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The Early Church Fathers on the Church's Unity.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures


  1. St. Ignatius of Antioch, (A.D. 50-107) (47)
    St. Justin Martyr, (A.D. 100-163)
    St. Hegesippus, (A.D. 110-184)
    St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202)
    St. Clement of Alexandria, (A.D. 150-220)
    Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218)
    Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253)
St. Ignatius of Antioch, (A.D. 50-107), Syrian; ecclesiastical writer, bishop, martyr. A disciple of St. John, the Apostle; he was bishop of Antioch, in which see he succeeded St. Peter, or, as others think, Evodius. He is supposed to have governed that church for about forty years. He suffered martyrdom at Rome in the year 107.

2. "It is fitting that you should, by all means, glorify Jesus Christ, who hath glorified you; that by a uniform obedience ye may be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same about the same thing, and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbyters, ye may be sanctified in all
things. . . .

3. "I exhort you that you would all concur in the mind of God; for Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the mind of the Father; like as the bishops, who have their stations at the utmost bounds of the earth, are after the mind of Jesus Christ.

4. "Wherefore it becomes you to concur in the mind of your bishops, as, also, ye do. For your famous presbytery, worthy of God, is knit as closely to the bishop as strings to the harp.

16. "Be not deceived, my brethren: those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. . . If, therefore, they who do these things according to the flesh, have suffered death, how much more he who, by bad doctrine, corrupts the faith of God for which Jesus Christ was crucified? Such a one being defiled shall depart into unquenchable fire, and likewise he that hears him."

Ep. ad Ephesians
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 121-122

7. "As, therefore, our Lord, being united (with the Father), did nothing without Him, neither by Himself nor by His Apostles, so neither do you do anything apart from the bishops and the presbyters. Neither attempt ye anything that seems good to your own judgment; but let there be, in the same place, one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love, in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is better. Wherefore haste ye all together, as unto the temple of God, as unto one altar, as unto one Jesus Christ, who proceeded from one Father, and is in one and to one returned."

Ad Maynes.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 122

1. "Of whose fruit are we, through this divinely blessed Passion; that He may, by His resurrection, raise a sign forever for His holy and faithful ones, whether among Jews or Gentiles, in one body of His Church."

Ep. ad Smyrnaeos, n. 1.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 122

3. "In like manner let all men give heed to the deacon, as Jesus Christ, as also the bishop being the Son of the Father, and to the presbyters, as a council (Sanhedrim) of God, and a band of apostles. Apart from these it is not called a church: on which points I am persuaded that you so hold."

4. "I exhort you, therefore (yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ), to use only the Christian nourishment, and to abstain from the strange herb, which is heresy.". . .
7. "Guard against such men: and guarded you will be if you are not puffed up, nor separated from Jesus Christ our God, and from the bishop, and from the regulations of the Apostles. He that is within the altar is pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the bishop and presbytery, and deacon, he is not clean in conscience."

Ep. ad Trall.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 122

2. "Do ye, then, being children of light and of truth, flee division and corrupt doctrines; but where the shepherd is, thither follow ye as sheep. For there be many wolves held worthy to be trusted, who take captive those that are running a godly course: but in your unity they shall have no place."

3. "Abstain from the evil herbage which Jesus Christ dresseth not, forasmuch as they are not the Father's planting. Not that I have found a division among you, but rather purity from defilement. For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ, these are with the bishop, and as many as shall repent and turn to the unity of the Church, these also shall be of God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Be not deceived, my brethren; whosoever follows one that creates schism, will inherit not the kingdom of God. Whosoever walks by another man's opinion, will not assent to the Passion."

8. "Wherefore I did my part as a man fitted for the preserving of unity. For where is division and wrath God dwelleth not. The Lord forgiveth all who repent, if their minds be turned unto God's unity and the council of the bishop."

Ep. ad Philadelph.
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St. Justin Martyr, (A.D. 100-163), Samaritan; born in Sichem (Naplousia) in Palestine; a platonic philosopher, apologist, and martyr for the faith; he was a convert to Catholic Christianity in A.D. 133. He wrote two Apologies for the Christian religion, one addressed to Antoninus, the other to Marcus Aurelius. He was martyred at Rome in the year 163.

Commenting on Psalm 44: he says,— "And these words also proclaim that the Word of God (addresses Himself) to those that believe on Him, as being one soul, and one synagogue, and one Church, as to a daughter, to the Church, that is, which is derived from, and partakes of, His name; for we are all called Christians."

Dial, cum Tryphone, p. 160, n. 63, Ed. Ben. Paris. 1742.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 123

"And the words spoken as it were in the name of many— we have announced before Him — together with what is added, as a child. (Isaiah 53:1), foreshow, that the wicked, having become heedful of Him, would be subject to His command, and become as one child. Just as, also, may be seen in the body: though many members may be counted, they are called, and are, one body. For both the people and a Church, though they consist numerically of many individuals, are called and designated by one name, as being one thing."

Dial, cum Tryphone, p. 138, n. 42.
See also Dial, cum Tryphone, p. 138, n. 116.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 123-124

St. Hegesippus, (A.D. 110-184), a Jewish convert to Christianity and chronicler, he journeyed to Rome around the year 157, Of his works nothing remains but a fragment, or two, preserved by Eusebius.

"And the church of Corinth, he tells us,"says Eusebius, "continued in the right teaching (word), until the episcopacy of Primus; with them I lived familiarly, on my way to Rome; and I passed a considerable number of days with the Corinthians, during which we were mutually gladdened by the right teaching. Having reached Rome, I took up my abode with Anicetus, to whom Eleutherus was deacon. To Anicetus succeeded Soter, and to him Eleutherus. But in each succession (of bishops), and in each city, it is just as the law proclaims, and the prophets and the Lord."

[He then notices the martyrdom of St. James the Just, and adds:]

"They called the Church a virgin, for it had not been corrupted by hearkening to folly. Thebutis, because he was not made bishop, was the first to begin to corrupt it.

[He proceeds to name several heretics and their sects, as Simon, Menander, Marcion, Valentinus; and observes:]

Each of these introduced of himself, and different from all the rest, his private opinion. From these sprang false Christs, false Prophets, false Apostles, who severed the unity of the Church with counterfeit teaching against God and His Christ."

Gallandius Bibl. PP. t. ii. p. 64, ap. Euseb. H. E. l. iv. c. 22.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 128

St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202), Asia Minor; bishop, missionary, theologian, defender of orthodoxy. Though by birth a Greek, he was Bishop of Lyons in the second century. He tells us that, in his early youth, he learned the rudiments of religion from St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Apostle. He wrote several works, of which only a few fragments are now known, with the exception of his Treatise against Heretics which we have in five books.

1. "The Church, though spread over the whole world, to the earth's boundaries, having received, both from the Apostles and their disciples, the faith in one God, the Father Almighty . . . and in one Christ Jesus, that Son of God who was made flesh for our salvation, and in the Holy Spirit . . . having, as I have said, received that preaching and this faith, the Church, though spread over the whole world, guards (it) sedulously, as though dwelling in one house; and these truths she uniformly holds, as having but one soul, and one and the same heart; and these she proclaims and teaches, and hands down, uniformly, as though she had but one mouth. For though, throughout the world, the languages are various, still the force of the tradition is one and the same. And neither do the churches founded in Germany, nor those in Spain, in Gaul, in the east, in Egypt, in Africa, nor in the regions in the middle of the earth, believe or deliver a different faith; but as God's handiwork, the sun, is one and the same throughout the universe, so the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that wish to come to the knowledge of the truth. Nor does he who, amongst the rulers in the churches, is more powerful in word, deliver a different doctrine from the above (for no one is above his teacher); nor does he who is weak in speech weaken the tradition. For the faith being one and the same, neither he who has ability to say much concerning it, hath anything over, nor he who speaketh little, any lack.". . .

3. "The whole Church has one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have explained above"

Adv. Hæres. l. i. c. x. n. 1-3, pp. 48-50.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 124-125

1. "And giving to the disciples the power of regeneration unto God, He said to them, "Going, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.". . .

2. "This spirit David prayed for, for the human race, saying, "and strengthen me with Thy sovereign Spirit." Who also, Luke saith, descended, after the Lord's ascension, upon the disciples, in the Pentecost, with power over all nations unto the entrance to life, and the opening of the New Testament: whence, too, uniting together, in every tongue they raised a hymn to God, the Spirit reducing to unity the distant tribes, and offering to the Father the first-fruits of all nations. Whence, also, the Lord promised that He would send a Paraclete, who might unite us to God. For, as of dry wheat one mass cannot be formed without moisture, nor one bread, so neither could we, being many, become one in Christ Jesus, without the water which is from Heaven. And as the arid earth, if it receive not moisture, brings not forth fruit, so we also being originally dry wood, should not bring forth fruit unto life, without gratuitous rain from above. For our bodies through the laver, but our souls through the spirit, received that unity which is unto incorruption. Whence also both are necessary, since both avail unto the life of God."

Adv. Hæres. l. iii. c. 17, n. 1,2, p. 208.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 125

"We have exhibited all those who introduce wicked opinions concerning our Creator and Maker, who also built up this world, above whom there is no other god; and having, by manifest proofs, overcome those who teach erroneously respecting the substance of our Lord, and the arrangement which He made for the sake of His own (creature) man; but the public teaching of the Church (is) everywhere uniform, and equally enduring, and testified unto by prophets and by Apostles, and by all the disciples, as we have demonstrated, through the first and intermediate and final period, and through the whole economy of God, and that accustomed operation relative to the salvation of man, which is in our faith, which, having received from the Church, we guard; and which, by the spirit of God, is ever in youthful freshness, like something excellent deposited in a beautiful vase, making even the very vase, wherein it is, seem newly formed, (fresh with youth). For this office of God has been entrusted to the Church, as though for the breathing of life into His handiwork, unto the end that all the members that partake (of this office) may be vivified; in this (office), too, is disposed the communication of Christ, that is, the Holy Spirit, the pledge of incorruption, the ladder whereby to ascend unto God. "For in the Church, saith he, God hath placed Apostles, prophets, doctors", and every other work of the Spirit, of which all they are not partakers who do not hasten to the Church, but by their evil sentiment and most flagrant conduct, defraud themselves of life. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every grace: but the Spirit is truth. Wherefore, they who do not partake of that (Spirit), are neither nourished unto life from a mother's breasts, nor see the most clear spring which proceeds from Christ's body; but dig unto themselves broken cisterns out of earthy trenches, and out of the filth drink foul water, fleeing from the faith of the Church, lest they be brought back; but rejecting the spirit that they may not be instructed.

2. "But being alienated from the truth, they deservedly wallow in every error, tossed about by it; at intervals thinking first one thing and then another respecting the same matters, and never having a settled opinion; preferring to be cavillers about words, rather than disciples of the truth. For they are not based upon the one rock, but upon sand, which contains within it many stones, and, on this account, they both invent many gods, and have always, as an excuse, that they are seeking, (for they are blind) but they never can find."

Adv. Hæres. l. iii. c. 24, n. 1, 2, pp. 222,223.
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"He will also judge those who cause schisms; men destitute of the love of God, and who have in view their own interest, but not the oneness of the Church; and who, on account of slight and exaggerated causes, rend and divide, and as far as in them lies, destroy the great and glorious body of Christ; men who have peace on their lips, but war in their actions; who truly strain at a gnat, but swallow a camel. But no correction can be effected by them so great as is the perniciousness of schism. But He will also judge all those who are out of the truth, that is, who are out of the Church: but He will be judged by none. . . ."

8. "(This is) true knowledge, the teaching of the Apostles, and the long-established (ancient) system of the Church throughout the whole world; and the mark of Christ's body according to the successions of the bishops, to whom they (the Apostles) delivered that Church, which is in every place; the most perfect treatment of the Scriptures which has come down even to us without deception in the guardianship, admitting neither addition nor diminution; both the reading unfalsified, and the exposition according to (as regards) the Scriptures legitimate and careful, and without danger, and without blasphemy."

Adv. Hæres. l. iv. c. 33, n. 7, 8, p. 272.
See also t. iii. c. 12, n. 7, p. 196: Lib. iv. c. xxi. n. 3, col. 2, p. 255.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 127

St. Clement of Alexandria, (A.D. 150-220), Greek; theologian, a scholar of Pantaenus, to whom he succeeded as head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria, Egypt. His writings display great acquaintance with the Gentile philosophy. He wrote with the express design of hiding the mysteries of the Christian religion from the Pagans, and the uninitiated, while at the same time, laboring to show the immense practical superiority of the Christian code of morals over that of every Pagan sect and system of philosophy.

"Wherefore are there contentions, and swellings, and dissensions, and schisms, and war, amongst you? Have we not one God and one Christ, and one Spirit of grace poured out upon us, and one calling in Christ? Wherefore do we rend and tear in pieces the members of Christ, and raise a sedition against our own body, and come to such a height of folly as to forget that we are members one of another (Remember the words of our own Lord Jesus, how He said, "Woe to that man, it were better for him had he never been born, than to scandalize one of my elect: it were better that a millstone should be hanged on him, and that he should be cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of my little ones." Your schism hath perverted many; hath cast many into dejection; many into doubt; and all of us into grief; and yet your sedition continues.

47. "Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What did he first write to you at the beginning of the Gospel? Verily he did by the spirit admonish you, both concerning himself, and Cephas and Apollos, because that even then ye had formed partialities amongst yourselves; though that your partiality led you into less sin, for you were partial to tried Apostles, and to another who had been approved by them. But now consider who they are who have led you astray, and have lessened the majesty of your much spoken of brotherly love. It is shameful, my beloved, it is most shameful, and unworthy of your Christian profession, that it should be heard that the most firm, and the ancient church of the Corinthians, on account of one or two persons, is in a sedition against the priests."

Ep. i. ad Corinth, n. 46-47.
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"The way of truth is one; but other streams run into it from various quarters, as into a perennial river."

Strom. l.i.p. 331.
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"There is in truth one covenant of salvation, extending from the foundation of the world to our time, which, according to the difference of generations and seasons, is supposed to be given in different forms. For it is fitting that there should be one unchangeable gift of salvation, proceeding from one God, through one Lord, conferring its benefits in different ways. On this account the middle wall which separated the Greek from the Jew is removed, so as to form a peculiar people; and thus both have attained to the unity of the faith, and there is one election from both."

Strom. l. vi. p. 793.
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Speaking of the origin of the heretical sects, he says:

"From what has been said, it is, I think, plain, that the true church is one, that which is truly ancient, in which are enrolled .all who are just according to (God's) purpose. For as there is one God, and one Lord, on that account also that which is most highly precious is praised because it is one, being an imitation of the one principle. The one Church then is associated to the nature of the One; which Church these men violently attempt to divide into many heresies.

In substance, in sentiment, in origin (or principle), in excellence, we say that the ancient and Catholic Church is alone; collecting through one Lord into the unity of the one faith, (modified) according to the peculiar covenants, or rather to the one covenant at different times, by the will of one God, all the preordained whom God predestined, having known, from the foundation of the world, that they would be just. But the excellence of the Church, like .the principle of everything concrete, is in unity, surpassing all other things, and having nothing similar or equal to itself."

Strom. l. vi. p. 899.
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Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218), North African; ecclesiastical writer, Christian apologist and lawyer, son of a centurion and contemporary of St. Irenæus, a native and citizen of Carthage. The zeal and ability with which he defended the Christian cause, and vindicated its faith and discipline, have immortalized his name, though it has suffered by his adoption, around the year A.D. 200, of some of the Montanist's errors, whose cause he is thought to have supported until his death. His works are numerous, and are written with great ability and erudition, but in an harsh style.

"The Apostles having obtained the promised power of the Holy Ghost for miracles and utterance, first having throughout Judaea borne witness to the faith in Christ Jesus, and established churches, next went forth into the world, and promulgated the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations, and forthwith founded churches in every city, from which (churches) the other churches thenceforward borrowed the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are daily borrowing them that they may become churches: and for this cause they are themselves also accounted apostolical, as being the offspring of apostolical churches. The whole kind must needs be classed under their original. Wherefore these churches, so many and so great, are but that one primitive Church from the Apostles, whence they all sprang. Thus all are the primitive, and all apostolical, whilst all being one, prove unity; whilst there is between them communication of peace, and the title of brotherhood, and the token of hospitality, which rights no other principle directs than the unity of the tradition of the same mystery (sacrament)."

De Praescr. n. 20.
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41. "The heretics will have the overthrow of discipline to be simplicity; and the care of it amongst us they call pandering. They huddle up a peace also with all everywhere. For it makes no matter to them, although they hold different doctrines, so long as they conspire together in their siege against the one truth. All are puffed up; all promise knowledge. The catechumens are perfect, before they are taught. . . .

42. "But what shall I say concerning the ministry of the word; seeing that their business is, not to convert the heathens, but to subvert our people? This is the glory which they rather catch at, if, per chance, they may work the fall of those who stand, not the raising up of those that are fallen; since their very work comes not of the building of their own, but of the pulling down of the truth. They undermine ours, that they may build their own. Take from them the law of Moses and the prophets, and God the Creator, they have no cause to complain; so it comes to pass that they more easily effect the ruin of standing buildings than the building up of fallen ruins. In these works alone do they act humbly, and smoothly,. and submissively; but they know no reverence even towards their own chiefs. And this is why there are commonly no schisms amongst heretics; because when there are any, they appear not; for schism is their very unity. I speak falsely, if they do not differ among themselves, even from their own rules, seeing that each forthwith moulds, according to his own pleasure, the things which he hath received, even as he, who delivered them to him, framed them according to his own pleasure. The progress of the matter is a confession of (or, true to) its nature, and of the manner of its birth. The same thing was allowed to the Valentinians as to Valentinus, the same to the Marcionites as to Marcion,— to change the faith according to their own pleasure. Finally, all heresies are found, when thoroughly examined, differing in many things from their own founders. Most of these have not even churches; without a mother, without a see, destitute of a faith, outcasts, homeless, they wander to and fro."

De Prescript. Haer. pp. 217, 218.
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Speaking of the agreement between the eastern and western churches, he says:

"We cannot reject that custom which we cannot condemn, not being alien, as not pertaining to aliens; inasmuch as we share with them the rights of peace, and the name of brotherhood. We, and they, have one faith, one God, the same Christ, the same hope, the same sacraments of baptism. To say all at once, we are one Church. So, then, whatever is of ours, is ours; but thou dividest the body."

De Virginilus Velandis, n. 2, p. 173.
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Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253), Alexandrian; born in Egypt, philosopher, theologian, writer.

"We say that the divine words declare the whole Church of God to be Christ's body, animated by the Son of God, and that all they who are believers are members of that same body, as of a whole: since, as the soul gives life to, and moves, the body, which is not born so as to have vital motion of itself, so the Word moving to what is needful, and acting inwardly on the whole body, the Church, moves also each member of those who pertain to the Church, in such wise that they do no one thing without the Word."

T. 1, Contr. Cels. l. vi. n. 48, p. 670.
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"If thou eatest the words of God in the church, and eatest also in the synagogue of the Jews, thou transgressest the commandment which says: "In one house shall it be eaten. (Exodus 12) But if thou partakest of the words of God in one house, the church; then, having left it, thou undertakest to partake of God in an heretical synagogue, though the command says: "In one house shall it be eaten", thou doest not eat in one house. Wherefore understand by one house, the church; eat not therefore by any means of the Lamb out of the church."

"And ye shall not carry forth from the house of the flesh. (Exodus 12) The ecclesiastical word ought not to be heralded out of the church, as neither is the flesh to be carried out of the house: I mean into the synagogue of Jews, or heretics. For it is like to casting "pearls before swine"

T. ii. Select, in Exodus p. 123.
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Explaining Joshua 2:17,18, he says:

"Whosoever would be saved, let him come into this house of her who once was faithless. Let him come to this house, in which the blood of Christ is the sign of redemption. Let no one persuade, let no one deceive himself; out of this house, that is, out of the Church, no one is saved. For should any one go out of it, he becomes guilty of his own death."

T. ii. Hom. iii. in Lib. Jos. n. 6, page 414
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"Let us go into walled cities." (Jeremiah 4:5) The word of God does not wish us to go into a city without a wall, but into one that has been walled round: The Church of the living God is walled round by the truth of the Word. Whosoever should be found not to have hastened, nor gone into the walled cities, (that is) not in the churches of God, but standing without; that man when taken by the enemy will be slain."

T. iii. Hom. v. in Jerem. n. 16, p. 161.
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"Christians are not one nation, but out of all nations one people; and therefore did Moses, as the highest honor, designate them as, not a nation (Deuteronomy 32:21); but if the expression be allowable, a nation of all the nations."

T. iv. l. viii. in Ep. ad Rom. n. 6, p. 628.
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The Church is one because of her source:

"The highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit."

— Vatican Council I

The Church is one because of her founder, Jesus: for "the Word made flesh, the prince of peace, reconciled all men to God by the cross, . . . restoring the unity of all in one people and one body."


The Church is one because of her "soul": It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church's unity." Unity is of the essence of the Church:

What an astonishing mystery! There is one Father of the universe, one Logos of the universe, and also one Holy Spirit, everywhere one and the same; there is also one virgin become mother, and I should like to call her "Church."

— St. Clement Of Alexandria (A.D. 150-220), Greek; theologian.

The Church's Scriptures that support its Unity:


There are others that must hear Our Lord's Words and He will shephard them them under His one flock.

16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.

John 10:16

Caiaphas prophesies that Jesus should die for the one nation to gather into one, the children of God.

51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

John 11:51, 52

Jesus' priestly prayer for unity among all His future Apostles and disciples.

20 "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one."

John 17:20-22

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