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An Apologetics Course . . . Finding The True Church: The Branch Theory

December 27, 2015 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 34

So far we have studied the origin, doctrines, and form of government of various church organizations that claim to be the Church of Jesus Christ. One knows for certain that they cannot be such as a group, since there are visceral contradictions among them. The so-called branch theory, whereby certain churches calling themselves “Christian” would be branches of a main vine (which would supposedly be Jesus Christ), is just a myth. Jesus founded one Church, and one only.
But why is the “branch theory” a myth?
The idea came from a group of Anglicans that emerged at the time of the “Oxford Movement” (1833-1845). They belonged to the High Church, whose rituals bear resemblance to the Catholic Church in the West and to the Orthodox churches of the East. It became a kind of a pet theory simply because they liked rituals and liturgies. They claimed that the three churches were distinct, individual, independent branches of the same vine. Misrepresenting Jesus’ image of “I am the vine, you are the branches,” they said that the tree is one, but the branches are different. And why are the branches different? Because — they asserted — each church has apostolic succession, and all three share in the same sacramental life.
Each is the Church of Christ in its own domain, according to this view, so that folks must belong to the church of his country or geographic area. It did sound very attractive to the Anglicans who invented the theory, without a doubt, but it is just a myth.
The Church of England is for Englishmen and the British Crown Commonwealth, the Orthodox Church is for Greeks and Slavs, and the Catholic Church is chiefly for the Latin races and whoever else is left out of the list. This theory, they believed, reconciled the present divided state of the Churches with the doctrine that she is one and continuous.
But the difficulties with this theory are not only big, they are insuperable. I do not consider this theory worthy of any serious study; I mention it here just to show how desperate some folks are to justify the unjustifiable. In fact, the majority of Anglicans ignore or reject this theory; most of them do not care about it. The Orthodox never accepted it, and the Catholic Church dismisses it without further ado, as a mere effort of make-believe. It is utterly repudiated by the Catholic Church.
Such a branch-theory church possesses no unity of government: It would consist of hostile bodies, each seeking to correct the other two. This would be utterly unlike the Church described by St. Paul, the one living Body of Christ, one in heart and mind.
Such a branch-theory church does not have unity in faith, as its “creeds” would be a ton of doctrinal contradictions, a ludicrous cacophony of doctrines. The Catholic members believe in things that the Orthodox deny and the Anglicans reject, such as the primacy and infallibility of the Pope; and the official Anglican Church would regard as obligatory almost no doctrine professed in common by Orthodox and Catholics.
A member of the Anglican Church may hold, without imperiling his status, almost anything he pleases on the necessity and efficacy of Baptism, the Real Presence and the Eucharist, the sacramental nature of Matrimony, the divine institution of the episcopacy, the Resurrection of our Lord, and even His divinity. Moreover, he is bound to tolerate every doctrine which a court, appointed by the civil authority, may decide is tenable. In the Church of England bishops ultimately receive their dioceses by designation of the prime minister!
It was this last point that finally moved Henry Manning (later Henry Cardinal Manning, archbishop of Westminster) to become a Catholic. The analysis of the theory yields so many absurdities that we do not need to waste time on it. I merely note in conclusion the following points:
1) The branch theory assumes that the Anglican Church has an authentic sacramental life, that is to say, its bishops and priests are validly ordained, with powers to consecrate the Eucharist and absolve sins — but this assumption is rejected by the majority of Anglicans themselves! The Catholic Church has expressly pronounced against the validity of Anglican orders. They do not have true bishops and priests, only lay men — and women, as of more recent times — vested as bishops and priests, or bishopesses and priestesses.
2) The branch theory makes the incredibly extravagant supposition that faith varies with nationality, as Englishmen may believe in things denied by the Slavs or Greeks; the faith would vary according to the individual’s nationality and which passport he carried. In practice, it would mean that Christ wished men to believe one thing because they were born in England, and quite the opposite because they were born in Italy. Does this make sense?
3) The three “branches” would possess no common organ of infallibility. None of them could claim to possess the gift given to St. Peter and his successors, they say. It would be just a matter of opinion or preference.

+ + +

Now, in this apologetics series we have seen that none of the Protestant churches (among the thousands of them) is the Church of Jesus Christ, and none can be. Neither can Anglicanism be, nor the Orthodox churches. There is only one left to fit in the marks of being One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, etc. And you will get not a single brownie point for guessing which one I am referring to.
Why is the Roman Catholic Church the Church founded by Jesus Christ? Not merely because it is the last one left in the list of our considerations, not at all.
First of all, she is one in faith: Faithful Catholics the world over — whether they live in America, Europe, Africa, Asia, or Oceania — share the same Creed, and believe the same articles of faith. (Please note: I mean the faithful Catholics, not the superficial, relativistic, modernist folks you find in many places today. They do not represent the Catholic Church, only themselves. An organization is properly represented by its faithful members, not by its unfaithful ones.
The faithful ministers of the Catholic Church bear the message of Christ in its entirety, without any adaptations to the worldly culture of our days.
She is one in government. Faithful Catholic people are joined to their priests, the priests and people to their bishops, and all are subject to the Pope, the center of authority, the bond of apostolic unity, the Successor of St. Peter, and the Vicar of Christ. The Code of Canon Law acts like a “constitution” for the Catholic Church, and all are subject to its ordinances. There is unity in government.
The Catholic Church bears the message of Christ, and her faithful members, courageous and plain-spoken as Christ Himself, insist that it be received in its integrity. She shuts her ears to the sensual who look to her in vain for an accommodation in her moral doctrine; those unfaithful members of the Church at times attempt to change her moral doctrine, but always without success. They either leave the Church in a schism or deny her truth as a new heresy.
Since Luther’s revolution, countless new Protestant groups, as well as semi-Christian sects, have arisen. Some of them, e.g., Assembly of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Worldwide Church of God, are not named after any particular person, place, or doctrine — but one thing they, and all Protestant bodies, have in common is that the date of their foundation can be given. Before Luther there was no Lutheranism, before Calvin there was no Calvinism, before Henry VIII there was no Anglicanism, before Ellen White there were no Seventh-day Adventists, before Joseph Smith there were no Mormons. And so on and so forth.
The Catholic Church — it is a fact of history — was founded by Jesus Christ in the year 33. Only the Catholic Church goes back in every respect of her foundation to Jesus Christ Himself. No other person can be adduced as her founder.
Next article: The Catholic Church is the Church of Christ — more evidence.

+ + +

(Raymond de Souza is an EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI]; president of the Sacred Heart Institute, and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His website is: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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