Monthly Archives: February 2009

"the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church"


There is a classic scene in “Life of Brian” where they say: “Why do you keep going on about women, Stan?” and Stan (after a moment’s hesitation) says: “I want to be one.”

PE wants to know why, in conversation with Protestants, we keep on going on about “the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church.” He says that this tendancy proves we Catholics make a “God” out of the Church. It all ends up with “sola ecclesia”.

Why DO we keep going on about the Catholic Church? The reason is very simple. Let’s try an analogy.

Imagine a Lutheran in conversation with a Calvinist. The Calvinist and the Lutheran will both agree on many things. They will certainly agree that justification is by faith alone and that the bible is the sole source and norm of all Christian doctrine. They might even agree on infant baptism. But they will part company on a crucial issue–the same crucial issue that Zwingli and Luther parted company on back in 1529, namely: the Lord’s Supper.

As Martin Luther did then, so today. In dispute with a Calvinist (or any other species of Reformed Christian) the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, that is, the insistance that when Christ said “This is my body” he meant that the bread of the Lord’s Supper is his true body born of the Virgin Mary etc., will be the crucial issue. Unless the Reformed/Calvinist can assent to this, they cannot be in communion with the Lutherans.

As Zwingli did then, the Calvinist/Reformed Christian will today say to the Lutheran: Why do you keep going on about the Real Presence? “The Real Presence, the Real Presence, the Real Presence.” Don’t you think that you might not be making a “God” out of the Real Presence? Aren’t you making this “sola the Real Presence”?

To which, in reply, the Lutheran can only shake his head and say “My Calvinist friend doesn’t get it. How can he say that I am “making a god” out of the Real Presence when the Real Presence IS my God in flesh and blood? How can I conceive of a Christianity without the Lord’s Supper? Without the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper there is no church.”

So you see? In the Lutheran view (Catholic too, but that is irrelevant here), the Real Presence is essential to the Christian faith. But the Calvinist/Reformed Christian denies this essential element. Therefore, in the dialogue with one another, this will be the chief issue between Reformed and Lutheran Christians.

The analogy is this: in the dialogue between Catholic and Protestant Christians, the necessity of the Catholic Church per se is the point of contention. We go on and on about “the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church” because it is the point on which we differ. We could go on about “The Holy Trinity, the Holy Trinity, the Holy Trinity”, or “Baptism, baptism, baptism”, or “faith, faith, faith”, or “Christ, Christ, Christ”, but the essential necessity of these for our faith is not in dispute between us.

The essential neccesity of the Church IS. And that is why we keep banging on about it.

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The Learned Opinion of Dr William Tighe: An antidote to PE’s perverted ecclesiology

The following learned opinion was offered by Dr William Tighe in a com-box of a previous posting. It is such a useful and well worded statement that I wish it to be recorded here for all posterity. In the future, when Past Elder spouts his pseudo-historical argument that the Catholic Church of the present time is neither the “catholic church” nor “true Catholicism”, I will simply say: “I refer you to the learned opinion of Dr William Tighe”, and be done with.

PE’s argument [against the Catholic Church], insofar as it is historical, is a lot of nonsense. In making a distinction between “the catholic church” and “the Catholic Church” he is postulating a “catholic church” unknown to both History and to Christians before the Reformation, and in which “before the Reformation” also comprehnds “before Constantine.”

His argument seems to be based on the premise that there exists a “catholic church” which, if it is not the fictitious “invisible church” of most of the Reformers, seems to be a “catholic church” that includes more than one “visible communion.” This may well be good Lutheran ecclesiology, but it is imcompatibe with the ecclesiology, so far as we can discern it, of that visible communion that5 condemned and excummunicated the various Gnostic terchers and their followers, the “reformed church” of Marcion, the “spiritual church” of Montanus, and the “pure church” of Novatus and the Novatianists. In other words, that body which did all of these things, at the same time regarded it self as solely, uniquely and visibly “the Catholic Church” — both “Catholic” and “catholic.”

It seems an idle and rather ridiculous waste of time and mental energy to construct a theory about how the claim of both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church to be THE Catholic Church is a function of their post-Constantinian status as the “Western Roman” and the “Eastern Roman” Empires’ “State Religions” when the pre-Constantinian Catholic church of which the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church each claim to be the authentic representative today, made the same claims about itself, as they make. In other words, it knew nothing of the kind of catholic church of which PE is the protagonist, and no doubt would have rejected the notion of such a “catholic church” as a strange and heretical conceit, had it been presented with it.

Much more honest to acknowledge that such an ecclesiology has no foundation in the Fathers’ teaching, no more than does that other pet idea of sola fide.

William Tighe

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This is clever – and a good message!

(HT to Sonitus Sanctus)

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Pope on "The Freedom of a Christian"

Martin Luther famously wrote a little tract called “On the Freedom of a Christian”. It is a topic that has long interested Pope Benedict too, and – given that we have been talking about the role of “law” in relation to St Mary’s in South Brisbane – I thought it would be interesting to stick up a few of the Pope’s ideas on the matter of freedom and obedience from his little talk given at Rome’s Major Seminary recently.

Somewhat characteristically, the Holy Father begins his talk on Galatians 5:13 (“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another”) with a reference to Luther. In fact, he makes the same point that he made in his final catechesis on St Paul:

At all times, freedom has been humanity’s great dream, since the beginning, but particularly in modern times. We know that Luther was inspired by this text of the Letter to the Galatians, and his conclusion was that the monastic Rule, the hierarchy, the magisterium seemed a yoke of slavery from which he had to free himself. Subsequently, the age of the Enlightenment was totally guided, penetrated by this desire for freedom, which it was thought had already been attained. However, Marxism also presented itself as the path to freedom.

To anyone unfamiliar with Benedict’s long study of these matters, his jumps from Luther to the Enlightenment to Marx will seem unjustified. (We can’t go into the matter here, but if you want to check it out further you might find a few more dots to connect in this essay “Truth and Freedom” (1996)). But of greater interest at the moment are these statements:

  • “We are free if we become one another’s servants”
  • “Dependency [on God] would be a fatal dependency only if this Creator God was a tyrant, not a good Being, only if he was as human tyrants are.”
  • “There is no freedom in being against the other. If I absolutize myself, I become the other’s enemy.”
  • “Only a shared freedom is human freedom”
  • “Only by accepting the other, by accepting also the apparent limitation that respect for the other implies for my freedom, only by inserting myself in the network of dependencies that makes us, finally, only one human family, will I be on the way to common liberation”
  • “We see that man needs order and law, to be able to realize his freedom, which is a freedom lived in common.”
  • “Freedom against truth is not freedom.”

To put it succinctly: God is a good God (this is a statement of faith, Tony, for your information). Dependant upon our good Creator, we are also dependant upon the other human beings whom he has created. We cannot be free apart from the other or against the other; there is freedom only in being for the other and in communion with the other, ie. there is freedom for myself only in shared freedom with others. If I make myself the absolute, I become the enemy of God and of the other. It is therefore necessary, for this shared freedom in communion with others that I accept an “apparent limitation” on my own “freedom”, and submit to common order and law. The ordering of human community requires law and organisation, not only for human society but also for the Church of God, in which the greatest freedom is found in the highest degree of communion.

Thus beginning from our dependance upon a good God and our desire for true freedom, we arrive at the necessity of “organised religion”, of Church law, and of submission one-to-another for the sake of the communion of the Body.

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The Error of Pope Benedict

Yes, my friends, Pope Benedict has made an error. I freely admit and acknowledge it. His judgement is wrong. He made a mistake.

Reader: What! Schütz admits that the Pope is not infallible?

Schütz: Well, we all know the Pope is human, and can make errors when not teaching ex cathedra on faith and morals.

Reader: Well, don’t keep us in suspense: What is this great “error” of Pope Benedict?

Schütz: It is this: He has decided to cut his catecheses on St Paul at his weekly general audience short by several months. Instead of continuing to teach on St Paul for the whole of the Pauline Year, he has chosen to finish up the current series, and has returned to his reflections on the other saints of the Church.

The series (which he began with the opening of the Jubilee Year last July – you can find the whole series here and here) has been absolutely marvellous, the only problem is that it has been much too brief. Surely more could have been said about this great saint and his writings? The Holy Father has covered some key themes, and some of the epistles. But could he not have extended his reflections with some systematic look at each of the Epistles? And he has in no way exhausted the possibilities for reflections on Pauline themes.

All that being said, the two last catecheses – on the Pastoral Epistles and Paul’s Death and Legacy – have some very interesting elements.

The catechesis on the Pastoral Epistles contains some interesting stuff on the way the Pope Benedict personally reads the situation with regard to the relationship between Scripture and Tradition and the structure of ministry in the Apostolic Church. Here is one comment on the latter of some note:

The other reminder is a reference to the good “deposit” (parathéke) [1 Tim 6:20]: a special word found in the Pastoral Letters and used to indicate the tradition of the apostolic faith which must be safeguarded with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. This “deposit” is therefore to be considered as the sum of the apostolic Tradition, and as a criterion of faithfulness to the Gospel message. And here we must bear in mind that the term “Scriptures”, when used in the Pastoral Letters, as in all the rest of the New Testament, means explicitly the Old Testament, since the writings of the New Testament either had not yet been written or did not yet constitute part of the Scriptural canon. Therefore the Tradition of the apostolic proclamation, this “deposit”, is the key to the reading of the Scriptures, the New Testament. In this sense, Scripture and Tradition, Scripture and the apostolic proclamation as a key, are set side by side, and almost merge to form together the “firm foundation laid by God” (cf. 2 Tm 2: 19 ). The apostolic proclamation that is, Tradition is necessary in order to enter into an understanding of the Scriptures, and to hear the voice of Christ in them. We must, in fact, “hold firm to the sure word as taught” by the teaching received (Ti 1: 9).

The last catechesis – on Paul’s legacy – is interesting at several points for those interested in Lutheran/Catholic dialogue. Here are a few selections. Your comments would be appreciated:

A true turning point was reached in the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation. The decisive moment in Luther’s life was the “Turmerlebnis” (1517), the moment in which he discovered a new interpretation of the Pauline doctrine of justification. It was an interpretation that freed him from the scruples and anxieties of his previous life and gave him a new radical trust in the goodness of God who forgives all, unconditionally.

It is interesting to note that in reporting Luther’s “discovery” in this way, the Holy Father does not condemn Luther’s “new interpretation” – he rather emphasises its pastoral and spiritual effect upon Luther. By extension, the Holy Father could be taken to say that he acknowledges that the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone can be recognised to have positive pastoral benefits for others who are searching for “a new radical trust in the goodness of God who forgives all, unconditionally”. This would seem to concur with Chris Burgwald’s doctoral thesis which I am reading at the moment, in which the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue has generally recognised the “pastoral purpose” of the Lutheran doctrine of “simul justus et peccator”. There is a lot in this which I hope to explore further in the future. But we digress. The Pope goes on:

From that time Luther identified Judaeo-Christian legalism, condemned by the Apostle, with the order of life of the Catholic Church. And the Church therefore appeared to him as an expression of the slavery of the law which he countered with the freedom of the Gospel. The Council of Trent, from 1545 to 1563, profoundly interpreted the question of justification and found the synthesis between law and Gospel to be in line with the entire Catholic tradition, in conformity with the message of Sacred Scripture read in its totality and unity.

Now there you have the Holy Father’s own personal critique of Luther and of what he believes to have been the real error in Luther’s reformation. I guess we can see that this same error is not completely absent in the Church today, as demonstrated by our discussions regarding the benefits or otherwise of submission to the law of the Church in relation to the case of St Mary’s South Brisbane. But he has more still to say that is of interest for Lutherans:

Let us set this aside and examine the essential current of the new scientific interpretation of Sacred Scripture and of the new Paulinism of that century. Here, the concept of freedom has been emphasized as central to Pauline thought; in it was found the heart of Pauline thought, as Luther, moreover, had already intuited. Yet the concept of freedom was then reinterpreted in the context of modern liberalism.

And even Lutherans reading this will recognise the way in which many modern protestant liberal exegetes have twisted Luther’s “freedom of the gospel” into something which has been termed “gospel reductionism” – ie. The Gospel sets me free from all constraints, even the constraints of the commandments contained in Holy Scripture. I think that conservative confessional Lutherans will find an ally in Pope Benedict when it comes to that point. But the Holy Father concludes on this point:

In the progress of exegesis, especially in the past 200 years, the points of convergence between Catholic exegesis and Protestant exegesis have increased, thereby achieving a notable consensus precisely on the point that was the origin of the greatest historical dissent. There is thus great hope for the cause of ecumenism, so central to the Second Vatican Council.

I think that the work of the “new perspective” on St Paul – especially as it is expounded by N.T. Wright – would be one example of the way in which new, fresh readings of Paul are opening up a path for renewed consensus between Catholics and Lutherans in the doctrine of justification.

And finally, Past Elder will be happy to learn that the Holy Father seems to have some sympathy with the idea that “Nietzsche is the only philosopher worth reading” – he certainly quotes Nietzsche at least as often as he quotes Aquinas in his magisterium these days!

Here we shall prescind from the fact that even in that century, as later in the 20th century, a true and proper denigration of St Paul emerged. I am thinking primarily of Nietzsche, who derided the theology of St Paul’s humility, opposing it with his theology of the strong and powerful man.

“A true and proper denigration” – ie. a denigration for the right reasons! Now there is a back-handed compliment, if ever there was one! Maybe it could be said that Luther’s denigration of the Catholic Church of his day was “true and proper” in some degree as well?

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Killing Guinea Pigs on ABC Children’s Television

Below is a letter written by my daughter Maddy in reaction to the broadcast of “Serious Andes” on 24 February at 5pm. We sent it to The Age, The Green Guide, Media Watch and the ABC Complaints Department. So far the only response we have had is from Media Watch, who said they will take a look at the offending program:

On Tuesday 24 February at 5:00pm, there was a show on the ABC called “Serious Andes” on which they were killing and eating guinea pigs. In children’s TV time! With no warning about it or anything! It’s like killing a dog on TV! Lots of people have pet guinea pigs including us. My younger sister cried madly and was also very upset – as I am. I would never watch another episode.

“Cute and fuzzy animals”, she cried. “Why would you kill and eat them just for a TV show? Evil, evil, evil.” (Mia loves her guinea pigs).

I find it very inconsiderate to put this on a children’s TV show on without warning.

Maddy Schütz-Beaton (aged 10)
Boronia

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Lent has begun…

Ashes. We have lots of them about around here. I know that it isn’t the liturgical thing – you are supposed to use the burned leaves of last year’s palms – but I did wonder if it would have been fitting for someone to have gathered ashes from our burnt bushlands and townships and imposed that on us all today…

I cantored at two masses in the Cathedral today, the one the just ended was celebrated by the Archbishop. A quiet, peaceful service of great dignity, with no organ music, but lots of incense. Add that to the beautiful afternoon sunshine that comes into that building at this time of day and it was a truly sublime atmosphere in which to begin Lent.

I am hopping onto my motorcycle now to get to the service at my wife’s Lutheran parish with my family. (I could have attended a fourth Ash Wednesday service today if I had been inclined – the girls had an Ash Wednesday mass at their Catholic parish school.)

They will have the imposition of ashes in the Lutheran service too – something rare in the Lutheran Church when I was a child, but which we began to introduce during my time in the Seminary, and which I always observed in every Ash Wednesday service I celebrated as a Lutheran minister.

Funny how, on the one hand, the Catholic Church is awakening to the gifts which the Protestant Churches have to offer us (slowly, but surely), and how equally the Protestant Churches are making their own our ancient customs. A sharing of gifts.

I have high hopes for this Lent – and pray that God will give me the grace to make a “good Lent”. Today marks the beginning of a pilgrimage for me. When Easter Eve comes, I hope to be with my wife in St Peter’s in Rome…

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