Orthodox and Protestants – churches or mere ecclesial communities?

Over at Mere Comments, S.M. Hutchens has responded to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Questions on the Doctrine of the Church which recently reaffirmed the teaching of Dominus Iesus (2000).

In Hutchens’ summary, in his Notes on Questions on the Doctrine of the Church, this

directed Catholic bishops not to use the term â??sister churchesâ?? in referring to Protestant denominations. This document, in continuity with Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Councilâ??s dogmatic constitution of the Church, made it clear that according to Catholic doctrine these churches lack a valid episcopate, hence the integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, and are therefore not churches in the true sense of the term. Rather, they are â??ecclesial communitiesâ?? ambiguously related to the Church of Rome.

Touchstone (of which Hutchens is an editor) took the position that it had

no desire for Rome to surrender the integrity of its beliefs on the terms required by mainline ecumenism, for we cannot imagine it could, in that frame of mind, stand against the â??progressiveâ?? Catholics who are trying with all their might to baptize their church in the same wallow of confusion, heresy, and immorality into which their Protestant counterparts have already introduced their own.

Hutchen’s piece attracted some impressive comments. Here is one from DGUS

Mr. Hutchens’s post is quite correct in asserting (1) that real ecumenism–indeed, any meaningful religious dialogue whatsoever–must proceed from candor and clarity, even where that may be painful, and (2) that, by authentic RC lights, this recent statement (like “Dominus Iesus” and “Lumen Gentium” before it) is probably as generous and open as real RC doctrine will permit. As an evangelical non-Catholic, I thank the RCC for its clarity, and take no offense.

However, Mr. Hutchens’s following comment is also correct in emphasizing the result that seems “intolerable”: Even the extremely liberal RC parish (open to same-sex unions, tolerant of abortion, universalistic, indifferent to Christological error, etc.) is deemed a “proper church” and its dissident priest is deemed authentically Christian because they are believed to possess apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, while the non-Catholic minister and congregation that affirm the Nicene Creed without reservation, acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures, confess the Lord Jesus as fully God and fully Man, crucified, risen, and coming again, and preach a Gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ–these are mere honorary “Christians” in a non-church “ecclesial community.”

So my first question in the ensuing dialogue is this: Does the RC Christian acknowledge any dissonance in this disparity? Is he comfortable that mere apostolic pedigree seems to count for so much, and that believing and preaching the apostolic message seems to count for so little?

From Stuart Koehl

Talk of Orthodox “defectiveness” begs the question of whether communion with Rome is a prerequisite for the fullness of the Church, particularly in light of the “ecclesiology of communion” adopted by the Catholic Church in Vatican II. It is the Eucharist that imparts the fullness (katholikon) of the Church, not communion with any one particular bishop. One might just as well say that Rome is defective because it is not in formal communion with Constantinople, Moscow, Antioch or Alexandria. Among the true Churches, whatever “defects” exist are mutual and derive from the unnatural separation that perdures as the result not of real differencs in faith but simply the sinfulness of men.