Sunday, 21 July 2013

Unity between Denominations? Part V: Visible vs. Invisible Unity


Part I: The Problem
Part II: What kind of unity are we called to?
Part III:  The Witness of the Early Church in the New Testament

I have mentioned "visible" and "invisible" unity before, but without clearly defining what I mean by them and what their relationship is. Today I will attempt to rectify this.

What seems to be emerging from this series of posts is that Protestants are only able to have invisible unity, and it seems to me that they think visible unity is unimportant. Or at least, because visible unity is impossible in their paradigm, they are forced to this conclusion, otherwise they would be in the uncomfortable position of having to examine whether the whole paradigm is the problem.

The above title is actually a misnomer. There is no conflict between visible and invisible unity, in fact, they are two sides of the same reality, namely that the Church is One.

Let us consider the Church as the Body of Christ. What is a body? Well, a body without a soul is a just a corpse, and the Church is certainly not that, She is well and truly alive. She is Christ's resurrected body. In fact, She is the Incarnation continued in space and time. Thus St Joan of Arc could say, "About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they're just one thing, and we shouldn't complicate the matter.” 

Thus, Church has a soul as well, in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Hence the Church is a comprehensive unity of body and soul, of visible and invisible. If the invisible were not there, the visible would disintegrate. In other words, without the Holy Spirit acting in and through the Church, all that She said and did would lose its power and meaning. And if the visible were not there, as the manifestation of the invisible, the invisible unity would  be unrecognisable to the world, which would defeat the point of being one, which according to Christ is that people may know that we follow Christ by our oneness. And this oneness ought to be the same kind of oneness that exists between the Father and the Son.

And again, because it is precisely through the visible words and actions, and persons of the Church, that the Holy Spirit works to bring about this invisible communion, without the visible the invisible could not be sustained. They are inextricably intertwined.

There are many parallel paradoxes:
  • Scripture has both truly human and truly divine authors
  • Scripture is both a visible, limited thing and yet reveals to us the invisible, infinite God
  • Christ is both fully God and fully Man
  • The Church is both human and divine (fitting since She is intimately bound up with Her Spouse and Head)
  • a sacrament is a tangible sign of an invisible reality
These are all incarnational and sacramental, in keeping with the Catholic view of the tangible universe we live in being a "theatre of grace," the mysterious way in which the Creator interacts with His creation.

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