Nov 13, 2008

Why St. Vincent?

The purpose for this weblog is to raise awareness of the need for Christian unity - a unity based on and grounded in truth and not at the expense of it. St. Vincent’s Commonitory and especially the Vincentian Canon speaks strongly and relevantly to the Church’s current state of affairs.
St. Vincent’s concern in writing his Commonitory was in his own words to "be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood" of heresy. Again let me clarify the meaning of "Catholic" as used by St. Vincent as well as its use on this blog. By Catholic Vincent intended to convey the idea of the universal Church both the eastern Church and the western Church, Greek and Latin. The word Catholic was used by the early Church to distinguish the true body of believers from those who followed false teachers. Today there is much confusion among professing Christians as to what the truth is. I honestly believe that if we take seriously the implications of what St. Vincent has written it will go a long way in healing the various fractures that cripple the body of Christ.
A unity based on truth is a unity based on the Word of God and that is where Vincent begins. The concept of the word of God can be understood in to ways: First. There is the Incarnational Word. This is God’s revelation of the truth in Christ. Jesus himself said "I am the way, the truth and the life."There is also the Scriptural word of God. This of course is the word of God written. St. Paul makes the connection between the written word and truth where he calls it "the word of truth."
Catholic unity begins with faithfulness to Christ and Scripture.
Vincent begins with Scripture and continues with the Church. Vincent however, raises a crucial question. His question is essentially this: "what are we to do with all the various interpretation?"
His answer is that we hold to the traditions of the Church and her interpretation of Scripture. With that statement I couldn’t help but notice red flags going up in the minds of my Protestant brothers and sisters! It’s that dreaded "T" word that non-Catholics despise. Just like the word Catholic the word tradition requires an explanation. In a nutshell tradition refers to the creeds and councils which are interpretive declaration of the undivided Church. Many Protestants are unaware that they rely heavily on the creeds and councils in order to maintain traditional Christian beliefs such as the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Without tradition the Church ends up in interpretive confusion. One of the tragedies of the Reformation was the Anabaptist’s rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity because the word Trinity is not found in the Bible. The Church came to her understanding of the Trinity over a period of almost two centuries as she contended with heresy and relied on the great councils of the Catholic Church to declare the teachings of the apostolic Faith.
St. Vincent’s method and conclusion fall squarely in line with Scripture. In His high priestly prayer recorded in St. John 17 Jesus petitions the Father for the unity of the Church. He make a definitive connection between truth and unity. His first request is "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." Next He prays" that they all may be one." Jesus prayed for the unity of God’s people based on the truth. What about the authority of the Church in regard to the interpretation of Scripture. In his instruction to Timothy St. Paul refers to the Church as "the pillar and ground of the truth." Basically what Paul is saying is that one of the God given functions of the Church is to support and maintain the truth of Scripture. In other words the Church has authority in matters of faith. Likewise if the Church is ordained by God for this purpose then it follows that she is qualified for the task as well.
There are essentially two devices that work to attack the unity of the Church, heresy and schism. Heresy is a violation against the essential doctrines of the Church. Schism is a violation against the communion of the Church. Applying the Vincentian Canon is the ancient and Biblical model for maintaining the unity of God people.

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