Branch theory

Branch theory

Branch Theory is a theological concept within Anglicanism, holding that the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion are three principal branches of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Theory itself

The "Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church" defines the branch theory as:

…the theory that, though the Church may have fallen into schism within itself and its several provinces or groups of provinces be out of communion with each other, each may yet be a branch of the one Church of Christ, provided that it continues to hold the faith of the original undivided Church and to maintain the Apostolic Succession of its bishops. Such, it is contended by many Anglican theologians, is the condition of the Church at the present time, there being now three main branches…



William Palmer (1803–1885), an Oxford theologian, was the principal originator of the Branch Theory. His two-volume "Treatise on the Church of Christ" (1838) formulated the notion. The theory was then popularized during the Oxford Movement particularly through the work of the Tractarians. However, some leaders of the movement became unsatisfied and later converted to Roman Catholicism.

Roman Catholic

The Roman Catholic Church rejects the Branch Theory as a valid ecclesiological model but does accept the theory's two fundamental premises, namely that maintaining the teachings of the ancient Christian Church and the apostolic succession are sufficient for valid orders of another Church despite being in a state of schism. However, it deems that Anglican orders are (generally) invalid, the apostolic sucession broken and the Anglicans have not maintained the fulness of ancient Christian teachings, most notably on the sacraments.

The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, an organization sponsored by the Anglican Consultative Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, seeks to make ecumenical progress between the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion.

Eastern Orthodox

Eastern Orthododoxy does not have a central authority, but there is an equality of bishops with structures based on mere honorable precedence. Thus, there is a wide range of opinions. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who is considered primus inter pares of Eastern Orthodoxy, agrees with the branch theory. For example, when he received Pope Benedict XVI spoke about relations between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, he considered them to be separated branches of the One Church of Jesus Christ. [ Patriarch's welcome speech on Pope Benedict's visit to Istanbul] [ Patriarch's homily during a divine liturgy, where Pope Benedict participated as a reader]

Another position, frequently referred to as antiecumenism rejects the Branch Theory as being incompatible with the nature of the Church and therefore an ecclesiological heresy. An example for that is this statement put forth by the 1983 Holy Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia:

Those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ's Church is divided into so-called "branches" which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all "branches" or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united into one body; and who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema! [ [ The ROCOR's Anathema Against Ecumenism (1983) (Orthodox Christian Information Center)] ]

The above position can be summarized in what they perceive the Anglican Church to be; namely a heresy within a heretical Roman Catholic Church.

With regard to the second criterion of being a branch of the church according to the Branch Theory, namely, Apostolic Succession, Orthodox sacramental theology is such that the Sacraments, being means of God's grace within the Church, cannot be said to exist outside it. Therefore, Roman Catholic and Anglican sacraments, including ordinations, are not considered by the OrthodoxSpecify|date=May 2008 to be true sacraments.Fact|date=May 2008


With the exception of a few Lutheran bodies the great majority of Protestant churches do not consider themselves apostolic in the sense of a literal apostolic succession and so do not accept the fundamental premises of the Branch Theory which, in fact, excludes them.


External links

* [ Anglo-Orthodox perspective]
* [ Another Orthodox perspective]

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