Translate

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Safe Haven, Foreign Computer Edition: The comments on the 'My wheelchair was nearly destroyed by a car' post have been great fun. Let me deal with one argument commonly advanced against Rome's reckoning of the Ecumenical Councils: "It wasn't truly a council, because the Orthodox were not present." I can't be polite, here, sorry. What? Are you going to invite the Arians, too? Do you need the unanimous consent of all humanity before a Council of the Church becomes so? Don't hear what I'm not saying. I don't believe that Orthodox and Arians are in the same boat. Blessedly, they're not even on the same lake. But you see the flaw in this argument, don't you? You could choose any group of dissenters, and by the fact of their non-participation, call the Council invalid. Frankly, this is a bad argument. On the earth right now are 2 and only 2 candidates for Visible Church Founded By Jesus Christ. Other communions either have broken the physical and sacramental link to the Apostles, or denied that the link exists at all.
But the cold reality for the Orthodox, my dear Jamie, is that there hasn't been an Ecumenical Council called by the East because the patriarch of Constantinople has no authority to call one without the Bishop of Rome. The collegiality of the 5 historic sees is real, but it derives its sustenance from the primacy of the Bishop of Rome!
After all concessions have been made, jurisdictional overlaps considered, and tyrannies disavowed, the Bishop of Rome is still the center of visible unity for the entire Church.
Tim, by contrast, seems content with the "branch theory" of ecclesiology, which has a certain appeal until we come face to face with the reality of the individual being the focal point of deciding what branches off from what. Completely arbitrary. Also, it scarcely needs adding that as the praxis of said theory moves forward, it declines in explanatory power, as new groups add themselves to the party of line-drawers for who's actually in the True (invisible) Church. Doctrine must, of necessity, bcome relative because the discussion of what constitutes the true faith cannot be resolved satisfactorily (this means mutual agreement). I'm happy that we have "Jesus is Lord." But surely we can say more. We should be able. Of course the Anglicans don't believe their orders or sacraments are defective or deficient. Neither do the Gnostics.

12 comments:

Timothy R. Butler said...

Well, I don't think the Anglicans deserve to be lumped with the Gnostics. Sheesh, they have their own apostolic succession claim, for that matter.

The thing I would say about "branch theory" is two fold: the inability to offer final arbitration on theological disagreements only means things aren't neat and tidy, not that the theory is wrong. The road to heaven isn't wide and straight, right? It could be that a "theory," as you say, that has a lot of bumps in it is actually the right theory. Abuses non tollit usum, anyone?

As to the Orthodox, I don't think any Orthodox person worth his or her salt would say the reason they haven't had another ecumenical council has anything to do with the pope. After all, in their minds, it was the emperor, not the pope, who did the calling. More to the point, the Orthodox seemingly have no desire to become "the Church of the Eight Councils," though they have had plenty of regional councils in recent centuries.

The problem returns to something larger. The Catholic Church acknowledges that there are those who belong to Christ who are outside of its bounds. We that are outside of its bounds are still the body of Christ -- I think everyone agrees on that. But, I don't see any justification for counting the body of Christ and the Church as two different entities.

And, if they are not, no one can call an ecumenical council, because there is no way (that I can imagine) that the whole Church would show up.

Jason said...

So it would appear again that you require something impossible (numerical or inter-sectarian unanimity) to render a Council valid. The huge problem is of course that it makes schism and heresy into completely worthless concepts. It is in the dialogue about the dogmas of faith, and the comity that such a discussion rashly undertaken fosters, where indifferentism takes root and grows.
I am sure you are aware that Rome investigated Anglican orders in the 19th century, finding that they lost validity in the 17th by reason of Protestant alterations to the rite of ordination re: the Eucharistic sacrifice. (Of course, Timothy, I don't believe Anglicans are Gnostics; I was illustrating how easy and pointless it is to disregard the claim of invalidity; anyone can do it, and it gets us further from unity and truth. It's also fun to get a rise out of you.)
The Catholic Church believes that elements of sanctification exist beyond her borders that profit unto salvation. No concession is made that such persons are members of the Body of Christ, as offensive as that is. Christ's Body, the Church, is visible, in the Catholic view. (In other words, it's not 2 entities, it's one.)

Jason said...

And one other thing: You can't have branches if you can't find the trunk. Forget neat and tidy; that's complete chaos. That was "the abyss of relativism" I spoke of when this started. You will never get agreement of any usable sort on what constitutes the essentials of faith, not least because the pesky Orthodox and Catholics won't accede to the ecclesiology on offer. More than that, I dare you to tell a credobaptist that his baptismal theology is a matter of indifference, or tell the PCA that Calvinism is negotiable. Pardon me for writing an essay here, but you have two problems: 1) any one person lacks the authority to bind anyone else to his ecclesiology, and 2) nobody can say what binds us all together, if the vanity that we're "united in the essentials" is attempted.

Timothy R. Butler said...

Well, you seem to be intuitively interacting with my point even as you rationally reject it. You recognize, for example, a distinction between the average Gnostic and the average, well, PCA guy like me. So, if I am Christian, then there is something essential that unites us. (E.g. the Spirit, perhaps? :-))

The PCA in its operating policy admits Calvinism is not an essential. Being a member of the NEA says as much, since we thus have close relationships with denominations which are not Calvinist.

I don't see how any believer cannot be part of the body of Christ. There is absolutely nothing in Scripture that would assert that people can be united in Christ (e.g. salvation, receipt of the Spirit and sanctification, etc.) and YET not be part of the body. Anyone who isn't part of the body seems like he is most certainly not amongst the elect.

But, before we get to who should be at a whole world council (if not the whole world that affirms the creeds), I think the matter of who can call the council is important. And that's a place where the Orthodox and Catholics disagree. And that the Orthodox say, "us! us! us!" and the Catholics say "no! us! us! us!" doesn't make it much clearer.

Ultimately the Protestant view is less relativistic, incidentally. Keep in mind, we are saying, "we have this document and we believe that it states the truth and that is what unites us, even if we are flawed in discerning that truth." The Catholic must say, "the truth cannot be determined, truly, except within our narrative community." That doesn't make the Catholic view wrong, but I would reject the Catholic view -- in part -- for the same reasons you state against Protestantism.

Timothy R. Butler said...

Ok, branches requiring a trunk makes me think of the government. What is the truck to which the branches of government are attached?

Jason said...

That does not follow.

Principium Unitatis said...

Hello Tim,

Regarding your "I don't see how any believer cannot be part of the body of Christ" paragraph, I have addressed that in a post titled "Baptism, Schism, Full Communion, Salvation." Here's the link:

http://principiumunitatis.blogspot.com/2008/10/baptism-schism-full-communion-salvation.html

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Timothy R. Butler said...

Jason, what I'm saying is that when we use the word "trunk" we need not insist on taking it literally. Just as we do not insist on a trunk of government (though the constitution might be said to be one), neither does a "branch theory" of denominations *require* that there be a trunk.

Bryan, a very interesting piece. I'm not so sure we disagree that much on the main point I was heading towards, save I would argue that the union is with the universal/catholic Church and not the Catholic Church in particular. Nevertheless...

Jason said...

I'm not taking it literally; I'm asking what branches off where, and who decides.

Principium Unitatis said...

Tim,

The problem for that position, is that there is no such thing as the "visible catholic Church" as anything other than the Catholic Church. I've addressed this recently in a post titled "A Reflection on PCA Pastor Terry Johnson's 'Our Collapsing Ecclesiology.'"

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/08/a-reflection-on-pca-pastor-terry-johnsons-our-collapsing-ecclesiology/

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Timothy R. Butler said...

Well, taken metaphorically, Christ is the trunk. Theologically, he is always the trunk for all believers (even those "imperfectly" in fellowship with the communion of saints, whatever that means). Historically, the branches diverge off of the singular group of believers that are the Apostles and other early followers of Christ (e.g. the folks we see in Acts 2).

Whether or not we want to call it that, Bryan's article is talking about something similar. After all, if the Orthodox are receiving "most" of the benefits of the Church and Protestants are receiving some (as much as I disagree with that view), then, a logical way to chart that viewpoint would be a tree and branches. And, in as much as those of us not in fellowship with Rome are part of the body (and I think we are and Bryan's article does not seem to disagree), to some extent the church is clearly split into different branches.

Like a family tree, we have a common ancestor (e.g. the church before the Great Schism of 1054). So the terminology makes sense. The question is this: is one of the remaining branches really the "parent" or did groups diverge. This reminds me of the debate on whether Judaism birthed Christianity or whether Judaism and Christianity both diverge from a common "Israelite religion." I think the latter makes the most sense both Biblically and historically.

To me, 1054 is a similar split, only this time in such a way that both sides embrace enough commonality that the split is not tied to a question of who is saved. Ditto 1517, in my opinion, which I suspect you "might" disagree with. ;-)

Principium Unitatis said...

Tim,

The problem with your tree is that it is merely a historical picture, and so all heretical groups, and all *schisms from* the Church would be included in your historical picture, since every heretical sect and *schism from* the Church ultimately can be traced back to the Apostles, through the Church, and thus claim "a common ancestor," i.e. the Apostles. So your tree would fail to distinguish between those persons presently in full communion with the Church, and those separated from the Church in some way (either by heresy or by schism from the Church). So your tree wouldn't be "the Church" but merely a picture of the history of Christianity. What you need to do is provide the basis for distinguishing between a *branch within* the Church, and a *schism from* the Church. (See the article below.)

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/07/branches-or-schisms/

If my first article didn't make it clear, it is possible to receive some spiritual benefit from the Church without being a visible member of the Church. And that's the condition of Orthodox and Protestants. They are not in full communion with the Church, but through the sacraments (i.e. baptism in the case of Protestants) they can receive grace and the Holy Spirit. The Church is visible, so a person is not a member of the Church until he is visibly joined to the Church. But that does not prevent him from receiving spiritual benefits from the Church prior to being visibly joined to the Church. And that's what happens when, for example, a Protestant is baptized.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan