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

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.


Magotty Man said...

I was interested in your comment on the gnostic root of heresy. I wrote something on modern evangelicalism sometime ago, noticing gnostic tendencies TOGETHER with pelagion ones. What do you make of it? Find it here - http://scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com/2007/05/when-simon-met-pelagius.html

Anonymous said...

Dude, I keep checking your site to see what you might say about the press release yesterday from the congregation for the doctrine of the faithful. It has a lot to do with the topic of your blog and would love to hear your thoughts. It sounds to me like a clarification of what "subsists" means. But I would rather Protestant churches be "separated churches" than simply something with a churchly character but not really a church. I also would like something a little stronger about Protestant Christians versus non-Christians - saying that Protestant churches contain truth is a bit like the language of the Nostra Aetate about non-Christian religions. Anyway, would love your take.

Bryan Cross said...


I've been away from internet access since Sunday morning, until about an hour ago. So I haven't had a chance to say anything about this Vatican document. I may just write a blog post about it. I think you are right about this document intending to clarify "subsists". The issue about whether Protestant "communities" [I'm not trying to be question-begging, you understand] are "Churches" has to do with the *nature* of Apostolic succession (as I have talked about before), and the necessity of Apostolic succession for the existence of a bona fide Church (and by "Church" is meant a local or particular Church, because the Catholic Church teaches that there is only one universal Church, of which particular Churches are a part). The necessity of Apostolic succession (of a sacramental nature) is part of what is meant by the term "apostolic" in the four marks of the Church stated in the Creed: "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church". So without Apostolic succession, one of the essential marks is missing.

Catholics who have carefully studied the documents of VII would not be surprised by the way in which "subsist" is clarified here. But some persons have taken "subsists" in a way that was unintended by the VII Council, namely, as though VII was admitting that the Catholic Church is simply one of many Churches. In other words, they have taken the term as a kind of concession to institutional pluralism. But the Council never intended any such thing. Nor had the Church ever taught such. So, I'm glad for this clarification, because I think it will help clarify to non-Catholics (1) what the Catholic Church teaches about herself, (2) why the Catholic Church believes institutional unity is essential, and (3) how the Catholic Church understands the necessary direction of ecumenical unity.

I'll try to blog about this some more, but there are my initial thoughts.

- Bryan

Bryan Cross said...


I replied to your article on your blog.

- Bryan