RELIGIOUS UNIFICATION WEEK IS at hand! It is known to Catholics as the Church Unity Octave (Jan. 19-25). The objective of that week of prayer, the ending of divisions in the religious world, is more needed today as PILOT readers know, than in 1908, when the Church Unity Octave was originated by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in Graymoor, Garrison, N. Y.
The sacerdotal, doctrinal and liturgical unity that exists in the Catholic Church must be pleasing to our Lord, Who willed that His Church be one in government and faith. On the other hand, the disunity in the Protestant world must bring sorrow to the heart of Christ our Lord, even though members of the varying sects within it profess love of Him.
The contrast noted above is plainly evident. The Catholic Church was one, organizationally and doctrinally, in the first century of the Christian era, and she has so remained ever since, even though there have been defections from her ranks, and battles within. On the other hand, Protestantism, which began with Martin Luther in Germany, and Henry VIII in Britain, has divided and subdivided into 22 Lutheran sects; 19 Methodist sects; 17 Baptist sects; 16 kinds of Mennonite sects; 9 Presbyterian; 6 Plymouth Brethren; 5 Adventist; and numerous other divided religious groups.
The divisions within the individual churches are too numerous to name in this column. Bishop Norman Nash of Boston said that his "Anglican fold is so wide (that) the sheep within it are just as wild as the goats outside." The Protestant divisions caused Rev. William Horace Day to say, in a sermon delivered in Bridgeport, Conn., that "Sectarianism is wasteful and unchristian. Fifty-seven denominations would not be so bad, but 257 is a crime." Rather is it a sin against our Lord, Who instituted "One Fold" of "One Mind." (St. John 10:16; 2 Cor. 13:11), which He commanded to be heard (St. Matt. 18:17). Bernard Iddings Bell said in the Atlantic Monthly, at the time when he was a professor of religion at Columbia University, that the differences in Protestantism are "not only horizontal," that is between the many denominations; but, "vertical" as well, that is within the denominations; each being a "battleground of basically differing convictions." They "retain old forms of devotion," creeds, etc., "but put into them meanings that are fundamentally different than in the past."
Surprising is the failure, on the part of Protestants, to see the absurdity of their assumption that the hundreds of differing sects are part of the Universal Church that Christ established. Hence they assume the right to declare, in their recitation of the Apostles Creed: "I believe in the Catholic Church." Protestants have purloined the Creed formulated by the Catholic Church to emphasize apostolic teachings, to declare what they are not in name or fact. Of course, they condescendingly concede that our Church is part of their abstract concept of a "Catholic Church," the "Roman Catholic" division thereof. And added to that absurdity, is the singing by various Protestant sects of the "Onward Christian Soldiers" hymn, containing the declaration that "We are not divided, all one body we, one in faith and doctrine, one in charity."
Pope Pius IX said during the last century, what may be said to Protestants today; "Whoever will carefully examine and reflect upon the conditions of the various religious societies which are divided among themselves, and separated from the Catholic Church, will easily satisfy himself that none of these societies, either singly or altogether, in any way or form, are that one Catholic Church which Our Lord founded and built, and which He chose should be in the world; and that he cannot by any means say that these societies are members or part of that Church, since they are visibly separated from Catholic unity."
Attempts at union on the part of Protestants have been many, for they are conscious of being guilty of the "sin of disunity." This caused the General Secretary of the Second World Council of Churches to say, to the Amsterdam Assembly (1950), "We humbly acknowledge that our divisions, are contrary to the will of Christ, and we pray God in His mercy (as will Catholics during the Church Unity Octave) to shorten the days of our separation, and to guide us in His spirit into fulness of unity."
Such unity within Protestantism is surely not doctrinally possible, so ingrained are the concepts of the churches therein. Therefore the unity of the hundreds of Protestant churches is a will-o'-the-wisp, which they will continue to chase after, but never reach. In face of this, Bishop Oxnam, who ranks foremost today in arousing a bigoted attitude towards the only Church that can possibly result in religious oneness, declared that "the churches (that is the Protestant churches) must become one church." Unity is possible ONLY by Protestants becoming Catholics. This is saying in other words, what Pope Pius XI said about thirty years ago, viz:---"The unity of Christians cannot be otherwise obtained than by securing the return of the separated to the one true Church of Christ from which they once unhappily withdrew; to the one true Church of Christ standing forth before all, and which, by the will of its Founder, will remain forever the same as when He Himself established it for the salvation of mankind."
The information and arguments in this column are not new. They are presented as evidence of the necessity of the Church Unity Octave. During it, Heaven will be stormed by faithful Catholics with prayers, that those outside the One True Fold be brought to the realization that the oneness many Protestants long for can be found in the Catholic Church. It has the credentials to prove, as a Church of Christ must prove, an unbroken organic existence for fifteen centuries before the Protestant Rebellion divided Christendom. It is the "kingdom" (St. Matt. 13), the "flock" (St. John 21:15-17), the "sheepfold" (St. John 10:16) that Christ built; and that the Holy Spirit safeguards from error in matters of faith and morals. Thousands of intelligent, unbiased non-Catholics have found her to be the visible city, seated on a mountain, that cannot be hid (Isa. 2:2; St. Matt. 5:14).
Catholics will pray for the re-unification of Christendom during the Church Unity Octave. The hymn many Catholics will sing keeps ringing through our mind, as we look forward to the coming week of appeals to our dear Lord:
"That all be one O dearest Lord, we pray, That all be drawn within Thy one true Fold, Back to thy Church from which the wanderers stray, And thy true Faith she keeps, like Saints of old.
Oh bring them back Good Shepherd of the sheep, And rouse the heathen nations from their sleep."