Sunday, September 28, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
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
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?
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
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
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
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
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
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.
"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."
I hope to take us through some highlights from Love Is Stronger Than Death, so don't touch that dial.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
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.
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
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
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
"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...."
"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."
"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."
OK, opine away....
Sunday, September 07, 2008
"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
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
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 the exception of the mention of “covenant,” both of these expressions are quite similar in their disallowance of any talk of “strict merit” (meritum adœquatum 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:
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).
… 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?