Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cyprian on the Possibility of a Divided Church

In a recent post, Protestant blogger Kenny Pearce and I have been going back and forth regarding the nature of Church (as in invisible or visible). Kenny has used an image of a severed hand which is still potentially part of the body because it is animated by the soul (not dependent on physical connectivity) which flies in the face of the obvious starting point of the bodily metaphor. Paul compared the Church to a body which is a unified, natural substance per common sense and not a hacked up carcass animated by an invisible soul.

Catholic Christianity teaches that the soul is the form of the body. This is why Protestant attempts to get around the obvious short falls of the Reformation's "invisible Church" do not work. The body is not just a visible manifestation of the soul which is accidentally unified (whereby if it were disconnected it could conceivably remain a body although divided). Instead, the soul and the body are two principles of one being (a person).

To read some more from Cyprian:
Nor let any deceive themselves by a futile interpretation, in respect of the Lord having said, "Wheresoever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Corrupters and false interpreters of the Gospel quote the last words, and lay aside the former ones, remembering part, and craftily suppressing part: as they themselves are separated from the Church, so they cut off the substance of one section.

For she [charity] will ever be in the kingdom, she will endure for ever in the unity of a brotherhood linked to herself. Discord cannot attain to the kingdom of heaven; to the rewards of Christ

They cannot dwell with God who would not be of one mind in God's Church.

Now here's where it gets really good:

God is one, and Christ is one, and His Church is one, and the faith is one, and the people is joined into a substantial unity of body by the cement of concord. Unity cannot be severed; nor can one body be separated by a division of its structure, nor torn into pieces, with its entrails wrenched asunder by laceration. Whatever has proceeded from the womb cannot live and breathe in its detached condition, but loses the substance of health.
Again, we have on the one hand the Protestant idea of a visible manifestation (the collective separated bodies of all Christian ecclesial communities) of an invisible Church and on the other, we have the Catholic insistence upon a Church which is unified in form and matter. St. Cyprian clearly speaks in the way the Catholic Church does now - as do the other fathers. It would be anachronistic to ask their opinion of the Reformation but supremely naive to assume that the Reformation was substantially different than what was occurring in the early Church already. That is, Martin Luther wasn't the first heretic and his heresy has not yet lasted the longest.

The concept of "visible manifestations of an invisible Church" presents us with a perfect soul having a mutilated body. St. Cyprian clearly does not believe that unity can be severed. In fact he insists that the health of a being depends on it maintaining an essential unitive condition. After all, Christ did say that the separated branches are discarded in the fire (not remain animated by Jesus although detached).

Cyprian follows a natural philosophy here. We don't have to stretch our imaginations to understand what he's getting at. If you cut off a body part, how many bodies do you now have? You have one not two (and the one is not divided). If you cut a foot from a living body you have a living body and a dead foot. Similarly, if a heretic breaks from the Church, you do not have a divided Church. You have one Church and a dead heresy.

There is only one existing source of unity. That is the life of Christ through His Church which He promised to build on Peter. Now, those outside the formal confines of the Catholic Church (especially those born into a given heresy) are not completely detached from the life of Christ as long as they have a valid baptism (and most Protestants do). Similarly the Orthodox obviously enjoy a much greater participation in the life of the Church because of their apostolicity and their retention of the sacraments. That being said, the fullness of the Church, the unique Body of Christ, that one being which has indefectible unity - who has remained and shall remain throughout all heresies - she is the Catholic Church.


Clavem Abyssi said...

Or to follow the imagery of St.Paul in the 11th chapter of his letter to the Romans, there is one tree and one root. Broken branches are not new trees, although wild shoots can be grafted onto the one tree.

Kenny said...

Hi Tim,

It is often helpful to start over from a full statement of the case like this. It helps to get things clear and not to become frustrated by repetition of the same points. I confess that I expressed myself in, as you said, an uncharitable manner on the previous post, due to our going around in circles.

I'm not going to make an argument right now, I'm just going to ask you a question. In virtue of what is a body one body? I'm not talking about the Church right now, I'm talking about a literal physical object. What makes it one? I'm writing a metaphysics seminar paper on this right now, but going in to all the metaphysical difficulties I suspect would not help us to interpret Paul. When I asked this question before, you mentioned that you were a Thomist, but when I gave the Thomistic account (as best I understand it - Medieval philosophy is not my particular area of expertise), you didn't agree with it. When you say 'the soul is the form of the body,' I don't think you mean that in the way Aristotle meant it, and there is good reason to suppose that St. Thomas did mean it in the way Aristotle meant it. In the Thomistic/Aristotelian model, a 'form' isn't just a shape, but an active functional principle. I bet I could find an example of a scattered object which has a form in Aquinas or Aristotle. If it will help advance the discussion I can take a look.

Perhaps more to the point, what did Paul think made a body one, and how did he mean to apply that to the Church by his metaphor?

If I get a chance some time soon, I may look at some text and see if Paul says anything suggestive about this.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Clavem - Yep, same principle.

Kenny - When I say I'm a Thomist, I need to remind you and everyone else that I'm a beginning Thomist. Though I generally trust in his philosophy (even the stuff I don't know yet) on the testimony of the Church which says he is approximately correct.

In virtue of what is a body one body?

I don't know exactly what Aquinas would answer but I'll take a guess. We're talking about human bodies in the present and what I know of Aquinas is that he at least starts with what is natural. We should start with what is natural and ordinary and then if we want to branch off into some other theories we can do that.

If there are two disconnected parts, only one part is the body and the other is not. Naturally, a body is connected and whatever is disconnected is not part of that body. I'm not sure if I'm answering your question or not. But for a Thomist, when I eat an apple, it does not become an apple inside a human body - it takes on the human nature and becomes part of my body so that there is no longer any apple. Same with water although a microscope may still read H20.

But as for an example in Aquinas, I'm surprised you didn't think of this one: The Eucharist. I almost mentioned it earlier but didn't want to open up a can of worms.

The interesting thing here is that one of Calvin's objections to Transubstantiation was an apparent violation of Christ's full corporeality because of the Eucharist's ubiquity. Calvin objects on grounds not too dissimilar from the ones I'm objecting to your example.

Here's the difference as I see it. Christ's Body - His corporeality is a Body not a Spirit as you know, but it is not an earthly body. The idea of Transubstantiation would absolutely be a violation of corporeality as far as Earthly bodies go but so would walking through walls which we know from the gospels that Christ's Body is also capable of.

So I don't want to try and philosophize too much about heavenly bodies since we don't know much about them. Let's stick with what we know for now - natural bodies. Ubiquity does violate the corporeality of natural bodies and so does separation. When one section is cut from a natural body it loses its union with that body.

A severed hand though may be reattached not because it remains part of the body even though separated but because it can regain its share in the life of the existing body.

Likewise, separated Christians may become one body again not by melding together as if they were all just different parts of one living body but because there is one true body and one true life of the Church. Those separated may be reunified by attaching themselves and sharing in that existing life.

So let's start with natural bodies. Do you agree with this insofar as natural, normal earthly bodies are concerned? If not, can you show me an example of the contrary in nature? (That is, without using philosophical theories).

Kenny said...

So, you haven't exactly answered my question. It is a fact that all natural organic bodies that have ever been observed seem to be attached. (I say 'seem to be' because, as I have said, 'attached' is an extremely problematic concept.) My question is, what makes them one body. To illustrate, here is a though-experiment (science-fiction-ish, but possible with current science and the actual laws of physics) from Peter Van Inwagen: "Consider Alice and Beatrice, who are identical twins. A mad surgeon cuts off Alice's left hand and Beatrice's right hand and joins the stumps together, so that they look rather as if they were part of a chain of paper dolls ... It is at least theoretically possible that Alice's wrist be so nearly matched to Beatrice's wrist, and the healing of one to the other be so nearly perfect, that no boundary between Alice and Beatrice be discoverable; it may be that there is a region such that there is simply no answer to the question whether the cells in that region are Alice's cells or Beatrice's cells." (Material Beings, p. 59)

Alice and Beatrice are, I hope you will agree, still two people, and Alice's body is one body, and Beatrice's body is another, and they are not one and the same thing. So what makes a body one? If you agree that this thought experiment is possible, and that Alice and Beatrice still have two separate bodies, then the answer isn't that a body is one in virtue of being a maximal attached collection of particles, or some such. The Thomistic answer, is that it is one in virtue of being governed by some substantial form, in this case, the soul. Even though Alice and Beatrice are attached, they are governed by two different forms. (Incidentally, Aquinas [and Aristotle] doesn't think blood is part of the body, so he might have significantly less trouble with this than Van Inwagen.)

The Eucharist is a good example in some degree, but Aquinas's doctrine of 'sacramental presence' is really complicated, and just isn't like the way an object is normally located in a place (I'm pretty sure he says as much), so it isn't really analogous to the kind of scattered object case I am talking about. Christ is supposed to be fully present in each tiny crumb of bread and each drop of wine, everywhere in the world - they aren't just parts of him, they are all of him. Furthermore, Aquinas insists (quite reasonably) that Christ is 'impassible' in heaven, so however you do to the Eucharist, it may be an act of blasphemy, but you certainly aren't harming Christ. So this isn't like the case I am trying to develop. Calvin (if I understand correctly) rejected the idea that a real human body could be fully present at different places at the same time in the way required - it's like if my whole body was both at home and in class, doing totally different things, at the same time. I haven't read the actual passage in Calvin, but the way R.C. Sproul puts the argument is that the idea that Christ's body can do this would imply that there was 'confusion' of the human and divine natures (since only the latter can be fully present in multiple locations, but only the former has a body), contrary to the Chalcedonian Definition. So that is neither here nor there.

At any rate, it occurs to me that there is another point at issue here: we have been talking about the 'connectedness' or 'unity' of the body. We have both been assuming that the analogue of physical unity is institutional unity, and, therefore, it is incumbent on me to show that Paul's talk of the unity of the body leaves room for a body to be physically scattered. This, however, is a big assumption. Why should institutional unity be the analogue here? It actually seems to me that when Paul develops the metaphor at length, his principle emphasis in talking about 'oneness' is 'functional unity'. See, for example, 1 Cor. 12:12-27. What I have been claiming is that functional unity is what makes a body one in the first place, but even if you don't hold this it seems to me that that is that aspect of the unity of a (properly functioning) physical body which Paul emphasizes. So insofar as the whole Church is functionally united in that the whole Church is used by Christ for accomplishing his purposes in some special way (distinct from how he uses everything else), this might be sufficient for the claim of bodily unity.

Clavem Abyssi said...

If I may jump in...

The unifying principle of the members of a body (or of a tree) is that they are connected through each other to the head (or the root) in such a way that they advance the body towards its end.

A foot connected directly to the head is useless and is not part of the body, no matter how well attached it is. A leafy branch buried under the ground with the root is also useless and not part of the tree.

For Christians, we must be connected to Jesus by our profession of faith in him but also arranged amongst ourselves in a manner that he intended and that advances his final plans towards their fulfillment.

The Protestant vision of the body of Christ is not so much invisible as it is amorphous and homogeneous. Visually, it might be represented by a wheel with Christ as the hub and individual believers as the spokes.

The Catholic view is more like a natural body or tree, a hierarchy. The head connected to the spine, the spine to the hip, the hip to the legs, the legs to the foot, etc...

The Protestants think Catholics put too much mediation between Christ, the Head, and the lower members of the body.

The Catholics think the Protestants are sticking the feet and hands directly into the head, ignoring the ordained form of the body, and expecting the body to function even better.

The Protestant view emphasizes the relationship between the Head and an individual member in isolation. The Catholic view emphasizes the mission of the entire body and the unity between all members.

Andrew Preslar said...

This is turning into a good discussion.

I wonder, per Kenny's last comment, whether functional unity is not grounded in institutional unity, that is, if we assume that Our Lord wills that the church function in a sacramentally, theologically, and missiologically harmonious way? The various churches and sects, considered collectively, do not, it seems to me, function harmoniously. This non-institutional collective is profoundly non-harmonious as to sacraments (in practice and dogma), theology and, in consequence, missiology.

Such being my reservations, I do not want to under-estimate the potential fruitfulness of the hypothesis of an extraordinary unity of the body as a means of conceptualizing how it is that a real unity persists (as the Catholic is taught to believe) among the seperated churches and sects.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Clavem - excellent point.

Andrew - Agreed and I consider that a separate topic.

So Kenny, please don't understand this as me saying that Protestant communities are de facto dead heresies to be tossed in the flames.

My point is that:

1. Paul envisions a natural body all philosophical theories aside as his starting point

2. The institutional unity of a Church having various members with various functions all united under one head of official doctrine (the magisterium) seems to me to be a far better representation of a natural body than does the Protestant idea.

Also on functional unity, how would we distinguish between Church and non Church here? Mormons, for example, do lots of things which are objectively good and really "kingdom work". They're helping us defend the legislation against gay marriage in CA right now. So they are functionally acting as Church - are they to be considered part of the Church?

If we start admitting any sort of doctrinal discrimination here, I think your theory breaks down. Because if you say "they're not Church because they reject the Trinity" then you can't object when Catholics say "Baptists aren't Church because they don't have the sacraments".

Kenny said...

Clavem - I found your comments very insightful. It is certainly true that the different members of the body are meant to be connected in different ways, and we shouldn't understate the importance of structure in the Church. Paul didn't have much understanding of the nervous system, so I'm not sure what exactly is intended about how each member is related to the head, but if we suppose that the head controls the actions of each member directly, that doesn't undermine structure. For instance, if the head directly causes the fingers to curl, they won't grip anything unless the arm is in the right position, etc. So I agree that institutional structure is important. Can we still make sense of a multiplicity of institutional structures? I think so. What has to be realized is that I am not saying that God intended there to be many institutional structures. The reason I keep asking this question 'what makes the body one?' is that my question about the Church is 'how screwed up can things get here on earth before we can no longer say that the Church is one?' God allows human beings to sin in many ways and to really generally screw things up, but I have to think that he would certainly preserve the Church through whatever happens. So, the question we have to ask is if, as I claim, there is no longer any one institution which can be uniquely identified as the legitimate institutional church, would that amount to the Church no longer existing? I think not. Therefore, I think God may have allowed fallen human beings to introduce that degree of destruction. But if I was forced to say that the Church could not exist (as 'one, holy, catholic, and apostolic') unless there was some one institution which was uniquely it, then I would be forced to conclude that there was such an institution. At present, I tend to think that the EOC is the strongest claimant to this title, but if an argument like this forced me to care a lot more than I presently do, then I would have to investigate the matter far more thoroughly than I have to date.

Andrew - The present unity of the Church on earth is certainly far more limited than what God intended, but certainly there is a degree of functional unity. However, as Tim points out, functional unity cannot be our only criterion. Not only is there a degree of cooperation between orthodox Christians and Mormons, but we may say that the LDS Church is used by God to accomplish certain of his ends, because God uses all things to accomplish his ends. But we say that the Church is the body of Christ, and as such is a special means by which he appears and acts in this world. I am not prepared to give a detailed account of how that works.

Tim - You say that the Church is "united under one head of official doctrine (the magisterium)," but, of course, in the Biblical metaphor only Christ is the head. Now, Baptists practice but (probably) misunderstand the sacraments. The Salvation Army might actually not be the Church because they don't practice the sacraments at all, and the sacraments (that is, the two sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist) seem to me to be really central to the Church's identity. But the real question is, as I said above, how screwed up can things get and still be the Church? It is obvious that all of the parts are supposed to be intimately related to one another, but it seems to me that as long as each part is properly related to the head, Christ, it is still part of the body, although the unity of the body is horribly imperfect.

One objection that I am surprised you haven't brought up is this: the Apostles' Creed says "I believe in ... the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints ..." But the 'invisible Church' view, combined with the Protestant understanding of 'saints' would seem to collapse the Church into the 'communion of saints'. I'm not sure how to differentiate the two at the moment, nor am I entirely sure how important it is to do so. (The Apostles' Creed is not formulated so carefully or precisely as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.)

Tim A. Troutman said...

God allows human beings to sin in many ways and to really generally screw things up, but I have to think that he would certainly preserve the Church through whatever happens.

I agree. Catholics insist that He has preserved this without compromising the original integrity of the institutional Church. Protestants say He has maintained the Church only in a way other than what was expected. Or that we were talking about one thing when we said "Church" but the true Church is something else. That is, in the Protestant world view, it turns out that the Institutional Church wasn't indefectible after all.

At present, I tend to think that the EOC is the strongest claimant to this title

You probably already know this but Rome considers EOCs as rightfully called "Church" as well.

in the Biblical metaphor only Christ is the head.

I'm pointing out unity of doctrine as the distinguishing mark of a particular united body. If this conflicts with the other metaphor then view the two as completely independent. Certainly the headship of the magisterium doesn't interfere with Christ's headship over the Catholic Church anymore than a Protestant pastor interferes with it among his local congregation.

it seems to me that as long as each part is properly related to the head, Christ, it is still part of the body

Which is the spoke & wheel model. I don't think it fits the body metaphor for the reasons Clavem brought up.

As for the Apostle's Creed, yea that's a good point. Andrew brought that up briefly at our Liturgy & Lager session last Friday.

Do you think Christ intended to found an institutional Church? If not, as many liberal Protestant scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries claimed, then Catholics are horribly wrong on this issue and the institution of the Catholic Church is entirely man made.

But if Christ did intend to, then do His promises apply to it or only to the invisible aspect of it?

So the options in my estimation are:

1. Christ did not intend the Church
2. Christ did intend a Church
a. promises apply to the visible institutional Church,
b. promises only apply to the mystical, invisible Church

But 2b seems to be Ecclesial Docetism to borrow from Bryan Cross. (Highly recommend that post and anything else on his blog).

The Docetists said that true Christ is spirit and not body. Though Jesus appeared to have a physical body, it was only a visible representation of the real thing. In the same manner, we are saying (under 2b.) that the true Church is the invisible Church. The institutional Church is only a visible representation of the true Church.

2a. seems a little romantic and too good to be true. That's partly why I believe it.

Tim A. Troutman said...

You probably already know this but Rome considers EOCs as rightfully called "Church" as well.

I should probably clarify this. The Eastern ecclesial communities are properly called "Churches" in contradistinction with Protestant ecclesial communities. There is no such thing as "the Eastern Orthodox Church" and at least a couple of the 13+ Eastern Churches are not in communion with one another.

Kenny said...

Tim - thanks for linking to Bryan. I had recently added that blog to my RSS feed (I don't remember how I found it - maybe from here), but hadn't actually read it yet. His discussion is very clear and intelligent. My first impulse is to reply to his discussion with (more) considerations about the metaphysics of bodies, but I think you are right in your previous claim that this stretches the metaphor too far. Instead, I think the correct thing to say is simply that Bryan's post stretches the metaphor too far (though in a different direction). The Church lacks many of the characteristics of a real physical body - most obviously, the 'members' or 'parts' of the Church are supposed to be the people, and we are clearly not physically attached! The Catholic assumption is that the physical unity of a body corresponds, in the metaphor, to institutional unity. I haven't seen this argued for. It seems that the primary purpose of the body metaphor is to say that the Church is the primary means by which Christ is present and working on earth. The unity of the body comes from the fact that Christ uses it (in some special way, distinct from how he uses other things) in a concerted way to work his will. The parts have to be 'attached' to one another in such a way that moving one can move another in order for the body to work properly, but this needn't imply a shared institutional hierarchy. Furthermore, it is clear from Scriptural discussions of the matter that the unity of the body is, at present, far from perfect. For instance, look at 1 Cor. 12:14-26 - all of these instructions would be unnecessary if the body were perfectly one on earth.

This brings me to what I think is a deeper point, which I have been trying to make, and perhaps not succeeding. God "calls those things which do not exist as though they did" (Romans 4:17). In this manner, as it says in the verse quoted, God told Abraham, before the birth of Isaac, "I have made you a father of many nations" (Genesis 17:5), and in this manner, God calls us 'holy'.

The Church does not, at present, show visible unity, and it does not, at present, show very great visible holiness. The scandals that have plagued the Church of Rome in recent days are far too sad - for all Christians, and, indeed, all people - to be made into a polemical tool to win a debate. Furthermore, similar sad events have occurred in other churches. For this reason, I don't mean to cite child abuse and similar instances as reasons for supposing that the Church of Rome, in particular, is not the true Church. But I do think it is appropriate to cite these to show just how far short of our theological description the visible church falls. This is not holiness! Yet the Church is affirmed to be holy. How? Because God has called the Church holy. His calling makes it so, and we trust that this reality will one day be manifested visibly, though it is not yet. This is really what the 'invisible church' idea has to come down to. I certainly don't deny that God's intention was for there to be real, visible unity. But you make two claims which I do deny: (1) that real, visible unity must be institutional unity, and (2) that if the Church is failing to show visible unity then the Church no longer exists as one. The second claim must be false to account for the lack of unity the Church displayed even in the NT period.

To answer your more specific comments:

On the EOC - my only point with respect to this was that convincing me of your ecclesiological claims would not send me running to Rome, but I imagine you already knew that.

On headship/magisterium/the papacy - Your claim is disputable but it is obviously a point of Catholic doctrine that Christ is the supreme Head, and a discussion of what positions/degrees of authority this leaves open to the human leaders of the Church is a complicated one which is not really relevant to our present discussion, so we should probably just let this one go.

On the founding of an institutional church - this depends, I suppose, on what you mean by 'institutional'. For instance, I am uncertain as to what specific authority structures were commanded by God, and which ones are manmade. (Of course manmade authority structures are not ipso facto illegitimate.) I don't find in Scripture any command to establish a particular authority structure at any level above that of the local congregation. I do, however, clearly see Christ commissioning the apostles with authority above that which Paul ascribes to presbyters, for instance, and I see examples of the exercise of such authority recorded in Scripture. I don't see any commands on how exactly the apostles are to share this authority, or what's to happen after they're gone. So did Christ mean to found one earthly institutional church? It is, at least, not obvious to me that he did. Obviously, though, he intended to found the Church. The only question is what sort of thing the Church is. The description which I take to be the literal one is the simple word ekklesia: the assembly. Christ clearly commanded his followers to gather together in his name (and observe the Eucharist, and do a number of other things), and this gathering is called by Scripture ekklesia.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Re: Bryan's blog - note that he is taking a break right.. now dont know for how long. But nearly all his posts are worth reading if you get the time to browse the archives.

Your point regarding Romans 4:17 is well taken.

The Church does not, at present, show visible unity

If we assume Protestant ecclesiology then I agree. But given the Catholic ecclesiology, I think it does show considerable visible unity.

I do deny: (1) that real, visible unity must be institutional unity

I'm not sure if it must be that way, but it seems to me that there is a Church which has a reasonable claim to such a fulfillment of the promises in Scripture.

(2) that if the Church is failing to show visible unity then the Church no longer exists as one.

I think that's an impossible scenario. It's like saying if the Trinity stops being united then we'll have three Gods. The Trinity cannot be divided and neither can the Church. Christians may break off but that does not divide the Church.

I don't find in Scripture any command to establish a particular authority structure at any level above that of the local congregation.

What about Acts 15?

So did Christ mean to found one earthly institutional church? It is, at least, not obvious to me that he did.

I wouldn't take this to be obvious from the Scriptures, nor from the present Christian situation either. I lived most of my Christian life to date not having the slightest suspicion that He might have.

But I do think it's obvious that the early Church fathers thought He did and even took it for granted. St. Ignatius of Antioch is probably the strongest and earliest testimony to this. And he was a hearer of St. John, companion to St. Polycarp and was probably ordained by Peter.

The Catholic Church is like a funny looking hat that when you put it on, the rest of the world suddenly looks clearer. When I put it on, whatever objections I had previously became trivial because so many other questions and difficulties I had were answered.

Something similar may be true of one of the EOCs if you decide to convert to them.

And on the other hand you might be quite happy where you are. I think you're smart enough to find arguments in favor of any denomination or branch of Christianity that you want to go to.

Kenny said...

Acts 15 is another example of how the apostles in fact wielded authority and governed the churches. (Though it is of note that James the Lord's brother seems to be presiding, rather than one of the Twelve.) It is clear both from Scripture and from history that there was, from a very early period, a particular institutional structure which was governed in a particular way. Some segments of the Church (e.g. in Ethiopia, or outside the Roman Empire in general) were not very well connected with the hierarchy that was established, mostly due to lack of communication, but would, as far as I know, have recognized its authority.

I have no doubt that the Fathers, by and large, took the institutional structure of the Church for granted. There are a number of marks by which one can try to discern the (or a) true church, and certainly in the early days apostolic succession, such as it was, was one of the most obvious criteria to use. But continuity with the teaching, practice, and mission of the apostles is also important and, two thousand years later, when the chain of succession is much muddier and more complicated than it was, I take these factors to be easier to determine, and I believe that both the Church of Rome and the EOC depart from these teachings in certain important points.

If you think (as I suspect you do) that apostolic succession is not just one way of picking out the true church but, rather, is definitive of it, then you will have to do all sorts of historical investigations to determine who has the strongest claim. If you happened to be in the wrong jurisdiction, you might have quite a hassle. Who, for instance, is the legitimate Pope of Alexandria? Here we have a Coptic Pope, a Greek Pope, and Rome (more or less) claiming universal jurisdiction. You will claim that the Coptic Pope is in defiance of the decision of an ecumenical council but there are two problems with this: (1) you cannot just assume the legitimacy of that council unless you already know that it was an ecumenical council of the true Church, so this won't help you establish which church is the right one, and (2) it is my understanding that in the 20th century, both Rome and Constantinople stated that the disagreements with the miaphysites (they prefer this term over 'monophysite') was 'purely verbal' and created primarily by the language barrier. So how would you decide?

This mark, according to me, is only heuristic in nature: if someone has a close connection with the apostles, we should listen to them. And for this reason (among others) I take the early Fathers very seriously. But I don't think we can make a determination based just on this criterion, especially in this day and age when there are so many claimants and the history is so long and complicated and even the strongest claimants' connections to the apostles are not particularly close.

Tim A. Troutman said...


Thanks for a great conversation. I'm satisfied to leave it here if you are.

Clavem Abyssi said...

Hi Kenny,
My heuristic method would look like this:

-does the body claim apostolic succession and can this be backed up with evidence, within reasonable expectations, given the length of time and the complexity of events involved?

-does the body claim and use the authority given to the apostles? Specifically, does it claim and use the special, singular authority given to Peter?

-does the body claim to be universal or catholic? Has it really acted in a universal manner throughout history and with fruitful and lasting results?

Not to pick on the Russians, but they also have claimed universal jurisdiction, Moscow being the 3rd Rome. They claim apostolic succession through the bishops of Constantinople. Very well. But do they really act in a universal manner? Not really. They evangelized Alaska and California to some extent but the church was always and is still considered the "Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR)". Does this sound universal or nationalistic to you?

Likewise, the Protestant "invisible church" certainly is universal, but they do not claim apostolic succession nor do they claim or use the power given to the apostles. Look how the Church of England immediately stopped absolving sins through auricular confession, a power granted to the apostles, after breaking off ties with the Pope.

Of course, I realize my method is shaped by my current beliefs and could be made more objective.

Amy said...

One objection that I am surprised you haven't brought up is this: the Apostles' Creed says "I believe in ... the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints ..." But the 'invisible Church' view, combined with the Protestant understanding of 'saints' would seem to collapse the Church into the 'communion of saints'. I'm not sure how to differentiate the two at the moment, nor am I entirely sure how important it is to do so.

Right, the Catholic understanding is that there is one Church, both in heaven and here on earth. When we sin, we step outside that Church, and the sacrament of Reconcilation brings us back in - by confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness, we are reconciled with God. The souls in heaven are no longer able to sin, and are fully reconciled with God. I’m not going into an in-depth explanation of Purgatory, but the souls there are also part of the Church

The reason the Church is “one” is because it is animated and guided by the Holy Spirit, and there is no division in God, as Tim mentioned earlier.

“I don't find in Scripture any command to establish a particular authority structure at any level above that of the local congregation.

The Gospel according to Matthew is also known as the book of the Church, because he lays out the ways in which Christ established His Church. Jesus begins teaching through parables because of the hardness of the hearts of the people. In Mt 13:10 ff, He explains the parables to the Apostles, and tells them that they are to explain to the people later. This is Jesus setting up the tiers of hierarchy in His Church - He explains to the Apostles, and they later explain to the people when they are ready to understand. The Apostles later found churches in different areas, but each still acknowledges Peter and his later successors as their head. His word settles the debates in Jerusalem in Acts 15. James presides over the council since he is the head of the Church in Jerusalem, but he still answers to Peter.