Saturday, August 16, 2008

De Regnis Duobus

As far as I know the fibers of the universe might as well be built on the number three instead of two. For everything seems to be reducible to simple boolean data. That is, information (of any kind that I know of) is reducible to a simple yes or no at some level (whether we are able to reach it or not). If one objects and insists that this is the way it absolutely must be (as I suppose the naturalist would), then I would point to God who is outside of the material universe and is certainly not reducible in any way to boolean data. I should note here that this post has nothing to do with Pastor Stellman's blog - only the concept "of two kingdoms". The title then, is merely a blogospheric pun (if one would permit me the liberty of coining such a ridiculous word).

If God then must transcend the simple on/off - yes/no - true/false dilemma, then it must be certain that the universe might otherwise have been built on three's instead of two's. I am not meaning to reduce the soul or the spirit to mere computer like operations of I & O. I don't even mean to comment on that. I only mean to show that the building block for all data seems to be based on a dilemma but that I know of no reason why it couldn't as easily have been a trilemma. It is, in fact, a dilemma which God saw fit to build the cosmos on and so now I wish to ask what this means.

I guess the orientals express this phenomenon as harmony. For they too have recognized this underlying building block present and to be fair it quite often is harmonious I suppose. God made them male & female, why not male female and something else (this question is especially pertinent when considering that the union of male & female is understood theologically to mirror the eternal unity and giving of self within the Trinity)? I leave that question to real theologians.

But as it has expressed itself throughout redemption history, this dilemma seems to be more dichotomous than harmonious. What is perhaps most peculiar is that in Eden, the dichotomy was in opposite orientation as it is now. What I mean is, all roads led to life except one (eating fruit from the tree of knowledge of good & evil) whereas now, all roads lead to death except one (the Catholic Church). My intuition tells me that this inversion is meaningful.

After the inversion at Eden, we notice a pattern. All sacrifices are insufficient (except one - Abel's), all men are destroyed (except those on the ark), all men are gentiles (except God's chosen people - Israel) and when the Christ arrives, "Narrow is the gate and few are those who find it" and "No man commeth unto the Father but by Me". Who can miss the fact that the Church fathers carried the banner of this narrow dichotomy right into the early Church and allowed it to dominate their ecclesiology? I saw this most clearly with Ignatius of Antioch but it can readily be said of any of the fathers. There is such a thing as "the Catholic Church" and the definition is narrow and objective.

Everyone these days wants to say "we are that Church" or "we have the Catholic faith" nevermind the fact that their community does not look like the Catholic Church nor does their faith look like the Catholic faith. In fact, it does look like the Church, but only in the way that Cain's sacrifice looked like Abel's. It was the same concept, but quite a different substance.

Thus men's imagination will never cease to invent ways to prove that their religious community belongs under the banner of said "Catholic Church". For whatever reason they (who are not part of what is officially called "Catholic") conjure up to say they also deserve that title, it requires an inversion of the dichotomy we saw at Eden. For they do not say "all ways are wrong except the Catholic way" because they have broadened the "Catholic way" to fit their community. They say instead then, "all ways of being Catholic are right except blatant apostasy". This cannot be so since I have argued that the positive end of the dichotomy has been narrow since Eden whereas this way in effect makes the positive end accessible from a wide array of angles.

For the Reformers didn't say "No Catholic Church exists" they said "it exists insofar as it teaches the correct gospel - and here is the correct gospel". Yet since that time innumerable gospels have arisen. And if we were to try and objectively find out what the true gospel is, we must take some sort of a consensus among Christianity. But those outside the Catholic Church would never allow a democratic option because put simply, most Christians are Catholic. Therefore the Catholic Church doesn't get 1.2 billion votes and the Eastern 250 million and the Reformed- 75 million, they get one each! So the consensus is quickly skewed towards Protestantism by this method. The fallacy here is that Catholics are penalized for their unity and Protestants aided by their schism. Each new schism earns a new vote. But surely one will object this isn't how true Christian doctrine is decided. Neither method can be acceptable of course. The Protestant recourse is to revert to a subjective list of supposed "essentials" of the faith to determine Catholicity. I have argued to the contrary that all doctrines are essential based on a more appropriate attitude regarding salvation than is typically employed. For what acceptable reason has anyone to say "this doctrine is not essential" as if one may believe that rape is ok as long as he believes in the Trinity and in remission of sins by Jesus Christ. If we object here how can we not object on every point (as I do) and demand that there is only one way and that is the perfect way - the Catholic way. For Jesus did not say "be pretty good" He said "be ye perfect" and He did not pray that the Christians would congregate according to worship preferences in ecclesial communities that rely on a lowest-common-denominator style "essentials" of the Catholic faith but that the Church would be one. Finally, when He returns in glory to retrieve His bride He will not be found a polygamist as Dr. Peter Kreeft has noted on more than one occasion.

In spite of all this, narrowness of Catholic doctrine does not entail finiteness. For as I have said, the Catholic faith is an indulgence in Christianity on all points of contact. Our dogmas may be quite narrow, but they are also limitless. Or to quote Chesterton, yes the Catholic Church has walls but they are the walls of a playground. A child knows what limitless adventures may be had inside of a walled playground and with that faith, enthusiasm for life and simplicity of heart we too may know the infinite freedom to be found within each Catholic dogma. While on the narrow road we find infinte joy and opportunity. While on the wide road we find ourselves restricted only to the destiny of what our concupicence can only lead us to; that is - death. So it is with God in every other way, the cosmos always supplies us with irony (God loves it). The irony is that within the walls of the narrow Catholic dogmas we know true freedom and joy and without we only know slavery to self and suffering. We thought that being "our own pope" we lead us to true Catholicity only to find ourselves too proud to climb back into the playground of Catholicism.

For these reasons and some others I insist that Catholic doctrine must be narrow for this is how the dichotomy has been oriented ever since Eden. There is one way in which I know of the dichotomy metaphorically returning to Eden: God's forgiveness (and how fitting). Specifically I am referring to the unforgivable sin. In this case, there is only one sin which cannot be forgiven and all others may be. So then, it is in understanding both the narrowness of the Catholic Church (Christ's body) and the wideness of God's forgiveness that we are able to say unhesitantly "there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church" while hoping and expecting that since neither ignorance nor birth place is among the unforgivable sins, many who are not officially Catholic will be found in glory with the saints. I can sum this point up by evoking the dogma of Purgatory. For it is the Catholic Church alone who narrowly insists on this dogma and this dogma alone which accounts fully for God's unfathomable mercy. We have only given a name to that state in which God perfects penitent men in preparation to receive what no one deserved but what only the Catholic Church by her narrow dogmas could have led you to: paradise.

Men communicate with words. God communicates with reality. When He speaks, whatever He says becomes reality. That is why it is not possible for God to lie. Because if He says something, it is so. So if truth is harmonious and God speaks through the very cosmos itself, when we see things in nature we know they signify something; nothing is an idle accident. In the words of Dr. Kreeft, if things in nature signify truths then big things signify big truths. This is why we have so much to learn from sexuality. This is why we have so much to learn from the concept "de regnis duobus" and the two kingdoms, the two ways which are not only palpably extant on the pages of God's masterpiece we call human history, they are woven into the very fibers of the cosmos.

Hoc Est Corpus Meum. He cannot lie. You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church. He cannot mislead. Be ye perfect. He cannot exaggerate. Do not pray as the teachers of the law. He cannot be fooled.

His way is the perfect way, He is not capable of imperfection. Jesus made this evident in Gethsemane "if there is any other way let this cup pass from Me". Therefore we may not accept a plethora of ways leading to Heaven on any level. For if one way is perfect, the others are all imperfect.

Two kingdoms may be summed up in this way: the Catholic Church and everything else. Geneva can no sooner get you to heaven than can Washington, DC; Canterbury no sooner than London. If it's not Catholic, it's not the narrow road.

I would be interested to learn if this was comprehensible at all. I am attempting to write in words a concept which is beyond my skill level to express.

22 comments:

Sal said...

Hi from a Dallas suburb-
It can be understood, but understood best by those who have experienced it.
It's the paradox, as usual, that flummoxes people- tiny little door that you have to kneel to use, enormous space on the inside in which to live out your unique vocation and to become truly human and 'yourself', returning the gift God gives you back to Him.

The 'indulgence' theme is wonderful. Understood it, but didn't have the right expression to explain it.

New to your blog- looking forward to browsing. Very impressed, so far.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Sal, thanks for the comments and for stopping by. I'm glad it was comprehensible. You're absolutely right about having to kneel to get in through the door. I should have said that instead of "climbing back into the playground"

Matt said...

Tim,

Good post.

How would you factor Lumen Gentium, and other proclamations of Vat. II that seem to allow for connection to the Catholic Church without specific outward membership in Her visible bounds, into the ethos you're projecting here?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Good question. I touched on it very briefly here; that's what I was getting at with comparing the abrupt inversion of the dilemma in regards to God's boundless mercy. Though it is true, the dilemma still holds its post Eden form - that is, there is only one narrow way to salvation.

The paradoxical inversion found in God's boundless mercy is how we may understand the possibility of those who die Lutherans, Calvinists or even Muslims may also enter Heaven by ways unknown to us. I think this is a particularly helpful way of understanding in it light of recent clarifications on this doctrine from the Vatican like you brought up.

I also posted on that subject specifically here and more recently here.

BTW, nice work over at Pastor Stellman's blog. You have more patience than I do.

Phil Snider said...

Okay, Tim, if what you're arguing is correct, are you seriously saying that all Protestants and Orthodox who are trying to live lives in accordance with what Christ has taught us are damned? Sorry to be blunt, but this is what this post is leading me to think.

Peace,
Phil

Tim A. Troutman said...

Phil, I would not dare say such a thing. My comment directly preceding yours dealt with that very question and linked to two other posts where I examined it also.

Phil Snider said...

Tim;

The thing is that, if you associate too much this concept of two kingdoms and the narrow way to a particular denomination, you are openning yourself up to that critique.

My take on your posts is that what you are trying to say is fundamentally correct. Doctrine matters. My own way to formulate it has tended to be that heresies represent distortions to our concept of God which make it more difficult to recognize God when we see him, whether in this life or the next. In that sense, they are harmful to our salvation because we cannot recognize the bridegroom when he knocks. So, I really am with you in your attempt to defend the importance of doctrine.

Yet, I really think that you are too harsh on the concepts of essentials. I think there are some non-negotiables- things like the Trinity, the Creeds etc- and there are somethings that we simply don't know enough about to define so closely as to dismiss other views. I really think that it is safe to disagree on things, especially if we either haven't seen them happen yet (say Purgatory or how the eschaton will play out) or our evidence is not as strong as to eliminate argument (the Assumption of Mary, while tradtional, isn't supported by our canonical documents). We'll find out, of course, but I doubt if our salvation is at serious jeopardy if we prefer not to speak out of what we think we know. That is a slippery slope, I know, but I think we need that tension or we may well be guilty of thinking we KNOW God. And that would be hubris, to say the least.

I hope this helps.

Peace,
Phil

Joseph said...

Tim,

I took a brief break from my hiatus of blog trolling to read this masterpiece. I wanted to jump up and start applauding. Sorry to inflate your ego, but you said it very well.

Now watch how it gets attacked!

Tim A. Troutman said...

Joseph, thanks for the compliment and always good to see you back on the blogosphere.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

I enjoyed your post.

This passage got me thinking about something that has confused me. You write:

For the Reformers didn't say "No Catholic Church exists" they said "it exists insofar as it teaches the correct gospel - and here is the correct gospel".

On Protestant site, I constantly see this kind of talk, but the contents of the "gospel" are never defined. I know some arch-Protestant apologists who say that the Catholic church teaches a different "gospel" and I'm left to infer that it has something to do with "works" but it seems that everyone nods their head in agreement and moves on without any content being given to what they agree on.

As a Catholic, I thought the "gospel" - the good news - was that Christ had died for our sins and that he had provided a means so that we would not have to die for our sins.

I assume that this is the same for all the forms of Protestantism.

I also get the sense that "the gospel" for these Protestants is some kind of core set of teachings whereby Paul trumps Christ in some way.

Am I right?

You also write:

The Protestant recourse is to revert to a subjective list of supposed "essentials" of the faith to determine Catholicity. I have argued to the contrary that all doctrines are essential based on a more appropriate attitude regarding salvation than is typically employed.

I think that is the sense I'm getting, that there is to those who talk about "different gospels", a set of "core" or "essential" beliefs that not having means not having the gospel.

Perhaps you can explain this to me from your past experience.

Jason Stellman said...

Peter,

Speaking as a (lately frustrated) confessional Protestant, we would say that any gospel is a false one that brings our own works into the justification equation, even the Spirit-wrought kind.

So we believe what Paul says in Rom. 5: that Jesus has represented us as the second Adam, that he gave us a gift, that this gift consists in his own obedience, and that this gift results in justification.

And it should go without saying that from our justification flows all our holy obedience and sanctification, and that this all takes place in the context of our mystical union with Christ through baptism. This RC charge that we deny this internal work is sort of silly.

Let me ask you (and Tim, of course): do you believe that God's acceptance of you takes into account your works?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Peter - When I say "gospel" in the post I don't mean to infer that Protestants don't have the gospel at all or that they preach one that is radically different from that which we have received from the apostles, fundamentally I think we are both the same (you said it right; Christ died for you, come receive Him and be saved). It is on other issues that we disagree. So in that sense, I was saying "gospel" to broadly encompass Christianity itself, the fullness of which, as you know, can only be found with the Catholic Church.

Pastor Stellman: The short answer is that God's acceptance of me is based wholly upon His grace. His grace though, effects in a believer faith (first) and works but it effects both.

We know that God is not a respecter of persons (how much less then a respecter of things a person does or doesn't do). God does not tally up our works to see if we had enough goodness to enter heaven of course. Catholics do not believe that.

But are works necessary? Of course. It is possible for works to be necessary without them earning our way into salvation. If good works earned our way into heaven then God would become indebted to us and would end up owing us Heaven which is obviously false.

Such is the sacramentalism of Catholicism. Is baptism necessary? You bet. Does it earn salvation or does God owe salvation then to anyone who is baptized? Rather it dispenses grace of which God Himself is the source. Salvation is a perfectly free gift and not in any way dependent on man.

I may give my son an allowance contingent on if he takes out the trash every day. I don't need him to take the trash out and I am not indebted to him even if he carries it out. Allowance is still a free gift but I may refuse it if he does not carry out the trash. But this is only imagery, in reality - God's relationship to us is in such a way to where our personal efforts do not in themselves contribute substantially to salvation but with the gift of free will we may co-operate with His grace and we may certainly refuse His grace.

Tim A. Troutman said...

At least that's how I understand it. Remember, I'm not a trained theologian.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Jason,

Thanks for that explanation.

I'll do a "reveal" here - and it may be one shared by a lot of cradle Catholics - I think I'm tone deaf when I hear the word "gospel" in the way that it is used among Protestants because I certainly don't think "faith and works" or "a living faith" or whatever.

When I think of "Gospel", I think in terms of a historic event - the Passion and the Resurrection.

I understand the content of "gospel" for Protestants as being essentially "faith leads to salvation", but I also think that it carries subtones of "all the good stuff" as well.

Maybe I'm alone in this.

do you believe that God's acceptance of you takes into account your works

I think the answer is "yes", albeit the word "acceptance" is "equivocal" in some sense.


Allow me to take a shot at answer by way of Aquinas (mostly.)

God, as we know, is love.

Love wills the good for the beloved, and the good that God wills for humans is Himself.

As Peter Kreeft argues, God is a perfect and jealous lover, and if He wills Himself for us, He necessarily will our perfection. He will have us perfect, no matter the pain it may cause us because He wills our good - Himself - which may not be what we think we want. According to that great philosopher Mick Jagger, we don't always get what we want, but sometimes we get what we need.

Does God love sinners? Absolutely, insofar as sinners exist God loves them.

So does God accept us ontologically? Absolutely. He loves us into existence and his love keeps us in existence.

Does God accept our sinful works? No, and his love in making us perfect may be a terrible, awesome and necessary thing.

Does God love our good works? You bet.God loves better things more than less good things. In fact, it is God's will that is the cause of those good works. (See Reply to objection 5.)

Will our sinful works or absence of good works cause God to reject us (not accept us)? Well, yes, because if we are not connected as a branch to God through a "living faith", then there is no life in us no matter what we believe - even the demons believe in one God - or profess.

Well that's my shot at an answer via Aquinas and Kreeft.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Will our sinful works or absence of good works cause God to reject us (not accept us)? Well, yes, because if we are not connected as a branch to God through a "living faith", then there is no life in us no matter what we believe - even the demons believe in one God - or profess.

Actually, that should read something like "insofar as we not connected to Christ through a living faith."

What severs that connection is, according to Catholic theology, a mortal sin, but I think we have to be nunanced in what constitutes a sin that denies someone a "living faith."

Tim A. Troutman said...

Good stuff Peter. I also might mention Dave Armstrong's post proving that when Scripture refers to the final judgment, the question at hand is always the works/life/deeds of the believer and never the faith.

(We still believe in salvation de fide of course just not sola fide)

Jason Stellman said...

You guys may not know this, but in Reformed thought we often distinguish between the narrow issue of justification and the broader issue of salvation, affirming that works are necessary for the latter.

If salvation, broadly speaking, consists of justification and sanctification, then it is perfectly legitimate for us to insist upon good works for salvation (though they play no role in our being acquitted and accepted by God).

Just thought I'd throw that out there.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Pastor Stellman, to be certain, some of our difference (maybe most of it) lies right there. The Catholic Church does not distinguish between Justification & Sanctification (or salvation). Dr. Kreeft calls this "the genius of Catholic soteriology".

But I had never heard reformed talking like that before, thanks for tossing that into the mix.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

If salvation, broadly speaking, consists of justification and sanctification, then it is perfectly legitimate for us to insist upon good works for salvation (though they play no role in our being acquitted and accepted by God).

I appreciate your comment. On some sites on the internet, it often seems that you can't get within a mile of the idea that there is a proper role for works in Christian theology. :-)

In general I find that "sanctification" is an extremely weak - or virtually invisible - concept among Protestant apologists and writers. I assume that this is because there is a sense that the more emphasis that is laid on the necessity of "working" one's way to santification, the more it sounds like Christ's sacrifice wasn't perfect and complete.

I think that is a loss. As an Aristotelian-Thomist, my anthropological view of human nature is that we habituate ourself to virtue by our practice of choosing virtue. The people who tell themselves that sanctification is not necessary or is an easy and inevitable outgrowth of faith are setting themselves up for failure. It is an inherent part of the human condition that sanctification involves effort, practice and a certain amount of suffering and frustration, or at least that is what all the great saints said.

On the other hand, when I read Protestant theologians who do have a strong notion of sanctification, I totally lose track of what the difference is supposed to be between Catholic and Protestant soteriology.

On that point, I find that most Protestants will agree with a notion of purgatory once sanctification is acknowledged.

Most folks will acknowledge that (a) the entry into God's presence involving being perfected in some way (b) that people are not sufficiently perfected at death and, so, (c) perfection must continue after death.

Voila, purgatory, particularly if purgatory is a process and not a place.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Peter: exactly.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Thanks. :-)

George Weis said...

I will also note, that sanctification among protestants is blown over. This leads the way for a kinda of cheap grace... I know someone else coined that term.

Tim, I must say that the explanation you gave me some time ago for the Catholic position makes sense to me. However, after much examination, the Reformed position seems to be stating something so close to that with a slightly different angle.

As you mentioned, Faith and Faithfulness go hand in hand. In God's eyes Justification has already taken place in eternity for those who trust in His Grace, and yet here on earth for us it seems to be a process. I see no wrong with this way of explaining it, and it sat well with me when I heard it first.

Still, I think the Reformed position just wants to maintain, that works do not justify. They want to make sure that the point is more than clear. I think we all know, that in many camps folks can get caught up in works for the wrong reason (to gain favor or a step further that justification mentioned). This is error, that we certainly want to make clear... works do not justify, and the grace of God is what ultimately rescues a man from eternal condemnation.

May each of you be blessed for the sake of Our Lord.

-g-