Implications of Catholicity

Implications of Catholicity—No. 2

Our continued look at the meaning of the term catholicity and its application in church history.

By H. L. RUDY, Secretary, Central European Division, Section II

During the century of the Reformation and for several centuries following, Lutherdom and the more radical Calvinism held tenaciously to the distinctive name "Catholic." Later on, however, the newer German Protestantism ap­plied the name "Catholic" exclusively to the Roman church. To them the word "catholic" stood for abomination and despitefulness. Heiler states the attitude thus:

"Everything that was terrible, which the polemicists of the Reformation could heap upon the pope and papists, was transmitted in the association of ideas connected with the term 'catholic,' which word finally became the substitute for" the word 'papal' as here­tofore used by the Reformers. From now on the name 'Catholic' was given to the hereditary enemy of evangelical Christianity. It became the subject of in­tense repulsion and dread fear. Howbeit not only the Roman ecclesiastical system, but everything that appeared similar to it, fell under this condemnatory term."—"Urkirche and Ostkirche," p. 12.

It is indeed astonishing to observe the change of meaning that was attached to catholicity. At first the Reformers seriously endeavored to call themselves Catholics, but when finally the reformation of the Catholic Church proved impossible, the very name "Catholic" became a symbol for everything that was regarded as objectionable, corrupt, and abominable in the Christian church. Catholicity then stood for the very opposite of what it was understood to represent originally. This transition in the application of catholicity is rightly regarded as one of the most significant appearances in church history. It reveals the great internal change that took place in Protestantism during the first few centuries following the Reforma­tion. The old Protestantism that endeavored to preserve catholicity gives place to the new Protestantism that denies catholicity, and finds itself commissioned to protest against Cathol­icism as a whole. "We need not be surprised," 'says Heiler, "that the Roman Catholics see in this very process of development a testimonial for the true catholic character of the Church of Rome and the heretical nature of the Reformers."—Id., p. 13.

Evangelical Catholicity

Generally speaking, there is present in the world a strong movement toward recatholiza­tion. Both Protestants and schismatic Catho­lics are parties to an endeavor. to exonerate the name Catholic, seeking to take from it the stigma of former centuries. The first sign of a rehabilitation of catholicity is to be seen in the High Church of. England, as early as the seventeenth century. Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645), a martyr to Anglo-Catholi­cism, confessed at his death: "There is no sal­vation outside of the Catholic Church." And in his will it is stated: "I die, as I have lived, in the very orthodox confession of the Catholic faith of Christ, . . . a true member of His Catholic Church, of which the present Church of England is a part."

From this account it cannot be taken, how­ever, that the Anglican Church had revived catholicity in the sense that Anglicanism was being identified with Romanism. The use of the appellation "Catholic" was lost sight of in the second half of the seventeenth century, but enthusiasm for the word was marvelously revived in the Oxford movement, beginning with its inception in 1833. The second issue of the famous "Tracts for the Times" (Sep­tember 9, 1833) had already received the title, "The Catholic Church." Consciousness of be­ing members of the Catholic Church was so great that the promoters of the Oxford move­ment soon called themselves "Anglo-Catholics." This appellation is all the more surprising since it occurs in a church that considered itself purely Protestant at the beginning. The American branch, however, still maintains its Protestant distinction in name (Protestant Episcopal Church).

The Catholic revival, brought about by the Tractarians, not only resulted in an addition of large numbers to the church, but even the strongest opponents of the movement have since laid claim to "catholicity" of the Angli­can Church. This revival has become so deeply significant that an English bishop who is an avowed opponent of the Anglo-Catholics recently declared: "I extremely dislike the word 'Anglo-Catholic ;' the whole Church of England is Catholic." Hardly a bishop or layman can be found in Anglicanism today who attributes catholicity solely to the Church of Rome.

Continental Protestantism Situation

Turning our attention to Germany and other Continental Protestant countries, what do we find ? In the German Lutheran Church, a revival of catholicity began simultaneously with that of the Oxford movement in Eng­land. In a renaissance of Lutheranism an attempt was made in the nineteenth century to bring about a change in the Protestant conception of the word "catholic," seeking to restore to it again the meaning it had in the minds of the early Reformers,—that the true universal Christian church is catholic. But not so in Germany, where a Protestant coun­termovement, coupled with liberalism, hindered the attempted rehabilitation of catholicity in Lutheranism. It was not until after the close of the World War that a new, decided trend toward the appreciation of the word "catholic" could be initiated.

Following the war, the High Church union in Germany began to contribute toward a new understanding for catholicity. As early as 1917, Pastor Hansen published a series of theses, "Stimuli et Clavi," as a basis for High Church union, several of which speak very decidedly for catholicity:

"No. 8. It is a part of the essence of the church of Jesus Christ that it be catholic. If it is not catholic, it cannot rightfully claim to be considered as the true church.

"No. 9. Protestants belong to the true church only to the extent of their consciousness of being catholic Christians.

"No. 10. Protestants have fallen away from the true church of Christ to the extent that they have lost their catholic consciousness.

"No. 11. Apostasy from the faith in Jesus Christ as true God and SaviOur, yes the falling away from God in general, is the result of a falling away from catholicity. This fact has repeatedly been proved in the history of Protestantism."

It remained as a major accomplishment of the ecumenical movements of Life and Work and Faith and Order to restore honor to the defamed name of "Catholic." As an outstand­ing character in this ecumenical movement we have the late Swedish Archbishop, Nathan SOderblom. In his book on "Religious Prob­lemet inom Katolicism och Protestantism" (1908), he still uses the word "catholic" in the general Protestant sense when referring to the Roman church. His enthusiastic efforts for church union during the World War, how­ever, brought him into closer contact with the Roman church, and he sought to make the name "Catholic" more tasteful in the minds of his Protestant friends. As a means to this end, he added the word "evangelical." Thus he speaks of "evangelical catholicity" in his "Enig Kristendom" (19.19).

He asks the question: "Do we not all pro­fess to belong to the one Catholic Church ?" He now enlarges the "three-branch" theory of the Tractarians, according to which the Cath­olic Church embraces three branches,—Ortho­dox Catholic, Roman Catholic, and the Angli­cans. By adding in the place of Anglicans the group Evangelical-Catholics, he makes the theory include all evangelical Christendom. In Soderblom's mind, "Evangelical Catholic Christendom is a continuation of the ancient and medieval church, equally as genuine and authentic as the Roman Catholic Church."— "Festgabe fur Deissmann," p. 329.


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By H. L. RUDY, Secretary, Central European Division, Section II

August 1938

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