27 March 2008

The Church is not an authority

The Church inspired by God became, for the Western Christian, something external, a kind of negative authority, a kind of material authority. It turned man into its slave, and as a result acquired, in him, a judge.

"The Church is an authority," said Guizot in one of his remarkable works, while one of his adversaries, attacking him, simply repeated these words. Speaking in this way neither one suspected how much untruth and blasphemy lay in the statement. Poor Romanist! Poor Protestant! No—the Church is not an authority, just as God is not an authority and Christ is not an authority, since authority is something external to us. The Church is not an authority, I say, but the truth—and at the same time the inner life of the Christian, since God, Christ, the Church, live in him with a life more real than the heart which is beating in his breast or the blood flowing in his veins. But they are alive in him only insofar as he himself is living by the ecumenical life of love and unity, i.e., by the life of the Church. Such is the blindness of the Western sects that, up to now, not one of them has understood how radically the ground on which they stand differs from that on which the original Church has been standing from earliest times, and on which she will stand eternally.

In this the Latinists are completely wrong. They themselves are rationalists, and yet they accuse others of rationalism; they themselves were Protestants from the first moment of their falling away, and yet they condemn the spontaneous rebellion of their rebellious brothers. On the other hand, while they have every right to return the accusation, the Protestants are unable to do so because they themselves are no more than developers of the Roman teaching. The only difference is that they have adapted it to suit themselves. No sooner did authority become external power, and no sooner was knowledge of religious truths cut off from religious life, than the relationship among people was altered too. Within the Church the people constituted a single whole; one spirit was alive in all. Now this bond disappeared, another replaced it: the common, subject-like dependence of all the people on the supreme power of Rome. No sooner did the first doubt of the legitimacy of this power arise than unity was destroyed, since the doctrine of papal infallibility was not founded on the holiness of the Ecumenical Church; nor did the Western world lay claim to a relatively higher level of moral purity at the moment when it arrogated to itself the right to change (or, as the Romanists say, to expound) the Creed and disregard the opinion of its Eastern brothers. No, it simply cited the accidental circumstance of episcopal succession, as if the other bishops established by the apostle Peter, regardless of their location, were not just as much his successors as the Bishop of Rome! Rome never said to the people: "Only the perfectly holy man can judge me, but such a man will always think as I do." On the contrary, Rome destroyed every bond between knowledge and inner perfection of soul; it gave free reign to reason while at the same time obviously trampling it under foot.

It would not be difficult to show in the doctrine of the Reformers the indelible mark of Rome and the same spirit of utilitarian rationalism which characterizes papism. Their conclusions are not the same; but the premises and the definitions assumed and contained in these conclusions are always identical. The Papacy says: "The Church has always prayed for the dead, but this prayer would be useless if there were not an intermediate state between heaven and hell; therefore there is a purgatory." The Reform answers: "There is not a trace of purgatory either in Holy Scripture or in the early Church; therefore it is useless to pray for the dead and I will not pray for them." The Papacy says: "The Church appeals to the intercession of the saints, therefore this is useful, therefore this completes the merits of prayer and works of satisfaction." The Reform answers: The satisfaction for sins made by the blood of Christ and appropriated by faith in baptism and in prayer is sufficient for the redemption not only of man but also of all creation, therefore the saints' intercession for us is useless, and there is no reason to appeal to them in prayer." Clearly the sacred Communion of Saints is equally incomprehensible to both sides. The Papacy says: "According to the witness of the apostle James faith is insufficient, therefore we cannot be saved by faith, and therefore works are useful and constitute merit." Protestantism answers: "Faith alone saves, according to the witness of the apostle Paul, and works do not constitute merit, therefore they are useless." And so on, and so on.

In this way the warring parties have gone back and forth at each other with syllogisms through the centuries, and are still going back and forth at each other, but always over the same ground, the ground of rationalism; and neither side can choose any other. Even Rome's division of the Church into the teaching and the learning Church has been transmitted to the Reform; the only difference is that in the Roman confession it exists by right, by virtue of acknowledged law, while in Protestantism it exists only as a fact; and a scholar has taken the place of the priest.

From Aleksei Khomiakov, On the western confessions of faith

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