Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sentire Cum Ecclesia: A blogsite which Appreciates "a Protestant Appearing"

I have been very honoured to have my new (presbyterian) friend Rev. David Palmer appear a few times in the combox. I have been saddened to see that David has not always been accorded hospitality on this site by other guests. So a little reminder folks: All are welcome to comment on this blog - we just ask that you treat each other with gentleness and reverence, whatever your faith - or none.

So, David, let me assure you that this IS a blog where Protestants (evangelical or liberal) are as welcome as Orthodox (Russian or Greek or Syrian or whatever), and Catholics (dissenting, traditionalist, magisterial or lapsed).

David made some relevant comments in a recent combox, which I thought I would bring to the fore and answer, if possible. So here goes.

David wrote:
Regarding the real presence of our Lord in the celebration of Lord’s Supper or Mass as you would say, a Calvinist such as myself affirms a true spiritual partaking of the body and blood of Christ who remains at all times in His glorified body at the right hand of His Father in glory. Calvin said that the Holy Supper was spiritual medicine for poor sick souls like me. I like that.I find it fascinating that Catholics fault Protestants for “spiritualising”, “this is”, yet themselves explain away the straightforward reading of Mark 6:3.
I agree with you, David, the plain wording of scripture must be taken as such unless there is good reason otherwise. Since the doctrine of the Incarnation (ie. the simple fact that God, who is pure Spirit, became man, that is, fully en-FLESHed) and all that follows from it (eg. Mary thus being the Theotokos) is central to the Catholic religion, we have absolutely no reason to understand Jesus' words "This is my body" in any sense other than their plain meaning: that the bread he gives us in the Eucharist IS his body. This affirmation is something wholly other than the affirmation of a purely spiritual presence or partaking. It is a presence or partaking that is usually called "sacramental", but which can, given certain provisos, be called "physical" (as Pope Paul VI said in Mysterium Fidei 46).

Comparing our interpretation of the texts of the Eucharistic institution to our interpretation of Mark 6:3 (concerning Jesus' "brothers and sisters"), the same must be said: the plain meaning is to be accepted, except when there is good reason otherwise. I am convinced that on the grounds of scripture alone, there are very good reasons for understanding "brothers and sisters" to mean something other than "offspring of Mary". I have mentioned the excellent treatment of this question by Raymond Brown in his commentary on the Gospel of John (volume II - in the section dealing with the Women at the Cross), but summary treatments can be found here by Fr Most and here in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Finally, you might like to consdier this essay in First Things, which presents and weighs all the possible views. But for me, a clinching reason for holding Mark 6:3 to mean something other than it appears to mean in "plain English" is the continual memory of the Church from the earliest times, which never (contra Dan Brown et aliter) records a "royal blood-line" of Jesus' relations.
I am greatly encouraged by David’s and others’ comments about access to and acceptance with God through our Lord Jesus alone (love those “alone”s!).
I cannot stress enough, David, that I have never in my life altered my view one jot that our access to the Father is only through the Son and through the Son alone. I am as Christocentric in my theology today as the day I was ordained a Lutheran pastor. I rely on God's grace alone through Christ alone every moment of my life today as I have done since my baptism. So:
Why bring Mary and the saints into play when Jesus our Lord, and Saviour gave so many gracious invitations to pray in His name?
Let me be quite clear: asking the saints to intercede on our behalf does not in any way contradict the fact that ALL Christian prayer is prayer "in the name of Jesus". Any prayer that is not offered "in the name of Jesus" is not Christian. Mary and the Saints offer their prayers to the Father "in the name of Jesus" just as I do. Asking Mary and the other saints to intercede for me is not bypassing Jesus' invitations to pray in his name. They are intercessories. Christ alone is the mediator.

I think a problem for Catholics (I don’t mean to offend, simply to explain my thinking, but if I do offend, please forgive me) was the notion so prevalent in the Middle Ages of so fixating on Christ as Judge ready to consign you to hell or long stretches in purgatory that you had no other recourse than to go elsewhere. And to whom could you go? Why, Mary of course, and the favoured local town saints as well!
Well, as I think someone in the combox pointed out, that's a furphy. The practice of imploring the intercession of the saints probably dates back to the times of the earliest martyrs - at least the second century. And no-one who has actually read Medieval Christian literature would form the opinion that Jesus is viewed as a harsh judge. Check out (as one example - admittedly late) Thomas a'Kempis' "Imitation of Christ".
For a Calvinist, devotion to our Lord Jesus is the beginning and the end and all the bits in between, and we will not detract from His glory by diverting our gaze and devotion elsewhere, not even to the BVM.
It is important to stress that God's glory is such that it is increased when he shares it with his creatures, rather than decreased. Human beings have a hard time understanding this, because we see honour and glory as a limited commodity. If I am honoured, you must be dishonoured. If you get a prize, I must be a loser. But that is not how it is with God. When we praise God's grace and mercy and holiness embodied in his saints, we give glory to God himself. He is "glorified in his saints" (2 Thess 1:10). Or, as further proof, since God has commanded us to honour our mother and father, how can the Son of God not honour his own Mother? If he honours her, how can we not honour her? And how does it detract from Christ to honour his Mother his account?
There is so much thoughtful engaging material in the above 27 comments that I would love to discuss further and I do feel a strong kinship and even affection (!) toward confessional conservative Catholics, yet I have other pressing matters.
It is worth asking yourself, David, how it can be that Christians who believe such heretical doctrines as Catholics do could possibly still manage to remain steadfast in their witness to the truth before the world? Be careful of that "affection", David. It is dangerous. As John Weidner reminded us in the same combox string, Chesterton once said:
...It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair...
But David goes on:
However one last thing.Re Christine and Mary,Yes Mary was no “mere vessel” just as none of us are “a mere child of God”. However, do not overplay Mary’s hand. The true import of the incarnation was that God of His own volition “at just the right time while we were still lost in our sin”, Mary included, entered human history choosing Mary to be the theotokos. Yes, she demonstrated beautiful qualities in response to the Angel’s announcement, but that she did so was due first of all to that secret inner working of the Holy Spirit, enabling her to do so.
And you know what, David? You have just given the exact rationale that Catholics give for the doctrine of the "Immaculate Conception".

It is all grace...

17 Comments:

At Monday, January 19, 2009 4:04:00 am , Anonymous John Weidner said...

This is a bit off-topic, but David Palmer mentions "Christ as Judge ready to consign you to hell or long stretches in purgatory."

One of the peak moments of my life was when I was becoming a Catholic, and in our RCIA our pastor quoted that great mystic and seer, St Catherine of Genoa, who said that the souls in Purgatory were the happiest of all. That made sense to me instantly.

From a Protestant point-of-view, my life has been a colossal failure. I've only become serious in faith in my late 50's, so I've thrown away the best years of my life. From a Catholic view, I have (the equivalent in Eternity of) thousands or millions of years to work on becoming the saint that God wants me to be! That's a huge relief. Purgatory: Bring it on!

I suspect that for a lot of us, approaching Heaven will be like arriving at a formal dinner at the White House and realizing suddenly that we are dressed in rags and covered with filth. The offer of a scaldingly hot shower would be something we would greet with gratitude and relief. (See Newman's first sermon for the heart of the matter.)

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 4:22:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

Oh for God's sake, the man was talking about Mary's assent of faith, the work of the Holy Spirit in her as in us, to the message of Gabriel, not some inveted Roman legalism of how if she were not conceived without sin Christ couldn't have been, as if He could work such a miracle having Mary born sinless of a sinful mother could not work such a miracle for His Son.

Not to mention another such legalism -- you aren't going to arrive at Heaven dressed in rags and covered with filth, you'll arrive washed in the blood of the Lamb. You've already had your hot shower. It's Calvary.

Just as I am, without one plea,
Except Thy Blood was shed for me.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 4:47:00 am , Anonymous Lucian said...

as if He could work such a miracle having Mary born sinless of a sinful mother could not work such a miracle for His Son.

The world stands on an elephant.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 4:49:00 am , Anonymous John Weidner said...

Well Mr Elder, I'm very glad to hear you are all ship-shape.

I myself am a sinner, and fall short every day of what God expects of me. So I will just hang out with the other sinners in the Universal church, and try to "convert" daily.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 5:35:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

I didn't say I was ship-shape. I said he was. Didn't your church teach you the difference?

Guess not. It never has and it never will.

So -- I'm a sinner too, I fall short every day of what God expects of me too, and if that weren't the case, I wouldn't need Him who wasn't, nor the Word and Sacrament he offers as his testament and pledge. You convert to a church, not to being saved.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 8:28:00 am , Anonymous matthias said...

There was a Anglican minister of about 150 years ago ,who said that every time he ascended into the pulpit,he saw his sins always before him,and he preached as a penitent sinner. Which reminds me that over at Bill Muehlenberg blog he has great piece on Christian Discipleship. For PE and John Weidner's interest he is an expatriate countryman of yours .
http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/
He must be okay for he is linked on Cardinal Pole's blog site-though tagged as a proddy fundamentalist

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 10:38:00 am , Blogger Louise said...

Ah, yes, PE it's the lovely pristine cloak over the filthy dirty body trick.

Also, as for Our Lady, I always thought that it was simply that it was "fitting" for Our Lord to be conceived in the womb of a woman without the stain of Original Sin, not an absolute requirement.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 10:46:00 am , Blogger Louise said...

Sadly, David, the internet is the agora, not the sanctuary (as Mark Shea likes to note). Some comboxes are better than others and this is one of the better ones. Even then, it gets too vicious sometimes.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 3:32:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

My dear PE, you are making a category mistake that shows an (unusual and uncommon) lack of knowledge about Catholic doctrine. Purgatory IS being washed in the blood of the Lamb. This is a pretty fundamental fact. I die a sinner, I am raised a saint. How? Through Purification in the Blood of the Lamb. AKA, Purgatory.

And Louise, you are right about the "fitting" rather than "required" bit. It's not about what God could or couldn't do, but what he did. We don't believe in the "Immaculate Conception" of Mary because it was "required" of God. We believe in it because he did it. We then seek doctrinal explanations for why this is so. If we word that explanation in such a way to suggest that God "had to" do this in order for Jesus to be sinless, we explain the matter wrongly.

Besides, there is a difference between the case of Mary and Jesus. Mary was not without sin "from all eternity". As a human being (distinct from Jesus as a divine and human being) sin would naturally have attached itself to her without God's intervention. God intervened at the moment of her conception to preserve her from sin. There was no need for a similar "intervention" on God's part in the case of Jesus. Jesus was not made sinless because his mother was sinless, but because from all eternity he was without sin.

Thus this old protestant objection (which is based on the logic of an incorrect explanation of the Immaculate Conception) is removed.

 
At Monday, January 19, 2009 4:13:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Pure pagan fable. But that's how the RCC always excuses the pagan fables it mixes with what's left of Christianity -- call it all Christianity.

No, Purgatory is not the Blood of the Lamb. It is a pure fantasy claimed to be the Blood of the Lamb when the justification won through the Blood of the Lamb at Calvary is proclaimed but not quite believed. Great Caesar's Ghost, you don't get saved because you're not a sinner, and you don't quit being a sinner when you get saved. You died a sinner and were raised a saint in Baptism. You don't get into heaven because you're finally perfect or acceptable, you get in because he was perfect and acceptable.

That is the great tragedy of the Roman church, not that it doesn't preach justification, because it does, but that it then retreats from it unable to trust so great a gift and imagine after human thinking that it must be somehow incomplete here and perfected elsewhere before it really happens fully.

Which is why the Roman church expresses absolution with its "may" as though he might not, but our pastors clearly announce that he has.

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 10:24:00 am , Anonymous Tom said...

Great Caesar's Ghost, you don't get saved because you're not a sinner, and you don't quit being a sinner when you get saved. You died a sinner and were raised a saint in Baptism.

All well and good; now is it possible to destroy my Baptism? Is it possible to stray so far from the Way, the Truth and the Life, that at the end of my time here on earth, when I face judgment, I could be condemned to Hell?

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 10:51:00 am , Anonymous matthias said...

Tom,
the Amish,Mennonites and perhaps Calvinists would say -yes and you are condemned to hell. Others quote the Scripture to the effect that "none shall pluck you out of My Hand". I no of people who for a long time have been ardent Christians and have then strayed from the Way,and have died,and i wonder about their destination after that. Sorry Schutz but I am with PE on the issue of Purgatory and Redemption ,but will not say it in such a robust way,however when it comes to the Person,Deity and the Atoning Work of Christ,i can get as robust as any ardent Christian-Catholic,Protestant or Lutheran!!

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 10:53:00 am , Anonymous matthias said...

And it should be "I know" apologies .Blame my calvinist upbringing

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 1:06:00 pm , Blogger Louise said...

Calvin was responsible for a great deal of tosh - including poor spelling.

I've had to speak to you about spelling before, Matthias.

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 6:50:00 pm , Anonymous matthias said...

Yes teacher i will write 100 times
must spell tosh properly
must spell tosh properly
mstu splle tohs prpoerly

 
At Tuesday, January 20, 2009 10:44:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Great blogging Judas, whatever will happen if there's "a Catholic appearing" around here!

 
At Friday, January 23, 2009 3:38:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Which leads to me to observe another thoughtful discourse from Father Neuhaus:

“When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work that I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers throughout my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my own. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of “justification by faith alone,” although I will thank God that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood formulation was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways - these and all other gifts received I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will...look to Christ and Christ alone.”

(Richard John Neuhaus. Death on a Friday Afternoon. New York: Basic Books, 2000) p. 70)

It really is all about Jesus.

 

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