Thursday, January 29, 2009

Second Clement & Incarnational Ecclesiology

To begin with, the letter is not of Clementine authorship; moreover, it is not a letter but a homily and likely of second century origin; perhaps written in Corinth (Quasten). Secondly, all good ecclesiology is “Incarnational” as all good theology is in general. We can say that Christian theology properly begins with its root in the doctrine of creation ex nihilo and proceeds to the covenant relationship of the people of God through Abraham but it must not be forgotten that true theology is centered around the Incarnation. Any facet of Christian theology or any theory of doctrine must demonstrate a fundamental alliance with the Incarnation.

With this in mind, we turn to the oldest Christian homily (sermon) in existence:
So, then, brethren, if we do the will of our Father God, we shall be members of the first church, the spiritual,— that which was created before sun and moon; but if we shall not do the will of the Lord, we shall come under the Scripture which says, "My house became a den of robbers." So, then, let us elect to belong to the church of life, that we may be saved. I think not that you are ignorant that the living church is the body of Christ (for the Scripture, says, "God created man male and female;" the male is Christ, the female the church,) and that the Books and the Apostles teach that the church is not of the present, but from the beginning. For it was spiritual, as was also our Jesus, and was made manifest at the end of the days in order to save you. The church being spiritual, was made manifest in the flesh of Christ, signifying to us that if any one of us shall preserve it in the flesh and corrupt it not, he shall receive it in the Holy Spirit. For this flesh is the type of the spirit; no one, therefore, having corrupted the type, will receive afterwards the antitype. Therefore is it, then, that He says, brethren, "Preserve the flesh, that you may become partakers of the spirit." If we say that the flesh is the church and the spirit Christ, then it follows that he who shall offer outrage to the flesh is guilty of outrage on the church. Such an one, therefore, will not partake of the spirit, which is Christ. Such is the life and immortality, which this flesh may afterwards receive, the Holy Spirit cleaving to it; and no one can either express or utter what things the Lord has prepared for His elect. (ch 14)
For pseudo Clement, (hereafter referred to as Clement for the sake of brevity), the Church pre-exists its earthly manifestation as an invisible, spiritual form and is embodied in the Church as flesh. If Clement is right, and if the Incarnation is the correct starting point for developing true ecclesiology, then it would not suffice to say, as many do, that the spiritual Church is only clothed in the visible Church just as it would not have been enough to say Jesus was merely clothed in His physical Body. He was not a spirit animating a corpse -
The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.
Likewise then, the spiritual Church, the bride of Christ, became a physical reality – embodied, not clothed, in the Church as she sojourns on earth. This second century homilist, whose hearers would have already been exposed to Gnosticism (particularly Docetism), would find it necessary to embellish this point a bit; to show that as Christ was truly made Flesh, so the Church was truly made physical – visible. So much was the visible reality united with the spiritual Bride and so much was the Church the mystical Body of Christ that to dishonor her meant to dishonor Christ. Now, if you dishonor my wife, you dishonor me, but something different is going on here. To dishonor the Church was a direct dishonor to Christ it seems.

Finally, the Church is introduced in this homily as mother:
In that He said, Rejoice, you barren that bearest not, He referred to us, for our church was barren before that children were given to her.(ch 2)
The gender of the Church is important for understanding her spousal relationship with Christ and with her maternity in relation to the believer. Bearing all this in mind, that the Incarnation is the proper framework for ecclesiology, that the Church is the mystical Body of Christ and that she is properly understood as female being, both the Bride of Christ and mother of the believer, it stands to reason that any ecclesiology which fails to deliver the Church in this way is heretical in nature.

Now all ecclesiologies speak of the Church as visible or visibly manifested, all of them speak of her as the mystical body of Christ and all speak of her as His bride. Most are comfortable calling her the mother of the believer. But there is as big of a difference between the Catholic and non-Catholic in this regard as there was with the Catholic and the Gnostic. Gnostics were comfortable using a lot of the same language as Catholics in the second century – but they didn't believe the same things. As Irenaeus explains, they would be happy admitting that Mary was involved in the birth of Jesus (how could they deny it?) but would stop short of understanding her role as anything greater than as a tube when water is passed through it. Some Gnostics would be happy using the term “Body of Christ” with the caveat that it was only body as a shell – not truly His. These same Gnostics, we may assert with confidence, would be entirely at home to speak of a visible Church so long as it was maintained as only a visible manifestation animated by something which was only spiritual in essence.

For these reasons, it must be maintained that the Catholic Church, and she alone as a unified body which extends to the apostles, can rightly call herself “the Church”. She alone maintains full fidelity to Incarnational ecclesiology. Bryan Cross has written on this subject two posts which come highly recommended here and here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Too Much Focus on Mary?

Can you focus too much on Mary in your spiritual life? I say no. To the extent where Mary detracts from the adoration of Christ, she is a false Mary. The real Mary always points to Christ never away from Him; never to herself. So it would be impossible to focus on her too much because when you focus on the true Mary even a little, you hear her last words in Scripture, "Do whatever He tells you".

A Mary that points anywhere but Christ is a fabricated Mary just as a Jesus who hates organized religion is a fabricated Jesus.

Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

On First Causes

From James Chastek:
Our inability to imagine the first cause is actually a confirmation of its primacy. Nothing imaginable could be first.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thomism & Intelligent Design

Over the past year or so, I've been gradually acquainting myself with the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and I think I can now officially call myself his pupil. One day I hope to call myself a Thomist. And during approximately this same time period, my disposition has softened towards evolutionary theory. I've been open to some evolutionary concepts for some time now of course, just not full blown Darwinian evolution and I can't say that I'm quite there yet (nor with confidence that I'll end up there). But for what it's worth, I'll pass along an excellent article from "This Rock" magazine entitled, "Aquinas vs. Intelligent Design". H/T The Deeps of Time (which, if you have any interest in philosophy & science you should be subscribed to).

I didn't follow his arguments well enough to reach his conclusion though:
Our current science may or may not be able to explain any given feature of living organisms, yet there must exist some explanatory cause in nature. The most complex of organisms have a natural explanation, even if it is one that we do not now, or perhaps never will, know.
It seems to be starting with a presupposition that I'm not ready to accept - that all things observed must have a natural explanation. It seems to contradict Thomistic cosmogony rather than support it as the author argues. We maintain, as it was divinely inspired, that God does interrupt the natural process through miraculous intervention. This is at least how it has been revealed to us through Scripture. His argument seems to contradict that.

Any thoughts?

Monday, January 19, 2009


Today is the second day of the octave of Christian unity where all Christians are urged to pray for Christian unity. So, for what it's worth, I encourage all of my readers to do so.

Tomorrow was originally going to be the launch of a new website I am happy to be co-authoring. It's a good thing that we pushed the date back because it's not ready. Look for an announcement on this blog (and probably some others you read) on 2/25/2009 (Ash Wednesday). We're going to kick of Lent with an intensified call to unity.

The website will be written from the perspective of Reformed Christians who have found unity in the only place it can be found: the Catholic Church.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Book Review: Cyprian the Bishop by J. Patout Burns

The persecution under Decius in the mid 3rd century and subsequent controversies in Italy & Northern Africa is, for me, the most confusing period of ante-Nicene Church history. So much writing has survived that we are able to bring a lot of characters into play (some have similar sounding names & all seem to disagree on various issues for the same reasons or the same issues for various reasons). One confusing issue is that Eusebius refers to Novatian as Novatus which is the same name as a laxist priest in Carthage!

I've read many accounts of this historical narrative (and most of Cyprian's writings) and besides conflicting information, I get the impression that many of those writing these accounts don't have such a strong command of this time period themselves. For this reason, I was particularly excited to read J. Patout Burn's "Cyprian the Bishop". As I understand it, Burns has devoted a large portion of his professional career solely to the study of Cyprian of Carthage and the surrounding controversies.

The first chapter is a chronological narrative of Cyprian's Christian life from baptism to martyrdom which I found particularly helpful. Oddly enough, I might now command a stronger understanding of the whole thing if I had stopped there (and I may well re-read that first part just for the sake of clarity).

Burns' style is clear and accessible but not terribly interesting. He never confuses (which I appreciate) but seems a bit repetitive. Though, the confusing nature of this time period may warrant the repetition and I don't think it detracted too much from the book. He is even handed through most of the book and appears to represent all sides fairly but on page 165, (just 11 pages before the end), he makes this surprising blunder:
"The primacy of the papal system which emerged in the medieval period would have been puzzling to the African bishops of the third century: they firmly grasped Peter as a symbol of unity but understood the Petrine office only at the local level."
I do not object, of course, that Cyprian would be comfortable with the direction that the development of papal primacy was headed as he would not; I object that the development had "emerged" long ago and was already well along its way (which is made explicit in Cyprian's conflict with Stephen). Burns here makes it sound as if there were no concept of papal primacy at this time and it would only emerge much later in the middle ages. I'm not sure where he stands personally on this and I'll leave him the benefit of the doubt that it was merely a poor choice of words rather than a blind eye to history.

While I do appreciate the work of a historian to see the world through the eyes of the subject studied, in the final chapter, "Cyprian's African Heritage", it seems that Burns becomes too fond of Cyprian's arguments and uses them as a standard to judge the Catholic Church. It seems that Burns begins to argue (not as from the mouth of Cyprian but from his own) that the Pope was wrong on re-baptism. Beginning on page 169, he abruptly declares:
"The Roman practice of accepting baptism performed in schism or heresy came without a theoretical justification; it was based upon customary practice alone."
Which is odd not only because it's flatly wrong, but also because on page 109 he himself admits that there were arguments being made for the Roman case and not only from Italy (Bishop Jubianus for example):
"Jubianus suggested and Stephen charged that Cyprian and his colleagues were following Novatian's innovative practice of rebaptizing schismatics rather than the established tradition of both the church and most heretics: receiving baptized converts by the imposition of hands". (Emphasis added)
Burns is not careful to appreciate St. Cyprian's legacy through the eyes of the Church and as a result, it appears that he ends up siding on Cyprian on those uniquely Cyprianic ideas which were preserved most faithfully by schismatics rather than by the Catholic Church. It was the Donatists in Northern Africa that adopted the stand of Cyprian & the African bishops, not the Catholics. St. Cyprian was certainly a great Church father to whom we likely owe more than we realize, but he was wrong on a few issues and they do need to be recognized.

Overall, I would recommend the book to those interested in developing a greater understanding of Cyprian & his controversies.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Patristic News

First, is back up.

Secondly, Phil Snider has the latest Patristic Carnival up and running.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Church & The Bible

Which has primacy the Bible or the Church? No one outside the Church can properly answer this question.

It seems to me that there are two senses in which to examine the question of primacy here: first, of chronology and second of inspiration.

Speaking chronologically, of course the Church has primacy over the Bible since the Church began before the last 27 books were written and long before the canon was even an idea. More important to note that it was the Church who produced both the New Testament and the canon. God gave us Scriptures through the Church and it is precisely in this context that they belong. In fact, the Bible doesn't truly make sense outside this context. Andrew Preslar, whose post I cannot find, wrote that the Church speaks of the Scriptures as something proper to her nature - they belong to her.

Speaking of inspiration on the other hand, I believe there is a certain primacy of the Scriptures over the Church; that is, sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. These three are equally infallible, we already know, but if things are equal in one respect, it does not follow that there can be no primacy. The Godhead, we know, consists of three equal persons yet the Son proceeds from the Father and the Holy Spirit from the Father and Son. Likewise, I believe it is correct to say that as far as divine inspiration goes, there is a certain primacy of the Scriptures. When the Church speaks authoritatively and infallibly, she speaks with just as few errors as the Scriptures do (zero) yet she does not speak as the Scriptures (God breathed). That is, when the Church pronounces infallibly (even ex cathedra) it is not the precise equivalent of Scripture. In this sense, I think it is right to hold a primacy of the Scriptures.

I am certainly open to correction. Actually, funny thing, I dreamed this post nearly in its entirety.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Familiar Face is Heading to Rome

Many of you know George Weis and many of you may have already seen his announcement. It's hard for me to conceal my excitement that my friend, and brother in Christ, has formally announced that he will seek full communion with the Catholic Church.

Please stop by and offer your encouragement and prayers for George and his family as they embark on this incredible journey.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Hope & Unity

Recent events for better or worse in our times have seen reality made of hopes once deemed impossible. We needn't mention specifics.

God the Son, taking our lowly form and walking among us, left us many imperatives which require faith first, but also hope. Believe in Me, He said, but also hope. Faith causes hope and hope, like faith, is a virtue. To follow through with an imperative requires faith in the imperator which precedes the hope that the end may actually be achieved. We have one such end; and that is unity.

Unity is not optional for the Body of Christ anymore than it is optional of our physical bodies. Those members which would take part in my life must partake of my bodily unity for if not found there, it shall not be found elsewhere. Those who would take part in the life of Christ must likewise join to that in which His life already exists in Bodily unity.

To have enough faith in Christ to follow the unity imperative is one thing; it is another altogether to maintain the hope that it shall indeed be realized. No doubt, this hope seems unreasonable; but as one famous journalist who achieved this very hope for himself said, hope is only useful when it is unreasonable.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Church Belongs to Antiquity

As a follow up of my last post;

The mustard tree must not be judged by one's knowledge about its seed but one might ask of the tree "what were you like as a seed" and the tree, and only the tree, could tell you.

We do not study seeds to learn what they may look like as trees but trees do have the ability to reveal to us what their seeds looked like. (We need only examine their fruit).

The last line of my previous post may strike readers as a contradiction (as it relates to converts like me). For it would seem that I investigated the seed (the Church of antiquity) via the fathers and found it to be Catholic.

But in the most tangible way, I found the Church not in antiquity but at 1400 Suther Rd (where I received the sacraments of reconciliation, confirmation, communion and matrimony in that order). What I found of the seed was not that it was Roman Catholic per se, but that it was not Presbyterian. Then I asked the tree what she had to say of the seed and I often found her answers to be precisely the sort of thing I would expect that seed to say once it had blossomed into a tree.

Some of the things surprised me precisely because I had more to learn from the tree than I could ever learn from the seed.

Antiquity Belongs to the Church

An adaptation of a quote from a famous convert, Manning, and some thoughts.

Antiquity belongs to the Church as do the Scriptures. Just as the Scriptures make sense only when delivered by the Church and no one may discover the Scriptures for himself apart from her, so may no one rightly understand antiquity (that is, sacred Tradition) except through the Church. Scholars may learn about both on their own but will learn neither except through her.

This is because both are vehicles to deliver divine truth. Mundane truth may be apprehended by mundane powers but to apprehend divine truth requires divine assistance. Therefore the same Spirit who animated that apostolic Church through which Scripture and Tradition were delivered to man must be the same Spirit who lifts men to apprehend this in our day. If that Spirit was not found aside from the apostolic Church, He is not found outside the Church now.

So when men go looking to antiquity to find the true Church, they have already made a fatal mistake. He who would find antiquity must go through the Church.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


I believe I've said this before somewhere but I think it's worth repeating. Those who deny that the Catholic Church is uniquely identifiable as the continuity of the apostolic Church are the same ones who are quite sure that she is the same church who held the Spanish Inquisition. But any reasonable criteria of continuity that would hold her "guilty" of the Inquisition (or the Galilelo incident) would also find her praiseworthy for being the very Church founded by Christ on the apostles.