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

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Schism from a gnostic point of view

Schism, from a gnostic point of view, is essentially internal, i.e. psychological, a spiritual discord. From a gnostic point of view, schism may be made manifest in external separation, but in such cases that external separation is a mere *manifestation* of the schism, not the schism itself, which is internal. Hence, from the gnostic point of view, in the event of "external", visible or institutional divisions and separations where there is no internal malice or hatred or animosity, and the separating parties both desire the well-being of the other parties, the resulting divisions are not schisms. From the gnostic point of view, the unity is retained and preserved, because from the gnostic point of view unity is (essentially) spiritual, i.e. internal.

To see that such a view is gnostic, apply it to marriage. As long as the husband and wife separate amicably and without any animosity or 'loss of love', and wish the other spouse well, it is not a schism. The really important thing is that they continue to 'love each other' in their hearts, no matter whether they live in separate cities and/or take on paramours. "I don't love you any less; I simply want to live on my own, and try out other partners" is the growing gnostic lie in our culture's conception of spousal love. (See my "Sex, Dualism, and Ecclesial Unity".)

When 'schism' is defined as "a breach of charity", and 'charity' is understood in this gnostic way, then the formation of the various denominations is not considered to be schism, so long as the various separating parties wished each other well in the process of separation. That is how someone could recently say to me (with all sincerity) that the 44 Reformed denominations in the US are not schisms because in the historical separations of these denominations from each other, there was no "breach of charity".

Schisms *do* necessarily involve a breach of charity, but a breach of charity *properly understood*, not the gnostic conception of charity. There is necessarily a breach of charity between spouses who separate and don't wish or seek to be together any more, even if they have no animosity or dislike toward each other, and even if they continue to wish each other well. Charity is by its very nature unitive; and humans are essentially embodied beings. Therefore charity among humans necessarily and essentially involves the pursuit of embodied unity, not merely spiritual (internal) unity. We seek to be
physically with those we love, sharing a table, a celebration, an evening, an event, a walk, a book, a film, etc. Charity among *human beings* seeks unified *embodied* communal life with the beloved. Charity in a human context necessarily seeks to be, in some sense, one body, not merely one spirit. (Eph 4:4) And that is why dividing into 44 denominations (i.e. 44 bodies) *is* a breach of charity, even if there were only smiles and good feelings and well-wishing throughout the process.

In order to heal our schisms, we must first recognize them for what they are. And in order to do that, we need to see charity for what it truly is, and that requires abandoning the gnosticism that now pervades our culture.

Lord Jesus, please unite us truly to Yourself, and to each other.

12 comments:

Iohannes said...

Is there a difference between the esse and the bene esse of a marriage?

Suppose the husband is being unfaithful, and further even physically threatening his wife. She has done her best to live amicably with him. She has approached her pastor, who has looked into the situation, and has personally admonished the husband. But the husband won't receive the correction, and is becoming more unstable, to the point of putting not only the wife but also the children in danger.

Is it in all circumstances wrong for the wife to seek separation from her husband?

Assume she is not looking to divorce, let alone remarry. She longs for, and earnestly prays for, her husband's repentance. He still is her husband, and though saddened by his conduct, she still loves him. Her hope is that the separation will last not a minute longer than it must. She is also mindful of her own failings, which though they may be smaller than her husband's, she truly sorrows for, and asks God's forgiveness, and help to do better in the future.

The example puts it starkly. I would not pretend that all the Reformers were as innocent as the wife. But all the same, for comparison, consider this testimony:

And it is certain, the Roman Church, which flourished in the days of the ancient Fathers, was then extolled so much by them, and styled the holy Church, and the Mother of the Churches, for no other cause than for that it held steadfastly the doctrine received from the Apostles, when the most part of the rest had departed from it. But in these days what doctrine and what worship they profess, and how much they have in many particulars degenerated, is sufficiently known: Wherefore we again protest that we have separated from the present Roman Church only upon inducement from the word of God, and in obedience to the command of God therein; and in that respect deemed it most necessary to depart from the idolatries of this most corrupted Roman Church, that we may no longer continue in apostasy from the Catholic and Apostolic Church, but at length return into her bosom. For we have not forsaken the Roman Church generally and in all regards, but only in those things wherein she is fallen from the Apostolic Church and from herself, the ancient and pure Church. Nor have we departed from her with any other mind, than of returning to her, and renewing communion in her congregations, in case she would reform and resume her former purity. Which that it may come to pass, we pray unto the Lord Jesus with our whole souls. For what can be more desirable to every pious man, than that where we were born again by Baptism, there also to live unto the last? So it be in the Lord. I Jerome Zachius, with my whole family, wish that this be witnessed to the whole Church of Christ, to all eternity.

contrarian 78 said...

You are right on this matter on both the subjective and objective levels.

In the first case of subjective considerations, when one is in, say, the PCA (as I am at the moment) and not the EPC, one is thinking implicitly or explicitly that it's better for one's spiritual life to live in light of one's personal view of Scripture, which would exclude things like ordaining female deacons, by the mere fact that one is not fully united to those who do ordain women. Sure, one waves hello and wishes them well, but at the end of the day any Christian in the PCA who is not a relativist would wish that those in the EPC would either change, or, if persuaded by their friends in the EPC they would hope that the PCA would change to resemble the EPC more.

On an objective sense, the data of Scripture are clear. You offered a helpful analogy in considering separation of husband and wife, but Christ's vision of the Church is even more profound than the depth of unity in marriage. He called for us to be one as He and the Father are one. That verse in and of itself is enough to unsettle any notion that existing in institutionalized separation is worthy of consideration.

On that note, the friction between even more divergent Reformed denominations is worth note. A Reformed Baptist blogger notes the contradiction in some of the leaders of his denomination trying to get together with Presbyterians like R.C. Sproul in a ministry called "Together For the Gospel" and then refusing them communion because of their unconfessed sin of not being credobaptists. You can read about it here: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/enjoying-god/piper-grudem-dever-et-al-on-baptism-the-lords-table-and-church-membership-just-how-together-for-the-gospel-are-we/

Pax et bonum,
Jonathan

Kim said...

Bryan, I was thinking about gnosticism today and wondered what your thoughts were on how the Internet is fueling gnosticism even more by removing the physical aspect of relationships being developed online.

Interesting analogy to marriage. Very enlightening!

Tim A. Troutman said...

Iohannes, on the surface, I can really sympathize with your point.

However, as Contrarian pointed out, this analogy is not perfectly workable in this case.

For one, the Church is not married to her members nor is it adequate for us to think of this as a marriage between us and the Church. The only thoroughly valid and workable analogy involving marriage and the Church is that of the Church as the Bride of Christ.

But in our case, we aren't in a contract with the Church; we are in a contract with Christ through the Church and we should have no reason to believe that we can separate ourselves from the Church for any reason whatsoever and still remain heirs to the promises of Christ. That is: there is no salvation outside the Church and loyalty to Christ is loyalty to His bride.

The apology you quoted, as moving as it may be, is still a case of individuals presuming that their judgment trumps the Church. If we can compare this whole relationship we might think of it in two different ways which would be more appropriate than the marriage imagery.

1. Christ is the Groom, the Church is the wife (and mother) and the individual is the child ("He cannot have God as Father who has not Church as mother" and certainly not "He can have God as Father even if he divorces himself from the mother Church". We can already see how this father-mother-child analogy works far better than the Church-individual marriage analogy. And if there were a dispute about the Father's instructions which He left, whose job would it be to settle the issue? The mother's! And if the children didn't agree, might they validly estrange themselves from the mother and expect vindication from the Father? Not likely.

2. We could also see the individual's relationship to the Christ-Bride unity as through the very biblical lens of members of a body. If the groom and bride are united as one flesh through matrimony, and as Paul says we are members of that body, then to schism from the Church is not to separate from an abusive husband.. far from it. It is to separate from Christ Himself! It is more akin to a foot removing itself from a body because the arms are doing things which he disapproves of and thinking he shall still inherit life from the Head.

And again, what abuses there have been (and still are) within the blessed Catholic Church, many of those have been corrected and she is always correcting errors within herself. It is part of having fallen men involved.

Principium unitatis said...

Kim,

Excellent question. I think you are right to be concerned. If we get our community only or primarily through the internet, we are neglecting our embodiedness, and the embodiedness of human-human relations. It is a kind of false world, in that sense, because it is not true to who we are. We are animals (mammals to be precise); that is our [philosophical] genus. We are not mere minds. We are *rational* animals, but fundamentally we are animals. And as animals, we need physical relations and physical interaction. To grow in virtue and sanctity, we need to be interacting with others not (primarily) virtually, but actually, in face-to-face communication and shared life. We can't hide that way. We can hide electronically.

My purpose in blogging is not to 'get community'. If that were my purpose, then I would be on the wrong path. I'm glad to meet and talk with people here online. But I have real flesh-and-blood friends here in St. Louis, and a family, and spending time with them is very important. My purpose on this blog is to teach and serve the Church in helping to bring unity to divided Christians.

The internet is like most other technologies; it can be used well, or it can be abused. When we turn it into a substitute for an embodied life in the world, it is being abused. But when we use it to learn and teach and serve and coordinate, in the context of a flourishing, grounded and embodied life we are already living with our flesh-and-blood family, friends and neighbors, then it can a helpful tool.

Thanks for the great question. By the way, you might like reading the works of Wendell Berry, and Neil Postman's Technopoly.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Iohannes said...

Tim,

Thanks for your charitable response.

I agree that the analogy is strained. A better comparison, I think, would be to a kingdom. In this case I was taking up the idea put forward in the second paragraph of the post ("To see that such a view is gnostic, apply it to marriage," etc.) The main purpose was to explore whether separation always annihilates union. But if one additional implication can be suggested before rightly dropping the analogy, it is this: we should deplore the ease with which spouses split up today, just as we should deplore the fracturing of churches. Yet there is a danger that in so reacting we will overlook the comparatively few instances in which separation might be justifiable. I suppose this is one way of repeating the common saying about the Reformation: one side sees it as tragic, the other as a tragic necessity.

The comparison to the body is mostly valid. I share Calvin's high estimation of Cyprian's words. The problem with the application here, from my perspective, is the assumption that the mother is what Rome would have her to be. In looking to Scripture and the Fathers I do not see Rome's relation to the mother in the same way modern Catholics do. Maybe Cardinal Newman will one day persuade me otherwise. In the mean time, my guess is the blessed Cyprian might have some sympathy for honest Christians who find themselves at odds with Rome.

Pax tecum.

Principium unitatis said...

Iohannes,

If the Catholic Church were the true Church, and you were in schism from her, how would you know this? How would the situation be different than it is now? How do you know that the Church's teachings which you think are heretical are not in fact orthodox, and that to the extent that your positions differ from them, your positions are ipso facto heretical? Surely by 'heretical' you don't just mean 'contrary to my own interpretation of Scripture'. So then, what definition of 'heresy' are you using? And where are you getting this definition, and what authority does this source have?

From the beginning of the Church's history, schismatics have attempted to justify their separation from the Church by claiming that the Church was in heresy. We can see this in Tertullian and the Montanists, in the Novatians, in the Donatists, the Monophysites and in many other sects. What makes *you* so special, such that you are not making the same kind of mistake that all these other schismatics made when they separated from the Church, and judged themselves to be more orthodox than the Church?

(I know that seems like a pointed question; I don't mean it uncharitably, in the least. I'm asking it to try to get to the bottom of our disagreement.)

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Jonathan,

Thanks for you comments, and the link to the article. At the end of the article Sam asks: "Does anyone see anything askew in this picture?"

Most definitely. But it is not only what Sam is seeing; the problem is much deeper. The whole article shows that the underlying premise about how to come to doctrinal agreement is deeply mistaken. That's the same point I was trying to make here. Thanks again Jonathan!

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Tim A. Troutman said...

Iohannes: I completely follow your train of thought with regards to the literal separation of spouses - we may be in danger of over reacting in some cases.

I just mean to argue that there may be some ways which the analogy holds true but others where it doesn't. Even explicitly biblical analogies don't hold perfectly true in all ways as you know. Christ is the Head of the Church as the husband is the head of the wife but of course, the wife may question the husband yet the Church may not question Christ.

The reason I'm pointing this out is because we know that even though our earthly scenarios may well be representative of a spiritual truth, they are no always perfectly analogous. The main reason why there is so much difference though is because of sin nature.

Were we not fallen, the wife would not be able to question the husband - not because he would dominate her of course, but because the two would act in unison and in love as Christ and the Church do. The husband would always look out for the good of his wife as his own body. Now there is sin in the members of the Church, but the bride of Christ partakes of Christ's divinity as the two are made one flesh. The Church, therefore, acts in unison with Christ's will. It's not only that she may not question Christ, it's that she wouldn't do so. This is why the Catholic Church claims for herself the least authority of all Christian communities. She does not have the authority to change or abandon what has been given to her by Christ through the apostles.

Similarly, if we removed sin from the equation above, there would never be any separation of spouses for any reason. This is where the marriage analogy exhausts its usefulness. We cannot separate from the Church if she is infallible. (Infallible here doesn't mean of course that everyone under her roof is sinless).

As for Cyprian, I haven't studied him yet so I can't speak of his views. The fathers generally speaking though, would not be sympathetic to those who had left Rome including big names like Irenaeus, Chrysostom and Augustine.

Also, you said:

In looking to Scripture and the Fathers I do not see Rome's relation to the mother in the same way modern Catholics do.

But why would you expect to see that? If we could see the exact relationship in say the 3rd century, why shouldn't we be able to see it at Pentecost or even the upper room?

But the idea that the papal seat would look and operate the exact way it does today is no more absurd when said of the 2nd or 3rd century than of the very day of Pentecost. If any time can be admitted into the equation whatsoever, we must allow for a gradual development of some kind. And like all other Christian doctrines and disciplines, it should come as no surprise whatsoever that the doctrines and disciplines of the papacy have developed (not emerged) over time.

That the bishop of Rome didn't appoint other bishops in the Catholic Church or other arguments like this one do not argue against the papacy. It only argues against a very simple idea of exactly how the papacy would have looked in the first century.

Let's suppose there were really a papacy for the sake of the argument. How would it have looked different, in your estimation in the first 2 or 3 centuries?

BTW, like Mr. Cross, I am a convert from the PCA (although I bypassed the Anglican route)

Iohannes said...

Gentlemen, Thanks again for your responses. I am grateful for the courtesy you both display.

Tim,

It still looks like where we differ is on how the Church of Rome relates to the Church universal.

As I have said, neither Scripture nor the Fathers lead me to see in Rome the primacy her bishop claims. The most recent comments to the post on "Ecclesial Docetism" should show where I am coming from.

There are a couple of qualifications that I would make to your position.

The first is that almost no one denies development of doctrine. Appealing to development therefore does not settle much,
since there are competing visions of development. The common Roman Catholic view looks quite different from that of
Protestants (and Orthodox). I do not dismiss the modern RC position out of hand; in fact, lately I have been reading Newman's celebrated Essay. But Newman so far has not convinced me; and the criticisms of his theory by Canon Mozley (who was, incidentally, Newman's close relation by marriage) look quite forceful.

The other is that primacy is not a simple concept. An important distinction that we easily lose sight of today is
that between authority (auctoritas) and power (potestas). The ancients were better acquainted with it (see, for example, Augustus's rather dubious boast in the Res Gestae, 34). Most any church historian will acknowledge that the Fathers saw in the Roman Church a great deal of authority. But unless someone adheres to Newman's theory, or a variant of it, the evidence for the other kind of primacy is unlikely to be as persuasive. The standoff between Cyprian and Pope Stephen is only one of a number of problems that papal supremacy must overcome in the Fathers.

I hope this is a better explanation of my perspective. Please let me know if I am overlooking something in your post.

Bryan,

Crisp questions are not a problem. Often they are what is needed to get to the heart of a matter. Where I might quibble is in the introduction of heresy into the discussion. For now, let it be noted that I have not accused anyone of heresy.

Schism has already been discussed in connection with the Docetism post. Apart from what was said there (which has not yet received a reply) I am not sure what kind of answer you are looking for. The questions all seem to boil down to why I am not a Roman Catholic, and so that is what I will try to explain.

It may be a truism, but each of us comes to matters like this with a starting point. For me that starting point, by virtue of my upbringing, was with the Roman Catholic Church. After a period of prayer and study I came to the conclusion that I could not believe certain of the things a faithful Roman Catholic is bound to believe (among them that the RCC is exactly what she professes to be). I also found that where I differed from Rome was, for the most part, where the churches of the Reformation differed with Rome. Since I could not in good conscience be a member of the Roman Catholic Church, I became a member of a Protestant church.

I suppose that makes me a heretic in the haireomai sense. We all make a religious choice, however, including those who opt to become Roman Catholics. I believe my choice was required by conscience, as without doubt you also believe about yours. I will not claim to be specially gifted in religious matters, or specially knowledgeable about theology or Church history. My only claim is to being sincere in my convictions and in the decision to which they led. For that decision I readily accept responsibility.

Naturally I do not believe I have left Christ's Church any more than I believe that the Church of Scotland or other Reformation communions left the Church. Roman Catholics will disagree. Yet if someone will tell me that I have left the Church, and that I ought to return to the RCC, then it is not unreasonable for me to ask for the justification. As I have not seen the justification, it would be inconsistent with conscience for me to return to Rome.

Curiosity led me to look over your link about "The fathers on the primacy of Peter's successor." You obviously care very much about this question and have given it serious thought. Yet, and I mean no disrespect, I think your reading is flawed. It looks like a heavily romanticized version of ecclesiastical history (any pun here is disclaimed). It is much the same version that prevails in the modern Catholic apologetics movement. If the link is an accurate indication of your views on the Fathers, then I recommend reading further, even if only the books of current Roman Catholic scholars. I recently ordered Jesuit historian Klaus Schatz's work on Papal Primacy; that may be one place to turn. Modern scholarship does not make it impossible to be a Roman Catholic, but it does make it hard to be a Roman Catholic without adopting a very accommodating notion of development (a notion which may be at least as much a "theological novum" as anything found in Luther).

Please excuse any words that look impolite in this comment. To be impolite is not my intention, but I know it can be hard to communicate tone and accent online.

God bless.

Principium unitatis said...

Iohannes,

Thank you for your comments.

A few thoughts:

You wrote:
The standoff between Cyprian and Pope Stephen is only one of a number of problems that papal supremacy must overcome in the Fathers.

I'm curious to know how you see this as a problem for papal supremacy. Do you think Cyprian's actions were incompatible with papal supremacy? If so, would you explain why?


Where I might quibble is in the introduction of heresy into the discussion. For now, let it be noted that I have not accused anyone of heresy.

I understand. But it would seem that you would have to believe that the Church was teaching heresy, in order to justify being in schism from her. So it would seem that my following questions still stand:

If the Catholic Church were the true Church, and you were in schism from her, how would you know this? How would the situation be different than it is now? How do you know that the Church's teachings which you think are heretical are not in fact orthodox, and that to the extent that your positions differ from them, your positions are ipso facto heretical?

You wrote:

After a period of prayer and study I came to the conclusion that I could not believe certain of the things a faithful Roman Catholic is bound to believe (among them that the RCC is exactly what she professes to be).

What are these Catholic doctrines you take issue with? Could you be specific?


I suppose that makes me a heretic in the haireomai sense. We all make a religious choice, however, including those who opt to become Roman Catholics.

Yes, I agree that everyone makes religious choices. But if merely making religious choices were sufficient to make one a heretic, then everyone would be a heretic, in which case no one would be a heretic, because the word would be meaningless. But haireomai doesn't just mean 'make religious choices'; it means to make them in contradiction to the Magisterium of the Church.


I believe my choice was required by conscience, as without doubt you also believe about yours.

Of course, I don't disbelieve you. But I think we would agree that conscience needs to be properly formed. If someone falls into heresy and says (sincerely) that he was following his conscience, his conscience was not properly formed. So, that you followed your conscience doesn't show that your action was objectively right. A person can sin even when following his conscience.


Naturally I do not believe I have left Christ's Church any more than I believe that the Church of Scotland or other Reformation communions left the Church.

But what would leaving the Church look like, if what the Protestants did wasn't leaving the Church? Wouldn't it look like no longer being in communion with the bishops in communion with the successor of St. Peter?

Yet if someone will tell me that I have left the Church, and that I ought to return to the RCC, then it is not unreasonable for me to ask for the justification.

I agree that it is not unreasonable for you to ask for justification. I would start by saying that the justification is that no Protestant sects were founded before the 16th century. They can't be the Church that Christ founded. The only two candidates for being the Church that Christ founded are the Catholic and the Orthodox.

Yet, and I mean no disrespect, I think your reading is flawed. It looks like a heavily romanticized version of ecclesiastical history (any pun here is disclaimed).

Thank you for you frankness. I do hope you see that I wasn't intending to offer there an "ecclesiastical history". It was rather a selection of quotations, in roughly chronological order. And these quotations clearly show a recognition among the Fathers of the primacy of the Holy See as grounded in the primacy of authority given to St. Peter.

Modern scholarship does not make it impossible to be a Roman Catholic, but it does make it hard to be a Roman Catholic without adopting a very accommodating notion of development (a notion which may be at least as much a "theological novum" as anything found in Luther).

My question to this is how does "modern scholarship" make it hard to be a Catholic? What precisely does it demonstrate that is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church? Whose determination of what development is is authoritative? That of modern scholarship? Is the Church bound by the academy, and those not having apostolic succession? Where is that [i.e. that the Church is bound by the academy] in the Fathers? It is not there. The force of the academy arose with Humanism, and served to precipitate the Protestant separation, as academics thought they understood the Bible and the Church's history better than did the Church. But that very notion, that academics had more authority on such questions than did the Church, was much more novel than the notion of development, which we can see quite clearly already in the 400s.

Thanks again for this exchange. I hope to hear your thoughts regarding my comments above.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Iohannes said...

Bryan,

Thanks for your comments. My preference is to avoid the seriatim style, so I will focus on what look to be your most prominent statements. Should I omit something you would like addressed, please point it out.

If Rome is correct (and Protestants wrong) about her profession to be the one true Church, then scripture and tradition should vindicate the doctrine of Papal supremacy. The Vatican I constitution defining infallibility declares that its doctrine “is to be believed and held by all the faithful in accordance with the ancient and unchanging faith of the whole Church.” Nevertheless, without a capacious understanding of development it is hard to find a solid basis in the ancient Church for the papal claim. One would expect testimony to Roman potestas, not just auctoritas. That evidence isn't there. Cyprian is only one example against recognition of Roman primacy of jurisdiction over the entire Church.

This is not say that no hermeneutic can account for the transformation of a primacy of esteem or authority into a primacy of power or jurisdiction. Newman's and Moehler's theories of development might just be able do this. Theories are judged by their merits, however, and so far I am not convinced.

If papal supremacy is demonstrable apart from a theory like Newman's, I am eager to learn how this is. Your quotations from the fathers look like the prolegomenon to such a demonstration. For example, you refer to Tertullian calling the Pope "the Pontifex Maximus, the Bishop of Bishops." The presentation of these words without comment suggests you take them at face value as supporting papal supremacy. Newman, on the other hand, acknowledges that Tertullian writes with "indignation and bitter mockery." He therefore appeals to the passage not as something conclusive, but as an early hint, an indication of what was to be--a clue perhaps faint it itself, but, together with various other hints, anticipating the later development. A modern example not wide off the mark is the leftists who liken President Bush to Hitler. Their mockery suggests that the President may have a high view of executive power, higher at least than others think is appropriate. Few, however, would take the derision to imply that the President claims to exercise powers on par with those of the Fuehrer. (This is not meant to compare the Pope to Hitler; on the contrary, I have great respect for Pope Benedict.)

If you would like to discuss specific Protestant objections to Trent, I would be glad to do this at another time. To go into the details right now would accomplish little (as you have said, we need to go a step back to consider magisterial authority). If you are interested, Calvin's "Antidote" and Chemnitz's Examination should show broadly what problems Protestants see in the Council.

Again, I recommend reading further into what current Roman Catholic scholars say about papal primacy. Klaus Schatz is not easy to dismiss. He received his doctorate from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and he ultimately concludes in favor of the modern Roman Catholic view of the Pope. To my knowledge he nowhere challenges the RC Magisterium, but neither does he interpret the evidence for the Magisterium as you seem to do. It is true that historians do not get to decide theological matters. At the same time, if the Gnostics were wrong, and if the early fathers were right that Christian tradition is public, it would be strange to oppose academic inquiry into Church history.

God bless.