« The Catholic Spirit | Main | A Seasonal Pause »

Sunday, 09 August 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


This is well reasoned and passionate post by a Methodist brother in Christ who takes his ministerial role very seriously.

We disagree on fundamental principles but it's a valiant attempt to defend denominational and personal autonomy (literally: law unto oneself) using the classical Wesleyan principle of the primacy of holiness.

I studied Wesley's sermon The Catholic Spirit for my MDiv at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University in Dallas. I found the reasoning quite compelling and persuasive. It certainly made my classmates far less anti-Catholic if they'd been theretofore inclined.

But by that time I was an Anglican Papalist, and ineluctably convinced - in a Newmanian cumulative case sort of way - of the logical and revelatory weight of the classical Catholic understanding of the additional criteria - or 'marks' - of catholicity and apostolicity underlying true unity. They necessarily include structural, indeed episcopal, elements, not just according to patristics (e.g., Ignatius of Antioch: 'Letter to the Smyrnaeans', Irenaeus of Lyon: 'Against Heresies') but also a common sense approach as well, using the analogy of a vertebrated mammal with a skeleton.

But despite my predisposition against the necessity of denominational pluralism, thank you for a fascinating read!

Your Brother in Christ and Covenant.


Sorry, I posted too hastily.

I meant the analogy of a vertebrated mammal withOUT a skeleton, i.e., as something far from good in itself because it fails to function according to its ideal design.

St Paul said it far better: the Body of Christ has many members (1 Cor 12-14). St Paul didn't need to mention the skeleton in that context, but I think in this day and age he would have done.

Chris Sissons

Thank you for your response, it is very stimulating. I started this blog last November to work on the question, is there a coherent alternative to structural unity? Are we asking the right questions? Do we know what we mean by structural unity? After 8 or 9 months I think the jury is still out with little sign of a return in the near future. Please don't think I'm necessarily against it, perhaps if the counter arguments can be pushed hard enough, the arguments for structural unity will become clearer and more coherent. Post-denominationalism, the latest in vogue alternative in England does not seem to me to be anywhere near an alternative.

You've made me think again about Wesley's 'Catholic Spirit', it has to be said this sermon was written a long time ago and I would not want it to bear too much of the weight of any argument. The close relationship of the churches we know today was not even on the horizon in Wesley's day - his emphasis seems to me to be upon inter-personal relationships.

The problem is that as we grow closer, we must learn to love the other as an institution, just as we love our own institutions. Why should I want my ecumenical partners to lose their identity any more than my own tradition? Eg, it is simply not good enough, with some protestant denominations, to accept (some) Catholics as Christians but not their church.

Your analogy of a vertebrate without a skeleton is seductive but all analogies break down at some point and so we have to seriously ask the question: why is a single structure a necessary condition for unity? What we forget in the 1 Cor passage is the Body of Christ is broken. Kim's book (seventh from the top on the left) is very helpful and my series of posts on the book, starting 31 March, might be worth a glance.

Unity is a gift from God. This is not an excuse to do nothing but wait for God to make the first move but it does raise questions about our priorities as churches together.

The comments to this entry are closed.

CCblog Network

Sites for Transformation

Ecumenical posts

Become a Fan

TypePad Profile

Get updates on my activity. Follow me on my Profile.

November 2011

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30        

This week we pray for

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter
    Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
    Blog powered by Typepad