The Bonds of Unity with the Church (Reply to John Lane).

Union with the Church:
Three External Bonds or Two?

Answering John Lane’s Ridiculous Objection

(The following is a taken from the 2nd edition of True or False Pope?, with a few minor revisions)

       Following the publication of the first edition of True or False Pope?, the Sedevacantist apologist, John Lane, quite incredibly, attempted to discredit this chapter [chapter 3] by claiming it “is false” to assert that there are three external bonds to the Church. He went on to accuse the authors of confusing “the external bonds of the Church with the three conditions which qualify a man as a member – i.e. profession of faith, sharing in the sacraments, subjection to the hierarchy.”[1]  Mr. Lane says there are only “two bonds of unity” – namely, faith and charity - and claims St. Robert Bellarmine teaches the same. To confirm this, he said: “St. Robert Bellarmine teaches that men may recognize each other as members of the Church by these two bonds, faith and charity.”[2] 

        In an e-mail exchange with the authors of this book and several priests, Mr. Lane wrote:

The assertion, made with all confidence and without the slightest support from any theological authority, that the “bonds of unity” of the Church are three.  This is manifestly erroneous in theology and indeed, it shows that the authors have no idea what they are saying.  The Church, as no doubt you know, has two bonds of unity, and these are faith and charity.  St. Thomas, St. Robert Bellarmine, the Vatican Council, and any number of manualists, confirm this. Siscoe and Salza are entirely unaware of what the term “bonds of unity” means, and therefore they apply the term to the external “unities” of the Church.[3] 

       One of the priests included on the email did his best to correct Lane’s fundamental error, but to no avail. Mr. Lane doubled down with an arrogant and condescending reply, that included an attached document that he wrote, which he confidently referred to as a “brief explanation of the doctrine of the Church regarding her two bonds of unity.”

       What the attached document revealed is that what Mr. Lane is protesting against is terminology, not theology. Without citing any theological references to back up his novel “argument,” Lane claims that the three external unities – i.e., profession of faith, submission to the hierarchy and communion in the sacraments – can only be referred to as “conditions” of unity, or perhaps “factors” of unity, but never as “bonds” of unity. According to Mr. Lane, only faith and charity can properly be called “bonds.” In his own words:

“Chapter 3 of TOFP requires extensive revision in order to eliminate this error.  It confuses the factors in external unity, the various versions of [i.e., different ways of phrasing] the three “unities” (e.g. of baptism, profession, and submission) given by the different theologians, and the fundamental bonds of unity of faith and charity, in such a way as to make the entire explanation worthless and misleading.  Indeed, so bad is this chapter that it would be better to delete it and begin again.  What source refers to baptism, the sharing the same sacraments, and submission to the hierarchy, as “bonds of unity”?  What Catholic source uses this language?  I cannot find one.  There’s a reason for that – it’s not true. (…)  What must not be said is that the Church has three bonds of unity, for she has two visible bonds of unity. (John Lane).

       As we will see, this argument, like many of Lane's other arguments, is a classic red herring. Before we delve into it, here is the reply that the learned priest sent Mr. Lane in an effort to correct his error. 

“YOUR theology is not that of St Robert Bellarmine! He is the one who exposes at length the three bonds of unity of the Church as profession of the true faith, true worship (starting with Baptism) and subjection to the Roman Pontiff. He exposes principally these external bonds, and rightly explains that one cannot say – simpliciter – that ‘faith and charity’ are the bonds of unity of the Church, because it is a dogma of faith that there are sinners in the church, i.e. people lacking charity! However, this does not mean that charity, which is the bond of perfection as St Paul says, has no place among the “bonds of unity” of the church, but it must be carefully stated. Thus, one can very well say that life is the bond of unity of the body, and as soon as life goes there is decomposition of the body – or to put it the other way, the decomposition of the body is the surest sign of the departure of life; yet it is also clear that there are within a living body some cells which are NOT living, yet attached to the body. So in the church, the fundamental bond is the one life of grace (participation in the life of God, Christ living in us) – and this is ONE bond, with three immediate consequences: faith, hope and charity, to which correspond the profession of faith, worship (because hope leads to prayer) and obedience to the hierarchy established by Christ. To reduce the bonds of unity to two, and only two interior bonds, seems to me rather dangerous, and a departure from St Robert Bellarmine.”

       As we demonstrate in our book and will further show in this article, the priest is entirely correct.  And, as usual, in spite of all the authorities whose names Lane dropped during the e-mail exchange (Bellarmine, Van Noort, St. Thomas, Fr. Berry, Vatican I), our critic was unable to provide a single authoritative quotation that confirmed his assertion that it is forbidden to refer to the three external “unities” as bonds, or that faith and charity are “visible" or "external" bonds of unity.[4]  As the quotations we have already seen in this chapter demonstrate, faith and charity are always referred to as invisible internal bonds, not “visible” external bonds as John Lane calls them.

       What we will see is that Mr. Lane’s entire argument is rooted in a surprising degree of ignorance concerning the subject matter, which has resulted in rash and erroneous conclusions. In short, his ignorance and misunderstanding of terminology (confusing the external vs. internal bonds) has resulted in a misapplication of basic Catholic terminology (i.e., calling “faith” and “charity” external bonds). 

       We will begin by answering Mr. Lane’s rhetorical question by quoting “Catholic sources” who refer to the three external unities – i.e., the profession of faith, subordination to the hierarchy, and of communion in the same sacraments - as bonds, rather than conditions.   

       The first is from Sacra Theologiae Summa 1B (1955), by Joachim Salaverri. Contrary to what John Lane claims is forbidden to say, Salaverri says the following:

The Body of the Church is a society of men reborn by Baptism who are united by bonds of (1) the profession of faith, (2) of subordination to the hierarchy and (3) of sacred communion with her. (…) the Soul of the Body of the Church is the Holy Spirit to the extent that he, as it were, informs and vivifies the Body of the Church, or is the first and fundamental principle of its whole life. (Sacra Theologiae Summa 1B, (1955), bk III, chapter II, Art. 5.)[5]

       Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange likewise violates John Lane’s rule by referring to the three external unities as “visible social bonds”:

the members are united by visible social bonds, namely, the external profession of the same faith, obedience toward the same pastors, participation in the same sacraments. (On Revelation as Proposed by the Catholic Church, 2nd ed, 1921, bk 2, ch. 5.)[6]

       Pope Pius XII also parts company with Lane by calling the three visible unities “juridical bonds” which are “externally manifest.”  In Mystici Corporis Christi, he says:

Now since its Founder willed this social body of Christ to be visible, the cooperation of all its members must also be externally manifest through [1] their profession of the same faith and [2] their sharing the same sacred rites, through participation in the same Sacrifice, and [3] the practical observance of the same laws. Above all, it is absolutely necessary that the Supreme Head, that is, the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, be visible to the eyes of all (…) These juridical bonds in themselves far surpass those of any other human society, however exalted; and yet another principle of union must be added to them in those three virtues, Christian faith, hope and charity, which link us so closely to each other and to God.[7]

       Notice that Pius XII says the “other principle” of union are the virtues of faith and charity (along with hope), which are invisible (the same bonds that John Lane refers to as visible).  These interior bonds, which Pius XII clearly distinguishes from the external juridical bonds, are what constitute man a member of the Church.  

       The great twentieth century theologian, Fr. Fenton, also violates John Lane’s rule by referring to these external unities as “bonds.” The following is Fenton’s commentary on the above teaching of Pius XII: 

The declaration of Mystici Corporis Christ on the nature of membership in the true Church of Jesus Christ is, in the last analysis, a statement of the fact that these outward or juridical bonds alone suffice to constitute a man a member or a part of the organization which is actually the supernatural kingdom of God according to the dispensation of the New Testament.[8]

       In Fundamentals of Catholicism, Fr. Baker, S.J., provides the following commentary on the same teaching of Pius XII:

The most penetrating analysis of this idea of the Church was given by Pope Pius XII in 1943 in his encyclical letter entitled, The Mystical Body of Christ.  (…) “Mystical”, however, does not mean that the Church is a spiritual body only – one that is united only by the internal bonds of faith, hope and charity (Pius XII, nos. 14, 70-76).  On the contrary, the body of the Church is also concrete and visible; it is endowed with the external and visible sacraments and with the external bonds of one profession of faith, worship and government (nos. 18 and 68ff). The members of the Mystical Body are those who live in the [1] unity of faith, [2] sacraments and [3] government (no. 21).  Even sinners are members of the Church as long as they keep these three bonds (no. 22).[9]

       Notice that Fr. Baker, along with the rest of the theologians and even Pope Pius XII, refers to the three external unities as “external bonds,” which John Lane said is forbidden. Also notice that Fr. Baker refers to faith and charity (along with hope), as threeinternal bonds.” 

       During the e-mail exchange, Mr. Lane threw out the name Van Noort (“Van Noort is very good on these points”), implying that the renowned theologian supported his assertion that referring to the external unities as three “bonds”, is “manifestly erroneous in theology.” Since Mr. Lane accepts the authority of Van Noort, let us see what he calls the three external unities:

“12 Proposition 2. It is due to the institution of Christ Himself that the Church is visible.  This proposition is certain. That the Church is visible follows necessarily from the fact that it is a real society, for there can be no genuine society in the world of men unless it be visible.

Proof: 1 From the threefold bond which Christ Himself imposed. It was indicated above how our Lord founded the Church by enjoining on His disciples [1] the profession of the same faith, [2] participation in the same rites, and [3] obedience to the same authority (no. 7). It is by these bonds that the Church is drawn into unity and held together; without them there is simply no Church of Christ.  Now, since these bonds are external things which people can see, they necessarily make the Church an external, visible society.” (…)

The book of Acts and the epistles of the apostles make it abundantly clear that the disciples were linked by the aforementioned threefold bond immediately after Christ’s Ascension.  They professed the same faith and were obliged to profess it … They performed the same rites, baptism and the Eucharist … They were subject to the same pastors”  (Christ’s Church, p. 12-13).

“Members of the Church in the strict sense are those bound to the Church by the three bonds of unity” (Christ’s Church, p. 250).

Here’s is what Van Noort says about the “juridical bonds” that Pius XII mentions in Mystici Corporis Christi:

“by directly rupturing the bonds of cohesion with the body catholic: by setting up a separate, national Church, by following a usurping bishop, etc.  Once again, it makes no difference whether a person who breaks the bonds of Catholic communion does so in good faith or in bad; in either case he ceases to be a member of the Church.  The innocence or guilt of the parties involved is purely an internal matter (…) it has no bearing on the question of one of the external and social bonds requisite for membership.  Pius XII in listing the three requisites for membership in the Church makes no distinction between those in good and bad faith…” (Christ’s Church, p. 244).

       More quotations could be provided, but this should suffice to prove that Mr. Lane’s assertion that it is “manifestly erroneous in theology” to say “the ‘bonds of unity’ of the Church are three,” rather than “two”, is itself “manifestly erroneous” and, frankly, laughable. What else it proves is that it is not the accused (Siscoe and Salza) but the accuser (John Lane), who “has no idea what he is saying.”  You have to wonder if he even reads the theologians whose names he constantly invokes in support of his position, when attempting to discredit and denigrate others.

       But what about Lane’s assertion that Bellarmine believes faith and charity are the two external bonds, and his claim that “Bellarmine teaches that men may recognize each other as members of the Church by these two bonds of faith and charity”?[10] Is that really what Bellarmine taught?  Let’s find out.
       Here is the teaching of Bellarmine that Mr. Lane quoted:

The Church is a definite society, not of angels, or of spirits, but of men. Therefore it cannot be called a human society unless bound together by external and visible signs. How could it be a society unless those who belong to it recognized each other as members? And being men, they have no other means of mutual recognition than the sensible and external bonds by which the society is united. (De Ecclesia Militante, ch. xii.)[11]

       Not surprisingly, nowhere in that quotation does Bellarmine imply that faith and charity are the “sensible and external bonds” he is referring to, which enable the members of the Church to “recognized each other.”  In fact, two chapters earlier he refers to charity as an invisible bond – “the invisible bond of charity” (De Ecclesia Militante, cap x, No. 3), and says it is impossible to know for sure who possesses the faith (ibid. No. 4). Therefore, in the quotation above, he cannot be referring to faith and charity as the “sensible and external bonds” that enable the members of the Church to recognize each other.  But fortunately, Bellarmine does explain what these external bonds are earlier in the book.  Any guesses what they are, and how many there are?

       In chapter two of De Ecclesia Militante, Bellarmine begins by defining the Church as “the assembly of men bound together by (1) the profession of the same Christian faith and (2) the communion of the same sacraments, (3) under the rule of the legitimate pastors, and especially that of the Roman Pontiff, the one Vicar of Christ on earth.” Sound familiar? He then writes this:

"From this definition, it is easy to infer which men belong to the Church and which do not belong to it. There are three parts of this definition: the profession of the true faith, the communion of the sacraments, and the subjection to the Roman Pontiff, the legitimate pastor.[12]

       In the quotation Lane cited, when Bellarmine spoke of the “sensible and external bonds” that enable men to recognize each other as members of the Church, he was referring to the three external ‘unities’, or external bonds; not the “two bonds of faith and charity,” as Mr. Lane claimed. 

       To conclude this section, we refer to yet another theologian, this time Ludwig Van Ott, who teaches the same in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma:

A threefold sensible bond binds the members of the Church to one another, and makes them known as such: the profession of the same Faith, the use of the same means of grace, and the subordination to the same authority.”[13]

       In light of what we have seen, it is evident that, as the priest in the email exchange said, Mr. Lane’s “assertion, made with all confidence, and without the slightest support from any theological authority” – namely, that it “must not be said is that the Church has three bonds of unity, for the Church has two visible bonds of unity” - is complete nonsense, and proves that Mr. Lane is nowhere near as well read as he imagines himself and claims to be. Either that, or, like many other Sedevacantist apologists, he is being deliberately deceptive in attempting to discredit his Catholic opponents with arguments he knows are specious. Will John Lane correct himself and recant his statement that we should “delete” our chapter and “begin again”? Take a guess. It is the pot calling the kettle black, as they say.

Lane’s Confusion about Terminology

       As we alluded to above, Mr. Lane makes two errors in his use of terminology.  The first error came out during the e-mail exchange, when the priest corrected Mr. Lane by noting that faith and charity are interior bonds, not external bonds.  Mr. Lane responded by saying:

I am speaking only of the external faith and charity, which are the profession of faith and that mutual communion which is social charity.    

       But if that’s what Mr. Lane means by the two external bonds, why doesn’t he refer to them as “profession of faith” and “mutual communion”?  What this shows is that Mr. Lane is using the common theological terms for the internal bonds (“faith” and “charity”), to refer to two of the three external bonds (“profession of faith” and “mutual communion”). That is like using the numbers 1 and 2 to refer to the letters A and B (and C), and then protesting against those who call the letters by their proper names, and claiming their terminology renders the “entire explanation worthless and misleading.” Welcome to the absurd world of Sedevacantist apologetics.

       Now, something that should be mentioned, which may have partially contributed to Mr. Lane’s confusion, is that some theologians colloquially reduce the three external bonds to two, by combining “subjection to the hierarchy” and “communion in the sacraments” into one; occasionally referring to them simply as “profession of the faith and obedience.” Many authors will refer to only two external bonds when speaking generally, and then break them out into three when being more specific.  

       For example, in one place, Bellarmine refers to them simply as “profession and obedience” (De Ecclesia Militante cap x), and in another place breaks them out into three, as we saw earlier.  Fr. Berry refers to two external bonds in his book The Church of Christ (p. 126), and then lists all three on the same page of the book. Van Noort lists all three external bonds, which he refers to as “a threefold unity which is external and visible,” and then, five pages later, he refers to only two; but in the latter case, he includes a footnote explaining which two were joined together, and noting that, in reality, these two bonds “are not at all identical.”(Christ’s Church, p. 131) 

       The point is, the theologians do sometimes refer to two external bonds when speaking generally, but no one refers to the external bonds simply as “faith” and “charity,” and then claims it is forbidden to refer to the three external “bonds,” as does the self-appointed Sedevacantist inquisitor, John Lane. Again, Mr. Lane either brushes over the theology manuals he claims to read, or he knows them well enough to be able to pervert them in order to advance his Sedevacantist agenda while deceiving his readers. It’s one or the other.

       We now come to Mr. Lane’s second error concerning terminology. Why does he say we have erred by confusing the terms factors, conditions and bonds?  And why does he believe it is forbidden to refer to the “external unities” – i.e., profession of the faith, the communion of the sacraments, and subjection to the legitimate hierarchy - as “three external bonds”? Assuming that he is not being willfully deceptive (which can’t be ruled out), our guess is that he stumbled across a theologian or two who referred to these the external ‘unities’ (as he prefers to call them) as factors or conditions of unity, and then rashly concluded that only someone who was “entirely unaware of what the term ‘bonds of unity’ means [would] apply the term to the external ‘unities’ of the Church.” (John Lane)

       Lane’s argument is – well, just plain silly. If he spent more time reading the theologians and manualists, and less time referring to them and pretending to be one on the internet, he would know that the very authorities he claims as his own (Van Noort, Fr. Berry, Fr. Fenton, etc.) use all three terms to refer to the three “external unities.” Sometimes they call them “external bonds”, and at other times conditions, forces or factors of unity.

       For example, Fr. Fenton refers to internal and external “bonds of unity [as] two sets of forces tending to unite men to God and to teach other in Jesus Christ.”  He goes on to explain that the “outward bonds consists in [1] the baptismal profession of faith, [2] access to or communion in the sacraments, and [3] subjection to the legitimate pastors of the Church.”[14] Later in the same chapter, when discussing Bellarmine’s teaching on the body and soul of the Church, Fenton says:  “in this second chapter of the De Ecclesia Militante,[15] ‘soul’ and ‘body’ are metaphorical names applied to two distinct sets of forces or factors that function as bonds of unity within the Church militant of the New Testament,” and then adds: “A person who is what St. Robert calls ‘de corpore ecclesiae’ [of the body of the Church] is one united to Our Lord in His Mystical Body by [the “outward bonds” of] (1) the profession of the true faith, (2) access to the sacraments, and (3) subjection to the legitimate ecclesiastical authority.[16]  As we can see, Fr. Fenton refers to the three “external unities” as “forces or factors that function as bonds.”

       Van Noort refers to the ‘unity of communion’ as an “external bond[17] and calls subjection to the legitimate hierarchy a “social bond’.[18]  He calls baptism as a factor of membership,[19] and he refers to “the profession of faith” and “submission to the hierarchy” as external bonds,[20] factors, and conditions. [21] 

       Fr. Berry and Ludwig Van Ott also use the terms bonds and conditions interchangeably.  Ott refers to baptism, profession of the true faith, and participation in communion of the Church, as “three conditions” of membership,[22] and he calls “the profession of the same Faith, the use of the same means of grace, and the subordination to the same authority,” “threefold sensible bond.[23]  Fr. Berry says baptism, profession of faith, unity of worship, and unity of government are conditions of membership in the Church,[24] yet he also includes them under bonds of unity.[25] All of these great theologians, along with Pope Pius XII, violate the terminological rules of the self-deluded Sedevacantist John Lane.

       Someone should explain to Mr. Lane that the reason the three external unities are referred to as “bonds” and also as “conditions” is because they are both: they are bonds in so far as they unite men to the Church, and they are also conditions that must be preserved for a Catholic to retain membership in the Church.  Mr. Lane is clearly unaware of this, as evidenced by the fact that he accused the authors of this book of “confusing [!] the external bonds of the Church with the three conditions which qualify a man as a member – i.e. profession of faith, sharing in the sacraments, subjection to the hierarchy.”

       Unfortunately for the Sedevacantist apologist and internet “theologian” John Lane, the confusion is on his part for not realizing that the “conditions of membership” also serve as external bonds of union with the Church.  But what should concern our critic more that his confusion over terminology, is the fact that he himself lacks at least one of the necessary conditions for membership in the Church, since he has publicly severed communion with the Pope and the legitimate hierarchy of the Church, apart from which there is no salvation.

[2] Ibid. As we saw above, Bellarmine explicitly states that the Church is the assembly of men “bound together” by the three external bonds.
[3] E-mail exchange, 1-24-2017
[4]The role of the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, is therefore especially to produce, preserve and defend the external bonds of faith and charity.” (John Lane’s attachment, titled Bonds of Unity – TOFP error #4).
[5] Salaverri, Sacra Theologiae Summa 1B (1955), bk III, chapter II, Art. 5.
[6] Garrigou-Lagrange, On Revelation as Proposed by the Catholic Church, 2nd ed, 1921, bk 2, ch. 5.
[7] Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, No. 69-70
[8] Fenton, The Catholic Church and Salvation, 1958 (New York: Seminary Press, Round Top, 2006), pp. 82-83.
[9] Baker, Kenneth, S. J. Fundamentals of Catholicism, Grace, The Church, The Sacraments, Vol 3: (San Francisco, Ignatius  Press 1983), Part II, Chapter IV
[11] Quoted by John Lane. 
[12] De Ecclesia Militante, ch.2.
[13] Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 301.
[14] (Fenton, The Catholic Church and Salvation, 1958 (New York: Seminary Press, Round Top, 2006), pp. 160-161.
[15] Note that this is the same chapter that previous quotation from Bellarmine,  concerning the three external bonds of unity, is found in.
[16] Ibid. pp 176-177.
[17] Christ’s Church, p. 244
[18] “A schismatic is one who ruptures the social bond of Catholic unity by completely denying obedience to the legitimate rulers of the Church.” (p. 240, footnote bottom of page)
[19] Christ’s Church, p. 237.  See footnote # 21 below
[20] “All Christians agree that the true Church of Christ is unified in one way or another, but non-Catholics acknowledge only a spiritual principle of unity. If they occasionally acknowledge external bonds also, they make them quite elastic.  Catholic teaching has it that the Church, by the institution of its Founder, and hence necessarily and essentially, enjoys a threefold unity which is external and visible, namely, unity of doctrine and profession, unity of communion, and unity of government.” (Christ’s Church, p. 126).
[21] “baptism … profession of the faith … union with its hierarchy.  These three factors, however, should not receive the same evaluation. Baptism is the cause which incorporates a man into the Church; the other two factors are conditions which must be fulfilled if baptism is not to be frustrated in its effect.” (Christ’s Church, p. 237)
[22]  “…three conditions are to be demanded for membership of die Church: a) The valid reception of the Sacrament of Baptism, b) The profession of the true Faith, c) Participation in the Communion of the Church.  By the fulfilment of these three conditions one subjects oneself to the threefold office of the Church, the sacerdotal office (Baptism), the teaching office (Confession of Faith), and the pastoral office (obedience to the Church authority). As the three powers perpetuated in these offices, the power of consecration, the power of teaching and the power of government, constitute the unity and the visibility of the Church, subjection to each and all of these powers is a condition for membership of the Church.” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 309)
[23] A threefold sensible bond binds the members of the Church to one another, and makes them known as such: the profession of the same Faith, the use of the same means of grace, and the subordination to the same authority.” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 301)
[24] Under the heading SUMMARY OF CONDITIONS. I FOR ADJULTS, he writes “These conditions may be briefly summarized in one phrase: the reception of baptism and the preservation of the unities – unity of faith, unity of worship and unity of government.” (The Church of Christ, p. 128).  Then, on the next page, under condition conditions required for infants to be members of the Church, he refers to them as bonds of unity: “They [infants] become members of the Church by the valid reception of baptism, and remain members so long as they do not violate the bonds of unity by their own free act, which, of course, cannot take place before the age of discretion.” (Ibid. p. 129)
[25] In the section on Bonds of Unity, he lists: “(a) unity of government or social unity; (b) unity of doctrine taught and accepted or unity of faith, and (c) unity of external acts symbolizing its doctrines and government, and also unity in the same use of means necessary to attain the end for which it exists [i.e., sacraments]. As the Church is a religious society, all these external acts pertain to the worship of God and their unity constitutes a unity of worship” (p. 46.)