Sunday, September 28, 2008

Will the Real "Rock" Please Stand Up?

As begin our look at Matthew 16:13-19, the first element of the passage that must be considered is what Jesus meant when he said to Peter, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church."

Some areas of agreement between Protestants and Catholics include the fact that Jesus is giving Simon a previously unheard of name, Peter. The English word "Peter" comes from the Greek word petra, which means "rock." Other than the three men and one squirrel pictured on the left, no one goes by a name even remotely similar anymore in our day either. Jesus may as well have named Simon "Ball Point Pen," for Protestants and Catholics will agree that this name bears about as close a resemblance to Simon's actual character as "Rock" did.

Now to our disagreements.

The Protestant will point out that two different words for "rock" are used in Matt. 16:18, which calls into question whether Peter himself is the rock on which the church would be built: "You are Petros, and on this petra I will build my church." Furthermore, Peter goes on in his first epistle to speak of all believers as "living stones" being built up into a spiritual house, the church. This being the case, many Protestants have argued that though Simon is renamed Petros ("little stone"), it is on the petra ("large rock") of his confession of Christ that the church would be built.

It seems to follow from this interpretation that, since the foundation of the church is a common confession of Christ shared by all faithful Christians, the church that is built upon this confession is primarily invisible (though it is manifested in visible churches comprised of professing believers).

The Catholic would respond to the Protestant by saying that though Matthew used two different Greek words for "rock" in v. 18, Jesus didn't speak Greek, he spoke Aramaic. This being the case, what he actually said would have sounded like this: "You are Kepha, and on this kepha I will build my church." Matthew, who wrote his gospel in Greek 30 or 40 years later, needed to employ two different words because Greek, unlike Aramaic, assigns gender to nouns. "Rock" (petra) is feminine, but Simon is a man, hence the change to Petros (it would be like a new father wanting to honor his own dad -- Joseph -- by naming his child after him, but then finding out his newborn is a girl and therefore naming her Josephine). The Catholic would argue, therefore, that Jesus' point would have crystal clear to those who heard him: Jesus would build his church on Peter.

As with the Protestant interpretation of this text, the Catholic understanding has direct ramifications for ecclesiology. If the church is built on Peter himself, it would seem to follow that the church is a visible entity just like Peter was. Assuming for the time being that this arrangement would outlast Peter's earthly life, it would follow that the church that Jesus promised to build would have to be connected to Peter in some way.

OK then, let's hash it out....

Friday, September 26, 2008

Scratching the Surface of a Pivotal Passage

It seems to me that many of the issues dividing Protestants and Catholics can be traced back to how we understand Matthew 16:13-19. I will lay out the two main interpretive options and then list some of their possible ramifications (but I am open to there being other possibilities as well, or a combination including elements of both).

Since this is my blog and I’m a Protestant, I will call this view Option #1, and it goes like this: The thing upon which Jesus says he will build his church is Peter’s confession of Christ. Peter’s confession is immaterial and invisible rather than material and visible, and so it would seem to follow that the church he promises to build, like that confession, would be invisible.

Moreover, the locus of unity for those who take Option #1 would be Peter’s confession (or, the gospel), and the keys of the kingdom, together with the power to bind and loose would reside in the hands of those who share that confession of Christ.

The Catholic position, or Option #2, says that the thing upon which Jesus says he’ll build his church is Peter himself. This being the case, then it would seem to follow that the church he promises to build, like Peter, would be visible rather than invisible.

Further, the locus of unity for those choosing Option #2 would be Peter himself (or, the Petrine See). The power of the keys, then, would reside in the hands of those who have visibly succeeded the man to whom those keys were originally given (i.e., Peter).

What I plan to do for the next few posts is take each of the elements of this passage (the rock, the church, the keys) and expound them via a teacher or commentator representing each of our two options.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t start weighing in now….

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Visible Church or Visible Churches?

OK, this will be the last post in which I mercilessly pick apart C.S. Lewis's church-as-house metaphor, I promise. Poor Clive Staples, I can just imagine him up in heaven yelling down at me, saying "Blimey, it was just an illustration for crying out loud! Lighten up."

That said, off we go....

On the one hand Lewis's house can't be the invisible church since the invisible church is one and therefore not divided into rooms (it's to this church that we traditionally have applied all those "unity" verses like Eph. 4:3-5 and I Cor. 12:12).

But on the other hand it can't be the visible church, either. Technically, we don't really believe in a visible church, do we? Sure, we believe in visible churches (self-governing bodies, whether independent congregations or denominations), but if that is what we're trying to illustrate then we should use the metaphor of a neighborhood comprised of individual homes, some bigger and some smaller. But in order for Lewis's house to illustrate "the visible church" then all the individual churches throughout the world would have to be visibly united in some way, just like the individual rooms in the house are visibly connected by a single roof (which, after all, is what a house is in the first place).

So if the point of the visible is to make apparent the invisible (as much as possible given the necessary qualifications), and if the invisible church is one, then wouldn't it follow that the visible church must be one as well? And to press it further, if what unites the invisible body is its Head, then wouldn't the visible body need a visible head in order to make its unity, well, visible?

Now if we deny this by saying that the visible church only needs an invisible Head and not a visible one, then doesn't that prove too much? Why do visible churches need a visible shepherd if the visible church doesn't?

So when all is said and done, it seems more Protestant to speak of "the invisible church" on the one hand, and "visible churches" on the other.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Bare Necessities

I plan to begin an extended consideration of Matthew 16:13-19 soon, but before I do I want to continue to explore C.S. Lewis's analogy a bit (for those just tuning in, Lewis likens the church to a house with many rooms, each of which represents a particular denominational tradition. The rooms open up to a common hallway, which represents what he calls "mere Christianity").

Now, in a real house there is rarely any ambiguity about where the hallway actually is. I mean, it's pretty obvious, right? That long narrow thing with doors on either side? That's the hallway.

But is it that simple in Lewis's "house"? What exactly constitutes "mere Christianity" anyway? I know that D.L. Moody claimed he could write the gospel on a dime, but that just causes one to wonder if the message that can fit on it is worth more than the coin it's written on.

Is Reformed covenant theology a part of "mere Christianity"? What about the substitutionary atonement? Infant baptism? The real presence of Christ in the Supper? The ever-virginity of Mary?

My guess is that Clive Staples would tell us that "mere Christianity" is what you find in the creeds of the early church. The question immediately arises, "Which ones?" Do we accept the declarations of the first four councils (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon)? The first seven? All twenty-one?

And if our answer is that we only accept the decrees of those councils that were faithful to Scripture, then does that not just put us back in the position of not agreeing about where the hallway is?

I guess what I'm asking is this: Ought our faith to be reduced to its lowest common denominator? And if not, how much unity are we willing to sacrifice for the luxury of expressing our faith more robustly?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Little Boxes Made of Ticky-Tacky

Continuing our discussion of C.S. Lewis's analogy of the Christian church being like a house with many rooms (denominational traditions) with a common hallway connecting them ("mere Christ-ianity"), I would like to highlight a few qualms I have. Now I realize that all illustrations break down at some point or another, but it seems like this one starts to fall apart pretty quickly upon an initial examination.

Now on a purely architectural level it is certainly true that the thing underneath a roof and between four outside walls is a house, that the things behind the inside doors are rooms, and that the thing to which the inside doors open is a hallway. But is it legitimate to then say that, on an ecclesiastical level, the existence of multiple church groups and denominations equals one church?

It depends. If the "church" being described by Lewis's house is invisible, then sure, it is possible to say that the full number of elect souls who eventually wind up in heaven will have worshiped in varying local churches throughout history. No real controversy there.

But if Lewis's house is one of those houses that you can actually see from the street (i.e., the visible kind), then that changes things a bit. Sure, most Christians claim to accept other Christians as fellow housemates, but according to Paul, true unity is not only verbal, it is sacramental. If it is true that there is "one God," "one Lord," and "one Spirit," it is also true that there is "one body," "one faith," and "one baptism" (Eph. 4:4-5). This means that the claim on the part of an evangelical that he is "one" with a newly-converted cradle-Presbyterian is an empty claim if he insists that the Presbyterian be re-baptized upon his conversion. To give another example, if a Lutheran minister refuses to offer the bread and cup to a Reformed minister, or if a Reformed minister refuses to commune a Baptist, then any claim of unity rings rather hollow.

It seems to me that the number of visible churches directly corresponds to the number of binding-and-loosing authorities over those churches. So the pastor-led independent Bible congregation is one church, Calvary Chapel as a whole is another, and so is the PCA. NAPARC is not a visible church, but an affiliation of visible churches (for it has no ecclesiastical authority). The same can be said for evangelicalism in general. And the Catholic Church, of course, is a visible church because of its authority rooted in the Petrine See.

The question, then, is whether Jesus intended to build a single church with a visible head whose keys allow him to bind and loose, or whether many visible-yet-divided churches are permissible. And if the answer is the former, then what is it that unifies this one church's many congregations?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Our House. In the Middle of our Street.

Well, I was hoping to take a little siesta from all things controversial and do a five-part review of Kreeft’s Love Is Stronger Than Death, but alas! it appears that you all have no appetite for smooth waters (excuse the mixed metaphor, it’s late). So anyway, once the comments turned from Kreeft’s treatment of death as a stranger to the grammatical issue of whether quotation marks belong inside or outside the comma—well, needless to say the writing was on the wall.

I hope to interact with Horton’s People and Place once I’ve got some of it read, but in the meantime I’ll bait the hook by shamelessly piggybacking on my pal Mike Brown’s discussion of C.S. Lewis’s description of the church as a big house with many rooms, all connected by a hallway. The rooms, Lewis says, are our denominations and confessional traditions (there’s a Baptist room [with no beer], a non-denominational room [whose walls everyone refuses to acknowledge], and a Presbyterian room [stocked with Arturo Fuentes and single malt]). The hallway, on the other hand, is what Lewis calls “mere Christianity” (you know, those “essentials” that we all supposedly recognize and agree upon). So although we spend lots of time in our respective rooms, we also venture out into the hallway to chat with our various housemates.

Some questions that we may want to tackle include: (1) Does the illustration even make sense? Does “many rooms = one house” even correlate to “many denominations = one church”? (2) Who gets to determine where exactly the hallway is? Does “mere Christianity” include infant baptism? How narrow is this thing anyway? (3) If the hallway is defined by the ecumenical creeds, does that include all of them, or just the ones we like? (4) Can we see this house from the street, or is it one of those “invisible” houses?

And we would be remiss, of course, if we failed to ask whether this house has a “Roman Room” in it, or if Rome’s is a different kind of structure altogether.

And if so, which was built first?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Death As a Stranger

“Let us now descend into the terrible, faceless depths of death as a stranger,” writes Peter Kreeft in his book Love Is Stronger Than Death. This second of death's five faces is the darkest, “a dead relationship with death.” The reason for this is that this posture of death corresponds to the human emotion not of hate (like one would feel towards an enemy), but of indiff-erence (like one who feels nothing at all). After all, the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy. To hate someone you must actually feel something towards him. Indifference is the absence of feeling: “Hate is like poison, but indifference is like starvation.”

Premodern man was fascinated with death, Kreeft argues, largely because it is the last true unknown. “A flat earth is more fascinating than a round earth because a flat earth has an edge, an end.” He points out that in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, the world becomes round as the result of divine punishment:

“And those that sailed furthest set but a girdle about the Earth and returned weary at last to the place of their beginning; and they said, ‘All roads are now bent.’”
Modern man, unlike his premodern counterpart, ignores death the way he would a stranger on the street. One of the reasons for this is our worshiping at the shrine of technology. In previous cultures the problem was how to conform our lives to bigger things outside of ourselves (like truth or God) by means of virtue, wisdom, or religion. In our day, the challenge we face is how to gain conquest over nature by getting the world to conform to us.

How does this relate to our ignoring of death?

If modern man believes that there is no higher purpose in life than his own pleasure (which is achieved through technology and its conquest over nature), then suffering becomes unendurable. The flipside of Nietzsche’s statement that “he who has a why to live can bear with almost any how” is also true: he who has no why cannot endure any how.

“The fact of death is the failure of our dream of divinity. No wonder we turn our face from it. Death’s face grins at us, and we must frown. In order to put a smile on our face, we must put the mask of a stranger on the face of death.”
The most common defense against death, in other words, is not so much a good offense, but a yawn.

Kreeft concludes that if we do actually face death head on it would be like looking into the sun. Death, like God, says, “No man can see my face and live.” But if death only seems dark but is really light because it reveals the truth about ourselves, then death is neither an enemy nor a stranger, but a friend.

We’ll explore friendship with death in our next installment, so stay tuned....

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who Said That?

Can anyone, without Googling, identify the source of this quotation?

"That the Roman Church is more honored by God than all others is not to be doubted. St, Peter and St. Paul, forty-six Popes, some hundreds of thousands of martyrs, have laid down their lives in its communion, having overcome Hell and the world; so that the eyes of God rest on the Roman church with special favor. Though nowadays everything is in a wretched state, it is no ground for separating from the Church. On the contrary, the worse things are going, the more should we hold close to her, for it is not by separating from the Church that we can make her better. We must not separate from God on account of any work of the devil, nor cease to have fellowship with the children of God who are still abiding in the pale of Rome on account of the multitude of the ungodly. There is no sin, no amount of evil, which should be permitted to dissolve the bond of charity or break the bond of unity of the body. For love can do all things, and nothing is difficult to those who are united."
Surprise, surprise: It was from a letter of Martin Luther to Pope Leo. How's that for irony?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Death As An Enemy

“Death wears five faces,” writes Peter Kreeft, “and the only way to see each of them is to have seen the others first. Each face is a password to the next.”

Death’s first face, argues Kreeft, is that of an enemy. Its subsequent faces are that of a stranger, a friend, a mother, and finally, a lover.

“If death does not first appear to us as an enemy, then it cannot appear truly as a friend, or as anything greater than a friend. Death cannot immediately appear as a friend. Death cannot be a friend; it can only become a friend, after first being an enemy. Otherwise, it is not death that is a friend, but something else we confuse with death, such as sleep, or rest, or peace.”
Death’s initial posture as an enemy flies in the face of the American fairy tale that “death is a natural part of life.” All the great myths throughout history argue against such euphemism, seeing death as disastrous and catastrophic. Stoicism, Kreeft insists, is not courageous but cowardly, for it refuses to face what we inwardly know to be true because death screams it at us: something has gone horribly wrong.

There is a puzzle here, Kreeft writes, because death, which on one level is most natural, feels to us to be most unnatural.

“We are shocked at the irreversibility of death although it is utterly familiar, utterly universal, utterly natural. We find the natural unnatural. Why? Let us be shocked at our shock. It is shocking that we are shocked at the inevitable, the familiar, the expected.”
The naturalness of death is seen in the cycle of biology. Death, in this sense, is the fertilizer of life. Yet we still rebel against nature, we have “a lover’s quarrel with the world” at this very point. The reason for this, Kreeft argues (quoting the Preacher), is that “God has put eternity in man’s heart” (Ecc. 3:11).

Furthermore, death is inextricably connected with sin and guilt. At this point Kreeft suggests a “thought experiment” in which the reader supposes for a moment that there is a God. This supposition serves to make some sense out of the strong intuition we have that connects death with sin and guilt.

“If death is indeed the consequence, symptom, and sign of sin, we are even worse off than we thought. We see in every death not only our defeat but our guilt. This is worse even than defeat.”
But there is light even in this cave. Kreeft quotes George MacDonald: “Ah, I would not lose my blame! In my blame is my hope.” As Celia says in T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party:

“I should really like to think there’s something wrong with me—because, if there isn’t, then there’s something wrong with the world itself—and that’s much more frightening!”
Thus ironically, “there is hope: we are guilty of death.” To blame ourselves is to vindicate reality, and ultimately, to vindicate God in the process.

Sounds a bit like good ol’ fashioned law/gospel preaching, innit?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Love Is Stronger Than Death

"Life is always fatal," writes Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft in his pro-found little book Love Is Stronger Than Death. "No one gets out of it alive."
In his introduction to the work he claims that life is either totally meaningful or totally meaningless, and determining which statement is true is only possible by first determining what death is. "We do not know why we die," Kreeft writes, "unless we know why we live."

"Death is the one pathway through which all people at all times raise the question of the absolute, the question of God. The last excuse for not raising the God-question is Thoreau's 'one world at a time.' Death removes this last excuse."

In his book Kreeft argues that death has five "faces," or assumes five different postures as it confronts us, and as we confront it. Death is (1) an enemy, (2) a stranger, (3) a friend, (4) a mother, and (5) a lover.

I hope to take us through some highlights from Love Is Stronger Than Death, so don't touch that dial.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rome vs. Geneva: Some Concluding Remarks

As we wrap up our comparison of Catholicism and Protestantism (which is by far the longest series of posts we’ve ever done here at De Regnis Duobus), I’d like to offer some concluding remarks.

First, I hope that we have all learned, disagreements notwithstanding, that we need to treat one another with charity and respect. If I may point the finger at my own tradition, it is often those on my side of the debate that doubt the salvation of those on the other, while our opponents, even in the midst of their lofty claims about the Catholic church, still grant that those outside her communion are separated brethren whom they expect to see in heaven one day.

And make no mistake, the Catholic’s claims are profound and grandiose and, well, downright b@ll$y. Speaking for myself, I had never considered those claims before, but instead assumed that Protestants and Catholics simply came to different exegetical conclusions when reading Scripture. The fact is, I learned, that the real disagreement between us is located only as we peel back a further layer beyond our respective exegesis and systematics.

And this is where the confessional Protestant feels a bit sucker-punched. We have always boasted that, unlike evangelicals, we read the Scripture in conjunction with, rather than in isolation from, those who have gone before us. The Catholic’s question at this point is, “With which group, of all who have gone before you, do you read the Scriptures in conjunction? The Methodists? The Mormons? The Anabaptists? Or, by ‘those who have gone before us’ do you simply mean those with whom you agree?”

I will be the first to admit that this is a very challenging question which I have not heard answered to my satisfaction. More work needs to be done on this point.

Putting aside the authority question and moving on to systematic and exegetical issues, I still maintain that the Reformed carry the day. Despite the fact that, according to Catholicism, we have no business putting forth our interpretations over against Rome’s, I just can’t get around the superiority of the Reformation’s treatment of salvation as a whole, together with its exposition of justification/imputation on the one hand, and sanctification/infusion on the other, weaving both loci together with a common, covenantal thread.

Some areas where I think Catholics need improvement include more exegetical precision, especially with respect to Paul’s courtroom language and his doctrine of the law. Some basic principles also need to be put forward concerning how we read the early fathers, principles that don’t fall into the same circularity with which they charge Protestants when we read the Bible.

Protestants, on the other hand, need to address the charge of individualism leveled at us by our Catholic opponents (and simply claiming that lots of lots of us believe these things won’t cut it. Individualism doesn’t cease to be such merely because lots of people are committing it, and have been doing so for a long time). We also need to wrestle with the issue of how legitimate it is to allow Paul to swallow not only James, but also Jesus, on the matter of the relationship of works to faith in salvation.

At the end of the day, I am both optimistic and pessimistic. Though I am doubtful that visible, institutional unity will be achieved in the near future, and am hopeful that a more grassroots type of unity can be fostered, according to which we recognize one another as worshipers of the same Savior.

In conclusion, I do hope our Catholic readers will stick around and join in whatever subsequent conversations we have here. And though this post will wrap up the Catholic/Protestant debate on this blog, I imagine that I will continue to address the authority question and the charge of individualism in some form or another, at least as long as it is still bugging me.

Please feel free to weigh in with elaborations on or challenges to anything I’ve said. And if you have any ideas for upcoming topics, please don’t hesitate….

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Apostolicam Ecclesiam: Tertullian vs. Turretin on the Church's Apostolicity

This will be the last post on the marks of the church, the fourth of which is apostolicity. After this, I will probably wrap things up with some closing remarks and analysis. Representing the Catholic side in this discussion will be Tertullian, writing at the end of the second century (The Prescription of Heretics, Ch. 32), and defending the Reformed position will be seventeenth-century theologian Francis Turretin (Institutes of Elenctis Theology, 18.13).

Here's Tertullian:

"But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men, -- a man, moreover, who continued stedfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind."

And now here is Turretin:

"Falsely do our opponents maintain that the newness of our religion is gathered from the newness of those who profess it, such as Waldo, Wycliffe, Hus, Luther and others. They were not its authors, but only 'heralds and restorers,' who proposed no other doctrine than the prophetic and apostolic. It is one thing to purge an ancient doctrine of its corruption and recall men to it; another to devise a new doctrine not as yet delivered and propose it for belief. The former, not the latter, was done by the Reformers. They gave nothing of their own, but delivered what they had received from Christ. Hence the religion is not to be ascribed to them, but to Christ, who had taught it in his word."

A couple things should be pointed out. First, Tertullian does not ignore doctrine in favor of succession, but goes on and argues that the heretics' doctrine, "after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man...." Secondly, the nature of Turretin's position is interesting because he is not simply arguing that the Reformed view is the most biblical, but that it is also the one that was represented in the early church. The claim, in other words, is quite demonstrable or falsifiable by an appeal to evidence (assuming, of course, that we are able to wade through the historical record with a measure of objectivity, but I digress).

So whose historical claim is right?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Catholicam Ecclesiam: Cyril vs. Turretin on the Church's Catholicity

According to the Nicene Creed, the third mark of the church is its “catholicity” (“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church”). Defending the Catholic position in this post will be Cyril of Jerusalem (Catacheses, No. 18:23; 17:14, c. 347 A.D.), and rebutting that position from the Protestant perspective will be Francis Turretin (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Eighteenth Topic, Thirteenth Question, c. 1685).

First, Cyril of Jerusalem:

“The Church is called Catholic or universal because it has spread throughout the entire world, from one end of the earth to the other. Again, it is called Catholic because it teaches fully and unfailingly all the doctrines which ought to be brought to men’s knowledge, whether concerned with visible or invisible things, with the realities of heaven or the things of earth. Another reason for the name Catholic is that the Church brings under religious obedience all classes of men, rulers and subjects, learned and unlettered. Finally, it deserves the title Catholic because it heals and cures unrestrictedly every type of sin that can be committed in soul or in body, and because it possesses within itself every kind of virtue that can be named, whether exercised in actions or in words or in some kind of spiritual charism.

“And if ever you are sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord’s House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all.”

And Francis Turretin:

“If to be called catholic is a mark of the church, this arises from God; but the Scripture is entirely silent about it. Or it arises from opponents; but they are not our judges. Or it arises from their own people; but what right have they to assume for a mark the name which they ascribe to themselves, since heretics are accustomed to set up in front of themselves specious names? … If the fathers formerly distinguished the orthodox from heretics by the name catholic, they did this… on account of the catholic and orthodox doctrine that they held…. Cyril teaches that ‘the church is called Catholic because it teaches fully and unfailingly all the doctrines which ought to be brought to men’s knowledge.’”

The issue here is not whether a church's catholicity is a matter of doctrine or not (for it surely is). The issue, rather, is whether it is by a church's doctrine alone that such a determination is to be made, or whether other factors, like pedigree and universality, are to be taken into account.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sanctam Ecclesiam: Clement vs. Calvin on the Church’s Holiness

The four marks of the church, according to the Nicene Creed, are its unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity (“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church”). As we continue to take our discussion of Catholicism and Protestantism ad fontes (back to the sources), we turn in this post from the church’s unity to her holiness. Representing the Catholic position will be Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis, c. 210 A.D.), and representing the Protestants will be John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.1.17, 1559).

"There is one true Church, the really ancient Church into which are enrolled those who are righteous [holy] according to Gods ordinance.... In essence, in idea, in origin, in preeminence we say that the ancient Catholic Church is the only Church. The Church brings together [the faithful] by the will of the one God through the one Lord, into the unity of the one faith...."
Since Clement basically combines all four marks without giving much attention to that of holiness, I will supplement him with the entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

"When the Church points to sanctity as one of her notes, it is manifest that what is meant is a sanctity of such a kind as excludes the supposition of any natural origin. The holiness which marks the Church should correspond to the holiness of its Founder, of the Spirit Who dwells within it, of the graces bestowed upon it. A quality such as this may well serve to distinguish the true Church from counterfeits. It is not without reason that the Church of Rome claims to be holy in this sense. Her holiness appears in the doctrine which she teaches, in the worship she offers to God, in the fruits which she brings forth."
And now Calvin:

"Because they also allege that the church is not without basis called holy, it is fitting to examine in what holiness it excels lest, if we are not willing to admit a church unless it be perfect in every respect, we leave no church at all.… The Lord is daily at work in smoothing out wrinkles and cleansing spots. From this it follows that the church's holiness is not yet complete. The church is holy, then, in the sense that it is daily advancing and is not yet perfect: it makes progress from day to day but has not yet reached its goal of holiness…. And although there are oftentimes few evidences of this sort of sanctification among men, still we must hold that from the creation of the world there was no time when the Lord did not have his church; and even until the consummation of the age, there will be no time when he will not have it. For even though the whole human race has from the very beginning been corrupted and vitiated by Adam's sin, from this polluted mass, as it were, He ever sanctifies certain vessels unto honor."
In Calvin’s view, it seems, the holiness of the church is seen in the holiness of her members, while Clement’s position is that the church’s holiness is manifested in her doctrine and ancient pedigree.

OK, opine away....

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Unam Ecclesiam: Irenaeus vs. Turretin on the Church's Unity

The four marks of the church, according to Catholicism, are found in the Nicene Creed, which says, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” What follows are two statements concerning the first of these marks, one from the second century (representing Catholicism) and the other from the seventeenth century (representing Protestantism).

"For [the Church] is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches? ... Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the Churches… since they are blind to the truth, and deviate from the [right] way, they will walk in various roads; and therefore the footsteps of their doctrine are scattered here and there without agreement or connection. But the path of those belonging to the Church circumscribes the whole world, as possessing the sure tradition from the apostles, and gives unto us to see that the faith of all is one and the same…." Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 4; Book 5, Chapter 20

"Among the attributes of the church, the first is unity, which flows from its nature. For since it is a holy society and a mystical body, embracing all the elect united in the bond of the same spirit, faith, and love with each other and with Christ, it must necessarily have a certain unity by which all its members may be mutually joined together…. Here we do not treat of its visible unity and as to its external state… we do not treat of an accidental unity either of place or time or rites or age… but we treat of an essential unity, which remains the same in various places as well as at various times, by which believers worship the same God, recognize the same Savior, have the same faith, are animated with the same spirit, and are members of the same body." Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Eighteenth Topic, Fifth Question, I-III.

Four points have been raised in the comments by Andrew McCallum concerning how we should read the early fathers. First, it is just as erroneous for the Catholic to insist that “If Protestants would just read the fathers they’d become Catholic” as it is for Protestants to insist that “If Catholics would just read the Bible they’d become Protestant.” The fathers must be read with an eye both to their philosophical and cultural milieu and their interpretive framework.

Secondly, we need to address the fact that, to the Protestant, it seems like the fathers are interpreted by Catholics anachronistically from the standpoint of contemporary Catholic dogma. In the light of the Catholic being bound by his Church’s interpretation of the fathers, how can reading them lead to anything but a fait accompli?

Thirdly, we need to discuss what exactly the fathers believed about their own authority. Did Clement or Polycarp believe they were writing with infallible authority? To the Protestant it appears that the Catholic Church’s insistence that the fathers, as interpreted by the Church, are infallible is a classic example of begging the question. Whether or not the fathers expected to be read as infallible is precisely the issue to be proven or disproven, not taken as an a priori.

Lastly, the Catholic must demonstrate that his position is in fact falsifiable. Is it possible that the Catholic claim to authority can turn out to be wrong? And if so, how would we know?

That said, please weigh in on these two representative statements about the church’s unity, keeping in mind these larger interpretive issues.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Clement and Augustine on Apostolic Succession

As I have hinted at, I plan to begin a series on the early church fathers. Since I am no patristics scholar, my approach will be to reproduce a couple of relevant quotations per post, perhaps make a comment or two myself, and then let the real action take place in the comments box. What I'm looking for are arguments for or against the view that (1) The present day Catholic Church faithfully embodies the post-apostolic church, or (2) The Reformers recovered the doctrines and practices of the post-apostolic church which had been lost or obscured during the Middle Ages.

Leading off, then, is Clement of Rome:

"The Apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus, the Christ, was sent from God. Thus Christ is from God and the Apostles from Christ. In both instances the orderly procedure depends on God's will. And so the Apostles after receiving their orders and being fully convinced by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and assured by God's Word went out in the confidence of the Holy Spirit to preach the Good News that God's Kingdom was about to come. They preached in country and city and appointed their first converts after testing them by the Spirit to be bishops and deacons of future believers." Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 42, c. 96 AD.
Secondly we have Augustine of Hippo:

"For in the Catholic Church, not to speak of the purest wisdom... there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house." Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental, Chapter 4, c. 397.
Off you go, then....

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Exegesis, Systematics, and the Authority to Do Them

As we wrap up our discussion of Sola Fide and move on to a discussion of the early church fathers, I'd like to make a couple observations.

First, the different ways we define our respective terms creates a huge impediment to constructive dialogue. Even after coming to understand what a Catholic means by "justification" (i.e., something akin to what Protestants would call "salvation"), I still find myself forgetting momentarily and arguing in a way that totally misses the point.

Secondly, both sides make similar claims about their views. For example, Catholics and Protestants both affirm that salvation comes to us by God's grace alone, and that our works neither merit nor cause salvation, but only flow from it.

Now when heard with Protestant ears this claim on the part of Catholics sounds, prima facie, utterly false and even laughable. But when account is taken for the differences of nomenclature, and if and the Catholic position is allowed to play by its own rulebook and use its own lexicon, it certainly appears internally consistent and even gracious.

That said, however, there still remains the issue of how terms are defined and, more importantly, how texts are exegeted by both sides. So while I will concede that, given its own formulations, the Catholic view makes sense, Catholicism's terminology and the exegesis on which it rests are, at the end of the day, inferior to that of confessional Reformed theology. Whether the issue is how we define justification or how we exegete the early chapters of Romans, I humbly suggest that historic Protestantism carries the day.

Of course, depending on how we answer the "authority question," this may all be completely beside the point....

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Merits of Merit: Meritum De Congruo vs. "Suing God"

Moving from exegetical to more systematic issues in our ongoing discussion of Sola Fide, it is high time we discuss the merits of merit.

It is here especially that we must pay close attention to precision of language and definition. In order to properly represent the Catholic position and compare and contrast it with the Reformed view, therefore, we must turn to our respective Catechism and Confession.

With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2007).

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant (Westminster Confession of Faith VII.1).

With the exception of the mention of “covenant,” both of these expressions are quite similar in their disallowance of any talk of “strict merit” (meritum adÅ“quatum sive de condigno) with respect to man’s relationship with his Creator. Catholicism’s “covenantal” context for merit is seen in CCC 2008, which says that “The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace.” It continues:

… the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.
Now the temptation for the Protestant when we hear the phrase “the merit of good works” is to say, “Aha! So you Catholics do believe that you earn your salvation!” Not so fast, though:

Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God’s gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us “co-heirs” with Christ and worthy of obtaining “the promised inheritance of eternal life” (CCC 2009).
“Merit” for the Catholic appears to be similar to what we Protestants might call a “claim” upon God, one that is rooted in our status as adopted sons of God the Father. In Reformed language we might say, as the Puritans often did, that we ought to “sue God” in order to claim his covenant promises for ourselves. Furthermore, we confess that our works will be tried and (graciously) rewarded on the last Day (Westminster Confession XXXIII.1).

The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace (CCC 2011).
My question for you readers, then, is this: What is the difference between the Catholic saying the believer earns congruent merit, and the Protestant saying that God can be taken to court and convinced to pay up?