Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams

Yesterday, I wrote on this blog about my effort to be catholic though I am not Catholic. It turned into an interesting conversation and I am thankful for the participation of all those who had something to say. I want to continue from another angle.

Through the discussion it was made evident that non-Catholics are considered to be something called “ecclesiastical communities”. I found this phrase a bit odd since it seems to indicated Protestant/Reformed/Anglican, et al., are legitimate “churches”, yet different (subordinate) to the Catholic church. Esteban Vazquez noted that this is because we do not have the authority of an episcopate, therefore holy orders, therefore actual standing as a church because we are not under a bishop (does this apply to Anglicans or are Anglican episcopates legitimate?). This made me wonder what the actual downside would be for a non-Catholic, non-Orthodox Christian.

When I asked this question Nick Norelli suggested that it is likely we are considered heretical. This bothered me since I had heard that Vatican II pulled back such language. As I read through Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio (here), it was a bit vague. There is a section of chapter III titled “Separated Churches and Ecclesiastical Communities in the West” which would apply to all of us Christians who derive from the Reformation in one way or another. The document does not make a general statement regarding all of these churches for the following reason:

“However, since these Churches and ecclesial Communities, on account of their different origins, and different teachings in matters of doctrine on the spiritual life, vary considerably not only with us, but also among themselves, the task of describing them at all adequately is extremely difficult; and we have no intention of making such an attempt here.”

Rather, the document list several areas of commonality that can serve as a starting place for dialog: (1) the confession of Jesus Christ as God; (2) the Trinity; (3) love and reverence of the Sacred Scriptures; (4) baptism; (5) our taking of communion; and (6) other pieties such as hearing and obeying the Word, prayer, et al. If these things are in place the move toward “eccumenical action” can occur. I couldn’t determine whether or not this means simply that Catholics have common ground with which to bring the rest of us back to Rome or if the common ground meant the reality of some sort of fellowship, as is.

So, in gist, what does it mean, from the perspectives of Catholics (and we could even include Orthodox if they would like to speak to this), for the rest of us to be “ecclesiastical communities”? What is the actual downside to this standing in your opinion? Do we not participate in the fullness of salvation in some sort of way? Do you foresee eschatological consequences for our perceived separation? Your feedback is welcome.