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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Philosophy and the Papacy

The School of Athens
Raphael (1509)

The Scripture readings for today's liturgy provide a biblical basis for the papacy, as John Bergsma explains. But as a Protestant, I was not able to see those verses as providing that basis, until I read Plato's Republic. Of the various philosophical factors that helped me become Catholic, one was teaching through Plato's Republic. I had taught it a few times before, but this time, I was teaching it with an eye toward its implications regarding unity. My conclusion was that for philosophical reasons we could expect Christ to have established for the Church an enduring office for her government, an office occupied by one person at a time. That conclusion allowed me to be more open and receptive to the Catholic understanding of Matthew 16:18-19, Luke 22:32, and John 21:15-17. So how did Plato's Republic help me reach that conclusion?

In order to explain the role of Plato's Republic in helping me become more open to the Catholic understanding of St. Peter's unique office in the Church, I need to lay out the broader line of reasoning to which it contributed. That line of reasoning was as follows.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

The Assumption

Today, August 15, is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. On this day, the universal Church celebrates what took place at the end of our Blessed Mother’s earthly life. “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This dogma is the great antidote to materialism and the moral corruption that follows despair, because in Mary’s Assumption into heaven we see our own glorious destiny as fellow creatures like her, united to her Son. In her Assumption we see the eschatological finale awaiting the Church, of which she is the icon.

This doctrine was not formally defined as a dogma until 1950, when Pope Pius XII did so in an Apostolic Constitution titled Munificentissimus Deus. Although the Orthodox have not formally defined the doctrine as a dogma, this doctrine is not a point of dispute between Catholics and Orthodox, because the Feast of the Assumption has been celebrated in the universal Church (both East and West) on this same date (August 15) since the sixth and seventh centuries. However, this doctrine is not accepted by most Protestants, and is therefore an occasion of difficulty with respect to the reconciliation of Protestants and the Catholic Church.

Recently Peter Leithart responded to Christian Smith's claim that sola Scriptura is the belief that Christians have "the Bible alone and no other human tradition as authority." Leithart protested against this definition, claiming that the Reformed do acknowledge the authority of tradition, but hold Scripture to have final authority. My response to Leithart can be found here, where I argue (briefly) that to subject tradition to the test of one's own interpretation of Scripture is to deny the authority of tradition, and thus to vindicate Smith's claim. ...

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Monday, August 8, 2011

A Reflection on PCA Pastor Terry Johnson’s “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology”

Terry Johnson

Terry Johnson, senior minister of Independent Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Savannah, Ga., wrote an article titled "Our Collapsing Ecclesiology" in the March issue of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church's magazine New Horizons. The article is well worth reading, because it examines the recent trends in Evangelicalism away from attendance in Sunday morning services, even away from organized institutional church altogether. It cites George Barna's announcement of the "New Church," which is "without structure, organization, clergy, officers, accountability, or discipline. It has no location, commitments, or physical presence. It is merely an informal, ad hoc, uncovenanted association of believers." According to this view "the local church ceases to exist. The requirement of Hebrews 10:25 (that believers assemble together) could be fulfilled ... "in a worship service or at Starbucks." In the mind of these Evangelicals, "I am not called to attend or join a church. I am called to be the church." For them, writes Terry, "Church ... is like the YMCA, except that one actually has to join the YMCA. It's good to go there to exercise, but sometimes one can do just as well at home—or maybe somewhere else. "Do what feels right for you," we hear said. "Go where your needs are met."

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