Saturday, June 16, 2012

It has been said by an endless parade of wise people that all they ever learned that was important was given them by someone else. I am certainly no exception, even if what I was given was a lesson in what not to do. In any case, the question of this blog in general is, "Who is Jesus Christ, and why does it matter?" Of course, you may have noticed that I've written many other things not concerned with that question, at least not directly. And that reason is that people are fascinating. God was so "fascinated" by us and in love with us that He became one of us, to rescue us from ourselves, from sin, and Satan. Life without the God who made us is utterly pointless, and quite literally impossible.
Some of you begin to think I've become some sort of crazy person, becoming Catholic, and daring to insist that to be Christian is to be Catholic, eventually. It isn't my idea, and it isn't the product of me being a convert, or any faults of mine, real or imagined.
Now, a few of you are mildly annoyed that I don't join the diplomatic corps of lies that is today's ecumenical movement. My bad. I figure you can drink wine and tell lies without me. You don't get any extra points for being well-read, or following dead Swiss theologians of dubious quality and authority. You are personally at liberty to believe whatever you wish, and to act accordingly. Some of you claim to be ministers of Christ and his gospel. Well, what is it? How do you know? And are you certain you were sent by Christ to proclaim it? It might be bluntly stated, but it's a good set of questions.
At the very heart of everything written here on this subject is the question of truth, in light of the reality of the life and work of Jesus Christ. All we know to be true--especially here--we received from those we believe to be trustworthy. If it is true, then it corresponds to reality as it is. That which is handed on as truth--tradition--we owe to those before us, to those after us, and to ourselves. We don't have the option--especially in the realm of God--to be cavalier about what we hand on to our posterity. Have we become unwilling to fight for what we know, or to fight to know it if it is beyond our grasp? Have the niceties of politeness dulled our senses for the Truth, which is Christ?
To ask "the Catholic question" is to ask, as an heir to the Reformation, if the ground on which we have stood is solid. It is to ask if the men who handed Christian truth to us in fact possessed it in full measure. To become a son of that Church which is called Catholic is to realize that they did not.
We know this because there is a yawning gulf between the theology of the patristic lights, and that of the supposed "Reformers." That patristic faith and the means of identifying it cannot be both false, and the source of legitimacy for the dissenters from that faith. Moreover, if the result of that dissent is uncertainty and disunity, how can it be from God? It stands to reason also that if Christians had a means to discern orthodoxy from error, and a person or persons charged with declaring it and preserving it, that would remain so, even if persons in their walks with Christ fail to uphold what they declare. So as an example, we cannot say, "Well, if the Catholic Church hadn't been so corrupt, we wouldn't be in this position." Rome either has authority or they don't. If they don't, they never did. If they do, they always have. In other words, the truth of the Council of Trent is a separate question from the faithfulness of those who composed it. If the Church of Rome's authority is pretended, then someone else has it. Also, anything defined by means of that authority is suspect.
But the problem with suspicion of this kind is that we can't identify any semblance of orthodoxy apart from Rome's authority. We need a principled, consistent reason to agree or dissent. We face the unavoidable accusation of being ad hoc on either side, as dissenters. From dissenters who dissent even more severely, and from those who do not dissent. And they have both been right, in different ways.
In all this, by what authority do you believe what you do? Who handed the faith on to you? Why should we listen to them, as opposed to another?

Friday, June 15, 2012

 The reason there's an existential crisis in the hermeneutical process enshrined in Sola Scriptura is that the humility of submission to God is undercut and obscured by the fact that the final arbiter of what the Bible says is the individual. We can have lots of mediating authorities--the church as we understand it, creeds, and whichever parts of church history we choose to accept, but it's still on us, in this setting. The Westminster Confession of Faith says it this way: "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture." [The Holy Spirit! See! Not me, not you!--ed.] Ah, but that's exactly where the Noltie Conundrum comes in, and makes the crisis acute. What Christian is going to say he lacks the Spirit's guidance? Especially when he is interpreting the Scriptures, he'll depend on this. But it won't take him long in dialogue to realize that there's a disagreement on some fundamental matter. If it wasn't, you and he wouldn't attend different churches. You can account for this ecclesiologically to a point, but only to a point. You may think that Bob is utterly wrong on whether to baptize his infant children, but you concede that he's not damned. What if he doesn't? Is the "Church" still one? Who asked you, anyway? Who asked any of us? None of this is new. Some of you are refusing to face it, but it isn't new. It highlights this irreconcilable problem: Your ecclesiology undercuts your doctrine of revelation. And vice versa. Insofar as you have to tolerate the doctrinal differences between you, you lack dogmatic certitude on precisely those points. The possibilities are endless. This doesn't bother people as it should. To put it more simply, you can't distinguish between a branch of the "Church" and a schism. Schism has a more technical meaning than we tend to think. It means an unlawful separation from Christ's Church. I won't hector everyone about which Church that is. How many of you are content to define a "schism" as a separation, but not as one where guilt can be definitely placed? I know you do, because I was you. You can't define schism if you can't define 'Church.' And you can't define Church, because you've said already it's invisible. But without Church, you have no dogma. The Church cannot be the pillar and foundation of the truth if you can't find her. If you don't agree on the meaning of a term, the rules of logic and dialogue dictate that you can't move forward. That's why all the dialogue and shared cultural battles and everything in the evangelical world are fruitless, if it takes place on these terms. It will either result in the relativization of doctrine for the sake of 'unity', or the absolutizing of doctrine within (ever-smaller) communities, no unity, and no real authority.
Heck, over on the visible Church side of the ledger, we're upsetting your project, because we flat-out do not consent to a unity based upon doctrine alone, but on a succession from the apostles. The problems I mentioned in the previous paragraph are not new; they are not 21st century evangelical concerns; they are not convert concerns. You can dismiss my story and journey (which isn't even in view here) as the emotional rantings of a person who got tired of making hermeneutical judgment-calls (or something) or you can face the fact that the operative principle of Protestantism contains the seeds of the demise of Christianity itself.
But by the mercy of God, truth persists, even in this most tenuous of situations. Every Christian has to identify that strand of timeless truth he knows, finding the origin and the principled basis for holding it. Once he does, he need only do what that truth requires of him. I'm sorry; it's hard. Many sacred cows will die.
You want to say that God is true, but every man is a liar. Yet this movement doesn't make man a liar, but rather accuses God. What is truth? We're back to Pilate's question, because no one knows. You want to hide your disagreements in the mystery of God, but the mystery of God leaves a man in wonder, not frustration. If the Incarnation really took place, if Jesus came to rescue man from himself and the judgment of his God, then the means of Christian truth since then are as visible, as tangible as He is. I'm not asking the wrong question to ask where the Church Christ established is; that's exactly the right question, because Christ is God who took on flesh, who shows us the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And it comes to this: Why should I follow you as opposed to someone else? If you're not willing to give your life for every last article of what you believe, you'd better get rid of what doesn't qualify, and find what does. As a Christian, I have an obligation to find the fullness of what belongs to Christ. If I can't know, how can I be a Christian? Tell me how you live with the truth of faith in more than reasonable doubt. Better yet, are you willing to start at the beginning, to trace the Church from the beginning as a visible community? That's the way out of Noltie's Conundrum. To this people assembled in this structure has been given the gift of truth. In them, we find truths we have always known and treasures innumerable we thought lost.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Invest in green jobs"= pay off your campaign contributors.
I miss the old days. Close friends just a button-push away. That seems like lifetimes ago. Think I'd ask for some advice now. The "fan club" met together on Saturday when I was hoping to see her. The wrong one asked me to the movies. I said OK. It's "Brave," that new Disney/Pixar movie. It looks good. I'll go and have a good time. I think the one I like knows. [Why don't you just tell her?--ed.] How well has that worked out? I was just thinking today that I'm too old to play games, and too young not to care.
Sorry to complain. I've done a lot of complaining. It gets in your head, being alone. I've felt really insecure about it and I've put it on others sometimes. I'm so sorry about that. I've been talking to "Mom" and St. Therese about the whole thing. I know they're holding me up so I don't lose my steps. You can take shortcuts, but the thing about Satan's shortcuts is they never make you happy, and they are dead ends. I've never been so sure of anything.
Quite frankly, I was gonna go on a retreat to discern what my vocation is. I told God He can have everything that I am. I know that another person isn't going to make me happy. But I also sense that some part of me is reaching out to someone. I don't know if that person I'm thinking about so much is her. It'd be a little silly to be so sure that it was. But it could be. It's not physical; it's not passions. At least not completely. Once you persist in prayer this long, those are just drops in a bucket. Who knows, I could still fall. But why would I snatch a gift that may well come to me? Isn't this like the younger son who demanded his share of the inheritance? No, Lord, I'm finding out what the plan is if it kills me.
I don't think I have anything left to discern. I am someone's husband, someone's father. It seems like a crazy plan, given all the challenges. I guess I'd better get some money. It never seemed so near as it does now.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Well, I told you I'd tell the story of how I'm going to remember the Old Testament books. For some of you, the list may be painful, since you only recognize 66 books in the Bible. The first and best reason you're wrong is because Mother Church says there are 73. This may not be fair, but it seems like people said, "Let's come up with a completely arbitrary number less than 73, and blame the difference on Catholics and their weird doctrines." I digress. Sorry. Without further ado, the JK Story of The Old Testament: The first 5 books of the Old Testament are called the Pentateuch--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Moses died and left Joshua in charge. After that, "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" because Israel had no king. So God raised up the Judges. It was a sucky time in general, though highlighted by the story of Ruth. Well, Israel begged for a king, though God already was, so God gave them one with an assist by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam and 2 Sam). Their first King, Saul, started off good, but blew it, so God raised up David. The books of the Kings (1 Kings and 2 Kings) are about David, his son Solomon, and the aftermath when it all fell apart. In case you didn't get how bad it was, with God's people breaking apart and ruled on both sides by mostly bad dudes, there's 1 and 2 Chronicles to remind you. The David montage toward the end doesn't really make you feel any better. And this concludes what I've loosely called the Narrative Portion, though that isn't strictly the case.
 I got stuck here many times until the great Donnie Bungum reminded me that the next two parts should be "EZ to RA-member." Ezra-Nehemiah is regarded by many scholars as one book, so that's all I needed. The next three books I call "The Women," even though Tobit is a guy. Because all I can think of is that she must've been pretty foxy for dudes to try to marry her seven times. And oh yeah, if these dudes keep dying for no reason, fair to say a demon seems likely. Why'd it take so long to figure that one out? I digress. Judith and Esther belong in this section, because the Bible doesn't even mince words: they were pleasing to the eyes. I said to Donnie's wife Alicia that I always remember the names of the pretty girls. [There's something obviously wrong with you.--ed] And now we're in the Wisdom Section, which starts with Job. We're Catholic, so we're always singing Psalms and quoting Proverbs in this ekklesia, which deserves its own book, Ecclesiastes. Just when you think you're getting comfortable, the Catholic Church likes to switch it up and talk about sex (sort of) in the Song of Songs. After all that immoral behavior, Solomon asked for Wisdom. Speaking of wisdom, we all know it wasn't wise to go into Sirach. Get it? OK. Now, major prophets. You've got to pack all that wisdom into a big gun, which is Isaiah. Jeremiah's always crying Lamentations. Now, at this point, I'd get stuck, until Donnie told this nutso story of a bar where you get served lamb. Every time I couldn't remember Baruch, I'd see Donnie yell, "Lamb-bar!" The next little part, it helped me to call the "Trippy Dreams Section," with Ezekiel and Daniel. We're into the next part, the minor prophets, with Hosea. He's followed by Joel, (no stranger to trippy dreams himself) who's quoted rather famously in the NT book of Acts, and that mysteriously reminds us that Amos is next. It'd be good to be an obedient sevant like Obadiah was, but even more obedient (eventually) to be swallowed by a whale, like Jonah was. Whilst there, Jonah was surprised to find for-Micah countertops in the whale/fish. After this, the Count (yes, that Count) opines that without formica countertops, it is "No home!!!" which in his accent, sounds like Nahum. After you are "No home!!!" for awhile, you have to come Habbakuk. And it's more fun to come habbakuk in a "Zephlin" with Zephaniah. Well, some fool was hanging out the window of the Zephlin, yelling, "Haggai!!!" for no good reason. We thought he got Haggai's attention, but it was Zechariah. Malachi called to remind us we're almost done, and we read 1 and 2 Maccabees on the way to Red Robin. Because the prophets especially agree with me: that place is awesome.
So there you go; RSV Old Testament. I know the Vatican or EWTN varies the order slightly, but it's all there.
It strikes me as important to say that why we hold something to be true is at least as important as the fact that we do, provided that thing we hold corresponds to true truth. Because the reason why will tell us if we are being principled and/rational in the holding. The whole Crossian notion of Protestantism as ecclesial deism rests on the claim/premise that to hold the Nicene Christology as true without the visible Church gifted with the charism that makes it true is unprincipled. To explore the basis for why Nicea is true is to discover the continuity at the heart of the Catholic Church.
But look at it another way: to hold it without a principled basis isn't the end of the world; in fact, it may well save your soul. The bad part is, there's nothing in the principles of Protestantism (which ultimately reduces to the primacy of individual Scriptural interpretation) to prevent a very opposite conclusion. We're not saying--I'm certainly not saying--that every Reformed guy is some separatist Arian Billy Sunday; far from it. I'm saying that when he decides to apply those principles consistently, you've got nothing in the toolbox to keep him orthodox. Every creedal Protestant Christian is inconsistently applying Reformational principles to his life and doctrine, and thank God. This is what it means to say, "there is no principled distinction between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura." It isn't just papist propaganda; if you reject the creed as authoritative as such, there's no guarantee you'll get Christ right. In fact, it's pretty likely you'll get some part of him wrong. Let me sum up: I'd rather you all be unprincipled, illogical, emotional windbag Protestants than logically consistent damnable heretics. That said, wouldn't it be better to be Catholic? I couldn't figure out why I'd kill a man before I'd give up the Nicene Creed, but I knew I had no good reason to believe that it was correct, and so many other councils--as impositions of apostolic ecclesiastical authority--were wrong. Thus begun the investigation of why and by what means my faith was true. This is why--even if swimming the Tiber sounds like an invitation to swim an acid bath--you might feel like slapping Mark Galli. We all instinctively know they didn't luck out; God did something. You've gotta seriously ask yourself if you'd largely agree with the ancient heroes in the faith on the person of Christ without this authority structure we see in the Fathers. What is an Ecumenical Council? What did the leaders of the church then believe about its function? How did they see themselves? I kept finding that I knew who I was supposed to root for--I knew the right answers--but how the heroes got there was very different than how I'd been taught to arrive at mine. The visible Church, with organs and means for discerning and maintaining the truth, began to be seen. And then you naturally ask where those means went, and if they still exist. And they do. I'm about to digress. Alright. It's really dumb to hector Protestants constantly about apostolic succession without a visible principle of unity--a guy in whom the whole line from the Apostles is fixed. What's the point of having a visible Church with no focal point, no beginning? Practically, where does the buck stop? And this is why, in one sentence or two, Orthodoxy makes no sense. Especially since the Big Cheese was there before the big fight. And everybody was cool with him as the Big Cheese, until they weren't. But he either has the Gooey Scepter, or he doesn't.
And what I need to say today was not that. What I came to talk about was Luther. I really appreciate him, in a way. I hope you believe me on that. Evil and corruption have no place in God's house. I think it's more than fair to say that we all share his outrage at a great many things. Trent spent most of its breath--may they be happily commemorated forever!--addressing those abuses which all Christians rightly abhor.
But the heart of the problem is the answer to the question "Can an ecumenical council err?" This can be answered quite apart from the time in which we live or the evil we may witness. If we answer 'yes,' we are not Catholic, and we weren't in 1517, either. I want to believe Luther backed himself into a corner with his anger and hubris, and that he didn't want to answer this way. But he did. And this is the paradigm difference in a nutshell. You don't need a symposium on sinners to figure it out. You don't need a guilt trip; the faithful, when asked if a promulgated Council could err, will shout in any age, "No!" What, are you crazy? Why don't you ask me if black is white?
I had to switch paradigms, because the truth transcending them both made no sense in the one. Nicea's true because God made it so; the bishops, together with their head, Peter's successor, were tasked by God to figure it out. If it was true then, it's true today. Now I understand why Catholics giggle like giddy schoolchildren when they hear we're having a Council. "God's gonna do something, we know it! It'll affect generations of us! We'll probably be dead before we see how. But He is so good." That's why the popes sound like they just won the lottery when they open one. They did. We all do.
It's really cool reading the history of this stuff when your heart is on fire, when you believe God acts through this Church in a special way. Before you hit the end of a story, you can guess what they're gonna say. Or rather, what the Holy Spirit will do. And that's fun. Good stopping point? Nah. But I'm done.