Thursday, November 06, 2008

When Ideology Trumps Reason

Recently, a commenter named Steven remarked:

"Jesus teaches that the church is made up of all the believers in Him."

Which is funny since Jesus said no such thing. Jesus did mention the word "Church" twice during His earthly life:
Matthew 16:18 - And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Matthew 18:17 - If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Now I'm under no pretense that I can interpret these verses without bias but doggonit...He just doesn't seem to be advancing the doctrine of invisible church here.

So how does our friend Steven start representing the peculiar doctrine of his denomination as if it were actually the teachings of Christ?

It's like where I work, our income is higher than last years income and is just above our budget year to date, but I have heard upper management reporting that our income is down because of the economy. It's not that they haven't seen the figures - they have; it's that they've already decided what the figures say before they saw them. Same with our pal Steven. He's been taught that the church is invisible and so regardless of what Jesus actually says in Scripture, Steven will recall Christ's teachings as such. Steven is not alone.


Josh McManaway said...

In Reasons to Believe, Scott Hahn pointed out something that I had never really thought about: Paul identifies the Church as "one body" with the "integrity and uniqueness of Jesus' own body(Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 10:17, 12:12-13; Eph 2:16, 4:4; Col 3:15)." He then says,"If body has any meaning whatsoever as a metaphor, it must indicate a visible unity." (Reasons to Believe, 78-79)

If the Church is not meant to be unified, one, visible, etc - why in the world would St. Paul use such a metaphor?

Joseph said...

Sounds like Steven must be speaking about some extra-biblical tradition. I guess he's not your typical run-of-the-mill Sola Scriptonite.

George Weis said...

Yikes, I hear ALOT of this :\

Patience my dear Tim, I can sense your ire starting to burn :D


Amy said...

Interesting, since the Greek and Latin words for "assembly" are really where we get the idea of "church" from ("church" actually comes from a German word, "kirche" or "kirk" = church, since English is at root a Germanic language).

Greek: ekklesia; Latin: ecclesia which are both the words for assembly, specifically God's assembly (and where Assemblies of God took their name). That's why you see the word ecclesia and different forms of that used repeatedly in Catholic writings.

The idea of the assembly goes all the way back to the old testament; you constantly see God gathering His people together and the word used for it is "assembly". Satan always mimics and corrupts what God does, so you also see assemblies of the wicked who always assault or try to subvert the people of God. St. Augustine goes into this idea in great depth in "City of God."

Tim A. Troutman said...

Amy, I'm not sure that I follow your point. Can you clarify what you're agreeing or disagreeing with?

Amy said...

Tim, you said, "He's been taught that the church is invisible and so regardless of what Jesus actually says in Scripture, Steven will recall Christ's teachings as such. Steven is not alone."

The idea that the people of God are in some invisible church is completely out of sync with all of Scripture. The Bride of Christ, the Catholic Church was born on the cross when the blood and water poured forth from the heart of God. But God has been gathering His people together in visible unity - the assemblies - from the very beginning. There has never been a claim in all of human history that all you need to do is believe and you're part of some invisible gathering. When God gathers His people together, it's always highly visible to serve as a light for the rest of the world.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Ah ok I gotcha. Well said.

Kenny said...

Sophisticated Protestant theologians (even Baptists!) have always claimed that the Church is manifested visibly in history in the form of particular local congregations. No serious theologian of the Protestant tradition has, to my knowledge, EVER suggested that there is no visible manifestation or that it is unimportant to be a member of a local congregation or anything of this sort. (Maybe Anabaptists or Quakers have said this sort of thing.) The Church is the ASSEMBLY, as Amy pointed out - you can't have an assembly without actually assembling together. The question is, in what sense are all these local assemblies united into ONE CHURCH, as the Scripture claims they are. 'They all listen to the Pope' doesn't strike me as a very good answer to that question.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Kenny, the "visible manifestation" of the Church isn't something that anyone is contesting and clearly not what I'm talking about here. I'm not saying here that Protestants believe that they walk into invisible buildings surrounded or are surrounded by invisible people.

I'm talking about the word "Church" as referred to by Christ. Can it pass the Mapquest test? Can you locate it? Is it possible to know where to go to get an answer from "the Church" or does an answer from any group which congregates under the Christian label suffice?

You might find Bryan Cross's blog post on the Catholic visibility of the Church in contradistinction to the Protestant notion here to be helpful.

This is all to say, when we say "visible Church" we mean "visible Church" not visible manifestations of an invisible Church. We say that the essence of Church is corporeal and visible. It has a definitive voice. We know where to hear that voice and what that voice has said in the past as well as what she says now. If we stray, she will speak again.

It is in that sense that the Church from her early days until now have rightly recognized the bishop of Rome precisely as the mark of that visible unity. Hence (and perhaps partly in retrospect) the odd promises which Christ made to Peter "On this rock I will build my Church" & "there will be one flock and one shepherd" and "feed my sheep" start to make a lot of sense. (See my recent post on Cyprian)

In terms of unity and visibility, I have come to the conclusion that no theory has anywhere near the explanatory power of the Catholic view.

If I am misrepresenting or misunderstanding a particular Protestant idea of ecclesial visibility then please explain. But I know for certain that I have accurately represented the overwhelming sentiment of Protestants on this one. (Don't forget, I used to be one).

Kenny said...

Well, most Protestants are not sophisticated theologians (nor are most Catholics). I don't claim to be a particularly sophisticated theologian myself, for that matter, but I'm just saying that people who have really thought this through don't have views that are so simplistic as what you are describing. That isn't to say that you haven't "accurately represented the overwhelming sentiment of Protestants." I won't argue about that. I'm just saying that there are at least SOME Protestants who have actually thought things through (and plenty of Catholics who haven't), so we have to carefully avoid strawmen, and go for the best version of the theory in question.

So let me very briefly try to develop my own 'visible manifestation' account and see whether it will fall prey to your objection. (I'm going to oversimplify some relatively unimportant parts for brevity.) Consider a human person. You are probably a substance dualist (most Christians are), so you probably believe that you are a composite of soul and body (some dualists believe that you are just a soul, but the composite view accords better with Christian Tradition, in my opinion). Now, if this is the case, then it is correct for me to say that your body is the 'visible manifestation' of you: it's how you are visible in the world, it's how I can observe you. But I will still point to your body and say 'that's Tim over there' and what I say is true. The fact that it is your 'visible manifestation' doesn't take away from the fact that, in some sense, it just is you.

What makes your body ONE, and what makes it YOURS? The fact, quite simply, that it is 'animated' by your soul: your body is that part of the world over which you have immediate control. Your body has a degree of visible unity, but consider two claims, the first of which I take to be clearly true, and the second of which I take to be plausible: (1) no physical object has clear and distinct unity, because of quantum entanglement, exchange of electrons, and, in the case of humans, even simple issues like digestion. (2) If your hand was severed, but still under your control, it would still be part of your body, even though it lacked any kind of physical unity.

The unity of your body comes from your soul (according to this picture). It doesn't come from it all being attached, it doesn't come from the maintenance of homeostasis by biological processes, or from circulation of blood, or anything. If all that was disrupted, your body would still be that part of the world controlled by your soul.

The claim would then be that the 'visible' church(es) is (are) some group of people who are united to one another by some visible means, such as institutional membership, but only the 'invisible' or, better, spiritual Church can claim to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The 'invisible' church consists of all those who are rightly related to Christ, as your body consists of all the parts of the world rightly related to your soul. This, however, does help explain why visible disunity is so bad: the body has been hacked to pieces! But because it is still (figuratively) 'animated' by Christ, it is still the body, and it is still 'one' (spiritually).

This sort of distinction can be recognized without recognizing a multiplicity of legitimate institutional churches, and, indeed, the Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov recognizes something of this sort when, in his book The Orthodox Church, he says that Protestants are members of the spiritual Church (I don't remember what term he uses for this) but not full participants in the life of the Church on earth.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Kenny - now these are the types of comments I really look forward to reading & interacting with.

I'm a novice philosopher to put it lightly so if we start getting too technical with the philosophical language I'll be at a severe disadvantage.

Here are the problems I see with this definition of invisible Church:

1. It doesn't look at all like the Biblical Church - such a Church could not be sought for discipline or doctrinal clarity. 1a. Such a Church does not seem to be built on Peter in any meaningful sense.

2. I think Jesus is the Groom of the Church not the soul. If we speak of Christ as what animates the Church - I.E. the Church is His Body as if He were the form of the Church then we're talking about one being not two and one being cannot be its own bride.

In this picture - we have neutered the marriage imagery. Christ is no longer the Head, the External, the Husband - He is the form which is something intrinsic to the thing not extrinsic.

To call the Church the Body of Christ is certainly Biblical imagery but the Church must also be seen as the Bride and in that sense a being other than Christ. She is not just the visible manifestation of Christ's soul on earth - remember Christ still has a corporeal Body - a new glorified one.

The Church is His Body (I take it) in the sense of the Bride & the Bridegroom becoming "one flesh" in Holy Matrimony. In that sense and certainly in the sense that the Church perpetuates the saving work of Christ on earth in a tangible and visible way - in that sense she is the Church.

Also remember that for this reason, the Church is traditionally and properly referred to in the feminine and we cannot call the body feminine if the soul is masculine.

Finally, on the four marks of the Church as applied to an invisible Church in this regard, "one" & "holy" could be reasonably defended but "catholic" & "apostolic" both become neutered of at least historical context.

The Church from ancient times called herself "catholic" not to keep people from thinking she was ethnic but to distinguish the true doctrine which she taught from the various heretical sects. Even the heretics referred to her as "Catholic". What may have started as an adjective quickly became a proper noun. Likewise, she called herself "apostolic" not in reference to the full gospel truth which the apostles taught (what could "apostolic" mean in this sense that "holy" failed to communicate?) but again in contradistinction to the competing sects which did not have sacramental apostolicity.

The thing which you describe absolutely exists - a communion of all those truly joined to Christ... we just insist that this is not the Church in the Biblical sense.

As I understand it, Catholics also teach that Protestants are imperfectly part of the Church in that they have been baptized into her life although their respective ecclesial communities cannot be considered "Church" in the proper sense of the word.

Kenny said...

Let's be careful about mixing metaphors. A metaphor for the Church needs to go with the correct metaphor for Christ. Furthermore, we need to be careful to avoid the (characteristically fundamentalist) mistake of assuming that every word in Scripture is always used unequivocally in every situation, despite the differences in author, time, and purpose of the works - in other words, the word ekklesia may not everywhere have precisely the same meaning, just as I mean the word 'person' slightly differently when I say (pointing) 'there is a person over there' and when I say 'a person is a composite of soul and body'.

Keeping this in mind, let me begin with a literal description of the view I am describing, and then attempt to apply each metaphor, in order to answer your objection.

Literally: the Church consists in the mystical communion of all those who are united in Christ. This mystical communion is realized concretely in history in the form of particular local congregations/assemblies, and it is in virtue of this that the Church is called ekklesia, assembly. By analogy, consider this claim: we are mystically united to with the Godhead in virtue of the eternal truth that the human and divine natures are united ("intermingled without confusion") in the divine Logos. This eternal truth is concretely realized in history in the form of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Logos Himself made flesh. In both claims, we must be careful NOT to separate the eternal and mystical from the concrete and historical. On my view, just as we couldn't have the union of the human and the divine in the Logos without the concrete, historical Incarnation, we can't have the spiritual/invisible Church without the visible church(es). Two sides of the same coin. This is how I answer your objection (1). I'm going to leave objection (1a) to the side in this comment, since it will be excessively long as it is, but we can always come back to it later.

The body metaphor: In Scripture, the Church is (metaphorically) called Christ's 'body', and Christ (not Peter) is (metaphorically) called the Church's 'head'. My metaphor of soul and body is admittedly not Scripture's metaphor of head and body. In terms of head and body, we can, however, make several observations about this relationship which are preserved on the view I am developing. Firstly and most importantly, the Greeks knew the head as the seat of the rational soul. So Christ is the ruling and directing principle of the Church. Secondly, we should note that Christ was the 'firstfruits' - the first concrete human member of the Church; we follow where he has led. Again, the body is unified in virtue of being under the direction of the head. The soul metaphor was convenient for me because it evokes the contrast of visible and invisible or of physical and spiritual, but I think that most of my comments apply also to the head metaphor.

The bride metaphor: If you want extrinsic forms you are welcome to them. Most of the early Christians had strong Platonist leanings, so they were all about transcendent forms. Aristotle with his immanent forms doesn't enter the Christian picture until the high Medieval period, around the 13th century or so. In fact, there might be some pseudo-Platonic imagery in Hebrews 3:14 (see the middle section of this post, and note that my Platonic interpretation makes the idea communicated similar to that which is communicated in many other verses of the NT, such as 2 Peter 1:4). (I should note, also, that Paul's account of the self is suspiciously Platonic, and that Plato originated the phrase 'salvation of the soul' in Greek, which is so common in the NT.) So you can get two distinct things, Christ and the Church, to be joined into one flesh. You can even claim that this joining of distinct things into one flesh is the same as the 'participation' (that's the technical term for the relationship between form and particular in Platonism) of the Church in Christ. Then all of the Bride imagery will work. I don't think the meaning of the Bride imagery is such as to differentiate between the conventional Catholic view and the view I am outlining. Furthermore, we should note that BOTH of these claims are metaphorical. Christ still literally has a human body, and it isn't the Church, and the Church is not literally a woman, hence not literally a bride.

Finally, in what sense catholic and apostolic? Catholic is, as you know, Greek for 'according to the whole', as contrasted with heresy, which is from the Greek for 'pulling out [a piece]', the idea being that heretics pull out little pieces of the Church to follow them instead of following Christ, as is discussed in, for instance, 1 Cor. 3. So the catholic Church is simply that Church of which Christ is the Head (hence not the Church of which Peter or the Pope is the head - remember, Peter is called 'the Rock', but Christ is called 'the Cornerstone'). Now, of course, following Christ means following his teaching, both as it came from his own mouth and as it was communicated through his apostles. Hence catholicity also implies orthodoxy (and orthopraxy). So the spiritual church is catholic in this sense: it is that church which follows and is united by Christ, and not any leader who would seek to make disciples for himself or to lead contrary to Christ. (I did not mean to imply that Peter or the Pope was such a leader in my previous parenthetical - I am aware that B16 is quite strong on the centrality of Christ.)

The Church is apostolic in at least three senses: (1) it is 'built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.' Here we see the building metaphor, which we haven't discussed yet, according to which Christ is the cornerstone and the apostles and prophets are the foundation. (2) It is committed to the teachings of the apostles (Acts 2:42). (3) The apostles form the very beginning of the concrete visible manifestation of the Church in history. These three senses are, of course, intimately connected to one another.

I don't know what you mean by 'sacramental apostolicity.' However, my senses (1) and (3) are critical to how 'apostolicity' could be a mark of the true Church distinguishing it from heretical sects: the early church wanted to emphasize that they were part of the same Church as the apostles. One easy way for them to establish this was to point out the simple, straightforward historical connection. How do I know that your left hand is part of the same body as your right hand? Well, look, they're attached! (As I said previously, I do believe that this is supposed to be the case with the Church, I just believe that, in the permissive will of God, it is presently, sadly, not the case - the body has been hacked to pieces, but is still the body.) My claims about this will differ from standard Catholic claims in two respects: (1) I deny that the situation is so simple now as it was then, and (2) I deny that the visible, institutional church must necessarily be unique, so this kind of consideration can only prove that one church is a manifestation of the Church, and not that another is not. In the case of the early church, it was clear that the two claimants could not both be manifestations of the Church because they differed in matters essential to the Church's identity, such as critical claims about the person of Christ. We have no way of knowing (unless there is some critical history I don't know about) how the Fathers would have reacted to the appearance of a rival institution preaching the same (or almost the same) doctrine, and what they would have done to argue against its legitimacy. I don't doubt that most of them would have argued against its legitimacy, it's just that we don't know how they would have argued.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Ok Blogger lost my comment. I always forget to copy before posting. Ahem..

Reader's Digest version:

I think we're having a philosophical difference concerning soul/body. Thomists believe (as does the Catholic Church) that the soul is the form of the body. Soul isn't just what holds my body together, soul is the difference between my body and a carcass. The argument that if I could control a severed hand its still my body sounds to me like an argument solely based on functionality. If a spirit possesses my body and controls it, it's still my body though.

I wrote a lot more - let's just stick with this part for now.

Kenny said...

Yes, this is true. This Thomistic idea was an innovation in the history of Christianity, and not really consonant with the Tradition, but we'll leave that as another argument for another day. (Myself, I tend to think it's not so bad, because the things Aquinas was 'innovating' on were things that never should've been matters of dogma anyway - but now the Church of Rome has dogmas that are contrary to the Tradition and come from Aristotle, despite the alleged importance of tradition to that church.)

So you believe in these immanent forms, and that the soul is the form of the body. My analogy relies on a different picture. In order to understand (or even accept) my account of the Church, you don't have to accept this picture of the relationship between the self and the body - you only have to understand it. That said, I can try to reformulate it from an Aristotelian/Thomistic perspective:

The soul is a particular type of form, an 'entelechy,' an active principle by which the body is animated. Now, if you are going to believe the Thomistic/Aristotelian picture and also modern science (and I assume you are), then you can't just say that the body is united by being attached, because 'attached' is an extremely fuzzy concept (in fact, it was rather fuzzy before modern science, but only after modern science is it extremely fuzzy). Rather, it is united by being subsumed under this entelechy. All the parts, which may have once had their own forms, are subsumed under the one form, your soul, and become parts rather than genuine entities.

It follows that attachment is not definitive of whether something is part of you. What is definitive is that the matter is ordered by your soul, as its form and this is more or less the same thing as to say that you control it. Now, you might say there is something screwy here, because the rational (human) soul shouldn't be able to come apart from the animal and vegetative souls, and the animal and vegetative souls depend on the circulation of fluids. This may be right. So it may follow that what I'm talking about would not, according to Aquinas, be a genuine possibility for a human being, but it could still be a possibility for some conceivable thing.

As for maintaining distinctness, all metaphors/analogies eventually break down when pushed far enough - that's part of what makes them metaphors! However, if we want to push it farther, we can say that the Church becomes subsumed under Christ as its entelechy, or animating principle (I recently heard a very complicated lecture on digestion and blood in Aristotle - he has a whole sophisticated theory of how this sort of thing works!), and this process is the same as what, under another metaphor, is communicated by the concept of marriage. For us to become subsumed under Christ as our entelechy is for us to lose our individual identity and take Christ as our active, ordering principle, rather than our individual self-interest. This, once again, sounds like a pretty good characterization of the Church to me.

Tim A. Troutman said...


I think that our issue is not one of understanding but of old fashioned disagreement. I understand what you're saying about the Church and this is what I've always understood (more or less) the Reformers to be saying about it. But please take this in charity - I think it's a smart way of talking about a dumb idea.

I do not agree that the Church ever canonized Aristotlean metaphysics - we've had this conversation before. And if the Church were in the business of canonizing scientific laws and she canonized gravity, she wouldn't be canonizing Newtonian ideas - just truth (whether Newton happened on them before or not).

Aristotle was not introduced into Christianity in the middleages, he was reintroduced and or rediscovered. The early Fathers may have leaned towards Plato but they had plenty of rhetoric against Platonism as well. They spoke Greek and they had access to Aristotle however explicit they made of failed to make his metaphysics part of their theology.

The easiest way for me to know what you're saying is wrong (even if I am unlearned in philosophy and its history) is that I'm not unlearned in the early Church fathers and the way they speak of "Church" and the way you and other Protestants speak of it is like night and day.

you can't just say that the body is united by being attached

Well as far as I know, I can say that. I don't know of any real case of that not being so. I might be able to picture a body sawed in half and still behaving like a body does only in two parts like some cartoon - that's certainly a conceivable notion, but it doesn't match what I know about reality and in Thomistic philosophy (as I understand it) it doesn't work. Some call this common sense philosophy.

For me if you cut off a foot, you still have one undivided body - the foot is no longer part of it. The early fathers take this for granted when they speak of the groups which have splintered off.

But since we're having trouble with the metaphors because of our philosophical differences, let's try talking about the real thing - how does Christ build an invisible Church on Peter? In what way can an invisible Church have meaningful authority?

Kenny said...

In connection with the concept of scattered bodies, what I am saying is that you can't say this about literal bodies. It is not consistent with your Thomism, especially when combined with modern physics, to claim that a body is united in virtue of being physically attached. The body is, rather, united by being subsumed under its entelechy (form/soul).

The Church is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Ephesian 2:20) in the manner previously described in my discussion on apostolicity.

As far as Church authority, most talk of this sort of thing in the NT is authority exercised by local elders, as in Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5, and the various discussions of the appointment and responsibilities of elders/overseers in the pastoral epistles. You will be quick to point out that the apostles exercised authority beyond the local congregation. I certainly don't deny this, nor do I deny that there can be legitimate church governance at a higher level than a local congregation. What I am saying is that all of this talk of authority really has to do with the visible church, with particular historical manifestations.

How about Peter specifically? Well, Ephesians 2:20 uses the building metaphor for the Church and says that the foundation is "the apostles and prophets". Christ is frequently called "the cornerstone" (Peter is never so-called). Peter himself develops the building metaphor at 1 Peter 2:4-8, with Christ as the cornerstone and all believers as the 'living stones' of the 'spiritual house'. Peter doesn't mention himself in any special capacity. So, in short, I think that the problem is much less pronounced when we allow the building metaphor to develop itself over the course of the Scripture than it is when we take Matthew in isolation. The building metaphor in general is surely compatible with my view.

Furthermore, it is of note that in Matthew 16:18 the words Petros (Peter's name) and petra are closely related, but actually contrast with one another. If you look up Petros in LSJ (the classical Greek lexicon, which certainly has no theological bias, since it is intended for reading pre-Christian writers), it says "a stone, distinguished from petra." How distinguished? Under petra it says "a ledge or shelf of rock ... a rocky peak or ridge ... Properly petra is a fixed rock, petros a stone." So the text reads, "you are a Stone, and upon this mass of rock I will build my Church..."

This helps explain why it was evidently James, the Lord's brother, and not Peter who presided over the Jerusalem council (Acts 15).

Now, what precisely is meant by Matthew 16:19? On this point I am admittedly ignorant.

Tim A. Troutman said...

On Petra & Petros - those distinctions are meaningless since they weren't speaking Greek - they were speaking Aramaic and Aramaic has only one word for rock - Kepha. Translating into Greek had to make use of the gender of the noun - they couldn't translate Peter's name as "petra" because petra is a feminine noun. Former Baptist pastor Stephen Ray goes into more depth on this so I'll defer to his work.

I think we've seen that our main disagreement on the necessary unity of the Church lies in our philosophical differences. I think our main disagreement on the four marks is that you seem to be treating them as descriptions of the Church, I treat them as defining characteristics - attributes by which we might know which Church is true and which is false.

Given the Protestant concept of invisible Church - the way I'm treating the four marks is entirely arbitrary. What does it mean to be apostolic? You've given your explanation on how the invisible Church is apostolic. But that can't help us know which invisible Church is apostolic because we can't decide between invisible Churches - we cant see them.

We can describe them "here's what the invisible church is like: one, holy catholic & apostolic" which is what it seems to me that you are doing - but this arbitrary and useless - hardly worthy of a creed. Sure the invisible Church is holy - I mean it's not evil. Sure it's apostolic - I mean it's not based on paganism. Sure it's universal - "of the whole" not sectarian or ethnic. This true, "invisible church" by its nature would be all those things and thus no need to describe it. It's like saying the high mountain peak. It does make sense to use those marks in the way I think they were meant to be used if the Church is visible. Well there are supposed "churches" that aren't one (various heretical sects for example), there are those who aren't holy (promiscuous variety of Gnostic sects maybe), those who aren't catholic (eastern orthodox) and those who arent apostolic (Protestant). But there is a visible Church which meets all these marks.

So now I know what the invisible Church is like, it still tells me nothing of what visible community is "part" of that - the Novatianists or the Catholics. But if on the other hand, these marks intend to tell us something specific about the visible Church as I maintain (and the fathers take for granted), then they are not mere descriptions.

These marks set the true Church apart from the false ones. There are no competing invisible churches. Only visible churches compete and therefore only a visible church may be found true. We cannot find an invisible Church to be true amongst only visible competitors.

Andrew Preslar said...

In connection with the concept of scattered bodies, what I am saying is that you can't say this about literal bodies. It is not consistent with your Thomism, especially when combined with modern physics, to claim that a body is united in virtue of being physically attached. The body is, rather, united by being subsumed under its entelechy (form/soul).

The claim that the Church is the Body of Christ, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Eph 1.23) is not understood in a strictly literal sense by anybody. But neither is it taken, by the Catholic, as a mere metaphor. Rather, it is taken, and here I am paraphrasing Francis Hall (an Anglo-catholic), as the best "form of sounds words" for describing a mystery that lies beyond our ability to comprehend. However, as "a form of sound words" it becomes a basis for inferential doctrine, and is so used by St. Paul.

It seems to me that the distinction being made between "being physically attached" and "being assumed under its entelechy" is a weak one (at best) if we are thinking, as was St. Paul (apparently), of a living body as the basis for inferential doctrine about the nature of the universal Church.

A severed hand might be kept "alive" by some extraordinary action of the body, and in this way remain subsumed under its entelechy. But this is obviously not the thing that St Paul envisioned when he used the language of the Body, which would cease to be a form of sound words at all if it were so used. Even if a mere metaphor, one has to begin by taking word "body" in an ordinary, or natural, sense before proceeding to speculate as to what the literal description might be.

It seems to me that taking a living body, whose parts are subsumed by its entelechy in an ordinary way, as the basis for our inferential doctrine about the Church is hermeneutically superior to any theological construal of St Paul's language which assumes some extraordinary state of the parts of the Body being subsumed by the entelechy as the basis for inferential doctrine.

Paul was not writing science fiction any more than he was writing fiction when he described the Church as the Body of Christ.

Kenny said...

I agree with you that the various theological claims about the nature of the invisible Church are in some sense trivially true, and that there are no competing invisible churches to choose between. I further agree that the reason this description was put in the Creed was to enable people to pick out a particular visible church, and Christians still effectively use these criteria when, for instance, we evaluate a church based on its faithfulness to the conciliar definitions about, say, the Trinity, or the person of Christ. So, the question is, how does this work on my picture?

Well, a church is legitimate insofar as it is a concrete historical instantiation of the Church. So, if we know what the characteristics of the Church are, and we know how the 'instantiation' relation works (resemblance?), then we can judge whether (and to what degree?) any particular church is legitimate. The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Is this church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic? Well, I claim that no one particular church can claim catholicity - that is, no particular church is 'according to the whole', since each one is only a part. But a church which has Christ as its head rather than following some heretic is, albeit imperfectly, instantiating catholicity. You might find this type of claim implausible, and it is certainly true that it isn't neat and clean, but the last time I looked the world (or any church!) was not neat and clean. The Church of Rome's claim to catholicity I simply find far less plausible than any of the above.

Tim A. Troutman said...

I think Andrew nailed it on the head. If we're talking about the Church as a body - the primary way to understand it would be a natural body. You've started with a very unnatural hacked up carcass under a supposed unity of a soul. If nothing else, its the wrong starting point.

The Church of Rome's claim to catholicity I simply find far less plausible than any of the above.

I'm puzzled at this statement. The Catholic Church if nothing else has palpable catholicity. This is like me saying Baptists don't sing good and that's why I don't like Baptists. Now there might be other reasons to disbelieve Baptist claims, but that's certainly not one of them. Likewise, I don't understand what you mean by that statement.

Kenny said...

The concept of a natural body is an extremely problematic one, but there is a question here of how far it is useful to carry this metaphor. I suspect it is probably not useful (in the context of a discussion of ecclesiology) to have any further discussion on the metaphysical problems associated with natural bodies, but you seemed to think earlier that bringing in a Thomistic metaphysics of bodies was relevant to the situation, so if you want to talk about the metaphysics of bodies we can. I think a strong case can be made for the possibility of a 'scattered' body. One of the reasons for this is simply that there is no rigorous definition of 'attached' available under modern physics (and there are problems with the concept of 'attachment' even under Aristotelian/Scholastic physics). Right now, I am sharing electrons with my keyboard. I am also digesting food and it isn't clear how much of it is part of my body or when it became part of my body. The Thomistic/Aristotelian solution to these problems has to do with entelechies/substantial forms. I earlier tried to use, as a point of comparison, a Cartesian theory, just because it's simpler. (I don't happen to buy either the Thomistic theory or the Cartesian one, myself.) But how relevant all this is depends on how far you want to carry the metaphor. Andrew says that it isn't a 'mere metaphor', so perhaps he does think that the correct metaphysics of bodies is relevant to the question.

I have no idea what could possibly be meant by the phrase 'palpable catholicity,' nor do I understand how an argument about catholicity could possibly be analogous to statements about quality of music.

The Church of Rome has certainly been very careful to maintain consistency with the definitions made by the Ecumenical Councils. Some people mean only this (historical orthodoxy) by 'catholicity,' but those people are mostly Protestants. What I mean to deny (and what, I assume, you mean to claim) is that the Church of Rome is (uniquely) the catholic Church - that is, that the Church of Rome is the Church 'according to the whole' and everything else is a sect 'pulled out' from it. As I said, I regard this claim as extremely implausible, and far more problematic than anything I've said so far, for a huge number of reasons, many of which we have discussed before. Every argument you have made in favor of this claim in all the time I've been reading this blog has been seriously question-begging.

Tim A. Troutman said...


I'm sensing some frustration on your part. Like most of our conversations, I think this is getting elevating into something less charitable than it initially began as.

Regarding the metaphor - like Andrew said - Paul isn't writing science fiction. Your idea of a chopped up carcass being a body is clearly not what Paul is envisioning when he says "body". He's talking about a unified body like you and I have and like the Catholic Church has.

I have no idea what could possibly be meant by the phrase 'palpable catholicity,'

Kenny, a more charitable and far less condescending way of expressing this would be "can you please explain what you mean" or simply "I don't understand what you mean" would be a large improvement over your wording.

nor do I understand how an argument about catholicity could possibly be analogous to statements about quality of music.

Because if there's one thing Baptists are good at, its singing which would make it incomprehensible for someone to argue against Baptists based on their singing ability. Likewise if there's one thing thats true about Rome, it's her universality (at least apparently - whether you agree that it is true "catholicity"). By any tangible measurement she dwarfs her would-be competitors in that department if nothing else.

Every argument you have made in favor of this claim in all the time I've been reading this blog has been seriously question-begging.

Well, to date my arguments have been the best I can do. Hopefully they'll improve.

Listen, I enjoy our discussions but I think they'll do both of us good if we keep them just a bit more charitable.

Tim A. Troutman said...

I started a new thread here.