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On Remaining Protestant

I was born an evangelical protestant, and despite my contentions with this tradition, I still find myself broadly situated therein.  However I am ambiguously so situated.  To my mind protestantism is always the question, the objection, the provisional mode of protest that takes place within the wider presupposition of the givenness of the Catholic church.  It is always protestants that must justify their identity as non-Catholics rather than the other way round.

On the basis of this, I have two questions, for myself and other protestants.  First, what justification do we have for remaining protestant in light of what the Catholic Church is today?  If protestantism is not a stable identity, but a provisional movement of protest within the Catholic church, we cannot assume the perpetual existence of protestantism.  We must be open to the possibility of the end of protestantism if we are to be true to the aims of the Reformers themselves.  Second, what was the purpose of the Reformation?  If it is truly a movement of “reformation”, it must clearly have a limited number of reformational aims, which, when satisfied no longer merits a sundering of communion.  So, if the Reformation is not over yet, what remains to be done?


  1. “To my mind protestantism is always the question, the objection, the provisional mode of protest that takes place within the wider presupposition of the givenness of the Catholic church. It is always protestants that must justify their identity as non-Catholics rather than the other way round.”

    I wouldn’t agree that we have to justify our identity. This assumes that the Catholic understanding of itself is the only Christian one. “Protestant” is the name given us by Catholics. “Christian” itself is a name with all sorts of baggage. “Ecumenical” is another.
    I would argue that the search to define oneself as a unity with some historically perfect faith is itself an abstraction. We are what we have now, regardless of definition.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 9:04 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Chris, do you think that is it an abstraction to try to discern if our faith and community are in continuity with the one founded by Jesus? I don’t think that means the search for a “historically perfect faith”, but it does seems like any Christian must have some way of seeing how their faith and ecclesial practice are a part of the community founded by Jesus.

    I can’t countenance the idea that protestantism is unquestionable ecclesial identity. Both historically and theologically that doesn’t hold up. The Reformation is a movement of reform within the Catholic church. To say that it is now a permanent stable ecclesial identity which is an alternative to the Catholic church is to say something that is contrary to the very spirit and aims of the Reformers.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 9:15 am | Permalink
  3. d. w. horstkoetter wrote:

    I think its telling that in describing myself I do not use the word protestant, even normally amongst Catholics. Perhaps this is specific my contexts, still, I wonder if “the Reformation” continues to exist for most protestants.

    It seems that instead of the Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, we’ve got a slew of more specific identities from which anyone can draw from anywhere, a milieu of theology if you will: Catholics from Protestants, Protestants from Orthodox, Orthodox from Catholics, etc. If we recognize the validity of each other, the connections we have between ourselves and continually inform each other, then I have no problem with a plurality of views. In fact I think it enriches the body of Christ.

    However, I do notice certain discrepancies in the community, like closed communions. I do not take communion at a Catholic church as per the official request. However, some Catholics have looked at me strange for not taking communion with them and wondered why I wasn’t disregarding the official stance. In my mind then, the question of separation is mostly administrative now.

    I center all this under the body of Christ metaphor and we still have some from of unicity. While we have theological and administrative differences, we’re all still seeking Christ and now we are talking together. I can’t help but think that in the future, even our liturgy, or at least emphasis on the eucharist, will begin to look closer in many respects. Who knows how long it will take, but that seems the trajectory for at least some of Christianity (other parts in America, like the megachurch, I assume will continue to exist, in spite of God *zing* heh.).

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 10:05 am | Permalink
  4. Lee wrote:

    I think there may be a bit of equivocation on “Catholic Church” going on here. Protestants don’t simply take it as given that the “catholic church” (of, say, the Creed) = the Roman Catholic Church and that the question is when or under what conditions will they “return” to the c/Catholic church. To put it that way loads the ecumenical dice, to put it mildly.

    The Lutheran reformers, for instance, didn’t think they were leaving the catholic church, but that Rome had corrupted the meaning of catholicity. The church, for them, was wherever the Gospel was preached and the sacraments administered, and so was present in the Church of Rome, the Eastern Churches, the “evangelical” congregations, etc.

    A more accurate way of putting it, IMO, is to ask what (if anything) justifies the continued divisions among Christians and what are the things which prevent Christians from enjoying more fully the unity they have/ought to have. Thus the onus isn’t on “Protestants” to justify their departure from Rome, but on everybody to examine their own responsibility for continued division.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  5. Aric Clark wrote:

    While Lee has a point about the difference between catholicity and Roman Catholicism I think Halden is essentially right about the aims of the original reformers and the meaning of the Reformation. To Reform is a verb, it must have a subject. The subject of the reformation is the Roman Catholic Church if only because that was the church from which the reformers came. If we wish now to define the reformation differently then the problem comes in determining our continuity with the original reformers and by extension with the community which Jesus founded.

    I do not think that the only possible end of the reformation is formal unity with the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps, actually it is pushing beyond that to a confessional unity with the Eastern church as well. However, we must be Reforming “something”, Protesting “something”. To be “Protestant” is not an identity without an object. To be “Reformed” is not an identity without content. The developments in Roman Catholicism impinge directly on our identity if we consider ourselves part of the Reformation movement started in the 16th century. Especially in the light of statements like the joint Lutheran-Catholic statement on Justification by Grace through Faith.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 10:53 am | Permalink
  6. Chris wrote:

    This is a great conversation guys. I agree Halden that we can’t still claim to be upholding the tradition of the Reformers. The disunity of what is Protestantism is an affront to the Body of Christ. I think the essential question, the real impediment is with Apostolic succession. I really just don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is administrated within the office of Peter. Certainly this is not the unity we’re looking for. That said, I’ve found much more unity among the laity of various traditions than can be found on paper.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 11:29 am | Permalink
  7. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Thanks for the thought provoking questions Halden. Personally, I am in a bit of strange position right now. I also grew up, in broad terms, evangelical protestant, but received most of my theological education from Roman Catholics. I actually just transferred to a Roman Catholic seminary to finish an M.A. in theology! Because I am the only “protestant” in my classes, many students (and instructors) look to me to give the “protestant opinion” on theological matters. However, I am not exactly a good representation of the protestant view, per se, whatever that is. In fact, I share more affinities with Roman Catholicism than I do with most protestant denominations. Actually, I am probably more Roman Catholic than many of my fellow Roman Catholic students! Alas, I was not raised a Catholic and for some reason I continue to choose not to go through the catechism process.

    I share Halden’s general sentiment here. In the end, we have to identify what we are still protesting. Indeed, I personally think there is much to protest, but does this mean we continue to stay outside of the communion?

    As of late, it has been difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that the Roman Catholic church does not identify what protestant’s do on Sunday mornings as church. It is also hard for me to deal with the fact that the Roman Catholic church thinks protestants don’t actually take the eucharist. Indeed, VII was an important council with profound implications, but the Vatican still has big walls around it. Frankly, I’m not sure if I can make the jump.

    Sorry for the jumbled comment. But I had to share some of my recent experience.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  8. Lee wrote:

    Hi Aric,

    At the risk of oversimplifying greatly, I think you’re right about what the Reformers’ intentions were when they started out, but as it increasingly became apparent that there was going to be no reform of the kind Luther et al. had in mind from upper echelons of the hierarchy, they found themselves going to outside channels. For Luther it was the princes, acting as a kind of “extraordinary” bishop. But by the time you get to the 2nd generation of Reformers it seems to me what you have is, rather than an attempt to reform from the top-down, an attempt to simply build reformed Christian communities. And what you also get is a revised understanding of what “the church” is. Now, you could argue that Reformed ecclessiology is making a virtue out of necessity, but the bottom line is that the Reformed communities’ views of what the church was had diverged so radically from Rome’s that it was no longer their default assumption that Rome was “the” church from which they had broken and would someday “return” to when it had suitably reformed itself. So, I think it’s an open question to say the least whether contemporary Protestants are obliged to carry on the quest for Christian unity in the terms of the very early stages of the Reformation.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 1:34 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    These are a lot of good comments. A few things.


    Yes, I think you put your finger on it that for most protestants the reformation has ceased to be a real “thing”. I think that’s quite a problem. Reifying protestant identity, I think is to take a historically particular movement and universalize it in an unhealthy way.


    I appreciate your concerns and contentions about catholicity and the trajectory of the later reformation. But, I would contend that any attempt to start from the “top down” and “build Christian communities” is theologically suspect (even though, I am, of course very much a part of it, I’m trying to be self-critical here). How can anyone just up and “build” a Christian community and that community be really truly organically a part of the church that Jesus himself founded?

    Or, to use an anecdote that somone once told me, a modern new age neo-pagan person was once lamenting how the church in the middle ages persecuted and murdered members of “his community”. But the question is in what sense he is really part of whatever pagan community existed back then. How is he really, in any substantive way to be identified with them? Can a person just come along centuries later, find some ancient theological ideas, adopt them and then be realistically understood to be part of the original community that held those ideas?

    Also, I think there is no way around the fact, historically or theologically that Rome was “the church” from which all protestant churches have broken. To say that the Roman Catholic church is not “the church” from which we came as protestants is to say that it is not a church at all, which I think is quite an incredible claim to make, since it and the Eastern Orthodox church was the only church around at all for the first 16 centuries of Christianity.

    And I also would argue that basing our contemporary Christian life and practice on how the reformation played itself out is a mistake. Even if the current assumption of protestants is not that they should reenter communion with Rome if the initial aims of the Reformers were to take place, that does not mean we shouldn’t assume that.

    Basically, we’re left with two options as protestants when interpreting the reformation and our identity as protestants. One is that our identity as protestants is a form of protest against certain elements in the Roman Catholic church which we wish to see reformed for the sake of the faithfulness and unity of the body of Christ (this is my view). Or, we can see the reformation as an exodus of the truly faithful church from the depraved and apostate hierarchy of Rome which is not now a “Christian church” in the proper sense (Luther’s later view, and I think most protestant’s view). I just don’t find the latter view very credible. I still think there may be some reforming to be done, which is why I’m still a protestant, but I think the reification of protestant identity as the proper form of the church is a terrible ecclesiological problem.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 4:50 pm | Permalink
  10. d. w. horstkoetter wrote:

    Just to nitpick, lets not forget the Ethiopic church. I say this because they were not the product of the sacking of Constatinople (which seems to be the real break between the two churches, as opposed to individual, dual excommunications) or the Reformation in Europe. In fact, the Ethiopic church thrived, regressed and thrived again before the Protestant Reformation, however (to my knowledge), the Ethiopic church continued on as a separate church without a violent break from the Europeans. You could say that the Europeans, as they claimed power in Rome and Constantinople left them. Which raises an interesting side question “How ought we to join with them as well?”

    Of course the Protestant Reformation does not claim its roots in the Ethiopic church, still, I think this information has merit as we talk about finding a greater unity. Why aren’t we with them? Those whom we just forgot. Thats a theological schism.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  11. Canadian wrote:

    I speak here as a mystery and liturgy starved Baptist. In most of our discussions, we as protestant’s often think of Rome and her doctrines as the embodiment of a massive fall of Christianity that needed Reformation. However, we are children of the Western Church not some fallen unified Christendom. Rome, from whence we came, was already a schismatic body herself.
    Her view of the development of doctrine is not found in the ancient and/or Eastern church. The Eastern Orthodox are conciliar not papal, and Rome tried to exert it’s universal authority over the other four patriarchates. This is why Rome can call all her councils “ecumenical” when the Orthodox only hold the 7 ancient Councils of a united Christianity.
    In my mind, there is no submitting to Rome as she presently sits.
    Vincent of Lerin in his Commonitory seems to advocate the view of the Father’s: “that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” RC’s try to appeal to this at the same time as holding to their theory of the freedom of the Magisterium to infallibly come up with new doctrines not held by the unified ancient Church. But our next problem becomes…where does this leave Protestantism?

    So instead of starting our discussion with the Reformation, maybe we need to look a lot farther back and see what else was believed by the Church which gave us the Apostolic scriptures.
    We seem to have no problem inheriting the Church’s use of Tradition when it comes to the canon, or the two natures of Christ, or the Trinitarian formulations but it seems downhill from there. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is surely not Rome or Protestantism. **gulps**
    I know far too little about the Orthodox Church, but I do know one thing. No one can stir my heart like some of the Orthodox writers of which Father Stephen Freeman is but one.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 6:07 pm | Permalink
  12. WTM wrote:

    I very much agree with your post, Halden. However, I think I probably disagree with your assessment of the Roman church today. It simply is not apparent to me that as much ground has been gained there as some like to think. For instance, the “Joint Declaration” holds no sway over my imagination.

    Further, I speak of the ‘Roman’ church very intentionally, for long before the Reformation the Roman church ceased to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in any institutional sense.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 6:18 pm | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    I didn’t really have the Joint Declaration in view with this question. I’m a bit confused by your second paragraph, though. Are you saying that the Catholic church is not a genuine church in any sense at all? That seems a rather incredible statement.

    However, whatever the flaws of the Catholic church may be, I find myself hard pressed to find much resembling the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” anywhere in protestantism, either.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 10:57 pm | Permalink
  14. Jon wrote:

    The very term “Protestant” was inherited to Luther’s evangelical reform movement after the Diet of Speyer, when the Lutheran princes made their declaration against that Diet.

    I personally find more meaning in the appellation of “Evangelical”; since for me it has more to do with the affirmation of the evangel “properly preached”. I self identify as “Evangelical Catholic”, since I find that phrase more meaningful as it both names my identity with the evangelical teachings of the Reformers as well as my identity as part of Christ’s one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

    I think what has been argued here is that saying Rome = the Catholic Church assumes a lot. If Rome is the Catholic Church that assumes the Roman Catholic position that anything and anyone outside of her unique communion is outside of the Church. Period.

    Another problem arises in that if we say Rome is in error because of her unwillingness to embrace the evangelical reforms of Luther and Co. then certainly all ecclesiastical communities which depart as equally radically from the Evangelical Gospel is in error–at least enough to nail some theses to a church door.

    The vast body of global Protestantism, arguably, doesn’t accept the Evangelical Gospel as understood by Luther and Co. Since for the Reformers rejected the very notion of the cooperation of the will in regards to Justification; and most Protestants today, arguably, do accept the cooperation of the will. A meaningful identity with the Reformation would mean an understanding that any deviation from the Evangelical Gospel is worthy of protest.

    Can someone even identify with the Reformation, in any meaningful way, if (looking from the Reformer’s perspective) they have deviated as much from the Evangelical Gospel as Rome has?

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 3:08 am | Permalink
  15. WTM wrote:

    With all the splits in Christianity prior to the Reformation, and with the Rome / Constantinople split particularly in mind, it seems reductionist and even revisionist to view what we today call the ‘Roman Catholic’ church as in any way a better institutional representative of catholicity than any other church. The only argument for this position that I can see is one that depends on apostolic succession, and while I have deep respond for something like historical continuity, such an appraisal of apostolic succession is simply not possible for me – especially with the division between East and West.

    Thus, the distinctions between the churches become quantitative (a matter of degrees) and not qualitative, and everything will hinge on which value(s) you consider more important as you evaluate degrees.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for everyone working hard so that we can legitimately achieve eucharistic sharing and other pan-ecclesial alliances and what not, but at this point in the game I think that hoping for some kind of simplistic institutional unity (“Let’s all reconcile with Rome!”) to be not only a pipe-dream, but also undesirable.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 5:34 am | Permalink
  16. Lee wrote:

    Hey there Halden,

    I’m afraid I don’t think your either-or exhausts the possibilities. There is a view which neither sees a “return to Rome” as the logical endpoint of reform nor denies that the Church of Rome is a true church.

    For instance, no mainline Protestant church that I’m aware of has “unchurched” Rome or denied the “validity” of Roman orders. The problem, in a sense, is asymmetrical – it’s Rome that denies that the churches of the Reformation are proper churches. The predominant mainline Protestant view (I’d argue) is that all churches are in a sense parts of, or perhaps manifestations of, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church which is present when the gospel is preached and the sacraments duly administered.

    What I’m suggesting is that to speak in terms of a return to a (suitalby reformed) Rome as the starting point for ecumenical discussion is simply to beg the ecclessiological question. In other words, to define “unity” in terms of the kind of instutitional unity represented by Rome is to deny the Protestant view at the outset.(Also, am I the only one who is filled with horror at the prospect of some kind of super-church with the attendant bureaucracy, etc.?)

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 7:04 am | Permalink
  17. Chris wrote:

    Halden, I think what you’re not taking into account here is the division within the Catholic church theologically, a division that was there before the Reformation and continues in the same and in different forms today. I think of the Catholic church as an umbrella church which, under one communion, has great diversity of thought. Two very influential theologians are a case in point: Hans Kung, and John Dominic Crossan. A friend of mine was complaining to a catholic friend that Crossan gets to receive the body and bread whenever he likes whereas my friend is excluded. My catholic friend’s response was, “Oh let’s not judge now!”

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 7:25 am | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    These are some really great comments, guys.

    I have just a couple more clarifying points.

    1) Neither I nor the current teachings of the Roman Catholic church have said that Rome=the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”. Catholic teaching, even in its current conservative incarnation in Pope Benedict has maintained that “the church of Christ subsists in the Catholic church.” In other words, Catholic self-understanding is not that they exaust and irreducibly define the reality of the church, only that they know that the church is certainly there. Do they equivocate on this point? Yes indeed. Nor do I necessarily hold that the church of Christ subsists in the Catholic church to some greater degree than it does in the churches of the Reformation, or whatever.

    2) While I think it is historically undeniable that protestant Christians belong to the heritage of the Christian west and the Roman Catholic church, I don’t think a simplistic “return to Rome” is the only answer, or perhaps even the best answer to the ecumenical question. I think reconciliation is a gospel imperative, but what such reconciliation might look like is an open question.

    3) Apostolic succession is obviously the linchpin issue on which the ecumenical question turns (and within that of course is the question of the sacrament of orders). If apostolic succession is viable, then the onus is definitely on protestants and the ecumenical dice is loaded in favor of Rome. If apostolic succession is not part of the esse of the church, then the playing field is somewhat more leveled and perhaps there are modes of communion that could be established to bring about Christian unity that are more complex and diverse than simply a structural integration of protestants into the Roman Catholic church.

    I don’t have a definitive answer to these questions, only more questions and wonderings. I don’t think that too much personal security in our ecumenical status and ecclsial merits is ever a good thing as it leads to reification and perhaps complacency.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  19. Aric Clark wrote:

    Certainly as we’re all protestants here (to my knowledge) no one is trying to make a simplistic identification of Rome with the One holy apostolic catholic church. Halden got it right when he said we have to recognize that in Rome we see the church, not that it is the definition of the church. This is necessary because otherwise we have cut ourselves off at the root. It is untenable in the same way Christian Supercessionism is untenable. If God is not faithful to his covenant with Israel, Jesus means nothing. If the Reformation didn’t come out of the true church and have the true church as its object, then it is a waste of time.

    I think that Lee and WTM miss the necessity of this historical connection. For example Calvin repudiated in the strongest terms the anabaptists saying he would ‘kiss the ring of the pope’ before he’d be caught in their company. His reasoning was because the anabaptists were doing precisely what you describe – setting about founding a new church. There can be no new church. Any new church is not in continuity with the one that Jesus Christ founded. We are either reformers within the original catholic church – which requires acknowledging the legitimacy of Rome and the East (at the least) or we’re innovators off doing our own thing which has nothing to do with the Church.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 9:55 am | Permalink
  20. David wrote:

    “In other words, Catholic self-understanding is not that they exaust and irreducibly define the reality of the church, only that they know that the church is certainly there.”

    I’m not sure that’s an entirely accurate rendering. The Catholic Church’s faith isn’t merely an assurance that the Church truly exists in her midst, so to speak. It is, as was pointed out in Dominus Iesus: “that the church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church” whilst recognising that that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth.”

    And as you rightly point out, the question of apostolic succession is they key factor in all of this, linked, as it is, with “the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery” (Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine of the Church).

    I fully agree (unsuprisingly perhaps, as a Catholic) with your diagnosis of the situation. I’m also habitually left wondering why many non-Catholics who imbibe so much of the theology of the Catholic Church, who so clearly appreciate and understand the many facets of Catholic doctrine, nevertheless it seems, rarely even question their on going ‘protest’ against the Catholic Church.

    So, on a personal note, to all the “separated brethren” out there: what precisely are your objections to “swimming the tiber”? I am genuinely interested as living in a predominantly Catholic country my main experience of this sort of debate with protestants (including friends) is something akin to arguing with Jack Chick, i.e. much talk of statues, the Virgin Mary and so forth, but little of the substantive theological disagreement one would think justified the continuing separation.

    God bless,


    Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  21. Lee wrote:

    Aric, I don’t say that Protestants deny the need for a connection, they just don’t define it in the same terms as the RCC (well, Anglicans and some Lutherans partly excepted). It’s not a question of founding a “new church,” but that what counts as continuity is the preaching of the apostolic gospel. I don’t know much about Calvin’s relations with the Anabaptists, but I know that Luther considered them “enthusiasts” who were abandoning the divinely instituted means of grace (Word and sacrament), which is consistent with the Lutheran understanding of the church. (Whether he was being fair in his characterization of the Anabaptists is another issue, natch.) It’s true, then, that there can be no new church, because it’s the very same church which is present when the gospel is preached and the sacraments duly administered.

    So, yeah, at some point it does come down to the two things that Rome insists are necessary for there to be a proper church: a historic episcopate in apostolic succession and communion with the Bishop of Rome (leaving aside for the moment Rome’s somewhat ambiguous stance toward the Eastern churches). (Most)Protestants deny this and since I’m not prepared to “unchurch” all the Methodists and Presbyterians out there I’d have to say I agree.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  22. Canadian wrote:

    You said:
    “If apostolic succession is viable, then the onus is definitely on protestants and the ecumenical dice is loaded in favor of Rome.”

    Why Rome? The Eastern churches have Apostolic succession.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  23. Aric Clark wrote:


    Good response. I think we can probably come to a basic sort of agreement which is that we’re not willing to say either that Protestants are unchurched or that Rome is a false church. There are genuine disagreements between the two sides. For example I could not accept the primacy of the Bishop of Rome (though I do hold to apostolic succession by laying on of hands). My essential point, and Halden’s too I think, is that we should view this as a scandal rather than a normative state of affairs. One of the “reforms” I think is still necessary is the dismantling of papal authority (along with ordination of women, and a non-celibate priesthood). I think Protestants are called to still be in relationship with Rome trying to accomplish these reforms, rather than accepting the schism as natural.

    Once again, it doesn’t mean that the only possible end of the reformation is formal union with Rome. However, I think we have to have it in mind as a real possibility. When we completely abandon our reforming position vis a vis Rome we lose our historic continuity with the western church and become innovators.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 8:35 pm | Permalink
  24. Elena wrote:

    It is always protestants that must justify their identity as non-Catholics rather than the other way round.

    Sometime visit the “Christian” non-Catholic mommy, homemaking, head covering part of the blogosphere and you’ll see that that is not the case!!

    Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 4:43 am | Permalink
  25. Z wrote:

    As a catholic, i can only leave this question to others. I was brought up like this and can’t truly feel what a protestant is feeling.
    Question from catholic friend, though:
    When Saint Peter still lived on this earth, how do we imagine the feelings going through him if some christians then said:
    “No, we don’t want to eat communion with you guys, Peter, we want to form something new, and will go to different room/house to have Supper, while you sit here.”
    Just a thought: Would i have done this?

    Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 6:39 am | Permalink
  26. roflyer wrote:

    If people are interested in the RCC’s present doctrine of the Church, check out the recent clarification (June 2007) of Dominus Iesus from the Congregration for the Doctrine of the Faith. It somewhat helpfully addresses ambigious words such as “subsists.”
    Read here.

    Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  27. Halden wrote:


    Protestantism generally doesn’t say anything like the following:

    “No, we don’t want to eat communion with you guys, Peter, we want to form something new, and will go to different room/house to have Supper, while you sit here.”

    Or at least, protestantism as it was originally concieved. In fact, today there are countless protestants (such as myself) who would love nothing more than to be in Eucharistic communion with Rome. In fact, many protestants would not think twice about sharing the Lord’s Supper with a Catholic. I don’t. Whenever any of the Catholics I know comes to my congregation’s Gathered Worship, they recieve communion with us. It is when I go to the Catholic parish down the street that people start refusing to eat with one another.

    You over-simplify the issue and make quite a loaded statement here. The issue is not that protestants just want to go do their own thing (or at least they shouldn’t, some DO want that and they are wrong), it’s that Rome won’t extend Eucharistic communion to communities that do not partake of the sacrament of orders. That’s a bigger theological question than the facile way you present protestants just slapping the apostle Peter in the face. That is definitively what is not going on.

    Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  28. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Halden said:

    . . . the provisional mode of protest that takes place within the wider presupposition of the givenness of the Catholic church . . .

    are you saying the “givenness of the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH” or the Catholic Church? Which historically would include both Western and Eastern branches. I do realize that the Reformers were protesting against Rome, but in so doing didn’t they galvinize themselves towards being a “body” which set themselves under the “immediate” headship of Christ vs. the mediate of the Roman See, and the succession of Apostles typified in the Pope? In short, as a Protestant, I see discontinuity between Rome and Prot. via our views on “authority”—and then subsequent views on soteriology, etc.

    Sorry for the ramble, just some really quick thinking.

    Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  29. Camassia wrote:

    I’ve had discussions like this with other Protestants, and I think the answer is basically … they have other things to worry about. Really, since Catholics and Protestants aren’t killing each other anymore (well maybe in Ireland, but that’s debatable), and are even intermarrying and cooperating on things like charitable work, the idea that Christian disunity is a sin and an outrage is more theoretical than felt. If a person meets Jesus in a particular church, and she believes she’s saved there and her friends and family are there, then uprooting all that would be a trauma with a rather unclear reward.

    Not that I don’t see where you’re coming from. I’ve had these discussion precisely because it’s difficult for me to square the promises of the New Testament with what’s actually happened. But on a personal level, it’s not hard to see why people stay where they are.

    Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  30. Enkla Z wrote:

    I truly understand that protestants really want to share the Lords Supper with catholics.
    But what i was referring to was more along the lines of:
    In the days of Peter, most christians probably had the same rite, belief, communion etc as he did. Saint Peter probably chose his own successor. Why not respect this choice?

    If one really wants “Supper with Saint Peter” today then why not reconise him as well?

    Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 11:50 pm | Permalink
  31. Bobby Grow wrote:
    “In fact, many protestants would not think twice about sharing the Lord’s Supper with a Catholic. I don’t. Whenever any of the Catholics I know comes to my congregation’s Gathered Worship, they recieve communion with us. It is when I go to the Catholic parish down the street that people start refusing to eat with one another.”

    Hi Bobby! As a Catholic I find this interesting! I apologize for intruding onto your truly fascinating discussion – please forgive me. But I wanted to address this. The thing is, the Catholics who are receiving at a Protestant service are not following the tenants of their faith by doing so, and in fact are committing mortal sin by receiving because it is, in a sense, embracing schism – the division of the Body of Christ that Christ abhorred. I know that may sound odd – as one might think one is being ecumenical and trying to patch division, but in truth, they are only making the division more wide by accepting openly what divided the Body in the first place.

    But, I do find it interesting that you’d want to receive in a Catholic Church. Why would you want that, when it is an object of disunity between our faith traditions? We believe it truly is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. You believe it is a symbol. Going by honesty alone, one should receive it only if they accept entirely what it is purported to be.

    However, I must tell you in complete honesty that the reason the Church denies communion to those outside the faith is actually out of charitable concern for your soul. It is the fear of the Church that those not in union with her are not properly disposed to receive and could incur eternal condemnation by receiving unworthily. In other words, the Church wants to protect you from Hellfire. Her job is to save souls, not condemn them. This concern is based on 1 Corinthians 11:26-30. “…he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”

    The Church really does take the state of your soul seriously, even if some of her adherents do not.

    In the love of Christ,

    Friday, September 14, 2007 at 4:56 am | Permalink
  32. Steve wrote:

    To all of my brothers and sisters who preside hesitantly on the other side of the Tiber, I as a Roman Catholic want to invite you all to come home to Rome! We miss you and love you in Christ Jesus. You’ve been gone far to long. Come home!

    Friday, September 14, 2007 at 7:38 am | Permalink
  33. Halden wrote:

    Ann, it was in fact myself that wrote the comment you quote, not Bobby. I appreciate your perspective, and I think it illustrates the fact that not all Catholics are of the same mind about what “communion” with protestants can mean. The rationale of the many Catholics who are not averse to eating the Lord’s Supper with protestants is simply based on the Catholic teaching that the protestant celebration of the Lord’s Supper is, in fact not the eucharist because it is not consecrated by a priest in communion with the college of bishops, etc. Thus, when protestants eat the Lord’s Supper it is simply eating together in memory of Jesus Christ, an act that doesn’t seem outside the bounds of the commonality that Catholics and protestants share.

    Also, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume “what I believe” about Eucharistic change and the issue of the presence of Christ. There is no “one” protestant perspective on this, and while many do believe that it is “just a symbol”, I and many many others do not. And the list of such protestants would including for example, Luther and Calvin.

    Thanks, again for the discussion.

    Friday, September 14, 2007 at 8:57 am | Permalink
  34. Halden, I deeply apologize for not giving you credit for the proper quote. I must have misread it! (blush!)

    While I understand there are some Catholics (I hesitate to say ‘many,’ because we really don’t know how many) who might receive communion with Protestants because they believe it is only a meal in memory (and I acknowledge you’re right on that) they still do so against Church teaching. Intercommunion has been been forbidden by the Magisterium for the reason I cited above(CCC#1400), and they incur mortal sin regardless of how good their intentions are. This is not to say that our common respect for its symbolic life in Christ cannot be a point of dialogue. Paul VI in Unitatis Redintegratio writes that it must be. But that division still exists and the exhortation still exists. I’d would ask you, humbly, to please encourage your friends to refrain from participating in the future.

    However, I do understand what you’re saying, I truly do, and I am grateful that you allowed me to share with you. You have been very gracious.

    God bless you!

    Friday, September 14, 2007 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  35. Krista wrote:

    Hi Ann!

    Interesting thoughts on partaking of communion. In reading CCC#1400, it states that “for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible.” It seems as though this is more in regards to what the Catholic Church cannot do, namely that it cannot be both ways. You cannot have *inter* communion. Even if a Roman Catholic partakes from a Protestant Church, there still is NO intercommunion going on because the Roman Catholic Church does not let Protestants partake. In all fairness to the Roman Catholics who do partake at a Protestant Church, I can see how they would read CCC#1400 and not believe they were in mortal sin. Especially if you read the CCC entries around #1400, it seems more like the it is stating how Protestants should relate to Roman Catholics, not the other way around. Is there somewhere else you can reference me to that would state clearly that these people are in mortal sin? Because that is a pretty strong statement on your part, and CCC#1400 does not say that.

    Thanks for the thought provoking comment!

    In Christ,


    Friday, September 14, 2007 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  36. John McBryde wrote:

    Hello Krista,

    I hope this will be helpful.

    In order to safeguard the sacrament, and to ensure that Christ is received with the proper dispositions (something very important for the authentic good of the person receiving Him), the Church has enacted certain norms for determining those occasions when intercommunion is legitimate. In the 1983 Code of Canon Law the following is prescribed:

    Canon 844 (c.671 in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches)

    1. Catholic ministers may licitly administer the sacraments to Catholic members of the Christian faithful only and, likewise, the latter may licitly receive the sacraments only from Catholic ministers with due regard for parts 2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and can. 861, part 2.

    2. Whenever necessity requires or genuine spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, it is lawful for the faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose churches these sacraments are valid.

    3. Catholic ministers may licitly administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick to members of the oriental churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church, if they ask on their own for the sacraments and are properly disposed. This holds also for members of other churches, which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition as the oriental churches as far as these sacraments are concerned.

    4. If the danger of death is present or other grave necessity, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or the conference of bishops, Catholic ministers may licitly administer these sacraments to other Christians who do not have full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and on their own ask for it, provided they manifest Catholic faith in these sacraments and are properly disposed.

    5. For the cases in parts 2, 3, and 4, neither the diocesan bishop nor the conference of bishops is to enact general norms except after consultation with at least the local competent authority of the interested non- Catholic Church or community.

    In keeping with the sacramental meaning of the Eucharist this canon reserves the sacraments to Catholics, that is, those who are in communion with the Church. It then addresses the question of Catholics receiving the sacraments from non-Catholics. It sets the following strict conditions:

    a. necessity or genuine spiritual advantage
    b. when the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided
    c. it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister
    d. a church which has valid sacraments

    This last condition is the key one, since it eliminates all the Reformation churches, none of whom have valid sacred orders, and therefore, a valid Eucharist. The possibility of a Catholic receiving from the minister of another church, when the first three conditions are fulfilled, is limited to the Orthodox Churches, other Oriental Churches, Old Catholics, Polish National and others whose sacraments are recognized by the Holy See.

    (Colin B. Donovan, STL)

    As an addendum:

    The Catholic Church sets out specific guidelines regarding how we should prepare ourselves to receive the Lord’s body and blood in Communion.

    First, you must be in a state of grace. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:27–28).

    Second, you must have been to confession since your last mortal sin. The Didache witnesses to this practice of the early Church. “But first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one” (Didache 14).

    The 1983 Code of Canon Law indicates that the same requirement applies today. “A person who is conscious of a grave sin is not to . . . receive the body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is present and there is no opportunity of confessing; in this case the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible” (CIC 916).

    Third, you must believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation. “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:29). Transubstantiation means more than the Real Presence. According to transubstantiation, the bread and wine are actually transformed into the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, with only the appearances of bread and wine remaining.

    Fourth, you must observe the Eucharistic fast. Canon law states, “One who is to receive the most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion” (CIC 919 §1). Elderly people, those who are ill, and their caretakers are excused from the Eucharistic fast (CIC 191 §3).

    Finally, one must not be under an ecclesiastical censure. Canon law mandates, “Those who are excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion” (CIC 915).

    Provided they are in a state of grace and have met the above requirements, Catholics should receive the Eucharist frequently (cic 898).


    Friday, September 14, 2007 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  37. Well, I’m going to look for more citations, Krista, but I can start with Canon 844 of the Church Code of Canon Law, which states explicitly that “Catholic members of the Christian faithful may receive sacraments only from Catholic ministers.” The only exception being from non-Catholic ministers “who have valid sacraments” (meaning the Orthodox).

    There are two reasons, then, that it would be mortally sinful. #1 is disobedience to Church authority. #2 is the sin of scandal (appearing, publicly, to give credence to incorrect teaching). Either is a mortal sin.

    But in any case – “intercommunion” as mentioned in the above citation works both ways, and is understood to mean both ways in Church law.

    I promise I will attempt to find a more concrete citation for you, but it may be one of those things where it’s so commonly understood that it might never have been explicitly stated. I will keep looking, though.

    Friday, September 14, 2007 at 7:16 pm | Permalink
  38. Ah, I see John has added some things above as well. Maybe you’ll find his post more useful than mine. :)

    Sorry, John, we must have been two posts crossing during the night…

    Friday, September 14, 2007 at 7:19 pm | Permalink
  39. Krista wrote:

    Thank you both, John and Ann, for addressing my questions. I can see that this discussion comes from you having the desire to protect those who do not agree with the Catholic position on the Eucharist. However, I still disagree with the fact that it has been called a ‘mortal sin’. The CCC is very clear on what mortal sin is.

    CCC#1857: For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: ‘Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

    So what then is ‘grave matter’? Grave sins are then listed individually in the CCC: anger, blasphemy, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, envy, hatred, malice, murder, neglect of Sunday obligation, sins against faith, sins against hope, sins against love.

    Based on what John quoted from the COCL, it would be dangerous to called partaking at a non-Catholic church a mortal sin. Here is the quote I am referring to:
    1. Catholic ministers may licitly administer the sacraments to Catholic members of the Christian faithful only and, likewise, the latter may licitly receive the sacraments only from Catholic ministers with due regard for parts 2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and can. 861, part 2.

    This clearly talks about not only the receiving of the Eucharist, but also the giving. Are we prepared to say that Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) was in mortal sin when he gave Brother Roger (of Taize) communion at Pope John Paul II’s funeral? Now I am *not* arguing for Protestants to take communion at Catholic churches, and I am *not* arguing for Catholics to replace their Eucharist with one from another church. I am simply trying to say that maybe it is too strong to say that in doing either of those it is mortal sin. It seems as though Pope Benedict was able to make a judgment call on whether or not Brother Roger should receive. (And keep in mind Brother Roger did not fit the “If the danger of death is present or other grave necessity” clause). All I am asking for is grace (in not assuming they are committing mortal sin) to those faithful who have chosen to partake at a Protestant church (as they are not even therefore neglecting their Sunday Obligation, they could do both).

    For an interesting read on intercommunion, and some questions surrounding it, go to:

    Thanks for the great input!

    Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  40. John McBryde wrote:

    Hello Krista,

    Just for the record; I didn’t say it was a mortal sin. There are too many components involved for me to be the judge of that. As they say, that’s above my pay grade.

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’m getting the impression that you are trying to parse the language to justify something that the Church clearly teaches against.

    Let’s say that it’s only a venial sin. To knowingly commit a venial sin, is still a sin. And I wouldn’t recommend getting into the habit.

    As for Pope Benedict and Brother Roger, there are too many unknowns for either one of us to really know what was going on there.


    Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 5:44 pm | Permalink
  41. I spoke to a friend of mine who is a deacon about this, and he gave me a response. I quote him for you, because he says it far better than I can:

    “For a Catholic to receive communion in a Protestant Church can be idolatrous (if he treats their communion as Jesus’ Body and Blood when it isn’t) and/or adherence to schism (by partaking in what Catholic regard as a sign of full incorporation into an ecclesial group). Both of these are grave matter, and therefore meet the first condition for mortal sin. We simply can’t play ‘let’s pretend’ with communion.”

    Regarding Brother Roger, there is a strong possibility that he became Catholic and Ratzinger knew about it.

    Gotta run after my toddler…

    Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  42. Dave Belcher wrote:

    Halden, hi. A while back I wrote a post regarding the document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith that you referred to in a comment above, and generated some good discussion there (also see the two following follow-up posts “apostolic succession” and “apostolic succession: remix”). If you get a chance to check those out, I’d love to hear what you’d have to say, so that I can have a bit of a better basis of how to respond to this discussion…I feel that there are simply too many entanglements to jump in just yet (meaning, I think I know how you might respond to some of my own positions on these matters, but the confusions and entrenched dividing lines of positions of various commenters (and of course misunderstandings, which is always par for the course in discussions over Roman-Protestant “dialogue”!) to which you have had to respond make it harder to discern precisely how I should respond…and I really feel like I should and that I would like to jump into this conversation). Peace.

    Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 9:35 pm | Permalink
  43. Krista wrote:

    Thanks for that link Ann! A very interesting article, I had not heard of it before. Thanks too for following up with your Deacon. This conversation has been great!

    In Christ,


    Sunday, September 16, 2007 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  44. Krista wrote:

    Hi John,

    I wrote a response to you, and it seems to have disappeared. :) Anyway, a quick reply to tell you that I did not mean to say that you had called it a mortal sin. I was referring mostly to what Ann had said there, and was not clear in my post about that. I am sorry.

    The way I was approaching this argument was mainly just to find out if it truly was a sin or not. I had thought it would fall more into the ‘wise/unwise’ debate, and so was looking closely at the language to see if that was the case. I completely agree with you that any sin (mortal or venial) is wrong and not a good habit to get into. The reason I brought up Pope Benedict and Brother Roger was to show that *maybe* it is not a sin, but you are right- we don’t know the details. (As Ann’s link shows). Thank you for your comments, they have been helpful.

    In Christ,


    P.S. sorry to everyone if my comment turns up twice…

    Sunday, September 16, 2007 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

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