Blog Template Theology of the Body: November 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Favorite Thanksgiving Report

Having spent yesterday explaining to my little brothers about the importance of attending Mass on a civic holiday inaugurated by the good Pilgrims, and having done a quick survey of the blogs on friends' Thanksgiving celebrations, I have to say that my favorite is Amy Welborn's lovely little story of Thanksgiving Day in Rome- here.

(Be sure to see Taylor's excellent post on the Catholic Origins of Thanksgiving as well!)

Ecumenical Acumen Excursus

While researching on St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine a few days ago, I glanced at a stray page from a presentation made at a conference of Paulist Fathers, traditionally avid ecumenists, almost fifty years ago. For some reason, it suited recent thoughts to a T:

"In conclusion, let me urge us all to take a vital interest in the ecumenical movement. ...(however) I realize that there are some members of the movement who seem to think that convert work must be put on the shelf temporarily, in favor of ecumenical work.

The Protestant scholar Jarislov Pelikan argues with a great degree of plausibility in The Riddle of Roman Catholicism that the Protestant interested in Catholicism should work for corporate reunion rather than become a convert to Catholicism here and now. I think this is a denial of man's primary duty to save his soul, and I am sure that many priests have met with "high church" Anglicans, for instance, who stay out of the Catholic Church under the perilous illusion that they can do more for the Church outside it than within it.

... Christ preached to crowds but He also evangelized individuals. He has asked us to go out into the highways and byways to bring guests into the marriage feast. I don't think He will object if we bring them one by one rather than by tens and twenties. The important thing is to bring them in."

- From "Catholics and Ecumenism," Rev. John B. Sheerin, C.S.P. St. Paul's College, Washington D.C., Oct 22. 1959.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dhimmi watch at YDS

Sarah Ruden, a visiting faculty member at Yale Divinity School, details how YDS hosted a Christian-Muslim dialogue at which Christians were not to wear crosses or dress inappropriately or deal with messy things like the Trinity or Incarnation. Here's a quote to whet your appetite, but the whole thing is worth a read:

The Christian God gave up all of his power out of love, gave up even human dignity and human life. An image offensive to Muslims but indispensable to Christians was apparently kept out of the conference: the crucifix. Often worn over a woman's breasts or on a man's chest, it is an image not only of God, but also of God dying nearly naked and in agony. To Muslims, it is blasphemy broadcast through lewd idolatry. No explanation is likely to change their minds, but we should at least try to get across our commitment. We should state plainly that not only are we inspired by this image, but that we shaped our societies around it. It led us to express love not through power but through its sacrifice, so that, over time, we came to see defending the weak as the only legitimate use of force, limited our governments accordingly, and emerged looking—to Muslims—thoroughly godless. We're not: we've merely got the societies our God demanded, and most of us are happy to serve our God within them.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What We Do: Huntsville Pilgrimage for Life '08

Almost one thousand Catholics gathered yesterday in Huntsville, Texas, in response to our bishops' invitation to celebrate the Kingship of Christ and His gracious endowment of inalienable dignity to every person, from conception to natural death. Accordingly, we walked quietly between the Huntsville Planned Parenthood and the federal unit for state executions, and we interceded for an increase of faith, hope, love, and the cherishing of human life at all stages of development and in all circumstances.

From the top: a prayer map covered with the names of supporting Catholic parishes in Texas; a Byzantine Catholic priest and parishioners joined in; Cardinal DiNardo of Houston greets pilgrims after the closing prayer; enthusiastic young people and toddlers made up a solid number of the pilgrims, and did their share to guarantee the Church's witness to the world in the next generation; the relevant icons reminded us of God's gift of perfect motherhood in a world which murders its weakest children; a Benedictine sister pauses in prayer in front of the state execution center, with its enormous clock to mark the precise moment of retribution;... onward, quiet Christian soldiers.

We sang this hymn:

Church of God, elect and glorious,
holy nation, chosen race;
called as God's own special people,
royal priests and heirs of grace:
know the purpose of your calling,
show to all his wondrous name.
More here

Friday, November 21, 2008

Considering Radner IV: Final Thoughts

St. Paul's own authoritative ecclesiology, as preserved in a bedrock way in sacred Scripture, is summarized nicely by a surprising source:

"Paul's Church is not an aggregate of justified sinners, or a sacramental institute, or a means of private self-sanctification, but is the avante garde of the new creation, creating beacheads in this world of God's dawning new world... and witnessing to the day of God's visible lordship over His creation."

Beker, Paul the Apostle

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Considering Radner III: Is the Catholic Church Wounded?

One of the most significant rejoinders given to Catholics who object to Radner's wounded ecclesiology is the reminder that the Catholic magisterium has itself described the Church as "wounded" by the sins of her members; and in fact, although the Catholic Church does not refer to woundedness in any of her documents on ecumenism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does explain as follows:

"In fact, in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism - do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers."

The correct interpretation of this passage requires the reader to keep in mind several principles of Catholic theology. First, while the Catholic Church firmly holds that the fullness of the visible Body of Christ subsists within her own household, she also joyfully recognizes a certain sharing in Christ which belongs to every baptized believer. And it is with respect to these separated brothers and sisters that the Catholic Church is most aware of a real woundedness that harms those who remain separated from the fullness of grace available in the one Church. This principle was explained most recently by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2007:
"Despite this unequivocal recognition of the (Orthodox churches) 'being particular Churches' and of their salvific value, the document could not ignore the wound (defectus) which they suffer specifically in their being particular Churches...that wound is still more profound in those ecclesial communities which have not preserved the apostolic succession or the valid celebration of the eucharist."

It is in this way that the Catholic Church recognizes woundedness in the Body of Christ, with respect to Christ's members who are separated from the fullness of the Catholic faith.

In the same way, the dogmatic constitution on the Church of 1967 (Lumen Gentium) laments a certain woundedness in every member of the Church who falls into sin; and these wounds are healed by the Sacrament of Penance, which can be received by those who are in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Probably the most helpful interpretive passage for the idea of the woundedness in the Body of Christ is to be found in the declaration Dominus Iesus, which was authored in 2000 by Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger:

"The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the Church; not in the sense that she is deprived of her unity, but “in that it hinders the complete fulfilment of her universality in history” by the persistence of schism.

In other words, true to her conviction that the authentic experience of being part of Christ's Body is possible only in full communion with the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church does not speak of herself as disfigured, wounded, or divided by the decision of numerous bodies to separate from her throughout history; this is because she believes that her purity and integrity come only from Christ, and are preserved by Him for Himself, regardless of what human communities may choose to do. Thus, any references to the woundedness of Christian communities- especially with regard to ecumenical conversation and Catholic self-identity- should keep these qualifications carefully in mind. It is with respect to such qualifications that the Catholic CDF described the following norm with regard to ecumenical dialogue just over a year ago:

"If (ecumenical) dialogue is to be truly constructive it must involve not just the mutual openness of the participants but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith. Only in this way will it be able to lead towards the unity of all Christians in "one flock with one shepherd" and thus heal that wound which prevents the Catholic Church from fully realising her universality within history."

...Enough for woundedness. With regard to the Catholic Church's proper universality, I personally would echo a line from my favorite Catholic ecumenist, addressed to all non Catholic friends and readers: we have great need of you.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Considering Radner II.

Before his death in AD 258, St. Cyprian of Carthage interpreted such Scriptural descriptions of the Church as that found in Ephesians 5- "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless"- with the following language excerpted below. St. Cyprian's exhortation seems relevant to Radner's proposals that Christ's Church is inherently susceptible to blemishing by human causes:

"The Lord said I and the Father are one. And it is also written of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost- these three are one. Who then would believe that this unity, which derives from the very divine stability and homogenaity with the heavenly mysteries, could be, in the Church, torn and broken by the opposition of human will at variance with each other?"

...Who, then, is so wicked and faithless, who is so insane with the madness of discord, that either he should believe that the unity of God can be divided, or should dare to rend it—the garment of the Lord—the Church of Christ? He Himself in His Gospel warns us, and teaches, saying, “And there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” And does any one believe that in one place there can be either many shepherds or many flocks? The Apostle Paul, moreover, urging upon us this same unity, beseeches and exhorts, saying, “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that ye be joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

- St. Cyprian, De Unitate Ecclesiae VI.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Considering Radner I.

Covenant Communion?

De Lubac on

Incorporation in the Two Aspects of the Church

(The Splendor of the Church, 1986)

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas;" still another, "I follow Christ." …Is Christ divided?” I Corinthians 1:10-13

It seems that recently trendy Protestant ecclesiology is increasingly conducted in a Radnerian key, which (very loosely construed) seems to proceed from the following principles. First, the Church is viewed as fundamentally broken or “wounded.” Secondly, in as much as the evidence of this inherent woundedness is located in the sins of schism and division among Christian communities, the obvious alternative seems to be for Christians to get along by first blaming their problems on this indemic woundeness, and then to attempt to cohabit by the sheer force of willed commitment. Thus the primary work of the Holy Spirit will be to operate through human agents for the gradual re-constituting of the Church through the human mechanisms of binding agreement, such as diplomacy, bargaining, and covenants, construed in various ways.

On this rather sad view, it would seems that the broken world was merely handed another intrinsically sick body at Pentecost, whose total mission is to try to heal itself by inspired negotiations. Setting aside for a moment the depressing gloom of this description, as well as Barth’s severe warning on point, the above construal bears for this reader scant resemblance to the Biblical authors' contagious rejoicing at the marriage supper of the Lamb, and hearkens even less to Augustine’s breathless admiration for the immaculate bride-as-new-Eve born from the wounds of Christ on His Cross. On the contrary, it seems that the sincere penitent, on considering his salvation, might be driven to outright panic on Radner's description, when he considers the more basic principle, affirmed by the Fathers and modern theologians alike, that his salvation depends on his proper and full incorporation into this body, which, in the Radnerian key, is so wounded that the lone penitent might be always at great risk of falling through a crack. It has been suggested that the solution to this dire problem is for Christians to “covenant” together, in order to shore up the grace which is promised to all the baptized, for the outworking of their common mission. Putting such proposals in conversation with De Lubac’s resourcement ecclesiological theology might clarify fruitful questions for future dialogue.

It is true that the idea of securing grace through binding agreements or “covenants” is a very old one. In the thirteenth century, the scholastics Richard Fishacre and Robert Kilwardby proposed that the sacramental grace needed for salvation was “contracted” in the Church through the due enactment of authorized symbols. Gabriel Biel followed suit in his argument that God would show mercy to humanity in exchange for a sincere and adequately demonstrative performance of faith and charity. St. Thomas refutes these proposals in his victorious explanation of the unmerited nature of the grace which, in as much as it belongs to God alone, operates instrumentally and directly by literally touching the body and cleansing the heart of the recipient through the sacraments. When Protestant theology turned away from its foundation in the tradition compiled by the medieval schoolmen, it rehearsed the former trends with a new urgency; thus Calvin and his following reduced the life of Christian faith to a covenant, enacted in and through a covenant community, which appropriated salvation for its members through the covenantal symbols of baptism and the Eucharist; the communion of believers, joined by the invisible bonds of consensus, thus becomes a means and locus of engaging grace through the offer/acceptance dynamic of a covenant conducted among God and neighbor.

Against this modern proposal, De Lubac summarizes one of the most striking aspects of Catholic ecclesiology: rather than describing the Church’s emergence from the union of human covenanters, in which grace is secured by various authorized mechanisms, De Lubac echoes the more ancient teaching that the Church comes only from Christ. Thus she is herself simply “the sacrament of Christ, as Christ Himself, in His humanity, is for us the sacrament of God.” (De Lubac, Splendor of the Church 202) If we apply Thomas’ definition of a sacrament here, we would say further that in as much as the Church belongs to God alone, she exercises on the bodies of the people whom she touches a direct effect accomplished through the Divine institution, by virtue merely of her creation; there is no humanly intermediary covenant mechanism required. As the “last testament/covenant,” formed by the final assent uttered by humanity in Christ on His cross, after which there is to be no other, (204, 205) the Church is “that which we already have, not a heralding or a preparation more or less remote-” but here and now- “the whole coming of the Son of Man.” (ibid) De Lubac finds the ample foundation for his explanation in the writings of the fathers; but his extensive citation of their writings, in which the Church is simply identified with Christ, is summarized by a statement of the peasant saint Joan of Arc, which De Lubac deems adequate to summarize all the thought of the ecclesial Doctors: “it seems to me that it is all one, Christ and the Church, and it seems to me we ought not to make any difficulty of it.” (211)

It is in this regard that we find no mention of “covenant” in De Lubac’s ecclesiology as a fundamental descriptor of the Christian’s communion with Christ in the Church. De Lubac is eager to affirm the Church as creature of the context of the New Covenant, in which God has come to dwell with His people in the spiritual and human person of His body, the Church; but De Lubac has no sense of the Church as a spiritual reality emerging from the consensus of her members. In fact, on his insistence of “a relation of mystical identity” between Christ and His church, (209) De Lubac sternly rejects this sort of impulse as idolatrous; on his explanation, if modern ecclesiology construes itself as the product of a negotiated covenant among Christian members, we might find “the growing tendency toward a real homogeneity between (the) worshippers and the beings that are worshipped.”

Instead, De Lubac construes the worship of Christ by the Church, which is appropriated by her members, as involving two aspects, on the model of the hypostatic union of Christ’s divinity and humanity, from which the Church is also constituted “under two aspects.” (103) Here, de Lubac distinguishes the inseparable “active” and “passive” aspects of the Church, in whom both the voice that calls and the members assembled are united indissolubly, (ibid) in the one call of the Bridegroom who continually calls the world’s ungathered to His Body, through His Body. De Lubac insists that this construal is the only way in which the Church can bear witness to her Lord’s Incarnation- the hypostatic union of Logos with Jesus of Nazareth- and any attempt to divide the invisible, mystical, transcendent form of this ecclesial Body from its historical, visible boundaries and instantiations reduces the human aspect to such sociological considerations as those which apply to covenant making, and then shades the entire Gospel with the monophysite and Platonic slurs which deny that the Christ has come, in the flesh. (102, 105) As Christ’s Body, the Church has full divinity and fully humanity, inseparably.

Still, De Lubac is aware that in herself as recipient creature, the venerable Church should not be worshipped as her Head alone is to be worshipped, since she possesses of herself nothing of His divinity which she did not first receive. Thus, having established the principle of mystical identity between Christ and the Church, it is here that De Lubac qualifies his insistence on this relation of "identity” with recourse to a covenant framework. The covenantal framework invoked here is, however, not described in the sense of a product of ecumenical discourse arrived at between the Church’s human members as to how they will co-create a common life together; rather, De Lubac seems to envision a covenant which was once and for all engaged between the human Body and her Head to constitute the new flesh of “the great mystery” in an ontological, real nuptial union. Here, De Lubac’s punctuation of his ecclesial metaphors with the language of the Church as covenanted “Bride” and covenant-created “Household” is significant. De Lubac introduces the Church as the Bride who wields her Spouse’s authority and grace while at the same time benefiting from them, by virtue of her total union with her divine spouse. (107-109) Furthermore, “the Church (is) the House of Christ, in which Christ is given to us in a final and eternal alliance.” (211)

Thus, on De Lubac’s terms, there is indeed a covenant which constitutes saving union with Christ; but the covenant is not made with respect to the members of the Church, but with respect to the Church entire, as she is in her fullness. In De Lubac’s invocation of the nuptial imagery for the total union between Christ and the Church, we find implicit the notion of a total covenant. And if this is the case, De Lubac introduces a way of construing covenant in discussions of ecclesiology and soteriology. By its nature, a covenant requires two voices, one to issue an offer, the other to guarantee a response. Following on Calvin’s proposal that a saving covenant must be engaged between the individual and God at baptism, and that the Church thus emerges as the covenant communion of covenanting individuals, De Lubac’s proposal of the mystical identity between Christ and the Church teaches us that in the Church there is ultimately only one voice, which is Christ’s, saying to the Father in His humanity, “it is finished.” And, on St. Joan’s humble explanation, there is nothing more to say, though there is surely much left to obey.

In this way, as De Lubac summarizes, the notion that for each one of us Christ is His Church becomes a very practical matter. (210) In sum, De Lubac’s governing principle seems to be that the only covenant that matters with regard to individual salvation in and through the Church has already been made and consummated between Christ and His immaculate Bride; “he who is not a member of the body does not receive influx from the Head; he who does not cling to the one Bride is not loved by the Bridegroom.” (210) The unity of the Church thus subsists not in human agreements, but in the integrity of the Head, who has united Himself to His Body:

The integrity of Christ signifies the indivisible unity of the Head and the Body, in plenitudine Ecclesiae, and in consequence, the indivisible unity of all those who are parts of this body… (thus) her mysterious reality always transcends all those who belong to her and gather to her… she is actualized and localized in their groupings, but she is neither divided not multiplied by them, for she is always more than they are. (110-111)

Thus, when elaborating on the implications of the Church’s nuptial covenant with her Lord with respect to individual members, De Lubac lists the following aspects of the covenant communion between the Body and Her Head, to which the Church’s individual members must be found to conform. The implication of the Church’s dual human and divine interaction, as consummated in her own nuptial covenant with Christ, clearly “involves a meaning that is not interchangeable: no children without a mother; no people without leaders;… no communion of saints without a communication of holy things. And similarly, no constituted assembly without a constitution, which includes a hierarchy.” (109-110) And finally, in the reality of the givenness of this already- consummated covenant, which has formed “one flesh” into which the baptized are born, De Lubac warns: "we should remember that there is no substantial hope of unity outside the institution which received the promise of unity... we should hold as an absolute principle that there can never be a valid reason for separating ourselves from her." (211)

In conclusion, De Lubac seems to remind us that though the Church as corpus Christi does, in one respect, exist under the aspect of a human covenant, this covenant does not belong to us as her members; it is the Church’s nuptial covenant, formed with her spouse, with which her members have nothing to do but assent, in order that they may benefit ontologically from her union, and then extend Christ’s household benefits to the waiting world.

Wounded Body or Glorious Bride? A Humble Look at Radner's Crew

The most interesting thing about being a Catholic in modern day Dallas/Fort Worth is that one finds herself situated in an arena of vivid ecclesiological questions. We have some of the largest and most vibrant Catholic parishes in the world here; we also have some of the most ardent proponents of the idea that Protestants can co-exist alongside these parishes in a form of Catholic life and devotion which is fully symbiotic with the Catholic tradition while remaining ensconsed outside of it. They may call themselves "anglo-catholics," "bapto-catholics," "metho-catholics," etc; one eminent French Vatican II ecclesiologist called them "parasites," but that is another topic for another day. At any rate, it's never a dull moment in Texas.

One particular issue which I have wanted to address for a long time is involved in the proposal of Ephraim Radner, an erudite Episcopalian theologian, who suggests that a fundamental construal of the Church should deal with her "woundedness." This idea is supposed to lead to ecumenical advances, in as much as we all can identify as victims of some sort of hurt or another. My unformed response to this kind of idea is that the proponent should immediately stop whining theologically, but of course, there is more to be said.

So, for the next few days I will be considering the idea of the Church relative to the construals of Radner and his following. Throughout the consideration, I will be keeping one central issue in mind: is the Church something which we create for ourselves? Or, on the other hand, is the Church (exclusively) Christ's creation? In other words, should the ecclesiological article of the Creed- in which we confess belief in "one, holy, apostolic Church"- be taken as referring to the only aspect of the Creed which is not God's unexacted self-gift to us? Should we rather treat this article as describing something which we form for our own use, via communal practices and covenants? The solution may help to clarify the dividing line between Catholic and Protestant ecclesiologies, which- I think- goes to the heart of every other divergence in understanding, and certainly addresses the question of how we might go about conforming ourselves to the Church which we confess.

I will be leaving the comments open in case any of our learned readers would like to weigh in. Thanks for your attention...

Monday, November 17, 2008

St. Benedict of Norcia, 480-543

The founder of western monasticism gave himself to defending the immaculate unity and purity of the Church which Christ founded. He and his brothers lived against the accusations of woundedness and ambiguity in the Church with the integrity and clarity of the whole self, armed, as Benedict put it, "with the bright and shining armor of obedience."

See what some modern brothers of St. Benedict are up to here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ecumenical Acumen Excursus

May this hymn to the Trinity for the Incarnation of the Son rise with one voice from all who have been baptized and share the same faith in the Lord Jesus. May the ecumenical character of the Jubilee be a concrete sign of the journey which, especially in recent decades, the faithful of the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities have been making. It is only by listening to the Spirit that we shall be able to show forth visibly in full communion the grace of divine adoption which springs from Baptism: all of us children of the one Father. The challenging call of the Apostle rings out again for us today: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4-6).

To use the words of Saint Irenaeus: after receiving the Word of God as rain falling from heaven we cannot allow ourselves to present to the world an image of dry earth; nor can we ever claim to be one bread if we prevent the scattered flour from becoming one through the action of the water which has been poured on us.

Incarnationis Mysterium, 2000

... with sincerest prayers for our Episcopalian brothers and sisters in Christ, who are devising even more variegated separations within their separated structure this weekend.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My new hero

I stumbled across this little tome in Barnes & Noble a couple weeks ago and have hardly been able to put it down. It's a nice little introduction to rhetoric, logic, and philosophy for those of us whose education has been a little lacking in some (alas, very key) areas. The author, Mortimer J. Adler was a philosophy professor at Chicago and organized the "Great Books" project. Not to my surprise--but wholly to my delight--Adler converted to the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic faith before his death in 2001. Of his conversion he said,

"My chief reason for choosing Christianity was because the mysteries were incomprehensible. What's the point of revelation if we could figure it out ourselves? If it were wholly comprehensible, then it would just be another philosophy."

William T. Cavanaugh and a Case for Excommunicating Pro-Aborts

In Torture and Eucharist, Cavanaugh provides a theological justification of the decision by Latin American bishops to withhold the Eucharist from perpetrators of torture under the abusive Pinochet regime in Latin America. On the Catholic Church's understanding of abortion as a grave offense against the dignity of the human person, in the form of murder by dismemberment, we may find here a direct analogy to the decision of some American bishops to excommunicate public defenders of abortion and to require penance for those who cast a pro-abortion vote.

Cavanaugh simply proposes the application of excommunication for offenders against the human person, as designated by the Church’s extant social teaching. Cavanaugh does not seem to be advocating direct political intervention by the Church, but rather, stronger enforcement within the Church of its proper pastoral guidance of its own people. In this way, the Church remain a “supra-political plane” in excommunicating torturers in modifying one of it’s own internal practices as the community which is constituted by the Eucharist. This internal action has “revelatory” value in making otherwise hidden offenses and offenders visible both within the Church and without. Here, Cavanaugh refers to Augustine’s notion of the Church as the only true polity, since only therein is justice towards God accomplished, in that He receives the proper sacrifice that is due to Him; and on this model, the Eucharist is itself the meeting of justice and propitiation which should not be administered to the perpetrators of grave injustice.

In this way, Cavanaugh proposes that the Church, as Eucharistic community in se, can and must “intervene” in national politics by duly observing the “public performance of the true City of God in the midst of another city which is passing away.” (13) In this way, Cavanaugh presumes that the antidote to political totalitarianism, which the Chilean Church provided, is “the determined practice of the Eucharist as an act of community that knowingly situates itself over against the brutalizing reach of the state.” (ibid)

Cavanaugh's central theses on point may be summarized as follows:

1. For the Church to administer the Eucharist to torturers and murderers would be to cede to the brutalization of the bodies of the vicitm, and would also be to hand over the bodies of the perpetrators to grave harm.

2. For the Church to administer the Eucharist to torturers and murderers would indicate the Church’s acquiescence to the idea of “a prior conflict” from which the state saves us and would affirm the idea of the state as a political realm which fundamentally excludes the Body of Christ. This would mean that the Church would not not so much solve conflict as enact it. (8, 9) Furthermore, the Church would thus ‘disappear’ itself through its own ecclesiastical practice. (16)

3. The Church is the true Body of Christ, capable of enacting a counter-practice to the state via the resources of the Eucharist; as such, the Eucharist is the Church’s counter-politic against a politics of torture and abuse: “formal excommunication remembers the tortured body of Christ and anticipates judgment against the torturers, thus making visible in the present what is and is not the Church. Excommunication is one of the clearest examples of how the Eucharist is a resource for the social practice of the Church.” (263) Thus the Eucharist is a community stronger than any other nation-state; and one’s identity as a member of Christ’s Body is ultimately more important than citizenship/identity with the country of one’s birth. (18)

4. For the Church to excommunicate torturers and murderers is "to participate in a communal/public discipline of bodies (and) to be engaged in direct confrontation with the politics of the world-” (12) which is properly part of the Church's mission.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saint Mella, Abbess of Leitrim, AD 780

She was the mother of two saints, Cannech and Tigernach. She lived in Connaught, Ireland, and presided like a bishop over a community of women before her death.

...This should appear even to misguided modern feminism as women having it all.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Catholics Responding to the Election: Final Thoughts

Since I had the good fortune of finding myself in Chicago- the home of the new US President Elect- on election day this week, I decided to dodge the crowds and get lost for a bit in the quiet, peaceful environ of the Shedd Aquarium, which I have always loved. (After a weekend at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, it always seems wise to me to steal away and consider the animals anyway). There is something so magical about looking into the wild, exotic, weightless world of the fragile and dangerous creatures that live in a separate universe -within- our- universe; and this particular visit did not disappoint. There were new seahorses intertwining their little tales affectionately, and soft, elegant jellyfish shimmering in and out of gentle currents, and massive sharks and a playful otters. Best of all were the new weedy water dragons, which you can see in the pictures- I could hardly tear myself away from these particular figments of God's gorgeous imagination.

After a little while I noticed that, on this relatively quiet day in one of the nation's best aquariums, I was accompanied at a distance by a group of young European priests who were also taking in the beauty and the quiet of the water world on an election day. Their presence and obvious enjoyment of the creatures made me think of a chapter from C. S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain, where he considers a brief theology of the animals, and with it, a theology of mediation and priesthood as well.

Lewis thinks that humanity entire has a priestly and redemptive role in the creation- or, at least, might have had one: "It may have been one of man's functions to restore peace to the animal world, and if he had not joined the enemy he might have succeeded in doing so to an extent now hardly imaginable." This is a view, incidentally, taken up and developed at length by T. F. Torrance who holds firmly to the link between human and creaturely corruption and who postulates that it is "man's task to save the natural order through remedial and integrative activity, bringing back order where there is disorder and restoring peace where there is disharmony." Lewis insists that we consider the animals not in isolation, but in relation to humanity, since it is through humanity that they relate to God; thus the wildness and obedience of the creation will continue in beautiful balance in the obedience of the animals to man, since man is the priest of creation. As Lewis puts it, "the old picture of the beasts fawning and sporting before Adam may not be wholly symbolical; for man was made to be the priest, and even in one sense, the Christ of the animals- the mediator through whom they apprehend as much of the of the Divine splendor as their natures will allow." (Lewis, PP 66)

(In this regard, I have a habit of responding in a certain way to my little dog's reproachful look when I go out to Mass: I remind her that I am going for both of us, because the creation groans to be re-united to its Creator, and I am a member of the only species that can receive our Maker into itself, so off I go, on behalf of wind patterns and seagulls and trees and spoiled dachsunds)

... on the whole, this little vignette at the Aquarium recalled for me the enormity of what we are doing on this planet, in our discreet lives which will come and go, in our little realms of responsibilities and routines, in our grand political system that is off to a new start. These all come together in our hopes for an eternity of joyous worship of the One who began it all in the first place.

Just as Christ gave Himself to God for our sakes, we do what we do on behalf of creatures great and small. And we have a lot of work to do.

Note: my bishop's request for prayer for the president elect is available here

Friday, November 07, 2008

Catholics Responding to the Election: Political Theology 101

The Church and the City

"The Church is not merely a society, men associated with God, but the divine Societas itself, the life of the Godhead reaching out to humanity and taking up humanity into itself." - Yves Congar, Divided Christendom

One of my professors used to say that the proper use of prepositions is one of the most critical aspects of orthodoxy. He was so right.

A Protestant friend took me to an event recently that turned out to be a networking event for local evangelical churches- mega churches, house churches, disjointed zealots all, etc. The purpose? To build momentum towards the formation of a kind of Protestant Evangalical/Pentecostal "diocese" which would oversee and organize the work of otherwise isolated churches in my hometown under one key "bishop" figure who would organize the ministers within his cure. They call themselves "The Church of the City." The goals of this initiative are greater efficiency and force through structural unity, something that the evangelical world has only enjoyed through the semblance of unity afforded by a regrettably disheveled aesthetic held unfortunately in common (no offense, Michael W. Smith). I am all for this structural unity, of course; history has proven that the top-down episcopacy of the early church is simply the best expression of Christ's servant-lordship in the heavenly Kingdom which is the Church. But, as I so often do at such gatherings, I was squirming through the whole thing...

I was troubled. The language which these good people use to communicate their laudable vision reflects the sordid, deprived ecclesiology that bankrupts the Bride of Christ in our idolatrous American culture. A Church of the City? What is this "of?"

I am a Classics person. I read Latin and Greek a lot, and in that kind of verbal algebra you have to figure out exactly what the "of" is doing in a sentence. It may sometimes be a locative genitive, expressing place. It may be a genitive of agent, expressing the means by which a result is accomplished; or it may be a partititve force, expressing a thing in terms of its distinction from its genus. But almost always, "of" denotes posesssion. Do you get that? The city's church?

The Church is Christ's. The church is not a function of local culture, nor should it ever be conditioned by political need or social proclivities. The Church is not a base for American politics nor a recreation facility for Christian families. In addressing the needs of the world, the Church is to respond only to Christ. Alone among the other glories of the fallen creation, the Church is "of" Christ. It is only in this way that the Church can fulfill her vocation to be for the world in sacrifical love, service, and instruction in spirit and in truth. Thus we may say that the Church is for the city, because the Church is Christ's loving gift to the needy world for its healing and benefit. The Church is in the city certainly. The Church's people may come from the City, in entering the City of God demarked by the Church's jurisdiction, as they go in and out and find pasture. But in no way may the Church remain the Church of Jesus Christ and simultaneously be the Church of the City.

Let me say this carefully. The Apostles and Mary left that upper room and immediately fell into the Spirit's will of gathering a community to celebrate the memory of the Lord. They sang His praises among the excellent civic structures of Roman life for centuries, and in posing serious risks to the proper organization of society (they had another Lord to whom they gave their money and their virgins, for instance), many, many of them died because they refused to be "of" the city. Thus when Constantine provided the Church with its state-sanctioned status, Augustine responded with the Church's definitive warning against confusing the Kingdom of the Crucified, who fed the poor and died that all might live, with the Kingdom of the Emperor, which would inevitably exploit the poor and kill persons to defend its own interests: in Augustine's City of God and City of Man, we are told once and for all that though the two "kingdoms" may exist among each other, they are forever seperated, if only because one will perish and the other will enter into the eternal embrace of God. For centuries onward, the Church was able to flourish in its own development as the polis of God among the nations, from time to time getting it right, and at other times failing utterly; but in general, the Church undersood that she was a Kingdom separate and consecrate, with corroborating structures evident in the papal "monarchy," the centralized government at Rome, and the common law of the vox fides. This happy understanding (among other blessings) was neatly shattered by the Protestant Revolt, particularly where Luther's belligerance propelled hordes of formerly good Kingdom citizens into the far country of anarchy.

But despite Luther's democratizing impulses, it ontologically remains that the Church is no democracy formed by human will, for human expediency. The Church is an eternally nuptial "Body" called into being by the will of God. She has a king. Thus it was that the splintered factions of the Church in the wake of the Protestant Revolt sought a superstructure, as appropriate for a Kingdom. But now there was none available to them. The only organizing principle that came to mind to these anxious Reformers was... you got it... the nation and its substructures. So the Reformers turned for organization to the feudal princes about whom Jesus had always hinted... "little flock, they will resist you." And now we have the laudible aim of inter-denominational unity organized under the auspices of the local secular polity... not the Church universal, as manifested in her particular local communities in particular townships, but rather, "The Church of the City."

The Church and the State, properly understood as parallel and eternally separate worlds, so often become merged in the Protestant mind. What we have is the rhetoric that I heard at my luncheon as we sang the praises of a "God-birthed USA"... "the nation as THE instrument of God's renewal among The Other Nations..." "the city as a light." In this rubric, the unity of the church becomes desirable, not in reflection of Trinitarian desire, but merely as a means for national socio-political progress; and, incidentally, the hallmark of such a church's success is the great benefit of its members' election to political offices.

The problem? These ideas defy Scripture. In the history of the universe, if we speak indeed of Scripture and not our political ambitions, God has "chosen" only one nation as His instrument, and that nation is ancient Israel. Those who would draw a false analogy between the US of A and the Israel of God are completely unjustified, and I think a little rebellious, because the New Testament is clear: it is the Church that constitutes the new Israel. And like Israel, the Church is a pilgrim nation, a universal and timeless creature, properly rejected by that world who cannot ever comprehend her in her lovely, waiting adoration of One alone, as she serves the least of these and the enemy in ways that the state never could. She is the universal creature, really separated and distinguished only by spatial instantiations of the everlasting whole. Let us have the Church in the city, for the city, from the city. But please, never the Church of.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Catholics Responding to the Election: Political Theology 101

Bl. John Henry Newman
The Papacy and the Preservation of Civilization

Bl. John Henry Newman has some excellent things to say on point in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk of 1900. This piece is essentially Newman's explication of a political theology based on a Catholic historical construal, and an explanation of the Christian's civic duties in light of his primary duties to Christ and Christ's Vicar.

Newman invokes a basic argument in defense of the papacy: ecclesial government by the monarchial papacy is simply most efficient, aesthetically proper, and benevolent. This has been the classical proposal for human government from the beginning.

Newman also invokes a striking passage from Dean Milman's Latin Christianity to insist that themonarchial papacy was the only means by which Christ's Church could constitute itself as Christ's autonomous society in the earth, and then resist being hijacked by transient medieval states. Consequently, Newman urges that papacy provided the only means by which Western Europe developed into the civilization that we know and love. In fact, Newman here refers to the Roman pontiff as "the Father of European civilization."

Read on:

"The Papacy was the only power which lay not entirely and absolutely prostrate before the disasters of the times—a power which had an inherent strength, and might resume its majesty. It was this power which was most imperatively required to preserve all which was to survive out of the crumbling wreck of Roman civilization. To Western Christianity was absolutely necessary a centre, standing alone, strong in traditionary reverence, and in acknowledged claims to supremacy. Even the perfect organization of the Christian hierarchy might in all human probability have fallen to pieces in perpetual conflict: it might have degenerated into a half-secular feudal caste, with hereditary benefices more and more entirely subservient to the civil authority, a priesthood of each nation or each tribe, gradually sinking to the intellectual or religious level of the nation or tribe.

On the rise of a power both controlling and conservative hung, humanly speaking, the life and death of Christianity—of Christianity as a permanent, aggressive, expansive, and, to a certain extent, uniform system. There must be a counter-balance to barbaric force, to the unavoidable anarchy of Teutonism, with its tribal, or at the utmost national independence, forming a host of small, conflicting, antagonistic kingdoms. All Europe would have been what England was under the Octarchy, what Germany was when her emperors were weak; and even her emperors she owed to Rome, to the Church, to Christianity.

Providence might have otherwise ordained; but it is impossible for man to imagine by what other organizing or consolidating force the commonwealth of the Western nations could have grown up to a discordant, indeed, and conflicting league, but still a league, with that unity and conformity of manners, usages, laws, religion, which have made their rivalries, oppugnancies, and even their long ceaseless wars, on the whole to issue in the noblest, highest, most intellectual form of civilization known to man ... It is impossible to conceive what had been the confusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the middle ages, without the medieval Papacy...The right to warn and punish powerful men, to excommunicate kings, to preach aloud truth and justice to the inhabitants of the earth, to denounce immoral doctrines, to strike at rebellion in the garb of heresy, were the very weapons by which Europe was brought into a civilized condition."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Catholics Responding to the Election: Political Theology 101

John Paul II
The Role of the Church in Politics

"...It is precisely about (these conflicts), in the very pointed terms in which they then appeared, that the Pope does not hesitate to speak. In the face of conflicts which set man against man, almost as if they were "wolves," conflicts between the extremes of mere physical survival on the one side and opulence on the other, the (pastor) does not hesitate to intervene by virtue of his "apostolic office," that is, on the basis of the mission received from Jesus Christ himself to "feed his lambs and tend his sheep" (cf. Jn 21:15-17), and to "bind and loose" on earth for the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt 16:19).

In this way, Pope Leo XIII, in the footsteps of his Predecessors, created a lasting paradigm for the Church. The Church, in fact, has something to say about specific human situations, both individual and communal, national and international. She formulates a genuine doctrine for these situations, a corpus which enables her to analyze social realities, to make judgments about them and to indicate directions to be taken for the just resolution of the problems involved.

In Pope Leo XIII's time such a concept of the Church's right and duty was far from being commonly admitted. Indeed, a two-fold approach prevailed: one directed to this world and this life, to which faith ought to remain extraneous; the other directed towards a purely other-worldly salvation, which neither enlightens nor directs existence on earth. The Pope's approach in publishing Rerum Novarum gave the Church "citizenship status" as it were, amid the changing realities of public life, and this standing would be more fully confirmed later on.

In effect, to teach and to spread her social doctrine pertains to the Church's evangelizing mission and is an essential part of the Christian message, since this doctrine points out the direct consequences of that message in the life of society and situates daily work and struggles for justice in the context of bearing witness to Christ the Saviour....This doctrine is likewise a source of unity and peace in dealing with the conflicts which inevitably arise in social and economic life. Thus it is possible to meet these new situations without degrading the human person's transcendent dignity, either in oneself or in one's adversaries, and to direct those situations towards just solutions...The new evangelization which the modern world urgently needs and which I have emphasized many times, must include among its essential elements a proclamation of the Church's social doctrine... Now, as then, we need to repeat that there can be no genuine solution of the "social question" apart from the Gospel, and that the new things can find in the Gospel the context for their correct understanding and the proper moral perspective for judgment on them."

- Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus