Monday, February 26, 2007

Getting Catholic Ecclesiology and Ecumenism Right

Peregrinus has been having a long conversation with me in the comments section to my blog about the Universally Inclusive Club.

I had penned a long reply to his last comment, and then thought it was too long for a comment and should be a blog all on its own. We are continuing the question of whether the "house" metaphor is faithful to Catholic ecclesiology and ecumenism.

Here are some of Peregrinus' comments:
Lumen Gentium tell us that Christ establshed, and continually sustains, his Church. But pointedly (and I think to the dismay of some) it does not equate the “Church of Christ”, professed in the Creed, and the “Catholic Church”, governed by the Bishop of Rome and the bishops in communion with him. It says that the Church of Christ “subsists in” the Catholic church, but it does not say that it subsists only in the Catholic church. In fact it points to “elements of sanctification and truth” which are found outside the Catholic church, which it describes as “gifts belonging to the Church of Christ”.

People with better qualifications than me have written reams on exacly what “subsists in” means, but in my simplistic way I understand it this way:

- The Church of Christ and the Catholic Chruch are both realiites – or, better, they are both expressions of the same complex (and mystical) reality.

- The Church of Christ is called to unity in the Catholic Church, but that unity has not yet been achieved.

- The call to unity is addressed to the entire Church of Christ, not just to those parts of it which are outside the Catholic Church.

- Such barriers to unity as may exist are not made and maintained exclusively by non-Catholic Christians (or, of course, exclusively by Catholic Christians).

- The call to unity requires us to identify barriers to unity, and to work for their removal.


Yes, the house metaphor has it's limits, yes. No metaphor can really do full justice to the mystery which is the Church. But the bulk of biblical metaphors for the Church – household, vine, body etc. – are metaphors with a clear delineation of who belongs and who doesn't.

The confusing thing about our current state is that:

1) there are many who, because of baptism and faith in Christ are in a real but imperfect communion with the Catholic Church
2) there are local Churches which are Churches in the true sense because they have retained the sacraments and the apostolic succession, and yet are not in communion with the Catholic Church

Both these situations indicate that such individuals and Churches cannot be covered by a clear "in or out" category. In both these situations, true elements of the One Church exist in outside the boundaries of that visible society which is the Catholic Church. But in both cases there is a "fullness" lacking—that fullness of communion in the One Christ which comes through full communion with one another and with the Petrine See. This lack of "fullness" is a serious wound to their existence as individual Christians and as local Churches.

There has been a basic error of interpretation common since Unitatis Redintegratio was promulgated in 1965. The authentic interpretation of the Council by the magisterium since (in particular, a study of JPII's Ut Unum Sint, the Directory on Ecumenism and the Declaration Dominus Iesus) should have cleared this misinterpretation up, but people have not been paying attention. In addition this false interpretation has been muddied by a certain irenic approach in ecumenical dialogue.

It was Garuti's book that alerted me to the fact that although the Council used the term "subsists in" rather than "is", it never affirms that the one Church of Christ "subsists in" any where else, ie. in any other ecclesial communion or communion of local Churches. Thus, although at first I reacted negatively to this, he is right when he insists that

1) the one Church of Christ does not "subsist in" the communion of Orthodox Churches
2) there are not "two" Churches, one East/Orthodox and one West/Catholic
3) there is not one Church "split in half", into East/Orthodox and West/Catholic
4) There is no such thing as the "Orthodox Church", only the Orthodox Churches
5) The Catholic Church is not a "Sister Church" to the Orthodox Churches, because the Catholic Church is the Universal Church whereas the Orthodox Churches are local Churches
6) The Catholic Church is not to be thought of as a "part" of the One Church of Christ
7) The Catholic Church is not to be identified with the Western Church (as it includes many Eastern Churches) and the office of the Pope as supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church does not equal his office as the Patriarch of the West (a title still in use when Garuti was writing)

But above all, we must always keep in mind that the goal of Catholic ecumenism is not "the full visible unity of the Church"—something which already exists--but the full visible unity of all Christians. There is no other way to make sense of the opening line of Unitatis Redintegratio:

"The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only."

Thus the unity of the Church, the Church of the Creed, is not something to be sought as if it does not currently exist. Moreover, if the Church is indeed One (and the Creed tells us that it is, not that it will be), then we have only two choices:

1) It is already One, made up of all those who have been baptised and truly believe in their hearts—who they are is known only to God and therefore the Church is an invisible reality (the Protestant option)
2) It is already One, made up of the baptised faithful who are in communion with the bishops who are in communion with the See of Peter—thus a visible society (the Catholic option)

(Note, as far as I can gather, the Orthodox option is a variation of the Catholic option: It is already One, made up of all those in communion with the bishops who hold the true Orthodox faith and are not in communion with the See of Peter).

As for the fact that Lumen Gentium tell us that the church “coalesces from a divine and a human element”, it is important to read this in the context of the whole paragraph (LG 8). When you do this, you find that it cannot mean, as you make it to mean, that there "the human element" is "therefore fallible." On the contrary, the paragraph makes clear that the human and divine realities are not two, but one reality, as closely connected as the divine and human realities in the Incarnate Word. It specifically says that:

"the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element."
Therefore we cannot say of any part of the visible institution that "this is of human origin" and therefore does not belong to the spiritual reality.

Of course, I say all this without pride. I was once "on the outside"—a true member of the Church of Christ by baptism and faith, but lacking the fullness of that communion to be a fully initiated member of the Church let alone a valid minister of its sacraments. I myself have had to eat the humble pie to say "I was wrong", that God's will for me and for all others was and always will be to accept the invitation and to enter through the door, to sit at the table and by the fire, and enjoy the hospitality which the Father gives through our Lord Christ and the Spirit. It is because I have tasted of this hospitality that it pains me to see so many who are attempting to live full Christian lives without it, and that it gives me great joy every time one of my separated brothers or sisters in Christ gives up wandering in the desert or the forest and comes in to share the good things that God has prepared for them since the foundation of the world.

2 Comments:

At Tuesday, February 27, 2007 12:35:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

. . . Yes, the house metaphor has it's limits, yes. No metaphor can really do full justice to the mystery which is the Church. But the bulk of biblical metaphors for the Church – household, vine, body etc. – are metaphors with a clear delineation of who belongs and who doesn't.

I accept that. But I think we have to be very careful when applying that metaphor to the situation in which we currently find ourselves.

Christ’s plan for his church is for a universal church constituted by eucharistic communion between local churches, which in turn are constituted by eucharistic communion between Christians.

We have stuffed this up rather badly, and as a result we have both

- local churches, constituted by eucharistic communion, which are however not in the eucharistic communion with other local churches to which they are called (e.g. the Church of Constantinople), and

- Christians who are not in eucharistic communion in a local church (e.g. Calvinists).

That’s not to say that there are not real and important forms of communion within (say) a community of reformed Christians, or between non-Catholic local churches, and of course there is baptism, there is the proclamation of the Word, and there is the promised presence of Christ whenever people gather in his name. And in many cases there is, if not eucharistic communion, the fullness of the sacramental eucharist, and other sacramental encounters with the risen Christ. And these things serve to unite not only non-Catholic Christians, but also to unite Catholic and non-Catholic Christians But they are not the fullness of the eucharistic communion to which the Church of Christ is called.

I think, David, that you and I are agreed on all that.

I don’t think the biblcal house/sheepfold/door/gate images contemplate this situation – the present state of the church is not directy addressed by scripture - or adequately describe it.

The plan fact is that, once we recognise that (say) the Church of Constantinople is a church, we must also see that it is a local Church of Christ, and part of the univeral Church of Christ, because no church exists or is conceivable which is not a manifestation of the Church of Christ. Its participation in the universal church is of course impaired and imperfect, but it is a real and authentic manifestation of the Church of Christ. And the house metaphor, as commonly employed, fails to express that reality, and whatever degree of participation in the universal church which already exists.

I think you and I are also broadly agreed on that, although maybe the limitations of the house metaphor when applied in our present situation bother me more than they bother you.

It was Garuti's book that alerted me to the fact that although the Council used the term "subsists in" rather than "is", it never affirms that the one Church of Christ "subsists in" any where else, ie. in any other ecclesial communion or communion of local Churches. Thus, although at first I reacted negatively to this, he is right when he insists that

1) the one Church of Christ does not "subsist in" the communion of Orthodox Churches
2) there are not "two" Churches, one East/Orthodox and one West/Catholic
3) there is not one Church "split in half", into East/Orthodox and West/Catholic
4) There is no such thing as the "Orthodox Church", only the Orthodox Churches
5) The Catholic Church is not a "Sister Church" to the Orthodox Churches, because the Catholic Church is the Universal Church whereas the Orthodox Churches are local Churches
6) The Catholic Church is not to be thought of as a "part" of the One Church of Christ
7) The Catholic Church is not to be identified with the Western Church (as it includes many Eastern Churches) and the office of the Pope as supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church does not equal his office as the Patriarch of the West (a title still in use when Garuti was writing)


But I think there is one statement which could be made, which is missing from this list; the Church of Christ does subsist in the true local churches, even when they do not enjoy the fullness of communion to which they are called. I realise that the Council does not proclaim this, but not proclaiming it is not the same thing as denying it. It seems to me to be the necessary implication of recognising that they are churches.

But above all, we must always keep in mind that the goal of Catholic ecumenism is not "the full visible unity of the Church"—something which already exists--but the full visible unity of all Christians . . . Thus the unity of the Church, the Church of the Creed, is not something to be sought as if it does not currently exist.

I think we have to nuance this. The “full visible unity” of the Church already exists (in the communion which forms the Catholic church), but it has yet to be fully achieved or accomplished (because there are not merely individual Christians, but Christian communities and true churches which to not participate in that full visible unity). Therefore the unity of the church must be sought in the sense that we have still to realise it fully.

Moreover, if the Church is indeed One (and the Creed tells us that it is, not that it will be), then we have only two choices:

1) It is already One, made up of all those who have been baptised and truly believe in their hearts—who they are is known only to God and therefore the Church is an invisible reality (the Protestant option)
2) It is already One, made up of the baptised faithful who are in communion with the bishops who are in communion with the See of Peter—thus a visible society (the Catholic option)


A false dichotomy, I think. With you, I reject the ‘Protestant option’, but the ‘Catholic option’ as you set it out fails to recognise the reality of the Church of Christ, including those elements which are not in communion with Rome. The true position I think must be that the church is already One, but it has yet fully to realise (in the sense of ‘give effect to’, not ‘understand’) that reality in the eucharistic communion to which it is called.

As for the fact that Lumen Gentium tell us that the church “coalesces from a divine and a human element”, it is important to read this in the context of the whole paragraph (LG 8). When you do this, you find that it cannot mean, as you make it to mean, that there "the human element" is "therefore fallible." . . .

Fair enough. I accept what you say here. The point I am really trying to make is that, through our own weakness, in the way that we are church we are more than capable of stuffing up Christ’s plan for his church, and the present state of Christianity provides some evidence that we have done so. And, even as we recognise the errors of the past and attempt to remedy them, we can stuff it up again. The challenge for us is to hold in balance:

- a recognition of the unity that the Church of Christ has achieved and still retains, and

- a recognition of the ways in which that unity falls short of what we are called to,

and to build on the unity we have towards a realisation of the fullness of unity to which we are called. This, I cheerfully concede, is more easily said than done.

Of course, I say all this without pride. I was once "on the outside"—a true member of the Church of Christ by baptism and faith, but lacking the fullness of that communion to be a fully initiated member of the Church let alone a valid minister of its sacraments. I myself have had to eat the humble pie to say "I was wrong", that God's will for me and for all others was and always will be to accept the invitation and to enter through the door, to sit at the table and by the fire, and enjoy the hospitality which the Father gives through our Lord Christ and the Spirit. It is because I have tasted of this hospitality that it pains me to see so many who are attempting to live full Christian lives without it, and that it gives me great joy every time one of my separated brothers or sisters in Christ gives up wandering in the desert or the forest and comes in to share the good things that God has prepared for them since the foundation of the world.

And I acknowledge and applaud the journey you have made. I have had it comparatively easy; raised a Catholic, if I was to be a Christian at all the Catholic Church was my natural berth. I have never had to take the decisions – or the risks – that you have taken.

I think your story illustrates the truth of what Lumen Gentium has to say; that the “elements of sanctification and truth” which are found outside the visible structure of the Catholic Church, the “gifts belonging to the Church of Christ” are “forces impelling toward Catholic unity”. Perhaps another deficiency in the ‘house’ metaphor is that it stresses too much the warmth, the invitation, the light spilling over the threshold – the atrractions that come from within Catholicism that reach out and draw people in. Lumen Gentium points us towards things that operate throughout the Church of Christ to impel people towards the Catholic Church.

 
At Tuesday, February 27, 2007 5:21:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Amen to all that and to this whole conversation, Peregrinus. We have achieved unity in the essentials, even if valid diversity remains in the emphasis! A truly ecumenical outcome!

Interestingly, the eucharistic ecclesiology you have outlined here is essentially that of the Orthodox Churches, who have exactly the same emphasis on the Church of Christ subsisting (although they don't use that word) in the local Church, as it gathers in authentic eucharistic celebration with its bishop. This ecclesiology is sound as far as it goes, but raises many additional questions for the dialogue between the Catholic Church (which places more emphasis on the universal than the local) and the Orthodox Churches.

 

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