Tuesday, September 11, 2007

When Is A Church Not A Church?

The good blogger at PrincipiumUnitatis recently put these questions to me. They were so thought-stimulating, I thought he wouldn't mind if I reposted them here for public consideration. This was in the context of discussing Christ possessing the "sacramental magisterial authority, for all authority had been given to Him by the Father (cf. Matt 28:18, and John 17:2)."

He continued, "Throughout the two-thousand year history of the Church, various sects have claimed that the Church had become so corrupted that it was no longer the Church, and that the true Church continued with them. So claimed the Montanists, the Novatians, and the Donatists. Other schismatics (e.g. Albigensians) made the same sort of claim. Often they called themselves Carthari (or "Puritans") to contrast themselves from the Catholic Church, which they considered impure and corrupt."

"(1) If in actuality you are presently in schism from the Church Christ founded, how would your experience be any different than it is right now?"

It is interesting that the visible Church and heretics have not been readily distinguishable if measured by size, the fervor of adherents, or the like. Another good blogger recently wrote to me along these lines. He noted the devotion to the Faith that is found in NEW churches, and how it tends to dissolve with age. Mormons tend to be extremely devout. Young Presbyterian denominations are conservative relative to their older forebears. The rate of weekly church attendance for PCA members is likely much higher than for Catholic members. Many ancient heresies still romp around (Modalism, Monophysitism, etc.), so age is no gauge. I dare say that one being in schism from the Church Christ founded may very well not realize it. (But, you shall know a tree by its fruit, Christ tells us!)

"(2) How are you not making the same error made by the Donatists?"

For clarity, CARM says that "Donatism was the error taught by Donatus, bishop of Casae Nigrae that the effectiveness of the sacraments depends on the moral character of the minister. In other words, if a minister who was involved in a serious enough sin were to baptize a person, that baptism would be considered invalid." They practiced rebaptism and taught that the Catholic Church was no longer "true".

I dare say that many Christian groups are making the same error made by the Donatists. (But the Reformation was concerned not with individual immoral priests or bishops, but with a whole structure endorsing immorality!)

"(3) If on account of corruption you have turned away from the Church Christ founded, then to whom have you turned, and what authority do they have to speak for Christ and His Church?"

Protestants have turned to some combined notion of democratic authority and Scriptural authority. I understand that Lutherans originally saw ordination and teaching authority to derive from the faithful allowing a teacher to speak. In a Calvinistic view, the authority to speak for Christ extends only as far as the teacher speaks in conformity to Authoritative Scriptures.

"(4) If they do not have the authoritative interpretation of Scripture, then how do you know that you are rightly interpreting OT passages as teaching that the hierarchical structures of the Church can be corrupted to the point of total apostasy?"

A bit philosophical, this bit. I am generally quite sympathetic to the notion that we need some normative (authoritative?) standard by which we interpret the Scriptures. But I don't think that in every instance our faculties of reason and common sense (not to mention conscience) are insufficient. For instance, "Thou shalt not murder" is a truthful command, the interpretation of which all Christians would be in agreement. To be fair though, I suppose some would be pacifists because of it, while others would feel comfortable joining the service (Go Navy!), some won't kill spiders, others try only to avoid killing another human in hate. Now that I think of it, I guess I follow a Matthew 5:28 type of rationale, and try to avoid 'murdering' in my heart through hateful thoughts (like when I drive!). I dare say we do need something (like the Holy Spirit) to lead us into a right and normative interpretation of the Scriptures.

10 comments:

Canadian said...

I have trouble with Roman Catholics, who are themselves the first schismatics, thinking if they just make enough noisy claims of retaining the ancient faith that no one will even think to look East to get their opinion.
Darrin

Principium unitatis said...

Hello Darrin,

What definition of "schismatic" are you using? Whose definition is it? And what authority do they have in relation to the episcopal successor of St. Peter?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Canadian said...

P.U.
Greetings in Christ's name. From the perspective of the 4 other Apostolic see's, Rome overstepped her bounds. The authority comes from Christ who prayed for the church to be one and love one another as it's highest calling. The church was conciliar until Rome declared herself to have universal jurisdiction and exclusive authority to ratify councils (which were not universal). She changed her ancient position from a place of honor to a place of absolute authority.
This independent spirit has shown itself over the centuries through a view of the development of doctrine that allows for dogmatic pronouncements that have certainly not been handed down from ancient times.

Gregory the Great to Eulogius of Alexandria:
"I beg you never let me hear that word again. For I know who you are and who I am. In position you are my brother in character my father. I gave no commands, but only endeavoured to point out what I thought was desirable...I said you ought not to use such a title (universal bishop) in writing either to me or to any one else; yet now in your last letter, notwithstanding my prohibition, you have addressed me by the proud title of Universal Pope. I beg your holiness, whom I love so well, not to do this again...I do not consider that anything is an honour to me, by which my brethren lose the honour that is their due. My honour is the honour of the Universal church, my honour is the united strength of my brethren. Then and then only am I truly honoured when no one is denied the honour that is justly his. But, it your holiness calls me universal Pope, you deny that you are yourself that which you say I am universally. God forbid! Far from us be the titles which inflate mens pride and deal a wound to charity."

Darrin

Principium unitatis said...

Darrin,

I'm still not sure what your definition of 'schismatic' is. It appears that your definition is something like "refusal of submission to the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, or refusal of communion with the members of the Church subject to these four Patriarchs." If that is not your definition of 'schismatic', then what definition of 'schismatic' are you using?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Joseph said...

Canadian,

Sounds to me like a humble response from Gregory the Great to Eulogius. The Pope isn't the "king" of the Church, he is to be the Church's humblest servant. If he is to follow Christ's example, he would be washing the feet of the other Apostles. Seems to me that is what he is doing in your selected quote. Here you have an Eastern bishop addressing the Pope as the Pope, and the Pope, in turn, humbly asking him to refrain from using such language (stating the obvious) to avoid flattery.

Still, St. Cyprian (and only in his later writings) is the only Eastern Father that I have found that did not believe in the universality of the Bishop of Rome.

I never wanted to stoop to this level, but I, and all of my truly Eastern Orthodox friends, have trouble with Protestants who, after finding that they can no longer believe in Protestantism, look East just so that they can recite their Jack Chick tracts from their newly perceived pedestal of Tradition. Before you continue on your journey to becoming Orthodox, you should consider abandoning your prejudice towards Catholicism and instead focus on the Sacraments you will be receiving and your future lifelong conversion. If you don't believe in the claims of Catholicism and you believe you have found the Truth, then you should no longer be "troubled" with what [Roman] Catholics think.

Catholics believe that the Orthodox are in schism, but we [should] have no trouble with Orthodox Christians who believe the opposite. Rather we pray for unity one day, for it will only be by the power of God that there will be. And it is only between the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic Church that true unity can one day come to pass since they both retain the Sacraments and Apostolic Succession.

You are not a novelty. You are not the only Protestant in the world to look East, my friend. I don't think any Protestant who is serious about their faith crisis ignores the East while they search for the Truth.

I, for one, have. I was on the threshold of become Russian Orthodox. Almost every serious convert to Catholicism that I know has tested Orthodoxy.

Canadian said...

Joseph,
You said:
"...look East just so that they can recite their Jack Chick tracts from their newly perceived pedestal of Tradition"

Jack Chick....Jack Chick?....Jack Chick!!! Wow, looking back,I guess my comments do seem to sound arrogant don't they. But to be accused of having the spirit of Jack Chick is strange for me as my Baptist brethren keep wondering why I am reading and quoting all that Roman Catholic stuff. I hear things like: "Hmmm...reading Kreeft huh?...Merton too?...watch out for those sacramentalists (like Akin and Catholic Answers)...

P.U.
Schism:
"a separation, an alienation causing divisions among Christians, who ought to be united (1 Cor. 12:25).
The word "causing" is maybe too simplistically placed upon Rome, I wasn't there so I suppose I should be quiet and get back to quietly learning.


Guys, I need to be careful in how I express myself. Yes the Protestant waters seem troubled right now and the claims of the East seem more honest with history than Rome's. However, it is a frightening prospect trying to discern the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church and sometimes my nervousness shows in hasty comments.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Darrin

Principium unitatis said...

Darrin,

"Schism: a separation, an alienation causing divisions among Christians, who ought to be united."

Thank you for your reply, and also for your humility and open-mindedness. I was looking for your definition of "schismatic", not your definition of "schism". I agree that there is a schism between Catholics and Orthodox. But that does not seem to be the same thing as saying that Catholics are "schismatics". If by "schismatic" you just mean "a Christian who is not in full communion with other Christians", then the Orthodox are also "schismatics", since they too are not in full communion with Catholics. But then no culpability or blameworthiness is connoted by the term itself.

More seems to be implied by that term ['schismatic'] as you initially used it than just that Catholics and Orthodox are not in full communion with each other. So I'm still not sure what your definition of that term is.

Let me recommend the blog Cathedra Unitas, written by an Orthodox believer investigating the claims of the Church of Rome.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Canadian said...

Bryan,
My intended meaning was:
Rome initiated "a separation, an alienation causing divisions among Christians, who ought to be united" and therefore is schismatic from the Ancient Unified Christian Church.
Would you feel that the Great Schism occured without anyone actually being "schismatic" or do you consider the Orthodox to be "schismatic" while Rome is only in "schism"? (please read no sarcasm in my question)
Darrin

Principium unitatis said...

Darrin,

Rome initiated "a separation, an alienation causing divisions among Christians, who ought to be united" and therefore is schismatic from the Ancient Unified Christian Church.

Excommunication is, in one sense, a cause of separation. It formally effects a separation. But excommunicated persons, by their actions, also cause their excommunication. So both parties in an excommunication cause the separation, but they each cause it in different respects. And both parties *ought* to be united, because the persons being excommunicated should amend their ways and be reunited with the Church. So if 'schismatic' means "initiating a separation among Christians who ought to be united", then whenever there is an excommunication, both parties are schismatics.

But that can't be right, I hope you agree. Therefore, your definition of 'schismatic' needs some adjustment.

Would you feel that the Great Schism occurred without anyone actually being "schismatic" or do you consider the Orthodox to be "schismatic" while Rome is only in "schism"?

Catholics believe that Christ built (and is building) His Church on St. Peter the rock, and gave to him the keys of the kingdom of heaven (not just the keys of the diocese of Rome or just the keys to the West). St. Peter, and his episcopal successors in the Holy See, are the Principium Unitatis (principle of unity) of the Church. We believe, with St. Ambrose, that "Ubi Petrus, Ibi Ecclesia", Where Peter is, there is the Church". In other words, St. Peter, through his episcopal successors, is that member of the Church to which all other members must be related in order to be in the Church. To be in full communion with St. Peter's successor is to be in full communion with the Church; to be deprived of full communion with St. Peter's successor is to be deprived of full communion with the Church. That is why the Catholic Catechism defines schism as "the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or [the refusal] of communion with the members of the Church subject to him." (CCC #2089)

I didn't say anything this morning about your quotation from St. Gregory the Great, because I was trying to stay focused on what you meant by 'schismatic'. But if you have read the letters of St. Gregory, it is clear that he did hold to Petrine primacy (based on what Christ gave to Peter), and that he is using the term 'universal bishop' there in a specific way that is contrary to the Catholic notion of subsidiarity, which is why he is rejecting the term. He is not at all denying his authority over the universal (Catholic) Church. For two good books on the primacy of St. Peter, I recommend Vladimir Soloviev's The Russian Church and the Papacy and Stephen Ray's book Upon This Rock.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Oso Famoso said...

Didn't we un-excommunicate one another in 1968? It's my understanding that an Orthodox Christian is welcomed to the Eucharist at least in the Eastern Ratin Catholic Church...I am not sure about Latin Rite. In that sense, we trully are already in communion.