January 21, 2022


Not all Catholics think alike. And that’s OK.

It should be obvious that not all Catholics agree about everything. And, as Pope Francis tells us, that’s OK.

Some Catholics are Republicans, others are Democrats, some are Independents while still others have no political affiliation. Some feel called to attend daily Mass while others are content fulfilling their Sunday obligation. In other words, there is a legitimate pluralism in the Catholic Church.

However, there are also basic doctrines that all Catholics are required to believe, and basic devotions that all Catholics are expected to follow. Most of those doctrines—but not all—are included in the Church’s two creeds, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed.

Beyond the premise that all members must ascribe to doctrines in the creeds, the Church is wide open to everyone. The word “catholic” itself means universal, or, as it has been described, “Here comes everyone.” And, since everyone is a sinner, it is a Church composed of sinners.

From its earliest history, it has included people who disagree with one another. The first major controversy was whether or not Gentile converts had to observe the Jewish laws, including the rite of circumcision. It led to the Council of Jerusalem, as described in the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. It ruled that they did not have to be circumcised.

However, that didn’t end the problem. St. Paul had extreme Christian Jews following his missionary journeys and telling converts that Paul’s teaching was not the full and authentic teaching. That resulted in Paul’s strong Letter to the Galatians.

Even when Paul took a treasure to the Church in Jerusalem, as described in Acts, James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, told him that he had been accused of telling the Jews who lived among the Gentiles not to circumcise their children, and he advised Paul to demonstrate that he himself observed the Mosaic laws. That led to Paul’s arrest.

Later in the early history of the Church, we find numerous popular heresies that were eventually condemned by councils. We tend to think of those who believed those heresies as evil people, but most of them were sincere Christians who were trying to understand just who Jesus was. How could he be both divine and human? Was Mary the mother of only his human nature? And where did the Holy Spirit fit in?

The point is that there has always been disagreement within the Catholic Church. But the Church is still here because it is guided by the Holy Spirit. It even survived the period when there were three people claiming to be pope at the beginning of the 15th century, each one with loyal followers.

The Church has historically called synods or councils to determine what Catholics should believe. But decisions made by those bodies haven’t always been popular. After the Council of Nicaea condemned Arianism, which taught that the Word (Jesus) was created by God the Father, most of the Christian world remained Arian, including Emperor Constantine. Arianism stuck around for a long time.

Nearly every council that concerned itself with doctrine has met opposition from Catholics who refused to accept the decisions made. That includes the Second Vatican Council held in the 1960s. There are Catholics today who believe that it was a big mistake.

Diversity in humanity can be traced back to its very creation by God. Adam and Eve, although different from each other, were both created in the image and likeness of God. And as we know from revelation, there is both a true diversity and total unity in God who is three persons in one God.

At the same time, there is a diversity in humanity that can tend toward division and conflict. This, in part, can be traced to the original sin of Adam and Eve. The never-ending challenge for us as Catholics is how to identify and manage these different kinds of diversities.

It can be challenging when we don’t all believe alike or think alike. Parents can see that every day, if they have several children. The children all have the same biological genes, the same parents, and they live in the same family. But each one is usually much different from his or her siblings. If that happens in families, how much more does it happen in society?

Certainly, a lot. And that’s OK.

Happy New Year.

—John F. Fink

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