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Friday, March 01, 2013

Trent Had A Virtual Council, Too

I was talking about this with Bob Lozano yersterday. Our last Holy Father, Benedict XVI, just used that brilliant phrase to talk about the difference between the perception and the reality of Vatican II. Vatican II is a master-work of ecclesiology and pastoral sensitivity. And that is coming through now. But the most important thing is its continuity with Trent. It is Trent for modern life.

One of the things that helped me to break out of my ecclesial deism was to realize that I had no principled reason to say that St. Thomas in the Summa Theologiae was wrong, even in his sacramental theology. That is not to say that I had adopted it, but there was no obvious reason to charge him with the moral taint with which we viewed the whole Council of Trent. But then, the realization: This whole Council is a giant footnote to St. Thomas. If that's the case, it could be true no matter what evil--scandalous as that is--the officials of the Church got into. If there's a gap between practical Catholic life and revealed truth, it's our fault, not God's. This is why my probing question as to the Reformation, "Do you have a moral objection to the Church, or a theological one?" is phrased the way it is. Because God's revelation cannot change. And if ascertaining the truth of God proceeds from the reality that God wishes to be known, and the best way to know God is to know the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, then He must have entrusted the truth about himself to men after he left. Plenty of non-debatable Scriptural warrant for that. But after they died, then what?

See, that "ecclesial deism" is actually the assumption of error. So there are two things that undo it, very simply: 1. Both Catholics and children of the Reformation say, "The early Church agrees with us." That makes the writings of the Church Fathers in some sense a measuring-stick for the whole thing. And 2. The Reformation communities' acceptance of the creeds in some sense. Because that qualified agreement is essentially a statement to the effect, "We agree that they didn't mess that up." But real agreement consists in accepting the terms upon which a question turns, and not simply its result. I had the right to disagree with some authoritative decision in history, but I do not have the right, I reasoned, to agree with those persons on other terms, and ultimately, on my terms. This is why I wrote, "It caused me to kidnap our ancient brethren in the faith, to claim them as my own against their wills." Though that was in reference to Sola Scriptura, it holds. That deism is flatly inconsistent with the reality of the Incarnation as God's loving self-revelation in history. That's why history is vital to the questions of authority and continuity. If Jesus didn't fulfill his promise here, in the very same dust He walked, what good is it?

So the Church must be visible. I must, if I wish to be part of the Church, accept the determinations of said Church. If Trent is false, so is Nicea. Add to that this plain reality: I cannot be both the arbiter of the true faith, and a receiver of it at the same time. The Church must give me the means to discern what is speculative, and what is beyond question, and she does. This is why Peter Green's objection fails miserably. Indeed, if the Church did not do this, our profession of faith would be pointless.

I think one of the reasons John H. Armstrong's ruminations about the Catholic Church frustrate me is that he assumes that it's all a merely human enterprise. "Divine and human" for the Catholic means, "Like Jesus in the Incarnation," not "perfect" and "flawed" respectively. And of course, we're sinners. But that's the capacity of human freedom to cut himself or herself off from the Incarnate Word, not some mistake on Christ's part. But the Catholic Church cannot just decide to change her ecclesiology or doctrine, even if one thinks she should. On the level of human preference, I would find this wholly undesirable, anyway. But at the level of faith, I know that Christ will not allow it. He promised, and I'm very happy about that.

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