The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Newman, Vatican II, and the Dilemma



I spent yesterday reading Stanley Jaki's book, Newman's Challenge. In it, he is very zealous in guarding Newman's ultramontanist credentials. But I also read a number of documents from Vatican II, that, to put it frankly, turned my stomach.

One rather interesting quote that Jaki cites from one of Newman's letters is the following:

"But [Newman] pointed out the difference between a Catholic Church 'vibrant with altars, tombs, pilgrimages, processions, rites, relics, medals, etc.; whereas I hardly see the Church of the Fathers as a living acting being in the Anglican Communion.'" (p.91)

Altars? Relics? In today's Roman Catholic Church? If there are, I haven't seen them outside of churches that have been designated by the hierarchy as the "liturgical ghettos" (Indult, Eastern rites, etc.) What would Newman think today?

Jaki also tries to attribute to Newman (quite persuasively) an "existential ecclesiology" which is just modern-ese for "Extra Ecclesia Nulla Salus" (no salvation outside of the Church). But how about this gem:

It follows that the separated Churches(23) and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.
Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life-that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ's Catholic Church, which is "the all-embracing means of salvation," that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. This people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God's gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem.

-Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism, from Chapter One

Basic message: it would be nice if you were under the Roman pontiff, but don't feel too bad if you aren't. How do we benefit "fully" from the means of salvation? Does that mean if we are not in communion with the Roman Pontiff, we are only "partially saved"?

The main problem is this: the Roman Catholic Church has changed its position. It used to be, for 1,962 years that heresy and schism were sins. But somehow, between the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the publishing of these documents, the Church absolved the entire world of the sin of heresy and schism. (That's not entirely true, there are schismatics for people in the Vatican. They're called "Lefebvrists".) Maybe the dogmatic document abolishing heresy hasn't been published yet. Maybe they are still sins, but just venial sins, like stealing a dollar from Aunt Emma's purse.

So what would Newman think of all of this? Jaki in his book does decry Catholic-Anglican dialogue, but like most Roman Catholic apologists he seems to mention some questionable episodes without giving much comment. Does the Church that Newman converted to, the "Una Sancta", even exist anymore?

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