Daily Archives: October 30, 2008

Getting a handle on PE’s Ecclesiology

In the combox to the previous posting, Past Elder expounds further on his reasons for rejecting the (“Roman”) Catholic Church and for criticising what he calls “the new religion”, ie. the Post-Vatican II Catholic Church.

We’ve treated this topic before (eg. here), of course, and you may wonder why I (and he) keep coming back to it. From my point of view it is because a) I am still trying to get a handle on the rationality or logic of his argument, and, more importantly, b) because his accusation is a profound challenge to me personally. He himself has said as much:

But thanks for yet another, as if more were needed, confirmation of why I am not Roman Catholic any more, or rather, why Roman Catholic no longer exists to be any more. If you had headed East, at least you would have found Orthodoxy…

So in nuce, I’m not saying here you ought to drop this crap and resume your call to the Office of Holy Ministry (though as a Lutheran I say you should), I am saying here that, unlike our converts to Orthodoxy who get Orthodoxy when they convert, what a convert to Roman Catholicism gets when they convert, speaking as one who once believed that religion, is nothing but a barge of bilge lying peddled under the same name and while I would now question your decision, nonetheless if Roman Catholicism is what you want then run from this pile of dung precisely because what you want is Roman Catholicism.

So you see, I can’t leave this alone. It is not that I have to answer PE. It is that I have to answer myself, and I myself have to take into account what happened in the Catholic Church post-Vatican II.

Another thing to add, of course, is that I did not become a Catholic seeking the “pre-Vatican II” Church. The only Church that I knew then, and indeed, the only Church that I know now, is the Church of Vatican II (and the other 20 ecumenical councils, of course). It was to this Church that I “converted”, or rather, it was this Church that drew me. I don’t know if things would have been different if there had never been a Vatican II – that isn’t the reality. Certainly, as a Lutheran considering the Catholic Church, I was not aware of the existence of a “hermeneutic of rupture” – I saw only the Church which was established by Jesus Christ founded upon the Rock of the Petrine Ministry and which has existed in continuity ever since.

But in any case, here is PE’s case “in nuce”:

My position on the postconciliar RCC in re the real RCC derives from the faith I was taught by the RCC, which in turn could not be what I thought it was, the true faith and church of Jesus Christ, since it lost to such a monstrous perversion of it at Vatican II, and there being nothing else with any valid claim to being the true faith and church of Jesus Christ, Christianity itself must then have been false all along. Hence twenty years as a Righteous of the Nations.

Of course, we thank God that PE was eventually able again to find his faith in Jesus Christ. But I am trying to get a handle on that original impulse to abandon the Church he founded.

I found today a picture – an analogy – which might help. It is in part suggested by the Orthodox theologian John Zizioulos who has suggested that the Catholic Church would benefit from an ecclesiology that was more consciously eschatological. In other words, the Church (and indeed the Eucharist, which is the basis for this ecclesiology as in most Orthodox reflection on the Church – it realies greatly on the image of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb from the book of Revelation) is a present reality that ultimately gets its real being from the future goal of the eschaton. This contrasts to the rather “backward looking” emphasis of the Catholic Church which usually emphasises the founding of the Church, the apostolicity of the Church, and the Succession of the Petrine ministry (as I did above).

From this point of view, we need a picture that connects the “back then” with the “what will be”, ie. the future eschatological fulfillment. And thus came to me the analogy of a BRIDGE.

If we view the historical establishment of the Church as one side of a vast chasm, and the Marriage Feast as the other side, then the Church is the concrete (incarnate) structure that spans the chasm. From one point of view, this chasm is already spanned – the “suspension ropes” are already in place, so to speak, which support the bridge as it is being built, but from an historical point of view, the bridge is still a work in progress. Stone by stone, the permanent structure is being constructed upon which the People of God can journey step by historical step toward the goal of the other side of the chasm.

Now, the curious thing about this Church-Bridge is that the builders use what comes to hand at the time, and build in the style that seems appropriate to the times. (Visually, it would be a very odd structure indeed!). But it is important to stress that it is one single structure heading in one single direction. There have been times in the History of the Church when the bridge is built with shoddy materials and with shoddy workmanship. But it has always been in the nature of the Church (the Bridge Builders) to go back and patch up the dodgy spots, to repair mistakes, and to press on with the task at hand.

One recent “dodgy spot”, we would all agree, was the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. In the long history of the Church, 40 years is not a long time, nor is it in the span of this bridge, but the workmanship in this time has definitely been of such shoddiness that many have lost their footing and fallen. Still a great many have maintained the project, and today we are in a period when the shoddy workmanship of the last 40 years is being repaired and strengthened in line with the whole structure from the beginning.

But let us think back to those who, like PE, found themselves on the dodgy work, with planks missing and sometimes deliberately removed. What to do?

The options were limited. You could have tried to start the project all over again from the beginning (sort of like some Reformation sects attempting to “get back to the NT”). You could have tried to start a new bridge in mid air – half way across the Chasm (sort of like the Sedevacantists). Or you could do what PE did. You look back at the Bridge that has brought you safe thus far, and say: what a load of crap this bridge is. It looked so solid, but now it is dodgy and unsafe. It doesn’t look as if it will ever reach the other side – and more to the point, I see now that it never was going to. It was always only ever “half a bridge” – which is useless. It has left me hanging in mid air. So I think I will just jump off from here.

Mmm. That’s the way it seemeth to me, anyway.

In my case, however, I looked at the whole Bridge. I looked at the people who were working on it now, repairing the past damage and building a sure and certain path into the future. I looked at the suspension ropes that were still in place linking the Bridge-in-progress (the Now but Not Yet Bridge) to the other side (the promises of our Lord, the Eucharist etc.) and I thought: This Bridge is going to get there. In fact, it is the only Bridge that has even a hope of ever reaching the other side. Even if it were just a ricketty suspension bridge of rotting planks and ropes, I would still use it. In short, eschatologically speaking, it is a real Bridge – not because it is a glorious and beautiful structure, but because it is the only Bridge that will ever cover the entire span.

So I stick with it. I never had a head for heights or bungie-jumping. I am sticking with the Bridge Builder. (Which, coincidentally in Latin, is Pontifex).

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