Posted by: littletoe | July 16, 2007

Pope Lacks Ecumenical Spirit?

I subscribe to the Patriot Post, “the conservative journal of record”, and most of the time I am in violent agreement with the opinions I find there but in the 7-28 Digest, I found I had to respectfully disagree with Mark Alexander’s article on the Motu Proprio. I, too, am a former Episcopalian and I’m sure Mr. Alexander and I left the ECUSA for very similar reasons. In fact, I’m sure we’d have a great time over Starbuck’s talking about the craziness that rules there.

It seems to me that the Protestants are being a bit whiny about the pope’s statement, though. My understanding was that this was an internal communication, meant for Catholics, to clear up some confusion that had apparently resulted after Vatican II. It would be interesting to see what the Presbyterian leadership in the U.S. had to say to American Presbyterians about the pope and the Catholic Church. My guess is that it might be considered an impediment to ecumenism. Just a guess.

Furthermore, I’d like to take issue with some of Mr. Alexander’s assertions about church history. He stated:

“The most significant split was the Protestant Reformation, beginning with Martin Luther’s 1517 posting of his “Ninety-Five Theses On the Power of Indulgences” to the Wittenberg Castle Church door. Luther’s objective was not to divide the church, but to call attention to its gross pontifical and institutional corruption, particularly malpractices and false doctrines like the teaching and selling or [sic] indulgences, the practice of buying and selling church positions and the Church’s doctrine on purgatory.

I don’t think anyone, including the Catholic Church, disputes the error of selling indulgences and the buying and selling of church positions. Believing that the Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory was a false doctrine was one of the things that kept me from exploring the Catholic Church for so long. But I started having trouble with some passages from the bible that the concept of Purgatory seems to explain. As a Protestant, the only answer I got was, “Well, you’ll just have to wait till you get to heaven and ask Jesus in person.”

Mr. Alexander might be surprised to know that our beloved (Anglican) C.S. Lewis had this to say about Purgatory:

“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘it is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’?… I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don’t think suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much… My favorite image on this matter comes from the dentist’s chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am ‘coming round,’ a voice will say, ‘Rinse your mouth out with this.’ This will be a Purgatory.” —-from “Letters to Malcolm”

Mr. Alexander goes on to say that:

Other notable reformers like Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin followed Luther’s lead.

But in the century that followed, it became clear that “Catholic Reform” was not possible, given that the Church of Rome would not divest itself of corruption and false doctrines related to purgatory, particular judgment, devotion to Mary, the intercession of the saints, sacramental rituals with no biblical basis, and papal authority.

History would force me to concede that Catholic reform of the corruption that Luther was objecting to was not possible in the century that followed. Reform did eventually follow, though. So far, (I’m not a Catholic yet), it appears that the reforms that did not include a change in theology were embraced.

Mr. Alexander might be interested to know that Luther, Calvin and Zwingli were “devoted” to Mary. I’m still not comfortable with this myself as a transitional Protestant, but it is difficult to argue with the fact that Marian devotion has been around since the beginning and continued through the Reformation. This is a great article on the subject at Cor ad Cor Loquitur.

Additionally, the Anglican Church shares all seven sacraments with the Catholic Church and I did not get the impression that Mr. Alexander left the Episcopal Church over a disagreement about “sacramental rituals.” I think there is biblical basis for the Holy Eucharist. John 6 comes to mind as well as Paul’s recounting the events of the Last Supper—and that’s only one of the seven. I am by no means an apologist, but if you want a biblical basis for the rest of the sacraments, go to

As a result of the Protestant Reformation, which was cemented in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, the Roman Church declared that apostolic succession could not be claimed by the Protestant Church. Consequently, Pope asserts that the administration of the sacraments is not authentic or legitimate, and thus no church really exists outside the Roman Church.

Which sacraments are we talking about? If these “sacramental rituals” are not biblically based, why do we care if the pope denies their authenticity? Does any Protestant church care that it cannot claim apostolic succession? Why is this an insult? It is also inaccurate to say that the pope claimed that no Christian church exists outside the Roman Church. I believe he said that other churches lack the “fullness” contained in the Catholic Church. That’s not the same thing.

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches issued rebuttals calling into question “whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity,” and concluding the “exclusive claim that identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the one church of Jesus Christ… goes against the spirit of our Christian calling toward oneness in Christ.”

In the current Protestant and Reformed theological vernacular, “catholic” with a lower-case “c” connotes oneness—the “full Body of Christ” —all believers united as one church—as it was used in the early church. “Catholic” with a capital “C” refers to the institution of the Roman Church.

The question remains, “Is the Pope, first and foremost, a Catholic or a catholic?” A more essential question might be, “Which would Jesus be?”

I believe that the purpose of this communique from the pope was to cultivate unity within his own flock first. I really don’t understand how he can be faulted for that.

I freely admit that although I try to put on the mind of Christ, I don’t always have the mind of Christ or know what He would do. Just ask my husband. And, quite frankly, I don’t think I’m alone. I think we need to be very careful when we think we know the mind of Christ and what He would do—especially in the realm of church politics.



  1. Many, many thanks for this post. I just had a friend (a former Episcopalian) tell me that there are only 2 sacraments (baptism and Eucharist), and that all the others have been made up as the Church went along. I have been wanting some info on this. Thank you again!

  2. Nice blog!

  3. Gretchen,

    Tell your former Episcopalian friend to look in his/her prayerbook. They’re all there although the sacrament of Confession or Holy Unction isn’t used too much (at least in the Episcopal Churches I attended). It is my understanding that the Lutherans are the ones who believe that Baptism and the Eucharist are the only two sacraments. Although, now that I think about it, Episcopalians pretty much believe whatever they want, so maybe s/he is right. 😉

  4. Hahaha. Well, Little Toe, she’s become an evangelical in recent years, due to all the ‘issues’ with the Episcopalians, so I think she’s getting her info from them now. However, she does miss the liturgy and the Eucharist, so I think there’s hope for her. 🙂

  5. The irony is that most Protestants (other than possibly some High Anglicans and some Lutherans) don’t believe what Catholics do about the sacraments anyway. Catholics do believe that Protestant baptisms are valid (as long as the proper form and matter are used ie: in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and water, not some other substance), the Catholic Church accepts Protestant marriages as sacramental (as long as they are between two baptized Protestants. The Church does not accept Protestant orders as valid which means only that a Protestant minister does not truly offer up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but what Protestant minister claims to do that (other than possibly High Anglicans or Lutherans) or offer absolution (but again what Protestant minister claims to do that? I can understand the Episcopalians possibly having a problem with all of this, but Presbyterians or other Evangelicals? It simply doesn’t make sense.I suppose it could be they object to not having a valid sacrament of confirmation, but in a good share of the evangelical world they don’t practice confirmation and where they do it doesn’t necessarily have the same meaning as in the Catholic Church. But then, I spent my last years in Protestantism having a nearly Catholic view of communion while not yet understanding that it didn’t fit in the setting I was in.

    I do know Protestants who think it unfair that Catholic communion is not offered to Protestants. My response to that is: but you don’t really believe what the Church believes. To receive communion in the Catholic Church means accepting all that the Church teaches. To take communion while not accepting all the Church teaches would be lying with your actions. To accept all the Church teaches would be to come under the discipline of the Church and unite with her. You can’t do what a lot of Protestants want to do and say communion is just a way of expressing the fact that we are all sort of brothers and sisters in Christ, I don’t have to believe all that Transubstantiation stuff. You can’t even say, I believe the transubstantiation stuff, but I don’t accept the authority of the Church because it’s all of a piece.

    I understand more the Protestants who are frustrated with the length of time it typically takes to come into the Church. For me, that year was a fast from communion that made reception on the night of my confirmation all the more special. My understanding is that it is not a Church requirement that candidates from other Christian communities complete RCIA, although it may be the policy of some parishes or even dioceses. In some cases the year of RCIA is very helpful, in others it is simply a hoop to jump through.

    We had a friend once who insisted that she could take communion in the Catholic Church (and even did because no one knew she wasn’t Catholic). My daughter’s reaction to that was that it was sort of like someone insisting that pre-marital sex was ok. It was insisting on a privilege which you were unwilling to commit to or of which you were unwilling to take on the responsibilities. In short, it was a sort of theft and just as non-marital sex doesn’t confer grace neither does an invalid reception of the Eucharist.

    It is, however, ironic that some Protestants are wanting to claim that their celebration of communion is Eucharistic and are upset that the Church disagrees, even though what they claim about their communions (that they are merely a memorial celebration, not a sacrificial one) is exactly what the Church would claim about their communions.

    What really is being articulated here is that the Church is not just one other option among many. It is articulating the fact that to be Catholic is not to belong to just another denomination. Ironically, most Protestants realize that as well. It’s why they treat conversion to Catholicism so differently from switching from the Assemblies of God to Methodism or from Congregationalism to Episcopalianism. I could have become an Episcopalian and no one would even have blinked (I know because I had friends who did it), but when I became Catholic I was accused of apostasy. There are a lot of Catholics and liberal Protestants who think that a more touchy/feely open communion approach is more ecumenical. However, most of them think of communion as just about community, not as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which the Church has always taught it to be. The Protestants I grew up with knew the difference and would never have desired Catholic communion at all because for them it was a form of idolatry.

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