Is there "partial communion"?

Dear friends,

I haven’t been on this forum for quite some time, but recently I’ve had some questions that prompted me to come back.

In a lecture today, our professor spoke about “communio plena” or “full communion”. I’ve always found it difficult to grasp that concept, at least if it implies that there is such a thing as “partial communion”. To me, communion with the Church is black or white. Either you have communion, or you don’t. While there may be agreements on doctrine or in practice, that doesn’t mean one has “partial” communion. I’d never say that we had “partial communion” with the Arians or whatever, despite their valid baptism. That’s also the sense I get when I read Satis Cognitum and Mortalium Animos by Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI.

Our professor tied this to St Robert Bellarmine’s concept of “tria vincula” (three ties), namely unity in the Creed, the Sacraments and government under the Pope, saying that one could have “communio non plena” (imperfect communion) with the Church on this basis.

It just strikes me as odd. Do you have any thoughts?

I don’t see partial communion as approbation for heresy, but rather the acknowledgement that people can be united in baptism but not in doctrine or in allegiance. It would be easier for the Church to say that unless one is in full communion one can have no communion, but it’s simply not the case. Baptism is effect whether or not the baptized understands what it is, whether or not he holds to sound doctrine or whether or not he can/will acknowledge the oneness in allegiance with the pope. If this were not the case, we could not baptize infants and the mentally disabled. God knows that there are those who are on their way to full unity and that there are those who have obstacles in their way that prevent them from being able to do so. The Church recognizes God’s mercy and the effacacy of the sacraments. What else can she do? :slight_smile:

I’d agree with that, although I really would ask “What’s the point?”

Well, that’s just what I mean… “full unity” is “unity” to me. You’re either completely united, or you’re not united at all. I find it redundant. Of course valid Baptism places people in a relation with the Church, but the documents I mentioned earlier state that those who are not Catholic, though baptised, are not in the Church. :shrug:

I don’t think there is a point to aim at. Rather, I think it is merely stating the truth of what exists. What would be gained by denying that some, by reason of their baptism but who are not Catholic, are in partial communion? That is the question you may want to ask. :slight_smile:

Well, that’s just what I mean… “full unity” is “unity” to me. You’re either completely united, or you’re not united at all. I find it redundant. Of course valid Baptism places people in a relation with the Church, but the documents I mentioned earlier state that those who are not Catholic, though baptised, are not in the Church. :shrug:

Well, that’s the limitations of language. As I see it those baptized but not in communion with the Church are in small boats tethered to the Barque of Peter. It can be said they are in the same flotilla, but not fully on board. Maybe a bad example, but I don’t think an inapt one.

I accept that it’s true, but I just think it’s just misleading and potentially damaging to speak of it.

Well, that’s the limitations of language. As I see it those baptized but not in communion with the Church are in small boats tethered to the Barque of Peter. It can be said they are in the same flotilla, but not fully on board. Maybe a bad example, but I don’t think an inapt one.

In my view they aren’t tethered, except perhaps by a thread. :smiley:

I’ve found the opposite to be the case. My non-practicing Methodist niece was pleasantly surprised when I told her that the Church accepted her sons’ baptisms as valid, which means her family is in partial communion with the Church. I see it helping people come into the Church who may think the Church looks down on them or doesn’t accept them, or is out of reach for them.

In my view they aren’t tethered, except perhaps by a thread. :smiley:

I’ll grant that some are very loosely tethered by very thin strings, indeed. But, there are those whose tethers are short and strong. No matter which it is, just knowing that they are closer to full communion with the Church than those who are not baptised can help them draw closer. If they thought the Church saw them as nothing but inconvenient hangers-on, they might cut their ties altogether, as some have done–floating farther away from than they were and becoming lost.

The Church is upholding the teaching about baptism and of the mercy of God. It is not the business of the Church to discourage people from full communion but to invite them to come in and be fully at one with her.

In a sense we have “partial communion” with certain Churches, notably the Orthodox Churches: they may receive if they request it of their own accord and are properly disposed, and within the norms of their own Church. But they do not receive it as a matter of course, as we do within the various rites of the Catholic Church. Similarly, a Catholic may receive from such Churches with valid sacraments, but only in extreme cases such as danger of death, or, I believe, if they are unable to receive from a Catholic minister for an extended period of time, and there is no nearby Catholic parish to attend.

However . . .

In most cases, the Orthodox do not allow heir members to communicate at the Catholic Church, nor do they allow non-Orthodox to receive their communion. So, in practice, it is not possible, apart from perhaps an Orthodox pastor who allows it in specific cases on the grounds of epikaia. But, at least in theory, there is a limited, partial form of communion with the Orthodox Churches, and a few others–the Polish National Church sticks in my mind.

I would agree with that, emphasizing that the practical result (as you well outlined) is that we do not yet truly share the Sacraments, most notably the Eucharist. The Orthodox Churches generally hold that despite mutual acknowledgements, doctrinal and dogmatic differences still are significant enough to preclude sharing of the Eucharist.

The notion of the “three ties” is instructive, but there is more between those ropes …

I think that is right, since they have valid Sacraments. Also, there is a question about SSPX.

Protestants, schismatics, and heretics are in NO way at all untied with the Christian Church…

This is the doctrine taught by His Holiness Pope Pius XI in this encyclical, “On Christian Unity”. It is a GREAT read, I recommend it!

papalencyclicals.net/Pius11/P11MORTA.HTM

I am sorry if this is taken to be harsh, or judgmental. I am not trying to be exclusive, just faithful to that Pope’s words.

Neither the SSPX nor the Orthodox are united with the Church, as they are schismatics. Yes, they DO have valid sacraments, but they are schismatic. And yes, schismatics DO enjoy valid sacraments. So SSPX Masses are VALID, as are many Orthodox. But. They are not within in the Church.

This concept comes from St. Augustine:

[quote=St. Augustine, On Baptism] And so others could receive from them, while they still had not joined our society, what they themselves had not lost by severance from our society. And hence it is clear that they are guilty of impiety who endeavor to rebaptize those who are in Catholic unity; and we act rightly who do not dare to repudiate God’s sacraments, even when administered in schism. For in all points in which they think with us, they also are in communion with us, and only are severed from us in those points in which they dissent from us.

But if they observe some of the same things, in respect of these they have not severed themselves; and so far they are still a part of the framework of the Church, while in all other respects they are cut off from it. Accordingly, any one whom they have associated with themselves is united to the Church in all those points in which they are not separated from it. And therefore, if he wish to come over to the Church, he is made sound in those points in which he was unsound and went astray; but where he was sound in union with the Church, he is not cured, but recognized—lest in desiring to cure what is sound we should rather inflict a wound.
[/quote]

newadvent.org/fathers/14081.htm

The word “communion” has been used in different senses over time. Sometimes it is used as an equivalent to “membership,” sometimes not (current parlance, just like how St. Augustine used it, it is not the same thing). The concept of membership is what is used to identify the Church as a distinct visible society. This is what you see in the encyclicals you mention. The one Church identified in the Creed is the Catholic Church subject to the successors of Peter. The Church of Christ can only be said to subsist in the Catholic Church, not any other communities (the word “subsist in” means a permanent, concrete identity). Membership requires Baptism, unity in faith, and unity in government. But people can have real relationships with the Church without being members of the Church or without their communities being considered “branches” of the Church.

As St. Augustine mentions, we can speak of communion in particular elements that we share in common.

Baptism is the most fundamental element in the regard. It has always been understood to create a permanent bond with the Church, which is why we don’t re-baptize and why even those who cease to be members (through heresy, schism, or apostasy) have always been considered still subject to the Church’s jurisdiction. Here’s how Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma describes it:

[quote=Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma]Although public apostates and heretics, schismatics and excommunicati vitandi are outside the legal organisation of the Church, still their relationship to the Church is essentially different from that of the unbaptised. As the baptismal character which effects incorporation in the Church is indestructible, the baptised person, in spite of his ceasing to be a member of the Church, cannot cut himself off so completely from the Church, that every bond with the Church is dissolved.
[/quote]

Just to add, technically, even a member of the Church can lack full communion. Fr. Hardon explains this in his treatise on Bellarmine’s doctrine (this is probably what applies to the SSPX, for example):

[quote=Fr. Hardon]In the case in point, the writer has confused “communion in some privileges enjoyed by Catholics in good standing” with “communion in the essential practices of the Catholic faith,” such as participation in the same Sacraments and obedience to the Roman Pontiff. The first kind of communion, it is clear, may be lacking while formal membership is retained. Thus, for example, a recalcitrant priest may be suspended “a divinis.” He is, therefore, “lacking in communion with the Church,” to the extent that, as a priest, he may not celebrate the Divine mysteries; yet, for all that, he is still a member of the Catholic Church.
[/quote]

alcazar.net/StRobertBellarmine_EENS.html

I hope that helps!

Are they excommunicated? If not, does that mean that they are in the Catholic Church?

They are not excommunicated but they are not in full communion with the Church. The faculties of all SSPX priests are suspended.

Is that not just “excommunication”?

In fact that is WORSE because if I go to an excommunicate priest, my sacraments are ilicit. If I go to a suspended priest, the sacrament was invalid.

Is this right? I am not a canon lawyer.

wdtprs.com/blog/2013/09/quaeritur-why-are-sspx-masses-valid-but-not-marriages-or-absolutions/

The only time I’ve seen the term used is when describing those who have split from, and so not in full communion with, The Catholic Church. It is not about Holy Communion.

If they are not within the Church then how do you explain the fact that “Cardinal Mario Poli of Buenos Aires, Argentina has recognized a branch of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) as an “association of diocesan right,” marking the first time that the breakaway traditionalist group has been officially recognized by a Catholic diocese…By recognizing the SSPX as a Catholic association, under the provisions of the Code of Canon Law, Cardinal Poli has certified that the members of the SSPX are Catholics.”
catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=24607
If they are Catholics under the provisions of canon law, and are not excommunicated, then how can it be true that “They are not within in the Church”?

They are not in full union with the Church. They are disobedient to the Pope and all SSPX priests have had their faculties suspended.
That does make them no longer Catholic. It means they are Catholics not in good standing with the Church.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.