08 July 2008

The same root error...

...occurs in many loci of dogmatics.

In revelation, it's called "Barthianism." The word of God touches the world of man only at a single mathematical point--like a tangent touches a circle.

In the mysteries, it's called "Receptionism." The eucharistic bread is the body of Christ only in the act of its being consumed.

In the doctrine of Christ, it's called Nestorianism.

In the doctrine of the Church, it's called "the hidden/invisible Church." The Church is only Church in that moment when the Word is being preached and the Sacraments being administered rightly.

and with the Theotokos, it's called the denial of her perpetual virginity. Mary's motherhood is but a surrogate moment; once Jesus is born, mother and virgin no longer co-exist, but virgin gives way to mother.

All of these hang together, in some way I cannot now articulate: but it's guaranteed that, over time, those groups who fall into one will fall into the others...

Mone me si erro.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Perhaps a common thread is reductionism?

I can't really articulate it, either, but I think I see what you mean, and I suspect it can all be chalked up to the Quest for Certainty.

JTKlopcic said...

I think Anastasia has hit it on the head. As I see it, reductionism came into play with the increasing use of Aristotelian categorization in academic thought. It served well in the pursuit of the physical sciences, but not so much in the experience of the Mysteries of God.

Fr John W Fenton said...

Reductionism, as Anastasia points out, is certainly one way--and perhaps the best way--to classify the error you've rightly pinpointed.

Let me suggest another: I see them all as errors in time. That is, they are errors because they are attempts by man to bind eternal divine mysteries to a particular point of time. Time, of course, is a creature, and the passing (or winding down) of time is an indication of death. Hence, by binding eternal mysteries to a particular point of time, the divine is forced to be a creature, and life is forced to deal with death on death's terms.

"Forced to be" is a specifically chosen phrase in order to indicate that man is insisting that God and His mysteries answer to our way of thinking. But that is not the right order of things. The right order is that God assumes humanity, and life swallows up death. Hence, moments of time are transformed into eternal realities--rather than eternal realities being confined to time. Therefore, the mystery of Christ's incarnation, His mystical Supper, His mystical Body, etc. are divine mysteries which, by locating themselves within time, thereby transform time.

The clearest indication of this is the sacrifice of Christ which takes a particular moment (the crucifixion) and "crashes it down" at all times and in all places during the Mass/Divine Liturgy.

Much of this, as you'll notice, depends upon St Augustine's brilliant analysis of time, by which He shows that events in time can become, by God's mercy, the "eternal now."

But, then, perhaps this lengthy answer can simply be summed up in one word: reductionism. :)

npmccallum said...

Reductionism perhaps... Could not divine simplicity also be a common thread?

William Weedon said...

Looking from the inside out, I think Fr. John has summarized the best. They are all moments of struggling with the "the Finite is not capable of the Infinite" - and yet the truth lies in the reverse: but the Infinite is capable of the finite.

So humanity is assumed into the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. So the bread and wine are transformed by their union with the flesh and blood of God the Son. So Mary is to all eternity both Virgin and Mother.

And since I'm a Lutheran, I don't have to figure out the parallel with the Church. We're still working on that...

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

They are all anti-incarnational, too.

+ When God spoke through the prophets, there were men who could be pointed to; when God spoke through his Son, likewise, he could be pointed to, for he took on flesh never to let it go. (I note that now that I'm Orthodox, I think of revelation first and foremost in terms of prophets, apostles, and our Lord, and of the books of Scripture as the infallible record of their words and deeds--as the place they continue to speak.)

+ When, through the word of Christ and action of the Holy Spirit the eucharistic bread becomes Christ's body, and the eucharistic wine becomes his blood, God sets no time limit on that wonder. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." (If I recall rightly, by the way, the 'nihil' rule among Lutherans was received by them from one of the Reformed--wasn't it Bucer?) Here in this receptionist controversy is evidence that even in the best of the western confessions, the Lutheran one, in the end the whole thing is founded on *like*mindedness and not *one*mindedness.

+ The case of Nestorianism should be obvious. In Nestorianism, Christ is simply a super-Christian. (A more subtle form of Nestorianism affects Rome and the Reformed confessions, by the way--they do not confess that the divine energies were communicated to the humanity of Christ. They cannot, because they do not recognize the essence/energy distinction in God. Lutherans do, by a felicitous inconsistency, while at the same time not recognizing the essence/energy distinction either! This leads to some fancy footwork--see Preus' History of Post-Reformation Lutheranism, vol. 2 pp. 55-58.)

+ In order to believe in Christ rightly, we must recognize that the Church is the continuation of the Incarnation. Christ revealed himself to his disciples by means of his signs, to be sure; but he was not in the middle of performing a miracle when Peter confessed him to be the Christ, nor was he Christ simply in the acts of preaching and healing.

So also the Church is not simply Church when Word and Sacrament are being rightly done. It has an enduring presence. Nor is it invisible, since it is the continuation of the Incarnation, and the point of the In*carn*ation is to make God visible, so that he could be known. Nor is it a gathering of like-minded individuals and parishes into a human organization. It is the one Body of enfleshed God, one in mind, scattered throughout the world, but visible to the world in the agreement (one-mindedness) of its bishops, priests, deacons and people, and their birth from the one font and sharing the one table.

+ In the case of the Theotokos, the denial of her perpetual virginity is, ultimately, a denial of the incarnation. (All the things we say of the Theotokos serve to confess the reality of the Incarnation and of its effects.) It's as if God became flesh in order to make minor adjustments to the 'natural' order: as soon as enfleshed God had made use of her womb, it became available for others.

+ One more: It is perfectly natural for those who mock and deny the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos to view the bodies of believers in the same way: to refer to them as 'corpses' once their work has been done and, while recognizing the important role they once played and (in the case of bodies) the role they will play again, to view them as now untouched by the grace and Spirit of God, and treated with dignity because of what they *were*, not what they *are*. If they spoke truly and clearly, they would call these bodies the "former" temples of the Spirit--just as they should call the Theotokos the "formerly virgin" Mary. Me genoito!

Fr John W Fenton said...

Nor is it [the Church] invisible, since it is the continuation of the Incarnation...

Fr Gregory, let me humbly suggest that you've overstated the case just a bit with the words above. The Church truly is invisible--but only in the same way that the Body of Christ in the bread and the divine nature in Christ are invisible. That is to say, there is a "component" of the Church which is invisible/hidden to human eyes. That "component" is illustrated (as you have suggested) in the reality of the angelic beings or the faithful departed.

But let us understand (as I know you do) that this invisible/hidden "component" does not trump or negate or qualify the visibility of the Church; nor is it noetic, psychological or in any other way anthropologically based (e.g., "the church is the body of believers"). Rather, this invisible/hidden "component" is mystical and has primarily to do with those real beings who are present at the Mass/Divine Liturgy, whose presence we are unable to see due to our fallen nature.

Or, to say it most cleanly: the invisible/hidden "component" of the Church is directly related to the invisible/hidden divine nature in Christ.