Both Truth and Unity


Not either/or

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

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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.  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.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

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.





Author: Danny Collier

Catholic. Husband. Father. Lawyer.

4 thoughts on “Both Truth and Unity”

  1. Excellent post Danny.
    When Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, they are casting their nets. This alludes to evangelisation, bringing in converts.
    When Jesus calls James and John, they are mending their nets. This alludes to repairing the church, in particular maintaining unity:
    Matt 4:17-22
    “17* From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 18* As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets (KATARTIZO), and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”
    (Strong’s #2675: KATARTIZO
    to complete thoroughly, i.e. repair (literally or figuratively) or adjust:–fit, frame, mend, (make) perfect(-ly join together), prepare, restore.

    Paul on Christian unity.
    1 Cor 1:9-10
    “9* God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 10 I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united (KATARTIZO), in the same mind and the same judgment.”
    Eph 4:1-4, 14-16.
    “1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2* with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 12 to equip (KATARTISMOS) the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; ….. 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. 15* Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16* from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.”

    Phil 2:1-2
    “1* So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
    Paul on divisions in the church.
    Gal5:21 “21 factions and malice, drunkenness, orgies and all such things. And about these, I tell you now as I have told you in the past, that people who behave in these ways will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
    Titus 3:10 “10 If someone disputes what you teach, then after a first and a second warning, have no more to do with him:”
    1 Cor 1:10-13 “10 Brothers, I urge you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to have factions among yourselves but all to be in agreement in what you profess; so that you are perfectly united in your beliefs and judgements.
    11 From what Chloe’s people have been telling me about you, brothers, it is clear that there are serious differences among you.
    12 What I mean is this: every one of you is declaring, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’
    13 Has Christ been split up? Was it Paul that was crucified for you, or was it in Paul’s name that you were baptised?”
    1 Cor 3-4 “3 for you are still living by your natural inclinations. As long as there are jealousy and rivalry among you, that surely means that you are still living by your natural inclinations and by merely human principles.
    4 While there is one that says, ‘I belong to Paul’ and another that says, ‘I belong to Apollos’ are you not being only too human?”
    Rom 16:17 “17 I urge you, brothers, be on your guard against the people who are out to stir up disagreements and bring up difficulties against the teaching which you learnt. Avoid them.”
    1 Cor 12:20, 25 “ 20 As it is, the parts are many but the body is one.
    “25 and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for another helpful reply. I had not noticed before. Dissensions and factions are included in the works of the flesh, along with the obvious (orgies and such) in Galatians 5:19-21:

      “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy,drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

      Liked by 1 person

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