I regard Lady Stansgate's plea (August 31) for the concept of federalism in church relations with much sympathy and interest, but it does nothing to answer the principal question relative to church unity "What is the nature of the Church?"
For Catholics, the answer is that the Church is the union of the faithful under one Head, and the Head is, of course Jesus Christ, Our Lord. But it is our faith that there is also a visible head of the Church on earth, in the person of His Vicar, i.e., the Pope. Moreover, there are certain signs, or marks, by which the Church may be recognised, among others, these are, Oneness, and Apostolicity.
This presupposes that in the matter of unity there must be an organic cohesion, whereby the chief pastor of the Church on earth is known to be just that, not as one among equals, or a mere figurehead. It is for this reason, as Lady Stansgate mentions, that "their participation (Catholics vis-a-vis church unity) may have to be on a different level from that of some other churches."
Bound up with the mark of Apostolicity is that of the ministry, and all that this office implies, at which point the idea of federalism from the Catholic point of view, if ever entertained, is definitely ruled out.
Following from this organic cohesion, in the way of worship, for example, is why a Western Catholic is quite at home, say, participating in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, than in the liturgy of the 1662 Prayer Book.
I detect no hint of federalism in the New Testament, either with dissidents in the churches of Asia (Minor), or with the Montanists, Arians, or Monophysites during the early centuries of the Church.
All this may sound terribly old-fashioned, if not pompous (which it is not meant to be), but it is, nevertheless true.
James Goldsbury 75 Bingham Road, Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottingham.