Jason Stellman continues his brief for Roman Catholic superiority with the twist of posting at his own blog and, making his membership in Jason and the Callers complete, at at Called to Communion. Apparently, Bryan Cross and Sean Patrick will now edit comments on Jason’s posts so that Jason can do more televised interviews. The funny thing about this arrangement is that posting at CTC has not united Bryan’s logic with Jason’s style. In fact, if Jason’s first post is any indication, Bryan’s scholasticism has taken a back seat to Stellman’s intuition. But the oxymoronic ecumenical (call to communion) polemics (we’re better than Protestants) abide.
It turns out — surprise — that Roman Catholicism makes better sense of the incarnation than Protestantism. The simple logic is that since Christ assumed and maintains a physical body that could and can be seen, an ecclesiology that features visibility beats one that invokes invisibility. But the logic of Jason’s argument is almost as confusing as his understanding of geography.
If there is a connection between Christology and Ecclesiology (Umm, hellooo ? The Church is the Body of which Christ is the Head, so I’d label this connection as “uncontroversial”), then the idea that the eternal Son assumed human nature and took on a real, flesh-and-blood body just like ours, is more consistent in a visible-church paradigm than in an invisible-church paradigm. The physical body of Christ was visible; you could point him out in a crowd or identify him with a kiss as Judas did for the Roman soldiers.
The key word here is was. Jesus’ body is no longer on earth and cannot be seen. And by sending his Spirit to be with the church after he left planet earth, Jesus could very well have been teaching that the nature of the church, its bonds of fellowship and its worship, is going to be spiritual, not visible (like Old Testament devotion was with the altar, sacrifice and priests — sound familiar?). In fact, Jesus tells the woman at the well that the new pattern of worship emerging is one where place matters less than spirit and truth. And then Jason has the problem of being so insensitive to believers whose relatives have died and no longer have bodies. Are they visible? Are they excluded from the church because they don’t have bodies? Or is it the case that an ecclesiology that so features physicality is shallow compared to one that recognizes a fellowship among those saints who are both seen and unseen. (Hint: if God the Father is spirit and cannot be seen, fellowship with the unseen is important. Duh!)
Not to be tripped up by such theological or logical subtleties, Jason stumbles on to give two big thumbs up to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist.
Is Christ present at the Table or not? Like with the question “Is the church visible or not,” the answer here is, “It depends.” If the worshiper is a worthy receiver, then yes, he indeed feeds spiritually and truly upon the body and blood of Christ. But if the worshiper is unworthy and faithless, then what he is eating and drinking is not Christ’s body and blood, but simply ordinary bread and wine. This also smacks of Docetism, as if Jesus of Nazareth could have been truly present with Zaccheus, partially present with Nicodemus, and completely absent with Judas, even though they were all standing right in front of him in the flesh.
First, Jason gets the Protestant position wrong. The unworthy receiver eats and drinks judgment. The last time I had ordinary bread and wine, I was not sinning overtly or deserving judgment. But that inaccuracy notwithstanding, second, the idea that Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper to everyone equally, just like he was to the people with whom Christ lived, walked and talked, commits some sort of Christological error — can’t remember which one — because the nature of a body is being limited in time and space, and if Jesus is not here then he can’t be here in the same way that he was here to Zaccheus. And since Jason doesn’t mention the Spirit, the person of the Trinity that helps Protestants understand Christ’s real presence in an omnipresent way, his bad logic suffers again from poor theology.
Jason’s last point exhibits a Romophilia that makes chopped liver out of the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople.
Moreover, the Catholic paradigm makes much better sense of the Incarnation by its gospel demonstrating the need for the ongoing and continual humanity of Christ. If salvation consists largely (almost exclusively to hear some Protestants tell it) in the forensic imputation of the active and passive obedience of Christ by which the sinner is legally justified in the divine court, then the need for Jesus’ humanity can be said to have expired after the ascension. But if, as the Catholic Church maintains (echoing the fathers), salvation consists primarily in the deifying participation of humanity in the divine nature, which happens by means of Christ’s glorified humanity and risen flesh, then what happened at the Incarnation was a much bigger deal than some Protestants realize.
The deifying participation of humanity in the divine nature is what the Eastern Churches call theosis. In fact, Jason’s entire post may vindicate his personal decision to leave Presbyterianism but his boosterism apparently blinded him to the substantial difficulties he raised for his own ecclesiology from Eastern Orthodox challenges. After all, Jesus never made it to Rome to found a church — if we take the physicality of the incarnation seriously. He did though found a church in Jerusalem. If Jason wanted to talk about the Jerusalem Catholic Church he might have a point. But since he wants to root, root, root for his new home church, he needs help from Bryan to make his argument coherent.
Meanwhile, Jason may want to pay more attention to what’s going on in his visible church than tilting at Protestant windmills:
I think it is obvious that Wuerl belongs to the more traditional, pilgrim model and always has. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the prophet model was invoked mostly by liberal theologians to justify their positions. In the 1990s and first decade of the 21st century, it was conservatives who claimed the prophetic mantle for themselves. Both groups forgot that in the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets were reluctant to accept the mantle. Both groups forgot that the dominant Catholic mode of leadership has almost always been the pilgrim model, and when the prophet model dominated, ruin came: Savonarola, Saint- Cloud, Pio Nono. The Church is not at Her best when Her leaders are busy hurling epithets or indulging what Pope Francis has called a “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism.” Wuerl strikes me as one of those bishops who does not over-inflate his own significance. Yes, he takes his job seriously and expects his collaborators to do so as well. But, like Pope Francis, he leaves room for the Spirit to do its work. Let us have more bishops like this in the coming year. The first test will, of course, be Chicago. No need for extensive previstas from the nuncio on this nomination as all of the candidates will be well known. The rumors of any particular names have dried up, which usually means those who are being consulted are shifting from speculation to decision. I have no idea who it will be but I will venture one prediction: Some jaws will drop. . . .
The divisions within the Church are not going away, but they are likely to change in the coming year. I predicted early on that you would begin to see cleavage within the Catholic Left between those who are thrilled by the Holy Father’s focus on the poor, and for whom that focus is enough, and those who argue for changes where no change is likely to be forthcoming, the ordination of women, same-sex marriage, etc. And, on the Catholic Right, you will see a similar cleavage between those who will allow themselves to be challenged by Pope Francis and those who will shift towards a rejectionist position, either completely gutting the pope’s words of their obvious meaning and import as Morlino did in the article mentioned above or, for the more extreme members, moving towards schismatic groups. The Left, when it gets disaffected, just walks away. The Right causes trouble. In 2014, many bishops will face the prospect of clear, unambiguous dissent on the Right and it will be curious to see how they respond.