Sunday, June 29, 2008


Bryan Cross has an excellent post called "Monocausalism, Salvation, and Reconciliation". He did a better job than I ever could discussing some philosophical aspects of causation as it relates to salvation and divisions within Christianity.

He also linked to an older post he wrote, about Mary and monocausalism, here. One might conclude that I plagiarized his thought in my most recent post.

He said, "so much of what worries Protestants about Catholic treatment of Mary is based on a philosophical monocausalism. For example, the Catholic hymn "Salve Regina" involves calling on Mary to pray for us and have mercy on us. In the Protestant mind, only God can receive prayer and show mercy. Therefore, in the Protestant mind, this hymn deifies Mary, and is thus blasphemy or idolatry."

I said, "If I believe that God is the sole actor within His creation, then teachings of the historical merit of Mary's co-laboration, and of the continuing benefit of Mary's co-redemptive works seem particularly anathema. Since the Marianist has attributed to Mary a portion of what is for God (the monergistic force) alone, he has conflated Mary with the Divine."

It seems that, without my realizing it had happened, the seed of Bryan's thought took root some time in the last month.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Participants in or Objects of Redemption?

I have believed for many years that Marian doctrines are a major source of Christian disunity. The matter continues to be a challenge to me, and my loved ones believe that Marianism is so clearly wrong that they refuse to see merit in Catholicism's or Orthodoxy's authority claims.

Is it Mary that divides? Today I pondered whether there is a deeper dispute, a deeper presuppositional disagreement, that causes the Marian division. I hint at my hypothesis in my title to this post. Are we participants in, or merely objects of Christ's redemption of Creation?

The monergist of my Reformed upbringing tells me that we are not participants, in an active sense, of redemption. Rather, we are objects and not subjects. We are that upon which the one monergistic force, God the Holy Spirit, acts. The constant danger to the Christian is a pride that says he has some role to play in his salvation, that he 'merits' even an infinitesimal quantum of his justification. Therefore, any claim that we are participants in redemption is a prideful step toward conflating ourselves as creatures with the Divine.

The synergist, or one who believes that Christians co-laborate with Christ in His redemption of Creation, might come to a very different conclusion. Under their paradigm, we are both objects and subjects within the world (I apologize if this is a philosophical error). We are acted upon by God and His grace (so objects), and yet simultaneously called to heal the sick and, clothe the naked (so we are subjects). We are members of the Body, with a role to play. We are to act upon this fallen creation, and through us (though not exclusively through us) God graces other objects.

I should come to my point. If I believe that God is the sole actor within His creation, then teachings of the historical merit of Mary's co-laboration, and of the continuing benefit of Mary's co-redemptive works seem particularly anathema. Since the Marianist has attributed to Mary a portion of what is for God (the monergistic force) alone, he has conflated Mary with the Divine; he has taken to treating Mary as a demigod. On the other hand, if I believe that God uses his faithful creatures to co-redeem His creation, then Mary is not nearly such a problem. Indeed, the unique labor she provided to God's redemptive plan stands out as worthy of special praise. I would then only have to bridge the gap of believing that the faithful departed are not as 'departed' as the Protestant paradigm maintains.

If this is accurate, it would help me to understand why converts to Catholicism who hail from an Anabaptist background have not highlighted Marianism as the challenge it seems to have presented to formerly Reformed converts.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Eucharist, Episcopal Authority, Relics

I have encountered many a quote from a Church Father on the internet. I recently purchased William A. Jurgens' Faith of the Early Fathers, in the hopes that reading the Fathers in actual print would be more informative; reading ancient texts on an LCD screen somehow provides a disruptive contrast. I have not been disappointed.

I will share an especially meaningful quote here, but primarily want to note that if you've only ever read it on a computer screen, you may be missing something. Buy the Fathers in print!

St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Smyrnaean Church c. 110 A.D. In this letter, he says:

"Pay close attention to those who have wrong notions about the grace of Jesus Christ, which has come to us, and note how at variance they are with God's mind. They care nothing about love: they have no concern for widows or orphans, for the oppressed, for those in prison or released, for the hungry or the thirsty. They hold aloof from the Eucharist and from services of prayer, because they refuse to admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which, in his goodness, the Father raised. Consequently those who wrangle and dispute God's gift face death. They would have done better to love and so share in the resurrection. The right thing to do, then, is to avoid such people and to talk about them neither in private nor in public. Rather pay attention to the prophets and above all to the gospel. There we get a clear picture of the Passion and see that the resurrection has really happened."

I simply note that, if I am permitted to take this text at face value, it seems little concerned with a common critique of Catholic Eucharistic practice. I have read and heard Protestants explain that the sacrifice of the Mass is false because Christ can't be both on the altar and risen in heaven. Ignatius says that the Eucharist is the flesh, and the same flesh which was crucified and was raised. If the Protestant critique is valid, it seems unlikely that St. Ignatius of Antioch would not have thought of it within a century of Christ's resurrection.

He continues:

"Flee from schism as the source of mischief. You should all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father. Follow, too, the presbytery as you would the apostles; and respect the deacons as you would God's law. Nobody must do anything that has to do with the Church without the bishop's approval. You should regard that Eucharist as valid which is celebrated either by the bishop or by someone he authorizes. Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. Without the bishop's supervision, no baptisms or love feasts are permitted. On the other hand, whatever he approves pleases God as well. In that way everything you do will be on the safe side and valid. It is well for us to come to our senses at last, while we still have a chance to repent and turn to God. It is a fine thing to acknowledge God and the bishop. He who pays the bishop honor has been honored by God. But he who acts without the bishop's knowledge is in the devil's service."

Contrary to the common Protestant characterization of Church under the verse "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:20)", Ignatius characterizes Church and the validity of its practices by submission to a ruling Bishop (overseer).

Jurgens' compilation then goes to a later writing (The Colbertine Martyrdom of Saint Ignatius, see page 27), likely from the 4th or 5th centuries, which discusses Ignatius' death. Jurgens had already told us that Ignatius died during the reign of Emperor Trajan (likely 110 A.D. also), having been sentenced to the beasts in the arena in Rome, as a martyr. I did not realize the principle of Holy Relics went back so far:

"Only the harder parts of his holy relics were left, and these were conveyed to Antioch and wrapped in linen, as an inestimable treasure left to the holy Church, on account of the grace that was in the holy martyr."

Considering this quote, it has an odd (i.e., foreign to me) sensibility. Grace stays with the body of a holy Christian at their death. If we are both a body and a soul, and if God's grace is with us in life, then why would it evaporate from the body at death? Or, why do we believe that the grace of God that is with us, with what we are, is only with our soul? We do, after all believe that our very-same body will be reunited with our soul. We should expect positive authority before asserting that the grace of God does not inhere in physical matter.

These are my thoughts on Eucharist, Episcopal Authority and Relics, gleaned from an in-print reading of the Fathers.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Act of Contrition"

I recently learned of this prayer, the "Act of Contrition":

"O my God,
I am heartily sorry for
having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins,
because I dread the loss of heaven,
and the pains of hell
but most of all because
they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and
deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve,
with the help of Thy grace,
to confess my sins,
to do penance,
and to amend my life.

Amen. (emphasis added)"

Coming from a Reformed paradigm, this notion that I should "dread the loss of heaven" is striking. It flies in the face of the Calvinist teaching of "Perseverance of the Saints", that is, "that gracious work of God’s sanctification whereby He enables a saved person to persevere to the end. Even though the process of sanctification is not complete in this life, from God’s perspective it is as good as accomplished" (A Brief History: Presbyterian Church in America, available here).

An analogy from the Law of Property seems appropriate. We tend to discuss salvation in terms of "having" it. We are inclined to say "I pray she could receive salvation" or "I am saved" (which means I possess the quality of being saved). We do not mean we have what Property Law would describe as a "present use and enjoyment" of salvation. That will only come when we are taken into Glory. Therefore, I will analogize views of Salvation to future property interests, i.e., legal interests which do not allow the owner present use and enjoyment of a property.

In property terms, Christians talk about their salvation as a vested possession, as opposed to a contingent possession. The latter is not your possession unless some contingency first occurs. The Baptist may say that their child's coming into possession of salvation is contingent on their first having "saving faith". But at that point it would vest. The Reformed might say that their children, as members of the Church visible have a vested interest in salvation already (or they may not; it is a debated point).

So once we conclude that we "are saved", so that no contingency stands between us and being members of the body of Christ, we need to decide whether that future interest in salvation (remember: it's future because you're not in Heaven yet) is something we can or cannot lose.

The Reformed will argue that our salvation is an indefeasibly vested possession. Sparing a painfully long definition, the gist of this legal concept is that, while you cannot "use and enjoy" your property at present (say, a house), it is legally yours because you are certain to come into a present use and enjoyment of it at some point. If you die too soon, your heirs will take it. You can sell this future property interest. You can impose legal obligations on the present users of the property. It is your possession.

Contrarily, the Catholic or Baptist might say that "our salvation" is vested subject to defeasance. Unlike the contingent possession, which was dependent on some condition first happening before you could "have" salvation, the vested interest subject to defeasance can be completely lost upon the happening of some subsequent event. E.g., if you fall into mortal sin, your salvation has been defeased. Here we have the dreaded possibility of losing Heaven in the "Act of Contrition".

So the question seems to be, is our Salvation indefeasible? Paul says, in describing Christian virtues, "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall" (2 Peter 1:10; please read in context). Also, "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:12-13). The "if" in the former verse at least implies the possibility of an "if not", which in turn sounds like a defeasible possession of salvation. If my legal interest in (say) my parents' house is indefeasibly vested, I no longer have to make my possession of it sure. I do not have to "work out" my coming into possession. I do not need to concern myself with staying in their good graces, for they have already given up any legal right to rescind my future interest. Again, "I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize" (1 Corinthians 9:27). If the prize of salvation were indefeasibly vested, it would already have been awarded -- it cannot be lost. My reading of these passages, I submit for your consideration, leads me to believe that Paul's view of salvation is much more analogous to a defeasible possession of salvation than to an indefeasible one.

I'm sorry if I lost you on this post.

[Note: Property is complex, and I fudged some things to keep this from getting any more onerous than it is. If you want to hammer out the finer details of Executory Interests, my use of "possession" over "interest", or the like, I'm game.]

Saturday, June 14, 2008

"Futile Reform"

In his days as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI put together a book from a collection of smaller writings and speeches. This book, Called to Communion, his been a bit of a treasure trove for me. It is short, and fairly accessible, both benefits during a rather busy period in my life.

In his chapter entitled "A Company in Constant Reform", Benedict XVI takes up the matter of futile reforms. Here's a section that I found noteworthy, so I share it here:

[Concerning this work of reform, e]verything that men make can also be undone again by others. Everything that has its origin in human likes can be disliked by others. Everything that one majority decides upon can be revoked by another majority. A church based on human resolutions becomes a merely human church. It is reduced to the level of the makeable, of the obvious, of opinion. Opinion replaces faith. And in fact, in the self-made formulas of faith with which I am acquainted, the meaning of the words "I believe" never signifies anything beyond "we opine". Ultimately, the self-made church savors of the "self", which always has a bitter taste to the other self and just as soon reveals its petty insignificance. A self-made church is reduced to the empirical domain and thus, precisely as a dream, comes to nothing. (emphasis added)

I find it inescapable to see that, in choosing between a Catholic/Orthodox model of Church and a Protestant/Post-protestant model, we are choosing between a God-made and a man-made institution. "A self-made church...comes to nothing" indeed.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

George on Authority

George Weis has a good discussion going on Authority and the Church (never an old subject to me).

I just piped in, and hope you will too. I have found him to be genuine in his search for unity and truth within Christianity. Would, Lord, that we all had this virtue. May I follow his example.