Andrew, I wanted to get back to your comment from February 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm. You were kind enough to put some thought into summarizing a response there to questions I had asked, and I believe here that we are really close to being able to identify the heart of the issues between Roman Catholics and Protestants.
In response to your first comment, I have tried to highlight (1) the difference between the deliverances of historical-critical scholarship and divine revelation and (2) how the Church is intrinsic to divine revelation as the bearer of that revelation. I now want to briefly consider (3) the nature of the Church, particularly what it is for the Church to be the bearer of divine revelation, and what Apostolic Succession has to do with this.
Now I’d like to begin to touch on (2) and (3). I’m sorry for being so delayed with these responses, but there is a lot of ground to cover, there are a lot of “clarification” questions that could be asked, almost at every point, and life has generally been busy for me.
You said, first, “is misleading to talk about the Church apart from divine revelation” and you clarified further here:
sometimes when debating the nature of the Church she can seem, like those debates, to take on a life of her own, in isolation from more fundamental things. My point, however, is that, for the Catholic, the Church does not have a life of her own. Her life depends entirely upon the Holy Spirit, as the life of the body depends upon the soul. And this is of course the Holy Spirit of revelation, “who has spoken by the prophets”. The past tense indicates the once and for all, unchanging, nature of the faith delivered to the saints. The next phrase in the Creed (“in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”), still under the aegis of “I believe in the Holy Spirit” (the creed is trinitarian from beginning to end), indicates, to revert to Cardinal Ratzinger’s words, “the living organism of the faith of all ages”.
At this point, you have something different in mind when you say “the Church” or “the nature of the Church” than I do.
And the reason that you have a different concept is because you are operating with a definition that was pretty much written at Vatican II, although it sometimes uses language and concepts that appeared in earlier definitions of “church”. Let’s look at the article on Ecclesiology by Alexander Schmeman that you provided, which you said “helps to explain what I was getting at by claiming that the Church is a mystical, i.e., sacramental, kingdom.”
(It’s a long article, but I’d like here to pull in some of the more applicable points):
In our own “sources”– the Fathers, the Councils, the Liturgy – we do not find any formal definition of the Church. This is not because of any lack of ecclesiological interest and consciousness, but because the Church (in the Orthodox approach to her) does not exist, and therefore cannot be defined, apart from the very content of her life. The Church, in other terms, is not an “essence” or “being” distinct, as such, from God, man, and the world, but is the very reality of Christ in us and us in Christ, a new mode of God’s presence and action in His creation, of creation’s life in God.
I think it is very important here to understand what Schmeman is saying. “We do not find any formal definition of the Church [with “the Church” not in quotes]. This is not because of any lack of ecclesiological interest and consciousness, but because the Church (in the Orthodox approach to her) does not exist, and therefore cannot be defined, apart from the very content of her life..
So here you have Schmeman speaking of “her life” even though “her” represents “she, the Church” which “does not exist”.
The Reformed certainly can comport with the phrase “the content of her life” – especially insofar as “her life” [even though “she” does not exist] speaks of “the very reality of Christ in us and us in Christ, a new mode of God’s presence and action in His creation, of creation’s life in God.”
I think this is a point at which we need to look at the Biblical terms “the Kingdom of God” and (in Matthew especially) “the Kingdom of Heaven”.
But we must do so without creating an icon, especially before at least some definitions are forthcoming, because the New Testament definitely speaks of “the Kingdom”, and because there is definite meaning that is attributable to that phrase, even if it isn’t “quick and easy” to identify.
[And a point that I would make is that the theory that the church can be represented by an icon really, as you would say at CTC, “begs the question” – but I don’t hold that against you; rather, I see it as an opportunity to look more deeply and more precisely at what is being said.]
Here’s the heart of the problem as I see it. Very many writers skip over the first three centuries of the church – with McGrath, they look at those first three centuries and describe something as “somewhat confused” (terminology he uses in reference to “the emerging patristic understanding of matters such as predestination, grace, and free will”, and he says, probably following Newman’s idea far more than is justified here, “and [these matters would remain somewhat confused] until controversy forced a full discussion of the issue upon the church] “Iustitia Dei, Third Edition, pg 33).
There are two problems with this:
1. It ignores the Biblical account of things, deferring to “a full discussion of the issue[s].”
2. It assumes that that “full discussion” got things right.
Jaroslav Pelikan does the same thing in his “The Christian Tradition”, Volume 1. He skims over “the completeness of the victory over Jewish thought (20) and “the loss of contact with Jewish thought” (22) and goes right into “the Christian dispute with Classical thought (27), while almost totally failing to engage with the phenomenon of “Jewish thought”.
In your initial comments, you reference a Ratzinger phrase, “the living organism of the faith of all ages”, and you also somewhere reference “the mind of the Church”, failing to take into account a critical portion of thinking.
It’s not true to say that the New Testament writers were “somewhat confused”. I will grant that some patristic writers of the first three centuries were very much confused. Writers especially of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions just simply ignore this confusion – the thinking holds something like “these early writers were closer to the time of the Apostles, therefore they must have had the best understanding” – however, this does not follow at all. In the link that I provided here in this paragraph, I’ve cited many instances of this “confusion”, and many others could be provided.
For instance, you are relying very heavily on the writings of Ignatius, as if his writings were normative for what a “bishop” was in the first or second century church. However, this makes a number of assumptions and fails to take into account a number factors that argue against the notion that Ignatius was normative for Christian understandings of “church government” at the dawn of the second century.
Ignatius borrows quite heavily not upon Pauline concepts and imagery, but rather he relies heavily on terminology used in the largely pagan culture around him. He was not from Jerusalem, and so he did not rely heavily on Jewish or New Testament ideas, but rather, he imported his pagan understandings into New Testament terminologies. Allen Brent shows this quite extensively, tracing the various words that Ignatius uses extensively (i.e., he identifies himself in many of his letters as “Theosophorus”, or “God Bearer”. This is not a New Testament word or concept – but it has “thick and rich” meaning in the broader Greek culture. This is a notion that writers like McGrath and Pelikan just skim over, if not outright ignoring it.
Another thing to consider, with respect to Ignatius, is his rhetoric. His rhetoric “reflects a stream of popular rhetoric that may be conveniently (though loosely) referred to as ‘Asianism.’ The purists of antiquity saw in the tendency ‘a scholastic and perversely ingenious mannerism.’ Its aim was the expression of pathos. Consequently it was characterized by unusual diction and poetic color.”
“Figures of speech of all kinds were popular, metaphors, comparisons, oxymorons, paronomasia, hyperbole, etc.). … Most of these features are abundantly illustrated in the letters of Ignatius. Indeed, they seem exaggerated under the impact of the bishop’s religious fervor and his impassioned reflections on the significance of his impending martyrdom”.
The images used by Ignatius deserve special attention in this connection. As Riesenfeld pointed out, Ignatius reflects especially the Hellenistic world in this regard.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about Ignatius at this point, except to note that his language often will reflect neither the Apostolic concepts in the New Testament (though he frequently uses the same words, imbued with different meanings), and nor did later writers necessarily mean what Ignatius meant, while using those same words. So, for example, while Ignatius did write quite a bit about “bishops”, and he was the first Christian writer to apply the word “catholic” to “the church”, it takes quite a bit more investigation to understand just what he was talking about.
The kind of “skipping over” that writers like McGrath and Pelikan (and many others, as well), have led to bold pronouncements from Roman Catholic apologists that “Ignatius used the words ‘catholic’ and ‘bishop’, therefore we can easily see the ‘seed form’ of Roman Catholic meanings in his writings”.
This does not follow at all, and in the discussions of “burden of proof”, Roman Catholics definitely leave a lot of work undone here.
On the flip side of this coin, (“what was the mind of the church thinking about in the first century?”), we have the recent studies by writers in the “New Testament Use of the Old Testament” project. Briefly, this study looks not only at “direct quotations”, but far more deeply, to “allusions”, which the writer G.K. Beale defines as “a brief expression consciously intended by [a New Testament author] to be dependent on an Old Testament passage.”
While allowing that different writers operate under different definitions, these numbers give some sense of proportion, as to just how heavily the New Testament writers relied on the Old Testament (not just words, but concepts as well):
“One writer has counted 295 separate quotations of the OT in the NT (including quotations with and without formulas). These make up about 4.5% of the entire NT, about 354 verses. Thus 1 out of 22.5 verses in the NT incorporates a quotation.”
But aside from “direct quotation”, there are also innumerable “allusions” to the Old Testament in the New. … The key to discerning an allusion, he says, “is that of recognizing an incomparable or unique parallel in wording, syntax, concept, or cluster of motifs in the same order or structure.”
[By these standards], there may be more than 4,000 “allusions” or “echoes” of the Old Testament found within the New. Given that there are 7956 verses in the New Testament, more than half the New Testament can be seen as bearing at least some form of “echo of” or “allusion to” some Old Testament concept or idea.
When you talk about things such as “the living organism of the faith of all ages”, without discussing the actual “content” of the faith (i.e., “what they knew, and when they knew it”), and indeed, when looking at “the mind of ‘the Church’”, without considering, in detail, how this “mind” “changed” in the first three centuries, and then when you jump to the fourth century, and start picking up terms like “sacramental” or even such words as “one”, “holy”, “catholic”, and “apostolic”, with respect to church, well, then, you are really “begging the question” in a huge way.
When you consider your own phrase, again, “the Holy Spirit of revelation, ‘who has spoken through the prophets’,” and when you fail to consider that the early church, of the first three centuries basically lost the sense of “what those prophets actually have said”, you are being outright contradictory.
I hope to show some concrete examples of this next time.
END OF PART 3