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

Monday, December 31, 2007

One year blog birthday

Today is the one-year birthday of this blog. May the Lord continue to eliminate all schisms, and bring His bride into perfect unity.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Britain has become a 'Catholic country'

According to this article in the Telegraph, there are now more practicing Catholics in Britain than practicing Anglicans. That follows yesterday's news of Tony Blair's conversion to Catholicism. From a Catholic point of view, it is not entirely surprising that Anglicanism is in decline. In 1896 Pope Leo XIII ruled in Apostolicae Curae that "ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void". Any organization lacking valid orders must eventually collapse. Those who reject Apostolicae Curae to become or remain Anglican are implicitly determining that the [Anglican] Archbishop of Canterbury (or whichever Anglican bishop in Africa under whom they have placed themselves) has more authority than the episcopal successor of St. Peter. One of the factors leading me out of Anglicanism was that I could not justify the claim that some Anglican bishop has more authority than the bishop of Rome.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization: Ecumenical Implications

Excerpted from "Doctrinal Note on Some Aspect of Evangelization" released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on December 3, 2007.

12. From its beginnings, the ecumenical movement has been closely connected with evangelization. Unity, in fact, is the seal of the credibility of missionary activity and so the Second Vatican Council noted with regret that the scandal of division “damages the most sacred cause of preaching”.[43] Jesus himself, on the night before his death, prayed “that they all may be one.. so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).

The mission of the Church is universal and is not restricted to specific regions of the earth. Evangelization, however, is undertaken differently according to the different situations in which it occurs. In its precise sense, evangelization is the missio ad gentes directed to those who do not know Christ. In a wider sense, it is used to describe ordinary pastoral work, while the phrase “new evangelization” designates pastoral outreach to those who no longer practice the Christian faith.[44] In addition, there is evangelization in countries where non-Catholic Christians live, including those with an ancient Christian tradition and culture. In this context, what is required is both true respect for the tradition and spiritual riches of such countries as well as a sincere spirit of cooperation. Catholics, “avoiding every form of indifferentism or confusion, as well as senseless rivalry, through a common profession of faith in God and in Jesus Christ before all peoples – insofar as this is possible – may collaborate with their separated brethren in social, cultural, technical and religious matters in accordance with the Decree on Ecumenism”.[45]

Different dimensions of the work of ecumenism can be distinguished: above all, there is listening, as a fundamental condition for any dialogue, then, theological discussion, in which, by seeking to understand the beliefs, traditions and convictions of others, agreement can be found, at times hidden under disagreement. Inseparably united with this is another essential dimension of the ecumenical commitment: witness and proclamation of elements which are not particular traditions or theological subtleties, but which belong rather to the Tradition of the faith itself.

Ecumenism does not have only an institutional dimension aimed at “making the partial communion existing between Christians grow towards full communion in truth and charity”.[46] It is also the task of every member of the faithful, above all by means of prayer, penance, study and cooperation. Everywhere and always, each Catholic has the right and the duty to give the witness and the full proclamation of his faith. With non-Catholic Christians, Catholics must enter into a respectful dialogue of charity and truth, a dialogue which is not only an exchange of ideas, but also of gifts,[47] in order that the fullness of the means of salvation can be offered to one’s partners in dialogue.[48] In this way, they are led to an ever deeper conversion to Christ.

In this connection, it needs also to be recalled that if a non-Catholic Christian, for reasons of conscience and having been convinced of Catholic truth, asks to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, this is to be respected as the work of the Holy Spirit and as an expression of freedom of conscience and of religion. In such a case, it would not be a question of proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term.[49] As explicitly recognized in the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, “it is evident that the work of preparing and reconciling those individuals who desire full Catholic communion is of its nature distinct from ecumenical action, but there is no opposition between the two, since both proceed from the marvelous ways of God”.[50] Therefore, the work of ecumenism does not remove the right or take away the responsibility of proclaiming in fullness the Catholic faith to other Christians, who freely wish to receive it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Our Work Toward Unity Is According to the Will of Christ Our Lord"

That phrase is from Pope Benedict XVI's letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, dated November 23, 2007.

I have encountered some Christians who strongly oppose efforts toward Christian unity. They view such efforts as intrinsically and necessarily requiring sinful compromise. Their opposition, I think, may be due in large part to a limited imagination, for they seem not to have imagined any other way of achieving genuine Christian unity than through sinful compromise. We can hold out to them the possibility of a holy, passionate, unrelenting effort to achieve genuine unity with other Christians that does not require any sinful compromise. We can help them perceive the possibility that in the course of dialogue resulting from ecumenical effort of this holy type, all participating persons may come to see changes they can make in themselves that are not sinful, but are in fact obedient to Christ.

Other Christians treat ecumenical efforts as worthless or unimportant. These persons tend to think either that unity is already present and perfect, because they think Christian unity is invisible and entirely effected and perfected merely by belief in Jesus, or that true Christian unity is something that will be achieved only in heaven, and that therefore it is foolish to try to bring about Christian unity in this life. Those who think Christian unity is already present and perfect have adopted a view of Christian unity that is far short of the unity Christ prays in John 17 that His followers would have. It is a gnostic conception of unity from which all material unity has been stripped away, the barest of formal unity left remaining. No family with only that sort of unity would be thought of as unified, for it is entirely compatible with bitterness, division, separation, and fragmentation. Christians holding this notion of unity need to be shown that the unity Christ seeks for His followers is far greater than mere "belief in Jesus".

Those Christians who think that there is no point striving for Christian unity in this life should be shown that we are called by Christ to pursue unity in this present life with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, to seek to heal present schisms, and to be reconciled with our separated brothers and sisters, so that by our unity and mutual love for each other all the world will see the love of God the Father for Christ Jesus. Love cannot be perfected when we do not seek unity, for it is the very nature of love to seek unity. Therefore he who does not seek genuine unity with his separated brothers and sisters does not love them as he ought. That is the ecumenical equivalent of saying to the poor, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled". (James 2:16) Let us say instead to our separated brothers and sisters, "I come in peace; I commit myself to pursuing peace and unity together with you, for this is the will of Christ our Lord."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

St. Thomas Aquinas on faith vs. individualism

"Neither living nor lifeless faith remains in a heretic who disbelieves one article of faith.

The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it. Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will." (Summa Theologica IIa-IIae, q. v, art. 3)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

"Official of Russian Orthodox Church likes his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI"

Metropolitan Kirill, the top foreign relations official in the Russian church, recently held private talks with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. (See here.) The Reuters story can be found here.
(Reuters photo)

"Lack of Unity Between Christians Openly Contradicts the Will of Christ"

That was the title of Pope Benedict's Thursday address to the Baptist World Alliance. He was quoting from Unitatis Redintegratio. For the text of Pope Benedict's Thursday address, see here. The corresponding news story can be found here.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

"Our current Ecumenical Situation"

Cardinal Kaspar delivered this address to the cardinals on November 23, 2007.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"We Share the Same Emotions and the Same Intentions of Brotherhood"

Patriarch Bartholomew I's Letter to Vatican Delegation on November 30, the feast day of St. Andrew, the brother of St. Peter.

Monday, December 3, 2007

St. Leo the Great: Christ's foundation on Peter abides

"It is from this ultimate inexhaustible source of security that we have received strength in our apostolic task; for his activity is never relaxed. The powerful foundation upon which the whole structure of the Church rests is never shaken by the weight of the temple that presses upon it. That faith which Christ commended in the prince of the apostles remains forever unshaken. And, just as Peter's faith in Christ endures, so does Christ's foundation upon Peter. The structure of truth persists; blessed Peter retains his rock-like strength and has not abandoned the helm of the Church which he took over. Peter is called the rock; he is declared to be the foundation; he is made doorkeeper of the heavenly kingdom; he is made judge of what is to be bound or loosed, and his judgments remain valid even in heaven; in these various ways, he is assigned a rank above the others. By reflecting on the hidden meaning of these titles of his, we can come to appreciate how close he is to Christ. In our day he carries out his trust over a wider field and with greater power; he attends to every department of his duties and responsibilities in and along with him who gave him that dignity. And so, if I do anything well, if my judgment is sound, if I obtain anything from God's mercy by my daily prayer, all this is due to the achievement and the deserts of Peter; it is his power that lives on in his See, it is his prestige that reigns. This, beloved, is the outcome of that profession of faith which God the Father inspired in the apostle's heart. That declaration rose above the doubts of all merely human opinion, and took on the solidity of a rock unshaken by any outside pressure. For, in the world-wide Church, every day Peter declares: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, and every man who acknowledges the Lord is enabled to proclaim what those words mean." – St. Leo the Great (395-461 AD)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Fourth US Episcopal Bishop to Join Catholic Church

Just last week the fourth US Episcopal bishop this year announced his intention to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. See here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Spe Salvi

Pope Benedict's latest encyclical "Spe Salvi" was released today. Concerning the individualistic notion of salvation he writes:

Against this, drawing upon the vast range of patristic theology, de Lubac was able to demonstrate that salvation has always been considered a "social" reality. Indeed, the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of a "city" (cf. 11:10, 16; 12:22; 13:14) and therefore of communal salvation. Consistently with this view, sin is understood by the Fathers as the destruction of the unity of the human race, as fragmentation and division. Babel, the place where languages were confused, the place of separation, is seen to be an expression of what sin fundamentally is. Hence "redemption" appears as the reestablishment of unity, in which we come together once more in a union that begins to take shape in the world community of believers. (section 14)

See also in sections 16 and 17 what Pope Benedict says about the development of the individualistic notion of salvation.

Then later in the document he writes:

[W]e should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. (section 48)

(See also how this communal understanding of human persons affects his discussion of purgatory in sections 45-47.)

Lord Jesus, we hope for the true union of all Christians, according to the passion of Your sacred heart. Please bring to us that unity, through your Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rome or Geneva?

At the end of his book titled Justification And The New Perspectives On Paul, Guy Waters writes,
"All expressions of Christianity are on the path to one of two destinations, Rome or Geneva."
A little over a week ago, Rick Philips wrote the following:

"The axiom holds true: one is moving either in the direction of Rome or of Geneva."
Philips' post was prompted by Scott Clark's "The CRE is Not Enough?", where Clark writes:

The problem is that they are in danger of trading one form of magic for another, of trading American revivalist magic&madash;just pray this prayer and whammo x will happen‐ for a mediated magic. There's nothing wrong with Genevan robes (we wear them at OURC) and a high view of the sacraments (the confessional Reformed Churches confess that the Lord's Supper IS the "proper and natural" body and blood of Christ!). There's nothing wrong with Protestant collars (it's white and goes all the way round vs. the Roman collar that has the little tab in front; I'm amazed to see allegedly Reformed ministers going about in Roman, tab collars). Priestcraft, i.e., transubstantiation and priestly absolution ("I absolve you"), however, is just mediated magic versus revivalist immediate magic.

Here's the dilemma for Clark's position. Either nothing happens when Clark consecrates the bread and wine, or he too grants some form of 'magic'. But if he too grants some form of 'magic', then it seems arbitrary to reject priestly absolution as "mediated magic". But if nothing happens when Clark consecrates the bread and wine, then we could "do church" from home, listen to the sermon from home, and eat our own bread and wine from home. We could fulfill the requirement not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together by meeting online. That is where the pure formalism of gnosticism leads, though that is not its final destination.

But what of the Waters/Philips "axiom" that any Christian is heading either toward Geneva or Rome? Perhaps the two destinations are not so far apart. Recent books like A Faith That is Never Alone, Robert Sungenis's Not By Faith Alone and Jimmy Akin's article Justification: By Faith Alone? give reason to believe that with regard to justification, sixteenth century Geneva and Rome were not as far apart as some have suggested. Recognition of that common ground is an ecumenical benefit; it helps us avoid the mistake of assuming that our disagreement is greater than it actually is.

But if people are heading either to Rome or to Geneva, what will they find when they get there? If you go to Rome, you will find the pope. You might not like the pope. You might think he looks silly in his tall pointy hat. You might disagree with him on many theological matters. You might think he has badly misinterpreted the Bible. But you will find him there nonetheless, writing encyclicals, appointing cardinals and ordaining bishops, and generally doing what popes do when governing the Catholic Church around the world. If, however, you go to Geneva, will you find a Calvinist figurehead? A thriving Calvinist church that serves as an example to all Reformed churches around the world? No. The last census (in 2000) showed that Protestants made up only 16 percent of the canton's religious landscape, and that number is steadily dropping. See
here. Of that number, only a much smaller percentage are even practicing. There is essentially no Calvinist leadership in Geneva, no Calvinist headquarters in Geneva, no Calvinistic religion left in Geneva. There is essentially no Calvinism left in Geneva. If every Christian is either on the way to Rome or on the way to Geneva, then those on the way to Geneva are either on their way to losing religion altogether, or they are on their way to becoming something other than a Calvinist.

I have previously pointed out the many ways in which Protestantism is gnostic in its de-materialization of Christianity. In Protestantism, for example, Apostolic succession is purely formal, not material. Baptism is emasculated; it does not wash away our sins or regenerate us. In Protestantism there is no sacrament for the filling of the Holy Spirit. (This leads to a kind of Gnostic Montanism with respect to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as can be seen in the Westminster Confession of Faith I.10.) In Protestantism the Eucharist is something less than the Body and Blood of Christ. (If you're not sure; apply Pontificator's Eleventh Law.) In Protestantism, the righteousness of Christ is transferred to us purely formally (extrinsically), not materially (infused); at least that's Luther's version. In Protestantism, absolution is purely invisible and immaterial; you just pray straight to Jesus to have your sins forgiven; you do not need a priest. In Protestantism, the Church per se is invisible; only its embodied members are visible. In Protestantism icons and relics are scorned. And so on. To this list we should add one more. Protestantism has no physical center, even while some Protestants speak as though Protestantism has some kind of physical counterpart to Rome. If you believe the Church is invisible, then why pretend it has some kind of physical center or headquarters? But if you believe the Church has a physical headquarters, then why pretend it is located at Geneva? As Chesterton wrote in The Catholic Church and Conversion: "There are Catholics who are still answering Calvinists, though there are no Calvinists to answer." There is a sense in which Waters and Philips are right with respect to there being only two directions in which we can be headed: as I have argued here, either we are headed toward a deeper understanding and acceptance of the implications of Christ's incarnation (i.e. God's enfleshment in matter), which is a movement toward Rome, or we are moving toward gnosticism, i.e. a rejection in some respect or other of Christ's incarnation or its implications.) The history of heresies is filled with those who tried to sit in the middle.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Saving Ecumenicism from Itself

Avery Cardinal Dulles' latest article in First Things is titled "Saving Ecumenicism from Itself". (HT: M. Liccione)

Cardinal Dulles discusses the 'convergence method' that has been in operation in ecumenical efforts for the past fifty years. This method starts with a recognition of common ground and seeks to use that common ground in order to find and achieve greater unity (hence the name 'convergence'). While acknowledging that this method has helped to bring about greater mutual understanding and greater recognition of common ground, Cardinal Dulles notes that it tends toward a reduction to a lowest common denominator. He writes:

Dialogues conducted according to the dominant methods of the past century have tended to be reductive, and many doctrinally conservative Christians, strongly wedded to their beliefs, have abstained from ecumenical involvements for fear of doctrinal compromise. Indeed, since the 1980s, some of the churches heavily committed to ecumenical dialogue have shown anxiety about maintaining their own identity. Some observers speak of a reconfessionalization in the ecumenical landscape.

Not only do many conservative traditions oppose this reduction of the faith to a "least common denominator", so does the Catholic Church. He writes:

John Paul II consistently opposed styles of ecumenism that seemed to aim at settling for a least common denominator. In an address to the Roman Curia on June 28, 1980, he laid down the principle that "the unity of Christians cannot be sought in a 'compromise' between the various theological positions, but only in a common meeting in the most ample and mature fullness of Christian truth."

But Cardinal Dulles expresses concern that the 'convergence method' of achieving ecumenical unity has nearly exhausted its potential. He writes:

And yet, valuable though it was, the convergence method was not without limitations. Each new round of dialogue raised expectations for the future. The next dialogue, at the price of failure, was under pressure to come up with new agreements. The process would at some point reach a stage at which it had delivered about as much as it could. It would eventually run up against hard differences that resisted elimination by this method of convergence. ... For some years now, I have felt that the method of convergence, which seeks to harmonize the doctrines of each ecclesial tradition on the basis of shared sources and methods, has nearly exhausted its potential. It has served well in the past and may still be useful, especially among groups that have hitherto been isolated from the conversation. But to surmount the remaining barriers we need a different method, one that invites a deeper conversion on the part of the churches themselves.

Why does he think that this method has nearly exhausted its potential? Because the various participants are relying on "different normative sources" or "different exegetical methods". He writes:

But to the extent that churches rely on different normative sources or different exegetical methods, the dialogues have been less ­fruitful.

That is where (in my opinion) Cardinal Dulles puts his finger right on the fundamental point of disagreement: the issue of authority. In order to advance ecumenical discussion to the next level, it is no longer adequate to leave our 'presuppositions' (or meta-level beliefs) under the table. We need to take the conversation to the meta-level questions. And the chief of these, in my opinion, has to do with authority. It requires us to focus on questions such as these:

  • Whose determination of the canon of Scripture is authoritative?
  • Whose interpretation of Scripture is authoritative?
  • Which councils are authoritative and on what grounds?
  • What is the source of ecclesial authority, and how is it acquired?
  • What authority do the fathers have, and whose interpretation of the fathers is authoritative?
  • What role would the answer to these questions play in the answering of these questions, and how should that affect the way we go about seeking the answers to these questions?

Consider an example. Andrew Sandlin, in an article titled, "The New (Old) Catholicity", wrote:

Am I suggesting that the various segments of churches give up their distinctives (the Baptists, the Pentecostals, the Presbyterians, and so on)? No, indeed. I am simply contending that they should subordinate their distinctives to the Lordship of Christ in all of life – God's gospel and law in our culture. A related problem is that Christians are willing to write off other thoroughly orthodox Christians. Some Lutherans believe it is sinful for their members to pray with any non-Lutherans. They call the this "promiscuous prayer." (I kid you not.) Some Presbyterians will not grant a letter of transfer to any churches but Presbyterian churches. Some Baptists claim they are the only Bible-believing church in town (when, in fact, there are plenty of non-Baptistic, but Bible-believing churches). Many Roman Catholics claim that theirs is the only church outside of which there is no salvation. Some Pentecostals believe that unless a person has been "baptized in the Spirit" and spoken in tongues, he is no Christian. All of these views are not merely silly; they are sinful. The boundary separating orthodox Christians from heretical Christians and from the world is the great creeds of the Church, or as is sometimes said, the fundamentals of the Faith. Roman Catholics are very mistaken, but they are a part of Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox have tragically misunderstood Christ's atonement, but they are a segment of Christendom. Dispensationalists may be mistaken about the rapture, but they are fellow believers. Presbyterians may be in error about Church policy, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. Anglicans may be wrong about the relationship between Church and State, but they are in Christ's Body. They are all a part of the one true, visible, catholic (universal) Church.

Notice in particular this line: "The boundary separating orthodox Christians from heretical Christians and from the world is the great creeds of the Church". Sandlin embraces something like a "least common denominator" (i.e. "mere Christianity") approach to determining what is sufficient for Christian orthodoxy. Implicit in Sandlin's statement, however, is the assumption that while elucidation of doctrine so as to delineate orthodoxy from heresy occurred in the fourth and fifth centuries after Christ, it has not occurred since then. The question that naturally arises is this: What authority does Sandlin have to determine for all Christians which councils do not matter with respect to delineating heresy and orthodoxy? What authority does Sandlin have to determine for all Christians what is sufficient for orthodoxy, and what is necessary for heresy? "Who made [him] a ruler and judge over us?" (Genesis 2:14) What makes Sandlin's opinion more authoritative than that of the episcopal successor of St. Peter? Sandlin does not address the authority question; he simply starts declaring what is sufficient for orthodoxy. When that is the first move, the authority question has already been begged (cf. this selection from Tertullian). Sandlin is effectively saying either that there is no magisterial authority, or that he himself is (or is equal to or greater in authority than) any magisterial authority.

Consider another example.
Rich Lusk, in "Reclaiming Catholicity" writes:

At the heart of any quest for restored catholicity is the canon of Vincent of Lerins: "Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all." That's not to say his canon is easy to apply, or even fully adequate after twenty centuries of doctrinal development and dispute. But Vincent does remind us that we should always focus most intently on those things that all Christians hold together: the basic doctrines articulated in the early ecumenical creeds concerning the Triune nature of the Creator God, the Incarnation of the eternal Son in Jesus Christ, and redemption through the death and resurrection of the God-man. In our teaching, our liturgies, and our prayer, it would do wonders for Christian unity if we kept coming back to these basic touchstones of Christian orthodoxy, what C. S. Lewis, following Richard Baxter, called "mere Christianity."

St. Vincent stated his canon in a context (fifth century AD Christendom) in which sacramental magisterial authority was an unspoken given. But if we take the Vincentian canon out of the context of the givenness of sacramental magisterial authority, then we have the following problems. No person's determination of the identity of the "all" is authoritative. There is then no basis for excluding the Arians from the "all". And then there is no basis for making Christ's divinity one of the basic doctrines of Christianity. Lusk accepts the early Ecumenical Councils, but, presumably, rejects the Seventh Ecumenical Council. On what grounds? Presumably, because it disagrees with his interpretation of Scripture. But then the Arians (and Jehovah's Witnesses) could say the same thing about the decisions of the Council of Nicea. So who gets to determine what are the "fundamentals of the faith"? If there is no ecclesial authority that can say definitively for all Christians, "These are the things you must believe and these are the things you must not believe", then terms such as 'orthodox' and 'heresy' are relativized. 'Your orthodoxy' is my heresy, and 'my orthodoxy' is your heresy.

When we get into the meta-level issue of authority, the Catholic Church has a gift to offer that makes genuine ecumenical unity possible. Cardinal Dulles writes:

One of the doctrines most distinctive to the Catholic Church is surely the primacy of the pope as the successor of Peter—a primacy that the First Vatican Council set forth in clear, uncompromising language. Because Catholics cherish this doctrine, we should not be content to keep it to ourselves. The successor of Peter, we believe, is intended by Christ to be the visible head of all Christians. Without accepting his ministry, Christians will never attain the kind of universal concord that God wills the Church to have as a sign and sacrament of unity. They will inevitably fall into conflict with one another regarding doctrine, discipline, and ways of worship. No church can simply institute for itself an office that has authority to pronounce finally on disputed doctrines. If it exists at all, this office must have been instituted by Christ and must enjoy the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The Petrine office is a precious gift that the Lord has given us not only for our own consolation but as something to be held in trust for the entire oikoumene.

The Catholic Church has received this gift directly from the incarnate Christ, and extends it to all who seek to follow Christ. The Petrine See has been made that unbreakable rock upon which Christ is building His Church; the rains come and the floods rise, but this house will stand firm. All those built on sand (i.e. ecclesial democracy) will crumble in a very short time. They have no principium unitatis by which to hold together. What mere man builds must pass into dust. The only house that lasts is the house built by the incarnate Christ. And that house is built not on pure form (i.e. the doctrine of Christ's divinity that Peter affirmed in Matthew 16:16), for pure form cannot be a rock. The rock is a form/matter composite, i.e. Peter (whose name means Rock), who by his confession showed himself to have been chosen by the Father to be the rock upon which the Church is built, the steward of the Church after Christ's ascension entrusted with the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. The form is hidden in the matter, and discovered through the matter. (See here). In this way the papacy is sacramental in character; it is a mystery hidden in matter. As St. Ambrose said, "Ubi Petrus, Ibi Ecclesia". That is what is meant by finding form through matter.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Authority and Unity

It seems to some that I am focusing on the issue of authority in an unnecessarily repetitive manner. But the reason I am focusing on the issue of authority is that (1) it is the fundamental issue underlying the division between Catholics and Protestants, and (2) this issue has not yet been resolved.

The question of authority is unavoidable, though many well-meaning persons try to avoid it, while remaining unaware that it is in fact unavoidable and that they are not successfully avoiding it. I pointed this out in my post in June titled "You say one must not papalize". Of necessity, either we are submitting to some ecclesial authority, or we are acting as our own ecclesial authority. What does it look like in practice to act as one's own ecclesial authority? Here's an example.

Protestant: "Go read Calvin; see for yourself that what he is saying is true."

Catholic: "But what authority does Calvin have? Why should I follow Calvin's teaching?"

Protestant: "He has the authority of Scripture, because everything he says is right from Scripture."

Catholic: "But what authority does he have to say what Scripture means, or to teach in the Church? Who ordained him, and authorized him to teach in the name of the Church? Who sent him? (Romans 10:15; Acts 15:24)"

Protestant: "Obviously God sent him. Just look at all the theological riches in his writings."

This hypothetical conversation shows how the Protestant and the Catholic are working within two different paradigms viz-a-viz authority. In this conversation, the Catholic is checking for ecclesial authority; the Protestant is not. The Protestant is judging for himself that Calvin's interpretations and teachings are in agreement with Scripture. The Catholic, on the other hand, looks to the magisterial authority of the Church to determine whether Calvin's interpretations and teachings are in agreement with Scripture. "What does Calvin say about the Church?", asks the Protestant. "What does the Church say about Calvin?", asks the Catholic.

Notice what is implicit in that "Read him and see for yourself". It is nothing less than the Serpent's advice to Eve that she look and taste for herself that the fruit was good for her. Implicit in it is the notion that "You have the highest authority [under God] to judge for yourself what is good for you".

Of course the common reply here from the Protestant is that the Catholic did the same thing, in becoming Catholic. There is truth to that, though he does so rightly not by determining for himself which doctrines are orthodox and thereby which institution is "most scriptural". Rather, he does so by determining which institution is the one Christ founded and thus which has the authority to tell him which doctrines are orthodox. (Even from the Protestant point of view, there are no institutions that have the authority to determine for all Christians what doctrines are orthodox.)

Consider the following quotation from St. Irenaeus:

"Therefore it is necessary to obey the presbyters who are in the Church, -- those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also necessary] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever." – St. Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 4.26)

If apostolic succession is about form, and not matter, then loyalty to a group of persons is properly subordinate to loyalty to what one perceives to be the content of apostolic succession. In that case, there need be no hesitation in establishing a new group of persons around the form as one sees it (or finding a different group of persons that is closer in doctrine to the form as one sees it), for then the matter of the Church is determined by a certain form, and in that case the matter of the Church is rightly discovered by locating the material instantiations of that form. The alternative is finding form through matter, on the ground that matter determines form (cf. Against Heresies 3.3), as one finds the same life of an organism at a later date by finding the same physical body. I see no middle position. (Luther defined the Church in terms of what he believed to be the "gospel", as I pointed out here.)

For those who believe apostolic succession is about form, possessing what St. Irenaeus calls the "certain gift of truth" must reduce to teaching 'what I believe to be true'. For those who believe that matter determines form, the "certain gift of truth" is not the same as teaching 'what I believe to be true'. Rather, it means that truth is found in and through that matter.

What has this to do with unity? If the "certain gift of truth" is reduced to 'what I believe to be true', there will be as many different 'successors of the Apostles' as there are various beliefs about what is true. This is why the purely formal notion of apostolic succession is intrinsically individualistic and disposed to fragmentation. But if the "certain gift of truth" is understood in the sense that truth is found in and through that designated matter, then the particularity of matter (i.e. its inability to be multiply instantiated) makes this notion of apostolic succession intrinsically opposed to fragmentation, and intrinsically disposed toward unity and perpetuation. Catholics and Protestants cannot be unified until they recognize and resolve their fundamentally distinct understanding of Church authority. Does form determine matter, or does matter determine form?

For those who think that form determines matter, the question is then: "Form as determined by whom?" Since they have ruled out matter determining form, the only remaining answer is by default something reducible to "Me". Can such a position yield true unity? Those who answer affirmatively have traded in the unmatched unity Christ describes in John 17 between Himself and the Father for a democratic consensus around a "mere Christianity" drained of all content except a lowest common denominator of "Jesus" (or "Jesus saves", or "trust Jesus"). But that is if the liberals are excluded. And who will be the one to exclude them, if there is no pre-existing authority? Either there is a pre-existing authority, in which case matter determines form, or there is no pre-existing authority, in which case there is no possible ecclesial unity.

In every case where the Church seems to the critic to have "gone off the rails" with respect to dogma, it is (by the Quine-Duhem underdetermination thesis) no less possible that the Church has in fact stayed on the rails and it is the critic who has gone off the rails. (I raised this point in my article "Two Paradigms".) The Pharisee Gamaliel seems to have been aware of this, when he advised the Council of the Jews: "if this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God." (Acts 5:38-39)

With that in mind, it is not enough to raise a criticism of Church dogma, as if that establishes the Church's error. Throughout the history of the Church, heretical individuals and sects have believed themselves to be better judges of dogma than were the rightful leaders. That pride is precisely the sin by which they fell into heresy and schism – it can be seen in Korah's rebellion, and the sin of Nadab and Abihu. "We know better than you, Moses, what God wants for His people." The issue was not whether the leaders were fallible, but whether their God-given authority was to be respected, as David refused to kill Saul, and refused to make himself king. In order to unify the Church, we have to return to our rightful rulers. And that cannot consist in finding those who teach the doctrines we happen to think are true (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3). It means seeking out those old lines, the old matter (like Aragorn), and doing justice to their God-given authority over the Church. Either Christ failed to provide a means for ecclesial unity, or He provided to a line of men a "certain gift of truth". Those who deny that Christ provided to a line of men a "certain gift of truth" should be pressed directly on the possibility in their ecclesiology of true ecclesial unity. A careful examination will show it to be quite impossible, and for that reason rightly to be rejected. Grace builds upon nature, but those who deny that Christ provided to a line of men a "certain gift of truth" would need a miracle greater than the filling of the ark to bring about true ecclesial unity. That is Satan's lie, that man himself, by his democratic consensus, can establish the unity of Christ's Body. Implicit in that lie is the notion that the Church is not one. But God already made the Church one, as St. Cyprian explained. She is the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church". We do not make the Church one. We become one with the Church, and lead others to do so as well. The notion that Church unity is to come through democracy is the message of a contemporary Wormtongue.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Dear Lord Jesus,

Please remake me, from a noisy gong and clanging symbol
Into the likeness of your Person.

Make me patient and kind.
Make me bear all things.
Make me believe all things.
Make me hope all things.
Make me endure all things.
Make me an instrument of your peace.

Help me to listen.
Help me to understand.
Help me to be gentle.
Help me to heal wounds.
Help me to carry the suffering of others.
Help me to bring unity to your people.

Bless all those who hear me.
Bless them in spite of my failings.
Bless those whom I have caused to stumble.
Bless those whom I have misunderstood.
Bless those who walk in confusion.
Bless all who seek the truth.

Be lifted up, that the world may see your Light.
Be raised high, that all may see your Beauty.
Be exalted above the earth, that all men may be drawn to You.
Be enthroned, that all may recognize your Majesty.
Be exalted, that all may sing your praises.
Be received in Zion, that all who love You may rejoice.

So that we may all be one,
That You may be glorified,
So that all the world may know
That the Father sent You,
And that the Father loves us,
Even as You love us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ora et Labora: The Sisters of Ephesus

A dear friend sent me this article. What does it have to do with reuniting all Christians? This I think:

"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." (John 12:32)

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12)

For more on the Sisters of Ephesus, see their web site and their blog. In the times of darkness, the monastery and the convent have been the unconquerable sources of light and hope and transforming power.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Critic or Pupil?

[The demon Screwtape writes:] "If a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that "suits" him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches. The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a "suitable" church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil."

(The Screwtape Letters, New York: Macmillan, 1942, XVI, 72-73)

HT: Dave Armstrong

Friday, November 16, 2007

J.P. Moreland: "Fighting Bibliolatry"

Today I finished substitute teaching some classes on natural theology for a friend from seminary who is presently at the ETS meeting in San Diego. I see now that J.P. Moreland's talk on Wednesday seems to be the subject of conversation. Among the interesting points in Moreland's talk is this:

"A third area where Moreland critiqued evangelical over-commitment to Bible was in the scarcity of evangelical appeals to natural theology and moral law in their political and cultural discussions."
I agree. Subjects such as cloning, abortion, and sexual ethics are often treated as if there is no such thing as natural law. And sacred theology is often treated as if there is no such thing as natural theology or a positive philosophy that can provide a support for sacred theology. Moreland's call for a continued movement away from fideism is much needed. I was at the ETS meeting in Philadelphia in November of 1995 when Moreland gave the keynote, advocating the importance of the place of philosophy. When Moreland finished speaking, Greg Bahnsen stood up and went right after Moreland: "Couldn't you just replace [in your talk] every instance of your use of the word 'philosophy' with the word 'theology'"? asked Bahnsen. Moreland responded by explaining why he believed that philosophy served as a praeambula fidei. About two weeks later, Bahnsen died of mitral valve failure. (May his soul rest in peace.) From the point of view of improving prospects of a reunion between Catholics and evangelicals, Moreland's position is much better than Bahnsen's presuppositionalism (which is a form of fideism).

Protestantism is still recovering from its initial low view of reason, characterized, for example, in these statements by Martin Luther:

"Reason is the devil's greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the devil's appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom ... Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is, and she ought to be, drowned in baptism . . . She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets [i.e. toilets]."

"Reason is contrary to faith."

"Reason is directly opposed to faith, and one ought to let it be; in believers it [i.e. reason] should be killed and buried."

Granted that everything Luther said has to be taken with a grain of salt, but when one's view of reason is that low, fideism (and its resulting biblicism) is one's only option. As evangelical philosophers continue to discover the possibility of genuine philosophy and develop its role in the practice of theology, I think the prospects for Catholic-evangelical reunion will continue to improve.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Vatican joins historic talks to end 950-year rift with Orthodox church

This Times (UK) article with that title is available here. Notice in it the discussion of a possible future Ecumenical Council by which to restore unity between Rome and the Orthodox Churches. The 46 paragraph "Ravenna Document" is available here.

Cathedra Unitatis recently posted an excellent quotation from Archbishop Elias Zoghby; below is an excerpt:

It follows from what we have just said that every man who opposes efforts to promote Christian unity – from whichever side these efforts come – sins against the Son of God and against the whole Christian people. He also sins against mankind, called upon in its entirety to faith in Jesus Christ, but hindered from achieving it by, among other obstacles, the sight of Christians divided among themselves. Those, Catholics and non-Catholics, whom centuries of separation have left complacent in their isolation and who for reasons of expediency, national or racial, try to hinder the progress of Christian unity, will expose themselves on the Last Day to the severe judgement of every baptized soul and of every soul who might have been baptized had he not been scandalized by divisions among Christians.

These men play the part within the churches that sin plays in the soul. The churches must repudiate them if they are to continue on the road to unity, if they want success for the appeal of Pope John XXIII, so favorably echoed by other Christian leaders, and are anxious that with God’s grace the unanimous prayer of Christian peoples should be heard – the prayer for the realization of the desire so dear to our Lord: “that they too may be one … as thou Father art in me, and I in thee.”

Slick, Clark, and Monocausalism

The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) was founded in the mid-1990s by Matt Slick, a 1991 graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California. He claims to be ordained, though by whom is not clear to me. At the CARM website, we can find an article with the following title: "Are Roman Catholics Christian?".

The article begins as follows:
Are Roman Catholics Christians? They are, if they have trusted in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of their sins. However, if they believe that they are saved by God's grace and their works, then they are not saved -- even if they believe their works are done by God's grace -- since they then deny the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice.
His argument goes like this:

(1) We are saved by grace and works [Assumption]

(2) Our works are done by God's grace [Assumption]


(3) Christ's sacrifice was not sufficient. [From (1) and (2)]


(4) Christ's sacrifice was sufficient. [Assumption]


(5) Premise (1) is false. [From (1), (2), (3) and (4)]

(6) Anyone who claims (3) is not saved. [Assumption]


(7) Catholics who claim (1) and (2) are not saved. [From (3), and (6)]

The problem with this argument is that (3), (5) and (7) are all non sequiturs, given a Catholic understanding of the term 'sufficient'. So the entire argument is, in that sense, question-begging. What is missing is the specification of the term 'sufficient': sufficient for what, with respect to what? When St. Paul fills up in his own flesh that which is lacking in Christ's sufferings (Col. 1:24), is St. Paul suggesting that Christ's sacrifice was insufficient? For Catholics, the answer is 'yes' and 'no', i.e. 'yes' in one sense, 'no' in another sense. 'Yes', in the sense that Christ's sacrifice was not sufficient to make St. Paul's sufferings for the Colossian believers unnecessary. But 'no' in the sense that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to make possible a way to God for the Colossians and the whole world.

I'm concerned that monocausalism is working as an underlying assumption here in Slick's argument. Monocauslism is the notion (in this context) that if God is doing something, then we cannot also be doing it. It is a denial of the concurrence of primary and secondary causation. This is what seems to be driving the idea that if we (by divine grace) are contributing to our salvation through our works (cf. Phil 2:12), then it must be the case that something is being taken away from our being saved by grace alone, or by Christ alone. Our good works (worked in us by God's grace) are treated by monocausalists as though in competition with Christ's salvific work. If Christ's work saves us, then (think monocausalists) there is no room for us to do anything that contributes to our salvation. In this way monocausalism is what sets up the false dilemma of Pelagianism on the one hand, and the "Free Grace" type of position [i.e. think Zane Hodges] on the other hand. Monocausalism is a philosophical position, and it should not be treated as a claim that needs no substantiation.

With monocausalism in mind, notice the way Scott Clark, of Westminster Theological Seminary, accuses the Catholic doctrine of being "Pelagian" in his recent article titled: "Trent, Sungenis, Shepherd and Federal Vision". He followed that the next day with an article titled, "Mark Noll on Why the Reformation is Over (or Not)". Notice the monocausalism in the following line from that article:

Rome teaches a different definition of grace and she has always taught a soteriology of "grace plus." We confess a soteriology of grace plus nothing.
The Catholic Church also teaches a soteriology of grace plus nothing: it is all by grace. Only through monocausalistic lenses are grace-given works seen as something outside of (or in addition to) grace. Clark then adds:

She [i.e. the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent] understood that we [i.e. Protestants] say that only Christ fulfilled the law and that justification cannot be improved or perfected, that there is no "initial" and "final" justification but only one justification for all time.

Then he says:

Mark notes that Rome says that faith is a free gift. Yes, it is, but to imply that Rome means by "faith" in the act of justification that it remains a free gift is equivocation. Yes, in Roman dogma, faith begins as a free gift initiated in baptism, but in Roman dogma it is also the case that we must do our part. We must cooperate with grace.

Notice the monocausalism in the notion that if we must do our part, it is no longer a free gift. The implicit assumption is that our salvation cannot be a free gift if our very doing of these good works contributes to our salvation. But implicit in that assumption is the assumption that our very doing of these good works cannot itself be a free and gracious gift of God. Hidden behind these claims is the philosophical assumption that operates behind both occasionalism and deism: monocausalism. In my opinion, we need to shine a critical light on that philosophical assumption.

One Precondition for Genuine Ecumenical Dialogue

One precondition for genuine and fruitful ecumenical dialogue is understanding the difference between sophistry and rational dialogue, and being sufficiently self-disciplined to engage only in rational dialogue and avoid all sophistry. Rational dialogue is a mutually shared act aimed at the discovery and acquisition of truth. Sophistry, on the other hand, is not a mutually shared act, and it is not aimed at the discovery or acquisition of truth. Sophistry makes persuasion the highest goal of one's communicative activity. Implicit in that goal is the preservation of one's own position, hence a sophist is also an ideologue. True ecumenical dialogue must be rational dialogue, not sophistry. (To see the difference between rational dialogue and sophistry, I recommend Plato's Gorgias, which I have my students read whenever I teach ethics.)

Three signs of sophistry:

First, the ad hominem. If the subject of the proposition is the interlocutor, and the predicate of the proposition is critical, then, strictly speaking, the proposition is an ad hominem. An ad hominem is any criticism of one's interlocutor, instead of (or in addition to) criticism of his claims, positions or arguments. Critical statements beginning with the word "You" (in the context of a conversation) are almost always ad hominems. So are statements that begin with "You are not ... ", or "You forget ....", etc. So are most statements that begin with "You want ...". The interlocutor's claim or argument is there 'reduced' to the interlocutor's desire, and criticized as such. Ad hominems are fallacies because they direct attention away from the truth or falsity of the claims or positions advanced by the interlocutor, or the soundness/unsoundness of the arguments advanced by the interlocutor, and instead direct attention at the interlocutor himself. Well-trained interlocutors in a rational dialogue aimed at the discovery and acquisition of truth have developed the habit of avoiding all criticisms of the interlocutor; they have by discipline and practice learned to focus their criticisms only on the claims, arguments or positions in question. Sophists or ideologues, on the other hand, do not hesitate to criticize the interlocutor, because their goal is not the mutual pursuit of truth, but persuasion, both of the interlocutor and especially of the observers of what in their minds is the spectacle of a "debate" or "contest". And sophists know that the observers [who are not trained to distinguish sophistry from rational dialogue] can often be persuaded by means of techniques that involve attacking the intelligence, character, education, sincerity or credibility of the "opponent", and thus creating the appearance that the other person's claims or positions are inferior, and that one's own position is superior. So one way to determine whether one's interlocutor is engaging in sophistry or is pursuing a rational dialogue is to see if he or she is making use of ad hominems. When one of the interlocutors resorts to ad hominems, this is an indication that his goal is not truth, but 'victory'.

Another sign that an interlocutor is not engaged in rational dialogue is that he evaluates claims by some criterion other than truth. For example, it is not uncommon to see claims or positions rejected as "old" or "tired" or "worn-out" or "tiresome". The proper evaluation of an argument has to do with its soundness. Are its premises true? Does the conclusion follow logically from the premises? Similarly, the proper evaluation of a claim is whether it is true. The age or familiarity of an argument or claim is irrelevant to its soundness. Whether the argument or position or claim is bothersome or irritating or annoying or familiar to the interlocutor are all irrelevant to the soundness of the argument or the truth of the claim or position. C.S. Lewis called this replacement of the quest for truth with the quest for novelty "chronological snobbery". Jacques Maritain called it "epistemological time-worship". It subordinates truth to novelty, and for that reason it is a form of sophistry.

Another sign that an interlocutor is not engaged in rational dialogue, but in sophistry (or the preservation of an ideology) is rage, especially rage directed toward the interlocutor, even if the speech is directed to the observers. (This is why rage can take the form of a rant.) We can see rage of this sort in the character of Thrasymachus, in Plato's Republic. The truth-seeker (and truth-lover) has no reason to be enraged at his interlocutor, or engage in a rant about him. If the claims or positions or arguments offered by his interlocutor are false or unsound, then he simply has to show them to be such; there is no reason for him to be angry with his interlocutor. If, on the other hand, the claims or positions or arguments offered by his interlocutor turn out (upon critical evaluation) to be true, he is prepared to accept them, since he is, after all, a truth-seeker. Either way, he has no reason to be angry when his interlocutor presents claims or positions that differ from his own. The ideologue, on the other hand, seeks ultimately to preserve and advance his own position. Hence, the ideologue grows angry when his interlocutor advances positions or claims or arguments that are contrary to his own (and praises and embraces all who support and defend his own position, even if their arguments are fallacious or their praises mere flattery). He is not prepared to accept a position other than his own, and hence criticisms of his position are perceived as threatening, and that is why he responds to them with hostility, just as animals often respond with hostility when they perceive something as threatening. Anger and rage in a discussion are a sign that defending an ideology has taken the place of seeking truth as the goal of the activity. Indifference is sometimes even a greater sign of ideology than is rage. The ideologue of this magnitude no longer even cares if there is evidence or argumentation that refutes his position; he has made his ideological bed and he is going to sleep in it no matter what, so he is utterly indifferent to criticisms of his position.

In order to have fruitful ecumenical dialogue, the interlocutors at the ecumenical table must all be the sort of persons who not only understand the distinction between rational dialogue and sophistry, but have disciplined themselves by training only to engage in the former, and to avoid the latter. To love Christ is to love Truth. And hence rational dialogue is an activity aimed ultimately at Christ; sophistry aims at something less.

Monday, November 12, 2007

St. Josaphat: Martyr for Unity

Today is the feast day of St. Josaphat of Polotsk, a "a martyr to church unity". (For more on St. Josaphat, see here.)

St. Josaphat, pray for us, that all Christ's followers may be one, as Christ and the Father are one.

Reply to Jonathan Bonomo on Sacramental Authority

Jonathan Bonomo recently wrote:

"... how the ordination of a minister by consent of the church as one who is uniquely set apart by God to fulfill the duties of his office entails individualism is beyond me."

If the ground of the "minister's" authority is the consent of the laymen, then he retains authority over them only so long as they consent to him. If some (or all) of them no longer consent to him or to what he is saying, then since by their consent they gave him his authority in the first place, they can by their dissent take it away, i.e. take themselves back out from under his 'authority'. They can either remove him or replace him, or simply leave, go somewhere else and 'ordain' someone else who more closely reflects their own views to be their authority. What makes this a form of individualism is shown by the fact that the number of persons involved in the consenting is irrelevant. There is no principled difference between one hundred persons consenting to a minister's being placed 'over' them, or ten, or five or three or one. The number of persons involved is accidental to the nature and ground of the minister's authority. The group of individuals giving authority has no pre-existing intrinsic unity. They have, at most, an extrinsic unity in virtue of a shared theology. That is why the authority had by the minister (ordained in this way) is not by nature an authority over a group, but over individuals. Otherwise the authority per se would ipso facto cease to exist if there were only one member of the congregation left. Fundamentally, the nature of this sort of authority is derived from each individual layman.

When the individual layman is the ground of the minister's authority, then in theory there can be as many churches as there are individual laymen, because each individual (or each group of individuals sharing a similar interpretation of Scripture) can start their own 'church', and ordain their own 'minister'. (This is the reason why individualism is intrinsically disposed to fragmentation and disunity.) And this seems to be precisely the kind of disordered authority structure that St. Paul discusses in 2 Timothy 4:3 when he says that the time will come when people will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires. That is what non-sacramentally grounded magisterial authority has to be, people choosing teachers based on what they want to hear, based on their own interpretation of Scripture. This is what we see clearly in the "emergent" church and in Hybels and Osteen. But there is no principled difference between that and any other way of choosing one's 'minister' except seeking out those whose magisterial authority comes not from the consent of individuals but from Christ through sacramental succession from the Apostles. That is the only alternative to the ecclesial consumerism intrinsic to the individualistic, bottom-up notion of ecclesial authority warned about in 2 Timothy 4:3.

Update: The discussion continues here and here.

Reply to Peter Escalante

I just returned from the ACPA conference in Milwaukee, and I have a long week ahead of me, so this may be my only post this week.

Recently on ReformedCatholicism.com, my comment under this thread prompted Protestant pastor Kevin Johnson to write this response.

In the course of the discussion I asked the following question:

What then is the ground of magisterial authority, if it is not sacramental succession from the Apostles?

Peter Escalante answered:

The Holy Spirit and sanctified reason, and the usual human means of publicly articulating and formulating common knowledge: namely, taking counsel together.

To which I replied:

First, I do not see the conjunction of these three as the explicit grounds of magisterial authority anywhere in the NT or the Fathers. What I see in the NT and the Fathers as the ground of magisterial authority is the laying on of hands by Apostles, or by bishops in sacramental succession from the Apostles.

Second, apart from sacramental ordination, the determination of who has the Holy Spirit and who is following the Holy Spirit pushes this ground [i.e. having the Holy Spirit] either to each individual (which is individualism) or to the third conjunct, i.e. common knowledge. And the same can be said of the determination of who has and is following "sanctified reason". So if individualism is to be avoided, then the first two conjuncts themselves can be grounded only on the third and remaining conjunct: "common knowledge".

One problem with making "common knowledge" the ground of magisterial authority is the same problem we see in Habermas' political theory: Who gets to decide who gets to participate in the "publicly articulating and formulating common knowledge" activity? There is no neutral non-question-begging starting point in deciding who gets to participate in this activity. Those who take it to themselves to decide who gets to participate in such an activity are doing so without the grounding of authority that would (in theory) be provided by the "publicly articulating and formulating common knowledge" activity.

Moreover, no such public activity has determined that the conjunction of these three criteria (or that the activity of "publicly articulating and formulating common knowledge") is the ground of magisterial authority. So the assertion that the conjunction of these three is the ground of magisterial authority is self-contradictory in the sense that it fails its own test.

If majority vote were the means by which magisterial authority is grounded, then the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics and 225 million Orthodox would vote that authority is grounded in sacramental succession from the Apostles, and that would outweigh the vote by the 590 million Protestants that magisterial authority is grounded in "common knowledge". So in order to defend your position, you would have to rule out of this communal activity of "publicly articulating and formulating common knowledge" those who disagree with you. But if you can do so, then so can anyone else. And then "common knowledge" is a farce. "Common knowledge" then becomes "the beliefs of those who agree with me", or "what the majority *would* believe if they only knew what I know". That is nothing short of individualism. So it seems to me that your proposed grounding for magisterial authority does not avoid individualism (and thus the intrinsic disposition to fragmentation that necessarily accompanies individualism). And if so, then it has not been shown that my claim that individualism is the only alternative to sacramentally grounded magisterial authority is false.

Happy fifteenth birthday son; we love you more than ever.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Jonathan Prejean on the ontology of authority

Jonathan Prejean (Crimson Catholic) has some insightful thoughts here from a legal perspective on the ontology of authority and the reification fallacy. He is essentially showing that binding authority must include a visible and irreducibly personal aspect. This is why there must be a visible human magisterium. Defenders of the sola scriptura (plain-meaning-of-Scripture) position are, according to Prejean, committing the reification fallacy. They are treating something that is ontologically less than a person [i.e. Scripture] as if (with respect to authority) it is ontologically equivalent to a person. In my opinion, one of the factors contributing to this error is the flawed fundamentalist argument that since the Bible is the "Word of God", and since we know that the "Word of God" is a divine Person, therefore the Bible is, in some sense, a divine Person. No one thinks that our law system could exist without judges, or that each of us could, with equal authority, decide for ourselves what the law means. But the sola scriptura position implies that there is no authoritative interpretation. Here is one quotation from Prejean's article:
To put it rather simply, if there is no interpretive authority that has the power to issue interpretations to rule out contrary interpretations, then the statement itself has no authority, because the binding act either does or does not rule out contrary interpretations of the subject matter it purports to regulate.
His conclusion contains the following:
To put it another way, unless God Himself has given you guidance in a definitive form accessible to your perception, then He has to endorse some external, public interpretive authority for any statement to be normatively binding as divine revelation. Effectively, Protestantism is the admission that there is no such thing as authoritative public revelation; all authoritative revelation is necessarily private.
I agree. This is why Protestantism is intrinsically individualistic.

Saint Vincent of Lerins on the development of doctrine

The following selection (between the dashed lines) is from one of the readings in the Liturgy of the Hours a few weeks ago, by Saint Vincent of Lerins (434 AD). Notice how remarkably consistent it is with Cardinal Newman's An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine:


Is there to be no development of religion in the Church of Christ? Certainly, there is to be development and on the largest scale.

Who can be so grudging to men, so full of hate for God, as to try to prevent it? But it must truly be development of the faith, not alteration of the faith. Development means that each thing expands to be itself, while alteration means that a thing is changed from one thing into another.

The understanding, knowledge and wisdom of one and all, of individuals as well as of the whole Church, ought then to make great and vigorous progress with the passing of the ages and the centuries, but only along its own line of development, that is, with the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import.

The religion of souls should follow the law of development of bodies. Though bodies develop and unfold their component parts with the passing of the years, they always remain what they were. There is a great difference between the flower of childhood and the maturity of age, but those who become old are the very same people who were once young. Though the condition and appearance of the one and the same individual may change, it is one and the same nature, one and the same person.

The tiny members of unweaned children and the grown members of young men are still the same members. Men have the same number of limbs as children. Whatever develops at a later age was already present in seminal form; there is nothing new in old age that was not already latent in childhood.

There is no doubt, then, that the legitimate and correct rule of development, the established and wonderful order of growth, is this: in older people the fullness of years always brings to completion those members and forms that the wisdom of the Creator fashioned beforehand in their earlier years.

If, however, the human form were to turn into some shape that did not belong to its own nature, or even if something were added to the sum of its members or subtracted from it, the whole body would necessarily perish or become grotesque or at least be enfeebled. In the same way, the doctrine of the Christian religion should properly follow these laws of development, that is, by becoming firmer over the years, more ample in the course of time, more exalted as it advances in age.

In ancient times our ancestors sowed the good seed in the harvest field of the Church. It would be very wrong and unfitting if we, their descendants, were to reap, not the genuine wheat of truth but the intrusive growth of error.

On the contrary, what is right and fitting is this: there should be no inconsistency between first and last, but we should reap true doctrine from the growth of true teaching, so that when, in the course of time, those first sowings yield an increase it may flourish and be tended in our day also.

One obstacle to the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers is a lack of understanding that doctrine develops as organic bodies develop. Many non-Catholic Christians assume that unity must be based on the Apostolic doctrine as it is found undeveloped in the pages of the New Testament. But that very assumption implicitly contains within it another assumption, i.e. that doctrine has not developed in the Church. So the notion that Christian unity should be based on doctrine as it is found undeveloped in the New Testament is built on an implicit anti-ecclesiastical assumption, namely, that the Church has not been growing all along and thus has not been developing these doctrines for the past two millennia. The two errors with respect to the development of doctrine (besides failing to recognize it altogether) are: (1) failing to recognize that dogma cannot be contradicted by development and (2) failing to recognize that development of doctrine requires that there be dogma that cannot be contradicted by development. The latter is the more common error of the two. Some Protestants claim to accept the authority of the early Ecumenical Councils, but when they start to come to understand the content of those Councils, then they realize that they (if they wish to remain Protestant) must either pick and choose in ad hoc fashion from them, or they must deny their authority altogether. Both moves essentially deny the authority of the Councils. And the denial of the authority of Councils denies the possibility of dogma. And the denial of the possibility of dogma eliminates the possibility of affirming
(without inconsistency) the development of doctrine. And in this way the sola scriptura principle of Protestantism is intrinsically anti-ecclesiastical. (Of course I am not claiming that Protestants are intrinsically anti-ecclesiastical.) The challenge for the Protestant in seeing the other paradigm is to see that if there has been a Church for the past two millennia, then there has been organic development of doctrine, in which case we should not expect to ground unity on Apostolic doctrine in its undeveloped form as found in Scripture. Such an expectation is for that reason intrinsically anti-Catholic, and therefore not ecumenically 'neutral'.