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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

490 Years, And Counting

Today, 490 years ago, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the Wittenburg door, an event that led very shortly thereafter to the separation of Protestants and Catholics.

The first time in my life that I saw Luther from a Catholic point of view was in the summer of 1990. I was standing in the Church of the Gesu in Rome looking at a sculpture by Pierre LeGros, titled "Faith's Triumph Over Heresy". (See a more detailed photo
here.) A woman, quite possibly representing the Virgin Mary, or the Church (or both), holds a cross and puts her foot in judgment and triumph on Martin Luther, with John Hus cowering behind him. An angel rips out pages from a book, possibly representing a book by Luther, or heretics in general. It had never *truly* entered into my mind that someone might actually conceive of Luther as a heretic. It was just a given, for me, that he was a moral and theological hero. So it was shocking in a way, to see Luther depicted in this manner. But the Catholic Church did excommunicate Luther as a heretic. So either Luther's excommunication does not really mean anything (because the Church had no authority, being apostate), or Luther's excommunication does mean something.

This event cannot be considered a mere "branching", or then every excommunication the Church has ever issued could be treated as a mere "branching". Either Luther was cast out of the Church and those who follow him follow an excommunicated heretic, or at that moment Luther was the Church (setting aside, of course, the Orthodox Churches).

It is possible, of course, to believe that the Catholic Church was apostate at the time of Luther but is now no longer apostate. But then there is no justifiable reason for remaining in schism from her. So it seems there is little room for a middle position.

Seventy times seven years have now gone by since that day. Anyone who thinks about this number should feel sorrow that such a division has lasted for such a length of time. Every All Saints Day is, at the same time, a day of mourning and intercession that this division would not continue for another year. I believe that the only way to reconcile Protestants and Catholics is for us all to face the truth about what occurred, not sweep the past under the rug. And questions of authority cannot be avoided here. Whose determination of what heresy is and who is a heretic is authoritative? If the 'authoritative' determination of heresy belongs to each man, then in effect there is no authoritative determination of heresy. Heresy is then in the eye of the beholder. Every heretic in the history of the Church could then say to the magisterium, "Your opinion is no more authoritative than mine. I declare you a heretic." There is no sense at all to the idea of Church discipline (cf. Matthew 18:15-18) if each man has equal ecclesial authority to decide what is heresy, and what is orthodoxy. If one man can defy the authority of the Church, then anyone can defy the authority of the Church, and what is then left of the idea of Church authority? If the Church is wherever each individual determines it to be based on his determination of what the gospel is, then there is no such thing as Church discipline. If everyone has the keys, then no one has the keys. That is simply the nature of authority. The question facing those who decide to follow Luther and his example is this: Whose determination of the content of the canon and the interpretation of the Scripture is authoritative? We should not take authority unto ourselves. That is a principle revealed all through Scripture. It is seen clearly in the life of King David, and the life of Absalom. As I point out here, the resemblance between the original attempt by the "Angel of Light" to usurp the divine throne (Isaiah 14:12-14) and Luther's defiance of the bishops and the seat of St. Peter should deeply concern every Protestant. We tend to forget that in the history of the Church, most heretics and schismatics almost never thought of themselves as such. Only evil people are heretics, we think. In one sense, that is true. Heresy is an evil, and so those who believe heresy are ipso facto in a state of privation of goodness. But the fatal assumption is that evil, even in doctrine, is necessarily self-evident, such that if a belief we hold were heretical, we would obviously and necessarily recognize it to be such. Knowledge of the history of heresies is the antidote to that assumption.

In June of 1522, at the age of 38, Luther wrote, "I do not admit that my doctrine can be judged by anyone, even by the angels. He who does not receive my doctrine cannot be saved." Luther realized that nothing less than that justified schism. (See my "You say one must not papalize".)
Notice how Luther's individualism contradicts the universalism of his claim. He sets himself up in his claim as if he is unique among men, while by his very actions he declares that uniqueness is not necessary. If anyone can defy the pope, then anyone can defy Luther. And the fragmentation within Protestantism began almost immediately. The Church declared that Luther's "gospel" was not the Church's gospel, but was heretical. Luther responded by defining the Church according to his own gospel. Either the individual's determination of the gospel determines where the Church is, or the Church determines what the gospel is. If the former is the case, then the Church is where each individual determines it to be, which is to say, it is nowhere. But if the Church determines what the gospel is, then all those in the Protestant tradition should return to the Church. May God unite us in truth and love.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mennonites make historic first visit to the Vatican

Read about it here. (Keep praying; our prayers are working.)

Scott Carson on private judgment

Scott Carson, a Catholic and a professor of philosophy at Ohio University, recently posted a very worthwhile article on private judgment titled "Why Privileging Private Judgment Is A Sin Against Unity". Tim Enloe posted a response at ReformedCatholicism. My reply to Tim can be found here. Michael Liccione adds his comments here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Reconciling Catholics and Protestants on justification

The two major doctrinal sticking points between Catholics and Protestants are "sola fide" and "sola scriptura". I have addressed sola scriptura a number of times on this blog, because I think it is more fundamental than is sola fide. But last month I wrote briefly here about justification by faith. Now I wish to say a bit more.

According to Scott Hahn, John Gerstner once said, [paraphrasing], "If we're wrong on sola fide, I'd be on my knees outside the Vatican in Rome tomorrow morning doing penance." What is encouraging about that statement is that he recognizes that if he is wrong about sola fide, he is not only in [material] heresy, but also in schism. It seems to me that fewer Protestants are aware of the truth of a conditional of that sort. I want to focus on "initial justification" by which I mean that initial translation from the state in which man is born in the first Adam to the state of grace through the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Is this initial justification by "faith alone"?

I think the answer to that question depends on what is meant by the term 'faith'. When we [Americans] hear the term 'faith', we tend immediately to think of something entirely individual, internal, private and subjective. But in the fathers, faith is something public. It is something we receive from God through the Church (cf. Romans 10:14-15). We come into the fullness of that life of faith through baptism, which is for that reason called the "sacrament of faith". It is through baptism that we are initially justified, because it is through baptism that we are washed, regenerated, brought into the community of faith and the fullness of the life of faith, and thus joined to the Body of Christ. Yes, of course, catechumens who died prior to baptism were considered by the Church to be justified. But that was not because baptism is not Christ's appointed means of initial justification. Rather, the Church taught that in His mercy Christ granted to these persons also the grace of baptism through their desire for it. Thus it was called "baptism of desire".

When we read passages like Ephesians 2:8, we tend not to recognize that the context has to do with baptism. Reading the fathers on baptism (and they are very clear on this subject) shows that baptism is the sacramental means by which we die with Christ and are raised with Him. And that is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 2:1-7. So the faith of Ephesians 2:8 is not a private, entirely subjective, individual faith; it is an ecclesial faith, the faith of the Church in the Church with the Church. It is a baptismal faith.

Likewise, Romans 10:9 can only be understood in the context of Romans chapter 6. Romans chapter 6 is all about living in post-baptismal grace. So "confessing with one's mouth" and "believing in one's heart" is not teaching a private, individualistic, non-ecclesial act. Rather, Paul is talking about an act that is still practiced to this day in the Catholic Church. Catechumens confess to (and with) the Church the faith of the Church (i.e. now in the form of the Creed) just prior to their baptism. So the "confessing with one's mouth" Paul is talking about is a public, ecclesial confessing in the context of receiving the sacrament of baptism, and subsequently and regularly in public worship. He does not have to explain this to his readers, because they all know it, having all gone through it themselves. But in the non-sacramental context of contemporary evangelicalism, there is no such awareness of that implicitly understood ecclesial and sacramental context. And hence these verses are often interpreted in very individualistic, non-sacramental and non-ecclesial ways.

Is baptism a work? Yes and no. Yes, in that Christ is the baptizer. He is the one (through the minsters of the Church) who baptizes. He works; we receive baptism. But baptism
is not a work of the Law, but a work of grace. With our hearts and mouths we do something. So in that sense we are doing a work in order to be justified. But this work is the result of grace. It is by grace that our eyes have been opened to understand and believe the gospel that was preached to us. It is by grace that we show ourselves to the Church as ready for baptism. It is by grace that we believe and confess before the Church the faith of the Church, and thus it is by grace that we do all those things that lead to our baptism. And so we cannot boast! And yet we were not passive or inactive; it was truly our will that carried out those acts. We were not puppets being pushed by divine will apart from or without our will. But our will was a will transformed and empowered and drawn forward to the Truth and the Mysteries by divine grace.

Are we initially justified by faith alone? If we are speaking about a faith that is sacramental and ecclesial in nature, and as such includes within itself works of all sort, i.e. believing the gospel, repenting, obeying the Commandments and precepts of the Church in the Catechumenate period, willing to be baptized, and in fact receiving baptism, then the answer is yes. Such a conception of faith includes within itself the sacrament of baptism by which we are regenerated and given the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. So in that broad sense of the term 'faith', we could be said to be initially justified by "faith alone". But we are not initially justified by "faith alone" if by 'faith' is meant something entirely individual, private and separate from the sacrament of baptism (and the preparation necessary for its reception) and from incorporation into the life of the Church, a life which includes the other sacraments and prayer and obeying the Commandments. So the debate hinges in part on our conception of 'faith', whether it is individualistic, non-sacramental, and private, or ecclesial, sacramental, and corporate. The more we recognize the connection between baptism and justification, the closer we will be to the Catholic Church's doctrine on the relation of faith and our initial justification.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Reply to Higgins in Plausible Ecumenicism

This past summer I wrote a brief reply to Craig Higgins' section of the article in Touchstone titled "Plausible Ecumenicism." My reply can be found here

Thursday, October 18, 2007

To Guide our Feet into the Way of Peace

Today is the Feast day of St. Luke the Evangelist. St. Luke records the prophecy of the high priest Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. Zacharias prophecies that John the Baptist will "go on before the Lord to prepare His ways", and "to guide our feet into the way of peace." (St. Luke 1:76,79)

In St. Luke 12:49-53, Jesus shows us that the way of peace is necessarily one that involves conflict with the world, a certain kind of conflict with those who reject and hate Christ, as I have discussed here. But the way of peace must bring peace and unity to and among and between all those who love Christ. In these last days, we lift our heads to prepare for Christ's return. The Bride makes herself ready for His second coming. And again we need our feet to be guided into the way of peace. For if we are separated into myriad schisms, how can we say that we are walking in the way of peace? Shouldn't the way of peace lead us to be at peace with each other, united in faith, practice and governance? Shouldn't the followers of the "Prince of Peace" be at peace with each other? Shouldn't the way of peace necessarily involve being reconciled to our brothers and sisters in Christ (St. Matthew 5:24)? At the very least, shouldn't the way of peace involve an unrelenting impassioned effort on our part to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters from whom we are separated by schism? Can he who makes no such effort say to himself rightly, "I am walking in the way of peace"? St. Peter tells that we "must seek peace and pursue it" (1 Peter 3:11) If we are men and women of peace, men and women walking in the way of peace, then shouldn't we be seeking and pursuing peace with those in the household of faith from whom we are estranged? An individualistic notion of peace would concern itself only with our personal relation to Christ, and would not include our relation to our brothers and sisters in Christ. But the writer to the Hebrews commands us to "pursue peace with all men" (Hebrews 12:14). So how much more ought we to be pursuing peace with those within the "household of faith"?

Is all this mere idealism? A confusion of the already and the not yet? The writers of Scripture do not tell us to wait until the eschaton to pursue peace. The command is for Today, because the way of peace into which our feet are to be guided is for Today. The fractured state of Christendom can become so ordinary and familiar to us that calls and efforts to restore and retrieve peace and unity seem idealistic, radical and even foolish. But that is only because we have grown so accustomed to the state of schism that it no longer seems evil to us. The unity of the early Christians was such that they "were together and had all things in common" (Acts 2:44). We have to recover an awareness of the unity and peace that Christ gave to the Church (St. John 14:27), and which He desires us to maintain and pursue in His Household and His Body, the Church. We know that a "house divided cannot stand". (St. Matthew 12:25; St. Mark 3:25; St. Luke 11:17) And is it not a cancerous condition when a body contains cells or groups of cells that pursue an end of their own making, and not the good and unity of the whole body? It seems to me that we need to be spreading the following word to all believers, including those with whom we are already in full communion: "Come, let us fervently pursue peace and reconciliation with those believers who are presently estranged from us. Let us not rest until this reconciliation is achieved and the schisms removed. The Prince of Peace is coming soon. Let us prepare ourselves by making peace with each other."

Lord Jesus, may we be made one, as you and the Father are one. Make us instruments of your peace. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

St. Ignatius on Unity

Today is the memorial of Saint Ignatius bishop of Antioch. He was martyred by Emperor Trajan in 107 AD. The following selection was in last week's readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is from Saint Ignatius' letter to the Philadelphians:

"I greet you in the blood of Jesus Christ. You are my abiding and unshakable joy, especially if your members remain united with the bishop and with his presbyters and deacons, all appointed in accordance with the mind of Christ who by His own will has strengthened them in the firmness which the Spirit gives. ... As sons of the light of truth, flee divisions and evil doctrines; where your shepherd is, follow him as his flock. For all who belong to God and Jesus Christ are with the bishop; all who repent and return to the unity of the Church will also belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not be deceived, my brothers. If anyone follows a schismatic, he will not obtain the inheritance of God's kingdom; if anyone lives by an alien teaching, he does not assent to the passion of the Lord. Be careful, therefore, to take part only in the one eucharist; for there is only one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup to unite us with His blood, one altar and one bishop with the presbyters and deacons, who are his fellow servants. Then, whatever you do, you will do according to God."

Saint Ignatius, please pray that all Christians would follow the rightful bishop of their diocese, so that we might all partake of the one eucharist, in order that we may be perfected in unity.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How Not To Reform the Church

Step 1: Define some part of your own personal interpretation of the Bible to be the true "gospel", defending your definition by claiming that [your] gospel is what the Apostles taught but has since been lost, hidden, distorted and corrupted until now. Don't use the word 'interpretation'; if necessary call it 'exegesis' to make it seem entirely objective and scientific.

Step 2: Declare and assert, again based on your own personal interpretation of the Bible, that the preaching of the true "gospel" is one of the essential marks of the Church.

Step 3: Point out that only you and those who agree with you bear all the essential marks (as you yourself have defined them in Steps 1-2) of the Church, and that the rest of the so-called Church does not bear all these marks and is therefore apostate and not the true Church.

Step 4: Get yourself excommunicated by that so-called Church which (through Steps 1-3) you have just declared apostate.

Step 5: State that you believe in "semper reformanda", and vigorously oppose the notion that the magisterium is infallible, while also declaring that anyone who repeats Step 1 but comes to a different conclusion regarding the nature of the true "gospel" is ipso facto a heretic and/or an apostate. When asked how what you have done differs from forming a schism, assert that a schism would have a different gospel than the true "gospel" you have recovered.

Step 6: Celebrate your reformation of the Church every year on the anniversary of your initiation of Step 1, and declare and assert that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church continues only with you and those who agree with you regarding the content of the true "gospel".

Today is the memorial of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), who helped us know more deeply the depth of love which flows continually from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. From that pierced heart flows the water and the blood by which through the sacraments the Church is fashioned into a Bride from and for the Second Adam. As St. John Chrysostom writes:

For "there came forth water and blood." Not without a purpose, or by chance, did those founts come forth, but because by means of these two together the Church consisteth. And the initiated know it, being by water indeed regenerate, and nourished by the Blood and the Flesh. Hence the Mysteries take their beginning; that when thou approachest to that awful cup, thou mayest so approach, as drinking from the very side.

At almost every Mass, for the past year, as I come before Christ in the Eucharist to drink from His very side, I experience a deep pain in the center of my soul. Usually it moves me to the point of tears. I have to remember always to bring a handkerchief to Mass. Sometimes, I struggle to restrain myself from open weeping. I do not fully understand this experience, but I do know that it has to do with the brokenness and division in Christ's Body. The best I can explain it is like this. Here I am, coming before the Living Christ to receive the Life that flows from His Sacred Heart. And yet while the Living Christ is being offered to me, His Sacred Heart is in pain, and He Himself is weeping over all those who are separated in schisms, wounding the integrity of His Body but not knowing what they are doing. He is weeping over their absence and estrangement. He wishes to gather them together, that we may all be one in Him, as one flock with one Shepherd, as one Body with one Head. In the presence of that divine weeping, the same pain rises up in my heart. How can I sup with Him in joy when my brothers and sisters, His brothers and sisters, do not sup with us? It would be like sitting down at the table for Thanksgiving dinner, while one or more members of the family are in another house, unreconciled to us. How can I be joyful while my brother's seat is empty, while my sister's seat lies vacant, because of an unresolved family quarrel? How could I not feel the pain of their absence? But obviously I do not outdo Christ. Does He not push back His chair first, jump up from the table, run to His separated brothers and sisters and plead with them: "Come, come back to the table. Come home and be reconciled. Let us be together as one family again. Put aside your pride, and let us heal these schisms. We are waiting for you with open arms. We want to eat with you; we want you to share in the joy of partaking of this divine Food and this heavenly Meal with us. And so our joy cannot be full while you are estranged from us. You are all so dear to our hearts, and the rest of the family longs for your return." And if He is spurned or ignored, though this is like a knife in His heart, He does not give up but implores all the more, "Come and be reconciled to your brothers and sisters. See, our faces are wet with tears, and our hearts are weighed down with sorrow because of your absence. Do not let your heart grow hard and complacent; do not let yourself become comfortable in your separation or put out of your mind that you are estranged from us, and that we long for you to return home. Come, determine in your heart to be reconciled to us, no matter how difficult that process may be, so that we might eat together in the fullness of the Peace and Joy of the Life of the Blessed Trinity."

Sacred Heart of Jesus, unite our hearts to yours. Please use us to bring all of those who love you into the full and visible unity of your Body the Church, that we may all share in the fullness of the eternal Peace and Joy that is the Life of the Blessed Trinity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sacramentally grounded authority vs. individualism (II)

In an earlier post I presented a loose argument that sacramentally grounded magisterial authority is the only alternative to individualism. Here I wish to present the argument in a tighter form.

(1) Individualism is the notion (whether explicit or implicit) that each individual is his own highest ecclesial authority such that there is no visible human having higher ecclesial authority than himself. [By stipulation]

(2) Either each individual is his own highest ecclesial authority such that there is no visible human having higher ecclesial authority than himself, or there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual.

(3) Either individualism is true or there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual. [From (1) and (2)]

(4) If there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual, the ground for the authority had by that higher ecclesial authority is either the individual's agreement with that higher ecclesial authority's doctrine/practice, or the handing down of authority from the Apostles through sacramental succession.

(5) Authority over another cannot be grounded in the other's agreement with the one having authority. [From the very nature of authority]

(6) There can be no visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual where the authority of that higher ecclesial authority is grounded in the individual's agreement with the higher ecclesial authority 's doctrine/practice. [From (5)]

(7) If there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual, the ground for the authority had by that higher ecclesial authority is the handing down of authority from the Apostles through sacramental succession. [From (4) and (6)]

(8) Either individualism is true or there is a visible human ecclesial authority higher in ecclesial authority than that of each individual, and the ground for the authority had by that higher ecclesial authority is the handing down of authority from the Apostles through sacramental succession. [From (3) and (7)]

If you wish to refute the argument, falsify at least one of the premises or show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. I should also add that an unstated assumption of the argument is that post-Apostolic revelations (e.g. Joseph Smith) are not authoritative.

One implication of the argument is that when an individual treats persons not having authority handed down to them from the Apostles through sacramental succession as though such persons are higher in ecclesial authority than himself, that individual is (whether aware of this or not) nevertheless still functioning as his own highest ecclesial authority, as though there is no visible human having higher ecclesial authority than himself. He is therefore living in a self-contradictory manner.

This is the same contradiction involved when those wanting their ears tickled accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires. (2 Timothy 4:3)
True teachers tell us what we do not yet know and often do not want to hear. But those whom we select to tell us only what we want to hear, what we want to believe, or what we already believe, are not teachers. Calling them 'teachers' is the way those with itching ears mask their own individualism. "We are not individualists -- we have teachers", they might say. "No," Paul would say, "you have no true teachers. You select those saying only what you agree with, and you pay them to say it. They are not teachers; they are hired flatterers, merely parroting back to you your own interpretive and theological determinations. You "accumulate" such flatterers around you in order to make their claims seem to have the weight of consensus. But you are deceiving yourselves into thinking they are teachers, and they have deceived themselves into thinking that they are teachers." Oddly, it seems to me that the great majority of persons who read this verse assume it is talking about persons other than themselves. The deception is so effective that it is very hard to recognize that one is guilty of what is being described in this verse.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Shea on Unity, Liberty, and Charity

Last month I posted a link to Mark Shea's article "In Essential Things: Unity". The second article in that series is titled "In Doubtful Things: Liberty". The final article is titled, "In All Things: Charity".

In the second article, Shea shows how the Catholic Church encourages and protects diversity. That might come as a surprise to those who frequently refer to the diversity of beliefs in the Catholic Church as evidence that sacramental magisterial authority is not the solution to the fragmentation of denominationalism. But we must not confuse division with diversity. Being in schism is a sin. But diversity within the Church reveals in various ways the manifold beauty and perfection of the Blessed Trinity. Shea's point in that second article is that one way of damaging the unity of the Church is to treat as essential something that is in actuality not essential.

So this raises a question: Whose decision regarding what is (and what isn't) essential is authoritative? If the answer is "No one's", the result would be absolute chaos. But from the days of the Apostles, the answer to this question has always been "Those who were so authorized by the laying on of hands by those who were authorized by Christ." The Church has always believed and taught that only the bishops in sacramental succession from the Apostles have the authority to determine what is essential. That belief and practice was rejected by the Protestants. And that is one of the primary reasons why Protestantism has fragmented into so many denominations.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sola scriptura as a "tradition of men"

"The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men." (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6)

This statement itself is neither expressly set down in Scripture nor deducible by good and necessary consequence from the entirety of Scripture, let alone from the three passages given in the "Scripture proofs". (2 Tim 3:15-17; Gal 1:8-9; 2 Thess 2:2) For that reason, it does not pass its own test, and is therefore self-reduced at most to a mere superfluous "tradition of men". (The same is true of WCF 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, the last clause of 1.5, 1.7, 1.9 and 1.10.)

In the particular "tradition of men" exhibited throughout the first chapter of the WCF, the foundations of the tradition are simply presupposed and then 'supported' with proof-texts that do not establish or entail the claims being made. Hence the self-referential contradiction manifested here. The contradiction looks like this:

(1) The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for us to know concerning salvation, faith and life is at least deducible from Scripture by good and necessary consequence.

(2) The claims put into the confession are part of the counsel of God concerning all things necessary for us to know concerning salvation, faith and life.

(3) Many of the claims put into the confession are in actuality not deducible from Scripture by good and necessary consequence.

So either all these undeducible claims in the first chapter of the WCF are not part of the whole counsel of God and are not necessary for us to know concerning salvation, faith and life, OR the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for us to know concerning salvation, faith and life is not at least deducible from Scripture. In the latter case, sola scriptura (and WCF 1.6) is false. In the former case, there is no reason to care what much of the first chapter of the WCF says, including WCF 1.6. Either way, WCF 1.6 is in trouble.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Individualism and interpretation

In the context of ecclesiology, individualism is the notion (whether explicit or implicit) that the individual is his own highest ecclesial authority. The individualist does not submit or subordinate his interpretation to that of any other human on earth.

I have argued here repeatedly that there is no middle position between individualism and a recognition of sacramental magisterial authority. Now, one possible and somewhat common objection to my dilemma between individualism and sacramental magisterial authority is that my dilemma is a false dilemma, because those who submit to the magisterium of the Church are just as much individualists as are those who submit only to their own interpretations. The argumentation goes like this: Even those who submit to ecclesial authority must interpret the teaching of that ecclesial authority, and therefore those who submit to ecclesial authority are no less individualistic than are those who submit ultimately and only to their own interpretation of Scripture.

But that conclusion does not follow. The fact that each individual must interpret any form of communication does not entail that each individual is his own highest interpretive authority. Authority and interpretation are not the same thing. Therefore the fact that a person must interpret communication in order to understand it does not entail that such a person is his own highest authority, or is an individualist. What makes the individualist an individualist is not that he interprets Scripture, but that he treats himself as the highest interpretive authority for himself, as someone not under the interpretive authority of the Church. The person who submits his interpretation to the judgment of the magisterium of the Church must, of course, interpret the words in the magisterium's judgment, but being under the authority of the magisterium means that if necessary, he submits even his interpretation of the magisterium's judgment to the magisterium. He subordinates his interpretation of communication (whether in Scripture or in the teachings and judgments of the magisterium) to that of the magisterium. But the individualist does not subordinate his interpretations to that of the magisterium. So the necessity of interpretation in any communication does not entail that each person has equal interpretive authority or equal ecclesial authority. Nor does it entail that the individual is his own highest ecclesial or interpretive authority. Individualism should not be confused with the necessity of individual interpretation of communication. The latter does not imply or entail the former.

Pope asks for prayer after Russian Orthodox walk out of dialogue

See the article here.

Lord Jesus, please bring humility and patience and love into the hearts of all those involved in these discussions, that they might deeply sense your desire that we all may be one, and that they may follow your Spirit and earnestly seek reconciliation and the restoration of full visible unity.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

In the event of a schism, where is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church?

"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)

"You shall not make a schism. Rather, you shall make peace among those who are contending." – Didache (late first – early second century)

In order to understand how to bring about the "full and visible unity of all Christ's followers", we have to think about how to mend schisms. And that means we have to understand the nature of schism. Earlier this year I wrote about schism here and more recently here. And two weeks ago I argued here that the sooner we start recognizing schisms for what they are, the sooner we will realize that they need to be mended.

Mending a schism requires, among other things, knowing which party is in schism, otherwise neither side will see any need to join the other side. The two parties might meet at the ecumenical dialogue table (which is good), but if each side believes itself to have equal claim to being the continuation of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, then neither has reason to join the other party, all other things being equal. So the question I wish to consider now is this: In the event of a schism, which of the resulting groups is the continuation of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and which is in schism from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? (Of course this question will not apply to cases in which a group that is already in schism divides again.)

One important criterion for determining which is the continuing Church is retention of the doctrine of the Apostles. The continuing Church must retain the doctrine of the Apostles. But the primary problem with this criterion taken by itself is that any heretic can claim that his interpretation is that of the Apostles. That is because taking this criterion in isolation eliminates the possibility of an authoritative body that can adjudicate between claims to have the Apostolic doctrine. Here's why. If doctrinal agreement is the only criterion for determining the identity of the Church, then suppose there is a split into group A and group B. Group A might form its 'authoritative body' which then rules that group B is heretical, and group B might form its 'authoritative body' which then rules that group A is heretical. There is nothing that gives group A's 'authoritative body' any more authority than that of group B's, and vice versa. And if groups A and B each split into additional groups, the same will be true. Even if groups A and B split into as many groups as there are persons in both groups, the same will be true. Each person can say, "My interpretation is that of the Apostles", and no one has any greater authority to say, "No you don't." Hence, taking this criterion by itself is an adoption of individualism, an ecclesiology intrinsically disposed to fragmentation upon fragmentation.

So there must be an additional criterion, because Christ did not leave His Church without a principle of unity. In the fathers of the Church we find an additional criterion: sacramental succession from the Apostles (which I discussed here). By 'sacramental' I mean "by means of a sacrament", in this case the sacrament of Holy Orders. (Orthodox and Catholic fully agree that there are seven sacraments, and that Holy Orders is one of them.) Doctrine as such is purely formal. But a sacrament is not wholly *formal*, but necessarily includes a material principle. Baptism, for example, requires water as the material principle of that sacrament. The reason why a purely formal principle cannot be the sole criterion for determining which party in the event of a schism is the continuation of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is that Form is capable of multiple instantiations. But there can be only one "holy, catholic, and apostolic Church", for Christ has only one Bride. Therefore there must be a material principle of identity and continuity. And that material principle is sacramental succession from the Apostles through the laying on of hands by those having such succession. The sacrament of Holy Orders confers magisterial authority. But only one having this authority can administer this sacrament. In the early Church magisterial authority was always treated as something that was passed down from God the Father to Christ (cf. Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; Revelation 2:28), from Christ to the Apostles, and from the Apostles to the bishops through the laying on of hands (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). Often the Church (including the laity) would nominate candidates to replace a bishop who had died, but bishops were always ordained by other bishops. This is why submitting to the sacramental magisterial authorities (i.e. the bishops) was described (see here) by St. Ignatius (d. 107 AD) as submitting to Christ.

With this criterion, we can answer our initial question. First, when there is a schism, and one party does not have Holy Orders, and the other does, the party not having Holy Orders cannot be the continuation of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, even if in all other possible respects it retains the Apostles' doctrine. The party not having Holy Orders is in schism. St. Ignatius (d. 107), bishop of Antioch, writes, to the Trallians, "Without these three orders [bishop, priest, and deacon] you cannot begin to speak of a church."

Second, the charism that accompanies the sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred whether or not the conferral is in accordance with Church law. This is why although the priests and bishops in the Novatian and Donatists schisms had Holy Orders, they were not the rightful authorities in their respective dioceses. So, in the event of a schism where both parties have Holy Orders, the party whose Orders were not received in accordance with Church law is the party in schism.

Third, one of the Apostles was given a primacy over the others, for to him alone did Christ say, "Upon this rock I will build My Church", and "I will give to you (singular) the keys of the kingdom of heaven." (St. Matthew 16:18-19) (See, for example, my previous blog post.) This Apostle passed on this authority to his episcopal successor in the Holy See (i.e. St. Linus), and he to his episcopal successor (i.e. St. Cletus). That list of bishops in succession can be seen here. Whenever a heterogeneous organism is divided, the head of the organism determines where the original organism continues. The part detached from the head is in schism from the organism. So likewise, whenever there is a schism and both parties have legitimate Holy Orders, the party that remains in communion with the episcopal successor of St. Peter is the continuation of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. (If both parties remain in communion with the episcopal successor of St. Peter, then the schism is internal and must shortly be either resolved or one party will break with the episcopal successor of St. Peter, for he will require the two parties to be reconciled.)

"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one." (St. John 17: 20-21) Lord Jesus, may we heed your prayer. Give us the grace, humility and love to leave behind the schisms we have made, and be one with each other as you are one with the Father. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Saint Cyprian on Unity

"The Lord says to Peter: 'I say to you,' He says, 'that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven.' And again He says to him after His resurrection: 'Feed my sheep.' On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church? ...

"With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to set sail and carry letters from schismatics and blasphemers to the chair of Peter and to the principal Church, in which sacerdotal unity has its source; nor did they take thought that these are Romans, whose faith was praised by the preaching Apostle, and among whom it is not possible for perfidy to have entrance." ...

"You wrote also, that I should forward to Cornelius [bishop of Rome], our colleague, a copy of your letter, so that he might put aside any anxiety and know immediately that you are in communion with him, that is, with the Catholic Church.... Cornelius was made bishop [of Rome] by the decision of God and of His Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, by the applause of the people then present, by the college of venerable priests and good men, . . . which is the place of Peter, the dignity of the sacerdotal chair.... Since it has been occupied both at the will of God and with the ratified consent of all of us, whoever wishes now to become bishop must do so outside. For he cannot have ecclesiastical rank who does not hold to the unity of the Church." ...

"There speaks Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, teaching in the name of the Church and showing that even if a stubborn and proud multitude withdraws because it does not wish to obey, yet the Church does not withdraw from Christ. The people joined to the priest and the flock clinging to their shepherd are the Church. You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church." ...

"There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one Chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering."

See also St. Cyprian's letter to Pope Stephen (254-257) requesting Pope Stephen to excommunicate Marcian, bishop of Arles (because of Marcian's Novatianism), and to oversee the appointment of a replacement for Marcian of Arles.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Saint Augustine on Unity

"Small wonder that pride gives birth to division, and love to unity. But our catholic mother is herself a shepherd; she seeks the straying sheep everywhere, strengthens the weak, heals the sick, and binds up the injured. ... Thus she is like a vine that is spread out everywhere in its growth. The straying sheep are like useless branches which because of their sterility are deservedly cut off, not to destroy the vine but to prune it. When these branches were cut down, they were left lying there. But the vine grew and flourished, and it knew both the branches that remained upon it and those that had been cut off and left lying beside it. She calls the stray sheep back, however, because the Apostle said in reference to the broken branches: God has the power to graft them on again. Call them sheep straying from the flock or branches cut off from the vine, God is equally capable of calling back the sheep or of grafting the branches on again, for he is equally the chief shepherd and the true farmer. ... My sheep, he says, hear my voice and follow me.... [A]ll good shepherds are one in the one shepherd. It is not that good shepherds are lacking; they are there in the one shepherd. When we speak of "many" we refer to those who are divided from each other. Here only one is spoken of, because in this passage unity is commended. The reason why shepherds are not mentioned here, but only one shepherd, is not because the Lord has failed to find anyone to whom to entrust his sheep; he entrusted the sheep to Peter because he had found Peter. Indeed, in the case of Peter he also commended the unity of the flock. There were many apostles, and yet to one only did he say: Feed my sheep.... When he entrusted his sheep to Peter as one person to another, Christ chose to make Peter one with himself. He wanted to entrust him with the sheep in such a way that he himself might be the head and Peter might represent the body, that is, the Church. As bridegroom and bride, Christ and the Church were to be two in one flesh. Accordingly, what does he say before he entrusts the sheep to Peter as to someone who is not separate from himself? Peter, do you love me? He answered: I love you. And again: Do you love me? He answered: I love you. And a third time: Do you love me? He answered: I love you. He receives an assurance of love in order to establish unity. ... All should speak with one voice in Christ, not with different voices. Brethren, I beg all of you to say the same thing, and to have no dissensions among you. The sheep should hear this voice, a voice purified from all schism, freed from all heresy, and so follow their shepherd, who says: My sheep hear my voice and follow me."

- St. Augustine, Sermo 46.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Why conciliarism without SMA is a contradiction

When I recently asked this question, a discussion ensued that has prompted me to lay out an argument against the position in which two claims are simultaneously held to be true: (1) some (but not all) Church councils are authoritative, and (2) there is no sacramental magisterial authority.

My argument begins by raising a question for the person holding that position.

(Q1) On what grounds does one determine which councils are authoritative?

For the person holding this position, there seems to be only one available answer to that question: Those councils are authoritative that agree with Scripture. But this answer just pushes us back to a further question:

(Q2) Agree with Scripture according to whom?

At that this point, the person holding this position can reply by appealing either to another council, to the Holy Spirit, or to his own interpretation of Scripture. Let's consider each of these three in turn.

First, if the person appeals to another council, the original question (i.e. Q1) applies to his determination of the authority of that council as well. So this reply simply pushes the question back; it does not answer the question. So this reply is not an option.

Second, if the person appeals to the Holy Spirit, this too pushes the question back to a further question: According to whose determination of what the Holy Spirit is saying? The answer to that question cannot be "another council", since again, that too would just push back the question. Nor can the answer be "the Holy Spirit", because that too would just push back the question. Nor can the answer be "the Scriptures", because the appeal to the Holy Spirit was the answer to Q2. So to appeal to Scripture here would be to fall into circular reasoning. The circularity would look like this: According to whose interpretation of Scripture? The Holy Spirit's. According to whose determination of what the Holy Spirit is saying? The Scripture's. According to whose interpretation of Scripture? The Holy Spirit's. .... So this reply too is not an option.

Third, he can appeal to his own interpretation of Scripture. This amounts to the notion that those Church councils are authoritative that agree with one's own interpretation of Scripture, and that those Church councils are not authoritative that do not agree with one's own interpretation of Scripture. But this completely undermines the authority of any council, for the very nature of authority is not something to which we are subject only when in agreement with it.

But there seem to be no other possible answers to Q2. If there are no other answers to Q2, then since the first two replies to Q2 do not answer the question, the person holding this position is by default treating the third reply as the answer to Q2. This implies that the person holding this position is involved in a contradiction. On the one hand he is claiming that some Church councils are authoritative. But on the other hand, by picking as 'authoritative' only those councils that agree with his own interpretation of Scripture he is acting as though there is no such thing as ecclesial authority. His position would not involve a contradiction if when he says "some councils are authoritative", what he means by 'authoritative' is "in agreement with my interpretation of Scripture". In other words, he can avoid the contradiction by making explicit that he is using the term 'authoritative' in a way that is contrary to its ordinary sense. But if he retains the ordinary sense of the term 'authoritative', then his position involves a contradiction. This implies that if the ordinary sense of the terms is retained, claim (1) and claim (2) are contraries, i.e. they cannot both be true.

Now, the common rejoinder to this sort of argument is a
tu quoque: you too. The claim is that in the process of becoming Catholic or Orthodox, a person must use his own reason and private judgment, and that he too just chooses his ecclesial authority according to his own interpretation of Scripture. So he too faces this same contradiction of claiming that there is ecclesial authority but in fact determining who counts as ecclesial authority by seeing who agrees with himself. But there is a qualitative difference between the two cases. The person who discovers sacramental magisterial authority does not do so by determining who agrees with himself. He does so by finding out (often from the fathers) that the early Church was always governed by sacramental magisterial authorities, and then tracing forward the sacramental line of apostolic succession through the history of the Church to the present. So he is not choosing his ecclesial authority based on whether they agree with his own interpretation of Scripture; he is choosing his ecclesial authority based on whether they are the *sacramental* successors of the Apostles. A sacramental criterion of ecclesial authority is in that way qualitatively different from a doctrinal (i.e. formal) criterion. Sacramentality cannot be reduced to form. And that is why sacramental authority is not properly discovered (as such) by doctrinal agreement with the individual. So the person in the process of becoming Catholic or Orthodox is not susceptible to the tu quoque charge, because his manner of seeking out ecclesial authority is not incompatible with the existence of that authority, whereas the person holding (1) and (2) and determining which councils are authoritative by judging them according to his own interpretation of Scripture is seeking out ecclesial authority in a manner that is incompatible with the existence of actual ecclesial authority.

New Rules for Posting

I decided to implement rules for posting on this blog. I did this because I want to facilitate and foster an environment here in which we can engage in ecumenical dialogue in charity and respect. If we can make it a habit to treat each other with respect and grace, perhaps that will help us be better listeners at the ecumenical table. Rules for posting might help us develop such a habit. And maybe that will help us more readily be reconciled with each other.

A permanent link to the rules is now posted at the bottom left. Here they are:


If you wish to comment here, please follow these rules.

(1) Since truth and love go together, make sure that everything you say here is saturated with genuine love for the persons about whom (or to whom) you are speaking. It is a good habit to pray for the person you are writing to (or about) both before and after you write your comment. Pray that you will be united with them in the Body of Christ. This is to be a forum wherein *unity* is pursued in the context of humility, charity, respect and prayer.

(2) Ad hominems are not allowed. That means that you may not criticize or insult or belittle or judge or mock any person, his character, intelligence, education, or motivations. Attacking persons is fallacious and uncharitable and will not be permitted here. If you are wondering why your comment was not posted, the reason is most likely that it contained some ad hominem.

(3) Criticisms of positions, refutations of arguments, and falsifications of claims *are* allowed.

These rules go into effect today (October 2, 2007).

Monday, October 1, 2007

Individualism cloaked as Conciliarism

The Westminster Confession of Faith:
"It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word." (WCF 31.2)
It belongs to synods and councils to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience, except when the individual's conscience feels that those determinations are not "consonant to the Word of God". In other words, it belongs to synods and councils to determine and decide only what is in agreement with the individual's own interpretation of Scripture. Whenever the individual's interpretation of Scripture disagrees with the decisions and determinations of synods and councils, those decisions and determinations have no authority. But whenever the individual agrees with the decisions and determinations of synods and councils, then they do have authority. Whenever you agree with me, your decisions are authoritative. Whenever you disagree with me, your decisions are not authoritative. This is pure individualism, cloaked in the language of conciliarism.