"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Has Christ Been Divided?


In 1 Corinthians 1:13 St. Paul asks, "Has Christ been divided?"

St. Paul's answer is 'No'. But ask yourself this: If Christ cannot be divided, then how can schism even be possible? Some Christians today, seeing all the various denominations, are tempted to think that the answer to St. Paul's question is "yes". Even some who recite in the Creed: "we believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" think either that Christ has been divided, or that the unity of the Church is only spiritual. If, however, the unity of the Church were only spiritual, then the Church would have no institutional unity; the "visible Church" would be reduced to the plurality of believers scattered across the globe. And if the visible Church were merely the plurality of all believers scattered across the globe, then there could be no such thing as schism in the visible Church, save apostasy, which, properly speaking, is not schism. Then since there could be no schism in the invisible Church, and since Christ's Church is constituted entirely of the Church visible and the Church invisible, it would follow that there could be no such thing as schism at all. But there is schism, and yet Christ cannot be divided.

How can that be? The fact that there can be schism shows that the visible Church is not merely the plurality of believers scattered across the globe. It shows that the visible Church is a body or institution. Given that the visible Church is a body (and not merely the plurality of all believers), and given that Christ cannot be divided, it follows not only that the visible Church is not purely homeomerous, but also that the visible Church has a visible principium unitatis, which cannot itself be divided. In other words, it follows that the visible Church has a pope.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Ecclesial Euthyphro

Do you submit to your magisterial authority because you agree with your magisterial authority, or do you agree with your magisterial authority because you submit to your magisterial authority?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

You say one must not papalize

Aristotle once wrote,
"You say one must philosophize. Then you must philosophize. You say one should not philosophize. Then (to prove your contention) you must philosophize. In [either] case you must philosophize."
The same could be said if we replaced the word 'philosophize' with the word 'papalize'. Either we follow a magisterial authority, or we make ourselves into one. Some Protestants openly embrace the autonomy of individualism. See, for example, my discussion with "j" starting at post #61 in the combox of
this article. But other Protestants recognize that individualism is a problem, and claim to reject it. In my discussion with Alastair in the combox of this article, I argue that 'papalizing' is the only alternative to individualism. Either we embrace individualism like "j", or we set up our own universal magisterium, or we submit to a magisterium with sacramental authority over the whole Church, i.e. the successor of Peter. In that way I argue there that the anti-sectarianism of catholicism (with a small 'c') is actually still individualism, only covered in the language of tradition and respect for the Church. What allows catholicism to be individualistic is its conception of the visible Church as merely the aggregate of all believers and their children. It is easy to talk about submitting one's interpretation of Scripture to the authority of "the Church" when one's conception of "the Church" (at least in its essence) is the aggregate of all believers and their children. Such an aggregate is a mere abstraction. Submitting to an abstraction means no submission at all, hence individualism.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Rome and the slippery slope argument against Federal Vision theology

I wrote some thoughts on the way 'Rome' is used in the slippery slope argument against Federal Vision theology. They can be found here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Peter and Reunification

Recently, Alastair posted three articles on "Denominations, Church Union and Reunion". You can find them here, here, and here. There he seems to be arguing that the institutional unity we should pursue involves dissolving all present institutions and creating one new institution. I share his goal of institutional unity, but I want to consider the assumptions underlying his proposal for institutional unity.

The way we work for institutional unity will depend on whether we believe that one of the presently existing institutions is the original one. If none of the existing institutions is the original one, then all the existing ones can be done away with, and a single new one created. But if one of the existing institutions is the original, then institutional unity should involve all the other institutions being incorporated into the original.

Alastair seems to think that if there was an original institution, it was schism-sensitive, such that it [though not the Church-as-mere-aggregate-of-believers] ceased to exist in the event of some schism. That is because, apparently, he thinks that the institution of the Church does not have an ultimate "principium unitatis" (principle of unity) fixing the locus of institutional continuity in the event of schism. In that way he seems to have something more like a "mereological essentialist" view of the original institution -- all the parts (or at least all the major parts) are equally central to the being of the institution as such. The organic notion of unity, by contrast, allows that an organism can lose certain parts and still continue to exist as an organism. In more complex organisms some parts are more central than others to the continued existence of the organism. This is why, for example, if a person loses his toe he neither ceases to exist nor does he continue on as a toe. Likewise, an organic notion of the unity of an institution allows for the continuation of the institution in the event of schism.

Catholics hold an organic notion of the institution of the Church. We believe, from Scripture, doctrine, and the fathers (see especially the quotations of St. Cyprian, St. Ambrose, and St. Optatus) that the successor of Peter has the role of principium unitatis in the institution Christ founded. This is why Catholics believe that the original institution Christ founded did not cease to exist when schisms occurred. Those remaining in full communion with the successor of Peter ipso facto remained in the original institution. And those separating from the successor of Peter ipso facto separated from the original institution. That is what we mean by "Ubi Petrus, Ibi Ecclesia". Peter's role as principium unitatis does not mean (necessarily) that those departing from full communion with the successor of Peter depart from the aggregate of all believers.

If Alastair's reunification plan involves starting a new institution (and abolishing all the present ones), then it assumes that the Catholic Church is not the original institution Christ founded, and that the successor of Peter does not have the role of principium unitatis. But Catholics cannot accept those assumptions. Therefore, while Catholics share Alastair's desire for institutional unity, we cannot support the manner in which he [apparently] wishes to see it brought about. Moreover, there cannot be true institutional unity of all Christians without two things. First, the institution must have a sacramental as opposed to democratic authority. We can see the intrinsic disunity of democracies in Book VIII of Plato's Republic. Second, that sacramental authority must be one. Any form of magisterial authority involving multiplicity at the highest level will be intrinsically disposed to schism. Institutional unity requires a visible principium unitatis. And that principium unitatis, in order to be such, must itself be one. I discussed the four theoretical ways for achieving institutional unity here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Where is the true Church?


[beginning of quotation]

The pride of the heretics makes them presume that they know the true faith, and that the Catholic Church is in error, but here is the mistake: our reason is not sufficient to tell us the true faith, since the truths of Divine Faith are above reason; we should, therefore, hold by that faith which God has revealed to his Church, and which the Church teaches, which is, as the Apostles says, "the pillar and the ground of truth" (1 Tim 3:15). Hence, as St. Irenaeus says, "It is necessary that all should depend on the Roman Church as their head and fountain; all Churches should agree with this Church on account of her priority of principality, for there the traditions delivered by the Apostles have always been preserved" (St. Irenaeus
Against Heresies Bk 3, chpt 3); and by the tradition derived from the Apostles, which the Church founded at Rome preserves, and the Faith preserved by the succession of the Bishops, we confound those who through blindness or an evil conscience draw false conclusions (Ibid.) "Do you wish to know," says St. Augustin, "which is the Church of Christ? Count those priests who, in a regular succession, have succeeded St. Peter, who is the Rock, against which the gates of hell will not prevail" (St. Aug. in Ps. contra part. Donat.): and the holy Doctor alleges as one of the reasons which detain him in the Catholic Church, ["]the succession of Bishops to the present time in the See of St. Peter" (Epis. fund. c. 4, n. 5); for in truth the uninterrupted succession from the Apostles and disciples is characteristic of the Catholic Church and of no other.

It was the will of the Almighty that the Church in which the true faith was preserved should be one, that all the faithful might profess the one faith, but the devil, St. Cyprian says, invented heresies to destroy faith, and divide unity. The enemy has caused mankind to establish many different churches, so that each, following the faith of his own particular one, in opposition to that of others, the truth faith might be confused, and as many false faiths formed as there are different churches, or rather different individuals. This is especially the case in England where we see as many religions as families, and even families themselves divided in faith, each individual following his own. St. Cyprian, then, justly says that God has disposed that the true faith should be preserved in the Roman Church alone, so that there being but one Church there should be but one faith and one doctrine for all the faithful. St. Optatus Milevitanus, writing to Parmenianus, says, also: "You cannot be ignorant that the Episcopal Chair of St. Peter was first placed in the city of Rome, in which one chair unity is observed by all" (St. Opt. l.2, cont. Parmen.)

The heretics, too, boast of the unity of their Churches, but St. Augustin says that it is unity against unity. "What unity," says the Saint, "can all those Churches have which are divided from the Catholic Church, which is the only true one; they are but as so many useless branches cut off from the Vine, the Catholic Church, which is always firmly rooted. This is the One, Holy, True, and Catholic Church, opposing all heresies; it may be opposed, but cannot be conquered. All heresies come forth from it, like useless shoots cut off from the vine, but it still remains firmly rooted in charity, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (St. Aug. lib. 1, de Symbol. ad Cath. c.6). St. Jerome says that the very fact of the heretics forming a church apart from the Roman Church is a proof, of itself, that they are followers of error, and disciples of the devil, described by the Apostles as "giving heed to spirits of error and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. iv. 1)

The Lutherans and Calvinists say, just as the Donatists did before them, that the Catholic Church preserved the true faith down to a certain period -- some say to the third, some to the fourth, some to the fifth century -- but that after that the true doctrine was corrupted, and the spouse of Christ became an adulteress. This supposition, however, refutes itself; for, granting that the Roman Catholic Church was the Church first founded by Christ, it could never fail, for our Saviour himself promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. xviii. 18). It being certain, then, that the Roman Catholic Church was the true one, as Gerard, one of the first ministers of Luther, admits (Gerard de Eccles. cap. 11, sec 6) it to have been for the first five hundred years, and to have preserved the Apostolic doctrine during that period, it follows that it must always have remained so, for the spouse of Christ, as St. Cyprian says, could never become an adulteress.

The heretics, however, who, instead of learning from the Church the dogmas they should believe, wish to teach her false and perverse dogmas of their own, say that they have the Scriptures on their side, which are the fountain of truth, not considering, as a learned author justly remarks, that it is not by reading, but by understanding, them, that the truth can be found. Heretics of every sort avail themselves of the Scriptures to prove their errors, but we should not interpret the Scripture according to our own private opinions, which frequently lead us astray, but according to the teaching of the Holy Church which is appointed the Mistress of true doctrine, and to whom God has manifested the true sense of the Divine books. This is the Church, as the Apostle tells us, which has been appointed the pillar and the ground of truth: "that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of truth." (1 Tim. iii. 15) Hence St. Leo says, that the Catholic faith despises the errors of heretics barking against the Church, who, deceived by the vanity of worldly wisdom, have departed from the truth of the Gospel. --(St. Leo. Ser. 8 de Nat. Dim.)

[end of quotation]

- St. Alphonsus Liguori in the preface to his The History of Heresies, published in 1857

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Protestant conception of the unity of the visible Church

By remaining a Protestant, a person is saying either that the visible Church is nothing more than the aggregate of all believers and their children, or that his own denomination is the visible Church.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Jesus wants His Church to be perfectly one

In John 17 we see that Jesus wants His followers to be perfectly one with each other. He wants His Church to be perfectly one. As long as we are in different denominations, we are not perfectly one, because we are still divided. As long as we are divided in different denominations, we pain the heart of Jesus.

Ask yourself this question: What am I doing to bring about the unity of all Christian denominations?

Many Christians seem to be content with the divisions in the Church. Or they seem to think that there is nothing that can be done about those divisions. Or they think that their separation from all other denominations is required by verses such as 2 Corinthians 6:17, where St. Paul writes, "Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord."

But St. Paul is saying there not to be yoked together with *unbelievers*; he is not contradicting Jesus's prayer in John 17. St. Paul himself wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, "Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment." (1 Cor 1:10)

What can you do to help bring about the unity of the Church, a unity that Christ deeply desires His Church to have? You can pray for the unity of the Church. Meditate on John 17 until Christ's desire for the unity of His Church becomes a burning passion in your own heart. Commit yourself to dialogue with Christians in other denominations about ways to reconcile the various divisions in the Church. Listen carefully and sincerely to the positions, beliefs, objections and perspectives of others, and learn them. Call the attention of other Christians to the disparity between the present divided state of the Church and Jesus's prayer for unity in John 17. Don't give up when you don't see progress, or you are rebuffed, or ignored. If you see that you were wrong, admit it and embrace the truth. Don't cling to a position simply because you have believed it a long time and it brings you comfort or security. The truth must be more valuable to you than security. Don't let your dialogue turn into a competition, because that obscures truth as the goal of our dialogue. And if the goal of truth is obscured, then reconciliation cannot occur. As Peter Kreeft says, "So how do we get reunion? By finding the truth. Truth is the only possible basis for reunion." Continue to pray and reach across the fences that divide us, committed to doing whatever is in your power to reconcile all Christians in unity. Network with other Christians (such as myself!) who are making efforts to bring about Christian unity. Read and discuss what it means to be in perfect unity. Without some conception of a goal, how can one pursue that goal? Various thoughts of mine on achieving the goal of church unity can be found here.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." - Matthew 5:9