Evangelii Nuntiandi 64: Warnings Against Breaking Away

If the last sections have been optimistic about the possibilities of universal/individual collaboration, Pope Paul offers serious cautions to those who sever ties with the universal Church:

64. But this enrichment requires that the individual Churches should keep their profound openness towards the universal Church. It is quite remarkable, moreover, that the most simple Christians, the ones who are most faithful to the Gospel and most open to the true meaning of the Church, have a completely spontaneous sensitivity to this universal dimension. They instinctively and very strongly feel the need for it, they easily recognize themselves in such a dimension. They feel with it and suffer very deeply within themselves when, in the name of theories which they do not understand, they are forced to accept a Church deprived of this universality, a regionalist Church, with no horizon.

True of some Christians, but not all. In the intervening forty years, I’d say some aspects of church life almost invite the breaking away, and we’ve seen schisms on both the traditional and progressive side of Roman Catholicism. For as many people who feel the need for a universal connection, I’d say there are others who value the intellectual and pragmatic aspects of flying with a flock of like-minded believers.

The real spiritual danger is avoiding extremism of any kind, something that the balance of other individual Churches, in addition to the universal, can assist us.

As history in fact shows, whenever an individual Church has cut itself off from the universal Church and from its living and visible center- sometimes with the best of intentions, with theological, sociological, political or pastoral arguments, or even in the desire for a certain freedom of movement or action- it has escaped only with great difficulty (if indeed it has escaped) from two equally serious dangers. The first danger is that of a withering isolationism, and then, before long, of a crumbling away, with each of its cells breaking away from it just as it itself has broken away from the central nucleus. The second danger is that of losing its freedom when, being cut off from the center and from the other Churches which gave it strength and energy, it finds itself all alone and a prey to the most varied forces of slavery and exploitation.

These are two significant dangers. We see the increasing tendency online for conservative Catholics to split and divide, and for various factions to align under certain leaders.

The second danger can be more subtle. But it involves cutting oneself off from unpleasant and challenging input, but that which might be rather healthy to engage.

The more an individual Church is attached to the universal Church by solid bonds of communion, in charity and loyalty, in receptiveness to the Magisterium of Peter, in the unity of the lex orandi which is also the lex credendi, in the desire for unity with all the other Churches which make up the whole- the more such a Church will be capable of translating the treasure of faith into the legitimate variety of expressions of the profession of faith, of prayer and worship, of Christian life and conduct and of the spiritual influence on the people among which it dwells. The more will it also be truly evangelizing, that is to say, capable of drawing upon the universal patrimony in order to enable its own people to profit from it, and capable too of communicating to the universal Church the experience and the life of this people, for the benefit of all.

This is true. One single factor comes to mind: that a small, splintered, narcissistic remnant will not be attractive to all believers. I’d venture to say that any community, parish, diocese, internet, universal Church, that does not attract all kinds of people with all sorts of gifts, abilities, and sensibilities, has already veered, even if slightly, into the ditch and off the track of catholicity and universality.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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