Yesterday during our Bible study on the Incarnation, we started discussing the Nicene Creed. And when you start discussing the Nicene Creed, you're not far off from talking about ancient church politics. Here's one of the most common phrases I hear from parishioners during these conversations:
"Back then everybody was Roman Catholic."
That simple sentence is fraught with problems. Let's take a look!
First, the word catholic simply means universal. Now it doesn't make a whole lot of linguistic sense to say that anything can both be Roman and universal, because, of course, Rome isn't everywhere. Rather, I believe that we should refer to that particular piece of Christianity as "the Roman Church," just as I belong to "the Episcopal Church." Because hey, I don't believe anybody has the corner market on universality. Well, except for God.
Second, for roughly the first one thousand years, Christians didn't say that belonged to the "Roman Catholic Church." They just belonged to "the Church." The Roman Church didn't start identifying itself as such until there were other church bodies around (Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, etc.).
|The Venerable Bede|
Finally, I think a lot of us have an inferiority complex when it comes to the Roman Church. We talk about how "we broke away from the Roman Church." Time out. Let's take a look at the Anglican Church in particular. First, there was a perfectly fine church in England before missionaries from Rome ever showed up. You may read the Venerable Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" for some more background information on this.
On top of that, the Anglican Church preserved the ancient order of bishops, priests, and deacons. We retained the liturgies of the Church and the scriptures. We kept saying the creeds. So what really changed when the Church of England became independent from the Church of Rome? We said that the Pope is simply the Bishop of Rome, not the Bishop of the World. That's it! Does that have anything to do with splitting away from the Body of Christ? Absolutely not!
My dear fellow Episcopalians, don't let your Roman friends put you down. We are all Christians. That's what matters.