Johann Gerhard on the Unity of the Church
Another juicy morsel from the pen of Blessed Johann Gerhard, which will appear in the forthcoming translation of his volume concerning the Church, courtesy of Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, the general editor of the Gerhard Loci Theologici translation project. You can subscribe to the series and receive each volume as it comes out. To subscribe to the series call 800-325-3040.
Whether the union of members with each other and with their head is a mark of the Church.
§ 231. The first section. Is the union of members with each other and with their head a proper and genuine mark of the Church? We respond. (1) We confess that the Church is one on the basis of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. The reasons for this unity we explained earlier (§ 34), among which the chief is the unity of faith and doctrine (Eph. 4:5).
(2) Therefore unity per se is not a mark of the Church. Rather, it must be connected with faith and doctrine, Eph. 4:5: “One Lord, one faith;” v. 13: “. . . until we all attain to the unity of faith” (Athanasius, Letter ad Antioch.). “Only that is the true concord which is of faith. Without that, it is the best dissent; the most destructive concord,” as Gregory Nazianzen writes (Orat. 1, de pace).
(3) Not just any unity of faith and doctrine is a mark of the Church, but only the unity of true faith and doctrine, that is, of prophetic and apostolic doctrine, for that alone is of immovable and perpetual truth. Therefore the unity of faith that is a mark of the Church must be based on one foundation of doctrine: the apostolic doctrine. Accordingly, the Church is said to be “built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles” (Eph. 2:20). It is said about the heavenly Jerusalem that “its wall has twelve foundations and on them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb”( Rev. 21:14). Accordingly, in Zech. 8:19 “truth and peace” are joined.
In fact, truth is set ahead of peace so that we may understand that God approves of only that peace, concord, and unity which enjoys the foundation and bond of truth. John 8:31: “If you remain in My Word, you are truly My disciples.” John 17:21: “That they may be one in Us.”
(4) Although the true Church is one and its true members agree in one religion, yet we cannot infer from this that, wherever there is unity and agreement in religion, there suddenly is the true, apostolic Church. You see, there are two kinds of unity, as Thomas teaches (on Ephesians 4, lect. 1): “One is good, the other is bad. One is of spirit, the other of flesh.” “The unity of piety is to believe correctly; the unity of wickedness is to believe wrongly,” as Ambrose says somewhere. As God’s Church is one, so the devil’s Babylon is one. Christ says, Matt. 12:: “If Satan is divided against himself, how then will his kingdom stand?” There was unity among those who demanded the making of the golden calf (Exodus 32). All the priests of Baal were unanimous in opposing Elijah and Micah. At the time of Jeremiah all the people were unanimous in opposing the true worship of God. Christ was condemned to death by the common counsel of the priests and elders and with the assent of the entire people. The entire city of Ephesus rose up against Paul. After Christ’s ascension, Jews and gentiles fought against Christ’s Church. Although heretics may differ from each other, yet they are agreed on one heresy. In Rev. 13:16 we have this prophecy about the Antichrist: “It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave to be marked on the right hand.” The Jesuit Ribera comments on this passage: “The apostle means the infinite number of those who will be adherents of the Antichrist” (surely in harmony and peace). All this shows that not just any unity but the unity of faith and doctrine, and not any unity in faith and doctrine but the unity in the true apostolic doctrine and in the truly catholic faith is a mark of the Church.
(5) The statements of the ancients belong here, in which they teach that we must evaluate unity on the basis of the truth of faith. Cyprian (De unit. ecclesiae) says: “The Church is one just as the light of the sun is one, though the sun has many rays; just as a tree is one, though it has many branches; just as a spring is one, though it has many streams. Unity is preserved in the origin.” Here he takes the origin to mean Christ and the doctrine of Christ.
** The pagans once reproached Christians with the charge that “unity of faith does not flourish among them.” Augustine, De ovibus, c. 15: “Only this has remained for those” (evil-speakers) “to say against us: ‘Why do you not agree among yourselves?’ The pagan heathen who have remained, having nothing to say against the name of Christ, reproach the Christians with the disagreement of Christians.” Clement of Alexandria, Stromat., bk. 7: “This, then, is the first thing they cite against us; they say that one ought not believe because of the disagreement of the sects [haereses], for the truth is slowed and deferred when some people set up some dogmas and others establish other dogmas. To them we say that there have been more sects among you Jews and among you philosophers who were held in the highest esteem among the Greeks,” etc. **
When the Arian Auxentius boasted about the unity of the Arians, Hilary gave him this answer (at the beginning of Contra Auxent.): “Indeed, the name of peace is lovely and the idea of unity is beautiful, but who doubts that only the unity of the Church and of the Gospels is the peace of Christ?” Afterwards he adds: “The ministers of the Antichrist boast of their peace, that is, of the unity of their wickedness, behaving not as the bishops of Christ but as priests of the Antichrist.” Gregory Nazianzen, Orat. 1, de pace: “It is better for a disagreement to arise for the sake of piety than to have a corrupt concord.” Jerome writes (Letter ad Theophilum, against the errors of John of Jerusalem, vol. 2, p. 185): “We, too, want peace, but the peace of Christ, true peace, peace without hostilities, peace in which war is not covered, peace which does not subject people as foes but joins them as friends.” When Augustine (domin. 2. post octavas paschae de pace et unitate, Sermon 1) had diligently recommended the pursuit of peace, he added: “But this peace is to be guarded with good people and those who keep the commandments of God, not with the hostile and wicked, who have peace among themselves in their sins. The peace of Christ is beneficial for eternal salvation. The peace which is in the devil leads to eternal destruction. We must always have peace with the good and war with the vices, since the evils of wicked men should be hated,” etc. Hugh, De claustr. anim., bk. 3, c. 9: “Another peace is considered, that of the wicked and of this world. Another is pretended, that of the devil and of heretics. Another is commanded, namely, that we not fight against heretics.”