True to their beliefs, however, they could not discuss the mission of the Church and salvation without reference to their particular views on the See of Rome and its Bishop as the universal Patriarch, with his primacy over the whole Church throughout the world. According to their beliefs, this role is almost sacramental in essence, and it affects the validity of everyone else's sacraments. In modern times they present the idea with a positive approach, emphasizing that they believe, as the document says (itself quoting earlier documents stretching back to Vatican II), "they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.
In their defense, they did not create this document in order to dismiss the validity of other churches, and neither can they make a formal statement of doctrine without respect to what they firmly hold to be the truth. In fact, they cannot discuss salvation in its fullest sense without explaining the Catholic Church as they understand it (and neither can we, as we understand it). I criticized then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, for reacting to the document as if the Church of Rome had produced Dominus Iesus just to insult the Church of England and the Anglican Communion even as it is, in its current, modern state of chaos. In fact, the Vatican document was more gentle to the Anglican Communion than any of us who write for this blog, and did not mention it at all by name.
Carey's big mistake
The one "pull quote from Dominus Iesus that received all the attention, largely due to Dr. Carey, was this (loaded, as it is, with words that came long before in Vatican II):
Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.
On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.
In light of the words that were in Dominus Iesus, which words were by no means new and shocking, Archbishop Carey should have responded to this effect: Inasmuch as Rome has again declared, "The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches," we stand by our conviction that they ought to regard Anglican churches as "true particular Churches" at the very least. We know our Apostolic Succession and all other sacraments to be valid.
(In saying that, I have not forgotten the position of the Anglican Catholic Church as expressed in our own edition of the Affirmation of St. Louis, attached to the following section:
The Continuation of Communion with Canterbury
To this we attach:
Note: Because of the action of General Synod of the Church of England, Parliament, and the Royal Assent, the College of Bishops of the Anglican Catholic Church is obliged no longer to count the See of Canterbury as a faithful part of the Anglican Communion.)
Members in particular
The issue for Continuing Anglicans, however, is that the defense by the Archbishops of England is our defense, that we have valid sacraments to the fullest. More so, membership in the Church is membership in the Body of Christ, and therefore membership in Christ Himself. St. Paul wrote:
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him...Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. (I Corinthians 12: 12-18, 27)
The teaching of St. Paul does not give room for such concepts as "true particular churches" that possess less than "the fullness" in Christ. When Anglicans say the Apostles Creed, the words "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church," are not the expression of our deepest aspiration, but rather of our faith in an accomplished fact. So too, the words of the Creed called Nicene (really the Creed of Constantinople I), "I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." To be in the Catholic Church is to be "in Christ" by baptism, living a life of faith that is nurtured by God's word and His holy sacraments.
Though I have defended the Church of Rome for producing Dominus Iesus, and have praised the merits of that document, it is important that Continuing Anglicans reject any notion that we could be in merely "an ecclesial community," and just as important that we reject the notion that what we are part of is "a true particular church" merely united to the Catholic Church and its "fullness" even if "by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist." The phrase "ecclesial community" is meaningless, inasmuch as the community called in the New Testament the Ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) is what is identified in the Creeds as the Catholic Church. And, any "true particular church" is merely a local expression of the Catholic Church, and as such is the Body of Christ, making each member of it a member in particular of the Body of Christ, His Bride, His Church.
The philosophical abstraction by which people may be in Christ by degree is not consistent with the doctrine taught from the beginning, that our baptism makes us full members of Christ, and that since we are in Christ we have the fullness of grace given already, as well as the fullness of obligation to live by that grace. Furthermore, sacraments are either valid or invalid, not more or less full depending on how much we agree with one Bishop of one See, no matter how ancient that See may be, and no matter what its historical origin. To be in Christ has nothing whatsoever to do with the historical claims of any See or Patriarchate. We cannot possibly lack "the fullness" of grace simply because we have not submitted to one Patriarch and his alleged primacy. The Church's polity exists rightly to serve our membership in His Body. Our membership in Christ does not exist to serve polity. At its best, even with the most positive and polite language that caters to modern ecumenical sensitivity and etiquette, Rome's position "unchurches" everyone who is not already under the pope.
1. The statement by Rome ("absolutely null and utterly void") is actually heresy. Even when we must declare sacraments to be invalid, it is only in relation to our responsibility, as human beings who perform the ministry, to do all things after the pattern shown to us on the mount in Galilee when the Risen Christ commissioned His Church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16f). We must perform all things correctly, but never imagine that we can set limits to the grace of God. For this reason, we may speak of sacraments as invalid, but never dare presume, as Rome has presumed, to declare any sacraments "absolutely null and utterly void." For, if they are invalid, that is not to say that we may be certain that they are lacking as means whereby God has given grace, for they may well have been used by God in such a way as to be neither null nor void. Invalidity of sacraments means only that, if given the opportunity, we must make sure that a possible deficiency is set right by valid sacraments, not trying to know for sure what may be null and void, but doing what we know to be valid, and therefore certain beyond doubt. The difference between the classic ancient Christian approach, and Rome's arrogant conclusion in 1896, is as obvious as night and day.