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Saturday, March 30, 2013

All Is Quiet

5 Thoughts On Holy Saturday

5. In my experience, this day was not as...taxing, when I was Reformed.

4. But Easter Sunday wasn't as thrilling, either. (No offense.)

3. But who am I kidding? A large portion of me wants to sing, "No Lent, no Lent, la-la-la-la-la-la!"

2. On the other hand still, I hope and pray that the joy of my first Easter Vigil in communion with the Church never fades. To be Catholic for me means an active choice to renounce anything from my former days that dissents from the Church. "Test everything; hold on to what is good."

1. Almost 2 years... [Two actual liturgical years, anyway.--ed.] Indeed.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

I'm christening a new nickname right now: Gentle Warrior. When she reads it and realizes it's her, she will feel unworthy of it. Which is precisely why it is deserved. I hadn't intended to do it, but if I want to tell you a Good Friday story, I need you to know the people in the story. Oftentimes, when people see Christ in us, we are instead humbled by our self-knowledge, our own sin that is ever before us. And yet, let the love of Christ be so near that self-knowledge draws us in, rather than pushes us away. If we need to do penance, well and good. But not of servile fear, but love. There is no such thing as "Catholic guilt." It doesn't exist. When people say this, they are the epitome of the damned in Hell. The damned will regret the consequences of what they've done, but not what they have done with true penitence. If your conscience accuses you, go toward Christ! Was He not speaking through St. John about this very thing when He said, "But God is greater than our hearts"? You will say to me, 'I fear to speak my deeds to a man.' You foolish person! The man is Christ!

So I went with Gentle Warrior to the Mass of the Lord's Supper. Mr. Gentle Warrior was there, too. I think we both agree that it is him who deserves the title most, in many respects. And so we went. I will not be able to describe it for you, the feelings. I can only say that a church empty of its Lord does not feel like a church. He bid us to come give him glory and praise, so we did. How you will cherish that Eucharistic sacrifice on that Thursday when you know it will not be done again until the Vigil! Those who deny it or doubt it, keep silence. This is not the time.

I feasted on pork chops when I returned. Fitting, I thought, given the sacrifices of today. Never has anything tasted so good. And it was legitimately good; it was not only because I had not eaten. We had decided to go to Stations the next morning. It was a thought which touched me there, and it lingered into today: God's love is so big. More than that, I just plainly realized that God loves people infinitely more than I do. I've got no grudges on my soul; there is no one with whom I don't want to be on friendly terms. But you know how it is. People say things you think are stupid. They believe things that are totally wrong. They do horrible, evil things to themselves and others. And you end up in "discussions" that you don't even want, frustrated and angry about the whole thing. It can suck you down. But somewhere beneath all the crap, (because that's what it is) there is a person God loves. And I'm not even talking about you Christians separated from the Church; I'm talking about wicked sinners, who compound it by celebrating themselves, gloating in their evils as though they are good! I hate that. But I need to offer that to God, instead of fighting back from my own weakness and sin.

So I had those three people on my heart last night. And they were there today, too. God's love is so big. Jesus, if you could just bring them here to the cross, to know what I know, nothing could stand in the way. They say I'm good with words, but this doesn't need words. Friends of Jesus don't need words. We just look and know. Tears, maybe a smile. But the peace of God is like a secret. Sometimes, I hate words in prayer, because they just get in the way. There's never been a thing wrong with a formal prayer. It's how we learn. All the prayers, like everything Mother Church gives, are gifts to teach us things we don't understand. But when we do, even for a moment, save the words. Your heart speaks words your mouth can't always.

Gentle Warrior asked me if I wanted to venerate the relic of the True Cross. Pardon me if it sounds proud, but I said, "I'm already there. I don't need to go over there." His Cross was everywhere. The love is everywhere. It fills this whole day. Do you sense it?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Just Met You, And This Is Crazy, But You're Not Catholic, So Come Home, Maybe

I'm sorry. I had to do it. What a great song, anyway. Even if Carly Rae Jepsen spurns the Boy Scouts for morally dubious reasons. All I can say is this, and that Jesus Christ is the Lord of history. The Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery are the pivot-points of all history. Contact with Him isn't some weird existential encounter--at least not fundamentally--but acceptance of the apostolic testimony that God has come to redeem man in Jesus Christ. History may be messy [Just like hermeneutics. Ahem.--ed.] but Truth isn't. Good luck evangelizing the world from a place of epistemic skepticism. That's why "Proper Confidence" has only a limited usefulness. You may gain an audience with a few impressed by your "openness," but it's that same non-realism that prevents them from moving from, "That's interesting" to, "God said that--who is Truth Himself--and I need to do something about it."

Now, let's clarify a few things. Protestants and Catholics disagree as to the points of access and the content of divine revelation. That isn't news. Or maybe it is. Mother Church is both the access point and the guardian of the deposit of revelation, for the Catholic. Always has been, always will be, on this side. Sorry, Uncle Marty. If you don't accept this, you're not a good catholic or Catholic at all and you never were. This is why we don't ask historians what dogma should be. God knows that history is messy, and that's why He came in the flesh. If we want to know what God said, we ask the Church. That's where and in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells. He said, "He will take from what is mine and declare it to you" and, "he whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven," and its opposite. It was an apostolic power, given shortly before He said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore..." Let me save the sacraments for another time. But His working in them is assured, and why the Church teaches that they extend the humanity of Christ.

You may have noticed that Catholics "beat up" on Sola Scriptura a lot. [Or a straw-man of it.--ed.] Fine. I'll use any definition you want. I doubt you'll surprise me. But the Noltie Conundrum has salience precisely because it causes epistemic doubt as to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, by forcing people to equivocate on the meaning of "Church." The proto-Docetism St. John fought against surely was insidious, but he was surely talking about schism when he said, "They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they were of us, they would have remained with us." Heresy and schism often go together, but they are not the same. If the Church is invisible though, heresy could, and indeed must become acceptable theological variation, and schism becomes a useless word. The Church then is not the visible manifestation of God's love in the world, it's a phantasm, an ideal into which I pour my eschatological hopes and dreams. It's one thing to notice a falling short in my life from God's ideal, or the lives of people around me. It's quite another to realize that there is no obvious, organic, tangible connection between my local church, all the others, and the concept in my head. That's why I'm Catholic. If I don't know what to believe and what to do right where I live, I cannot be Christian. The Church therefore must be visible, and it must be infallible. It cannot be the pillar and foundation of the truth if it cannot be seen, and the truth cannot be known. There is no "outside" of an invisible thing. So save your epistemic doubt for the Kennedy assassination or the chicken-egg conundrum. We have a world to save.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

You Don't Slice Up The Body Of Christ On A "Maybe"

It has been asserted that I have an inappropriate, unnecessary need for epistemic certainty, and it has been offered by the Catholic Church, [Sidebar: It is indeed the Catholic Church, not the Roman Catholic Church, unless we are referring to its principle of unity, or to the liturgical rite used by most of the West. There is a proper way to say we are united to the Bishop of Rome, and so it can be that way. However, most of us feel "Roman Catholic Church" is a little misleading, owing to the fact that, what, 22 separate particular Churches are united to the Successor of Peter, many with a unique liturgical tradition going back...a really long time. I digress.] and so, I took it. Some friends of mine covered this. And at this point, I have to call shenanigans. Or BS. Or something. Because visible communities have reasons for not being united with each other. Despite whatever lies they tell each other with the Borg Cube of Mother Church bearing down on them, I take them at their word that a Lutheran is not a Baptist, and that's an important distinction. If it were not, there isn't any reason to remain distinct. It would be mutually agreed that whatever it is belongs to adiaphora. But it isn't, and that's the point: One needs to believe some things de fide, non-negotiable, in order to be whatever you are. I invite you to tell the Presbytery that you pray to St. Optatus and see what they say, Reformed Guy, if you're so sure they're as comfortable with uncertainty as you are. I just call BS again.

The act of ecclesiological separation is a big deal. I'm going to assume that most of them are in good faith, actually, and not about carpets. That's charitable, and it's also true. And I'm comfortable saying that Calvin did not believe the faith he taught was a pious opinion; it was the gospel. Period. Do you need proof of that? So let's stop with the nonsense that you really are fully united with your Lutheran brethren, et cetera/et al, because it's easily disproven.

This whole thing is about authority, and indirectly about epistemology. You can't say, "The Catholic authorities twisted the gospel, and we have the answer" and also say, "I don't need certainty". The very same level of certainty underlies them both. If you honestly don't know, you cannot reasonably hold x and not y. The only way you could is if some authority set the boundary between de fide and theological opinion, and the distinction was known and agreed upon in advance. Let's face the plain reality that Protestants are divided precisely because they disagree upon where to draw the distinction. Even if we completely disregard the uncomfortable reality that the true interpretive authority under Sola Scriptura is the individual, it's still a massive problem. It doesn't change, even if you chide the Catholic for locating his interpretive authority in an authority you don't respect or agree with. If you don't know the truth, you can't insist upon it; you can't do it. You have no grounds for believing that the Catholic Church has wrongly anathematized you if you can't know with certainty. Bonus Side Point: If the Catholic Church is an illegitimate authority, who cares what they say? This guy is more than a little confused. He knows we Catholics are wrong, but he apparently thinks everyone else's attempts at drawing a principled distinction are in bad faith, or at least incorrect. That's fine if he wants to join his Universal Church of Me, but why should I join it? By what charism did he obtain the jurisdiction to define "catholic"?

In the end, that's what this is about: When a Catholic apologist uses the word "authority," it's shorthand for, "I want to know what God says, and I'm sure you aren't that guy." There are only two epistemic choices really, for that which is de fide: 1. God speaks to me; or 2. God speaks to me through x. The whole point of the hermeneutics of continuity with respect to history (apostolic succession, Petrine primacy) from the Church is to challenge your community's authority and charism to do (2). Since you've gone to great pains to deny (1) as individualistic and probably impossible, you are subject to the challenge of the second. If you say your community has no such infallible charism, then your submission to them serves no useful epistemic purpose, and its doctrinal distinctions aren't worth the paper they are printed on. Because I should only stand on what God says. You don't slice up the Body of Christ on a "maybe."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Today Is The Greatest

5 Thoughts For Today

5. These bishop-dudes, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, know what they are talking about. Looking in your direction, Lumen Gentium.

4. It's like they wrote the Catechism to help people understand Vatican II! Oh, wait.

3. "Where the bishop is, there is the Catholic Church." I read that somewhere.

2. CCC, 2089. Know it, love it, live it. Er, kind of. It's more like what not to do. You get the idea.

1. "I was all set to publish my master work on the glories of Monophysitism, when the Church and her stupid Council shut it all down!" said no faithful Christian, ever. Take Bill & Ted's phone booth to 1563, and apply. Ahem.

Monday, March 25, 2013

No Centralized Authority? Really?

Did the books of Moses say, "Israel put their faith in God, and in his servant, the book that fell out of the sky"? What happened when Miriam and Aaron challenged Moses? Did God say, "This is really complicated, and hey, nobody's perfect?" And King David totally killed that scumbag Saul, because he obviously wasn't really king, being so unworthy and all. The "protest" of Korah's family obviously led to a glorious era of power-sharing and conciliarism. Oh, wait. With due respect, that's just silly.

I don't know where you are trying to go with that, but it seems like Israel generally always had a head, someone in charge. Whether they were good is almost beside the point. Was that power constituted legitimately, even if gained illegitimately? It seems so. It would also seem that God is the only one who can legitimately revoke it. Did I miss something? I remember the circle with the 'R'. I never saw a democratic free-for-all anywhere in the OT. Even the time of the Judges makes the point.

I'm not leaning on Catholic presuppositions for early Church history; I'm leaning on patristic ones. If you see that as synonymous, then my work is done.

By the way, how many books are in the Bible, and how do you know? Even to ask this gets us back to ecclesiology and authority. Too bad.

I Stir Things Up

I got a lot of reaction from my last post. You said, among other things, that I sounded angry. You said in various ways that I was mischaracterizing your position. I love that one. 57.6% of the time, people don't feel the need to show how they have been misunderstood, they simply assert it. Frankly, when I see this, I often read it as, "I'm offended." Who cares? Well, I care. But not enough to refrain from taking the risk.

I feel I owe you an explanation. So, I'm going to restate everything I said in the last post as an explanation of what I was thinking to write it that way. Fair enough? If the tone got in the way of the point, I am sorry. But I'm not at all sorry that I view certain principles--cherished principles of the Reformation--as self-refuting nonsense that deserve nothing but mockery and disdain. Ahem. Onward!

Mere Christianity paragraph: I was trying to say that Catholics do not and cannot consent to being one viable option among many. If that sounds like news, I'm compelled to refer you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 815 and 816. Sooner or later, I was thinking, a person would defer to the authority of something outside the Bible (like a creed) to establish essentially two things: 1. This particular claim or interpretation is not new; and 2. I didn't make it up for myself. In other words, continuity and submission. One who does not originate, but receives. The type of person named here does neither one of these things. He cares neither for history, nor for listening to and submitting to anyone else. And I readily and enthusiastically grant that most people don't do this. But what if the very things or people with whom we desire to establish communion belong as gifts to those authorities we had rejected? I am gratified that you hold to the Christological definitions of the first 2 councils. Why? That outcome was far from certain at the time. To this very day, the Scriptures can be interpreted any number of ways, without violence to the historical-critical method itself. If we are to say that it does violence to the faith once delivered to all the saints, that raises an interesting question: How do we know that? Is the faith personified in these people, and what they're about to do? If there is truth there, it belongs to God; it is the essence of who He is. When you ask them about it, essentially they say, "We are specifically tasked in the Holy Spirit to articulate the faith in contrast to alternatives. You're either with us, or you have no part with Christ." That sounds like a visible Church to me. That sounds like divinely-sanctioned authority to me. It doesn't really matter what they decided, if they lack the jurisdiction to decide it. But if they do, then it matters profoundly. Make your choice. "Derivative authority" is a sham, a legal fiction. The creeds are the product of the duly appointed shepherds of the flock of Christ, assembled in an ecumenical council. They don't mean anything at all outside this context. They are just words. How is your "that's nice, but..." any different than Arius's? How can you accept one, and not another?

Invisible church ecclesiology, and its implications for dogmatic theology: As I wrote before, "An invisible Church cannot define itself, or what it believes." It is simply not reasonable to hold particular doctrine x over against doctrine y (and establish a community to defend it) if the "Church" considered in this way holds both with equal facility. To say that it holds both is to say that the doctrine in its particularity is not crucial to the truth of Christ. Are you ready to say that? So denominations are just discussion-clubs of non-crucial issues? Is that anywhere close to the historical reality of any ecclesial community in its purpose? If it were true, do you see how that would be confusing? Feel free to articulate what "really" matters; I'll try to muffle the screams of all the toes you just stepped on. Therefore, I want my toes stepped on, if the payoff is knowing the truth. [Digression Of A Personal Nature: The Rev. Russ Ramsey, a man I greatly respect and admire, sent me a message last night, expressing concerns about the tone and purpose of last night's post. This post is actually motivated by that message. Anyway, perhaps 10 years ago, I was talking to Russ about my desire for unity, and my friendship with a certain man who has that abiding passion. I will never forget what Russ said, essentially: Who is he to decide the terms of that unity? In that way, I respect the right of a person not to agree with me. But you have to do the same.] I have the right and the duty to have my toes stepped on if I am wrong, and more importantly, to know whether, and to what extent, the person doing the stepping speaks for Christ, and how to tell.

Access to truth: If I cannot know the truth, there is no purpose in talking about it. Communication is to either find the truth, or live in it together. I have no use for "my tradition," and "your tradition," as if what we hand on is but a part of the truth. In this way, the modern ecumenical is much like the theological progressive from decades prior.

This hermeneutical method is chaos: Obviously, it failed. And it couldn't be any other way. I don't have to accuse anyone of bad faith or lack of effort; it's the assumption of good faith that makes it more damning. I cannot be both the arbiter and receiver of divine truth at the same time. Dr. Mathison's fear of all things Catholic doesn't change the reality that he's inviting us to ride the hermeneutical spiral to nowhere. IF TRUE, great. But even if not, the Catholic paradigm is superior.

It comes back to the Three Things. I consider the evidence for those things clear, apart from conclusions. I did not become Catholic, and then go looking for evidence; I became Catholic as a result of the evidence. It's not my fault you don't believe me. The truth or falsehood of the matter is quite apart from your estimation of my intellectual honesty, dear commenter. This is all for now. Peace to you.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I'm Not A "Catholic Christian," I'm A Christian (And You Have Caveats)

We are not one among many. I do not accept your "Mere Christianity." This is not one room in the house; this is the house. I can say this because the conceit that allows your Mere Christianity some surface plausibility is Catholic truth. Those of you who are not completely sucked into fundamentalism or individualism (but I repeat myself) are incoherently relying on some Catholic means or truth to make some semblance of a narrative out of Christian history without the Catholic Church.

It mystifies me that people passionately committed to objective truth in other areas of life, who battle relativism wherever it is found in the natural world, become rank postmodernists in theology and ecclesiology. Anything to avoid becoming Catholic. Yes, I'm talking to you, Protestant. Get some Protestants in a room, and it sounds like a bumper sticker. "Co-Exist." Peace and love. One big happy family. Based upon what? United by what? Anti-Catholicism? What would be the point of being a Lutheran Christian (for example) if, when push really came to shove, for all my passionate commitment to Lutheran doctrines, they'd take a back-seat to the whole of what God was doing in the "Church"? Seriously, stop wasting my time. I know the way you talk and think. So I have my truth, and your truth, and here's his truth, and her truth, and on and on. The only real sin is to believe that either we made a mistake in getting to this point, or God must be crazy, at best. Because God is God, I have to go with the first option.

When Dr. Carl Trueman said that Catholicism was the default position in the West (even though it should be the default everywhere) it bothered people. I mean, he's not Catholic. Does he want to give the papists ammunition? But I understood. I'm not staking my soul on a 'maybe'. Whatever I believe, I believe it with everything I have. I'll be circumspect about the weather, or my favorite Garth Brooks album. If the stakes are eternal life, and God come in the flesh, forgive me if I see a limited usefulness in a polite confab that doesn't really help us know or love Him better.

Is there any other science in human life where the truths we affirm are the ones least objectionable to others? This is what I sense when I hear "Mere Christianity." It's merely whatever it is. "Jesus is Lord." That's what we're left with. What does that mean? You're gonna die for a bumper sticker now?

The reason why being Catholic really wasn't that hard is that if somebody makes a promise to give us clearer truth and purer lives instead delivers confusion and the same crap, different day, the prudent thing is to do is at least get rid of the cause of (doctrinal) confusion. If Sola Scriptura fails to produce agreement on the precise content of the gospel, the promise has failed. At least have the guts to say it was man's failure. Does Christianity still exist without the "Reformation"? Yes, duh.

There are 20+ centuries of human failure to stack up as reasons not to be in the Catholic Church. You really gonna tell me the wickedness 16 centuries in was SO BAD that we had to start over? Assuming that were true for the moment, why would there be a different way of ascertaining gospel truth as a result? I guess God really hated the human race for like a thousand years. He (apparently) let a completely fake "universal church" impersonate the real one. Millions of people (no, billions) went to Hell probably, doing exactly what the fake Church told them to do. Thank Heaven Luther and the rest of them showed up! What would we have done? Because people are always doing the right and true thing if they say the Holy Spirit led them. Don't worry if lots of these guys said so while saying radically different things. Because the Incarnate Word does that all the time. It's like a rave. When Jesus said "tell it to the church", He was totally talking about a nebulous, immaterial concept that varies in shape and content from person to person.

I hate to be rude. I love you. I want all of us to draw as close to Christ and each other as we can. What would He ask you to do that you would refuse? Is there a closeness with Him or with others that you don't want? Granting the fact that we agree on tons of things, I gotta ask about the rest of it. You could maybe dig back in history and find ambiguity on something to cast reasonable doubt on the exclusive claims of the Catholic Church. That's fine. I do know one thing: Your church didn't exist. Wherever that common truth came from, it didn't come from there. Just sayin'. Are you going to keep painting the target around the arrow, and hoping I don't notice?