Unity of Faith
UNITY OF FAITH
The supernatural bond that exists among all who adhere to the one divine revelation. This bond exists on two levels: the level of being, in that all participants in this unity share the same supernatural virtue of faith freely given them by God; and the level of conviction, in that these participants cling to the same revealed truth. Grounded in the oneness of God and of His plan of salvation, this bond admits of varying degrees of realization that culminate in the full-blown unity of faith that exists among the members of the Catholic Church.
A unity of faith exists because faith is the response to revelation, and revelation is one. Scripture says that there is one God and one mediator between God and men (1 Tm 2.5), one divine plan of salvation (Eph 1.3–14), one Church, one apostolic authority (Mt 16.13–19; 18.18; 28.19–20). The acceptance by men of this one God-revealed economy of salvation is what is called faith. And the unity resulting from the attachment of men to the one revealed divine order is the unity of faith.
Degrees. Unity of faith exists in varying degrees. First, there is a basic unity among all men who possess the virtue of faith, even at the minimal degree of those who have no conscious acceptance of the Christian revelation. Second, there is a fundamental Christian unity of faith among the baptized who by divine faith accept part, though not all, of the objective Christian revelation. Finally, there is the integral unity of faith that exists among the members of the Catholic Church.
Integral or Catholic unity of faith implies the acceptance by divine faith of the whole objective Christian revelation. Central to this concept is the recognition of the visible, divinely appointed, definitive indicator of revelation, the pope and the bishops, who constitute the authoritative teaching Church or magisterium. A Catholic, because of ignorance, may not explicitly accept some of the elements of divine revelation; yet, in adhering to the magisterium as part of the revealed economy and as the divinely assured teacher and interpreter of the whole of that economy, he implicitly adheres to all that God reveals. Hence, he participates in the fullness of the unity of faith. On the other hand, those rejecting—even in good faith—the magisterium, reject not only a part of the revealed economy but also the only means by which the total objective content of that economy can be ascertained.
Properties. Several properties characterize the integral Catholic unity of faith. First, it is ecclesiastical. Besides being an internal unity based upon the possession of the one supernatural virtue of faith and all the gifts of supernatural grace and charity that normally accompany this virtue, it is also a unity expressed in the believing acceptance of a visible magisterium and whatever that magisterium indicates belongs to the economy of salvation. Therefore, it ultimately involves the acceptance of all the essential elements of the Church: its worship, its authority, its creed. Hence, to possess Catholic unity of faith is to be fully integrated into the Church; it is to be a member.
Second, the unity of faith is a rich and manifold organic unity. It is capable of an infinite variety of expressions—in worship, in the functioning of authority, in the verbal expression of belief—expressions that preserve the essence of the divine revelation while incorporating the distinct values of different ages and cultures.
Finally, the unity of faith is an eschatological unity. It will not reach its perfect expression until the last day when all the just will be perfectly united to God immediately and in Him to one another. Now, however, the various ministries in the Church work for the building up of the mystical body of christ so that finally "all attain to the unity of the faith and of the deep knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4.13). Thus, this unity is not only a current reality; it is a reality whose perfection is an ardent hope of the Church, a hope toward whose realization the Church is continuously obligated to strive.
See Also: branch theory of the church; faithful; heresy; infidel; society (theology of); visibility of the church.
Bibliography: Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, Tables générales, ed. a. vacant (Paris 1951) 1:1537–71. o. karrer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 3:757–758. f. holbÖck and t. sartory, eds., Mysterium Kirche in der Sicht der theologischen Disziplinen (Salzburg 1962) 1:201–346. leo xiii, "Satis cognitum," (Encyclical letter, June 29, 1896) Acta Sanctorum 28 (1895–96) 708–739. y. congar, The Mystery of the Church, tr. a. littledale (Baltimore, Md. 1960) 58–96. t. sartory, The Ecumenical Movement and the Unity of the Church, tr. h. graef (Westminster, Md. 1963).
[p. f. chirico]