So today we're looking at how the office of the Vicar of Christ is essential for the unity of the Church!! Get excited.
How is the Papacy both theologically and practically essential for the unity of the Church?
The practical considerations regarding the way that humans govern societies have theological implications for the teaching of one faith by the Church, God’s heavenly society still on pilgrimage on earth. The Church founded by Jesus Christ has four identifying features- She is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The unity of the Church is in Her government, worship, and faith. The governing body of the Church is also Her visible teaching authority, the magisterium, which Christ has endowed with the gift of infallibility, so that She may remain one in faith and worship by proclaiming God’s objective revelation with clarity and certainty. In order for the magisterium to govern as one, it must have a single head. This head of the Church is Christ first and foremost, but a visible group of teachers on earth needs a visible head. This office Christ entrusted to Peter, to be continued successively through all the ages of the Church, so that She may always effectively proclaim the Gospel, preserve the deposit of faith, and answer new questions as they appear. The fruits of a purely collegial government or no government at all, in terms of their effects on unity, are clearly manifested in the current states of Orthodoxy and Protestantism.
The unity of the Church refers to the notion that by Her very nature She is one. The Church’s unity is derived from Her source, Her Founder, and Her “soul” (the Holy Spirit). The Church, as the Body of Christ, is a visible entity in the world, and as such, Her unity is manifested through visible bonds- charity, one apostolic faith, common celebration of worship, and apostolic succession. The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ’s Body are the sins of heresy, apostasy and schism, since each of them injures one or more of the visible bonds. The bond most vulnerable to injury is the oneness of faith, as the possibility for misunderstanding revelation on the part of individuals is very great, due to human fallibility, the complexity of Scripture and Tradition, and the unfathomable depths of the mysteries revealed by Christ. Jesus was aware of certain disputes that would arise, and so provided for this by embedding a visible, hierarchical structure of authority within His Kingdom as manifested on earth, so that the Church may be “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”
The government of the Church, the magisterium, is the visible structure that Christ established through which the Holy Spirit works to preserve the visible bonds of unity, especially unity of faith, which is the root of the others. It consists of the college of bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Governing is but one of the magisterium’s roles, the others being to sanctify and to teach, each of which it receives by virtue of Christ’s position as priest, prophet and king. With regard to teaching, the magisterium exists as a living authority to preach the gospel, to defend the truth against error, and to answer new questions definitively when they arise. Thus it is through the magisterium that unity in faith is preserved.
Since the magisterium is composed of many (the bishops), if there is to be unanimity in teaching, a unifying principle is necessary. St Thomas Aquinas lays out clearly that one man as leader is more appropriate than a collection of persons leading together equally:
Furthermore, it is evident that several persons could by no means preserve the stability of the community if they totally disagreed. For union is necessary among them if they are to rule at all: several men, for instance, could not pull a ship in one direction unless joined together in some fashion. Now several are said to be united according as they come closer to being one. So one man rules better than several who come near being one.
Perhaps some would say that Christ, the Head of the Church, or the Holy Spirit, Her soul, are sufficient. However, as has been mentioned, the Body of Christ is a visible entity, and as such Her visible teaching office must be united by a visible head. This head, the Church claims, is Christ’s earthly representative, the Bishop of Rome, successor of St Peter, and Vicar of Christ the King.
The practical necessity of the papacy can be seen by observing the state of the various non-Catholic Christian groups. The Orthodox Churches, since the schism of 1054, have not held any Ecumenical Councils, and have experienced stagnation in doctrinal development. They also do not claim infallibility (which the Church founded by Christ indeed ought to claim), as well as being divided over various doctrines. It has no method for determining the orthodoxy or lack thereof of its bishops or theologians, which has led to it not issuing any authoritative and binding statements on newly disputed points of doctrine or vital issues of modern morality (such as birth control, IVF, indissolubility of marriage, etc). The Orthodox Church was united at the time of schism, but this unity of obedience has been ruptured by secular princes who required that each kingdom should have its own separate and subservient church.
The lack of unity amongst Protestant Christians is even more apparent. There are many thousands of Protestant denominations, in ever increasing numbers, such that it is impossible to give a precise figure. Each of these groups has their own set of beliefs about what the Bible teaches, and furthermore, even within each group, there are likely to be people who do not entirely agree with the groups’ “official” position, and see no hindrance to having their own personal opinion. Thus, by excluding the concept of a magisterium altogether, Protestantism, through its principle of private biblical interpretation, with the Holy Spirit assured to each believer, renders each individual essentially their own pope. Ultimately, it is up to the individual whose interpretation they will agree with, which church they will join, based on their own reading of Scripture.
In conclusion, those churches not in communion with the Bishop of Rome have experienced a proliferation of divergences between and within them in terms of belief and practice. This observable phenomenon is accounted for by the understanding that it is practically essential for the college of bishops to have a visible head figure as a unifying principle, so that they may infallibly proclaim the truth of Christ with one voice. Furthermore, this teaching of one faith, as one of the visible bonds of the Church’s unity, is theologically essential for maintaining the oneness of the Church.
Aquinas, Thomas., On Kingship to the King of Cyprus, within Minor Texts, Gerald Phelan (Trans.) (Belgium: Universa,1992)
Bellito, Christopher., Ten Ways the Church has Changed (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2006)
Bliss, Frederick., Catholic and Ecumenical: History and Hope 2nd Edition (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007)
Cross, Brian., Philosophy and the Papacy (Aug 21st, 2011)
(NB: Accessed sometime in 2011, before Logos existed, but it was of some influence)
Haddad, Robert., Defend the Faith! (Sydney: Lumen Verum Apologetics, 2003)
John-Paul II, Pope. Ut Unum Sint (25 May 1995)
(Accessed 01 November 2012)
Murphy, Francesca. & Asprey, Christopher. (Eds.), Ecumenism today- The Universal Church in the 21st Century (UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2008)
New Catholic Encyclopedia 2nd Edition Volume 14, Marthaler, Berard. (ed.) (Washington, D.C.: Thomson Gale, 2003)
Rausch, Thomas, S.J., The Roots of Catholic Tradition (USA: Liturgical Press, 1991)
Ray, Stephen., Crossing the Tiber (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997)
Ray, Stephen., Upon this Rock- St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999)
Sheed, Frank., Theology and Sanity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993)
The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
Ware, Timothy., The Orthodox Church (Suffolk: Penguin Books, 1963)
 Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, p.141
 Eph. 5:23
 Mt. 16:13-20
 CCC 815
 CCC 817
 Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, p.147
 1 Tim. 3:15
 Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, p.142
 CCC 873
 On Kingship to the King of
, Thomas Aquinas, p. 9 Cyprus
 Christ bestows on Peter some of His own titles- the rock, the key-bearer, the shepherd. Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity, p. 288
 Mt. 16:13-20; CCC 882
 Stephen Ray, Crossing the Tiber, p. 80
 Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, p. 146
 Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, p. 161; For example, Constantinople and Russia disagree regarding the validity of Baptism conferred by a Protestant of Catholic
 Ibid, p.162
 Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, p.150