It is inevitable that in trying to understand the problems which arise from our divisions we should look back to the primitive unity created by our Lord, and ask what sort of unity this was. It consisted not only in unity of organisation or in the promise of a world-wide universality, nor yet in the bond of charity: it consisted rather in a whole via vitae which included belief, worship and morals. It is often remembered that in the seventeenth chapter of St John our Lord prayed for the unity of His disciples: it is sometimes forgotten, however, in our modern discussions that this prayer for their unity was linked with His prayer for their sanctification in the truth: 'Sanctify them in Thy truth; Thy word is truth'. The unity of Christians, coming as it does from the unity of the Father and the Son, is interwoven with their sanctification in the truth which our Lord delivers.
The unity, in all its aspects, has sprung directly out of the entrance of God into human history in the eschatological event of Redemption. This event includes the age-long preparation of Israel for the Messiah. It has its centre in His birth, life, death and resurrection. It includes no less the Church which is His Body, and the Spirit who through this Body brings into the world the powers of the age to come. It is vital in our belief that the Church is a part of the eschatological event, and a Divine fact. For the essence of the Church is our Lord, who is both the summing-up of the old Israel, and the head of the new Israel. Thus the members of the Church do not constitute the unity themselves: rather they are brought into a unity which is there already. In the words of Archbishop Frederick Temple:
'Men speak as if Christians came first and the Church after: as if the origin of the Church was in the wills of the individuals who composed it. But, on the contrary, throughout the teaching of the Apostles, we see it is the Church that comes first and the members of it afterwards ... In the New Testament ... the Kingdom of Heaven is already in existence, and men are invited into it. The Church takes its origin, not in the will of man, but in the will of the Lord Jesus Christ ... Everywhere men are called in: they do not come in and make the Church by coming. They are called into that which already exists: they are recognised as members when they are within; but their membership depends on their admission, and not upon their constituting themselves into a body in the sight of the Lord'.
(from the Sermon: Catholicity and Individualism, preached at the consecration of Truro Cathedral.)
A.M. Ramsey, Catholicity: A Study in the Conflict of Christian Traditions in the West (1947)