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

Monday, January 09, 2006

Thoughts on Lumen Gentium

One thing that my readers should realize is that I am an ex-seminarian for the SSPX. (I'm an American, but I did my two years of seminary in La Reja, Argentina.) So I am not very happy with the Pope or the state of the Catholic Church as it is now. However, a lot of exposure to Eastern Orthodoxy and the Eastern rites in the Catholic Church has made me much more open than I was in my more hardened "Lefebvrist" days. (Although I still consider Lefebvre to be a saint, so for me, "Lefebvrist" is still a badge of honor, even if I don't agree with their position fully.)

So finally I have hunkered down and am beginning to read some Vatican II documents all the way through. [The only one I have done this for is Sancrosanctum Concilium.... (spit on the floor) what a wretched and myopic document!!!] So I am reading Lumen Gentium now.

Overall, I like the document. Having had a lot of exposure to the Fathers of the Church, I really can see their influence in the minds of the Council Fathers. The task of the document is indeed admirable: to break out of the strictly "Baltimore Catechism" approach to Catholicism and present a more broader and integral idea of what the Church is. Lumen Gentium, I will conceed, tries to get back to basics, leaving behind a lot of Counter-Reformation polemics that obsessed Catholicism to that time. Going back to basics consists in going back to the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the early Doctors. I am completely sympathetic to this approach. To a great extent, that is the approach of this blog.

However, (and this is a big "however"), there is still that great problem of Chapter 2, Art. 15:

15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. (14*) For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. (15*) They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God.(16*) They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ's disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. (17*) Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.

Sorry Charlie, but this is not the mind of the traditional Church. Heresy and schism are not "partial unions" to the Church of Christ: they are separation from God, simply put. You don't even have to read the great Fathers of the Church (St. Basil, St. Augustine, etc.) to realize this; this was even true for simple monks, like Abba Agathon from the Apothegmata Patrum. Over and over again, the old monks used to say: "Don't talk to heretics."

But this paragraph also has a flawed metaphysics behind it as well: evil per se does not exist. Evil exists to the extent that there is a lack of good; it is not something complete in itself, but something that is deficient in something that is good. Thus, for "good" Pope John to want to focus on "what unites us rather than on what divides us", is like a physician focusing on the nice head of hair his terminal cancer patient still has. Good must still be to some extent in evil simply because evil does not stand by itself. Therefore, if heretics have the Bible, that doesn't make them good Christians (or even partially good Christians). It just means that they have been all the more deceived.

Please do not get me wrong. I don't believe all of you non-Catholics reading this are going to Hell. If that were the case, I as a confused Catholic would be going with you. There have been times in my life, as a Catholic, that I spent more times in Orthodox Churches than I did in Catholic Churches. But it is profoundly disturbing to me that we can play so fast and loose with the limits of the Church while we read that the Fathers of the Church did no such thing. For me, there has to be a better way than this "you're okay, I'm okay" post-Vatican II clap-trap. And that is what I am trying to grope my way towards, in the dark and blindly.


At 11:11 AM, Blogger JWY said...

Over on our blog, some time back, we put up a couple of posts about things St. Thomas and John Henry Newman had to say about those outside the Church, specifically, about those, like Anglicans, who seem to get things partially correct. Here and here.

St. Thomas that partially correct doesn't cut it. And though the Sacrament of Baptism happens among protestants, once they reach the age of reason, they'll either fall into mortal sin (unless by a miracle) and/or fail to make an act of Faith, which can only be made by assenting to whatever the Church teaches as revealed by God. They're Catholics in as much as they're baptized, but their situation is far more dangerous than the passage of Lumen Gentium portrays it to be.

They're urgently in need of the Sacraments and the truths of the Faith - not this vague maybe someday being under one shepherd, whatever that means.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Thanks for the comment. The main problem with the theology leading up to the Second Vatican Council (la nouvelle theologie) is a severe under-estimation of the effects of evil in the world, not the use of Patristic sources and its poetic vagueness per se. Hans Urs Van Balthasar is a prime example of this, but I won't get into this here.

Yes, for Christianity, and for the Catholic Faith in particular, "partially true" does not cut it. A poisoned glass of wine is still good in the sense that it tastes like wine, but it is still just as deadly.

At 8:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There have been times in my life, as a Catholic, that I spent more times in Orthodox Churches than I did in Catholic Churches."

Come on, Arturo! :-) If you're not an Orthodox catechumen already, what are you waiting for?

Since you're convinced that both the mainstream and traditionlist RCs belong to the wrong church, and that the one and only true Church must still exist, what other church can be the true church besides the Orthodox Church?
And if you live in California, or near San Francisco, there should be quite a few traditionlist Orthodox parishes to choose from, especially the ROCOR parishes.

If you need the final push, I'd recommend:

Papism as the Oldest Protestantism
by the Blessed Fr. Justin (Popovich)


The Papacy: Its Historic Origin and Primitive Relations with the Eastern Church

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Dear Anonymous,

I am indeed really thinking about becoming Orthodox. The fact is, although I am not public on this yet, I am still technically a Uniate monk for the next month (the rasaphore monk Cassian). I probably know the Orthodox services better than most priests!

I know all the anti-Catholic Orthodox polemics, but I wouldn't convert because of them. A Russian Orthodox abbot before he died told me that I should not let anyone convince me to become Orthodox. True, I have to convince myself of it. And it wouldn't be because I see the Orthodox Church as the Una Sancta, just a place to work out my salvation in fear and trembling. I would also strongly object to any attempt to re-baptize me.

I am also looking into the continuing Anglican Churches, but also considering just remaining Catholic. For me, the Orthodox Church conceived as "the one and only True Church" is a creation of the Turkish pashas and Russian czars, with the aide of such polemicists as Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Peter Moghilia. For the most part, individual Orthodox Churches are mostly ethnic and national ghettos in danger of extinction in the next century.

So I won't be becoming a triumphalist Orthodox any time soon. If I do enter the Orthodox Church, it will be with my doubts all in tow.

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, all I can wish you is, all the best, Arturo!

Incidentally, if I'm not wrong, the normal traditional way for the Orthodox Church to receive converts, especially young people who are in normal health, is by triple-immersion baptism; unless you've received a triple-immersion baptism in any non-Orthodox church before, you might have to think about triple-immersion baptism if you are "indeed really thinking about becoming Orthodox".

Also, have you read Patrick Barnes' "The Non-Orthodox"? If you haven't, you might want to, because it explains concisely the Orthodox teaching that, although Orthodox Christians are the only members of the One true Church of Christ, it does not judge the eternal status of the non-Orthodox but leaves them to God's mercy; but as for the ecclesiastical status of the non-Orthodox, they are certainly outside the Church until they enter in. It's hard to get a hardcopy of it, but the entire text is available for free at

It was one of the first books I was told to read by my catechist when I expressed my intention to convert to Orthodoxy; to date, it's almost a year since I was made a catechumen, and I hope to be baptized sometime this year.

At 12:12 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

You are wrong on that, anon. In 19th century Russia, non-Orthodox were received by either chrismation (if they were Protestants) or a confession of Orthodox Faith (if Catholic) and the reception of Holy Communion. It was only because of Nicodemus' hard line taken in his commentary in the Pedalion that the Greek Church began to re-baptize Catholics, which in reality was a tit-for-tat with the Catholics who started to re-baptize Orthodox first.

Of all the Orthodox Christians in this country, only ROCOR and other Old Caledarists will re-baptize, and in the former, it would depend on the priest. One ROCOR priest wanted to re-baptize me, another would receive me in by chrismation, and a mitred archamandrite would do it by a mere confession of faith, all within 100 miles from each other! Some unity of Orthodox Faith!

All other jurisdictions, including the EC and the Church in Greece and Russia would receive you in by chrismation. Some will give communion to Catholics without asking them to become Orthodox. Mount Athos still receives converts by baptism, but that's just them.

At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgive me, the means of reception is also subject to economia sometimes, but if I'm not wrong again, strictly speaking, the proper way to receive a convert is still by baptism, which also happened during the first millennium of Christianity when Christians baptized by heretics were received back into the Church. Perhaps if you do convert to Orthodoxy, you might be received by chrismation or by confession of faith, depending on the discretion of your spiritual father, but personally, I would want to be received by baptism because I want to be received properly and strictly; besides, I was "baptized" Roman Catholic when I was a baby by infusion only.

"Some will give communion to Catholics without asking them to become Orthodox."
I hope you know that this is certainly wrong; it's an abuse of the sacrament, a fruit of ecumenism. Before I became a catechumen, I actually asked to be given Holy Communion, but I've learnt my lesson now; I'm truly not worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and although I may desire it, I may only receive it when the Church, through its priests and with the blessing of my spiritual father, deems me worthy to receive it.

At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Re-baptism" has been forever condemned by the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church - both east and west.

By practicing this simulation of a sacrament, the minister shows himself to be both a heretic and a schismatic and is thereby not fit to "re-baptize" either of you, even if this were possible.

Turn back from this damnable path if you would hope to save your souls.

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