Putting the Loco in Logocentric

Rod Dreher reflects on the ways that even while denominational brands among Protestants are in free fall (and have been, I might add, since the Second Not-So-Good Awakening), the differences between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox abide:

And yet, some borders still matter — as Berger notes — at the popular level. When you’re a Protestant and you walk into a Catholic church, you know that something very different is going on there, and vice versa (though given the postconciliar Protestantization of Catholic church architecture and interior design, this is much less obvious in some places than in others). Visit an Orthodox church, and the contrast is even more vivid — perhaps surprisingly so for Catholics, who might reasonably have thought that given the strong Marian piety of Orthodox Christians, the Orthodox church was closer to their own faith than it actually is.

The vibe in a Protestant (especially confessional) church would be different in part because services feature, in contrast to the Roman and Eastern churches, the Bible read and preached.

So when you read Paul’s instruction to Timothy, Paul being an apostle and all and an author of an infallible set of books in Scripture, are you thinking of the atmosphere in a Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant service?

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

4 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Don’t let them fool you. The model for Protestant ministry is as old as the church in Ephesus that Jesus founded by way of Paul.

Where’s the Fall?

Rod Dreher hearkens back to his crunchy con days for this piece of conservative logic:

A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.

Might we then expect Rod to show some theological restraint when commenting on the murder of a Scottish Muslim?

Asad Shah is with our Creator today. I am confident of that. Please, Christians, wherever you are this Easter weekend, pray for the soul of a righteous man, murdered for his compassion and love of mankind.

Remember, too, that if you condemn all Muslims over the bloodthirsty killers of ISIS, you also condemn this good man Asad Shah, may his memory be eternal.

Sure, Rod doesn’t need to use the timing of this man’s tragic death to point out the differences between Muslims and Christians over sin, salvation, and the redemption secured by Christ (though at Easter he might have the meaning of Christ’s death on his mind). But if conservatives are going to ask the rest of society to take religious seriously, shouldn’t they show the way?

Those Who Want History Straight Deserve to Get It Good and Hard

History does not conform to apologetics.

So says the American Jesuit, Robert Taft:

“It’s not true that at the beginning we had one Church centered in Rome, and then for various historical reasons certain groups broke off,” he said. “It’s just the opposite. At the beginning we had various churches, as Christianity developed here and there and someplace else, and gradually different units began to be formed.”

“That’s the reality,” Taft said, “and we have to accept it.”

So confirms the Capuchin order:

The Annuario Pontificio, the Vatican’s statistical yearbook, lists about 800 men’s orders in the Church, all of which have a story to tell. Precisely because Capuchins don’t call attention to themselves, however, several interesting elements of their tale are often lost.

The order was born in 1525 when a friar named Matteo da Bascio decided the Franciscans of his day had abandoned the initial vision of St. Francis of Assisi, and he wanted to get back to a strict observance of penance, prayer, and poverty.

That implied criticism didn’t sit well with other Franciscans, and with the support of influential Church authorities, they hounded Bascio and his initial companions, who were forced to take shelter from Camaldolese monks.

In 1528, the “Capuchins” (so named for the hood they wear with their habit) got papal permission to organize, but their problems were hardly over.

Within 20 years, Bascio had left his new order to return to the Observant Franciscans, while another early Capuchin leader, Bernardino Ochino, spurned the Catholic faith altogether to join forces with John Calvin in Geneva. Eventually Ochino’s support for polygamy and his rejection of the Trinity was too much even for the Calvinists, and he went into exile first in Poland and then in Slovakia.

The new order came under suspicion of heresy and narrowly avoided being suppressed, while for a time Capuchins were forbidden to preach. (This makes it a rich irony that since 1743, the Capuchins have had the privilege of supplying the official Preacher of the Papal Household; since 1980, that role has been held by the Rev. Rainero Cantalamessa.)

When Ecumenism and Environmentalism Collide

Pope Francis’ determination to meet with the Patriarch of Moscow involves several risks according to Massimo Faggioli:

First, there’s the political-diplomatic dimension of the meeting. The pope is going to meet the leader of a church that is seen more and more as part of the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin and an ideological support for his neo-imperial foreign policy. This criticism stresses the risks to Francis’s credibility, especially if considering the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in supporting Putin’s military actions in Syria and in Ukraine. (Kirill was, however, more cautious about Ukraine, given the potential consequences of the loss of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine for inter-Orthodox relations between Moscow and Kiev).

Second, there’s the internal politics of the Orthodox churches, in light not only of the historical rivalries between Moscow and Constantinople for supremacy within Eastern Orthodoxy, but also of the upcoming Great Synod of the Orthodox Churches on the Greek island of Crete in June. Some see Francis as naïve in regard as to how the patriarchate of Moscow could use the meeting to assert a new supremacy at a critical time for the future of the Orthodox churches. Here too the war in Ukraine factors into the equation.

Third, there’s the ecumenical dimension of the meeting. The Russian Orthodox Church has been far less engaged in ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church than the patriarch of Constantinople has; in agreeing to meet with Kirill, Francis is accused of sitting at the table with a leader who has not shown the minimum amount of ecumenical spirit required to start a conversation with the pope.

Professor Faggioli leaves out the risk to the environment. Since the Pope is meeting Kirill in Cuba, both church officials will be emitting lots of carbons into an environment on the brink of overheating.

How is this trip consistent with Pope Francis’ recent prayer video?

No, Not One

Jesus founded only one church and no other communion in the world is a church, not even the Eastern churches which actually came before Peter and Paul died in Rome.

Now, in this apologetics series we have seen that none of the Protestant churches (among the thousands of them) is the Church of Jesus Christ, and none can be. Neither can Anglicanism be, nor the Orthodox churches. There is only one left to fit in the marks of being One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, etc. And you will get not a single brownie point for guessing which one I am referring to.

Why is the Roman Catholic Church the Church founded by Jesus Christ? Not merely because it is the last one left in the list of our considerations, not at all.

First of all, she is one in faith: Faithful Catholics the world over — whether they live in America, Europe, Africa, Asia, or Oceania — share the same Creed, and believe the same articles of faith. (Please note: I mean the faithful Catholics, not the superficial, relativistic, modernist folks you find in many places today. They do not represent the Catholic Church, only themselves. An organization is properly represented by its faithful members, not by its unfaithful ones.)

The faithful ministers of the Catholic Church bear the message of Christ in its entirety, without any adaptations to the worldly culture of our days.

Does that apply to the German bishops?

She is one in government. Faithful Catholic people are joined to their priests, the priests and people to their bishops, and all are subject to the Pope, the center of authority, the bond of apostolic unity, the Successor of St. Peter, and the Vicar of Christ. The Code of Canon Law acts like a “constitution” for the Catholic Church, and all are subject to its ordinances. There is unity in government.

Does that include the Vatican curia who leak documents and information to Italian reporters?

The Catholic Church bears the message of Christ, and her faithful members, courageous and plain-spoken as Christ Himself, insist that it be received in its integrity. She shuts her ears to the sensual who look to her in vain for an accommodation in her moral doctrine; those unfaithful members of the Church at times attempt to change her moral doctrine, but always without success. They either leave the Church in a schism or deny her truth as a new heresy.

What about Cardinal Law?

Since Luther’s revolution, countless new Protestant groups, as well as semi-Christian sects, have arisen. Some of them, e.g., Assembly of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Worldwide Church of God, are not named after any particular person, place, or doctrine — but one thing they, and all Protestant bodies, have in common is that the date of their foundation can be given. Before Luther there was no Lutheranism, before Calvin there was no Calvinism, before Henry VIII there was no Anglicanism, before Ellen White there were no Seventh-day Adventists, before Joseph Smith there were no Mormons. And so on and so forth.

The Catholic Church — it is a fact of history — was founded by Jesus Christ in the year 33. Only the Catholic Church goes back in every respect of her foundation to Jesus Christ Himself. No other person can be adduced as her founder.

So why not relocate and call the church, the Jerusalem Catholic Church?

Here I thought Lutherans and Calvinists were separated brethren and sistren.

Postscript: Program Notes on the Church Jesus Founded

Acts 1: Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

Acts 2: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.

Jerusalem envy, anyone?

The Limits of Logic and the Benefits of Geography

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.

Whose Ancient Church, Which Apostolic Succession?

In continuing to reflect on the audacity of Called to Communion’s justification for their attachment to Rome, I was struck by Bryan Cross’ Jesuitical efforts to distinguish the Roman Catholic from the Protestant convert’s determination to join the church he believes is true. In the post on sola scriptura that ran for miles, Cross wrote this:

The objection is understandable, but it can be made only by those who do not see the principled difference between the discovery of the Catholic Church, and joining a Protestant denomination or congregation. Of course a person during the process of becoming Catholic is not under the authority of the Church. At that stage, he or she is like the Protestant in that respect. But the Catholic finds something principally different, and properly finds it by way of qualitatively different criteria. The Protestant is seeking a group of persons who believe, teach and practice what his interpretation of Scripture indicates was the belief, teaching and practice of the Apostles. He retains his final interpretive authority so long as he remains Protestant. No Protestant denomination has the authority to bind his conscience, because [in his mind] the Church must always remains subject to Scripture, which really means that the Church must always remains subject to [his interpretation of] Scripture, or at least that he is not ultimately subject to anyone’s interpretation but his own.

The person becoming Catholic, by contrast, is seeking out the Church that Christ founded. He does this not by finding that group of persons who share his interpretation of Scripture. Rather, he locates in history those whom the Apostles appointed and authorized, observes what they say and do viz-a-viz the transmission of teaching and interpretive authority, traces that line of successive authorizations down through history to the present day to a living Magisterium, and then submits to what this present-day Magisterium is teaching. By finding the Magisterium, he finds something that has the divine authority to bind the conscience.

In other words, part of Cross’ point is that the Roman Catholic converts finds a church that has antiquity and apostolic succession on its side.

Fine. But since other churches also claim to be successors to the apostles, why isn’t the Roman Catholic doing exactly what the Protestant does? The Eastern churches have as much apostolic succession and antiquity on their side (probably more) as Rome. So the convert who comes across the importance of apostolic succession and history now needs to decide whether or not to join Rome or one of the Orthodox communions. At which point, the convert needs to choose a church that aligns with his own understanding of apostolic succession and antiquity. In the case of the convert to Rome, to use Cross’ words, he “retains final interpretive authority” so long as he needs to decide how to apply the standards of apostolic succession to the communions that claim it.

Like I say, coming to truth requires interpretation and personal choice. I understand the appeal of submission to higher authorities and relinquishing the mess that comes with discernment. But the CTC solution (and supporting rationale) resembles Homer Simpson’s wish for a Land of Chocolate.

What Happens When You Mix Athanasius, Wendell Berry, and Sufjan Stevens?

You get very confused. (Thanks to J. R. Daniel Kirk)


Two-Kingdom Tuesday: The Roman Catholic Version

The contemporary vocal critics of modern 2k often remark that everyone is 2k, meaning that it is wrong for modern 2k advocates to paint them as 1k. The Roman Catholic expression of 2k doctrine qualifies that claim in important ways. First, it suggests that not everyone is 2k since the Eastern Church allowed itself to be absorbed by the state in the form of Caesaropapism. Second, it reveals that Roman Catholics also believe in the two-kingdoms, especially the idea that the church is and should be free from the state. (Rome would apparently not favor the language of the original Westminster Confession which gives the magistrate power to ensure that church counsels follow God’s mind.) In which case, if part of the point of the 2k doctrine is to separate the church and the state, and the papacy was an important institution for introducing and preserving that autonomy in the West, then the critics of modern 2k may want to explain how their 2k avoids the problems pointed out in the following (i.e., a Leviathan state) without also embracing the papacy. Of course, the other alternatives are Constantine or King David, but not if you want to be 2k along with everyone.

. . . the Church, always maturing as she groped for a just balance in her relations with the state for eight hundred years, finally broke in two, each part exhibiting a possible alternative solution to the problem. In the Eastern half of the Christian empire, in the new Rome founded by Constantine, divided from the West by her inheritance of Hellenistic culture and continuing the division of the empire into two blocks existing from the time of Diocletian to that of Theodosius, the Church succumbed to the States. Or would it be more exact to say that the state succumbed to the Church? . . . The other alternative has had even a greater historical role to play. In the Latin West, the Church, under the guidance of the Pope and her bishops, vindicated her freedom before the state. In this she was helped by a variety of external developments. Not the least of these is the fact that in the West, the Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth century, and the papacy remained the only rock of cultural unity among the states that rose in the aftermath of the invasions. It is often said that the freedom of the Western Church was built only on the ruins of the civil power; but the Church had in fact defended her freedom against the Emperor Constantius and later against Byzantine despotism, which weighted heavily on Rome and the West from the sixth to the eighth century. What favored the Western Church’s victorious struggle for her freedom was, above all, the fact that in Latin culture the sense of human freedom, especially religious freedom, had deeper roots than in the East. . . . But the most important internal resource from which the Western Church drew renewed strength in her struggle for freedom was the guiding role of the papacy, growing increasingly conscious of the rights granted to it by Christ as it sought to respond to the needs of a Church basically solid but ever struggling even in a Christian empire. It is a fact grasped not only by faith but also seen in history that all the churches who wish to withdraw from the unity of the Church dogmatically first of all seek refuge with the state but soon are absorbed by the state and fall with it. (Hugo Rahner, Church and State in Early Christianity [1962], pp. xiv-xvi)