25 February 2008

Is the Church an institution?

Groucho Marx once quipped, "Marriage is a wonderful institution. So if you want to spend the rest of your life in an institution, get married." Of course, we can look at marriage as an institution; but such a perspective distorts at least as much as it illumines.

The same is true of the Church. In his introduction to the first published edition of Khomiakov's works, Yury Samarin wrote:

"According to our customary conception, the Church is an institution--to be sure, an institution of a special kind, even unique, a divine institution, but still an institution. This conception sins in the same way as almost all our usual definitions and representations of objects of faith: this conception does not directly contradict the truth, but it is insufficient. It brings the idea down into a region that is too lowly and habitual, a too-familiar region, as a result of which the idea, willy-nilly, becomes banal through a close comparison with a group of phenomena apparently homogeneous with it but essentially not having anything in common with it. We know what an institution means, and it is very easy, even too easy, to conceive the Church as an institution by analogy with other institutions. There is a book called the Criminal Code and there is a book called the Holy Scripture. There is a judicial doctrine and there are judicial forms; there is also a Church tradition and there is a Church ritual. There is a criminal-law chamber that has its own code and is empowered to execute this code, to apply it, to judge in accordance with it, and so on--and in parallel, there is a Church that, guided by Scripture, proclaims doctrine, applies it, sifts through doubts, judges, and decides. In one case we have conditional truth, the law, and, attached to the law, the magistracy, wielding the law, officers of the law. In the other case we have the unconditional truth (that's the difference), but a truth that is also contained in book or word; and attached to it, once again, are officers and savants--the clergy.

The Church does in fact have its doctrine, which constitutes one of its inalienable manifestations. The Church does in fact, in its historical manifestation, come into contact, as a kind of institution, with all institutions. Nevertheless, the Church is not a doctrine, not a system, and not an institution. The Church is a living organism, an organism of truth and love, or more precisely: truth and love as an organism."

By speaking of the Church as an organism, not an institution, Samarin speaks in a profoundly biblical way. For St. Paul calls the Church "the body of Christ." He also points the way to untangle much unprofitable logomachy. Consider:

1. History is not peripheral, but central, to the description of an organism. I can describe the institutions of government by surveying constitutions, as did Aristotle. But anatomy and physiology are inadequate to a discussion of, say, my father. One does not know him best in his personal particularity by understanding general principles of medicine or of psychology. One knows him best by means of his story: born in Homestead, PA in 1924, growing up among his family (with all its stories), serving in World War II, marrying my mother, working in the US Steel Homestead Works as an accountant and raising four children, becoming a widower and then remarrying, etc.

Martin Guerre was a 16th century Frenchman who disappeared after having been accused of stealing grain. A few years later, a man appeared in the town, claiming to be Guerre. He deceived many, including Guerre's wife. But during one trial the real Martin Guerre reappeared, and the impostor was eventually executed.

While the false Guerre could relate many stories from the true Guerre's life--in some cases, remembering details that the real Guerre had forgotten--his rhetorical brilliance could not cover the ultimately-discovered reality that he was not, in fact, Martin Guerre. Words about his "past" could not, in the end, substitute for fact.

The organic history of the Church begins on the day of Pentecost. It continued, in a severely-tested but never-broken bond of love and faith, until that bond was broken by Rome's changing the fundamental statement of faith without bothering about mutual love. That break was officially certified by the bull of excommunication placed on the altar of Hagia Sophia by a papal legate in 1054.

Shortly after that break began a series of changes in the west, all of which betoken the corruption of a once-living body: the change to unleavened bread; private masses; purgatory; the Anselmian doctrine of the atonement; the scholastic method and on and on. The criticisms of Rome in the Lutheran confessional writings bear testimony to this fact.

Rome continued to have much of the same matter as did the Church before her: bishops, relics, the invocation of the saints and so on. But she invested them all with a profoundly different form. Bishops became authorities, headed by the Pope; relics and the invocation of saints were separated from love and became linked with the notion of merit. It would not be too far a stretch to say that the real "reformation" of the Church was that undertaken by the late mediaeval papacy.

It was that "formed matter" that Lutherans and other Protestants rebelled against. But in rejecting the matter, they retained the new form. The Reformation was not so much a re-form, as it was a re-materialization. The Scriptures were separated from the Church, in order to judge the Church. Iure divino bishops were rejected, in favor of pastors who came ever more under the control of various lay bodies, from princes to the logical reductio ad absurdum, the Voters' Assembly. (Compare and contrast AC 28, which teaches that excommunication belongs iure divino to pastors, with the so-called "Blue Catechism" of Missouri, which teaches that the pastor's role in excommunication is to announce the verdict of the congregation.) Relics and the invocation of saints were tossed out because they were doubtful or useless--both of these criticisms showing that rationalism and rejection of love, the new "form" of the papacy of the late middle ages, had been retained by the 'reformers.' The Church does not invoke the saints, for example, or pray for the dead because of some merit or utilitarian benefit we might gain; we invoke the saints and pray for the dead because in Christ we love them, and they love us.


2. Organisms are not theoretical, but existential. I once spoke, over a period of months, with an amateur Lutheran theologian on the topic of the Church. He told me that he found Quenstedt's description of the Church to be the most biblical and proper description ever. The blueprint laid out by Quenstedt was, apparently, exquisite. Our discussion went back and forth over a long time. Finally I asked him, "Can you point out to me the current Lutheran body which Quenstedt has here described?" After a long silence, he answered, "Um...there isn't one." To that I replied, "Then what are we talking about?"

Sadly, that lay theologian has since gone to Rome--for reasons that had nothing to do with theology, and everything to do with family.

3. Organisms are 'top-down,' formed by parents. Each human being, for example, begins in an act of love (recognizing, of course, that in a broken world such love is inadequate at best and distorted at worst). The members of an organism share one and the same life, and have one and the same mind.

Institutions are bottom-up, formed by like-minded individuals gathering together to complete some task too big or too inconvenient for each individual to do on his own--though there is nothing inherently wrong with an individual doing just that, if he is able. (Here, too, I must qualify. Marriage as an organism is top-down: "Whom God has joined together, let no man separate." Marriage considered as an institution is bottom-up: two people meet and decide to join their lives.)

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." By saying this, the framers of the Constitution do not reject the idea that someone else, somewhere else, who is able to do those things for himself, may do so.

Both organisms and institutions have members. But the members of an organism share one and the same life and are ordered to one and the same end. The members of an organization share a similar life and or ordered to similar ends.

This top-down vs. bottom-up distinction explains something I found frustrating in my years as a Lutheran clergyman. Often I would visit so-called 'delinquent' parishioners, or hear from people on the street, "I don't need to go to church to be a Christian." And they were right--if the Church is an organization. ("But what about Communion?" someone might ask. One delinquent I spoke with told me, "Pastor, I just say the words of institution over my lunch, and have communion." He was odd, to be sure, but not fundamentally wrong, if the Church is defined bottom-up.) But if the Church is an organism, such words are foolish. The Church rightly teaches: "We are damned by ourselves; we are saved in community," and rightly sings in her liturgy, "Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided."

Let this suffice for now. I need to check on my father...

14 comments:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

We might say the Church, instead of being an instution, *has* institutions.

I'd say Rome didn't change just the form of things, but that was symptomatic of a more fundamental and devastating change: the spirit of things. The spirit of love was replaced by the spirit of papism.

That's a disease from which Catholicism has never recovered, and which, in fact, has come to be the central defining element of Roman Catholicism. Some would argue that the spirit of papism has become the central or underlying theme of all of Western history and culture ever since. Zbigniew Brzenski, for example, in his book, The Grand Chessboard, speaks of "Petrine Europe".

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

I think this post was quite good, and think I agree with the whole of it. As I read it, I am not sure that there is anything in it that necessarily contradicts Lutheran belief, Quenstedt’s unique take aside.

I also believe that the Church is a living organism, the body of Christ – intimately involved with the material aspect of our existence – just that it is discerned differently – namely, not so much on the basis of assurance of apostolic succession and like factors – but often simply by Christians *tacitly recognizing* the voice of their Shepherd that brought them to faith and still nurtures faith. Christ has “infallibly led” His true sheep through the Gospel, of which the Spirit testifies, and which will rise to the top (think of the “Passion of the Christ”, a great preaching of the Gospel, in my opinion). So, the “members of an organism share one and the same life and are ordered to the same end” indeed. Just because some don’t explicitly recognize this and reflect on this – and hence think they are members of an organization that “share a similar life… and similar ends” – does not change the fact.

I really like the story of Martin Guerre and think that it is compelling. Of course, I can reach the opposite conclusion and say that upon prayerfully examining the evidence, that the Orthodox Church is really the imposter, having retained many forms, but severely mitigating the substance of the Church, namely the life of peace with God delivered in Christ’s absolution through the priest. Even someone like Guerre’s wife may have been confident that the imposter was really him, but given the evidence that was available to her, perhaps she would have concluded differently if she had been willing to be critical and consider contrary evidence.

It may be true that more Lutherans have become Orthodox, seemingly recognizing the true Mother than the other way around (I know of at least one, and he is articulate and thoughtful indeed), but then again, I don’t consider numbers to be very important.

In my last post, you seem to have misunderstood me somewhat. I also, believe the Church is created in a “top-down” fashion, namely from the Words of God spoken to persons (take children, for example) by those who have preserved the essential aspects of the true teaching, namely Christ. Before one looks upward to find heaven, heaven comes down to them (they are born from above). True faith being created, they believe and do not doubt. As they get older, and other Christians bring into question this process in that they talk about this person’s Lutheran Church not being the true Church, many are driven back to the Sciptures and the Fathers to test the evidence of their experience vs. the claims of those who believe otherwise (Orthodox, RCs, other faiths, etc). Lutherans are therefore “bottom-up” only in the sense that they produce systematic (and shared) understandings (all Christians are “theoretical” in this sense) of the experience of the faithful (the Church) as they reflect on the experiences that brought them to faith (primarily the liturgy served in the Church, and their faithful familes), or are challenged by heretical ideas that “just don’t seem to be right”. As with the necessities involved in the emergence of the doctrine of the Trinity and the two Natures in Christ, this is the only way to follow the teachings of the holy fathers. In other words, they in no way initially “decide” or “choose” to “join their lives” to the Church, but are brought into it from the Top-down. They simply *recognize* this, and reflect on the Words that have made them who they are. Again, I believe this has been true since the fall – faithful believers who recognize the Messiah like Simeon, Anna, Nathaniel, etc. have always been created this way. Further, eschewing all “methodological individualism” the Church is fundamentally about being in community, for this is how we come to faith and are nurtured – by others (which is why, “good works are necessary for my neighbor’s salvation).

Here’s something on this I recently wrote, which I think sums it all up:

…let me make clear that I believe the truths of Christ, faith, and the Church are not so much communicated with the assistance of any formal philosophy or rational mental-mapping as they are in the rough-and-tumble experiences of real life. Just as it is not our personal assurance of salvation that is ultimate key but rather the life-creating Promise of God that creates individual certainty, likewise it is not our assurance of what constitutes the Church that is important but rather the life-creating Promise of God that makes the one holy, catholic, and apostolic little flock. Hence, St. Therese can be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church – which despite its errors retains a faded sense of this truth – precisely because she has insights that are more Lutheran, or Christian, than they are Tridentine Catholic. The complicated systematic, theological / philosophical constructs that theologians often think in, though certainly able to influence the experiences of the few who think in their grooves, primarily derive from and serve to make sense of the general experiences of all believers, simple and sophisticated alike. Simple words which even children can understand shape Christian experience and are the foundation of the deeper systematic and theological / philosophical constructs, which also, certainly, serve useful purposes. Christians who believe that doctrine in some sense develops do not believe that today’s believers “know God better”. Understanding may develop in order to address the needs of a particular age, but before God, we all ultimately know Him best simply as children trusting their dear heavenly Father. We pray “I am yours, save me”. Therefore, the answer to the question with ecclesiological ramifications "Is Christ divided?", is of course, in God’s eyes “no”, (see Eph 4:4-5), but in our eyes “yes”. We are hid in Christ; the Church is hidden under the cross. Therefore, Paul tells us to pray that we may work towards agreeing with one another (I Cor 1:10).

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Nathan,

I don't know quite how you say you agree with my post, when you seem to have missed its central points.

1. You haven't addressed history at all. Period.

2. To the degree you address the existential nature of the Church, you do so on a purely individualist (or at best, 'priest'-hearer) basis.

3. WRT 'top-down' vs. 'bottom-up,' you speak simply in terms of an individual's exposure to 'the Word.' I do not dispute that the word creates faith. I do dispute that individuals of faith band together to form the Church.

Your whole comment seems to presupposes the notion of corporate Church as institution (though you use the word 'organization'), against which this post is directed. And if your eyes see things differently than God's do, guess who needs glasses. :-)

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Dear Anastasia,

I'm using "form" here in the philosophical way, I confess; by it I mean the same thing you do when you use 'spirit.'

PS--thanks for your latest blog post. It made my day!

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

The more I think about it, the more the Martin Guerre story sticks with me. I think it is a great story illustrating how the Lutheran Church may very well be the true one. Think about this: I assume the person who felt they had a right to be most confident about Martin Guerre’s identity was his wife – and one would think that this was a safe assumption. In much the same way, Orthodoxy does really *seem* to be right when they speak of having the most real connection to the early Church – the most “history” with the early Church. However, it is not necessarily the case!

I am not sure what you mean when you say I have not addressed history at all. If not here to the extent and detail you’d like, I have tried elsewhere. Here’s a start: “To this I say:
In short, it is not the [Orthodox] understanding, but rather something like the Lutheran understanding of the Christian life… that is implicit in the early church (in some fathers, like Cyril of Alexandria, much more than others). The accusation of novelty is no argument vs. the truth of the Scriptures, size doesn't matter (faithful Lutheranism is not so big – so what?), the OT Church did not have an infallible authority either (see http://upstatelutheran.blogspot....diaries- to.html, accessed Sept. 2007) , and in Luther, one simply has "Athanasius vs. the world" taken to the next degree, as God further refines and tests those who are His own (the remnant, scattered throughout Christendom, but concentrated in the Churches of the Augustana) for the sake of the whole world. In this framework, Lutheranism is the true doctrinal development which simply means we are better realizing what the Scriptures say all along - and which we have continuously, to this or that degree, suppressed…”

I am also not sure what you mean when you say “to the degree you address the existential nature of the Church, you do so on a purely individualist basis”. What do I have that I have not received? Just like my physical birth, all is given to me, done unto me, “gifted” to me. On what basis can you call this “individualist”? You yourself cannot read more than one father without realizing that on the face of it they definitely seem to disagree on this or that important matter of teaching.

“I do dispute that individuals of faith band together to form the Church”

Well, I do to. The N.T. Church certainly started out as one in Jerusalem that Pentecost day, only fracturing later on, making “re-banding together” in some sense necessary, if they were to be one again. Futher, you yourself would not consider yourself in fellowship with the Nestorians or Eutychians – and yet, if they recant their positions, you would recognize them as brothers. I think this seems practical.

“Your whole comment seems to presupposes the notion of corporate Church as institution”

Could you please help me a bit more with what you are saying? Again, I don’t think its anything like human-formed institutions, where the presupposition is that “self-determined / chose like-minded individuals” who “create organizational unity” are the focus. Knowing that I am a Lutheran, I would at least expect you to think that I have an overly spiritual view here, seeing the Church primarily as hidden (though made up of physical communities) or invisible, being ultimately and fundamentally made up of sheep who hear the Shepherd’s voice, and are intimately connected with their Head.

Will check back again tomorrow.

Nathan said...

“self-determined / chose"

should be

“self-determined / chosen"

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Nathan, you wrote:

The more I think about it, the more the Martin Guerre story sticks with me. I think it is a great story illustrating how the Lutheran Church may very well be the true one. Think about this: I assume the person who felt they had a right to be most confident about Martin Guerre’s identity was his wife – and one would think that this was a safe assumption. In much the same way, Orthodoxy does really *seem* to be right when they speak of having the most real connection to the early Church – the most “history” with the early Church. However, it is not necessarily the case!

Rx: "May wells" and "not necessarilies" don't comprise an argument. You have made no argument, either for Lutheranism or against the Orthodox Church here, so I can make no response.

You wrote:
To this I say:
In short, it is not the [Orthodox] understanding, but rather something like the Lutheran understanding of the Christian life… that is implicit in the early church (in some fathers, like Cyril of Alexandria, much more than others). The accusation of novelty is no argument vs. the truth of the Scriptures, size doesn't matter (faithful Lutheranism is not so big – so what?), the OT Church did not have an infallible authority either (see http://upstatelutheran.blogspot....diaries- to.html, accessed Sept. 2007) , and in Luther, one simply has "Athanasius vs. the world" taken to the next degree, as God further refines and tests those who are His own (the remnant, scattered throughout Christendom, but concentrated in the Churches of the Augustana) for the sake of the whole world.

Rx: Let's go point by point here.

a) You deny that the Orthodox understanding (?of the Christian life?) is not found in the fathers, but that "something like" the Lutheran view is. Here again you make no argument, but only assertion, against Orthodoxy, so there's nothing to comment on.

b) "the accusation of novelty vs. the truth of the Scriptures is no argument" begs the question. What *is* the truth of the Scriptures is the issue at hand.

c)"size doesn't matter" is not in contention. There are more Lutherans in America than Orthodox.

d)"The OT church didn't have an infallible authority either" misses the point in several ways: i) the NT Church has promises and descriptions which didn't attach to the OT people of God; ii) from an Orthodox point of view, there is no authority in the Church, there is the life of the Holy Spirit. Quarrels over authority began in earnest when the west had already left the truth.

e)It never was "Athanasius contra mundum." One needs only to read St. Anthony's intervention at a key point to see that.

Gotta go.

Ignatius said...

Father,

After reading your post today I receiving an invite to a new community church opening its doors next week. It was a beautiful invite quoting John 3:16, or maybe it was John ME:16, I was a little troubled because it said, “God so loved Brandon that He gave His only Son, so that if I believe in Him, I will have eternal life". I had all those years of sound Lutheran Sunday school and no one ever told me there was a verse in the bible just for me.

Of course I am speaking a bit facetiously. None the less, it was a message promoting self sustained salvation. The notion of "Me and my personal Jesus" is the reason why so many feel they need no church.

I like the "top down explanation of the church" as an organism. When I ramble on about experiencing our faith, this is why, because it is not just a congregation of quasi agreeing people. It is an organic living breathing body that knows no space or time.

Cheers,
Ignatius

Nathan said...

Ignatius,

“It is an organic living breathing body that knows no space or time.” In one sense, I agree with this, in another sense, I think it can be dangerous if taken too far. Read on to see why I say this.

Father Gregory,

I hope your father is doing well - as well as he can be. Thanks again for the conversation. I have so much to learn, and you, more than most, I am confident, can help get me there. Glad we agree on b) and c) and I can even concede “the NT Church has promises and descriptions which didn't attach to the OT people of God” to an extent, though I think it is dangerous if this thought is taken to far (since the “Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world” must be connected to the faith-creating promise of Genesis 3:15 that guarantees the presence of a community of believers – at least a faithful remnant (seen in folks like Mary, Simeon, Anna, Nathaniel, etc) whom the gates of hell were surely not able to overthrow entirely)

FG: “You have made no argument, either for Lutheranism or against the Orthodox Church here, so I can make no response.”

Are you sure this is right? It seems to me that my comments about the Martin Guerre story are actually an important caveat to the larger argument I have been trying to express to you. Granted my thoughts and reflections – which are at least in the form of what I think are intelligent questions if not always arguments – are not of the kind that someone like DesCartes, for example, would appreciate and recognize, but I think that he also was one of the key players that ended up divorcing aspects of reality that ought not be separated, reason (result: rationalism) from the empirical world out there *we* share (result: empiricism) from intuition, emotion, memory, desire, tacit knowledge… (result: romanticism)…

So, no, my arguments are not set forth with the idea that they are provable *beyond a shadow of a doubt*. I don’t believe that most of the things that we experience and that we are often quite certain about in life can be proven that way though (and I am even critical of rational arguments regarding numbers and geometry for example that say that this can be separated from empirical experience, as if we should even consider that the question of whether we could be thinking about such things apart from our bodies and the external world that has been given to all persons to share) and think we need to guard against this tendency to think that pure logic alone can be marshaled to do such things.

I believe that when it comes to proof, the important things in life are those which are demonstrated from the evidence and experience from the world as a whole, whether they are given to us or those around us (of course we use reason here, we all “either-or” sometimes, but there are also situations where we realize we must “both-and” something). In this sense, we may be convinced beyond a *reasonable doubt* (I think that this is the kind of proof the Scriptures offer regarding God and Christ and His resurrection for example, but not necessarily the Church as it presents itself to us visibly, which seems to me a different kind of thing from God or the person of the God-man Christ given the evidence of Scripture). This means that we become convinced that even though we can’t prove certain things to ourselves or others with ironclad certainty, we still do not believe it is reasonable, or proper, given the empirical evidences and ours and others’ experiences of them, for either them or us to doubt these things. By the way, with this kind of idea regarding proof, this also means that there is at least some value and importance to most academic disciplines, even as people with *very different presuppostions and assumptions * try to connect with the world, deeply experiencing and “dwelling in” it, and then seeking to represent their “embodied knowledge” to others with various kinds of “maps” (including words, visual, analogies, etc.) that they can connect with and understand.

By the way, I know that often I write things like “I suspect”, “it seems to me”, “may well”, “not necessarily”, but I hope you understand that this is part of my approach because it seems to me that we often assert certain things that we have no business asserting. Rather, I want to say “Come and see”. Let us reason together by examining the evidences before us and that come to us in our experiences. Let us prayerfully try to make sense of, and to reflect on these things. So, I try to do this. At the same time, when it comes to talking about the sinful human being and the God who justifies, I endeavor not to be so “shy”. I know that I must at times be like Paul in Athens, for example, who boldly announces that Christ is the man appointed by God who will bring judgment, and God has given *proof* to *all men* of this by *raising Him from the dead*. This is the empirical Jesus, who has entered our world and overthrown all of our vain rationalistic philosophies that would order and prove this or that aspect of reality at the expense of the actual empirical realities that human beings experience on the ground.

Let me try to be as clear as possible: Our knowledge and action remain fundamentally bound to the place of the Christian-making divine service (Word and Sac) and all that flows from that, particularly formation in the family. Hence, given this and other incarnational, empirical realities, things definitely cannot be understood purely in terms of general principles or concepts (Platonic thinking) or primarily with the power of logical argument (more Aristotle here). Of course, all of this is guided by the distinction of law and gospel (John 1:17, Rom. 10:5), which was always present in this or that sense in the Church, but which Luther attempted to make more explicit (perhaps not perfectly for sure). So, in the midst of these things above, the Christian is called to love God with one’s whole mind. This does not preclude *at all costs* criticism of the self, or others, or our individual or corporate understandings of the way we view ourselves. Rather, this criticism is part of the wisdom we exercise in a fallen world. Sometimes (for example, in one context and not another), given the evidences on the ground, many people of sincere faith believe that is appropriate to offer criticism of our understandings of who we are. Here, we keep in mind the role that tacit knowledge plays however, that we are persons who cannot be perfectly aware of ourselves and how God sustains us in each individual detail. Further, despite the powerful role that the reality of the undercurrent of tacit knowledge plays (forming the Church with faith like children), I think if we are going to talk intelligently about what it means to be Church and the fellowship that this entails, that we need a method (never separated from truth) that we can all agree on that will deal with the empirical experiences that we can all experience.

What might this look like? About a year ago on Pontifications, I wrote the following:
Look at Einstein. Einstein's discoveries necessarily forced everyone (eventually) to think about Newton for example, in an entirely different context… Can a pedigree of thought be demonstrated in the Fathers for the Lutheran position? A very good question. The problem is that as I have just pointed out above – those Reformers clearly believed that this was the case (Flacius, Chemnitz, and John Gerhardt in the 17th century addressed this at length) – whatever their gripes with the Fathers, they genuinely believed that the understanding of Christian life and worship was more in accordance with the received Patristic corpus than the understanding of their opponents. But…what constitutes an acceptable pedigree? Who decides? Again, we have this sticking question. But let us leave this aside for now…. Let us suppose that a committed RC or EO… read the Lutheran Confessions in their entirety – and believe they have started to understand and get the gist of them - and go back to look at both the Scriptures and the Fathers. Let us also suppose that they determine that the pedigree is not acceptable. What this means is that, though the Lutheran construal put forth in the Confessions seems to explain the Scriptural data relatively well (and brings some genuinely helpful insights to the forefront), it falls down in regards to the Fathers because they cannot determine to their satisfaction that "traces" of the Lutheran understanding of justification in particular (which again, only distinguishes – not separates – the declarative word of God which justifies from the changed life that results for this – only for the comfort of terrified sinners who must be able to keep the certainty that the unconditional promise of absolution grants) are present in the way that they believe they should be: maybe this means it is not in all of the Fathers that the Church has considered Apostolic, maybe this means that they can see "traces" that kind of conform to what the Lutherans say, but because they believe that just because someone uses "forensic justification" this necessarily means a denial of the transformative framework ( it does not, though some may point to the sinner-saint novelty as well, saying that this denies the transformative framework – it does not however, as the believer is not a sinner only, but a sinner-saint, whose ultimate identity is "saint" being bound up as they are with Christ), and hence these references "do not count", maybe this means that the pedigree is there but is not "uninterrupted" but more sporadic, maybe it is because it is could possibly be implicit, but because it is not explicit enough, maybe it is because some, but not all, fathers say some things that seem to directly counter such a doctrine.
If one would take any of the following approaches however, it seems to me that at the very least, a similar approach should be taken with Cyril of Alexandria (378-444), (I skip Athanasius, because despite the opposition he faced, I am sure of the many early fathers who talked often of Christ's divinity) who as Wikipedia tells us: "was the Pope of Alexandria when the city was at its height in influence and power within the Roman Empire. Cyril wrote extensively and was a leading protagonist in the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries. He was a central figure in the Council of Ephesus in 431 which led to the deposition of Nestorius as Archbishop of Constantinople. Cyril is among the patristic fathers, and the Doctors of the Church, and his reputation within the Christian world has led to his acquiring the title "Seal of all the Fathers." Or should we rather say that just because the majority (and the majority is slimmer than we would like – many splinter groups who remain separated to this day resulted because of Cyril's doctrine, and this controversy is what the "robber's council" was all about) of the Church at that time sided with Cyril (or because the Pope used his power to uphold this, as I think Newman may have pointed out), that we ought not to hold him to a similar standard? No, again, I think truth, not majority consensus within the visible Church, is the issue. At the very least, we ought to test Cyril's doctrines regarding the divine and human natures of Christ in a similar fashion to the way that we test the Lutheran teaching on justification. I suspect that we might be very surprised at the results. What does the pedigree – the "traces of teaching" regarding the two natures in Christ look like in the received Patristic witness prior to Cyril? What if it is in many ways similar to the "traces" that Lutherans believe support the doctrine of justification? It seems to me that you should be all for this approach, for you yourself have asked me what you consider your crucial question: "are the Fathers, when they speak in consensus, authoritative when they interpret Scripture?"
Both of these men – Cyril and Luther, believed strongly that salvation is at stake and deeply tied up with the answers to these questions, so these are important things to look into I think. If one does not think such an exercise would be important or valuable, I admit – unfortunately! – that we probably do not have anything else to talk about.
Finally, if we are going to do this, the RC and EO Churches in particular must have those doctrines that the Lutherans and others said were harmful novelties tested in like fashion (keep in mind the only kind of tradition that Chemnitz said the Lutherans explicitly rejected: "traditions pertaining to faith and morals that cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture; but which the Council of Trent commanded to be accepted and venerated with the same reverence and devotion as the Scripture. The important element of this last of the traitiones appears not to be the fact that such traditions of faith and morals not provable from Scripture actually existed, but that their status of equality with Scripture was foisted upon the church by the Council of Trent." (end)
I understand if your initial reaction to this kind of approach would be very critical, Father Gregory. But consider this analogy: I know – I am confident and convinced that - my mom and dad love me. I consider this valid knowledge – and note that it is also a controlling assumption in my life. However, on the face of it, I do not think that it is suitable / appropriate / possible to do “rigorous analysis” – so can’t “prove” it to you. Further, for my own “purposes” (just to live and love and enjoy them as their child), I don’t need to verify it with two witnesses. More: If I thought I needed to for no reason other than to question the assumption, would that be appropriate / wise? Conclusion: I won’t begin to question this unless you can persuade me to do so (question) with evidence. In other words, even those things that are most precious to me, and that define me and help create meaning and purpose and comfort in my life, may very well need to be questioned. Further, although there may be ideas that counter my view of reality which on the face of it seem somewhat plausible, upon examining the evidence, I may feel compelled to conclude that I am dealing with something that is not true, and hence false and damaging (heresies), and therefore may need to construct fresh and reasonable ways of expressing the truth to others – although not in such a way that they would constitute “beyond a shadow of a doubt” logical proofs. This is the life of the Church.

Further, consider this. Let us assume that you are totally right about the Great Schism, with Rome bearing basically all the blame. Even if there is a reconciliation on this front, i.e. Rome admitting that they did not act in love, appropriately, there is still the issue of dealing with all the harmful innovations of Rome. How would the Orthodox reasonably work through these differences with Rome so that the practice of fellowship can be a reality? Actually, how can either of you “repent” when it comes to these things – as if you do, you would admit that you are not infallible in the sense that you claimed – and that would seriously undermine the integrity of your beliefs to have truly, in some sense at least, been Christ’s own flock who hears his voice. Your understanding of your very identity and integrity as those Jesus loves would be called into question! However – with this I think Lutheran approach, we have a way out of the thicket – the reality of “tacit knowledge” – where the Gospel is that which has formed and preserved the true believers who are the true Church, in spite of all our foolish and sinful self-determinative ideas rooted in philosophy and fleshly argument. (Weedon: And the further implication is that in Rome (and in the East) it also only the Gospel and the Sacraments which keep folks united in faith to the One Lord and so part of the One Church. [Lutheran Pastor] Dr. [Ken] Korby long ago said it was all about authority: does the Word of God, do the Sacraments of Christ, have the authority, the inherent power, to keep the Church the Church?) It seems like most wise persons in all of our churches recognize the presence of the Spirit of God working beyond just our own confines. So, it seems to me, that only with Lutheranism and its approach can we all be one – to even have the possibility of a proper and God-pleasing fellowship. Certainly any way it happens, reunification will be nothing less than a miracle, but I think this approach gives us a workable hope whereby God may work with us, in synergy, bringing us together.

If all of this still seems to fuzzy to you, let me put it in terms of this concrete thesis: As the one who seemed to be (and perhaps was) most closely and intimately connected with Martin Guerre failed to determine that her husband was an imposter, so those who seem to be most closely and intimately connected with the concept of the united early Church have failed to determine that their mother is an imposter.

How do we “prove” or “disprove” this?

Discuss, test, argue!

Nathan said...

As Pastor Weedon just said:

it was because she clung to Him who alone is truth, allowed His Word to judge everything she taught and submitted herself to Him, Truth Incarnate, the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. It is not that her saying so makes things so; it is that she speaks the words of God faithfully. (end)

http://weedon.blogspot.com/2008/02/thoughts-on-1-timothy-314.html

Exactly.

Jnorm888 said...

I always had a hard time calling the church an "institution". Even when I was Protestant, I was always "hesitant" to call it as such.



Organism is a much better term to use when talking about the Church. The Church is REAL. She is not some mental theory or idea. She is living, she is breathing! She is real!



JNORM888

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Nathan,

1. When I noted that you didn't argue, I didn't mean that you didn't argue deductively. I meant you offered no reason for, e.g. "Orthodoxy does really *seem* to be right when they speak of having the most real connection to the early Church – the most “history” with the early Church. However, it is not necessarily the case!" This is not an argument. This is an assertion. If you meant the considerations that follow those lines to be understood as reasons (I'm honestly not sure), well, I dealt with them already in my follow-up post.

2. The notion that only Gospel and Sacraments keep folks united is an interesting one, in a twofold way:
a) It represents a western pattern: "what *must* I have in order to have x," where "x" can represent things as diverse as personal salvation or the presence of the Church. The logical outcome of this way of thinking is fundamentalism--a western phenomenon.
b) Those who hold it, tend to speak in passives (i.e. the sacraments 'are rightly administered' and the Gospel 'is rightly proclaimed'), without noting who it is who offers them. But this is precisely one of the issues at hand in your tradition. I no longer receive the Lutheran Witness, but apparently in the Feb. 2006 edition the question was posed, "Who may consecrate the elements?" The answer concluded, "Ultimately, it is the congregation, the priesthood of believers, that is responsible."

Indeed, the reason I don't want to get into a quote-war, or to discuss the meaning of this or that passage, or this or that father, is precisely because it takes the mind off the issue: the existential/ecclesial crisis the west is facing. What finally moved me off the dime and brought me to the Church was the existential recognition that I was in communion fellowship with people who no longer believed what they claimed to be founded on: the allowance of lay absolution, the tossing of what was said to be Christ's blood in the trash can etc--*none* of which was practiced in my parish, but *all* of which was practiced even in neighboring parishes.


3. Finally, you wrote: "As the one who seemed to be (and perhaps was) most closely and intimately connected with Martin Guerre failed to determine that her husband was an imposter, so those who seem to be most closely and intimately connected with the concept of the united early Church have failed to determine that their mother is an imposter."

But the Orthodox are not "closely and intimately connected with the *concept* of the united early Church." We are, in fact, the organic continuation of that Church's life. It was not us who changed the Creed, not us who broke the bond of love.

One more remark: I do not confuse these two statements--

"The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth."

"I am the pillar and ground of the truth."

Infallibility belongs to her, not to me. I want to be clear about that in whatever discussions arise on my blog.

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

My condolences regarding your father. May the light of Christ which brings joy and peace shine upon Him forever.

FG:
But the Orthodox are not "closely and intimately connected with the *concept* of the united early Church." We are, in fact, the organic continuation of that Church's life. It was not us who changed the Creed, not us who broke the bond of love. (end)

This is precisely the issue. I do not think that "the Orthodox" are THE organic continuation of the Church's life. You may, like Guerre's widow, have every reason and to think that you do share this bond, but I do not think that you do. I do think you are "AN organic continuation of the Church's life" (given the presence of the Gospel to some extent in your communion, particularly liturgically and devotionally) but one in the midst of great error, given your mitigation of the certainty delivered in the Promise of forgiveness and peace with God in Christ (“peace with God”, “know you have eternal life”, etc). Maybe I should stop singing "I *am* Jesus' little lamb" to my 3 little boys? (am I wrong that I desperately want them to believe and not doubt that they are His? – fully forgiven in Him? That they are in a more secure relationship with Him than they are with me? Is it just when we are dealing with adults that we stop desiring that persons believe this about themselves?) In my mind, this is horrible – damnable! – and denies the children of God their comfort and inheritance, and so, honestly, the point about Rome's sin seems rather *minor* to me in comparison.

Point granted about the passives in Lutheranism. I think it is because we want to emphasize the words "what do we have that we have not received?" Ours is first a passive life (“one must be willing to be nothing but given to”) before we "get active" in synergy.

I see the Orthodox as explicitly denying or at the least implicitly mitigating some of what you have received, namely that which formed you and gave you life – the Promise that creates new life and peace with God. Because of this, I think for the most part, those in your Church as it has existed for quite a long time have not spoken the words of God faithfully, (and of course I do not consider myself infallible either) which is, after all, what it means that the Gospel is purely preached and the sacraments are administered rightly (i.e. persons do this, as Weedon pointed out in his comment I posted above).

I do not think that it is a failure but rather something commendable on the part of Lutherans that they try to define what the church is, and how it is formed – no more than it is bad to define what gives life to a family ("why not any kind of 'family structure' they say today). I think it is ultimately helpful and makes it possible for us to talk about these things which admittedly are often simply tacit knowledge, embodied knowledge, performative knowledge, etc. (is this fundamentalism? : ) ) Of course, actually thinking about the stuff I wrote in the long entry above is not easy.

But sadly - correct me if I am wrong - you tend to think all of this talk about certainty (peace with God, know that you have eternal life) does not have much to do with the ecclesiology – unless it has to do with one's certainty about being the organic continuation of the Church's life...?

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

By the way, I also would see little point in a "quote war". Obviously, we are talking about issues which involve much context, embodiement of truth, etc. I'll admit much "indwelling in the Fathers" is necessary for this to be fruitful (something I do not want to claim for myself - though I would hope that the method that I put forth above might be weighed and considered carefully).