19 May 2009

Subterranean scribbling #2

The Protestant reads the Bible as addressed to him; he makes his understanding of the text the criterion of truth, and then seeks others who share a similar understanding: thus is born his ‘church.’ But the church is always, for him, an article of faith and not a visible reality.

The Orthodox reads the Bible as addressed to the Church; he recognizes her understanding of the text as the criterion of truth, and then seeks to join that body, that community: thus is he born as an Orthodox believer. But his status as Orthodox is always, for him, an article of faith. That is why he is not scandalized by these words from the desert fathers:

When blessed Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying, "Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria." When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried into the city. When he had found the tanner...he said to him, "Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you."

He replied, "I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of this city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds, while I alone will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart."

When blessed Antony heard this he said, "My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near the measure of such words."

12 comments:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

"But the church is always, for him, an article of faith and not a visible reality."

But then, so is God. That is, He is not actually, directly, personally known, but only related to as an idea.

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

I don't follow you - the Church is for me a visible reality as well. I know the LC-MS and those churches in fellowship with it to be Truly Church. I can know exactly where the Church is not, but not exactly where it is. To do that, conversation is necessary.

And God is no idea for me Anastasia.

~Nathan

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Anastasia, I think I know what you're saying, but I don't quite know how to put it. The Protestant thinks his knowledge of God is mediated through the Word--though it would be more accurate to say that his knowledge of God is mediated through his own understanding of the Word. How else does one explain a Lutheran and a Baptist, both saying they know God--but one's God says the Eucharist is Christ's body and blood, and the other says it isn't...

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Nathan,

When Lutherans refer to a body (e.g. the LCMS) as "Church", it is _late dictu_. Properly speaking, for Lutherans, the Church is hidden or invisible. Check out Pieper's Dogmatics, vol. 3, ad loc.

Cordially,

Fr. Gregory

Daniel said...

Nathan,

It would be interesting to know where you heard your view of knowing "where the church is not..". I would guess your pastor, or another LCMS pastor whom you respect. But you may not be aware that you will not find this type of language in Lutheran confessional writings; this is a common Eastern Orthodox statement that has made its way into "High Liturgical" Lutheran parlance.

Nothing wrong with that. There is alot of borrowing of Eastern Orthodox prayers, writings, iconography, and the like going on right now, especially in the LCMS. I would only caution you that this attempt to be catholic and orthdox will only last so long-study the "Oxford Movement" in Anglicanism in the 19th and 20th centuries for what I believe is a parallel (albeit on a smaller level in the LCMS).

The problem is that historically these "catholic and orthodox" movements outside of the Orthodox Church get so close to the flame that they burn up- today the Anglican communion in the West accepts Gender Neutrality and Sodomy as Sacred and Holy things. "High Liturgical" Lundensian Lutheranism in Scandinavia is even more militant in its perversion and blasphemy against God.

Such is the bitter pill to swallow for those who honestly are trying to serve the most High God in such churches. You will invest much time and energy, and if you are a pastor in such churches you may even become fairly well off (with good health care and retirement to boot. But as it continues to unfold, you will grow older and realize the tremendous futility of it all.

If you disagree, no amount of scholastic style debate will settle any arguement about this; time will tell and Wisdom will prove its children.

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

Well, seeing as how even the EO believe that some who *really are* members of Christ’s body on earth –or at least are properly considered to be members of Christ’s body on earth – will *not be* members of Christ’s body in heaven, it seems to me that the differences in understanding the reality that is the Church are not as wide as you make them out to be.

Daniel, if you look closely, you will see that my view is actually different than the EO view. Read it again. I did not say something like “we know where the Church is but not where it is not”, but something different – something that is not incompatible with Lutheran teaching, I believe. Also, I am not a "High Liturgical" Lutheran by any means. I agree that “Wisdom will prove its children” indeed.

Maybe this most recent post (and the others) will help a bit more in understanding my view: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/

Dixie said...

OK Father...what's with the "subbterranean" adjective? Has Khouria relegated your internetting to the basement? That is the thing I miss about the frozen tundra up North--basements. I'd like one for my husband, too! ;)

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Dear Dixie,

My office happens to be in the basement, but that's not what the phrase is referring to.

"Subterranean scribblings" is a paraphrase of Dostoyevsky's "Notes from the Underground." I've decided to divide my posts into two categories: reflections on Orthodoxy, and comparisons between the Church and the western confessions of faith. The latter sort of post I am calling "Subterranean scribblings." They may be of a somewhat sharper nature than the former; when someone sees "Subterranean scribblings" they will be forewarned.

Daniel said...

Nathan,

Very clever adaptation! My follow up question is regarding "conversation is necessary". Who would have such a conversation? Would it be the LCMS leadership, like President Kieshnick for example? Or would it be you as an individual?

Also, should members of the LCMS refrain from communion until until this conversation takes place? The reason why I am asking these questions is that if we are not sure "where the church is not?", then this could lead to the possibility of laity taking communion in such churches- for who is to say where the church is not?

This may sound like silly syllogisms, but such are the power of words. Besides, I am not a great fan of the Orthdox version of this either! I prefer to stick to the Creed that confesses "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church...".

Nathan said...

"Who would have such a conversation? Would it be the LCMS leadership, like President Kieshnick for example? Or would it be you as an individual?"

Daniel, I don't think it is only the Church of this age that needs to wrestle with the question "Who speaks for the Church" - unless you are an extreme Papist.

"Also, should members of the LCMS refrain from communion until until this conversation takes place? The reason why I am asking these questions is that if we are not sure "where the church is not?", then this could lead to the possibility of laity taking communion in such churches- for who is to say where the church is not?"

Yes, we should refrain from taking communion with others until the respective bodies of which we are a part recognize that they are in fellowship with each other (or one abandons their position which is determined to be in error through the course of conversation). Although I take the "apophatic approach" of saying I do not know exactly where the Church is (and can know with certainty where it is not) - I *do know* that it is among those I am in fellowship with, and this is the key. For not only have I been nurtured in this visible, concrete, enfleshed thing called the Church - which is at the least a true expression of the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church..." (i.e., we are "truly Church") but I have been compelled to test this Church (and still do), by contrary evidence, which on the face of it, *should persuade me* that it is worth taking a look at, in order to confirm that I am in the right place.

For our God is an incarnational God, and it is not only an internal confidence that one is in the "right Church" that counts - "outside evidence", including all of the inconvenient stubborn facts must come into the picutre as well, for the Spirit uses all truth ("if I speak of you of earthly things and you do not understand...").

I think the true Church will have something like this understanding.

Daniel said...

"For not only have I been nurtured in this visible, concrete, enfleshed thing called the Church - which is at the least a true expression of the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church..." (i.e., we are "truly Church") but I have been compelled to test this Church"

Nathan, "a true expression" is where we differ. The Church is "the" true Church; there is only one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. A follow up question would be, Do you believe that the Eastern Orthodox Church is a true expression of the Church? What about the Wisconsin Synod? Or would you narrow it down to the churches that the LCMS is currently in Altar and Pulpit fellowship with?

Nathan said...

""a true expression" is where we differ." The Church is "the" true Church; there is only one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Right. Only one. While we may strongly feel that we know (or “intuitively or subjectively recognize”) where a certain person stands in regards to God (even calling them “Christian”) we are only called to consider and proclaim those in the baptized fellowship with us to be “truly Church”. At the same time, speaking more broadly, we can’t be sure exactly where the entire Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is – even as we can say exactly where it is not (for example, it is *not* where the words “Jesus did not come in the flesh” are confessed, taught, and freely received [believed] without exception).

"A follow up question would be, Do you believe that the Eastern Orthodox Church is a true expression of the Church?"

I think it remains to be seen for us. The liturgies in certain places may very good, and this is huge I think. If, however, one believes the Creeds but say say they reject a Lutheran understanding, this indicates there may be a problem. Further conversation would need to take place to make sure they are clear on what they are rejecting.

"What about the Wisconsin Synod? Or would you narrow it down to the churches that the LCMS is currently in Altar and Pulpit fellowship with?"

I need to study this more. My poor understanding is that they have abandoned the true understanding of the pastoral office (saying it is not by divine rite), and this is a serious matter. So no - I think I could not, in good conscience, “formally or objectively recognize” them as being truly Church.