Us and them

In recent days we celebrated the 350th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. While studying in Rome I visited the Church in Geneva where John Calvin had preached. Its stark bareness reminded me of a gymnasium. A small altar was parked on one side of the stage; a preaching rostrum dominated the front centre. Standing there, I had a sharp sense of the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism and wondered if it could ever be bridged.

A vision of wholeness

Most scripture scholars agree that Jesus’ central message was to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mk 1.15, Lk 4.43). This wasn’t to be a brutal reign built on violence and the threat of violence. Instead, it would show itself in communities of justice, love and peace where to lead would be to serve.

The Catholic Church sees itself as the first fruits of that kingdom, still just a growing plant, at times almost smothered, but having nourished many peoples. It views other Christian Churches as offshoots with their own fruits and gifts, but detached from the mother plant and in danger of losing energy and becoming sterile.

Can Christian Churches ever reunite to become one blooming tree, heavy with new fruit, once again? Given a history of mutual distrust and sometime persecution that seems a futile dream.

Every now and then, however, there are encouraging doctrinal breakthroughs, such as the agreement on the nature of justification between the Catholic and Lutheran Churches. And often it’s in working side by side in common prayer or protection of the poor and vulnerable that all Christians detect deep roots of mutual belonging and respect and the dream of unity seems much more than a mirage.


Father Neil Vaney

Next steps

This writing is based on the content of ‘What Catholics Believe’, Booklet 4, ‘The Catholic Church’ referencing pages 17 – 18. Should you like to read more just click either of the links below to download ‘Booklet 4’ or the complete set of ‘What Catholics Believe’.