In The Great Heresies Hilaire Belloc wrote this about heresy in general.
“The word [heresy] is derived from the Greek verb Haireo, which first mean “I grasp” or “I seize,” and then came to mean “I take away.” (pg. 2)
“The denial of a scheme wholesale is not heresy, and has not the creative power of heresy. It is of the essence of heresy that it leaves standing a great part of the structure it attacks. On this account it can appeal to believers andn continues to affect their lives through deflecting them from their original characters. Wherefore it is said of heresies they ‘they survive by the truths they retain.'” (pp. 3-4)
And about Protestantism in particular he wrote:
The Protestant attack differed from the rest especially in this characteristic, that its attack did not consist in the promulgation of a new doctrine or of a new authority, that it made no concerted attempt at creating a counter-Church, but had for its principle the denial of unity. It was an effort to promote that state of mind in which a Church in the old sense of the word — that is, an infallible, united, teaching body, a Person speaking with Divine Authority–should be denied; not the doctrines it might happen to advance, but its very claim to advance them with unique authority. Thus, one Protestant may affirm, as do the English Puseyites, the truth of all the doctrines underlying the Mass — the Real Presence, the Sacrifice, the sacerdotal power of consecration, etc. another Protestant may affirm that all such conceptions are false, yet both Protestants are Protestant because they communicate in the fundamental conception that the Chruch is not a visible, definable and united personality, that there is no central infallible authority, and that therefore each is free to choose his own set of doctrines. (pg. 12)
So what if the Body of Christ isn’t ONE? If we aren’t united in a “visible, definable, and united personality”? Well first and probably most important we are going to be unable to effectively fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus said “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
What else does it mean? I talk to a lot of Protestants in my life and I find that no matter who I am talking to or even if I am simply reading one of those anti-Catholic websites, there are some recurring themes. Mary, the Saints, and the Real Presence. There are others but for some reason these really set fire to the hair of our separated brothers and sisters. “BUT WHAT ABOUT MARY!?” they shriek. I hear a lot about how we are worshipping Mary and the Saints and…I can hardly say it but I have heard it so often recently…the cracker. [sob] And no matter how often we Catholics say “We don’t worship Mary and the Saints.” They come back to it with a discussion the ten commandments and graven images and they might even tell you how we ELIMINATED one of the ten commandments. (Ho Kai Paulos did a very nice rebuttal of this common argument here. Thank you kindly.) Now part of the reason for these often vitriolic attacks on the Catholic faith is that when you take real worship, what Jesus said “Do this in memory of Me.” out of the picture, and begin to substitute other things and call it worship; then what Catholics do looks mighty suspect.
The lack of worship as Jesus commanded it, is certainly part of the problem and perhaps even a majority of the problem, but I think unity is a crucial piece of the puzzle and we must look for ways to bring it into the conversations we have with our separated brothers and sisters. Here’s why I think that is. I believe that if you do not believe in an actual, not-at-all-symbolic Unity in the Body of Christ that you must reject asking the Saints (both those with a little ‘s’ and the ones with a capital ‘s’) to pray for us. The same people who lambaste Catholics for asking members of the ONE body of Christ (Eph 4:4; Rom 12:5; for starters) who are alive with Jesus (Rom 8:35-39; Rev 20:4; for starters) in heaven and surround us as a cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) do not hesistate to ask members of their little separate congregations to pray for each other. Most Protestants I know don’t hesistate to ask other Protestants from other individual congregations to pray for them either. They’ll happily quote James 5:16 (for starters). But they stop short of really believing in what the Bible says and acting on it in faith. We are ONE Body. United. Death only changes what we see with our earthly eyes. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” John 20:29 It is the absence of True Sacrifical Worship as Jesus commanded in their faith life that sets them up, but it is their lack of belief in the unity of the Body of Christ that put up that wall.
We are One Body of Christ. We are His Family. Jesus’ Father is Our Father. He adopted us in. Literally. When you believe that in a literal way then where is the problem with saying His Mother is Our Mother too? Even if there wasn’t an explicit statement in Sacred Scripture? But there IS an explicit statement. Jesus on the cross He gave His Mother into the keeping of his Beloved Disciple (go read John 19:26-27…it doesn’t say “John”) Are you a beloved disciple? I tell you right now, I would rather be a beloved disciple standing at the foot of the cross with the mother of my Savior than in the crowd mocking. But if we aren’t really One Body. If the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17 was just some insipid symbolic sort; then so is the part about being Jesus family and then so is calling His Mother our Mother.
And then there is the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The Eucharist makes us ONE because Jesus is ONE. Not in a symbolic way. Not in an invisible, intangible way. In a real way. The risen, victorious Jesus that is eternally present as Perfect Victim and High Priest as the Lamb of God at the altar in heaven is the same Jesus that is made really and truly present in the miracle of the Eucharist at Mass. He makes us one across those same boundaries.
As I made my way across the Tiber, I realized that it was finding true worship in the Mass as Jesus commanded that made me see that asking the Saints or Mary to pray for me wasn’t worship. When pretty much anything can be worship, unfortunately everything can be. But as I go deeper into my faith, I see that a Catholic understanding of ONE Body is just as significant and it all flows from the Eucharist. In my own conversations with our separated brothers and sisters, I find that saying “We don’t worship Mary and the Saints.” is simply not believed, or listened to, I don’t know. Even people who have BEEN to Mass and held the missal in their hands and heard Sacred Scripture proclaimed, heard the words and the prayers (that come almost word-for-word from Sacred Scripture), will say in their next breathe “But no one brought a Bible and you worship Mary!” (For the record, when we genuflect it’s to JESUS in the Tabernacle and not to any statues or windows that might be present in the church. And we don’t customarily bring Bibles because the texts for the day are printed in our missalettes.) If you attempt to explain that the reason they think that they easily confuse worship with veneration because they do not have True Worship, it seldom goes over well. Perhaps a good middle ground might be to engage them in a discussion of unity and work from there. It’s certainly something I am going to try.