Saturday, February 24, 2007

One holy catholic and apostolic church

This is a reply to Ed Jacoutot, a Roman Catholic fellow who has been commenting over at Dr. P's blog about the Protestant/Catholic divide. He asked,
I see nothing in these descriptions that Catholics can find a quarrel - and if there is hardly a quarrel - why are we not one? ... Maybe it will help (me at least) if some of your Protestant readers can tell us what it is that we Catholics or our Church [do that] makes them cringe so? And, maybe I am wrong - maybe the animosity I think I detect is much milder than I imagine and instead - we are in reality "Brothers in Christ". Wonderful would that be so. I’m listening.
Bless him, the world could use more people with that attitude on all sides. And first of all I have no doubt we are brothers and sisters in Christ. That is exactly what makes discussing our differences so delicate and awkward, and this post has to be one of the most-rewritten posts I've ever published.

Where to start?
To his question, the historical answer to "why are we not one?" is not where I'd choose to begin. I do not believe it helps towards reconciliation to focus on the dramatic events of the 1500's as such. It's not only that the high drama of such moments tends to inflame passions rather than to promote reason. It's also that the divisions and disaffections had been growing for a long time before that, and the historical moments of the 1500's were, by that point, I believe nearly inevitable. So to answer Ed's question, what exactly Rome does that makes other people cringe, I would step back, and not try to compile a list doctrines and practices or individual decrees, but the assumptions on each side that made the rest inevitable. So here's Ed's question as I receive it: how do I explain the underlying differences that fuel the rest of our differences? And how do I do it without giving offense? And I think the only place I can start is with the Nicene Creed.

One holy catholic and apostolic church
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
The Nicene Creed does a nice job of proclaiming what the church must be.
  • One: We all long for full unity. But I also believe that, whether we officially own each other or not, we are in some sense still genuinely unified in Christ, even if the mind says to the heart, "I don't need you," or something along those lines.
  • Holy: set apart for God.
  • Catholic: Just in case someone here is new to the discussion, "catholic" in its original and ancient sense simply meant universal in the sense of broadness, being comprehensive in range. It was a word in general use; originally it did not refer specifically to church matters or to the church in Rome, but to what was broad and all-encompassing.
  • And apostolic -- for the moment let's leave aside the question about whether anybody beyond the original apostles counts as an apostle, at least agree on this much: the original apostles of Christ are certainly included. Being apostolic means at the very least adhering to the things taught by Christ's own apostles. The idea of being apostolic is important in the sense of continuity, holding to the original teachings of Christ and his assembled believers, as a guarantee as to truth, to knowledge, and to purity. One of the church's great jobs is the faithful transmission of both the knowledge of Christ's redemptive work and the teachings of Christ as received from the original apostles and passed along to each new set of disciples.
The View from Rome
Then we come to the question of how Rome sees herself. I'm gathering from what I've heard from those belonging to the church of Rome: Rome definitely sees herself in the role of "one holy catholic and apostolic church." Some even see Rome as that to the exclusion of other Christians. Rome has a view of history in which she alone was faithful and true, where everyone else -- whether in error or in deliberate evil -- has left the only true and faithful church, by which she means herself. She sees herself as the catholic, broad, comprehensive church; she sees herself as the church tracing back to the apostles. She proclaims her catholicity and apostolic origins.

Evaluating Rome's Claims
Let me say plainly that if I actually believed that about the Roman Catholic church, I'd leave my church tomorrow and go to a Roman Catholic church without delay. Let me also say plainly that I'm not trying to get anyone in Rome to transfer their membership elsewhere; I'm not in the sheep-stealing business here. But most of the objections I have to Rome come directly from the question whether she is catholic and apostolic. I know it's nearly impossible to discuss these things without annoying everyone all around; my only excuse is that I was asked for my thoughts, and if anyone is curious, here they are. Let's take a few examples.

Do I see Rome as apostolic?
Rome claims Peter as the first pope; I know there has to be a temptation for any Roman Catholic reading along to jump into a conversation about whether "On this rock" (etc.) conveyed special authority to the bishop of Rome. And I think that's a conversation we'll have here, but not today when I'm responding to someone else's question. For now let's just discuss some implications of that claim that Peter is the first pope in a church that is ancient and apostolic. We know from Scripture that Peter was a married man, and his wife traveled with him on his missionary journeys. Today, Rome forbids that a married Roman Catholic man could become even a humble parish priest, much less pope. Just on the surface, that seems to go against the idea that Rome has kept the ancient faith and practices unchanged from the days of the apostles. It's also a little bewildering, from an outsider's perspective, that the "women priests" issue is addressed always in terms of what Christ did as the normative rule, but the "married priests" issue is not addressed in the same way with what Christ did being the normative rule. As I work through this example and others, please keep one thing in mind: I am not choosing my examples because I believe they are the keys to the division so that this particular thing (e.g. married priests) could resolve the division; no, instead I'm choosing my examples because I believe that Ed, the kind soul who asked the original question, or someone with a similar question could read it and understand why I'm unconvinced of Rome's claims about herself.

Do I see Rome as catholic?
My next example is the Copts, the ancient church of Egypt. The Copts have a subtly different understanding of the two natures of Christ. Most of the churches hold that Christ has two natures, one human and one divine. But the Copts hold that the human and divine natures inside Christ are united seamlessly as one nature which is both fully human and fully divine. They were excommunicated early in church history, after the council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. The Copts say their views were never properly understood by the remainder of the church and that subsequent writings against them have often misrepresented their views. They have been condemned as monophysite in the sense of recognizing only one nature by denying either the humanity or the divinity of Christ; this is incorrect in their case because while they do recognize only one nature, that of the Incarnate Word, that nature is both fully human and fully divine. Now I am convinced that if "catholic" means "comprehensive, encompassing the broad range" then the Copts' view of Christ's nature should be within acceptable limits (more on that directly). If that's not included, then "catholic" isn't broad enough to deserve the name. I would like to clarify one thing: I am not saying that the church cannot define what is acceptable and what is unacceptable belief; I am saying that the holy catholic and apostolic church, using holy, catholic, and apostolic criteria to define those boundaries, would have included the Copts by now. Or to say the same thing the other way around, if the goal is to be holy, catholic, and apostolic, then there is nothing that would exclude that teaching of the Coptic church. True, there was a probable misunderstanding involved back in the 400's A.D.; but it has been well over a thousand years. The clarifications have been made long since. I'll say this: if the true church is the "one holy catholic and apostolic church", that church already includes the Copts within that definition. When I confess that I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church, I have a picture in my mind that includes Anglicans like C.S. Lewis, Copts with their One Nature of the Incarnate Word, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics and Protestants and so forth. Such a church is catholic, though it's not particularly Roman Catholic.

Rome versus Constantinople, in a Lutheran's eyes
One more example should do it. I'd also like to consider the Eastern Orthodox, a church every bit as ancient as Rome. They protested that Rome had introduced new doctrines and practices, things that had not been received in the church tradition, things that had not been taught by the apostles or believed or practiced in the church in the wider world. Speaking for myself here, when we see a new doctrine or practice being introduced, being debated, perhaps being largely accepted in one region of the world but not in another, then that teaching is neither catholic nor apostolic by definition; if we saw a new teaching introduced some centuries after Christ's apostles came and went, then that doctrine can never be apostolic in the same sense as doctrines taught by Peter and John and the earliest church. As such, I do not see how it can properly become a required teaching without damaging the claim that the church's required teachings have ancient and unbroken apostolic authority.

The rest of the story of Constantinople is, like the story of Luther, so dramatic and so tragic, so history-shaking, that I will not review the story here in any depth because it also tends to inflame passions rather than aid reason. I will make this brief comment. At that critical moment when the Christian city of Constantinople was about to be conquered by a Muslim army, when Constantinople applied to Rome for help, Rome made such official help conditional on doctrinal concessions. I have heard Roman Catholics complain that the Eastern Orthodox, in their desperation for military aid, behaved improperly. I will even say that, from where I sit, it looks like some certain ones of them did behave improperly. But I have never heard a Roman Catholic suggest that their own church, in its desperation for doctrinal concessions, behaved improperly in placing such a horrendous condition on aid for the Eastern Church, which, since then, has greatly diminished under hostile rule to the point where many people honestly suppose that Christianity is a merely western religion. Once you work out what, exactly, were the bargaining chips on the table being weighed against each other, I simply don't see how that was anything other than the original Indecent Proposal. There's not a Roman Catholic alive today who bears even the slightest responsibility for what happened back then. The shame is that it happened at all, and that the divisions have continued.

The Protest Begins
I haven't reviewed all the pre-existing divisions in the church here, just enough to serve as examples. At the end of the 1400's A.D., the one holy catholic and apostolic church was deeply and bitterly feuding within itself worldwide. This is the scene onto which a German monk strayed and nailed some debating points to a church door. Some of the objections he raised had been raised by the Eastern Orthodox before him, though in a more polished Eastern Orthodox voice than his unpolished rustic German one. I can't help but wonder if that was a chance missed in which certain non-catholic, non-apostolic doctrines and practices could have been renounced -- or at least set aside as non-catholic, non-apostolic, and therefore non-binding -- and the church could have been re-unified.

But if Rome would not listen to Constantinople whom it in some sense respected, it would not listen to a hot-headed German priest and professor. However, this time the issues were raised within the territory of the Roman Catholic church, and a great number of the people found themselves in sympathy with the frustrated German monk, not for his charm to be sure, but because he had the courage to say what so many had long been thinking. The aftermath left no real doubt: large numbers of the faithful followers of Christ already had grave doubts about the church in Rome.

To answer Ed more directly
All that I wrote above had one aim: that you know what is in my mind when I give a more brief and direct answer to the question asked. For me, the main issue with the Roman Catholic church is not that she is outdated and apostolic, but that she is not apostolic enough; not that she has such variety of peoples and beliefs, but that the variety is not quite broad enough to deserve the name catholic. For me, the biggest cringe factor in Rome is the way Rome treats other Christians, and the most dangerous doctrine she teaches is that she cannot possibly be wrong even on doctrines and practices that are not properly catholic and apostolic as I've discussed at some length above. From there, it's a direct implication that, according to Rome, she cannot possibly need to change, she cannot possibly be an obstacle to the union of the church, and it is unthinkable that the problems lie exactly with whether Rome is truly catholic and apostolic.

When men like C.S. Lewis are outside the Roman Catholic church, when churches like the Copts and the Orthodox are outside the Roman Catholic church, that church is not catholic. A church is not catholic and apostolic unless it includes every single shade of belief which truly reflects the apostolic teaching, and requires no beliefs beyond what is apostolic and catholic.

A united church?
I dream, hope, and pray for a re-united church. If you have made it this far reading material that is incendiary yet hopelessly tedious at the same time, I can think of no other explanation than that you also dream, hope, and pray for a re-united church.

Picture it: within the Church Catholic, an esteemed and ancient Coptic School of interpretation (or an Alexandrian School, if they'd rather be known after the ancient See of Alexandria). The Eastern Orthodox School of interpretation would bring the understanding of God's essence and God's energies to the rest of the church, an understanding which has developed in the Christian East but is fairly undeveloped in the Christian West. The different prayer traditions of the various churches would enrich each other. And, as a side benefit, when the criteria for beliefs and practices became "holy, catholic, and apostolic", the majority of serious objections raised by the Protestants would also be addressed. When the church (all-inclusive) becomes holy, catholic, and apostolic, I believe she will find that she is already One.


Timothy said...

Greetings! Saw your post on Google and have some comments...

>"Today, Rome forbids that a married Roman Catholic man could become even a humble parish priest, much less pope."

Actually, any baptised adult Catholic male, married or single, can be elected Pope. No priesthood required.

Catholics also have a large number of married priests with families. A good many of the married Catholic priests and their families are here in the United States.

The discipline of celibacy is often misunderstood by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

>"Just on the surface, that seems to go against the idea that Rome has kept the ancient faith and practices unchanged from the days of the apostles."

Yes, the misunderstandings seem to go against the ancient faith; however, the true and current practices do not.

>"...if the true church is the "one holy catholic and apostolic church", that church already includes the Copts within that definition."

Of course the Copts are Catholic and are included in that definition.

Just this past December 2006, the ecclesiastical communion of Coptic patriarch Antonios Naguib of Alexandria was confirmed in the basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome. The Vatican participated.

All baptised Christians are members of the Catholic Church, which said Christians may or may not acknowledge.

All of your chosen examples against the Catholic Church don't seem to "hold water."

In closing, the words of G.K. Chesterton seem apt:

"I could not understand why these romancers never took the trouble to find out a few elementary facts about the thing they denounced. The facts might easily have helped the denunciation, where the fictions discredited it. There were any number of real Catholic doctrines I should then have thought disgraceful to the Church . . . But the enemies of the Church never found these real rocks of offence. They never looked for them. They never looked for anything . . . Boundless freedom reigned; it was not treated as if it were a question of fact at all . . . It puzzled me very much, even at that early stage, to imagine why people bringing controversial charges against a powerful and prominent institution should thus neglect to test their own case, and should draw in this random way on their own imagination . . . I never dreamed that the Roman religion was true; but I knew that its accusers, for some reason or other, were curiously inaccurate."
(The Catholic Church and Conversion, NY: Macmillan, 1926, 36-38)

God bless...

- Timothy

Mark said...

Mr Fisher :),
I don't have a dog in this fight, as it were, but I think you need to expand on the first two points, apostolic and catholic.

One interpretation of Apostolic refers to the succession of the episcopate (and thereby their consecration of the presbytery). In that regard, of the larger denominations the Anglican, Roman, and Orthodox remain true to that notion of the term. As far as married priests, the Roman rite within the groups of rites which are in communion with the Bishop of Rome doesn't allow married priests. But some of those traditions allow married priests which remain in communion and under the authority of Rome, e.g. there are Eastern rite churches which are obedient to Rome. Also, there is provision (I forget the term) for Anglican priests (married) to cross the Rubicon and join the presbytery in the Roman church and remain married.

Catholicity (small "c") can be either as taken to mean comprehensive, but it also can mean interpreted as meaning that membership is open to all. That meaning is taken more often in the age of cafeteria Christianity.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

Timothy, first of all I was fairly careful with my wording on the priests. My RC friends tell me that the married priests are transfers-in from other groups of Christians, not people who were Roman Catholic at the time of their ordination.

Here is an article from New Advent, the on-line Roman Catholic encyclopedia, regarding clerical celibacy, and stating that celibacy is required for all who are ordained into the higher grades.

Your argument about "true and current practices" about clerical celibacy does not mention either of these very pertinent points. So yes, I had troubled to learn thatof which I speak and yes, I stand by my original point on clerical celibacy.

As to whether "all baptised Christians are members of the Catholic Church" as you say, that again presupposes that the Roman Catholic church is the Church Catholic which we all confess in the creeds. That's exactly the point I'm contesting.


Mark: I actually agree that the points need expansion, and in the directions mentioned. I stopped where I did because this is a blog after all and any given post should only be yea-long; I think I was already taxing the patience of the most dedicated blog-surfer with the length of this one.

Take care & God bless

La Mama Loca said...

I have retyped this over and over to get it perfect, but I think I'll just have to try again later. I just want to say that I believe that you misunderstand what the Catholic Church believes of herself -- we definitely do not believe the Church (on Earth) is perfect or that the members and leadership is impeccable. The range of doctrinal/theological freedom is far larger than what seems to be implied here.

I would encourage you to look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially this section which directly addresses this issue:
and Ut Unum Sint which more fully address how the Church views herself, especially in relation to other Christians.

Finally, you wrote here: "When men like C.S. Lewis are outside the Roman Catholic church, when churches like the Copts and the Orthodox are outside the Roman Catholic church, that church is not catholic." Lewis was, the Copts and the Orthodox are, not full members of the Catholic Church because they have chosen not to be. Members of the Orthodox Churches are in fact able to admitted to communion in a Catholic Church at any time, without grave reason, although this would contradict their own Church law. Apart from returning to the ancient belief that the bishop of Rome is the "First among equals" and the "visible principle and foundation of unity" in the Church, the Catholic Church does not condemn any Orthodox doctrine.

La Mama Loca said...

I just wanted to come back to clarify that while the Catholic Church finds nothing wrong with Orthodox theology and doctrine, I didn't mean to make it sound like the fault for continuing separation lies only with the non-Catholic groups.

Lorna said...

I find it interesting tha we don't discuss what it means for the church to be holy.

set apart yes
but for what?

Ed Jacoutot said...

A month long hiatus - sorry, but it had to be. The author did a commendable job of formulating a reply to my original queston, "...why are we (Catholics) and (Protestants) not one?" She uses the Nicene Creed as a profession of faith from an early Church Council (381 A.D.)because, rightly, she believes it does a good job of proclaiming what the church must be. Those early Christains had allmost 4 centuries to agree what Christ intended them to do with (this) new religion. In this (final) version of the Creed they clarify all of the essential things they believed in - including "...One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church". The distinction I am making here is capitalizing each of these "Hallmarks" of the (Ture) Church. Depending upon the source it is interesting to note that these attributes of the Church are either capitalized or left in lower case letters. Most (but not all) Catholic and Orthodox sources capitialize them to emphasize the elements of this capital statement. Protestant and other Christians will usually record them in lower case to de-emplasize any hint (or clue) that the originators meant a specific, organized, and authoritized Church - which could only mean the Catholic Church with its large cadre of Bishops (loosly at first) federated with the Bishop at Rome. This is of course O.K. and perhaps not too much should be made of it - but the proper emphaz=sis on a word can have a significant meaning. For example, "One" in this context. It can be read as One - and no other. A layman unaware may assume it simply means "one of probably many". Not to belabor the point - but I think it is significant. "Holy". What did they mean? If that church then was Holy - and the word in the Creed is used as if it is formost in their belief that it is - must it not also be true that the Church today must also be? Apostolic? Many can calim to be - but the origins of most can be easily traced. In the case of (Roman) Catholicism most are hard pressed to identify the source if it is not as She claims. Some say the Roman Emperor Constantine -but though history can be vague for tilmes so long ago I think that case is hard to make for the serious student. And "catholic". While true that the word also means "universal" our author contends it was a word used "generally...and originaly did not refer to church matters or to the church in Rome. And yet here these Originators of the great Creed used it in a very important way in a very important Document - and not just generally - in an offhanded way to suggest "broadness". They then, and everybody since knows what Church is meant when "Catholic" is affixed as a preamble. 'Apostolic". Here she formulates a beautiful description of what and why this should mean to a church. When you finish reading it it occurs to (at least it did to me) to ask, when Christ admonished his Apostles shortly before He left this earch to take up the task of spreading His Word - His Church as the vehicle for this - just how did He impart to them the formula to continue once they themselves had passed? Where can we find evidence today of this happening - the way (and with the results) we can imagine He would have wanted? So far - I am left with only one adequate answer to the dilema for some, "We (I) believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostocic Church". The (Roman) Catholic Church. If not Her ..... then whom? LostOar (Ed Jacoutot)

Ed Jacoutot said...

Timothy quoted above G. K. Chesterton. I have looked in vain a long time for a quote I once read in Chesterton's works, to wit: (from memory) = "They stormed the steps of the Cathredral bursting in and ransacking all they could find. They destroyed the images of Holy Saints found there, defaced the Stations of the Cross, smashed the stained glass window, destroyed the alters and bhasphemed everything in sight. Then behind the alter they found a book - seemingly full of gibberish - the work of idolatros priests - and they took it and behold. Turned it into their mantra - nearly worshiping it's every content." I have liberally recalled it here - does anyone kknow it's source? LostOar