According to Wikipedia,

The Catholic Church makes a distinction between full and partial communion. Where full communion exists, there is but one Church. Partial communion, on the other hand, exists where some elements of Christian faith are held in common, but complete unity on essentials is lacking.

According to my understanding, being in communion means one is incorporated into the body of Christ (i.e., "in Christ"), that is, one is a Christian. Accordingly, Christians are "members of his body" (Eph. 5:30) or body parts of Christ's body.

With that being said, what is the biblical basis for being in "imperfect communion" or "partial communion"?

  • 2
    This question needs to clarify what it believes 'partial communion' to mean to begin with. The Catholic Church is vague on its meaning for a reason. What the intent of the word is most likely trying to state is that 'partial communion' refers to only a partially informed Christian faith, and refers to those only partially subject to the Sacraments. The Catholic Church in no way asserts that this partiality engenders a 'partial salvation', nor a 'partial membership' into the Church body. Thus, there doesn't appear to be required a 'biblical' basis for this kind of point.
    – Jecko
    Sep 1, 2015 at 22:51
  • The original question describes partial communion as "Partial communion...exists where some elements of Christian faith are held in common, but complete unity on essentials is lacking."
    – user900
    Sep 1, 2015 at 22:53
  • What leads you to believe that there is a biblical basis? I'll answer tomorrow if I get a chance and nobody beats me to it, but offhand it looks as if there is no such basis. Sep 2, 2015 at 0:10
  • In particular, the article makes it very clear that this concept applies to an ecclesiology which reflects multiple organizations regarding themselves as "the true church"; it's reasonably clear to me that biblical ecclesiology, such as it was, envisaged no such thing. Sep 2, 2015 at 0:13
  • @MattGutting I figured that most beliefs in the Church have a biblical basis.
    – user900
    Sep 2, 2015 at 0:13

1 Answer 1


To say that an ecclesial body is in partial, or imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church is not to say that the members of these bodies are only partially "members of the body of Christ":

[People] who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church—whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church—do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.

(Unitatis Redintegratio, Chapter 1, Section 3; emphasis added)

Referral to "partial/imperfect communion" is thus referring not to "communion with Christ" but rather to "communion with the structure of the Catholic Church". What is it then that these people are missing?

Our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life—that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ's Catholic Church, which is "the all-embracing means of salvation," that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God.


In other words, those who are baptized (with the same intent in, and understanding of, Baptism that the Church has) but are in another faith community are missing opportunities to believe in and to practice things which could be conducive to their salvation.

There can be no biblical basis for this "belief" (which is really not so much a belief as a standard of speech), since the fracture of the Church into these communities did not take place until well after biblical times.

  • Referral to "partial/imperfect communion" is thus referring not to "communion with Christ" but rather to "communion with the structure of the Catholic Church". - is not the [Catholic] Church the body of Christ (cp. Col. 1:18)?
    – user900
    Sep 2, 2015 at 17:27
  • I think we're talking about "communion with Christ" in terms of agreement on the basic belief "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38). Those who agree and are baptized are thus "members of Christ's body", even though they may not be in full communion (that is, in total agreement) with the Church with respect to practice, church structure, or even doctrine. At any rate that's how I interpret those extracts. Sep 2, 2015 at 18:40
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    @H3br3wHamm3r81 in baptism, all believers are put in a certain, but possibly imperfect Union with the Catholic Church because all the baptized are put into a real communion with Christ. Catholics do not claim that believers outside the Catholic Church are not part of the body of Christ, but that the church subsists in the Catholic Church, that is to say that everything that Christ intended for us to have as believers, including unity, can be found within the Catholic Church.
    – JAGAnalyst
    Sep 19, 2015 at 6:53
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    It is important to note also, that when Baptized, what ever seperated belief system you belong to when you are baptized, you are in fact baptized into the one Holy and Apostalic Church which Christ founded. There is no other Church in which you could be Baptized. From there however, is where the partial communion takes effect. It is also an important thing to note that even being in the Catholic Church, you may still be in partial or imperfect communion.
    – Marc
    Nov 1, 2015 at 17:06
  • @Marc What do you mean by that. I never heared such a formulation. Of course some people are in a state of grave sin or even excommunicated, but do we say of them "in partial communion"?
    – K-HB
    Mar 11, 2019 at 0:10

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