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

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Do you want to hear something amazing?

Go here and play the audio file, and listen to Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I recite the Nicene Creed together, in Greek. I'm coming out of my chair. If you read Greek you can read it along with them (because Fr. Z has the Greek text there), but grab a box of tissues, because this is emotionally powerful.

Friends, this is amazing. Perhaps it is imprudent to post while ecumenically ecstatic, but this is 954 years of schism since 1054, and you can't listen to this audio and not hear the unitive work of the Holy Spirit, when you understand the significance of what is taking place. Pope Benedict XVI is the episcopal successor of Pope Leo IX (1002-1054), and Patriarch Bartholomew I is the episcopal successor of Patriarch Michael I (1000-1059). Here they are, standing together, reciting the Creed in unison, from the Greek of 381.

Because we love You Jesus, zeal for Your House consumes us, and we burn with desire for the unity and peace of Your Mystical Body, the Church, and the reconciliation and visible union of all those who seek to follow You. Lord Jesus, please reunite and reconcile the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church. Heal this schism and bring reconciliation to East and West after all these years of schism, that the whole world will know that the Father sent You and loves You and us. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

GAFCON: The Jerusalem Declaration

The Declaration can be found here. AP has the news story here.

UPDATE (June 30): The Declaration is now available on the GAFCON site here.

UPDATE (July 01): "More Anglican Developments"

UPDATE: (July 01): "Anglican Communion: falling apart"

Vespers for the Inauguration of the Pauline Year

New Liturgical Movement has some photos. Fr. Z has the sermons of Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew I, not translated into English. I'll update with a link to the English translations of the sermons when I find it. EWTN is re-broadcasting this shortly, I understand. (UPDATE: Translations of the homilies both for the Saturday Vespers and the Sunday Mass are available here; scroll all the way down. H/T: Amy Welborn)

It is so beautiful to see the Pope and the Patriarch praying together.

Monocausalism, Salvation, and Reconciliation

One of the impediments to the reconciliation of Protestants and Catholics is an [implicit] philosophical disagreement regarding causation. I have written about this before here and here, but I think more needs to be said about it.

Deism is the notion that God started the world, and from that time on does not do anything but watch from a distance. When creatures act, only creatures act; God is not now doing anything. He is not now causally involved in present events. Christian deism is a qualified form of deism, for it allows for divine interventions here and there in the course of redemptive history. These would be the miracles that we see described throughout the Bible, as well as the life of Christ. This is still a form of deism, for it fails to recognize the present activity of God in sustaining and directing all things.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is what is called occasionalism. Occasionalism is roughly the notion that all events are caused only by God. Creatures are not actual causal agents, but only seeming casual agents. According to occasionalism, while it seems to me that I am picking up this book, actually God is the one picking up the book. God is giving me the illusion that I am the one picking up the book, but in actuality I am not a genuine causal agent.

The correct position is a middle position between these two. When a creature acts, God is also acting as a primary cause while the creature is acting as a secondary cause. William Carroll explains this well when he writes:

Aquinas shows us how to distinguish between the being or existence of creatures and the operations they perform. God causes creatures to exist in such a way that they are the real causes of their own operations. For Aquinas, God is at work in every operation of nature, but the autonomy of nature is not an indication of some reduction in God's power or activity; rather, it is an indication of His goodness. It is important to recognize that divine causality and creaturely causality function at fundamentally different levels. In the Summa contra Gentiles, Aquinas remarks that "the same effect is not attributed to a natural cause and to divine power in such a way that it is partly done by God, and partly by the natural agent; rather, it is wholly done by both, according to a different way, just as the same effect is wholly attributed to the instrument and also wholly to the principal agent." It is not the case of partial or co-causes with each contributing a separate element to produce the effect. God, as Creator, transcends the order of created causes in such a way that He is their enabling origin. Yet the "same God who transcends the created order is also intimately and immanently present within that order as upholding all causes in their causing, including the human will." For Aquinas "the differing metaphysical levels of primary and secondary causation require us to say that any created effect comes totally and immediately from God as the transcendent primary cause and totally and immediately from the creature as secondary cause."

This also applies to redemption. On the one hand, the deistic equivalent is Pelagianism, i.e. we [alone] are the agents of our own salvation. Christ was, at most, a good example. We get to heaven by our good works. On the other hand, the occasionalist equivalent is a form of monergism that rejects any causes of our redemption other than Christ alone. We get to heaven because of "Christ alone" (Solus Christus). Nothing we or anyone else does contributes to our salvation. Notice that both of those positions are forms of monocausalism. Either it is all man, or it is all God; these two positions are the redemptive equivalent of deism and occasionalism, respectively.

B.B. Warfield was a famous Presbyterian at Princeton Seminary in the early twentieth century. Here is a quotation from Warfield's The Plan of Salvation (the 1935 edition):

... the Council of Carthage of A.D. 417-418, which refused to be satisfied by anything less than an unequivocal acknowledgment that "we are aided by the grace of God, through Christ, not only to know but also to do what is right, in each single act, so that without grace we are unable to have, think, speak, or do anything pertaining to piety." The opposition between the two systems [i.e. Pelagianism and Augustinianism] was thus absolute. In the one, everything was attributed to man; in the other, everything was ascribed to God." (p. 30)

Warfield reasons that if without grace we are unable to do anything pertaining to piety, then everything must be ascribed to God. But neither Augustine nor the Council of Carthage were affirming monocausalism or occasionalism. There are different ways in which everything can be "ascribed to God". One way is occasionalism, of course. Another way is to acknowledge that
all our existence and causal power comes from God, and all the goodness of our good acts comes from God. In this latter way, we are truly causal agents even when doing righteous deeds, but in the former way (i.e. occasionalism), we are not truly causal agents. My point is that occasionalism is not the only way to "ascribe everything to God", and if one insists that occasionalism is the only way to ascribe everything to God, then "ascribing everything to God" comes into conflict with the doctrine of creation, in which case God doesn't want us to "ascribe everything" to Him, for He wants us to believe that He created us, and that we are real agents, and not mere brains in a divine vat under the illusion of being causally efficacious agents.

Warfield continues:

Pelagianism dies hard; or rather it did not die at all, but only retired more or less out of sight and bided its time; meanwhile vexing the Church with modified forms of itself, modified just enough to escape the letter of the Church's condemnation. Into the place of Pelagianism there stepped at once Semi-pelagianism; and when the controversy with Semi-pelagianism had been fought and won, into the place of Semi-pelagianism there stepped that semi-semi-pelagianism which the Council of Orange betrayed the Church into, the genius of an Aquinas systematized for her, and the Council of Trent finally fastened with rivets of iron upon that portion of the church which obeyed it. The necessity of grace had been acknowledged as the result of the Pelagian controversy: its preveniency, as the result of the Semi-pelagian controversy: but its certain efficacy, its "irresistibility" men call it, was by the fatal compromise of Orange denied, and thus the conquering march of Augustinianism was checked and the pure confession of salvation by grace alone made forever impossible within that section of the Church whose proud boast is that it is semper eadem. It was no longer legally possible, indeed, within the limits of the Church to ascribe to man, with the Pelagian, the whole of salvation; nor even, with the Semi-pelagian, the initiation of salvation. But neither was it any longer legally possible to ascribe salvation so entirely to the grace of God that it could complete itself without the aid of the discredited human will -- its aid only as empowered and moved by prevenient grace indeed, but not effectually moved, so that it could not hold back and defeat the operations of saving grace." (pp. 30-31)

What is driving Warfield here? Monocausalism. That is why he conceives of any genuine participation on the part of the human will as detracting from (or in competition with) divine grace. And that is why he rejects the Council of Orange (529 AD), rejects Aquinas, and rejects the Council of Trent. Here's how Warfield is thinking. If the human will, even aided by prevenient grace, can say no to God, then the will, by saying yes to God, is contributing to salvation, and thus salvation cannot be "entirely" ascribed to "the grace of God". The hidden premise in Warfield's argument is that the only way for salvation to be "entirely" ascribable to "the grace of God" is if no other cause (than God Himself) is operative in salvation. The hidden premise, in other words, is monocausalism.

Warfield does not show awareness that God being the only cause of salvation is not the only way that salvation can be truly by grace alone. When we say "grace alone", we have to understand the term "alone" in its respect-to-whatness, i.e. its proper context. Otherwise "grace alone" would eliminate creation. The proper context for understanding "grace alone" is not the absence of creatures having real causal powers.

Consider the angels. As rational spirits, they were created with a free will, and thus with the privilege of being participants in their own creation through the completion of their creation, by choosing once and for all, for the rest of eternity, whether to be angels (those spirits who love God) or demons (those spirits who hate God). Because they were given a will, they were each thereby given the privilege and power of freely determining, in one monumental choice, the kind of being they would be for all eternity. God did not create them in their final state. To have done so would have taken from them the privilege and perfection (for a creature) of being a participant in their own creation, and thus the self-possession that belongs to those who are what they have chosen to be, insofar as that is possible. Choosing what one will be for eternity is the closest a creature can come to imitating God's act of creating, and that is why it is such a privilege, a privilege that non-rational creatures cannot receive.

Humans too, as rational beings, were each given a will, and are thereby given the privilege of being participants in God's act of creating. We do this not only through procreation, but also through our free choices, much like the angels, except that unlike the angels, we are all one species, and we are material beings and in time. That is why we are affected intrinsically by Adam's sin, and also why it is not the case that our first choice determines what we will be for all eternity. In the case of a human, what determines the state of the soul for all eternity is the state of that soul at the moment of death, whether there is charity (i.e. love for God) in the soul, or whether the soul is in the state of mortal sin. This life is our time of testing; there is no second time of testing in a life to come -- that would be the error of cyclical reincarnation. "It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment." (Heb 9:27) All that is the philosophical background and context to understanding the gospel.

And thus it is the context for understanding "grace alone". Given that background, we can understand why being saved by "grace alone" does not mean that God alone is the causal agent of salvation, because gratia non tollit naturam, sed praesupponit et perficit (grace does not take away or destroy nature, but presupposes and perfects it). Grace is a divine gift that allows man to do what God created us to do through our nature, choose to love Him for all eternity. Grace does not take away man's free choice; grace gives to man the real possibility to freely love God, because without grace man cannot love God. But grace does not force man to love God, or bypass man's will in bringing man to a state of loving God, because that would be the equivalent of God creating man in a state of already loving Him, without the privilege of participating in the choice of his final state.

Monocaualism, you may see, makes this present life superfluous. God might as well have created us all in the final state, some in heaven forever, and others in hell forever. This present life, with our opportunities to love God or reject Him, to serve and obey Him, or to rebel against Him, makes sense only if monocausalism is false, only if our choices here make a difference for the life to come. This present life is for us the equivalent of what, for the angels, was their first and ultimate eternal choice: "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. (Joshua 24:15) That is why Christianity (though not its monocausal or fatalistic aberrations) makes this present life meaningful and eternally significant. What we choose here in this life determines who we are for the rest of eternity. Atheism, monocausalism and cyclical reincarnation philosophies undermine the significance and meaningfulness of our present choices. Catholicism preserves the eternal significance of our present choices while maintaining that we are saved by grace alone, because nothing good that we do would be possible without God's grace, for in every good deed that we do, God is always at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)

Once we understand why monocausalism is false, then we see why the notion that either we are saved by Christ or by our works is a false dilemma. We can see why the notion that if Christ is the mediator between God and man, then no one else can be a mediator between Christ and man is a non sequitur. We can see why the notion that if Christ is forgiving our sins, then we must not need a priest to absolve us is a non sequitur. We can see why the notion that if Christ saves us, then the merits of the saints can do nothing for us, is a non sequitur. All these arguments are based on the hidden premise of monocausalism. Since tomorrow the Church celebrates the 2000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul, let us consider something that he wrote.

Consider Colossians 1:24

Νῦν χαίρω ἐν τοῖς παθήμασιν ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν, καὶ ἀνταναπληρῶ τὰ ὑστερήματα τῶν θλίψεων τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου ὑπὲρ τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ, ἐστιν ἐκκλησία,

Qui nunc gaudeo in passionibus pro vobis, et adimpleo ea, quae desunt passionum Christi, in carne mea pro corpore eius, quod est Ecclesia.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you [plural], and in my flesh I fill up the deficiencies of Christ's afflictions for His body, which is the Church.

Some people who do not know Greek think that St. Paul is saying that there are deficiencies in St. Paul's flesh which he [St. Paul] is filling up with the afflictions of Christ. Others claim similarly that by "deficiencies of Christ's afflictions" St. Paul is speaking of himself as united to Christ, and thus of the deficiencies in his [St. Paul's] own sufferings, which, because of the union of St. Paul with Christ, can thus in some sense be said to be deficiencies in Christ's-sufferings-in-St.-Paul. But these hermeneutical gymnastics are all necessitated by the presupposition of salvific monocausalism. The very idea that Christ's sufferings could be in some sense deficient or lacking for our salvation is, for salvific monocausalists, anathema.

St. Paul is talking about his own sufferings for the Colossians. He is saying that Christ's afflictions in His passion and death, though sufficient for their purpose, were not causally sufficient in themselves and by themselves to save the Colossians without the labors and sufferings of the Apostles, and particularly in this case St. Paul. St. Paul's suffering in the flesh for the Colossians is filling up what is lacking in Christ's suffering for His Mystical Body, the Church. In the Greek it is clear that the deficiency to which St. Paul is referring is a deficiency in Christ's afflictions, not in St. Paul's flesh. St. Paul is rejoicing that he gets to be a genuine causal agent in saving the Colossians. That in no way detracts from Christ's saving work, as though St. Paul's sufferings nullify or refute the fact that all grace comes to the Colossians through Christ and His saving work. Rather, through Christ's saving work, St. Paul himself has become an agent of salvation for the Colossians. Christ's saving work works in and through St. Paul, such that St. Paul's choices, labors, and sufferings truly and genuinely causally contribute to the salvation of the Colossians, while at the same time, everything that St. Paul does and gives to the Colossians comes from Christ who lives in St. Paul. (Gal 2:20) Once again, it is neither Christ to the exclusion of all other causal agents, or man alone. We do not have to choose between occasionalism or deism. Both are a form of monocausalism. Monocausalism is, fundamentally, a denial of the doctrine of creation, for agere sequitur esse (a thing acts according to what it is). And if God is the only actor, then there is no creation. And if nature is the only actor, then there is no Creator. The doctrine of creation necessarily holds together the genuine existence and causal agency of both God and creation.

Those who reject monocausalism are typically dismissed as 'synergists', which is viewed as some species of Pelagianism. (Think of Warfield's characterization of the position of the Council of Orange as "semi-semi-pelagianism".) In response to the charge of synergism, ask the person who is making the charge how he avoids both deism and occasionalism. Then ask him why his solution cannot also apply to salvation, if his position is not to be ad hoc. We should not be afraid of labels like "synergism" or Warfield's neologism "semi-semi-pelagianism". In order to evaluate what is under the label, we have to evaluate the *concepts* underlying the terms. Positions cannot be rightly evaluated on the basis of the labels alone, without unpacking those underlying concepts. If it turns out that when unpacking the concept, the 'error' of synergism is simply that it is not monocausalism, then it is time to call monocausalism into question.
(See Dr. Phillip Cary's article "Augustine and the Varieties of Monergism".) It seems to me that in order for Protestants and Catholics to be reconciled regarding our respective doctrines of salvation, we have to confront the underlying philosophical disagreement regarding monocausalism. Otherwise we are talking 'above' the fundamental reason for our disagreement.

Lord Jesus, please help Protestants and Catholics to be reconciled and reunited, in one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all. And please use my little work here as a genuine cause in that reconciliation and reunion. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Archbishop Burke leaving St. Louis

St. Louis Catholic has the story. This is very sad for those of us who know and love Archbishop Burke. He has been a great blessing to this Archdiocese. In November of last year, I wrote about the ecumenical influence of Archbishop Burke here in St. Louis. May he be a greater blessing to the whole Catholic Church, from his new position as Prefect of Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican. And may God bring a worthy replacement to be the episcopal shepherd of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Thank you Archbishop Burke for all your faithful service to the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

UPDATE: More here, here, and here.

Watch the presser. (H/T: Fr. Z)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Anglicanism Nearly Finished Destroying Itself"

"Breaking the Bonds of Communion", by Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Post

H/T: Mark Shea

The choice for Anglicans is either to continue to fragment, each person continually seeking out a bishop somewhere (e.g. in South America, or in Africa) with whom he agrees, or to pursue reconciliation and reunion with the Holy See. There are no other options.

Those who do not understand the relationship between being and unity will not understand that to lose unity is to lose being. To fragment is to die. In other words, to lose catholicity is to cease to exist. It is only a matter of time, just as it is only a matter of time for a corpse to disintegrate.

Just as being cannot come from non-being, so unity cannot come from non-unity. St. Thomas Aquinas writes, "ab uno derivatur unitio" [uniting is derived from unity](ST I Q.60 a.3 ad 2). That is why ecumenicism cannot be "E Pluribus Unum" [out of many, one], because unity cannot be derived from plurality. Out of mere plurality can only come plurality, for unity only comes from unity, just as being only comes from being. Unity does not come from plurality, for plurality (as such) has no unity to give, because plurality is a privation of unity. And nothing can give what it does not have. Unity is given to plurality from unity, to make what is plural into a unity, by incorporating the many into an already-existing unity. We can see this implicitly in verses like 1 Corinthians 10:17, which in Greek reads:

ὅτι εἷς ἄρτος, ἓν σῶμα οἱ πολλοί ἐσμεν, οἱ γὰρ πάντες ἐκ τοῦ ἑνὸς ἄρτου μετέχομεν.

and in Latin:

Quoniam unus panis, unum corpus multi sumus, omnes, qui de uno pane participamus.

and in English:

Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

We, who are many, are made one by partaking of the one Bread (John 6), who is one. (John 10:30) Only by participating in and partaking of the One are we, who are many, made one. We can see this also in 1 Corinthians 12, where St. Paul teaches that in our baptism, we are baptized into one body [εἰς ἓν σῶμα; in unum corpus]. (1 Cor 12:13). By our baptism, we are incorporated into an already existing unity, namely, the Body of Christ. Why is the Body of Christ one, even though it has many members? Because Christ, who is the head of the Church, which is His Body, is One. (Eph 5:23) The Church is one because Christ its Head is one, and because the Spirit which animates the Church is one. The unity of the divine nature is the source of all other unity, and has no source of unity, for it itself is perfect unity, i.e. unity per se, uncaused unity. Every other unity is a derived unity, i.e. a unity-from-unity. No mere plurality can become an actual unity without being incorporated into an existing unity, and the only divine unity into which we can be incorporated is the life of Christ, found in His Body, the Church which He Himself established. Any other community is an imitation, and is intrinsically disposed to fragmentation, for it was not founded by the God-man Jesus Christ. "Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ', or 'There He is', do not believe him." (Matt 24:23) Christ is in the Church that Christ founded, not in the societies founded by mere men. (See here.)

What's my point? Tower of Babel ecumenicism is doomed to failure by the metaphysical truth that unity cannot come from plurality anymore than being can come from non-being. The only sort of ecumenicism that can succeed is that which finds and participates in that already-existing unity which the incarnate Christ Himself established, and of which He is the Head and Cornerstone. To separate oneself from the Catholic (universal) Church is to cut oneself off from the Unity and Life of Christ in the Church. That is why the only two options before the Anglican bishops, as the Vatican warned in May, are the pursuit of reconciliation and reunion with the Holy See, or the eventual utter fragmentation that necessarily accompanies Protestantism. It appears that one portion of Anglicanism has chosen the path of Protestantism. Let us pray that all of Anglicanism pursues the path of reconciliation and reunion with the Holy See.

UPDATE: Read Fr. Longenecker's "Anglicans in Agony". According to Damian Thompson, at least one Anglican bishop is preparing to seek full communion with the bishop of Rome after the Lambeth Conference.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Year of St. Paul, Year of Ecumenism

Sherry Weddell notes that the Year of St. Paul, commemorating the 2,000th anniversary of his birth, is about to begin. She quotes a Vatican report which states that:

The most important aspect of the year will be its emphasis on Christian unity. Cardinal Lanza di Montezemolo, rector of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (site of St. Paul's tomb) says "The year will allow everyone to pray for the unity of Christians. This aspect is very important for the Holy Father and he has recommended that we have this always in mind in everything we do."

The Holy See announced recently that the first Mass of the Pauline year, on June 29, will be ecumenical, in that "Bartholomew I and the Holy Father will deliver the homily, recite the profession of faith and impart the final blessing."

When I see this much interaction and cooperation between Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew I, I can't but be both amazed and full of hope, for surely this is the Lord's doing. He wants His children to be reconciled to each other, and for all Christians to be united as He and the Father are one.

During this year of ecumenicism, let us keep praying for reconciliation and reunion between Christians of the various sects and traditions. And let us keep talking, in true charity (which desires unity with the beloved), with those with whom we are not in full communion, both about what we have in common (e.g. deep love for Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior), and about what fundamentally still divides us. Jesus tells us, "blessed [i.e. happy] are the peacemakers". True peacemakers are not those who sweep differences under the rug. True peacemakers are those who bring true reconciliation and agreement between those who are divided. This requires meekness, humility and lots of patience and determination. We never sacrifice truth for unity, but pursue unity in truth, with all charity. True peacemakers have true beatitude, for we get to be instruments of God's peace and reconciliation.

He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. (Eph 3:20) Let's ask big for this year of ecumenicism. Let's be courageous. We will be insulted and scorned, but let us offer these to Christ, for only in this life do we get a chance to suffer for Christ. And the joy of reconciliation far outweighs the insults we may endure. If we each only reconciled with two other Christians from whom we are presently divided, and they subsequently did the same, and so on, in a very short time we (by the grace of God) will have "turned the world upside down". (Acts 17:6)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Branches and Schisms: 3

"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

("Branches and Schisms: 1" is
here. "Branches and Schisms: 2" is here.) This third post on "Branches and Schisms" is a dialogue in which I look for a principled distinction between a branch and a schism. I consider two proposed candidates for the principled distinction between a branch and a schism: (1) schisms are within a congregation, while branches are between denominations, and (2) schisms become branches after a certain amount of time. I argue that both candidates do not provide a *principled* distinction between a branch and a schism.

One way that reality is hidden from us is by the use of misleading language. We know, for example, that those who support the legality of abortion typically call an unborn child a 'fetus', not a 'child' or 'baby'. And those who support euthanasia tend to call persons in a certain type of state 'vegetables'. Using such language changes our conceptions of what things are, and thereby changes our conceptions of how they should be treated. So likewise, if we are calling
'branches' what are in fact schisms, we are making use of a euphemism that takes something evil, and semantically presents it to ourselves as something either good or neutral, thereby removing in our minds the imperative to eliminate the schism, by being reconciled. Hence if we cannot find a principled distinction between branches and schisms, then we should stop calling schisms 'branches', and just call them what they are, i.e. schisms.

The dialogue takes place in the comments of Steve Wedgeworth's recent article titled "A Post-Protestant Model".

In the comments I wrote:

It seems like in order to understand ecclesial unity, we need to understand schism. But I don’t see any [conceptual] place for schism in your theory. What does it mean for a Christian to be in schism from the Church?

Steve replied:

I would say that schism occurs within congregations.

I replied:

Regarding schism, if the two conflicting parties within a congregation simply go their separate ways, then it ceases to be a ’schism’ and turns into two ‘branches’? I don’t see any principled distinction between divisions between denominations (which Reformed Christians tend to conceive of as branches), and divisions within a congregation. If divisions within a congregation are schisms (which are a sin), then it seems bizarre that the way to remove its sinfulness is to further the schism and start a new denomination, and then just call them branches. A fortiori, it seems the divisions between denominations would be even worse schisms than intra-congregational divisions.

Joel Garver replied:

Isn’t there a difference between causing or participating in an ecclesiastical breach (schism) and being born into or the heir of an already existing division? To view prior instances of schism as resulting in entities that are now considered merely branches seems to me to be a step in the right direction.

I replied:

I agree that there is a difference between causing or participating in a schism, and being born into an already existing division. The difference, in my opinion, has to do with the moral culpability of the persons involved. But if a schism is wrong, then I don’t see how just waiting for a certain length of time makes the division itself (not merely the act of dividing) no longer wrong. If it were merely the act (of dividing) itself that is wrong, then as soon as the division had occurred, there would be no obligation to reconcile and reunite the divided parties. It seems that it is not only the act of dividing that is wrong, but also the state of being divided that is wrong. And if the state of being divided is wrong, then it seems arbitrary to pick a certain amount of time and stipulate that the division is no longer wrong. When I think of “branches”, I think of branches on a tree. And none of us thinks the branches on a tree ought to grow back together into the trunk, to form a branch-less tree. A schism or division, we know, should be healed and the divided parties reconciled in unity. So how we are justified in calling schisms ‘branches’ (and thereby conceptually removing the obligation to reconcile), just because they have been around for a while?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Schism from a gnostic point of view

Schism, from a gnostic point of view, is essentially internal, i.e. psychological, a spiritual discord. From a gnostic point of view, schism may be made manifest in external separation, but in such cases that external separation is a mere *manifestation* of the schism, not the schism itself, which is internal. Hence, from the gnostic point of view, in the event of "external", visible or institutional divisions and separations where there is no internal malice or hatred or animosity, and the separating parties both desire the well-being of the other parties, the resulting divisions are not schisms. From the gnostic point of view, the unity is retained and preserved, because from the gnostic point of view unity is (essentially) spiritual, i.e. internal.

To see that such a view is gnostic, apply it to marriage. As long as the husband and wife separate amicably and without any animosity or 'loss of love', and wish the other spouse well, it is not a schism. The really important thing is that they continue to 'love each other' in their hearts, no matter whether they live in separate cities and/or take on paramours. "I don't love you any less; I simply want to live on my own, and try out other partners" is the growing gnostic lie in our culture's conception of spousal love. (See my "Sex, Dualism, and Ecclesial Unity".)

When 'schism' is defined as "a breach of charity", and 'charity' is understood in this gnostic way, then the formation of the various denominations is not considered to be schism, so long as the various separating parties wished each other well in the process of separation. That is how someone could recently say to me (with all sincerity) that the 44 Reformed denominations in the US are not schisms because in the historical separations of these denominations from each other, there was no "breach of charity".

Schisms *do* necessarily involve a breach of charity, but a breach of charity *properly understood*, not the gnostic conception of charity. There is necessarily a breach of charity between spouses who separate and don't wish or seek to be together any more, even if they have no animosity or dislike toward each other, and even if they continue to wish each other well. Charity is by its very nature unitive; and humans are essentially embodied beings. Therefore charity among humans necessarily and essentially involves the pursuit of embodied unity, not merely spiritual (internal) unity. We seek to be
physically with those we love, sharing a table, a celebration, an evening, an event, a walk, a book, a film, etc. Charity among *human beings* seeks unified *embodied* communal life with the beloved. Charity in a human context necessarily seeks to be, in some sense, one body, not merely one spirit. (Eph 4:4) And that is why dividing into 44 denominations (i.e. 44 bodies) *is* a breach of charity, even if there were only smiles and good feelings and well-wishing throughout the process.

In order to heal our schisms, we must first recognize them for what they are. And in order to do that, we need to see charity for what it truly is, and that requires abandoning the gnosticism that now pervades our culture.

Lord Jesus, please unite us truly to Yourself, and to each other.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gnostic quote of the day

"But I don't feel like just because I don't go to church I'm going to hell. I can have my own relationship with God without going to church every week."

From this article in today's St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Antidote: Here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ecclesiological Trilemma

I recently discussed the notion of the "visible Church" with Jeff Cagle, a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church of America, on his blog Butterfly House. (See the discussion here.) His position is that the Church is the set of all elect persons. As I argue in that discussion, his position entails that the Church is an abstract object, and his position faces a deep hermeneutical tension with respect to Matthew 16 and Matthew 18.

Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the various ecclesiological possibilities, and their implications, in a stepwise fashion.

Either Christ founded an institution, or He did not.

If Christ did not found an institution, then there is not and never was such a thing as a "visible Church". There are only visible Christians. All existing Christian institutions were founded and formed by mere men. Each Christian may simply pick the institution that he thinks best reflects what Christ taught, according to the selection of writings that he thinks best reflects what Christ taught. Or, he may start his own institution. Or he may dispense with institutions altogether. There is no such thing as schism; all Christians are already one in Christ, invisibly. There is and never was any authoritative interpreter of Scripture or authoritative determination of heresy. The determination of what is heresy is relative to the individual interpreter, as is the determination of what is and is not part of the canon of Scripture. The goal of ecumenicism is agreement on some bare essentials (where what counts as bare essentials is determined by each individual), and social collaboration. There is no justification for seeking institutional unity (see here).

If Christ did found an institution, then either that institution has continued to the present day, or it has not.

If the institution that Christ founded has ceased to exist, then there is now no such thing as a "visible Church"; there are only visible Christians. All existing Christian institutions were founded and formed by mere men. Each Christian may simply pick the institution that he thinks best reflects what Christ taught, or start his own institution, or disregard Christian institutions altogether. Whatever canon of Scripture the institution Christ founded was using before it ceased to exist may or may not be reliable, since if the Holy Spirit didn't preserve the institution Christ founded, then there is no reason to assume that the Holy Spirit guided and preserved the formation of the canon. Again, there is no such thing as schism, only branches. Anyone can start his own branch. There is no minimum number of persons necessary to count as a branch; there can even be a "branch of one person". All Christians are already one in Christ, invisibly, regardless of their visible unity or degree of visible disunity. There is now no authoritative interpreter of Scripture or authoritative determination of heresy. Since the cessation of the Church that Christ founded, the determination of what is heresy is relative to the individual interpreter according to his personalized canon of Scripture. The goal of ecumenicism is agreement on some bare essentials (as determined by each individual), and social collaboration. Again, there is no justification for seeking to restore institutional unity (see here).

If Christ did found an institution, and that institution remains to this day, then there is such a thing as a "visible Church", and all Christians should be in full communion with this institution. There is such a thing as schism; to be in schism is not to be in full communion with this institution. There is an authoritative interpreter of Scripture; it is the Magisterium of this institution. There are authoritative determinations of what is heresy; they are the rulings of this Magisterium. The goal of ecumenicism is to bring all Christians into full communion with this institution.

Objection 1: Why isn't there a fourth possibility: Christ founded an institution and it still exists but is apostate? First, because that would entail that Christ put us in a position wherein we are forced to choose between the sin of heresy and the sin of schism. But Christ would never do that. Second, because the gates of hell will not prevail over what Christ Himself founded. And if the institution Christ founded fell into apostasy, the gates of hell would have prevailed over what Christ Himself founded. Third, because the cornerstone of the Church is Christ Himself, and so the Church cannot totter unless Christ totters. But Christ cannot totter. Therefore, this is not a fourth possibility.

Objection 2: Maybe those are the only three possibilities, but why couldn't it be that all the various Christian denominations are parts of the one institution Christ founded? First, because that would require either that there be no difference between many institutions existing within a single institution, and many institutions not existing within a single institution, or it would require that
if all the various Christian denominations were not part of the one institution Christ founded, there would be some institutional difference from what we see at present. But the former evacuates the meaning of institutional unity, and there is no conceivable institutional difference in the case of the latter. Second, I have already pointed out the problem with the notion of "mere Christianity" here. But without something like "mere Christianity", there is no principled difference between the 'branches' of the second half of the second millennium, and the schisms of the first millennium, as I have shown here. Third, because in many respects these various Christian denominations contradict each other. But a house divided against itself cannot stand. Therefore these various Christian denominations cannot be parts of the institution Christ founded.

For more on this subject, see the following three posts I wrote earlier this year:

Church and Jesus are Inseparable (January 8, 2008)

The Church: Catholic or Invisible? (March 28, 2008)

Christ Founded a Visible Church (May 10, 2008)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Internet Monk on Scott Hahn and Mary

Retractiones (a Protestant scholar sympathetic to Catholicism) has an interesting article (here) responding to Michael Spencer's (aka Internet Monk) post on Scott Hahn and Mary. I think it shows well how Protestants tend (quite understandably) to evaluate Catholic claims from within a Protestant paradigm. (H/T Chad Is Not Enough)

Please remember to pray for Michael and his wife, whether you are Protestant or Catholic. When one spouse moves from Protestant to Catholic, or vice versa, and the other spouse is not convinced, this can create a lot of marital friction/tension. I went through this as well, and it was very painful. In our case, I was the one who decided to become Catholic, and my wife was very unhappy about my decision. (That's putting it mildly.) I proposed (and I don't know if this was the right thing to do) a short-term compromise that required and showed mutual good-faith toward each other, and aimed at effecting unity in the long-run. My proposal was that I would wait to be received, if she would sincerely study the question. By waiting, I was trying to show her that I respected her, and the value of our spiritual unity (which was not in good condition anyway, by that point), and also that I trusted that she would sincerely and open-mindedly study the question. I was also trying to show her that I was seeking the truth, since I was giving her time to find whatever she could that would show me to be wrong. She agreed to the proposal. She went to the Anglican bishop and got a bunch of books arguing against Catholicism. We read these books, and she read some Catholic apologetic books. We also started reading together from the Church fathers.

Eight months later, she agreed to come to RCIA with me, only as an inquirer, just to listen and ask questions. And she did ask questions, lots of questions. Often during RCIA, when she asked these questions, I felt like I knew the answer even better than the person answering her question, but I just kept my mouth shut (both during RCIA and during the drive home), because I knew it would be harder for her to hear it from me. About a week ago she told me something I hadn't known, namely, that during the RCIA teaching on Mary, she actually got so upset that she had to leave the room, and pretend to go to the restroom, while in fact she was sitting on the
stairs in the hallway for a while calming down, before she could come back into the RCIA room. This was a very hard process for her. We started reading together (out loud to each other) from Peter Kreeft's Catholic Christianity, reading a little bit each day. I can remember, as I finished reading out loud that last page of Kreeft's book, she was sitting across from me at the kitchen table. I closed the book, and she looked at me and said, "I think I am ready to become Catholic."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Aesthetics and the Reunion of all Christians

It was April or May of 1995. My wife and I had been attending a non-denominational charismatic church here in St. Louis for about nine months. The church met in a school, and there were probably between 400 and 500 people there each Sunday. These people were very loving, sincere and devout. The pastor had an exceptionally charismatic personality. He wore blue jeans, oxfords, high-top tennis shoes, and had long hair and a made-for-radio voice. (He later took a job for a local radio station.) The praise band consisted of a keyboardist, drummer, guitarists and a team of singers. The worship would consist of a series of songs played in direct succession, and often repeated, for at least 40 minutes. The words to the songs were projected onto a large screen. The worship service was designed to reach a kind of emotional climax, and then move into a 'spiritual state' called 'soft worship', during which the drums fell off, and keyboardist would go through a very simple chord progression, playing softly, and sustaining each chord for some time (with 'improv' and arpeggios in the upper register). If you have been in this sort of thing, then you know what I'm talking about.

On this particular Sunday in 1995, a woman performed a voice solo. She went up to the front, and was handed a microphone, and began to sing the traditional hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty ...". But she sang it as if she were in a night club, with a forced gravelly voice, and sensual, bodily motions. It was the most poignant contradiction of form and content I had ever witnessed. I had been growing more and more disturbed by the irreverence of the *form* of the worship, without being able to identify consciously what it was that was bothering me. Finally, during this song, the contradiction hit me square in the face, in large part because the words of the song are specifically about the holiness of God.

As we left the service that day, I told my wife, "I'm never coming back", and we didn't go back. Over time I came to understand that the form of worship is no less important than the material content, because the form itself has an intrinsic content that is communicated along with the words.

Consider, for example, this video of a contemporary worship service:

Contrast that with this video of a prelude to the Mass I attended last year on the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica.

What does the form (not the words) of the music communicate about God? Does it communicate sacredness? Reverence? Transcendence? Order? Majesty? Beauty? Holiness? Royalty? Contrast the prominence and visibility of the musicians between the two videos. Structurally, the invisibility of the choir communicates that it is not about them.

I did not make that transition right away, from charismatic worship to Catholic liturgy. I think I could not have done so. The transition is immense, and involves a reshaping not only of intellect, but also of intuitions, appetites and sensibilities. After leaving the charismatic church, we started attending a Presbyterian church and joined it shortly thereafter. I knew that there, at least, I (and my family) would not be getting the night-club version of "Holy, Holy, Holy".

But four years later, I was becoming more and more aware that the Presbyterian service was simply not feeding my soul. And yet I couldn't identity what was missing. One thing I did know, the whole service seemed to be man-centered in its form and activity. Here's what I mean. So much of what took place involved handing a microphone to a human being, and letting that person give his or her thoughts about something. There were welcoming comments, particularly to visitors, an explanation of who we were as a church, and what our mission was in the community, various reports by different lay persons on different activities and outreaches they were doing, a session meeting report, a report on a missions trip, a budget/attendance report, a report on the youth group retreat and announcements by the youth pastor of upcoming youth group activities, a report on the college ministry activities, a series of prayer requests in which an elder would walk around and hand the wireless microphone to anyone who wanted to describe to the whole congregation and to any degree he wished for as long as he wished something he was going through for which we all should pray. There was a children's sermon, a regular sermon, and exhortations about stewardship and being generous to God, by an elder, before the offering plate was passed. I was weary of all this man-talk. I wanted no more words of men, no more handing around of the microphone. I was coming to church for something else, *not* to hear people give their opinions or talk about what they were doing. I could go to a newspaper or a theological journal or many other places, and get much more informed opinions than these. I didn't just want to be in a religious club; I wanted something other than that.
It got to the point that during the service I found myself being internally critical and disengaged. I knew that cynicism is soul-destroying. So I stopped going to church, for about a year.

Then a friend suggested that I visit an Anglican church. The moment I walked in, I noticed the difference. People weren't talking before the service started. People were kneeling and praying, on kneelers. All the words of the service were already written down, as the liturgy, in this case the Book of Common Prayer, which is beautiful and reverent and drawn largely from Scripture. (The BCP was itself drawn largely from the Catholic liturgy.) The only occasion in which a person spoke his own opinion, was the homily, and the homily was only about five minutes long (compared to the 30-40 minute homilies I was used to). And the climax of the liturgy was the Eucharist.
The service was simply called "Holy Eucharist". We walked forward between the choir, and received the Eucharist while kneeling. Here was something that went beyond men's opinions. I couldn't be cynical about the liturgy, or critique it. And that was especially true of the Eucharist. This was not man-talk. It was non-propositional; it was sacramental, i.e. the Gospel embodied, Christ Himself. I realized that this is what my soul had been craving -- to be fed on God. (At that time, I wasn't aware of Apostolicae Curae.) And this aesthetic and liturgy was clearly the *form* that fit the serving of this divine food. In the liturgy, my soul was literally drawn up to God by its majesty and beauty. When the priest says, "Lift up your hearts", we reply, "We lift them up unto the Lord." The form of the liturgy and the music helps us lift up our hearts to heaven.

So what does this have to do with the reunion of all Christians? It wasn't just (or even primarily) doctrine that moved me from a "non-denominational charismatic" to Catholic; it was also aesthetics, i.e. beauty. I came to understand episcopal ecclesiology only *after* already being drawn in by the beauty of the liturgy and its sacramental nature. If it hadn't been for the beauty and sacramentality of the liturgy, I would not even have started to consider seriously the historical basis for episcopal ecclesiology. My point is that theological arguments alone will not reunite Christians. Beauty, however, is attractive; when we encounter it, we are drawn to it, because in the depth of our being we crave Beauty. We can only sing "Lord I lift your name on high" or "Our God is an awesome God" so many times. Such music is neither beautiful nor soul-nourishing. In its form, particularly, it is trivial, common, tiresome and banal, not transcendent, noble, heavenly, enduring and glorious.

There are, I'm sure, an untold number of Christians burned out by ugliness of form and a steady diet of mere man-talk, not having the Eucharist. They have gifts to give Catholics, for they know something about communal love and life, and being entirely devoted to Jesus. But we can hold up to them what they lack, the beauty and soul-nourishing quality of the liturgy, and especially the Eucharist. The beauty of the liturgy, and the gift of the Eucharist are treasures that we can offer to our brothers and sisters in Christ who do not have them, and who may not even be aware that they exist, having never known anything else. This is the kind of exchange of gifts in which, I hope, we may begin the path to full visible union.

If anyone wishes to study more about the relation of form and content, how form is not content-neutral, and how form can contradict content, I recommend Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death, and his Technopoly. He shows there how media is not content-neutral. I would expand that to the more general claim that form is not content-neutral. See also All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes by Ken Myers. I also recommend Thomas Howard's Evangelical Is Not Enough, Kilde's When Church Becomes Theatre, Frankforter's Stones for Bread: A Critique of Contemporary Worship, Marva Dawn's Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, and Michael Horton's In the Face of God. All of those are written by Protestants, except Howard who has since become a Catholic. My referring to them does not mean that I agree with everything in them. The same sort of form/content relation is true in architecture as well: see, for example, Michael Rose's Ugly as Sin, as well as his In Tiers of Glory. Roger Scruton's book The Aesthetics of Music is also quite helpful in explaining the differences between beautiful and ugly music. Consider also the contrast between contemporary Evangelical worship and what is revealed in the recent film Into Great Silence.

Sursum Corda!