[From Catholicity: A Study in the Conflict of Christian Traditions in the West (Dacre Press, 1947), pp.9-10]

Your Grace defined our Terms of Reference as follows:

(i) What is the underlying cause–philosophical and theological–of the contrast or conflict between the Catholic and Protestant traditions?

(ii) What are the fundamental points of doctrine at which the contrast or conflict crystallises?

(iii) Is a synthesis at these points possible?

(iv) If a synthesis is not possible, can they co-exist within one ecclesiastical body, and under what conditions?

While it has been our aim to devote ourselves to the problem which the Terms of Reference present, we have found it difficult to see the problem precisely in the way that the letter of the Terms of Reference suggests.

(a) The word ‘Protestant’ covers more than a single field of Christian thought and practice. There is on the one hand the traditional Protestantism of the classical Lutheran and Reformed theologies which arose in the sixteenth century and has had a significant revival in our own day. There is also the liberalized Protestantism, whose roots are more in the Renaissance than in the Reformation, and whose characteristics are very different from those of Protestantism in the proper sense. Indeed, so different are the problems raised by each of these types of Protestantism, that when we are asked to discuss our relation to Protestantism we are conscious of at least two distinct problems to investigate. And with this consciousness we cannot avoid the conviction that the real problem that underlies your Grace’s Terms of Reference is a tripartite one: not ‘Catholic and Protestant’, but ‘Catholic, Protestant and Liberal’.

(b) The word ‘Catholic’ also has its diverse meanings. It can be used to describe the opinions and the religious attitude of those who adhere to certain positions within a divided Christendom. It can also be used to describe, not a type of thought or outlook, but certain facts whose existence and authority Christians acknowledge: the Catholic Church, the Catholic Creeds, the Catholic Faith, the Catholic Sacraments. We do not intend in this Report to use or to advocate any new terminology, but we would wish to make it clear that, as Christians and theologians, our first concern is for those things which are Catholic in the latter and classical sense. In our divided Christendom we do not believe that any existing institution or group of institutions [9/10] gives a full and balanced representation of the true and primitive Catholicity. It is the recovery of the principles of that Catholicity that is our quest.

(c) In another way our task has proved greater than the words ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ at first sight suggest. We are convinced that the distortions in Western Christendom, which have caused our unhappy divisions and theological antagonisms in the West, have behind them the earlier division between West and East. For since West and East went their separate ways, each of them has presented a partly lop-sided version of Christian truth, and it is necessary to look beyond them both, and seek to discern the greater fulness that lies behind. The West will hardly solve its own problems unless it recovers certain Christian perceptions which have been emphasised by the East, but which really belong to East and West in common.

In each of these three ways we have been led to see our problem as the result of a fragmentation of Christian faith, thought and life, which has led in turn to some measure of distortion of the truth. The reunion of Christendom cannot therefore be a fitting-together of broken pieces, but must spring from a vital growth towards a genuine wholeness or catholicity of faith, thought and life.

We shall in this Report seek first to describe this primitive wholeness of Christian faith, thought and life; then to examine the chief ways in which distortion and division have occurred; and finally to consider true and false methods of synthesis.

[Next: Chapter 1: The primitive unity ]