Continuing the Discussion on the Challenge of PE’s Ecclesiology

There was a lengthy and very enlightening (and generally civilised) conversation in the combox to my earlier posting “Getting a handle on PE’s Ecclesiology”. I was away for most of it, so I thought I would take up a couple of points here in a seperate post.

I’m just going to take stuff in the order it appeared in that conversation, and you can follow along if you like. It’s a free world, and this is my blog after all.

Tony said: “I find your bridge analogy very evocative but way too linear and way too … looking for the right word here … small.”

Yeah, well, it was only one image, and no image does full justice to the great mystery of the Church, so we have different images for different purposes. Since this was an image of the Church in history it is pretty hard for it not to be both linear and one dimensional.

But then Tony goes on to talk about “the Kingdom” – and that is a whole different kettle of fish. The Bridge (Schütz’s Bridge, if you like) was an image of the Church. The Church is related to the Kingdom but they are not the same thing. It is also true that the Kingdom is an eschatological reality, and in so far as the New Testament teaches a realised eschatology then yes, I can agree with Tony when he says that “the kingdom is not ‘over there’ it’s ‘right here’. It doesn’t have to be built first to be seen, it has to be seen first to be built. It’s not ‘then’ it’s ‘now’.”But the Church and the Kingdom are not the same thing, and the Church is something that is built rather than scene. Perhaps, in the case of Schütz’s Bridge, the suspension ropes connecting the Bridge-in-Progress to the other side is the Kingdom in the Present, which needs to be seen so that the Church/Bridge can be built upon it?

Tony also said: “I believe … the Catholic church, at it’s core, has the clearest vision of the Kingdom but we don’t have the keys to ourselves. The Kingdom is way bigger than our club.” Yes, the Kingdom is bigger than the Church, BUT surely you recall Jesus’ words to St Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19)? That’s pretty specific, I would say. It also gives someone “in the club” (to use your phrase) the right to decide who is in and who is out. That’s pretty scary, when you think about it.

When Past Elder said “Well, it seemeth to you more or less correctly” I rejoiced, because it shows that I am finally getting somewhere with this.

I thought it was notable that PE quoted the verse “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3:11 – coincidentally the one passage in the NT which clearly speaks of the fire of Purgatory – which is none other than the post-death encounter with Jesus Christ himself!), because the one image in Scripture that speaks of the Church in terms of building doesn’t use Schütz’s Bridge, but the image of building a house or temple. That image comes from St Paul (Eph 2:19-22) where he uses the idea of Christ as a “cornerstone” (originating from Ps 118:22, applied to Christ in Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:6). But the Cornerstone or foundation image on its own does not have a very strong eschatological aspect – until you take into account the alternative translation of “cornerstone” in Ephesians, ie. “keystone” or “capstone”. In which case, Paul’s image is that of a Roman arch, with the Apostles and Prophets as the foundation, and Christ as the eschatological “capstone” which completes and holds the whole structure together. Not unlike Schütz’s Bridge, in a way.

Anyway, back to the main argument. PE approves of my three options (“So far so good? Assuming yes, then you ask, so why did you choose the abyss rather than stay on it [the Bridge/Church]?“), ONLY IF the Bridge is REAL and not just a figment of my Catholic imagination. But for him this was just the point: “Option Three does not exist, Options One and Two cannot be, therefore, the whole deal is a complete mistake from the start, there is no bridge at all, any time, ever.” When he ceased to be Catholc, PE rejected the entire idea that there was any such reality as “the Church”. He says:

My problem and your conversion — and you are right, you go on about this not to answer to me but to yourself, and I will add the same is true of me — rest upon an unexamined assumption. Which is, the bridge in the analogy is the Roman Catholic Church, the mother in the analogy is the Roman Catholic Church, the catholic church in the creed is the Roman Catholic Church. The whole contruct of the Options above falls apart entirely when one no longer assumes that the bridge is the Roman Catholic Church… You look at the whole Bridge and see Roman Catholic Church. I looked at the whole Bridge and saw a fantasy because the Roman Catholic Church that used to be visible is no longer.

Well, I need to confess “guilty as charged” when you say that I assume what you call “The Roman Catholic Church” is the “Catholic Church” of the Creed (I don’t use the term “Roman Catholic” except to describe the Catholic Church of the diocese of Rome). The Catholic Church is the Catholic Church and it is a visible reality in full continuity with the Church established by Christ. It includes (in a way not fully made manifest) the apostolic Churches of the East, but does not include the Protestant ecclesial communions (and yet paradoxically includes all the baptised members of those communions). It has to be a visible tangible reality to be an effective “Bridge” – you need something to put your feet on, something to support you over the abyss.

But in any case, PE goes on to describe his current situation:

Now I look and see the whole Bridge, it’s there after all, it just isn’t the Roman Catholic Church, and the mistake was judging whether there is a Bridge or not by whether the Roman Catholic Church is it or not. It isn’t. It’s part of it, mostly the rotting planks and ropes, …but it’s part of it nonetheless and the real Bridge can be found in it. Nor are the rotting planks and ropes confined to it, there’s other part[s] of the Bridge like that too. And God bless us ten times, even where the planks are rightly preached and the ropes rightly administered (like that one?) there’s a WHOLE bunch of jamokes thinking those shoddy ones look better!

The difficulty I have with this is that this is that it is very hard to understand how a Bridge can be part of a Bridge but not the whole Bridge, and how other Bridges that are different Bridges can really form part of the one Bridge. It all sounds a little too Platonic to me. Yes, there is a real Bridge but all the bridges you see in the world are just pale reflections of the one Real Bridge.

Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. In fact, it is where I was at nine years ago or so. I had the idea that all the different communions – Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox – were in some way self-authenticating. That each had its own understanding of truth that was true for that particular communion and operative within that communion. My good friends Fraser and Adam (both still Lutherans last I checked) helped me out of that dillusion. True is True, just as Catholic is Catholic, and the Church is the Church. There can only be one Truth, one Way, not many. There is one Christ, how can there be other than one Church? The Church is the body of Christ, and Christ was not the Invisible Man. The only way you can square the idea of one Catholic Church in many different and separated and mutually exclusive communions is by spiritualising and invisibilising the Church into a Platonic ideal.

You can’t cross a chasm by walking on a Platonic ideal.

Oddly enough, PE raises the subject of Platonism also:

But the Bridge endures…because the Bridge, while earthly analogies may be helpful to those who already see it, simply become Platonism for the people, as Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading, said, when one begins to take them as reality itself.

Which is precisely my point. Either the Church is a Platonic ideal or it is “reality itself”. I go with the latter option. My guess is that PE goes with the former.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Continuing the Discussion on the Challenge of PE’s Ecclesiology

  1. William Weedon

    “That which is seen is transitory; that which is not seen is eternal.”

    Do you not believe in an eternal Church? And the Church as Body of Christ is MOSTLY invisible to even the most ardent Roman Catholic. For the saints in heaven – who are most certainly part of the Body of Christ, and the larger part of it – even the Church suffering in purgatory (if you still really believe that) – are not VISIBLE and yet are no question part of the Church. The Church’s “invisible’ nature is simply part of her eschatological reality: the Age that is to come butting back into this age (which is passing away) and being bigger than this age can hold or see or perceive. Read Revelation – THERE’S the Church visible, as she will be finally and fully and only seen at the Triumph of the Lord’s Appearing. Until then, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” “I BELIEVE in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Not Plato, just the Holy Spirit’s inspired Scriptures!

  2. Past Elder

    God bless me ten times, blow me out the door, then sweep me up off the street! Never at any point did I say “a Bridge can be part of a Bridge but not the whole Bridge, and how other Bridges that are different Bridges can really form part of the one Bridge.” Once again, you are assuming that, and what I am saying will appear as you thing if, the Roman Catholic Church IS the bridge. That’s the great fantasy the RCC induces. You are making an analogy into something literal. Here, using the concept of a bridge to help understand the nature of the church, then going out to look for it like you were looking for the real Golden Gate Bridge — flying Judas in the sacristy, in all hopes of this point not being lost amid Roman hallucination, let’s rephrase, then going out like you were looking for the Bolte Bridge.

    That’s even better, because I have seen and been on the Golden Gate bridge, but not the Bolte Bridge. Should I want to go on the Bolte Bridge, locating it and getting there may be analogous to locating and getting to the catholic church, but you ain’t looking for a literal bridge and won’t find one the same way literally.

    That’a the whole problem. Metaphor, analogy, become literal, and not being really literal, become Platonic. So the Incarnation becomes and incarnational principle by which all sorts of stuff is justified; bridge becomes a principle yet you still look to find a physical bridge then justify the physical bridge as if it were the point of the metaphor.

    Leaping and jumping Judas at Starbuck’s.

  3. Past Elder

    Great Zeus Cloudgatherer, did the Sirens move their rocks to the Tiber so have so completely crashed upon them?

    (How’s that for metaphor, analogy, literary reference, and Nietzschean dancing all rolled into one! Pizza on the way!)

    A thousand times Fr Dresser, where change in the church is change in the church, rather than this constant wandering in and out, back and forth, between ideal and reality without medical supervision, where there’s change in the church but nothing really changed, bridges that are metaphors and yet, stomp, by God here’s the bridge, there’s what the church REALLY teaches except when it doesn’t but then again that’s not what it REALLY teaches only where it does, gasp, wretch, puke, struggle for air!

    ” The only way you can square the idea of one Catholic Church in many different and separated and mutually exclusive communions is by spiritualising and invisibilising the Church into a Platonic ideal.”

    I bloody agree! Or rather, this is something one says when one MUST maintain that one or the other of the “many and separated and mutually exclusive communions” IS the whole deal and the others just aren’t. “one church” does not mean picking which communion is it! What the hell is this, The Dating Game, where you ask a bunch of questions and pick the right date? Great balls of cheese puffs! Twilight of the Idols indeed. Goetzen-Dammerung selbst!

    Now I’m speaking German. Time to catch a ride and cool off with one of these Valkyries babes!

  4. Past Elder

    Crap. Forgot to umlaut the a with an e.

  5. William Weedon

    P.S. Threw up a bit more on this topic on my blog. FWIW.

  6. matthias

    One problem PE ,you can only drive on the Bolte Bridge,no pedestrians allowed. Perhaps there is a theological analogy there?
    i will think about whilst watching Letterman-he is on at 12.15am over here.
    To William Weedon and PE
    Haben sie ein gut nacht.
    Mein deutsch ist nicht gut.(I was taught by an austrian who ran second to Jessie Owens at the 1936 Olympics-well that is what our school mag said in 1969)

  7. Past Elder

    Not only that, Matthias, but if I showed up in my van, a 2008 Chrysler Town and Country, wouldn’t my steering wheel be on the wrong side for you guys? Or did you switch? Maybe our latter-day Augustines should get on some Platonic imagery for that, or our latter-day Newmans doctrinally develop something out of it!

    God bless me sideways, an Aussie talks to two non-German LCMS converts in German! I’ll leave fixing up your German to die Christine, who’ll probably being showing up soon anyway. Not to worry, mine draws some stares in Germany too, especially in the north, being a Bavarian dialect after 100 years in Minnesota.

  8. Past Elder

    Gott hilf mir, my English needs fixing (or needs fixed, as they say in Iowa) too — who’ll probably be showing up soon anyway, I meant. WTH, I like Spanish best anyway.

  9. Christine

    Oh I should never be drinking coffee when PE shows up. I love it when PE lapses into German and Spanish, too, too fun !!

    Matthias, you did very well — just a minor rewording would read: Haben Sie eine gute Nacht.

    Keep up the Deutsch!

    As soon as I’ve had some more Kava I’ll be ready to mull over all these ideas.

  10. matthias

    Thank you Christine,and PE no we still drive on the correct side of the road.
    On the subject of Lutherans and mother tongue in distant lands, Schultz am i right in believing that 18th/11/08 is 170 years since Pastor Kavel and his congregation landed in that far out post of the Empire-Adelaide?

  11. Schütz

    Yes, Matthias, you are right about the anniversary, but you are not right about my name.

    An early Christmas greeting: Noel, Noel…

    Thanks, Pastor Weedon, for your tip about your comments on the blog. I saw it with Fraser yesterday, and will revisit it to see what other comments have arisen.