since Vatican 2, hasn’t it been the case that non Catholic Christians who are validly baptised already belong to the Mystical Body of Christ, albeit “imperfectly”? We’re all imperfect people, whether Catholic or Protestant.

  18. APX says:

    Maineman,

    Even prior to Vatican II, the Church taught that. Vatican II just restated what the Church had been saying, just in more explicit terms.

    Tan Books published a book called, “The Church Teaches” which works as a quick reference guide to what the Church teaches quoting the original Church documents on various important doctrines. It also makes a great tool for Sketchy Catholic University Theology classes when the Prof says, “The Church teaches [Heresy X]”, students can quickly point out that, “Actually, the Church teaches [Infallible Catholic Doctrine Y], as it says here in the Council of Trent, and reiterated in Vatican II document Y”.

  19. Matthew Gaul: Even to this very day things aren’t quite as black and white with the Orthodox churches. Within some circles to this day there’s interconmunion both ways.

    The Orthodox have a true priesthood and sacraments (mysteries), and have apostolic origins, theologies, and traditions that aren’t from Rome. I suppose one could argue since the lifting of the excommunications, the churches are united in one sense and they could be seen as part of the Church universal. (Hence why the above scenario s of interconmunion can and do take place).

    On a day to day basis, because in most eastern circles things are viewed from the bottom up (aka subsidiarity, the local should take up all problems unless they’re unable to)…communion with Rome, is for those things that cant be handled at a local level.

    Now, if one wishes to embrace a theological tradition that isn’t western, there isn’t anything wtong with that as long as one does not start proclaiming the Latin church in heresy.

  20. tradition4all says:

    Phil_NL wrote:

    “Must one be in communion with the successor of St Peter in order to attain Heaven? Probably not, at least not in the form of visible, complete communion which defines membership of the Catholic Church in the narrow sense.”

    In response, here’s what Pope Boniface VIII solemnly defined in the bull Unam Sanctam in 1302:

    “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

  21. comedyeye says:

    Having read the link, the Roman Catholic Church does not and cannot say with authority that non Catholic Christians are not saved. Of course Protestants believe they are already saved before they die but that is another discussion altogether.

  22. tradition4all says:

    “Since Vatican 2, hasn’t it been the case that non Catholic Christians who are validly baptised already belong to the Mystical Body of Christ, albeit “imperfectly”? We’re all imperfect people, whether Catholic or Protestant.”

    One can be a “non-Catholic Christian” only be being a heretic or a schismatic. If one is only a material heretic or schismatic, one belongs to the Catholic Church and is in communion with the Pope. Period.

    If one is a formal heretic or schismatic, one is excommunicated from the Catholic Church and is no longer in communion with the Pope. Period.

  23. Phil_NL says:

    tradition4all

    You really want to get into that word game (again, presumably?) “Subject” can mean many things. We’re all subject to the pope’s teaching authority, for example, regardless if we listen. And I daresay Boneface didn’t mean that we should all be citizens of the Papal states, another meaning – though I wouldn’t be surprised that, as a 13th century pope, his mind was on claiming temporal sovereignty over the entire world.

    Some papal bulls need clarification afterwards. I’d rather listen to what the Holy See has said on that front in the 7 centuries since as well. And that indicates that while one can hold to a strict interpretation where one must be a ‘card-carrying’ Catholic, it is by no means required.

  24. Cornelius says:

    Excellent observation, Nancy. I could not have said it so well or so succinctly as you just did.

    What we must be in communion with are the perennial teachings of the Church, not a city nor the denizens therein, however highly placed they might be in the Church.

    I’m in communion with Rome when Rome is in communion with itself.

  25. Matamoros says:

    The best defense of the papacy and the necessity for communion with Rome that I have ever read is found in Vladimir Soloviev’s “Russia and the Universal Church”. If you have not read this work, I encourage you to do so.

    http://www.lulu.com/shop/william-von-peters-and-vladimir-soloviev/russia-and-the-universal-church/paperback/product-21377856.html

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  27. dupledge says:

    Here is your answer:

    “respondit ergo ei Simon Petrus Domine ad quem ibimus verba vitae aeternae habes”

    Deo Gratias

  28. jmhem5 says:

    I’ve been both Evangelical Prot. and Orthodox (OCA). I am now happily Catholic. Fellow lay Catholics, its best to not assume the same errors in Orthodoxy, that one frequently encounters in Protestantism, especially Anglicanism.