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

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Church As One


La verdad hace la Fe; y algunas veces la Fe hace o arrastra la verdad reacia.

-Dulce Maria Loynaz

(The truth makes Faith; and sometimes Faith makes or drags the reluctant truth.)

The other latest buzz going around the Catholic world is this clarification of the doctrine of the Church by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The issue of course is the nature of the Church, its unity and the role of the Petrine office within it. Many non-Catholics have felt that this is an affront to ecumenism, even though it says substantially what Dominus Iesus said back in 2000: the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church, other Churches are in imperfect communion, and Protestant congregations are no churches at all.

People who know me know that I am not the most ultramontanist person in the world. I have done my share of ecclesial and theological wayfaring in my life. I can concede that discerning the "true Church" in this day and age can often look like a gamble in which a lot of personal and non-theological factors enter into play. But at the end of the day, one must choose, and even if rhetorically my words do not seem the most decisive, in my actions I am very much so. I worship in what I firmly believe is the one Church that Christ founded.

The most interesting aspect of the question for me is not the historical or even directly theological questions. As I have said before, the most fascinating question for me to ask is: what does the encounter between God and man look like? Because that is what the Church is. For me, that is what I ask intellectually when I think about religion in this postmodern age. And the Roman Catholic Church seems the most likely to be the image that answers my question. Above all, this is true because it exists as an authoritative enitity outside of my own conscience that I have to constantly wrestle and deal with whether I like it or not. That for me is Faith: not the absolute and unconditional assent to a party line, but an uncomfortable conversation with an ancient institution that is much older and wiser that I am.

I am glad in one sense that the Vatican has made what we believe about the Church a little more clear, even if it was just re-stating what everybody suspected. At the end of the day, the gamble that we all make on what is truth may not be as absolute as in the days before the Second Vatican Council where popular notions conceived that all non-Catholics were going to Hell. It is a serious gamble nontheless. And the only way to surely win is to be in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Everyone else is playing with some rather uncomfortable odds.


At 9:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know I'm probably taking your words the wrong way, but it seems highly offensive to join a church in hopes of "winning." I don't want "good odds." I want people whom I feel are honest and loving, and whom I can serve along with while worshiping and glorifying God. My eternal destination is a nice plus, but it isn't really the driving factor. Perhaps this is my Calvinist teaching here, but "the chief end of man" is directed outwards to glorify God.

My objection to Rome (and EO) is that you have to really lie about history to pull off their claims. It is a matter of record that councils can and do err, and we don't even have to go beyond Ephesus to start talking about all the dubious areas. Lies, murder, political force- it makes a great novel.

And I find Rome to be the ultimate lawyer's church. Vatican II sure sounded like it was saying our communions were valid, but the Holy Spirit actually speaks cryptically. You need a team of interpreters to find out what He was really saying to us, and even then there's no guarantee that it won't all change in a year.

I know that sounds rich coming from a Protestant, but at least with sola scriptura it is *my* wrestling with God. I could be wrong, but at least I've got something that I can count on not changing while I try to figure things out. With Rome that is just not the case. I thought I understood their infallible positions once, and then it seems they were more sophisticated than I thought. And now, they seem to be back to the original position. Of course "the official position" is not the position that I will be taught at many of the local RC churches, and so the conversation loses a lot of its incarnation.

And then I ask, is this really how my Father in heaven would deal with me? Would he toss me around and try to fool me all the time? Would he want me to throw the complexities of history into the garbage bin for a quick fix?

At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One has to give up the Sola Scriptura chimera really- the Scripture comes out of the Community of Faith which is the Church- it is not me and God ultimately but all of us with the Church standing before God

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

"My eternal destination is a nice plus, but it isn't really the driving factor."

"The glory of God is a man fully alive, and the glory of man is to know God."

-St. Ireneaus

The greatest glorification of God is our union with Him. As the supreme law of the Catholic Church dictates: salus animarum, suprema lex (salvation of souls is the highest law).

As I described in this post and this post, Protestantism has a very impoverished idea of God in terms of God being a solitary being whose glory lies in the belittling of the creatures He has made in His image and likeness. Catholicism has implicitly had a different view of things, even if this was never specifically formulated.

And sola scriptura in many ways can be discerned as a fleeing from wrestling with the God of history. Ancient Israel was no less contradictory or confusing than the present Roman Church. Sola Scriptura at its worst is a refusal of communion with the Body of Christ through time and space in favor of a fictional, unmediated contact with the mind of God through reading a book.

At 10:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, I agree with the mutual glorification, but that only works a posterio. If I'm striving for my own glory, then things sink. It is just like a marriage.

I would reject any notion that "Protestantism" believes in a solitary being (whatever that may mean). If it chaps both Barth and Rahner, so be it- this little reduction is but a rhetorical device which is not true to history (the space and time type of history).

I wouldn't pit Sola Scriptura against the Church either. I know that my saying that doesn't fit apologetic paradigms and thus must be impossible, but I will say it anyway. The Church can read the Scripture in such a way as to wrestle with its own presuppositions, and this wouldn't be a contradiction. In fact, this is what our presbyteries are supposed to do, even if they don't actually pull it off.

And what's with the charge of unmediated contact? That's awfully strange seeing as I'm currently trying to square John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards with Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine, all the while seeing how John Williamson Nevin and N T Wright jive together, even as I gain new appreciation for Thomas Aquinas through the lens of David Bentley Hart (what a mish-mash). Just because we have different heroes doesn't mean we aren't communing with "time and space" Christsharers.

I've found this blog to be better than these silly canards, and so I hope I don't drag everyone down into the mire of polemics with my mean old Protestantism, but even after all of this, my basic question still remains. Is Benedict in line with the spirit of V.2 or has he but given us a nice escape hatch?

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...


Of course, I don't want my blog to end up a place where Protestants and Catholics duke it out over doctrinal issues. It is not that I think that these things are not important, it is rather because there are hundreds of other places on the Internet for one to do this. It's just not my style. Besides, the way I approach my Roman Catholicism is a bit more befuddled than other, more clear-minded people. I am complex in the unflattering sense of the word.

The main point of my post I suppose is the "gambling" analogy. I can concede that what I argue here is neither obvious nor well developed. Nevertheless, it is what I believe with my whole heart, and I do think that in these issues, one has to choose and those choices necessarily exclude other choices. While these may not be absolute choices, and there may be shades of gray as Vatican II allowed, there are few things in life that are more defined than the nature of the Church.

Thank you for your readership. I am glad that I can draw the brief attention of erudite and thinking individuals like you. Hopefully, you will stick around to dialogue about other things that might be going through my mind.


At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I'll be here. This is one of my favorite theological blogs of any flavor.

At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Burn heretics at the stake.

There is no salvation outside the Church.

Icons should be
Fr. Feeney
Marcel Lefebvre

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...


Mmmmmm... I hope you are joking.

At 6:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In all humor there is a bit of truth.

At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre would not agree with Father Leonard Feeney. It was Pope Pius the XII and not a post Vatican II Pope that condemned Feenyism.

While I am generally critical of Karl Rahner SJ and think he gives in to much to so called modernity--his concept of the anonymous Christian is not completely illogical nor theologically wrong.
(I prefer the more tradition bound Hans Urs Von Baltasar--his New Oxford Review and Public Square/Neuhaus critics notwithstanding--although I think it is good and correct to preach and teach Hell and Sin--but I also hope no one is there--but don't think that is correct nor probable)

A teacher at a Lefebvre's seminary (although later left and became a sedevantis I believe and taught at the SSPV seminary) Rama Coorawamasaway (a friend of Malachi Martin who supposedly re-ordained him and did exorcisms with him) also believed in the Perenial Philosophy and did not believe a certain spiritual ecuminisim conflicted with Traditional Catholicism. Even Perennialist proponent and Muslim Hossein Nasr Seyyed comments about the beauty of the Tridentine Mass and laments it's loss in his book (quasi gnostic) Knowledge and the Sacred--which qoutes quite a few Catholic writers including Vatican librarian and linguist Agustino Steuco.

Not all Traditionalists are Feenyeits that would damn all to hell who are not part of the official Church.

At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I prefer and even love the Tridentine Mass.

However, I find some of the people annoying and mean spirited--including some of the priests.

I love Tradition but hate some of the Traditionalists (hate is a strong word but it fits well to complete the sentence but really mean can't stand)

There is a sense of making Latin a more sacred language than Catholic theology or history teach.
(Latin is not a sacred language per se as Hebrew is to Jews, or Sanskrit is to Hindus, or Sanskrit is to most syncretic pagan Buddhists, or Arabic is to Muslim--all have supposedly inherently sacred liturgical and languages used exclusively in their prayers and liturgies or analagous equivalents) Although Latin is important, beautiful, not vulgar, set apart, historically important etc--it is not inherently or per se sacred or absolutely necessary.
Latin does not make the grandiose and specific claims of Arabic, Sanskrite or Hebrew.

The argument for a universal liturgical langauge is important and good but there is a long venacular tradition in the Church like the motives of
where the venacular helped conversions and buidling an alphabet and culture
or the JESUITS in China and India
or the allowances made by the relatively tolerant Austo-Hungarian empire to the RUTHENIAN/"RUSYN" Eastern Rite Catholics (more lenient than the Church in America under americanized Irishman Archbishop Ireland who caused schism and the growth of modern American Orthodoxy) as well as traditions that were stamped out by uniformity vis a vis language like the Croatian bearded priests who did the Roman Rite in Glagolithic language and script (different than modern Roman script) or the local liturgical rites of Toledo, Milan, and even England that have become very small anachronisms although you can even find some Mozabaric masses on YouTube and some affinity for the Sarum Rite with so called Western Orthodox Christians and some Anglicans.
The point being that venacular language in Liturgy is not out of step with the history of the Church. Theoretically you could have a Tridentine in English as you have the Divine Liturgy(ies) of St. John Chrystostom and Basil (separately) in English.

If there is a desire focused on language or to return to the original Mass--than perhaps Aramaic or liturgical Hebrew--as Aramaic was probably the venacular of Jesus (and the liturgical of Chaldean and some other Middle Eastern Christians) Hebrew is/would be the liturgical and sacred language of Jesus. The suggestion we have Mass exclusively in Hebrew would lack historical context and some Traditionalists would be accusing me of the heresy of being a Judaizer. Even St. Peter had Judaizer tendencies.
Making a point here about going back to the Last Supper and the use of language.

The Kiss of Peace (a kiss in the culture of Jesus or at least the Greek, Arab, Phoenician initial converts) as a sign of forgiveness is not a bad thing. YES, it can be abused. But some traditionalists seem to HATE it. and hate others that do it. Forgiveness and a physical sign is historical, predates the Mass as compiled at the Council of Trent and makes historical sense.

I realize that raising the hands (Orans?) during the Our Father is not accurate--but the many Mexican old ladies that did it in Mexico (in the thousands that I saw personally) do not mean disrespect and seem to have incredible faith and devotion. It is an error but could be dealt with charitably.
The Eastern Rite Catholics (and Orthodox) (maybe including Bernie Kosar) can make fun of the Roman Catholics for our sign of the Cross as going the wrong way because we imitated like a mirror instead of accurately and don't do the three fingers (theologically and spiritually significant of the Trinity) or the sign below the stomach.--the point being some of the customs were because of our Barbarian ancestors incorrectly imitating the Greeks.

Even for my proud Sicilian and Calabrian friends (who have much Greek Blood)---it was Greek and not Latin as the language of the liturgy (which was Eastern) until the 13th Century and uniformity put in rather than "organic" development of a Mass. Latin and Italian were not the first tongues of Southern Italy and the Island nor were they organically grown.

There is a great deal of rudeness, exclusiveness, arrogance, in some of the so called Traditionalists.

The great Traditional Latin Mass is not an exact imitation of the Last Supper (wine used for example), an actual meal, Jewish-Hebrew rubrics of liturgy of Passover.
The Eastern Liturgy may have earlier roots than the Roman Rite (but my TLM friends swear without any aprobation that the Tridentine Rite is the oldest and most accurate rite)

The Mass should not be an esoteric rite only for the educated and erudite who can enjoy Mozart and Latin language smart enough to read it. The faithful should not have to know all the rubrics and ins and outs of liturgy and internal Church policy.

Grandiose and incorrect claims do not help people become closer to God.
Proponents of the Traditional Mass should be cheerful, humble, and charitable--and this will attract more people to this beautiful and reverent Rite.

At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If pseudo-iamblichus is a heretic please don't burn him at the stake.

At 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Greek Father said that we know where the Church is but not where it is not?

At 9:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The stake and fire are being prepared if pseudo-iamblichus keeps on hanging out with the Coptic Monosphytes and playing footsy with the Schismatic ethnic churches and the heretic schismatics who worship at the adulterer Henry VIII.

There is no legitimacy to Anglicanism. The schismatic altar of the adulterer Henry and the further Protestantinazation of his whore daughter and the genocide of Cromwell bring no grace to have real sacraments or orders.

The Orthodox schismatics have more hope.

I have to learn more about the Christology of the current Copts.

There is no salvation outside of the Church.
Rome has spoken.

At 10:24 PM, Blogger Carlos said...

Perhaps, if you lump all Anglicans in the group that ordains clowns and women imams to celebrate holy communion...


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