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

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Where have I been?

Last week I presented a paper at a philosophy conference on Alasdair MacIntyre at St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Indiana. It is a Benedictine monastery with medieval-style architecture, and visitors are allowed to pray the hours with the monks (in separate seats). I was able to participate in praying the hours during the five days I was there. The church bells ring at 4:30 AM. And then they ring again non-stop from 5:15 AM to 5:30 AM, to call everyone to 5:30 morning prayer (matins and lauds). Then there is time for work, and then Mass at 7:30 AM, and then work, and then the bells call us to noon prayers (sext), and then work, and then 5 pm vespers. I couldn't tell for sure, but it seemed to me that they chant all the Psalms at least once a week. The life in the town of St. Meinrad seems to be shaped and structured by the ordered life and rhythm and culture of the monastery. The Benedictine charism is "ora et labora" (prayer and work). The chanting of the monks was amazingly beautiful and ancient. (Imagine the Ents of Fanghorn chanting a Psalm, and you get the idea.) Some of the monks are known experts on Gregorian chant, and how it was done in the later part of the first millennium and the middle ages. One of the monks, I was told, is 107 years old. The Benedictine order is a continuous tradition that began with St. Benedict, who was born in the fifth century, about fifty years after St. Augustine died. The overall experience being there is hard to put into words. When I came back to St. Louis Sunday evening, I experienced something of a culture shock. I felt like I had dropped back out of heaven, and fallen to earth, from timelessness, back into the flurry of the temporal, and into the shallowness of the glittery and sensually contingent and ephemeral.

While I was gone, Jason Stellman, a Presbyterian pastor and author of a blog titled "De Regnis Duobis", posted a series of articles, starting here, in response to my post "Michael Brown on Sola Scriptura or Scriptura Solo"". Michael Brown also just posted a reply to me on his own website here. I haven't had a chance to read these posts, but I look forward to reading them. A quick glance suggests that they are cordial and respectful, and I'm very grateful for that. A patient, prayerful and charitable dialogue is, in my opinion, the seedbed for eventual reconciliation and reunion between Catholics and Protestants. I hope to write a reply in the next few weeks.

16 comments:

Oso Famoso said...

Its been a busy week....The guys at De Regina Duebus have been charitible and good for discussion with one exception.

Good to have you back.

Canadian said...

Brian,
Fascinating.
Did you follow them for the entire daily cycle?
Is there mostly silence, or do they have frequent discussion amongst themselves and with visitiors? How many monks are there?

Mike said...

De Regina Duebus?

Oso, c'mon now. Do you not know the Latin or is that your attempt at being charitible?

Oso Famoso said...

Mike.

I was in a hurry when I posted that.

Oso Famoso said...

http://michaelbrown.squarespace.com/the-latest-post/2008/8/6/finding-the-bulls-eye.html

Its been a busy week..

Principium unitatis said...

Canadian,

Yes, I followed them for the entire daily cycle (when they prayed the office), but when they retired to their work or their quarters in the monastery, we were not allowed to go with them. I don't know whether they were silent most of them time or not. That is a good question, and I forgot to ask it. My guess is that they are not entirely silent, because in my walks I did encounter some, and they would greet me. And one was in charge of facilitating the conference, and he spoke freely. How many monks are there? About 120. One of the interesting things there is the cemetery, which is right by the monastery. Almost all the monks who have lived there are buried in that cemetery, and all the monks presently living at the monastery can look over and see exactly where they will be buried.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Kim said...

Good to have you back, Bryan. You were missed! That monastery sounds heavenly. What a gift it must have been for you to get to visit and stay for awhile.

CD-Host said...

I've been reading this blog quite a bit and does it good job of addressing one part of the argument. Certainly it is hard to hold a high view of the visible church and at the same time support the notion that reformed schism don't need to be meaningfully addressed. I certainly agree that for those that hold a low view they have the problem that even their bible and creeds can be called into question. So I think that argument is sound.

What IMHO seems to be lacking is the discussion regarding the solution, that is rejoining with the Eastern Rite Church as it exists. The Reformation came out of serious abuses that were deep, structural and systematic. The root causes of those abuses exist today. The very notion that the appropriate response to call for debate on indulgences by a theologian was to set in motion a process designed to kill him is atrocious. Given that reality it is hard to see how there was a sin of schism, the church as it existed was simply unwilling to have its flaws addressed and made use of state terror to preserve those flaws.

Today there are doctrines rejected by 70,80,90% of the laity, even when those doctrines are carefully explained. One would think this should lead to a careful reexamination of those doctrines or an abandonment that the will of the church is expressed though its doctrines. Frankly such practices strike me as showing contempt for the will of the church.

I don't see any evidence that the Eastern Rite Church (RCC) is willing to address the structural flaws that led to the reformation, and since those flaws are in place I can't see how reunion can occur. The very notion of apostolic succession, which this blog focuses heavily on, versus election of elders is a good example. The idea that by virtue of being a leader one has the right to appoint other leaders is the central tenant of monarchy. Monarchy as a legitimate form of governance has been widely rejected. By and large people seem to support the notion that legitimate leadership to arise from below not from a single person far in the past. The role of "king" seems to be a symbolic joining force, a resolver of deep disputes and perhaps a minor check on the representatives who govern. The Eastern Rite Church has rejected going back to the election of bishops.

I just don't see any evidence that the issues that led to the reformation have been resolved or that there is any desire to resolve them. Given that reality then, the goal is see whether one needs to declare Christ's church as having died or rather whether a new system can be devised and this new system can replace the existing churches. So far the evidence seems mixed. The Baptist model seems to be successful and many of its ideas and structures seem to carry across denominations quite well. Denotations inside the United States are being reformed in a way consistent with the baptist model and away from the notion of a state institutional church. This sort of thing is also occurring to a lesser extent globally.

Don't get me wrong on say 80% of the theological issue between the baptists and the RCC I think the RCC is correct. And while this is a well written blog, I can't see hundreds of millions of people deciding that they want to submit to a despotic church government with no interest in meaningful dialog because their church theology has some minor contradictions.

Principium unitatis said...

cd-host,

Thanks for your comments. What do you mean by "Eastern Rite Church"? There are over twenty Eastern Rite Churches, and they are all part of the Catholic Church, under the authority of the bishop of Rome.

I think it is important to distinguish between doctrines and abuses. For example, the sale of indulgences was an abuse. That abuse *was* dealt with by the Council of Trent. But you seem to be treating as an abuse anything that you disagree with theologically. (Perhaps I'm misreading you.) And that sort of approach begs the question, because any heretic can disagree with the Church's doctrine, and then treat the Church's doctrine as an abuse. Therefore, in order to make progress toward unity, we have to back up and consider the basis upon which to determine what are abuses, and what are heresies and what is orthodoxy. I'll post something on that shortly, and I'd be glad for your thoughts on it.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

CD-Host said...

Bryan --

I was using Eastern Rite church as a way of talking about the Roman Catholic Church as an institution, using what I had thought was your preferred term. RCC has the advantage of being clear, but you had indicated you found it offensive. We can use RCC if you are OK with it.

As for the sale of indulgences that wasn't the problem I was addressing, my problem was with the bull of 1519. Churches make mistakes. The problem was that their way dealing with the mistake forced the reformation. That is the bull of 1519 that was the serious abuse, and in some sense the ongoing abuse. That is the underlying cause of that abuse is still in place and still structural in nature, that a man, any man, can unilaterally declare someone a heretic. That policy hasn't changed, arguably it has been strengthened.

The church itself has always held there are multiple sources of authority: scripture, interpretation, tradition, conscience, reason, revelation... These may conflict with one another and how to weigh them and resolve conflicts is the core of theology. But many discussions can occur without the need for authority.

Indulgences are a great example. they are offensive to scripture (even for those groups that have alternate canons), reason, revelation, conscience and tradition. There are/were such a clear cut case that one doesn't need to first determine a church authority to condemn the practice. That's why Catholics today freely condemn the practice as much as Luther ever did.

But given the reaction of the church to its obvious sin in this matter, schism was justified. And the structural problem, that is the governing structure that created these abuses needs to be addressed. The cure for schism is to fix what originally justified it.

Principium unitatis said...

Cd-host,

I'm fine with "Catholic Church" or just "Catholic".

In your opinion, it seems, no man should have the authority unilaterally to declare someone a heretic. Where are you getting this belief? Do you think the Apostles did not have the authority to declare someone a heretic? Do you think that authority passed away with the death of the last Apostle? If so, could you show even one Church father who agrees with you on that point?

Papal bulls are not infallible documents, so the Catholic can be open to the possibility that this could have been handled in a much better way. But the Church has always believed that bishops (and especially the bishop of Rome) could unilaterally declare someone a heretic. I'm not following your basis for believing that this is a structural error except that you don't like it. My impression (though it is hard to tell given the fact that this is an internet discussion) is that you are conceiving the Church as if she is a democracy. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you. Regarding your statement:

But given the reaction of the church to its obvious sin in this matter, schism was justified.

I wonder where you are getting that. Where are you getting the notion that if someone (or some number of persons) in the Church sins, then we may justifiably make a schism?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

CD-Host said...

In your opinion, it seems, no man should have the authority unilaterally to declare someone a heretic. Where are you getting this belief?

1) Scripture: Jesus outlines a process for discipline. An individual is given the right to take his issue to several more individuals. The act of separation requires the community and 3 more steps.

Paul: similarly when he believes people should be excommunicated needs to argue his point with the community.

2) Reason: A single individual declaring another a heretic doesn't prove anything, other than maybe who shot first. A declaration of heresy requires that a person's beliefs be rejected by the church not by an individual.

3) Experience: The system has worked terribly

4) Morality: One of the core concepts in justice (which is a positive obligation for all men even non-Christians, as per Noahide covenant) is the establishment of courts. Prosecutors may not act as judges

I could keep going but yes.

Do you think the Apostles did not have the authority to declare someone a heretic?

No I don't think they did. But I'm not sure it is relevant.

Do you think that authority passed away with the death of the last Apostle? If so, could you show even one Church father who agrees with you on that point?

Jesus (see above).

I wonder where you are getting that. Where are you getting the notion that if someone (or some number of persons) in the Church sins, then we may justifiably make a schism?

This is why a community is required! Because what happened in the case of Luther was not a single person's sin but rather the entire institution upheld the sin, that is an institutional sin. The institution acted wrongly, which is to say it engaged in unrepentant sin. The specific instruction in that case is to separate from the institution. 2Thes 3:6, Romans 16:17-9 ... addresses how to handle such situations.

Moreover practicality demands it. An unwillingness to partake in sin does not mean one should not be part of an assembly of believers. They should form an assembly and do the best they can to continue to practice until such time as the issue is resolved.

What you seem to be arguing for is that a group of people, with no accountability to membership what-so-ever have the authority to declare anything they feel like to be sinful, excommunicate willy-nilly based on those declarations and that the persons subject to that have an obligation to permanently abstain from Christian life? Under that scenario divine law is reduced to the whim of the rulers. That is specifically what God is concerned about in 1Sam 8, that with that sort of authority the king is the god. That is to say God explicitly commands against this sort of structure over and over again, rejecting it as valid even for pagan kings.

Principium unitatis said...

cd-host,

I think what is becoming clearer in our exchange is that we are coming from very different places. Your way of thinking is very much in the stream of Enlightenment philosophy. It seeks to make the Church conform to one's own reason and interpretation of Scripture. The Catholic view is quite different. We become conformed to Christ by being transformed in humility by the Church.

But in order to find common ground to achieve unity (you and I), we may need to back up a bit in history. See my latest post "On Starting Points and Reconciliation".

If, for example, you read the letters of St. Ignatius bishop of Antioch (d. 107 AD), do you find that what he says is more like the democratic, Enlightenment notion that you are advocating, or is it more like the Catholic position? Does he believe that bishops have ecclesial authority? Did he arrogate such authority to himself, or was this the way bishops of the first century had been taught by the Apostles to understand their authority?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

CD-Host said...

Bryan --

Let me quote another Catholic for a moment: Likewise, if the Catholic Church did abandon the gospel (and for the sake of simplicity we set aside the Orthodox), and if the Protestants preserved the gospel, then Catholics should not be submitting to the Pope and Catholic bishops in order to answer these first-order questions.

Note the point he is making here. The gospel is objective not subjective. The gospels exists independently of the church and it is at least theoretically possible for the church to preach something other than the gospel.

That is a key point because it undermines the despotic argument you are making elsewhere in the blog, that the truth is whatever the church says the truth is and it is meaningless to talk about the gospel apart from the church.

Let me quote another Catholic source CCC 1849 "Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as 'an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.'"

Note again sin is defined objectively in terms of things like truth and reason. It is not subjective, that is it upholds that authority is not absolute and that there is room for distinction between the law of God and the law of church. Were a pope to declare that adultery is mandatory failure to commit adultery would not become sin. The law stands over the church.

In a democracy the law comes from the governing institution. So if the US government declared adultery to be mandatory it would be a crime (though still not a sin) not to commit adultery.

I'll pop over to the other thread but I think this point is key.

It seeks to make the Church conform to one's own reason and interpretation of Scripture.

Because the church lays claim to reason and scripture. My critique would fail if the church did not claim that its laws were consistent with reason and scripture. By claiming that church law need be compatible with scripture scripture becomes a parallel authority. by claiming that church law need be compatible with reason, reason becomes a parallel authority. Church law can be critiqued in terms of reason and scripture because the church itself lays claims to these. Similarly for tradition, experience, revelation....

Were the view of you are proposing actually church law, Luther's sin would not have been schism. Once the Pope authorized indulgences then it would be contradict a tautology to argue against the doctrine of indulgences. The doctrine would be true because the Pope said it was true and no evidence could possibly contradict that. It is only because the church does not claim to have that level of authority that it was even meaningful to debate the issue.

Principium unitatis said...

cd-host,

You claim that the gospel is objective, and I agree that it is. And so does the Catholic Church. You then conclude from "the gospel is objective" that the gospel is not subjective. But that conclusion does not follow. Objective and subjective are not contraries. Something can be objective, and yet also be subjective. The gospel is objective in the sense that its truth does not depend on whether any mere human believes it. But the gospel is also subjective in the sense that certain persons (i.e. the Apostles and their successors) were entrusted with being its stewards and guardians; it does not exist apart from minds.

Your claim, it seems, is that the Catholic bishops didn't preserve the gospel. But how do you know that it is not the case that Protestants misunderstood the gospel and that the Catholic magisterium did preserve the gospel? In the earlier history of the Church, all heretics thought that they were right and the Church was wrong. What makes you special, so that you have it right (unlike all the other heretics who lived in the first 1500 years of the Church), and the Church this time has it wrong?

Regarding your comment:

That is a key point because it undermines the despotic argument you are making elsewhere in the blog, that the truth is whatever the church says the truth is

How does it undermine that argument? If the Church is protected from error in her dogmas, then how does the truth being objective undermine the claim that true doctrine is found by listening to what the Church teaches?

and it is meaningless to talk about the gospel apart from the church.

I have never claimed that.

Were a pope to declare that adultery is mandatory failure to commit adultery would not become sin. The law stands over the church.

I agree. I have argued as much elsewhere. You are failing to distinguish something in my position, namely, the difference between the order of knowing and the order of authority. I talked about this recently in my post titled "C. Michael Patton on sola scriptura". The magisterium of the Church is under the authority of God and His Word. But that does not mean that you and I (i.e. lay-persons) have more ecclesial authority than do they, or that our interpretation of Scripture is equal to or greater in authority than theirs. If you read that post, what I'm saying will be clearer, I hope.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

CD-Host said...

How does it undermine that argument? If the Church is protected from error in her dogmas, then how does the truth being objective undermine the claim that true doctrine is found by listening to what the Church teaches?

Because the church doesn't just teach infallible doctrines. It also teaches all sorts of other erroneous stuff like the doctrine of indulgences. The church does not teach a bunch of doctrines classify them at the point they are being taught as: infallible doctrines, almost certainly true doctrines, probably true doctrines, more likely than not doctrines, and wild ass guesses doctrines. They teach them all the same way.

Major important choices with real impact are based on the fallible doctrines. And there is no protection against error. So either the scripture is authoritative in which case it is a parallel authority or is purely subjective.

The gospel is objective in the sense that its truth does not depend on whether any mere human believes it. But the gospel is also subjective in the sense that certain persons (i.e. the Apostles and their successors) were entrusted with being its stewards and guardians; it does not exist apart from minds.

I don't see how that is not a contradiction. Pope XYZ decides the gospel mandates adultery and teaches that. Does the gospel mandate adultery now or not? If XYZ cannot change the gospel then it is objective, if he can then it is subjective.

I talked about this recently in my post titled "C. Michael Patton on sola scriptura". The magisterium of the Church is under the authority of God and His Word.

I would agree I am making the same argument he evidentally did. I don't find your counter argument convincing. Essentially it relies on a trick where a person has to almost blaspheme to carry out the proper analogy. Here is the situation.

Jake is sitting on a mountain in New York. He sees Jesus descend from heaven in the company of angels, "Jake the father wants you to go south to Virginia". Jake then sees the sky open up lighting streaks across it. The Father says, "No, Jake I want you to go north to Canada". Jesus, "See I told you he wants you to head south".

Jake speaks, "Um could you two work this out and get back to me". The Father, "I have spoken go to Canada". The Son, "do as your father in heaven has commanded and go to Virginia". I'd say Jake is obligated to go Canada.

That is the analogous situation to what you propose between church, reason, scripture... Now in the case of Father and Son we propose such a thing could not happen because they are unified in will. But such a thing has happened with regards to the church and scripture, church and truth, church and reason....

It has happened so it can happen. Jesus in my little scenario doesn't get his credibility back when he says "well those geography statements weren't infallible" sometime later.

Now onto a more interesting question:

Your claim, it seems, is that the Catholic bishops didn't preserve the gospel.

I don't remember making that claim. Also I think we are using terms a bit loosely here.

But how do you know that it is not the case that Protestants misunderstood the gospel and that the Catholic magisterium did preserve the gospel?

That seems to be a pretty good example of the law of the excluded middle. There are lots of other possibilities. How about the Catholic church (I don't see the bishops playing a major role here) did a good job preserving the gospel but corrupted certain aspects. The Protestants critiqued some of those aspects but made other mistakes.

In the earlier history of the Church, all heretics thought that they were right and the Church was wrong. What makes you special, so that you have it right (unlike all the other heretics who lived in the first 1500 years of the Church), and the Church this time has it wrong?

Ah well... Are we so sure all the other "heretics" were wrong in everything and the church right in everything? Again this is a case of law of the excluded middle. I certainly don't think the church was right in asserting that one could not have a society with freedom of belief and that mass depopulation was the right strategy with regard to the Cathars. I'd agree with Saint Dominic that many of their ideas were valuable and should be made part of the faith.