Unicity of the Church

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Unicity means uniqueness; there is but one Church of Jesus Christ. This idea is closely related to the concept of the unity of the church, which signifies that the unique Church of Christ is organically one and undivided in itself. This article will consider the foundations of unicity as set forth in Scripture, and the varying ways in which Catholics and their separated brethren interpret this concept.

In the Bible. The evidence of the New Testament is abundant; all the elements that have always been associated with the Church are distinctly characterized as being one. In the Synoptic Gospels Christ is preoccupied with the formation of one group of disciples, the Apostles. In the Acts the early Christians of Jerusalem are conscious of their unity with one another (Acts 2.4447; 4.32) and with the local Churches springing up elsewhere (Acts9.31; 11.29); the authority of the leaders at Jerusalem extends even to the regulating of the Gentile Churches (Acts 15.129).

St. Paul and St. John underline the factor of unicity. For St. Paul there is but one Gospel (Gal 1.69; 2.12), "one body and one Spiritin one hopeone Lord, one faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and throughout all, and in us all" (Eph4.46). And there is but one Eucharist which brings the many faithful into the one Body (1 Cor 10.17; see mystical body of christ). St. John is merely summing up this teaching of unity when he shows us Christ promising that "there shall be one fold and one shepherd" (Jn 10.16; cf. 17.2023).

Today few Christians doubt that Christ willed but one Church. However, disagreement exists concerning the elements that constitute this one Church and the moment when this one Church has been or will be realized.

Catholic Teaching. The one Church of Christ from Pentecost on has always been that body of believers united to Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit who profess externally their internal unity in adhering to the successor of Peter (see peter, apostle, st.) and the bishops united to him through obedience, profession of the same faith, and participation in the same sacramental worship (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer, 330010). According to this concept the essence of the one Church of Christ is composed of both visible and invisible elements that have been bestowed permanently by Christ upon the Church. The one Church exists fully only where these elements exist in an integral union, i.e., in the Catholic Church, although other Churches share in this fullness in varying degrees (Vatican Council II).

Furthermore, the oneness of the Church is not confined to a given moment of time, but spans all history. The one Church of Pentecostal times is the one Church of today and the one Church of all future time. All history represents but the various moments of existence of that growing divine-human organism founded and continuously sustained by Jesus Christ, destined to reach the perfection of its oneness on the last day.

The ultimate ground of this continuous oneness of the Church lies in the oneness of the divine plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. In the one Christ, in whom the divine and the human as well as the invisible and visible are wedded forever, God saves men; in the one Church, in which visible human elements are impregnated with an invisible divine power, this salvific work is signified and effected.

Other Views. The separated brethren reject such a concept of the one Church. Some propound the idea of unicity expressed by John hus and rejected by the Council of Constance (Enchiridion symbolorum 1201); the one Church is a purely invisible entity composed of all those predestined to salvation. Others recognize visible elements in the one Church: the Church exists wherever the Word is rightly preached and the Sacraments correctly administered (many Lutherans); the one Church exists in three visible branches that have preserved the Apostolic successionthe Roman, the Orthodox, and the Anglican (for the Anglican view see branch theory of the church); finally, there is a view that the one Church of Christ does not now exist but will exist in the future when the current scandal of divided Churches will be removed by visible union of those now separated.

Recent years have seen the emergence of two models for the organic union of the Church: that of a conciliar fellowship, gaining acceptance by members of the World Council of Churches and that of a communion (communio) of Churches (typoi), gaining acceptance in Roman Catholic circles.

Both models assume that the unity of the Church has been given by God in Jesus Christ and has had continuous existence, but that it must be constantly rediscovered and expressed anew in history. This unity is in need of being made visible where it has been obscured, recovered to the extent that it has been lost, maintained where it is threatened, and brought to full conformity with the will of Christ. The one Church of Christ subsists in the historical Churches in varying degrees.

The proposed models presuppose that the organically united Church has as constitutive elements both the invisible gifts of faith, grace, virtues, and charisms, and their visible expression in the proclamation of the Word, celebration of the Sacraments, and in ministries for mission. Both the invisible gifts and their visible expression are to be integrally united. These two models accept the need for diversity-in-unity and unity-in-diversity as opposed to uniformity. Both models assume that there must be a visible unity of one faith expressed in a variety of forms, in worship and Eucharistic sharing, in common life in Christ, and in Christian witness and service to the world. Both models envision a universal communion (communio ) or conciliar fellowship of local Churches united by a diversity of organizational patterns.

While the above comments stand in principle, the exact understanding of the elements varies from Church to Church. Such issues are debated as: the relationship between the local communities and the universal community; the meaning of "local Church" and "conciliar fellowship"; authority; legitimate diversity; the relationship between Church and Eucharist; the nature of the Church and its mission; the place of experience vis-à-vis the sources of Revelation; and the relationship of the unity of the Church to the unity of mankind.

See Also: brother in christ; catholicity; incorporation in christ; salvation, necessity of the church for; people of god; soul of the church; unity of faith; visibility of the church.

Bibliography: leo xiii, "Satis cognitum" (Encyclical letter, June 29, 1896) Acta Sanctorum 28 (189596) 70839. h. denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. a. schÖnmetzer (32 ed. Freiburg 1963) 330010. a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350) 15.2:21722230. h. volk, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 3:75056. j. a. mÖhler, Symbolism, tr. j. b. robertson (London 1906). y. congar, Divided Christendom, tr. m. a. bousfield (London 1939). g. baum, That They May Be One: A Study of Papal Doctrine (Leo XIII-Pius XII ) (Westminster, Maryland 1958). t. sartory, The Ecumenical Movement and the Unity of the Church, tr. h. graef (Oxford 1963). Committee on Purposes and Goals of Ecumenism, Massachusetts Council of Churches, Odyssey Toward Unity: Foundations and Functions of Ecumenism and Conciliarism (Newburyport, Massachusetts 1977). Faith and Order, What Kind of Unity?, paper n. 69 (Geneva 1974); Uniting in Hope, paper n. 72 (Geneva 1974). e. lanne, "Pluralism and Unity: the Possibility of a Variety of 'Typologies' within the same Ecclesial Allegiance," One-in-Christ 6 (1970) 43051; "The Unity of the Church in the Work of Faith and Order," One-in-Christ 12 (1976) 3457. j. macquarrie Christian Unity and Christian Diversity (Philadelphia 1975). Roman Catholic/Presbyterian Reformed Consultation, U.S.A., Statement. One-in-Christ "The Unity We Seek," 13 (1977) 25879. j. willebrands, "Address in Cambridge, England," Documents on Anglican/Roman Catholic Relations, I (Washington, D.C. 1972) 3241. john paul ii, encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint (Vatican City 1995).

[p. f. chirico/

[a. laubenthal]