Daily Archives: March 4, 2008

Pastor Weedon’s Inquisition

Nobody expects the Lutheran Inquisition, and certainly I was surprised to find it buried deep among the string of 59 comments on the end of a previous blog, but here is Pastor Weedon’s list of “fess up” questions for me.

I think I understand a bit of what you’re saying, but for a Lutheran it is not about “stopping fighting yesterday’s battles” since the battle yesterday was and is part of the history of the Church herself and from a Lutheran perspective that battle still continues. Rome is not burning us at the stake anymore, true, but the points of contention still seem rather the same:

1) what is the source of the Church’s dogma?
2) when the NT knows the synonymity of bishop and presbyter, how can the distinction between the two be constitutive of the Church’s very essence, and hence church dividing?
3) Is grace a created substance?
4) does Rome persist in claiming that the Bishop of Rome is head of the entire Church by divine right? On what Scriptural grounds?
5) is our justification by faith in Christ truly exclusive of all works of the law, of all our deeds?
6) does the Church subsist in the hierarchy that is in communion with the Bishop of Rome or in the whole company of the baptized?

Oh, so many more. These cannot be side-stepped by Benedict’s approach to theology. He wouldn’t choose to side-step them, would he?

Heck, no. And neither would his loyal disciple. So here goes, one at at time, off the top of my head (they don’t provide theology text books in the torture chamber):

1) what is the source of the Church’s dogma?

The revealed word of God is the only source of the Church’s dogma. This word was revealed to the prophets before the coming of Christ and most fully in the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. Christ himself authorised his apostles as teachers of his word to all nations and promised that his Spirit would lead them into all truth. The continued promise of the Spirit’s leading implies a continued apostolic office. Thus the Revealed Word of God comes to God’s Church today primarily in the writings of the prophets and the apostles, and also in the unbroken “handed down” witness of the Church. This sacred deposit of faith is guarded and interpreted by those who occupy the apostolic office today, the Bishop of Rome and the bishops in communion with him.

2) when the NT knows the synonymity of bishop and presbyter, how can the distinction between the two be constitutive of the Church’s very essence, and hence church dividing?

Well, I’m not particularly sure how it became Church dividing, but I guess it takes two to tango there. I am reading NT Wright at the moment, and he makes the point that aside from the book of Acts (which gives us tantalising detail about some issues in the early church and absolutely nothing about other details) we know next to diddlysquat about the Church between AD 35 and AD 135. Sobering thought. Yet by the year 135, we know that there were distinctly bishops, presbyters and deacons in the Church. The Catholic Church generally assumes continuity of practice from the apostles (given that we have no evidence to the contrary), and thus reads the NT in the light of the three fold ministry, believing it to derive from Christ’s commission of the apostles (he instituted the episcopate, which is the fullness of ministry, and the priesthood and the diaconate derived from that fullness at a later date). So what we insist upon is the office of bishop. Conceivably, a true Church could exist in which there are no priests or deacons, only bishops. Presumably the Church at Pentecost was just such an entity. So it is the episcopate that is of the essence of the church, containing as it does the priesthood and the diaconate. If some new testament writings give the impression that the ministerial terms were interchangeable that’s because they were. But not because the episcopate was lacking.

3) Is grace a created substance?

Que? This is a new one on me. Where is that coming from? My initial reaction is to say “No”, but I just know you are setting a trap for me here somewhere!

4) does Rome persist in claiming that the Bishop of Rome is head of the entire Church by divine right? On what Scriptural grounds?

We persist in claiming that the Bishop of Rome exercises the “Petrine Ministry” by divine right. The scriptural grounds are the usual ones (do I have to cite them here? Matt 16:18, Luke 22:32, John 21:15ff, etc. etc). These establish that Peter was given a particular ministry of unity by Christ’s own commission. Of course the inheritance of that commission by the Bishop of Rome cannot be proven from Scripture, but depends entirely upon Sacred Tradition. (see my answer to question one). It does make a kind of sense, however. The exercise of the Petrine ministry cannot depend upon human right, because it would be effectively powerless to act in the cause of unity (anyone disagreeing with the Petrine minister could simply say “Oh, I don’t have to take any notice of him–his authority is only by human right”). I could go on. You can see where I’m going. How that ministry is best exercised is, however, something we can discuss (as JPII the Great pointed out in Ut Unum Sint).

5) is our justification by faith in Christ truly exclusive of all works of the law, of all our deeds?

The justification of the sinner is entirely due to the grace of God in Christ. Need one say any more than this? The Catholic Church completely and utterly rejects all forms of Pelagianism. That doesn’t mean that it can’t creep in by the back door, however, as even Lutherans know. May I refer you for a fuller explanation to a thing called the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification”?

6) does the Church subsist in the hierarchy that is in communion with the Bishop of Rome or in the whole company of the baptized?

Well that’s a devil of a way of putting it. The usual formation is that the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. So for a start the subsistence is not in the hierarchy but in the whole Catholic Church. Secondly the subsistence is not in individuals but in this hierarchical communion. Just as in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the body and blood of our Lord is identified with the visible elements of bread and wine, so the subsistence of the Church requires identification with a visibel communion. For this reason, one cannot speak of an “invisible” subsistence. All baptised persons do indeed belong to the one Church of Christ, but the subsistence of that Church is in the Communion governed by the successor of Peter etc. Is that all too much gobbledegoop?

Now can I get off the rack?

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Rabbi David Rosen on the Religion Report about the Good Friday prayers

There is a telling interview by Stephen Crittenden on the Religion Report with Rabbi David Rosen about the Good Friday prayers. I have already refered readers of this blog to Rabbi Jacob Neusner’s comments in his interview with Zenit.

In particular I point you to this statement from Rabbi Rosen:

But from my personal perspective, I don’t think that somebody’s belief that their faith is central for the salvation for the human personality and the desires of everybody should share that faith, I don’t consider that offensive, I consider it theologically problematic. I can’t personally understand how any one faith can encapsulate the totality of the divine, and that any one faith can be the exclusive path. But I don’t consider it offensive.

So if somebody says ‘I hope and pray for the day when you will be able to share my faith personally’, I’m not offended by that. I know that there are some Jews who are mainly for historical reasons because of what it evokes, and the memories, the tragic memories of the past. But I’m not offended by that, and therefore I didn’t use language in terms of my reactions to the Pope’s prayer that suggested that there was any offence involved.

I’ve used the language of disappointment because I perhaps have deluded myself (but certainly there were others within the church who had helped that process) into thinking that actually the Catholic church doesn’t believe that Jews have to believe in Jesus in order to find salvation, because the original covenant before Jesus’ coming was a covenant of salvation with God and therefore the Children of Israel are in a category as a foundation of the covenant by which through faith in Jesus the nations of the world come into that covenantal relationship.

I appreciate his distinction between being ‘offended’ and ‘disappointed’ and also his point that there are still some who fear Christian proselytism because of past historical experience and memory. However, I think the “delusion” that Rabbi Rosen speaks of is real. There has been a delusion and we have allowed people (both Jewish and Catholic) to be deluded over what the actual teaching of the church is.

My own suggestion is that the reality is not either/or the Paul VI prayer in the Ordinary Form or the new BXVI prayer for the Extraordinary Form, but rather taking both together at the same time and that the truth is both inclusive of and between the content of the two prayers. As such, I like to see the two prayers as two ‘bookends’ in the realm of Catholic theology about the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people.

In this, Rabbi Rosen is surely correct when he says that “there is some tension between affirming the eternity of the covenant and affirming the universal salvific nature of Jesus.” He is wrong to suggest, however, that Benedict opposes the former while affirming the latter. It is quite clear from Ratzinger’s previously published works that this is not the case, just as it is clear that he is happy for the Paul VI prayer to remain the ordinary and usual prayer for the Jews on Good Friday.

There is, however, undeniabley a great deal of work to be done in Catholic theology regarding the way in which the Covenant in Jesus Christ is related to the Covenant of Sinai. All that has been definitively said is that the Covenant of Sinai has not been annuled by the covenant in Christ. This does not mean that the universal covenant in Christ has no application to the Jewish people or that the Jewish people are somehow an “exception” to the proclamation of the Gospel. This would make no sense in the light of a good deal of the New Testament, the Gospels included.

So it is my hope that we get off our high horses in this matter and start doing the hard work that remains to be done. As Rabbi Rosen says in the conclusion to this interview, the one thing necessary is that we are “open and clear about what is the nature of our relationship.”

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