Ever since the early Greeks, the sphere has been considered the perfect shape par excellence. This philosophical consideration served as a basis amongst the Scholastics for interesting theological constructions regarding the concept of God and the Church.
Francis, however, considers the figure of the polyhedron as symbol of the ‘unity in diversity’ to which his idea of ecumenism aspires.
Is this St. Paul’s concept of ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of us all’ (Eph 4:5)? Who or what is this mysterious polyhedron, of which Francis has spoken of on so many occasions?
Note: Here, the translation posted on the website of the Holy See has wrongly used ‘prism’ for the original Italian word poliedro - unlike the better translations in the earlier cases.
Enter the various parts of our study
It is with no less deceit, venerable brothers, that other enemies of divine revelation, with reckless and sacrilegious effrontery, want to import the doctrine of human progress into the Catholic religion. […] Also perverse is the shocking theory that it makes no difference to which religion one belongs, a theory which is greatly at variance even with reason. By means of this theory, those crafty men remove all distinction between virtue and vice, truth and error, honorable and vile action. They pretend that men can gain eternal salvation by the practice of any religion, as if there could ever be any sharing between justice and iniquity, any collaboration between light and darkness, or any agreement between Christ and Belial. (Pius IX. Encyclical Qui Pluribus, no. 7. 15, November 9, 1846)
You are aware indeed, that the goal of this most iniquitous plot is […] to draw the Italian people over to Protestantism, which in their deceit they repeatedly declare to be only another form of the same true religion of Christ, thereby just as pleasing to God. Meanwhile they know full well that the chief principle of the Protestant tenets, i.e., that the holy scriptures are to be understood by the personal judgment of the individual, will greatly assist their impious cause. They are confident that they can first misuse the Holy Scriptures by wrong interpretation to spread their errors and claim God’s authority while doing it. Then they can cause men to call into doubt the common principles of justice and honor. (Pius IX. Encyclical Noscitis et nobiscum, December 8, 1849)
Now, whoever carefully considers and meditates on the state in which the diverse religious societies are found, divided among themselves, and separated from the Catholic Church… will easily be convinced that none of these societies, nor even all of them together, may in any way constitute nor be recognized as that Church, One and Catholic, that Christ the Lord founded and established, and that by His will exists. Nor may they in any way be considered branches or a part of this same Church; since they are visibly separated from the Catholic unity. (Denzinger-Hünermann 2998. Pius IX. Apostolic Letter Iam vos omnes, September 13, 1868)
[Condemned:] 5. Divine revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to a continual and indefinite progress, corresponding with the advancement of human reason.
[Condemned:] 18. Protestantism is nothing else than a different form of the same true Christian religion, in which it is possible to serve God as well as in the Catholic Church – (Denzinger-Hünermann 2905, 2916. Pius IX. Syllabus of Modern errors, December 8, 1864)
We should mention again and censure a very grave error in which some Catholics are unhappily engaged, who believe that men living in error, and separated from the true faith and from Catholic unity, can attain eternal life [see n. 1717]. Indeed, this is certainly quite contrary to Catholic teaching. (Denzinger-Hünermann 2865. Pius IX. Encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore, August 10, 1863)
All men are called to belong to the new people of God. Wherefore this people, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and must exist in all ages, so that the decree of God’s will may be fulfilled. In the beginning God made human nature one and decreed that all His children, scattered as they were, would finally be gathered together as one (cf. Jn 11:52). It was for this purpose that God sent His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things (cf. Heb 1:2), that he might be teacher, king and priest of all, the head of the new and universal people of the sons of God. For this too God sent the Spirit of His Son as Lord and Life-giver. He it is who brings together the whole Church and each and every one of those who believe, and who is the well-spring of their unity in the teaching of the apostles and in fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers (cf. Acts 2:42). (Vatican Council II, Dogatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, November 21, 1964)
Indeed, ‘the elements of this already-given Church exist, found in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other Communities’ (cf. Uni. Redin., 4). (John Paul II. Encyclical Ut unum sint, March 25, 1995)
Whatever the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures and religions serves as a preparation for the Gospel and can only be understood in reference to Christ, the Word who took flesh by the power of the Spirit ‘so that as perfectly human he would save all human beings and sum up all things.’ Moreover, the universal activity of the Spirit is not to be separated from his particular activity within the body of Christ, which is the Church. (John Paul II. Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, December 7, 1990)
True ecumenical activity means openness, drawing closer, availability for dialogue, and a shared investigation of the truth in the full evangelical and Christian sense; but in no way does it or can it mean giving up or in any way diminishing the treasures of divine truth that the Church has constantly confessed and taught. (John Paul II. Encyclical Redemptor Hominis. no. 6, March 4, 1979)
It is the Holy Spirit, the principle of unity, which establishes the Church as a communion (cf. LG, 13). He is the principle of the unity of the faithful in the teaching of the Apostles, in the breaking of the bread and in prayer (cf. ibid; Acts 2:42). The Church, however, analogous to the mystery of the Incarnate Word, is not only an invisible spiritual communion, but is also visible (cf. LG 8; Communionis notio, 4); in fact, ‘the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, the visible society and the spiritual community, the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches, are not to be thought of as two realities. On the contrary, they form one complex reality formed from a two-fold element, human and divine’ (LG, 8). The communion of the baptized in the teaching of the Apostles and in the breaking of the eucharistic bread is visibly manifested in the bonds of the profession of the faith in its entirety, of the celebration of all of the sacraments instituted by Christ, and of the governance of the College of Bishops united with its head, the Roman Pontiff. (Benedict XVI. Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, November 4, 2009)
814. From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them. Within the unity of the People of God, a multiplicity of peoples and cultures is gathered together. Among the Church’s members, there are different gifts, offices, conditions, and ways of life. ‘Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions’ (LG 13). The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity. Yet sin and the burden of its consequences constantly threaten the gift of unity. and so the Apostle has to exhort Christians to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Eph 4:3).
815. What are these bonds of unity? Above all, charity ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’ (Col 3:14). But the unity of the pilgrim Church is also assured by visible bonds of communion: —
— profession of one faith received from the Apostles;
— common celebration of divine worship, especially of the sacraments;
— apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God’s family (cf. UR 2; LG 14; CIC, can. 205). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 814-815)
But at the same time Catholics are bound to profess that through the gift of God’s mercy they belong to that Church which Christ founded and which is governed by the successors of Peter and the other Apostles, who are the depositories of the original Apostolic tradition, living and intact, which is the permanent heritage of doctrine and holiness of that same Church (cf. Paul VI – Ecclesiam Suam, AAS 56 (1964): 629). The followers of Christ are therefore not permitted to imagine that Christ’s Church is nothing more than a collection (divided, but still possessing a certain unity) of Churches and ecclesial communities. Nor are they free to hold that Christ’s Church nowhere really exists today and that it is to be considered only as an end which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Mysterium ecclesiae, June 24, 1973)