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

Monday, October 27, 2008

"That they may be one, just as We are one"


The Cestello Annunciation
Sandro Botticelli (1489)

I just returned from the annual American Maritain Association conference, which was held in Boston this year. This year's conference was excellent. And Boston is beautiful this time of year, as all the trees are in their prime. At this conference I was especially impressed by the papers given by Dr. Lawrence Feingold, a convert to Catholicism in 1989, currently teaching for Ave Maria University's Institute for Pastoral Studies. His dissertation The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters is being published by Sapientia Press, I believe.

What is the significance of the Annunciation? It is the moment of the incarnation, when Christ takes on human nature, and becomes man, with a human body and a human soul. Meditating on the incarnation helps us understand that Christ's Mystical Body (Rom 12; 1 Cor 10:17, 1 Cor 12, Eph 4, Col 3:15), the Church, must be a visible Body, that is, a unified hierarchical organization. That is significant because I occasionally receive a comment that reflects a rather common point of view. The comment runs something like this:

Your blog is about unity among Christians. But you and people who think like you are precisely the problem. You make people think that Christians are divided, when in actuality all Christians are already united. You are just choosing to see Christians as divided. We choose to worship differently, in different denominations, and in different styles, but that doesn't mean that we're divided. We're all Christians; we all love Jesus, and we're all united. What you refer to as divisions are merely variations, a kind of diversity within a spiritual unity. You are mistaking diversity for division.

Here's my short reply. That a deep and sincere love for Jesus can be found in each of the different denominations and traditions goes without saying. But Christ founded a visible Church (one hierarchically organized Body), with visible authorities (i.e. Peter, James, John, etc.). It wasn't the case in the first century that individual Christians could worship however they wanted, with whomever they wanted, while remaining in the Church. St. Clement of Rome (d. 99 AD) writes:

"The Apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the Apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe."

Just as Christ had been sent by the Father, and as the Apostles had received their orders from Christ, so the bishops whom the Apostles appointed received their orders from the Apostles.

And St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107 AD) writes:

"Let all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father, and [follow] the priests, as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Apart from the bishop, let no one perform any of the functions that pertain to the Church. Let that Eucharist be held valid which is offered by the bishop or by one to whom the bishop has committed this charge."

If believers wished to be Christians (i.e. true followers of Christ), they had to believe what Christ's Apostles taught, and worship as the Apostles taught, and submit to the decisions of the Apostles (e.g. Acts 15). When the Apostles ordained bishops to succeed them, these bishops received authority from the Apostles, as the Apostles had received authority from Christ, to teach and govern the Church in the Apostles' (and Christ's) name. They held the authoritative interpretation of the Apostles' teachings and the Church's doctrines. To reject these bishops was to reject the Apostles, because the choosing and authorizing of these bishops was also part of the Apostles' words and deeds. These bishops then ordained bishops to succeed them, and so on. To separate from the Apostles, or to separate from the bishops whom the Apostles had ordained, or the bishops whom they had ordained, was to be in schism. And that has remained true from that time until the present. Schism is only intelligible in the context of apostolic succession. Apart from apostolic succession, there is no principled difference between division and diversity.

To be in complete unity, therefore, we all need to be in the same Church, the very Church that Christ founded. Christ founded only one Church (Matthew 16:18), for Christ has only one Body, one Bride. If we disagree about doctrine, or disagree about worship, or disagree about what the Church is and which persons are the rightful leaders of the Church, then we are not as united as Jesus wants us to be, as seen in His prayer in John 17. He wants us to be perfectly one, as He and the Father are perfectly one. If all these various denominations that disagree with each other are not in schism, then schism is no longer possible. Yet schism is something that the Apostles and the fathers forbid. So an ecclesiology without the possibility of schism cannot be a true ecclesiology. I have written about this in more detail in the following posts:

The Sacrilege of Schism

Branches or Schisms?

Branches or Schisms? 2

Branches or Schisms? 3

Schism from a Gnostic Point of View

Christ Founded a Visible Church

Marriage and "spiritual unity"

Unity and Mere Christianity

Church and Jesus are Inseparable

Dodos, Passenger Pigeons, Schisms


16 comments:

Andrew McCallum said...

Bryan,

As I'm sure you know, Evangelical churches have many ex-Catholics in attendance. One of things that these folks have yearned for is a unity that is often not present in Catholicism. I am not speaking of the institutional unity that you do, but rather the unity of mind and heart that ought to be present in a local church. I don't want to say that institutional unity is of no importance but administrative unity that does not reflect a true unity of faith and practice in not at the essence of Christian unity.

I have a friend who is about as serious and conservative Catholic as you could ever find. He bemoans the fact that his family is one of the very few Catholic families he knows in his congregation that is consistently faithful to the teachings of the RCC (and this in a conservative diocese from what my conservative RC friends tell me). His problem is just the problem of so many Catholics some who stay in the RCC and others who leave. The RCC is an institutionally unified group of disunified congregations. The term "Catholic" could mean just about anything given the current state of catechesis and discipline in the RCC. You get all of the liberals, conservatives, cafeteria Catholics, and various odd strains of syncretistic RC sects all calling themselves "Catholic" and none of them being disciplined. I just cannot see that this situation reflects the kind of unity we find in Scriptures or the Early Church. The only kind of institutional unity that is of value is one that supports a true unity of belief and practice.

I am concerned with unity in my congregation and God has blessed us with unity. I don't want to disparage your love of worldwide Christian unity, but for me, the responsibility I have is for the congregation I have been placed in. It seems to me that Catholics need to place more focus on the unity of belief and practice in their own congregation or the call for universal unity will fall on deaf ears.

Principium Unitatis said...

Hello Andrew,

Thanks for your comment. I'm not at all denying that many Catholics (who are still attending mass) are not united in heart and mind with the Catholic magisterium. This is a serious problem. There is a 'get the log out of your eye' sort of response that a Protestant can give to a Catholic. I concede that, and acknowledge it.

Here's how I would respond to that. I cannot justify doing wrong by pointing to others who are doing wrong. I cannot justify remaining in schism by pointing to other people who are in schism or heresy. I have to do what is right, regardless of what other people are doing. That's a basic principle of ethics, and it is true in Christianity as well. We cannot stand before the Judgment Seat and point to other people to justify our wrong actions.

Likewise, the Protestant separation from the Catholic Church cannot be justified by pointing to nominal or lukewarm or dissenting Catholics. The question of whether or not Protestants are in schism, and should return to the Church that Christ founded does not therefore depend on what nominal or dissenting Catholics are doing.

I do beg to differ with a couple things you say. First, if the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded, then if people leave the Catholic Church because they want more unity, they will not find it. You can't get more unity by forming or joining a division. That's a basic metaphysical principle. True unity of heart and mind can only be found under the rightful shepherds Christ has appointed. The seeming unity of heart and mind we find in various Protestant communities is an illusion; it is an illusion because they have undergone separation after separation in order to isolate themselves from everyone else who disagrees with them. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is a like big family with all the intra-family squabbles under the same roof.

Second, it is just not true that the term 'Catholic' could mean just about anything. It means what the Magisterium says it means. Anyone who doesn't understand that, is not Catholic. Just because someone claims to be Catholic doesn't mean that that person is Catholic, just as claiming to be the President of the US doesn't mean that one is necessarily the President of the US.

I just cannot see that this situation reflects the kind of unity we find in Scriptures or the Early Church.

Surely you have read Corinthians. Surely you know that even the Apostles quarrelled among themselves. This idea that the Church ceases to be the Church when there is quarreling or disagreement within her, is the sort of error made by the Montanists, Novatians, and Donatists. We can justifiably separate from the Church, they argued, when the Church is not as holy or perfect as it should be. But two wrongs don't make a right. Separation from the Church (with all its warts) isn't justified by the imperfections of the sinners in the Church. He who tries to make a new Church than the one Christ founded is denying Christ, denying His promise to be with His Church until the end of the age, and to lead and guide her into all truth. The muddy Jordan is just that, muddy. But that's where Naaman was required to dip seven times.

The only kind of institutional unity that is of value is one that supports a true unity of belief and practice

If you were the one who had the authoritative determination of what kind of institutional unity is of value, then this objection would carry some weight. But we don't get to determine specifically how the Church is governed, whether this person or that person should be excommunicated or otherwise disciplined. That is a democratic way of thinking, and Christ didn't found a democracy. (Even if it were a democracy, schism wouldn't be justified when we happened to be in the minority vote.)

the responsibility I have is for the congregation I have been placed in

Couldn't any schismatic in history have said the same thing? In other words, it seems to me that such a claim begs the question, assuming the contrary of precisely what my post is arguing, namely that Christ founded a visible Church. If at the age of 20, I suddenly 'came to my senses', so to speak, and found myself in the Jehovah's Witnesses, I couldn't justify remaining there by stating that my responsibility is for the congregation I have been placed in. Then no one who is in schism could ever leave the schism and come back to the Church.

So these things stand out to me. Schism is not justified by pointing to the others who are also in schism. Furthermore, schism is not justified by the dissent and public sins of sinners in the Church. Third, remaining in schism is not justified by already being in schism. So, the fundamental question here relative to my post is this: What is schism. If you deny that Christ founded a visible Church, then there is no longer such a thing as schism; there are merely branches. But the disappearance of schism should concern us, when the disappearance is by defining unity down, rather than by achieving actual unity. (See my post titled "Dodos, Passenger Pigeons, Schisms".)

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Andrew McCallum said...

Likewise, the Protestant separation from the Catholic Church cannot be justified by pointing to nominal or lukewarm or dissenting Catholics.

Bryan,

I don’t want to justify what I am doing by what some Catholics in general are doing. Let me also say that I don’t want to pick holes in Catholicism in general. But I do think that RCC practice says something about your points on unity. I have heard you ask the question about what would it take for Protestants to come back to Rome (or words to that affect) so I take this to mean you are interested in Protestant reactions to what you say. So what I am writing here is my reaction.

Second, it is just not true that the term 'Catholic' could mean just about anything. It means what the Magisterium says it means.

Let me draw this analogy. Let’s say I were to meet a leader of a country who talked to me about what a law abiding country he rules and points me out to many books of laws that the people are to obey. But if it were true that these laws were not in general enforced than I think you would not blame me for concluding that this was not in fact a law abiding country since law breakers could live with impunity. Their law could be said to be mostly form and no substance. So likewise you point me to the RCC law (the Magisterium) and my reaction to this is that there all sorts of Catholics who thumb their nose at this law in so many ways with impunity. Just as in Protestantism, Catholicism has its liberals, pro-choice warriors, liberation theologians (still very big in the RCC in South America), and so on. So our reaction is that this is a religion that is governed by a Magisterium largely in theory alone. It’s to a large degree form with no substance. The Hans Kungs of Catholicism, just like in Protestantism, continue to exist in the RCC. The difference is that in Protestantism we separate from those who deny Christ. This seems to me to be basic to Christian unity. What kind of a unity is it when those who affirm Christ are “united” with those who deny Christ? So when someone tells me that they are Catholic this in practice defines nothing. These laws only govern the Catholic when and if they feel like submitting.

I don’t think you should compare the Donatists/Novationists with today’s liberals in the RCC or many of leaders in the RCC at the time of the Reformation. And I am not speaking about quarrels over difficult doctrinal matters. I am talking about both laity and clergy who are in complete moral and/or theological rejection of even basic Christian principles of theology and practice.

So, the fundamental question here relative to my post is this: What is schism. If you deny that Christ founded a visible Church, then there is no longer such a thing as schism; there are merely branches.

I’m not sure I really want to utilize the RCC technical definition for schism since I’m not Catholic. You know that we do not deny a visible church but neither do we define it with the kind of precision that the RCC does. If the visible Church is all of those who are in communion with Rome then I don’t know how we get away from the fact that unity means nothing because you can reject Rome’s rule but still be in communion with Rome. My point is that you are driving at one aspect of unity to the exclusion of others.

If you were the one who had the authoritative determination of what kind of institutional unity is of value, then this objection would carry some weight.

I think you and I are both in the same boat here. But we both have to make assessments on whether the Church that Christ established in consonant with what Rome is today.

Couldn't any schismatic in history have said the same thing?

Yes, certainly. My pointing out the unity of heart and mind of so many Evangelical communions is not meant to justify their existence. True unity of mind and heart is not a sufficient condition but it is a necessary condition. I am pointing out that the RCC congregation that lacks such unity does not possess a necessary condition or so it seems to me.

My contention is that the person who leaves an RCC congregation or a Protestant congregation where there is theological ignorance, downright heresy, moral laxity and then joins an Evangelical communion where all of these things are not tolerated is in a better situation. This person has found basic Christian unity that was lacking in their old congregation. I think what this person has found is at the heart of Christian unity and what you are speaking of as institutional unity is only of value when it supports this basic unity. It seems to me that in so many cases in the history of the RCC the drive for institutional unity waged war against this unity which characterized the apostolic and post-apostolic churches.

Rene'e said...

The Catholic Church does not support:

Women as Priests/Deacons

Divorce

Abortion

Birth Control

Active Homosexuality

Living together before marriage

Premarital Relations

Artificial insemination

The Catholic Church teaches of venial sin and mortal sin.


The Catholic Church excommunicates Catholics for remarriage without annulments and abortion.

All of the above are considered to be the “rights” of every individual in America, and most of the world.
There are many Christian denominations who support one or more of the above actions, without opposing a consequence upon the individual. Most Christian denominations do not have formal face to face confession which would be necessary in the Catholic Church for anyone participating in the above actions, or who would honestly admit to a Priest of their involvement or silent support of the above issues. Few people have this humility and others refuse to believe that these are sins at all, because so many other Christians do not consider them to be. Some Christian denominations have did away with Sin altogether. Not all Christians, but there are variances among them on different subjects and concepts of sin, justification , sanctification, Heaven and Hell.

This has been my experience of Catholics who leave the Church for other Christian denominations. It is not “Unity” they are looking for as much as it is a “pass” on Sin that they seek and find within other branches of Christianity which is a unity but a different type altogether.

I agree with Brian and the Church schism is different. It is not simply denying the Church teachings and leaving for another, but actually changing and creating their own Churches and new teachings to the contrary.

Principium Unitatis said...

Andrew,

Again, thanks for your comments. It seems to me, after reading through your comments, that what is causing the conceptual divide between us has to do with one fundamental point of ecclesiology. You write:

You know that we do not deny a visible church but neither do we define it with the kind of precision that the RCC does.

I have argued here that the Protestant affirmation of the visibility of the Church is incompatible with the Protestant rejection of the necessity of institutional unity. So, the position of Protestants who affirm that there is a visible Church, according to my argument, is equivalent to that of those Protestants who deny that there is a visible Church. According to my argument, the difference between them is only semantic.

And if one's ecclesiological position is equivalent to that of those who deny the visibility of the Church, then, such an ecclesiology has no conceptual room for schism.

There is a difference between the possession of authority and the exercise of that authority. Jesus tells the people that because the scribes and Pharisees sit on the seat of Moses, they should be obeyed, even though their actions do not conform to their teaching. Jesus is showing here that the possession of authority (and thus our obligation to conform to that authority) cannot be nullified by pointing out failures in the living out or exercise of that authority. That's why looking at dissenting Catholics and concluding that "this is a religion that is governed by a Magisterium largely in theory alone" is not a logically valid inference. The presence of dissenting Catholics does not turn actual possession of magisterial authority into merely theoretical authority (since whatever is merely theoretical exists only in minds). It shows, at most, that this authority is not being exercised to the degree we think it should.

I remember that one of the things that made it difficult for me to become Catholic was that Ted Kennedy is Catholic. How could I share the Eucharist with someone like him, who holds the position he does on abortion, etc.? In prayer about this, I realized that this was not for me to determine. This was between his bishop and himself. My responsibility was to be in the Church Christ founded. I remembered the story in the Bible when Shimei was throwing stones and curses at David (2 Samuel 16), and David's men wanted to kill him, but David forbade them. I wanted Ted Kennedy to be excommunicated before I would become Catholic, but I was being like David's men. I do not know why Kennedy's bishop tolerates it, but I will trust God. God is merciful, and sees hearts when I do not. God is patient, when I am not. Perhaps there is a reason, I thought, in God's providence, that God in His patience is working in him. It is not for me to judge him, or let him be a stumbling block to me. I must pray for him, and forgo my schism, and entrust him to the mercy of God and the Church.

Your analogy to the 'law abiding country' is not a good analogy, because my claim is not that the Catholic Church is an institution in which only orthodox Catholics are present. My claim rather is that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, and that to be separated from her is to be in [at least material] schism, and that to fulfill the prayer of Jesus in John 17, we have to heal these schisms and be reconciled to the Church that Christ founded.

The Hans Kungs of Catholicism, just like in Protestantism, continue to exist in the RCC. The difference is that in Protestantism we separate from those who deny Christ. This seems to me to be basic to Christian unity. What kind of a unity is it when those who affirm Christ are “united” with those who deny Christ?

Yes, you separate from those who deny Christ, but since the wheat and tares are together, when you separate from the tares, you also separate from the wheat. Leaving the Church to get away from the sinners within it is like an arm cutting itself off from the body to get away from cancer cells in the body. In other words, when you leave, where do you go? Christ doesn't have two brides. The reason why you don't see any problem 'leaving' is because you don't actually believe you are leaving. And the reason you believe you aren't actually leaving, is because you don't actually believe in the visible Church (even though you claim to believe in the visible Church). See my point above about the visible Church.

My reference to Montanism/Novationism/Donatism had to do with [otherwise devout] Protestants who try to justify remaining separated from the Catholic Church by appealing to sinners and dissenters within the Catholic Church.

If the visible Church is all of those who are in communion with Rome then I don’t know how we get away from the fact that unity means nothing because you can reject Rome’s rule but still be in communion with Rome.

Well you can't. But the Magisterium, like Christ, is patient and merciful and longsuffering, not wishing for any to perish. She is like Peter, who wrote: "regard the patience of our Lord as salvation" (2 Peter 3:15). We are not so patient as Christ. But He is patient, giving us time and opportunity for repentance and salvation.

Institutional unity does not exclude doctrinal and sacramental unity; it forms the precondition for them. That is true even when there are dissenters in the Church. Those orthodox Catholics who affirm what the Church teaches, are most truly and perfectly united: in government, in doctrine, and in worship. That three-fold unity is the perfect unity that Christ wants all Christians to have with one another. (See my "The Sacrilege of Schism".)

You write:

My contention is that the person who leaves an RCC congregation or a Protestant congregation where there is theological ignorance, downright heresy, moral laxity and then joins an Evangelical communion where all of these things are not tolerated is in a better situation. This person has found basic Christian unity that was lacking in their old congregation. I think what this person has found is at the heart of Christian unity and what you are speaking of as institutional unity is only of value when it supports this basic unity.

I think this gets to the heart of our disagreement. You think that institutional unity is only of value when it supports unity of "heart and mind". I think that true unity of heart and mind is impossible when in schism from the institution that Christ founded. So the difference between us, it seems, goes back to the implicit denial, in the Protestant position, that Christ founded a visible Church.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Rene'e said...

Bryan,

The Wheat and Tares statement is important. Jesus did not say that His Church would have all Saints. He said there would be sinners and saints together in his Church. This also shows man’s free will and willingness or non-willingness to accept God’s Grace.

Andrew,

The Church does not send dissenting Catholics away, and continues to allow them to publicly state that they are Catholics, because allowing dissenting Catholics to have access to the Sacraments and the Church along with the other Catholics praying on their behalf, allows God’s Grace to be open to them, if they should have a conversion of heart. The Church realizes that this is not a one-time event in ones life, but an on going process. The concept of Sin and what constitutes grave sin and culpability is important also.

The Wheat and Tares are yet another identifying mark, which Jesus gave us to recognize his Church.

Andrew McCallum said...

Bryan,

For a start, what I was trying to get us to focus on was not dissenting Catholics but rather the posture towards them by the RCC. And secondly I’m trying to persuade you that my position is reasonable rather than give you an iron clad philosophical proof. In so many cases Catholics present their concept of unity to Protestants and I think these Catholic folks have sometimes not really wrapped their mind around why the typical Protestant does not see their position. So I’m trying to present what I think is a reasonable inference from what I see with respect to the inaction of RCC authority. So again, if I find that a given ecclesiastical or civil ruler has a set of rules but allows for law breakers to live unhindered in his community then I think I can reasonably conclude that his laws do not carry any real force. It is just the form of law but not its substance. And so, if in my case this ruler is a bishop in the RCC I don’t think that this inference is any less reasonable.

The question of unity seems to be often defined in RCC thinking in a very one-sided fashion. The unity often becomes whether or not someone is in communion with Rome despite evidence of Scriptures and the Early Church it was much more than this. As an example of this, when the Pope John Paul visited Mexico he was bemoaning the fact that so many Latin Americans had left Rome for Evangelical communions. As you know JPII was very concerned about this breakdown in unity. But his statements left many Evangelicals scratching their heads since so many of the Catholics who converted in LA were far away from anything remotely Catholic or orthodox. Surely the Evangelical thinks, there must be more to unity than just whether one is in commune with Rome. These converts are living lives where they are trying to act like Christians now and they are Nicean, etc. They have come into the communion of faith in ways that even serious Catholics would affirm are the characteristics of Christian faith. Surely such characteristics are necessary conditions for Christianity even if they are not sufficient ones. But still we are told that no, these folks are leaving Rome so they are creating disunity.

I think that sometimes today just as in past eras of Catholic theology, the kind of metaphysical principles you speak of above end up becoming the dominant force in the thinking of Catholic theologians. It seems to me that there is a distinct lesson from history that institutional unity often wars against Christian principles and that sometimes separation is necessary. This is true of civil and family governments as well as ecclesiastical ones. The conclusion that the Church must have one earthly boss no matter how badly she acts and no matter how wicked this boss becomes (i.e. Renaissance popes) is not something that can be derived from early Christian theory or practice that I can see. It does make sense in a certain philosophical sense given the prevailing Medieval notions of such metaphysical matters, but should such considerations be the driving force? I have no issue with the proper role that philosophy plays, but in cases like with the Scholastics, there is a problem when the handmaiden calls the shots and the queen acquiesces.

Andrew McCallum said...

Rene,

I understand your point, but I think it undermines Christian practice and unity. Take a look for example at what the Bible says we should do with someone who is living in fornication. Do we discipline them or leave them alone?

The disciple of sinners is not just for the purity of the Church. The idea is that the sinner will come back. I don't think someone who defies Church teaching in doctrine or practice is being done any favors by allowing them to continue in communion as if nothing had happened.

If the Church practices the same things as the world and there is no discipline then the Church becomes no different than the world.

Rene'e said...

Andrew,

"Take a look for example at what the Bible says we should do with someone who is living in fornication. Do we discipline them or leave them alone?"

First the church needs to become aware of the fornication, before anything can be done. If someone should make the Priest aware that they are living in fornication,which I personally have known some Catholics to do,usually when preparing for a Catholic Marriage, the Church tells them, they have to go to confession and live separate from each other abstaining from sex until marriage.
Or they can not be married Catholic and recieve communion. I know a few people who left the Church because of this alone. They disagreed with the Church discipline.But, they are still Catholic. Disagreeing with the Church does not make one not Catholic.

Another example would be a family. Every family has 'rules' that each member must follow, for themselves and the other members in the families greater good. If one member disobeys the 'rules' and disrupts the household unity by causing scandal. Discipline would be necessary to restore Unity within the family. The disobedient member is still a member of the family. This does not cease.

If the disobedient member does not comply with the discipline, then he is free to leave the family home and take residence somewhere else. This does not change his status as a family member,but it does disturb the family unity, but does not sever it. If he should want to return as the Prodigal son did, he will be welcomed, but will still need to confess and repent before being allowed to recieve communion. This is all that is necessary to return to the Church (family) home.

There are Lapsed Catholics and Practicing Catholics. Both are Catholics, this is where the confusion happens. Lapsed Catholics disagree with Church teachings and profess to be a Catholic, they may attend a Mass or two, they do not formally tell the Church or Priest of their disagreement, views, or sins, but tell others of them, and give the false impression to others this is how Catholics behave and discipline is not used. When the truth is and most lasped and practicing Catholics know this, is that if one is not in communion with the Church teachings and living in a state of sin, they should not be recieving the Eucharist until after they go to confession. Even so, they are still required to attend Mass.

Rene'e said...

Andrew,

Something else to think about in regards to discipline within the Church. When reading the Prodigal Son, people sometimes focus on the retuning son as the message Jesus was teaching about, but there is also a message to be learned from the older son and his feelings upon his brothers return.

Peace

Principium Unitatis said...

Andrew,

If an argument by which a position is reached is not valid (i.e. the conclusion does not follow from the premises), then the position is not reasonable, ceteris paribus. You are arguing from the fact that many Catholic dissenters are not disciplined, to the conclusion that the Church's laws (i.e. canon law) do "not carry any real force". That's a non sequitur. Therefore, your position is not reasonable. There are other factors that can explain the data in your premise. That's why the premise does not necessitate the conclusion.

Recently here in St. Louis, Archbishop Burke exercised his authority as bishop and excommunicated a number of persons who were causing scandal in the Church. He did so on the basis of canon law. Those persons were truly excommunicated, on the basis of his actual authority and the actual authority of those laws. If your position were correct, then Archbishop Burke could not have done what he did.

I agree that unity is more than merely being formally in communion with Rome. If two Catholics share the same doctrine as Rome, but do not love each other, obviously they are falling short in unity. But you see, I hope, that if all Catholics are in full communion with the successor of St. Peter, then they cannot be divided among themselves in doctrine, sacraments, or magisterial authority. They can only be divided among themselves if one or more are *not* in full communion with Rome. Two things in full communion with a third must be in full communion with each other.

You say that many of the Catholics who converted to Evangelicalism were "far away from anything remotely Catholic or orthodox". Then why do you call them "Catholics"? If they were Catholics, then they were not far away from anything remotely Catholic, even if they were not well catechized.

Now they are "Nicean"? If you mean that they have a better understanding of the Trinity and the Catholic doctrine of Christ, then perhaps that is so. But insofar as they have left the Catholic Church, they have rejected what the Creed teaches about the Church: "We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church", because the Creed is not talking about the set of all the elect or the set of all the embodied believers. You are seemingly trying to justify these Catholics leaving the Church by claiming that in Evangelical communities they can become more Catholic. You don't become more Catholic by leaving the Catholic Church and joining or forming a schism. You can't justify making or joining a schism by claiming that you would grow more spiritually in doing so. That's precisely the philosophical pragmatism of the 'church-growth' mentality; if it works, do it. That's Cain's 'sacrifice' over Abel's. That's the mentality of Nadab and Abihu. It is the mentality of the Montanists, the Novatians and the Donatists -- we know better than the Church how to "do religion", and we can help Christ out by forming a schism to make better Christians than the ones being formed in the Church that He founded.

that institutional unity often wars against Christian principles and that sometimes separation is necessary

Only someone with a gnostic ecclesiology could think such a thing. In other words, you have not yet faced the *fundamental* problem with your position that I pointed out in my previous comment. You claim to believe in a visible Church, but your ecclesiology is equivalent to that of those who deny that there is a visible Church. So you don't actually believe in a visible Church (even if you use the semantics of 'visible' Church). That's why you think schism is sometimes justified, because in your view, institutional unity is merely accidental, not essential to the Church.

Unity is not an accidental mark of the Church, but an essential mark of the Church. The Catholic can't leave the Church, because he would say the same thing that Peter said to Jesus: "To whom shall we go?" There is no where else to go. But that is not a question that troubles the gnostic (i.e. the Montanist, the Novatian, the Donatist), because the Church is, for him, wherever he is, wherever he goes, even if he separates from communion with Peter and the Apostles. The gnostic eschews matter, and that's why he has no regard for Apostolic succession. He has "the Spirit of Christ", or "the doctrine of Christ". He doesn't need matter. He can make his own sacraments, his own Body and Blood of Christ. The Catholic knows that that is impossible. So only a non-Catholic can think as you do about schism. You are bringing your Protestant presuppositions into your evaluation of the Catholic Church, instead of doing a clean gestalt shift in viewing the Catholic side from the Catholic perspective.

Catholics believe that Christ founded a visible Church, and that it is His Body, and there is no other Body. We don't deny that there are "many elements of sanctification and of truth" found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements." Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church." (CCC 819) But at the same time, we also believe that "it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained." (CCC 816)

You seem to be skeptical about the metaphysical principle that unity does not come from division. You have two other alternatives. Either unity and division are separate ultimate principles (that would be the equivalent of Manicheanism), or division is primary and unity is a privation of division. Which is it? If you want to eschew philosophy altogeher, what about the philosophy of sola scriptura itself? Does it not concern you that this philosophy is a presupposition that you are bringing to the interpretive process? How are you deciding which philosophies to be skeptical of, and which to bring to the interpretive process?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Andrew McCallum said...

Bryan,

As you know, Catholics and Protestants often think very differently about the concept of church because of the different philosophical frameworks they are coming from. It’s sort of a Nominalist/Realist debate that is applied to ecclesiology. With that in mind, what I was trying to get across is that you are giving me abstract philosophical principles when I am asking you to account for the lack of unity on the level of the individual congregation. Now you did say something relevant to my point when you talked about the about your bishop friend from St. Louis. But I have to say that the typical response I get from Catholics is more like what Renee says above. The answer generally starts with some version of, “we don’t discipline because….”

We have a Catholic bishop in Houston/Galveston who threatened to excommunicate Catholic politicians who promote abortion, but it seems abortion is one of the few things you can get disciplined for in the RCC (out of curiosity, was the St. Louis bishop disciplining people who were involved in abortion?). Anyway your bishop friend is one example where you address my point so that’s good. My response is that he is doing what he ought to do, good for him. In the Latin American case, the reason why I am saying that many congregations wouldn’t be recognized by a conservative Catholic is that many of these congregations are odd syncretistic blends of Catholic Christianity and paganism and/or humanism. One of the best known examples (because it made so much news a while back) was that of the liberation theology Catholic churches. You may have seen posters of their concept of Christ. It shows Christ dying on the cross and then rising again as a Marxist rebel with an AK-47 in his hands. The vision of Christ in these Catholic churches is something like a divinized Che Guevara.. My example here illustrates a Catholic congregation that is unified in that they are Catholics and in communion with the RCC and their bishop has not disciplined them. The formal principle of unity is there but they have lost any sense of historic Christian unity. But I could use the liberal Catholics who promote abortion or gay rights here in the US. It’s the same issue. Our perspective is that Catholic congregations which have those who deny Christ by their word and action and those who affirm Christ may be “united” in the sense that they are in a congregation that is administratively connected with Rome, but on a congregational level, they are not unified as we see such unity illustrated to us in the records of the New Testament and the Early Church. I think you need to address the outworking of unity at the congregational level if you don’t want to be seen as defending a form of unity that is just an abstract philosophical concept with no necessary outworking in the life of a given congregation.

I’m going to quit with this, Bryan. The topic is deep and convoluted and has so many facets to it. It seems like it is a topic that cannot be handled adequately without writing much more than probably either of us has time for. I will read your response if you write one.

Also, I don’t want to be seen as someone who is bashing the Catholic Church. But I’m not sure how you have discussions about Catholic or Protestant churches without getting into their respective problems. I hope you don't think I'm being too unfair in the examples I used.

BTW, I really liked your abortion post above

Cheers for now…..

George Weis said...

YIKES! What a huge post and what interesting discussion has unfolded. I have been away too long, and am not at a place to add anything to the discussion. Thank you Brian for another thought provoking post. I am always inspired by your heart. You are one person who makes the decision to unify seem very appealing, simply because of your heart.

I sincerely do think very well of your personal motivation. I am still at odds with myself... the process of sifting is so difficult, and involves much patience and endurance. Again, thank you, and thank you Andrew for the questions posed. I think this was a more than worth while thread to read through!

Blessings to each of you for the sake of Christ!

-g-

Rene'e said...

Andrew,

Agree or disagree, Jesus specifically stated let the wheat and tares grow together. It is the Father who will separate them. He specifically used the Prodigal Son as an example of forgiveness, and his brother as a guide to show the rest of us we should not be jealous upon his return. Judas is another example showing a Christian who betrayed the love of Jesus.

If the Church excommunicates every Catholic who is in sin without giving them the opportunity to confess and repent, or for God's grace to convert their hearts, (Tares and Prodigal Sons) they would be disobeying the Lord. In cases of grave mortal sin (Judas) such as abortion, then excommunication is necessary, not as a punishment, but for medicinal purposes.I am not talking of Heresy, that would be different, I am speaking of Catholics who are in unrepented sin. Those who are excommunicated are not allowed to partake of the Eucharist and are cut off from the community, but not the Churches prayers.

Catholics good and bad, are united in One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, they are united by everything they profess in the Creed, common worship, seven sacraments, and most of all the Eucharist. Yes, there are wheat and tares in the Church, there will always be. Jesus did not say differently.

Principium Unitatis said...

Andrew,

I agree that there is a difference in *philosophy*, and I agree that it has to do with realism and nominalism. But that's just what should concern us, *if* philosophy is something only on the backburner, so to speak, in our ecumenical discussions. In other words, if philosophy is what is dividing us, then we should be talking about philosophy. The problem is, in my opinion, that we are divided philosophically, but because of sola scriptura we just don't talk about philosophy, or consciously acknowledge the role it is playing in our division. If you want to know why there are so many dissenting Catholics, then read a book like McInerny's What Went Wrong with Vatican II.

A good bishop generally disciplines someone when the sin is made public, and it is causing scandal. If the bishop doesn't know about the sin, then the sinner can't be disciplined. I don't know whether you are correct about these so-called 'syncretistic congregations. I have never seen one, or experienced one. I surely wouldn't let rumors of such things keep me out of the Church. If I found out about one, I would go talk with the bishop about it. I believe that Catholics who deny the Church's teachings (and I'm not talking about faith seeking understanding, but outright denial) have excommunicated themselves, whether they know it or not.

I think you need to address the outworking of unity at the congregational level if you don’t want to be seen as defending a form of unity that is just an abstract philosophical concept with no necessary outworking in the life of a given congregation.

I am concerned with what is true, not with how I'm seen. The true unity I'm talking about is not an "abstract philosophical concept"; it is real, even when dissenting Catholics remove themselves from it by their dissent.

I’m going to quit with this, Bryan. The topic is deep and convoluted and has so many facets to it. It seems like it is a topic that cannot be handled adequately without writing much more than probably either of us has time for. I will read your response if you write one.

Ok, that's fine. I appreciate your openness and cordiality.

Also, I don’t want to be seen as someone who is bashing the Catholic Church. But I’m not sure how you have discussions about Catholic or Protestant churches without getting into their respective problems. I hope you don't think I'm being too unfair in the examples I used.

I'm not taking you as bashing the Catholic Church, not at all. I think I understand your concern. I came into the Church right at the end of the sex-scandal, so I know what it's like to look at the Church and see dirt. I am not shying away from the dirt. But I knew enough about Montantism and especially Donatism to know that dirt is a red herring. There will always be dirt in the Church, I suspect, until Christ returns. We each have to do what is right, regardless of what others have done and are doing. Does liberation theology in certain parishes in Central America make the Catholic Church into something other than the Church that Christ founded? I don't see any reason to think so. The Church has a lot of room for purification. But it is still the Church, even where it is sullied and soiled with infighting, dissension and disobedience. The gates of hell cannot prevail against her.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Andrew McCallum said...

Bryan,

I agree with you that we need to talk about philosophy. The typical Evangelical knows nothing of such things. I think Os Guiness said it well when he noted that we don't see our environment because we see with it. I was on a loop once where the conept of "church" was being discussed. The Catholics talked about the universal Church while the Protestants spoke about their individual congregation. We were having a One and the Many sort of philosophical debate but most everyone from both sides didn't see it.

I've read some of McInerny's general text on philosohpy which is very good. I remember seeing the title you recommend so I will go back and look it up.

Cheers for now....