Translate

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mr. Butler will be pleased to know that I've begun my essay on Karl Barth. I'll bet a lot of people liked Karl Barth personally. I certainly do. There is no way you could read "Prayer" and not appreciate the man, on a human level. That's why any assessment of him, no matter how ultimately negative with respect to his theology, must be done according to objective theological norms (which Mother Church abundantly provides).
I now therefore realize that the Catechism will need employing, and that with great care. I used to think a heretic was a charmless Jesus-hater that nobody liked. Seriously. The whole time I was Protestant, it meant something like, "really really mean bad man." [What are you, an idiot?--ed.] But in theology, it means roughly, "one who holds a false opinion about God obstinately." Well, in order to recognize a false opinion, you need the body of true things about God. A lot of heretics might be charmless Jesus-haters with no friends, but this is not always so. In fact, you could hold any number of heresies and not be a Jesus-hater at all, in the supernatural sense. Only God knows. For my own reasons, I am omitting the arcane discussions on culpability that armies of canon lawyers were hoping to have. [There are no armies of anyone reading this. You couldn't rob a 7-Eleven with your readership.--ed.] OOF! Sheesh. Anyway, this leads me to remind everyone that I still believe I'm not a cheerleader. I didn't get bored and just hang up another flag, ecclesiologically and theologically. When I ask, "Who sent you?" or "Who asked you?" it is precisely because the particulars of anyone's theology must always be secondary in some sense to an assessment of its correspondence with revealed truth, and that person's authority to declare it in the name of Christ. So, the basic Protestant ecclesiological paradigm fails because it introduces, through Sola Scriptura, an unacceptable amount of uncertainty regarding that which must be held de fide by Christians. And since the link between the visible expressions of ecclesiastical authority and the fundamentally invisible "Church" in this view are (to put it charitably) less than clear, chaos and a loss of institutional control are not simply a worry; they are inevitable. The real power is held by the individual, not the institution(s). Any evidence to the contrary is an illusion, and a temporary one, at that. To put it another way, the paradigm fails because it obscures the body of revealed truth (the Church) and the implications and responsibilities of holding it. It is true that a person exploring entry into the Catholic Church uses reason to make the decision to do so. But the celebrated tu quoque objection fails precisely because it does not distinguish the difference between searching for the Church, and submitting to her. A person seeking the Catholic Church--whether she is Christ's Church--openly considers the possibility that she is not, and that those attendant doctrines could be false. A Catholic knows that she is Christ's Church, and receives her teaching as that revealed by God himself. If he dissents from her teaching, he is a heretic; if he breaks fellowship with her, he's a schismatic (with numerous qualifications in the reckoning of culpability in each case). Though they are distinct, a good Catholic knows to do either one is unwise.
Some may say that Catholics who insist that the Catholic Church is the one Christ founded, and that we should return to her "want to decide who is and is not a Christian when this is not their gift or calling" as one noted leader put it. On the contrary, the very existence of various communities of Christians holding different doctrines--as well as different definitions of what is most important and less so--indicates that Christians of various kinds within the Protestant world (not to mention the rest of us) do not agree on who a Christian is, or what he must believe. It is not that Catholics or the Catholic Church with its claim to authority have introduced the problem; in fact, it is a problem created by our separations from one another, and the disputes which often occasion the separations. But it also fails to take account of those separations themselves as sins which must be repented of, and not repeated. The branch theory of the church--which arises consequently from the idea that Christ's Church is invisible rather than visible--makes this repentance impossible, because it makes the very concept of schism impossible to distinguish from a branch. Some indefinite period of time is all that essentially turns a "schism" into a "branch." After all, if they won't come with you and agree with you, I guess you have to live with it, right? (And come up with an answer for what it means.)
The only reason I would even dare to suggest that the Catholic Church is Christ's Church is that the paradigm under which this could possibly be true already existed as the default at the time of the Reformation.
Just do me this favor, whether you agree with the above or not: DO NOT become Catholic (or Orthodox, for that matter) UNLESS you believe that the authority and doctrine to which you will assent was essentially there at the beginning. Anything less is a failure to apprehend the claims being made.
One cannot say "the Church is in transit" if we do not agree what we mean by 'Church.' And we shouldn't have hope that we ourselves are contributing to the eschatological expectation of the Christian people--or going in the correct direction--without asking, "What is the Church, and am I in it?" And for the record, if you have to answer "no," it doesn't mean you're going to Hell, or that you were ever on your way there, necessarily. But it does mean you're going to re-orient yourself.

6 comments:

Timothy R. Butler said...

What do you mean by saying the doctrine "was essentially there at the beginning"? What is essential?

Jason said...

Very good question, Tim. It would seem that the Apostles' teaching would be the rule of faith. Itself being in accord with what came before.

Timothy R. Butler said...

Thanks, comrade. But, more specifically, how do we determine what one would need to affirm was "essentially there"? I.e. almost every church would claim that their chosen position was "essentially there" with the Apostles. Since Catholicism has developed quite a bit from those humble origins, I guess I'm wondering how much of what one affirms as a Catholic must one confidently affirm as visible in the Apostolic period to proceed towards a "Romecoming," per your statement?

Jason said...

The Church was essentially there. And its kerygma was the person of Jesus Christ, his vicarious atoning death, and resurrection from the dead. But their bonds of fellowship were equally as important. This is why they replaced Judas. If "apostolic" meant only doctrine, there was no need to do this. This is why St. John says, "They went out from us, but they were not of us. For if they were of us, they would have remained with us."
And that's why the Fathers emphasized succession; they knew that the visible Church could be found that way, and that she had a means of keeping the rule of faith, even if perchance her own bishops as individuals went astray.

Timothy R. Butler said...

I suppose I'm reading "the beginning" as the period ranging from 33-100 AD. Is that fair?

Jason said...

I take that to be the death and resurrection of Our Lord to the death of the last apostle. Sure, that could be marked as a beginning. Why?