Too catholic to be Catholic 3
Thursday, November 21, 2013
The Source of the Question
This article is the third of a series interacting with Matt Yonke’s blog post on May 24, 2012. Yonke, a Roman Catholic is in turn interacting with Dr. Peter J. Leithart, a Presbyterian. The resulting discussion is a very sobering examination of the interrelationships between Reformed and Roman theology. Neither of these writers is a lightweight, and neither pulls any punches. This is exactly the sort of honest dialog that is necessary for the welfare of The Church. I will post my objections and observations in the order they are discussed by Yonke.
Four Crucial Questions
Here is the direct quote of the questions exactly as found in Dr. Yonke’s blog post.
1. It would require him to start going to a “Eucharistic table” where his Protestant friends are not “welcome.”
2. It would require him to believe that Protestants are “living a sub-Christian existence” by their lack of apostolic succession.
3. It would require accepting that he is not presently ordained.
4. It would require him to believe that Protestants are “separated brethren.”
Here are the same four points exactly as Dr. Leithart expresses them.
1. Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome?
2. Are you willing to say that every faithful saint you have known is living a sub-Christian existence because they are not in churches that claim apostolic succession, no matter how fruitful their lives have been in faith, hope, and love?
3. For myself, I would have to agree that my ordination is invalid, and that I have never presided over an actual Eucharist.
4. I would have to begin regarding my Protestant brothers as ambiguously situated “separated brothers,” rather than full brothers in the divine Brother, Jesus.
An Interesting Interchange
This is certainly an interesting interchange. Dr. Yonke attempts a fair summary of Dr. Leithart’s crucial words, and does a good job of it. By his own admission, these are Dr. Leithart’s “primary driving reasons”. He continues with other “primary driving reasons” that are not so germane to Roman Catholic issues, issues more related to Orthodoxy. We must consider these Orthodox issues later: for if we remove them from the discussion, we shall not be able to understand the predicament as it actually exists.
What is completely fascinating about this interchange is the observable difference between what Dr. Leithart actually wrote and what Dr. Yonke actually understood. These two things are radically different. This difference may beautifully illustrate the true kernel of the problem with Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic dialog. What is that problem?
We talk past each other without truly hearing what the other persons are really saying. Consequently, the conversation goes on for centuries without anyone actually talking to any other: no real conversation exists.
The same thing may be observed in Lutheran-Roman dialog or in Lutheran-Presbyterian dialog. Two groups send learned ambassadors, who present weighty papers. The papers are noted as received. None of the differences are discussed. Both participants conclude with statements that their historic position was correct. Everyone pats himself on the back, and they all go home. Lay people who read the concomitant documents scratch their heads in confusion, discouragement, disillusion, dismay, and outright frustration; because, even though they may not understand all the weighty theological jargon, they get the point. Nothing has been said, less has been accomplished, nobody moved over an inch, the only movement that took place was a deeper retreat into the respective classical shells, everybody is right, nobody is wrong, and the hoped-for repentance was not achieved. The Holy Ghost is conspicuously absent from such dialogs and meetings. The lay people, on the other hand, have to go to work, stand side-by-side each other on the job, and learn to get along, learn to really love each other, and they do. But most lay people are fed up with this nonsense.
The Historic Background
The Orthodox and Roman Catholic split started in 1054 when they came very close to excommunicating each other. Actually, in my limited understanding, only a few individuals were actually excommunicated. What business does one city church have in excommunicating another city church? What kind of legitimate church discipline is this? Would somebody please explain to me what real right, either party had in this tiff? It was wrong.
If 1054 did not completely split The Church in half, then the Fourth Crusade did. The Fourth Crusade was wrong too, dead wrong. And I can prove that it was wrong, because the Pope has publically apologized for the sinful participation of Roman Catholics in the whole debacle. Interestingly, I have never heard any Orthodox Pope or Metropolitan make such an apology, or even hint that there was any Orthodox wrongdoing in the matter.
So many learned historical papers have been published on this subject, papers exposing extreme corrupt, sinful wrongdoing by both major parties that this must be beyond dispute. One would have to be incredibly naïve or unbelievably stupid not to realize that both Orthodox and Roman Catholics sinned grievously and mortally in the Fourth Crusade, not to mention similar grievous and mortal sins of pride committed by both parties in 1054.
The Real Earthshattering Outcome
We now (c. 1204) have two churches, each claiming to be catholic. Since catholic really means universal, it should be fairly obvious that neither church, despite its claims is truly catholic. The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church has ceased to exist on earth. Fortunately, it continues, undisturbed and uninterrupted in heaven. How can this predicament possibly be resolved?
I don’t really have a very good answer to that question. I do have a good idea of how it was resolved historically. The Oriental Orthodox churches appear to be excluded by Nicaea, and do not seem to enter into the discussion.
The Eastern Orthodox churches dug their heels in, laid claim to be The Church, and termed all other bodies heterodox. When one looks at the usual Orthodox presentation of the Abrahamic Tree Illustration, all the branches have been cut off except for one, only the Orthodox branch remains. This is tantamount to claiming that the Orthodox are the only real Christians that exist, and if there are any other Christians, they are certainly not very good ones. Moreover, the Orthodox usually insist that the other branches, the amputated dead ones, cut themselves off in an act of self-excommunication. As a result, the Eastern Orthodox tend to lump all westerners together in the same stew, and simply refuse to consider any differences among them. Protestants and Roman Catholics are all alike in the Orthodox mindset. This unwillingness to crawl out of one’s shell and face reality, cripples every attempt at communication. If you send a letter to an Orthodox authority, you will usually hear no reply, you will be shut out, ignored, considered unworthy of a reply; no one will even acknowledge that you wrote. Ironically, dialog and fellowship between Eastern Orthodox churches and Oriental Orthodox churches is opening up, and some authorities are even saying that it was all a big mistake. Eastern Orthodox churches generally believe that they are the only Catholic Church in existence today.
The Roman Catholic Church also took a militant stand. They claimed that they alone were truly The Church, and that the Roman Pope was the first over all. Thus all other bishops, including Orthodox bishops were subsumed under the sole authority of the Roman Papacy. All other bodies are either heterodox or not Christian at all. The Roman Papacy holds both the keys to church and government and is therefore justified in waging wars against its enemies as the church: the offices are inseparable. Orthodox and Protestants are distinct in this mindset, but both are in error. However, many may be communed after making confession. If you write to a Roman Catholic authority, you will usually get a response, but it will frequently be the militant litany, “We are right, and you are wrong.” As with the Orthodox, this unwillingness to crawl out of ones shell and face reality, cripples every attempt at communication. The Roman Catholic Church generally believes that it is the only Catholic Church in existence today.
Some Basic Conclusions
There are only three possible conclusions to draw from this history and its outcome: One. The Orthodox are correct, they are the surviving Catholic Church. Two. The Romans are correct, they are the surviving Catholic Church. Three. Neither is correct, there is no surviving Catholic Church, other than the one in heaven.
The fatal flaw in the first conclusion is it assumes that it is possible for the See of Peter and Paul to be dissolved; and The Church can exist without the See of Peter and Paul. Moreover, they alone have the wisdom to know that this is true and declare it to the world. Somehow the rift of 1054 removed the power of the Sovereign Holy Ghost from Rome.
The fatal flaw in the second conclusion is it assumes that it is possible for the Sees of the other eleven Apostles to be dissolved; and The Church can exist without the Sees of the other eleven Apostles. Moreover, they have the exclusive wisdom to know that this is true and declare it to the world. Somehow the rift of 1054 removed the power of the Sovereign Holy Ghost from Orthodoxy.
The fatal flaw in the third conclusion is it assumes that it is possible to be The Church of Hebrews 12:22-29 invisibly. This is the popular heresy of the Spiritual Unity of the Body of Christ. Moreover, everybody has the good sense and wisdom to see that this is true and tell the world. Somehow the Reformation made clearly visible works of the Sovereign Holy Ghost, invisible overnight in 1517.
Exactly how is it that our visible baptism and communion are now made invisible. Shall our church buildings also be magically transformed into glass and become transparent? The common thread in all of these flawed conclusions is that we desperately need each other. The Body of Christ on earth cannot remain alive if it is ripped in half through the heart. Yet, here we are, stumbling along in the dark, pretending that we haven’t lost the most precious thing in the world.
In Acts 2, the Holy Ghost is given to all Christians present, not just to a few, not only to Apostles, not exclusively to Peter. The voice of the Holy Ghost cannot be heard in The Church, if The Church is divided. What reason do we even have to believe that the Holy Ghost is willing to communicate with us at all, since we have despised the commandment of Christ?
About Leithart’s Four Questions
Leithart wasn’t speaking to Roman Catholics, Orthodox, or to me. Here is what he said.
“Here’s the question I would ask to any Protestant considering a move: What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople?”
Leithart wasn’t picking a fight. He was urging people to look before they leap. If people look, perhaps they won’t leap at all. This is good advice for it stands written, “Honor your father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise.” No one can progress much in Christian life who fails to honor parents. Orthodox should not seek to leave Orthodoxy. Roman Catholics should be faithful in Roman Catholic observance. Protestants should remember what their parents taught them. These things are only good and right. Only when a church body has denied Christ and left the faith, should most of us consider change. Today, many bodies are deserting God over issues of sanctity of life, and issues of sexuality. I do not say that anyone has to put up with that. Keep yourselves pure. Keep yourselves free from idols. In general, it is best to stay where God put you to begin with.
Here is a sobering perspective that makes the same point from an unimpeachable Roman Catholic source.
“if a Catholic comes to believe the Church is in error in some essential, officially defined doctrine, it is a mortal sin against conscience, a sin of hypocrisy, for him to remain in the Church and call himself a Catholic, but only a venial sin against knowledge for him to leave the Church in honest but partly culpable error.” ’
From Kreeft we easily deduce the obvious corollary.
“If an Orthodox or Protestant Christian comes to believe the Roman Catholic Church is in error in some essential, officially defined doctrine, it is a mortal sin against conscience, a sin of hypocrisy, for him to join the Roman Catholic Church and call himself a Roman Catholic, but only a venial sin against knowledge for him to remain outside the Roman Catholic Church in honest but partly culpable error.”
Indeed, it may not even be a venial sin against knowledge: for the Orthodox or Protestant Christian may not even possess the necessary knowledge, and be innocent due to ignorance.
It appears, then, that Leithart is perfectly in line with Roman Catholic doctrine and perhaps, even with Roman Catholic dogma. It makes no sense at all to leap before you look. It makes even less sense to risk committing a mortal sin in order to avoid a venial sin. It is dubious at best that any Protestant can truly learn the details of Roman Catholic dogma in a few hours of instruction. One’s deeply heartfelt love for The Church, and overwhelming desire for Christian unity are still insufficient grounds for making a change: St Thomas’ rules, not mine. Having made such a change, many former Protestants will find it well-nigh impossible to live with the sociological consequences and pressures. These very pressures will be a constant temptation luring them toward mortal sin. Leithart is right, it is better to remain a Protestant, until the individual is absolutely sure that they have no reservations about the change.
It is too easy to be “evangelistic” here. Fresh insights and truths will be discovered from Roman Catholic instruction. The Christian must always respond positively to the Truth. However, this response must be kept in the heart, lest a novice come under the condemnation of mortal sin. Just because something new and different is learned about God and the Bible is not a sufficient cause for change.
This is exactly the point Leithart is making.
About Leithart’s Pastoral Concern
Dr. Leithart speaks from the heart out of loving pastoral concern for real people.
1. An unwise move from one communion to another can be very disruptive to children, and family life. This may be less troublesome for military families who have moved and lived all over the globe. Yet military and missionary kids are first to complain that they feel abnormal. For the family that has never wandered far from the original community; that has a large extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and many cousins; that has community roots going back for generations, perhaps for hundreds of years; such a change in communion can be disastrous. Orthodox and Roman Catholics should easily understand this, since many of them have cultures reaching back thousands of years. Our goal in this discussion is to heal a breach, not upend the whole apple cart. Even when people are welcome, they may feel unwelcome. Conversion is not worth it, if it results in a broken marriage or estranged children. The process must be slow enough so that everybody can keep up.
2. There is never, ever, anything sub-Christian about being a child of God. Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple shows that God’s temple, Jesus Christ has always been open to receive the prayer of all people everywhere.
“Moreover, concerning a stranger, who is not from Your people Israel, but comes from a far country for Your name’s sake: for they shall hear of Your great name, Your strong hand, and Your stretched out arm; when he shall come and pray toward this house; hear in heaven, Your dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger asks from You: so that all people of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have built, is called by Your name. … That all the people of the earth may know that the Lord is God, and that there is no one else.”
Both Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50 reveal that Jesus Himself welcomes outsiders. No conditions are placed on their behavior, and they are not compelled to join with the Apostolic band. Jesus simply accepts their service and worship as it is, without condemnation.
Without a doubt there is great value in being part of the Apostolic succession, which is exactly the reason for continuing this conversation, to bring healing and restoration to the catholicity of The Church. Nevertheless, there is no warrant for thinking that Protestants are substandard Christians: they are separated, not inferior. For God extends love and mercy to whomsoever He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. Such a strict warning against hard heartedness applies to all Christians, not merely Protestants. It should be evident that many are falling away in all churches: Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic. This is about all sincere Christians everywhere, fighting for survival; Yes, the very survival of The Church on earth.
3. It is hard living in this world of anarchy without Apostolic Succession. I pray for the gift of Apostolic Succession nearly every day now. I deeply regret that my ancestors abandoned it. Yet, some, like the Finns, have retained it. I would be surprised to learn that the Orthodox are willing to acknowledge the Apostolic Succession of the Finns. I have no understanding of the Roman Catholic perspective on this matter. What is germane here is that Amos had no ordination whatsoever, yet God called him to preach. An illegitimate child is still a child, even when yearning for the Father’s acceptance. The Bible knows only curses for those who cast such children aside lightly: for God Himself cares for widows and orphans. Remember, Protestants, that even though you have lost something important, even though you are illegitimate; God pastors you when men will not. I do have an ordination which has not been Apostolically validated. I have never presided over an actual Eucharist, but I have sincerely sought its presence in remembrance. I refuse to disrespect either Orthodox or Roman Catholic practice by pretending an equality of standards. Yet, I will wear my scarlet letter of shame in hope of God’s great mercy.
4. Even though I believe myself to be a full brother in Jesus: because His love and mercy know no boundaries; I am separated from my other brothers and sisters. We are not simply free, nor do we feel free, to stand beside each other in worship and receive the Mystery of God’s True Body and Like Precious Blood. This is a great tragedy. It is forbidden by Christ in many places in Scripture. I cannot rest until resolution is found that does not put me in danger of mortal sin.
A Final Summary
We do not use words the same way. It takes years of painful interaction to uncover these difficulties. The Roman Catholic Church has warrant for holding exclusive beliefs: so do Orthodox and Protestants. How can exclusive differences be resolved, without forfeiting our exclusivism? There are issues on the table that appear to defy all logic. These problems cry out to us in two ways: One, they cry out for greater patience in dealing with each other. Two, they cry out for greater diligence in finding resolution. This has gone on for a thousand years or more. This is far too long. Sincere brothers and sisters find the way to forgive and forget the errors and sins of the past.
Dr. Leithart did not level a theological blast either at Roman Catholics or at the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, he uttered a continuing plea for Protestants everywhere to do the right thing; the right thing in accordance with fairly clear Roman Catholic standards.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I beg of you, be at peace. By all means let us struggle together to be better. Let us not pull our punches in a misguided attempt to find Truth by compromise. In the process, let us love one another sincerely, realizing that all of us could be and do better. Here is the humility of walk that the Holy Ghost leads.
 This is easily demonstrated by the existence of groups like Billy Graham, Campus Crusade, Intervarsity, Promise Keepers, The Navigators, and many other such groups that specialize in interdenominational fellowship. These groups appear to be attempting to accomplish what the churches are unable or unwilling to do. They have been met with some measure of success, where the churches have experienced only failure.
 The real reason for the Fourth Crusade appears to be Venetian greed and the attendant desire to plunder, to seize, to steal the wealth of Constantinople. However, the Spiritual results were of cosmic proportions, shaking the farthest star in the universe.
 This fails any alethic test for parity. Just to restore balance would require special internal knowledge. Even so, the Holy Ghost is given to all, and no one has put forth real evidence for such internal knowledge. “The absence of alethic parity (on par) would immediately force an undebatable conclusion.” Catholicity and the split of The Church are mutually exclusive ideas; the expression, The Split Church, is oxymoronic. “Alethic, adjective, denoting modalities of truth, such as necessity, contingency, or impossibility.” https://www.google.com/#q=alethic+definition
 This is not to say that The Church in heaven was not shaken emotionally. Jesus wept. Heaven cried out. Angels mourned in sackcloth and ashes. The Saints were covered with shame. But heaven remains an impenetrable and unmovable fortress in every storm of life, just the same. Hebrews 12:22-29; 13:8
 Evidently the Oriental Orthodox were mistakenly thought to be Monophysites a long time ago. However, many still consider them to be Monothelites: so it is difficult to determine if a real problem does or does not exist.
 This is not a reference to so called Uniate churches, churches that use an Orthodox worship rite, but are actually Roman Catholics. We do not mean to offend: the term Uniate may not be well received everywhere.
 This adds up to thirteen Apostles. There always were thirteen Sons of Israel from around 2000 and onward, because Jacob adopts both sons of Joseph. The Apostles replace the covenant headship of the Israelites, hence there are rightly thirteen. The thirteenth, Paul is adopted out of due time on the Damascus road.
 Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:2-3;
 In the introduction, “The Fabulous Father Flannery.” http://thethirstygargoyle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/father-flannerys-fables.html
 Have you ever had the sensation of attending Greek Orthodox worship and not feeling Greek enough; or of attending German Lutheran worship and not feeling German enough?
 1 Kings 8:41-43, 60
 Romans 9:18
 Amos 1:1; 3:8; 7:14-15
 For example, Jephthah in Judges 11. The record of Judges shows a series of many leaders, who were called directly by God, without any ordination.
 In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is compelled to wear the crimson letter “A” as part of the humiliating punishment for her adultery. As she accepts her penance, she grows in grace; while her undiscovered lover only knows increasing shame.
 Dr. Plantinga, Notre Dame professor, has a lively discussion of some of the difficulties involved. http://carnivalsage.com/articles/apologist/plantinga-alvin-pluralism-defense-of-religious-exclusivism.html