Protestants stand in a long line; but not the one imagined.
Both/and-ness runs through Catholicism; either/or-ness through Protestantism. In the latter, one chooses either unity or truth. But what if both unity and truth are essential? What if, by dividing the two, you get neither?
The impulse to separate and divide must be great. It seems a natural condition after The Fall (think, The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis).
We see it in the early church:
Whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? 1 Corinthians 3:4
All Jesus’ words are weighty, but His Upper Room Discourse seems to carry more gravity (if that’s possible). His farewell address to the disciples is meat, not milk. Our Lord knew there would be a church on earth until (so far at least) today’s date. And He made two things clear: the church would know the Truth; and the church was to be One:
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. John 16:13
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. John 17:20-21
As a Protestant, there were twelve to fourteen hundred years between a faithful ancient church (when God was at work) and Martin Luther (when God righted the wrong). I discovered, however, that what started in 1517 was nothing knew at all.
They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number. 1 John 2:19
The seed of division, at work since the beginning, was sowed again; this time during the Renaissance; and this time with a printing press. Martin Luther’s split from the Catholic Church became, in his own lifetime, something he lamented. Five centuries later, borrowing language from Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, the fecundity of the heretical principle remains. Thanks to Martin Luther’s revolt, there are between 180 and 47,000 Protestant denominations (depending on who’s counting); plus 35,496 non-denominational churches. http://www.ncregister.com/blog/sbeale/just-how-many-protestant-denominations-are-there. Apparently, a lot of people are banking on non-unity being no big deal. Obviously, to a lot of people, truth is a subjective thing.
My own Baptist tradition (hailing from the seventeenth century) and, later, my Presbyterian communion (tracing roots to John Calvin in the sixteenth) were in a long line of anti-Catholic dissenters. Take the fourth century, for example:
Scarcely was Arianism deprived of the churches of Constantinople, and left to itself, than it split in that very city into the Dorotheans, the Psathyrians, and the Curtians; and the Eunomians into the Theophronians and Eutychians. One fourth part of the Donatists speedily became Maximinianists; and besides these were the Rogatians, the Primianists, the Urbanists, and the Claudianists. Newman, John Henry Cardinal, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Notre Dame Series in the Great Books, No 4) (p. 252). University of Notre Dame Press. Kindle Edition.
Protestant heresies, each one born of private interpretation of Scripture, share common traits with ancient heresies: “it [is], by its very nature, its own master, free to change, self-sufficient; and, having thrown off the yoke of the Church, it [is] little likely to submit to any usurped and spurious authority.” Essay at 253.
Protestant and non-denominational bodies, notwithstanding divisions and competition, might ignore their differences to a point (think Promise Keepers circa 1990s, or Bible Study Fellowship circa now); but they share a common antagonist. It has been the same for two millennia:
The Meletians of Africa united with the Arians against St. Athanasius; the Semi-Arians of the Council of Sardica corresponded with the Donatists of Africa; Nestorius received and protected the Pelagians; Aspar, the Arian minister of Leo the Emperor, favoured the Monophysites of Egypt; the Jacobites of Egypt sided with the Moslem, who are charged with holding a Nestorian doctrine. It had been so from the beginning: “They huddle up a peace with all everywhere,” says Tertullian, “for it maketh no matter to them, although they hold different doctrines, so long as they conspire together in their siege against the one thing, Truth.” Essay at 254.
History is replete with non-Catholic sects attempting to make their own way; setting up shop whenever they imagined the Catholic Church to have gone off course:
Accordingly, by Montanists, Catholics were called “the carnal;” by Novatians, “the apostates;” by Valentinians, “the worldly;” by Manichees, the simple;” by Aerians, “the ancient;” by Apollinarians, “the man-worshippers;” by Origenists, “the flesh-lovers,” and “the slimy;” by the Nestorians, “Egyptians;” by Monophysites, the “Chalcedonians:” by Donatists, “the traitors,” and “the sinners,” and “servants of Antichrist;” and St. Peter’s chair, “the seat of pestilence;” and by the Luciferians, the Church was called “a brothel,” “the devil’s harlot,” and “synagogue of Satan:” so that it might be called a Note of the Church, as I have said, for the use of the most busy and the most ignorant, that she was on one side and all other bodies on the other. Essay at 254.
There was one title, however, that the enemies of the Church collectively gave Her; a title of honor that assisted the busy and the ignorant to find Her, wherever they were found on earth. She holds the same title to this day: the “Catholic” Church:
And it had been recognized as such from the first; the name or the fact is put forth by St. Ignatius, St. Justin, St. Clement; by the Church of Smyrna, St. Irenæus, Rhodon or another, Tertullian, Origen, St. Cyprian, St. Cornelius; by the Martyrs, Pionius, Sabina, and Asclepiades; by Lactantius, Eusebius, Adimantius, St. Athanasius, St. Pacian, St. Optatus, St. Epiphanius, St. Cyril, St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and Facundus. St. Clement uses it as an argument against the Gnostics, St. Augustine against the Donatists and Manichees, St. Jerome against the Luciferians, and St. Pacian against the Novatians. Essay at 255-256.
Cardinal Newman goes on:
On the whole, then, we have reason to say, that if there be a form of Christianity at this day distinguished for its careful organization, and its consequent power; if it is spread over the world; if it is conspicuous for zealous maintenance of its own creed; if it is intolerant towards what it considers error; if it is engaged in ceaseless war with all other bodies called Christian; if it, and it alone, is called “Catholic” by the world, nay, by those very bodies, and if it makes much of the title; if it names them heretics, and warns them of coming woe, and calls on them one by one, to come over to itself, overlooking every other tie; and if they, on the other hand, call it seducer, harlot, apostate, Antichrist, devil; if, however much they differ one with another, they consider it their common enemy; if they strive to unite together against it, and cannot; if they are but local; if they continually subdivide, and it remains one; if they fall one after another, and make way for new sects, and it remains the same; such a religious communion is not unlike historical Christianity, as it comes before us at the Nicene Era. Essay at 272-273.
Non-Catholics who know their Bible know Ephesians 2:8 by heart. But how many know Ephesians 4:1-6 by heart?
I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
On the night He was betrayed, Our Lord conveyed His message: both truth and unity. From the beginning, heretics have tried to separate what God has joined together. The unity of the Church and the truth of the Gospel are inseparable: that the world may believe that you sent me. (John 17:21). Truth and unity meet together in one place; both truth and unity kiss in the Catholic Church.
AS FOR ME, I KNOW THAT MY VINDICATOR LIVES, AND THAT HE WILL AT LAST STAND FORTH UPON THE DUST. THIS WILL HAPPEN WHEN MY SKIN HAS BEEN STRIPPED OFF, AND FROM MY FLESH I WILL SEE GOD: I WILL SEE FOR MYSELF, MY OWN EYES, NOT ANOTHER’S, WILL BEHOLD HIM: MY INMOST BEING IS CONSUMED WITH LONGING. JOB 19:25-27
ONE LORD. ONE FAITH. ONE BAPTISM.