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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Best Responses to "Responses to some questions"

Catholic philosopher Michael Liccione has an excellent response here to CNN's Roland Martin regarding the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith's "Responses to some questions". Liccione's response is absolutely spot-on, and takes the prize, in my opinion.

Other good responses to the CDF document recognize that it actually advances ecumenical dialogue. My favorite of the five below is Stan Guthrie's, in Christianity Today.

Taylor Marshall's (former Presbyterian, then Episcopalian priest, now Catholic)

Al Mohler's (Southern Baptist)

Metropolitan Kirill's (Russian Orthodox)

Rod Dreher's (former Methodist, then Catholic, now Eastern Orthodox)

Stan Guthrie's (Evangelical)

The Sacrilege of Schism

"There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism....there can be no just necessity for destroying the unity of the Church" (St. Augustine, Contra Epistolam Parmeniani, lib. ii., cap. ii., n. 25).

Παρακαλῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ἵνα τὸ αὐτὸ λέγητε πάντες, καὶ μὴ ᾖ ἐν ὑμῖν σχίσματα, ἦτε δὲ κατηρτισμένοι ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ νοῒ καὶ ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ γνώμῃ. (1 Corinthian 1:10)

"Now I exhort you brothers through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that all of you say/teach the same thing, and there be among you no schisms, but you be made complete/restored/united in the same mind and in the same judgment/purpose/intention." (1 Corinthians 1:10)

"We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic non-entity"
I have discussed elsewhere the gnostic roots of the idea that the visible Church is the plurality (or set) of all embodied believers. The major problem with this position is that a "set" or "plurality" is not an actual entity, but only a conceptual entity, i.e. an abstraction of some sort. Imagine the set of all the objects on my desk. The members of that set include books, a printer, some photos, some coins, pens, prayer cards, a toy space shuttle that my daughter gave me, a piece of hard candy, a lamp, a bottle of cologne, etc. I can refer to all the things on my desk by speaking of them with a singular term: "set", when I say, "The set of all the things on my desk." But there is no *single* thing on my desk composed of (or consisting of) the books, the printer, the photos, the coins, pens, etc. on my desk. There is no actual set of things on my desk, even though on my desk there are only actual things that can be referred to collectively as belonging to a set. There are many things on my desk, and I can refer to those many things in a unitive manner, by mentally placing them all into a single set or category, i.e. the set of things on my desk. But there is in fact no set on my desk; on my desk there are only the books, the printer, the photos, the coins, etc. Though the members of the set are actual, the set itself is only a mental construct, not an actual entity.

So when a person claims that the visible Church is the set (or plurality) of all embodied believers, the semantic confusion regarding "set" and "plurality" allows the person to seem as though he affirms the existence of the visible Church. But in fact he has adopted a position in which there is no such thing as the visible Church; there are only embodied believers, just as in actuality there are only objects on my desk, and not, in addition to the objects on my desk, one more item, namely, the set of objects on my desk. Those who claim that the visible Church is the set (or plurality) of all embodied believers have a position in which the visible Church does not exist at all.

The Possibility of Schism as a Test of Ecclesiology
Any conception of the visible Church in which schism is either impossible or cannot decrease the unity of the visible Church must be a false conception of the visible Church. One such conception treats the visible Church as the set of all embodied believers. The disunity of believers against each other, so long as they remain believers, does not detract in any way from the unity of the set of all believers. Why? Because a set is only a conceptual unity, and the category by which the members of this set are conceptually united is 'believer', and has nothing to do with the harmony and communion between believers. Likewise, the plurality of believers cannot be divided by divisions between believers. Likewise, the sum of all believers cannot be divided by divisions between believers. The Westminster Confession of Faith comes very close to this sort of conception of the visible Church when it says: "The visible Church ... consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children...." (WCF XXV.2) If the visible Church is the plurality of those who profess the true religion, then while the visible Church can be larger or smaller, it can be neither more nor less unified, and thus it is absolutely impervious to schism. Another conception of the visible Church is the set/plurality of assemblies of embodied believers. But the unity of the set of all assemblies of embodied believers is not lessened so long as the assemblies of embodied believers remain, even if the assemblies have no communion with each other. So this conception of the visible Church treats the Church as impervious to schism.

Schism is only possible if the visible Church is both a unity and a plurality. If the visible Church were only a unity and in no way a plurality, then no schism would be possible. What has no parts cannot be divided. Similarly, if the visible Church were only a plurality, then again no schism would be possible, for what has no unity can lose no unity. The notion of the Church as a Body (i.e. a living organism) allows for the possibility of schism, because an organism is both a unified and composite entity.

The Three Modes of Organic Unity
Now an organism is unified fundamentally in three ways, and each of these modes of unity can be seen in the Trinity. First, an organism is unified in its essence. Each of its parts shares the very same essence. All the cells of our body are human cells. All the cells of a sunflower are sunflower cells. Etc. They all have the very same formal nature. So likewise do all three Persons of the divine Trinity share the very same divine essence. And so likewise, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 4:5, in the Church there is "one faith". We all believe the same thing, the one faith of the Church. When we affirm the Creed at our baptism, we are incorporated through baptism into the body of Christ. The Creed has long been called the "symbol of faith". We are formally unified because we all believe the same thing.

Second, an organism is unified in its activity. Each part of an organism is performing some specific task, but each of these specific tasks is part of a larger unified task, the activity of the organism. This same sort of thing can be seen in the divine Trinity. Each Person of the Trinity does an activity, and yet that activity is part of the overall activity of the Godhead. Likewise, in the Church all of our individual activities must be coordinated to the overall activity of the organism which is the Church. We all, like Christ, offer ourselves up to God as living sacrifices. But we do so most fully in the liturgical assembly when we offer ourselves up to the Father in union with Christ's sacrifice, and then feed upon Christ in return. "Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread." (1 Cor 10:17) We are dynamically unified because we all are engaged in the very same activity. (This is precisely why those who do not participate in this activity with us are "deprived of a constitutive element of the Church" and "cannot be called "Churches" in the proper sense". See here.)

Third, an organism is unified in its hierarchy. Not every part of the organism is the head. The parts of a body are ordered hierarchically, in systems, organs, tissues, and so on. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12) The hierarchy is unified because the head is one. If the top of the hierarchy were a plurality, then the hierarchy would not be unified. Again we find the same thing in the Trinity. The Son does only what the Father tells Him; the Spirit seems to be obedient to the Father and the Son. Likewise, in the Church, the Head of the Body is Christ. Before His ascension Christ appointed Peter to feed His sheep until He returned. In this way, the visible Church as organism retains a visible head, and thus retains all three marks of unity. When Christ ascended, the Twelve Apostles would not have been the *Body* of Christ if Christ had not appointed Peter to be the visible head. Unity of faith and unity of activity cannot remain without unity of hierarchical authority.

[These three modes of unity correspond also to Christ's roles as prophet, priest, and king. They are also the three "bonds of unity" in the Church (CCC 815).]

The third bond of unity is violated by schism. Schism is defined as "the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him." (CCC 2089) No other definition makes sense, in part because no other definition can distinguish schism from excommunication, and no other definition makes schism always wrong.

The two greatest threats to the Church are internal, not external. They are schism and heresy. But neither 'schism' nor 'heresy' can be objective apart from a unified universal magisterial authority. Apart from the Petrine office, 'schism' merely means "separated" or "separated from me", and 'heresy' means "disagreeing with my interpretation of Scripture". And thus apart from the Petrine office, there is no possibility of schism or heresy. Thus the test of the possibility of schism and heresy confirms the Catholic position.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Confirmation and the Unity of the Holy Spirit

"Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:14-17)
A week ago I wrote some comments on Baptism in relation to ecclesial unity. (See here.) Today I posted some related thoughts here about Confirmation and the "unity of the Spirit". Confirmation is that sacrament that "strengthens baptismal grace" by filling and sealing us with the Holy Spirit. (CCC #1289)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

To Which Leaders Should We Submit and Obey?

"Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account." (Hebrews 13:17)
If that verse meant that members of each denomination should obey and submit to the leaders of their denomination, full visible unity would be quite impossible unless the leaders of all denominations united within one institution. Not only that, but members of schisms and heretical sects could not justifiably leave their schism or sect if their leader instructed them that they should not do so.

A few years ago, while I was still an Anglican, a Catholic friend of mine asked me why I was not in full communion with Peter's successor. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote in reply:
I'm not convinced yet, that the bishop of Rome is Christ's Vicar. I don't deny it, I just don't know whether it is true. Not only that, what is worse is that I'm not sure how I can become convinced of it. My starting position (the position I'm in right now), is as one outside the Roman church. So, by default, I don't view the authority of the bishop of Rome to be any greater than that of any other bishop. So, if the bishop of Rome tells me that he is Christ's Vicar, and my present bishop tells me (which he does) that the bishop of Rome is not Christ's vicar, but merely another bishop, then to whom should I submit? It's an intellectual quandary. In order to submit to the bishop of Rome on this matter and not submit to the teaching of my present bishop, I must already believe that the bishop of Rome is Christ's Vicar. But I'm not yet convinced of that, so as yet I have no reason to submit to him over any other bishop. But in order to be obedient to my present bishop, I must not submit to the bishop of Rome. So, I'm caught in this logical circle. Scripture does not help me here, because the relevant passages are not explicit enough to convince me that the Roman position is being taught.
My friend replied that Jesus would not have left us without a way of determining who is the true ecclesial authority. He pointed out that theoretically there are essentially four ways in which Christ could have installed His authority in the Church. Christ could have left His authority:

(a) to a single individual immediately and mediately to his direct individual successors over time;

(b) with a single individual (and his personal successors) as the leader of a conjointly authoritative group of teachers/preachers;

(c) with an undifferentiated (leaderless) group of leaders, to be passed on to their personal successor leaders; etc.

(d) to a group of leaders and their successors who, once that authority was inscripturated, ceased to have any special role, and Christ's authority after the Apostolic era resides solely in the Book as interpreted by the individual under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

He then proceeded to evaluate these four possibilities, mostly from a philosophical point of view. I knew enough already to know that it was either (b) or (c), but I wasn't persuaded by his argument for (b), in part because I needed more than philosophical argumentation for such a question. But our exchange prompted me to start studying the fathers and early Church history to see for myself which of the four theses would be found there. That research led me to see that the fathers believed that Christ gave authoritative primacy to Peter (see here for some fruit of that research), which, along with their belief in Apostolic succession, explained their belief in the continued primacy of Peter's episcopal successor. Over the course of a year I determined that my Anglican bishop did not have the authority that Peter's successor has. And therefore, I was freed from the "intellectual quandary" I had described to my friend the previous year. Peter's successor was the leader to whom I must "submit" and "obey" (Heb 13:17), not my Anglican bishop who rejected the authority of Peter's successor. I knew then that I had to become Catholic. When my wife and my two daughters and I were received into full communion with the Catholic Church by the Catholic bishop, my Catholic friend was there by my side as my sponsor.

As an ecumenical exercise ask yourself the following question: Who has more ecclesial authority, your present pastor/priest/bishop/denomination, or the successor of Peter, and why?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ecclesial Unity is the Passion of Christ's Sacred Heart

Why am I not devoting time to refuting the so-called "new atheists" (e.g. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett)? Because I believe that removing the divisions that presently separate Christians is more important by many orders of magnitude. What weakens the Church more: the present schisms, or the new atheists? But many Christians seem much more energized and eager to respond to the new atheists than to pursue the reunion and reconciliation of all Christians.

The Acts of Peter and Paul record that while Peter was being crucified upside-down, he said the following to the crowd:

A few days ago, being exhorted by the brethren, I was going away; and my Lord Jesus Christ met me, and having adored Him, I said, Lord, whither are You going? And He said to me, I am going to Rome to be crucified. And I said to Him, Lord, were You not crucified once for all? And the Lord answering, said, I saw you fleeing from death, and I wish to be crucified instead of you. And I said, Lord, I go; I fulfil Your command.
Christ's love is so intense that He would, if it would help us, be again crucified for us. He still wishes to be crucified instead of us, if necessary, even though He has already done so. Likewise, the longing for the unity of His followers that He shows in John 17 is no less intense today than it was when He prayed it in 33 AD. Christ presently stills prays to the Father for all His followers to be one. That desire and prayer pours forth continually from His sacred heart, pierced by the soldier's spear.

We who are persuaded that the passion of Christ's sacred heart includes the desire that all His disciples be one as He and the Father are one, and for the sake of effecting Christian unity are pursuing dialogue with those of other traditions, need within ourselves hearts full of courage and humility. We have to be prepared for disappointment and rejection. I do not mean that we should ever give up; on the contrary we must be resolved never to give up. I mean that we have to work tirelessly for this goal while being prepared not only to see no fruit for long periods of time, but even to face a lifetime of rejections and refusals.

Why? Serious dialogue with those outside one's own tradition requires at least two virtues. First, it requires a great deal of courage. Dialoguing with those outside one's own tradition can be somewhat frightening because in entering such a dialogue one knows that one's own beliefs very well may be challenged. Many people would rather not participate in such a dialogue for that very reason. It is so much easier and more comfortable to insulate oneself and dialogue mostly with those within one's own tradition, to read only authors from one's own tradition, to ignore those traditions that are so different from one's own. We have a natural tendency to want to be right, and therefore to find support for what we believe. We are therefore drawn toward that which supports our own positions, and we tend not to seek out alternative positions and criticisms of our positions. We need courage to overcome that tendency, to sit ourselves down at the table of ecumenical dialogue. Those engaging in ecumenical dialogues also face the possibility of ridicule and rejection from those whom they love and cherish, not simply for engaging in such dialogue, but also for any changes in their positions that may result from such dialogue.

This dialogue also requires humility. By humility I do not mean skepticism or feigned ignorance. We have to be willing to admit it when we realize that our own position is wrong. And when we learn that we have mischaracterized our interlocutor's position, we have to apologize for having done so. We will find that courage and humility, if we make love for truth our priority, and prayerfully meditate on the sacred heart of Jesus, seeking to have that same heart, to be entirely one with His heart such that the life and passion and desire of His sacred heart is likewise the life and passion and desire of our hearts.

It is easy, I think, to assume unconsciously that somebody at some higher ecclesial level or in some future generation will work these things out and bring the Protestants and the Orthodox and the Catholics back together. Ecumenical efforts, we tend to think, are only for representatives of our respective traditions. I believe strongly that that sort of mentality is mistaken. I think we should not assume that the National Council of Churches of the World Council of Churches or some other such body will complete this task for us. I believe that I have to do whatever is in my power to try to bring Christians into full unity (i.e. unity based on truth). And that means that I think Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants (not just clerics but also laypersons) should be in constant dialogue with each other, sorting out the fundamental causes of our division, and seeking with all our hearts to be reconciled and reunited. That means for me that I have to be in constant dialogue with those Christians from whom I am presently divided, working to effect reconciliation, reunion and genuine unity based on the truth.

Christ laid down His life for us, and we have an opportunity in this generation to lay down our lives for the sake of unifying Christ's Church. Here is the Body of Christ, still with us, rent and torn, and we can be like the priest and Levite, who passed by on the other side of the road, or we can be like the good Samaritan, who stopped and bandaged up the wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. (Luke 10:30-37) If we are in the Body of Christ, then we will nourish and cherish it, for it is our Body. "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church." (Eph 5:29) Let us bandage up the wounds in Christ's Body, pouring oil and wine on them. How blessed was the woman who washed Jesus's feet with perfume and her tears and her hair? (Luke 7:36-50) How blessed were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who lovingly and reverently bound the body of Jesus in linen wrappings with the spices (John 19:40). How much more blessed, then, are we who bandage the wounds of the Body of Christ, pouring oil and wine on them? Shall not the reward be great in heaven for those who have so tenderly treated and healed the wounds of our dear Savior's Body?

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

Friday, July 20, 2007

Apostolicity in Acts 15

Ἐπειδὴ ἠκούσαμεν ὅτι τινὲς ἐξ ἡμῶν [ἐξελθόντες] ἐτάραξαν ὑμᾶς λόγοις ἀνασκευάζοντες τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν οἷς οὐ διεστειλάμεθα
(Acts 15:24)

Literal translation: "Since we have heard that some out of us having gone out disturbed you with words, unsettling your souls, to whom we gave no mandate/order/command."

NAB: "Since we have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind."

Recently I discussed [here] the significance of St. Paul's statement: "And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:15) for understanding apostolicity. Here I wish to discuss a statement written by the Apostles and elders at the council of Jerusalem around 50 AD, and recorded by St. Luke in Acts 15:24.

If apostolic succession were merely doctrinal, then why did these disturbers need a mandate from the Apostles? Why is their lack of an Apostolic mandate even mentioned? The Apostles and elders should simply have said only that the doctrine of the disturbers was not the Apostles' doctrine. But the Apostles and elders do not say that. Instead they provide a mandate to Paul and Barnabas, Silas and Judas called Barsabbas. The "letter" mentioned in verse 23 is the authentication or proof that these men have the necessary mandate from the Apostles to teach and preach in their name, as official legates / ambassadors of the Apostles.

But if Paul and Barnabas needed an Apostolic mandate, and if the Apostles and elders show that because the disturbers mentioned in Acts 15:24 do not have an Apostolic mandate they [i.e. those disturbers] should not be listened to, then from whom did Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin receive a mandate? Or should we believe that the need for a Church mandate in order to preach and teach in the name of the Church ceased with the death of the last apostle?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Examination of the Rev. Nyomi's Letter of July 10, 2007 regarding the recent CDF document

I briefly interacted with the Rev. Nyomi's
letter of July 10 here. I recently wrote a more thorough interaction with the letter and posted it here. It seems to me that the Rev. Nyomi is evaluating the Catholic Church's position about herself from a definitively non-Catholic point of view.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Baptism and Christian Unity

Recently I noticed some of my Protestant brothers discussing baptism
here and here. I also have seen some discussion among some Protestants who recognize the salvific importance of union with Christ, regarding the manner in which union with Christ takes place. Since baptism is the gateway for the other sacraments, and one of the means by which we are made one body (Eph 4:5), I thought it might be helpful to present the Catholic perspective on baptism. So I want to look at what the Scriptures say about the relation between baptism and regeneration. But I want to do so through the eyes of the fathers. For that reason, below I first examine some selections from the fathers regarding the relation between baptism and regeneration, and then I examine the Scriptures on baptism. (Read more)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Apostolicity and Montanistic Gnosticism

I wrote some thoughts here on 'apostolicity' and Montanistic Gnosticism, drawing from the teaching of the fathers on the meaning of 'apostolicity', and quoting from St. Francis de Sales regarding the application of 'apostolicity' to the original Protestant ministers.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sacramental Apostolic Succession and Ecumenical Unity

One of the fundamental causes of the divisions between Christians is individualism. True unity is impossible where each person thinks of himself as his own ultimate ecclesial authority. Moreover, as I argued here, any non-sacramental grounding of ecclesial authority is intrinsically individualistic. Therefore true unity is impossible where Christians believe that the essence of the grounding of ecclesial authority is non-sacramental. The reunion of all Christians depends upon recognizing that sacramentality is the true grounding of ecclesial authority.

I have argued here that the Montanist, Novatian and Donatist schisms erred precisely in failing to recognize sacramentality as the true grounding of ecclesial authority. I have also argued here that Protestantism does not have sacramentally grounded ecclesial authority; Luther and Calvin redefined 'apostolic succession' as formal agreement with the Apostles, rejecting the Catholic doctrine that Apostolic succession is essentially sacramental.

I noticed that Sean Michael Lucas has recently stated that apostolic succession is essentially doctrinal, not sacramental. He writes, "For Protestants, the means for unity is also apostolic succession, but it is a succession of commitment to the apostolic message and mission."

Defining "apostolic succession" as fundamentally non-sacramental entails individualism. And individualism is intrinsically opposed to unity. So Lucas has adopted as a means to unity a position that is intrinsically opposed to unity. The question that those holding a doctrinally-grounded conception of ecclesial authority overlook is: Whose determination of doctrinal apostolicity is authoritative? Without sacramentality, the answer is ultimately either "My own" or "No one's" (which is functionally equivalent to "My own"). In other words, wherever sacramentality is not recognized as the essence of apostolic succession, we are left with individualism.

Lucas adds: "As the authority of Word and Spirit continues to be observed in Protestant churches, we manifest the unity of Christ's church even in the midst of our denominational groupings."

Lucas seems to think that the present state of denominational fragmentation in Protestantism manifests the sort of unity Christ desires for His followers, simply because Protestants "observe the authority of Word and Spirit". It would seem then that for Lucas, schism does not detract from the unity of the Church so long as the schismatic parties continue to "observe the authority of Word and Spirit". But the claim to be "observing the authority of Word and Spirit" would apply to all the early heresies, as St. Vincent of Lerins points out. If the Protestant denominations are truly "observing the authority of Word and Spirit", then why are the Word and Spirit saying so many incompatible things, that the various Protestant denominations cannot be united into one denomination? Should we believe that the Word and Spirit are contradicting themselves, or should we believe that some people are misinterpreting the Word and misunderstanding the Spirit?

The unity that Christ desires His followers to have is not merely the shared desire to follow the Word and the Spirit. Even tritheists could affirm that sort of ecclesial unity. Christ desires that His followers be one, even as He and the Father are one. And the Father and the Son are one in Being, not merely in desire, and not merely in intention. Christ therefore desires that His followers be fully incorporated into one Body, as I have argued here and here. If God hates divorce, man separating what God has joined together, then how much more does God hate schism, when men rend His Bride? We must not delude ourselves into calling evil "good", or division "unity". When we start to allow ourselves to see the fragmented state of Protestantism for what it is, instead of pretending that it manifests the unity of Christ's Church, then like Cindy Beck and Kristine Franklin, we start to see the necessity of sacramentally grounded ecclesial authority, and the path to true unity, i.e. being fully incorporated into one Body.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The CDF's clarification and ecumenical unity

On June 29, 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a document titled, "Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the Church". This document became publicly available (I believe) on July 10, 2007. The document can be found here. The commentary on this document can be found here.

These two documents contain nothing new. They simply clarify what the Catholic Church has always taught about herself. More specifically, they clarify some ecclesiological points of certain Vatican II documents (specifically Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio) that have been occasionally misunderstood by both Protestants and Catholics. If one understands the difference between development and change, then one will better understand that nothing that comes later in Catholic doctrine contradicts what came before. There is deepening, and making explicit of what was implicit. But since the first century after Christ, the Catholic Church has claimed to be the Church Christ founded, and the documents of Vatican II did not (and in fact could not) abandon that doctrine. Vatican II was not embracing ecclesial pluralism or claiming that Christ founded an essentially invisible Church that is visible only in the sense that some of its members are visible. Rather, Vatican II was acknowledging that non-Catholic communities of Christians do have "numerous elements of sanctification and truth". The purpose of the Vatican II statements was thus not in any way to 'downgrade' the historic identity of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has always believed and taught that she is the one and only Church Christ founded. The purpose of the Vatican II documents was to acknowledge in fact what non-Catholic Christians do have that is true and good.

Another point of confusion has to do with the word 'Church'. In Catholic ecclesiology the word 'Church' can refer to a particular (i.e. local) diocese or Eucharistic assembly. The word 'Church' can also refer to the one universal [i.e. Catholic] Church. While there are many particular Churches, these are all part of the one universal Catholic Church. The Catholic Church at Rome is a particular Church. The Catholic Church [under the authority of Peter's successor], however, is not a particular Church, but is rather the institution in which Christ's Church subsists. There is only one Catholic (i.e. universal) Church, because Christ has only one bride. This too is one of the four marks of the true Church; it is one. "We believe in
one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church". This is why acknowledging that there are various Orthodox Churches is not incompatible with the claim that the Catholic Church is the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church". When the Vatican speaks of "Orthodox Churches", it is talking about *particular* Churches. They are sister Churches. But the Catholic Church [not to be confused with the Catholic Church at Rome] is neither a particular Church nor a sister Church; it is the universal Church, and they are particular Churches.

Finally, I want to say something about ecumenical unity in relation to these two Vatican documents. In an article titled,
"Protestants criticize, Orthodox welcome Vatican document", Catholic World News quoted the Rev. Setri Nyomi of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, as saying that the new Vatican document:
makes us question the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church takes its dialogues with Reformed family and other families of the Church.
On July 11, 2007, the Washington Times published an article titled "Pope Asserts Catholic Primacy". (Access it here.) That article contains the following quotation:
It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity," said the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a fellowship of 75 million Protestants in more than 100 countries.
I wish I knew the reasoning process by which the Rev. Nyomi moves from the Catholic Church's position about itself to the conclusions that (1) the Catholic Church does not deeply desire Christian unity and (2) that the Catholic Church is not serious in its ecumenical dialogues with non-Catholic Christians. Apparently the Rev. Nyomi thinks that if any Church believes it is the one true Church that Christ founded, then that Church cannot desire Christian unity and cannot be serious when it says it desires such unity. Apparently, for the Rev. Nyomi, in order to desire Christian unity and be serious about Christian unity, one must believe that no present Church is the Church which Christ founded. In other words, the Rev. Nyomi's reasoning implies that in order to be serious about Christian unity one must believe either that Christ founded an invisible Church (visible only in the sense that some of its members are visible) or that if Christ did found a visible institution, the gates of hell prevailed against it.

That Catholic World News article also says the following about the response of the World Council of Churches:

The World Council of Churches (WCC) also expressed disagreement with the Vatican. In its own statement addressing the role of the Catholic Church, the WCC argued that the term "catholic" should be understood to mean "universal." In that sense, the WCC argued, "Each church is the Church catholic and not simply a part of it. Each church is the Church catholic, but not the whole of it.
(The WCC statement can be found here.)

Revealed in the WCC's statement is an implicit rejection of the Catholic Church's position about herself. In other words, only if the Catholic Church is not what she says she is does the WCC have the authority to correct Catholic doctrine. But if the Catholic Church is what she says she is (i.e. the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded by Christ), then the WCC does not have the authority to determine the Catholic Church's ecclesiology. Of course the WCC does not even attempt to refute the Catholic Church's claims about herself; it is simply assumed that no existing Church could be the Church that Christ founded. So anti-Catholicism is implicit in the assumptions upon which the WCC makes its response to this Vatican document. From the Catholic point of view, however, the Catholic Church is almost 2,000 years old, being a divine institution because it was founded by Christ Himself; the WCC, by contrast, is only 59 years old, having been founded by mere men. And we must listen to God rather than mere men.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Incarnation, Peter, and Gnosticism

Faith in Christ, and faith in the Body of Christ (i.e. the Church), cannot be separated. One cannot have one without the other, without some degree of self-deception or Nestorianism. That is because the Son of God became man. If we are not to be ecclesial deists, what are we to be? The same person who said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.", is the person to whom we must cling. If we want to be where Christ is, we must be where Peter is. Between 374 and 379 AD, St. Jerome wrote the following to Pope Damasus I (366-383):
My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. ... The church here [i.e. Syria] is rent into three factions, and each of these is eager to seize me for its own. .... I meantime keep crying: "He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me... Therefore I implore your blessedness, by our Lord's cross and passion, ..... to give an apostolic decision. Only tell me by letter with whom I am to communicate in Syria.

Trading sacramentally grounded authority for doctrinally grounded authority is a concession to a kind of gnosticism that 'de-materializes' [i.e. abstracts away the matter] the ground or basis of magisterial authority, and in doing so denies the enfleshment of God in the incarnation. Gnosticism is, in my opinion, at the root of all heresy, as I have argued here. That is because gnosticism is the antithesis of the heart of the gospel, that God became man. We should not be surprised, therefore, to find this antithesis of the gospel at the root of every heresy. At that link I argue that Peter's role as the Church's visible principle of unity becomes more understandable the more we explore the implications of the incarnation.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Ecclesial Deism and Sacramental Magisterial Authority

Beliefnet recently published this debate between Albert Mohler (President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Orson Scott Card (a Mormon writer). [HT Mark Shea] The question being debated is: Are Mormons Christian?

Card goes right to the heart of the problem for Mohler: authority. Card asks: "Who gets to define 'Christian'?" Mohler knows that sola scriptura is not enough here, so he appeals to "traditional Christian orthodoxy". He mentions the historic creeds. He writes:

"The orthodox consensus of the Christian church is defined in terms of its historic creeds and doctrinal affirmations."
I agree with Card that Mohler simply begs the question. He has to. He has rejected Apostolic succession, so he has no recourse to sacramental magisterial authority, including the authority of the General Councils and Creeds. Presumably he rejects the fifth General Council's teaching that Mary remained ever-virgin. (Cf. capitula 2) But if he rejects the authority of the fifth, then why not the first, second, third and fourth as well? If he held even to the first seven, his position would be much more like that of the Orthodox Churches, and much less like that of the Southern Baptists.

Drawing from St. Vincent of Lerins, Mohler claims that the true faith is that which was "recognized and affirmed everywhere, always, and by all". But presumably he rejects the distinction between bishop and priest, something already clearly visible in the writings of St. Ignatius bishop of Antioch, writing as an old man in 107 AD. The same General Councils to which Mohler appeals regarding the Trinity and the nature of Christ, were decided by bishops who all recognized and affirmed the distinction between bishops and priests. Presumably Mohler rejects the transformation of the bread and wine, baptismal regeneration, veneration of relics, the sacrament of confirmation, the sacrament of penance/reconciliation, fasting on Fridays and during Lent, and the communion of saints, all things that the Church held and believed everywhere. If he thinks Novatianism and Donatism are heresies, how does he think he avoids them? But if he denies that they were heresies, then he has no grounds for criticizing Card for picking and choosing differently from "traditional Christian orthodoxy" than he does himself.

Card could reply by also affirming the Vincentian canon, and claiming that Mormonism is what was initially recognized and affirmed everywhere, always, and by all, and that the purity of the gospel had already been distorted and corrupted by the end of the first century. Mohler's only rejoinder would be: My ecclesial deism isn't as extreme as yours. Card could reply: True, but it is more eclectic and no less ad hoc. Picking 500 AD as the cutoff for "traditional Christian orthodoxy" is no less ad hoc than picking 80 AD. If any ecclesial deism is allowed, then there is no more principled reason to think the 'apostasy of the Church' didn't begin for 500 years than there is to think it began in the first century. And if the creeds have authority for Mohler only insofar as they agree with his interpretation of Scripture, then Card can simply reply that he [Card] does not interpret the Scriptures that way, and therefore the creeds have no such 'authority' for him.

At some point while studying the first four hundred years of the Church, I realized that the term 'Christian' isn't as important as the word 'Catholic'. All the heretics claimed to be Christians. St. Augustine writes:

There are many other things that most justly keep me in her [i.e. the Catholic Church's] bosom. ... The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. (Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental)
My discussions with Mormons were a significant factor in helping me realize my own ecclesial deism. I pray that Mohler will likewise be benefitted from this exchange. We cannot have unity until we recognize sacramental magisterial authority, and reject ecclesial deism.