In our previous discussion, our Roman Catholic friend Mary Campion raised a new question regarding the theory of Apostolic Succession. Fearful that much of the modern political settlement is a byproduct of non-Christian philosophy (it is a product of the Enlightenment after all) she suggests that apostolic succession would be a more desirable safeguard to the notion of Christian citizenship. Mary writes:
Apostolic succession avoids the flaws of the modern “separation of church and state” approach, as held by Darryl Hart, as I read him, in that the church is divinely instituted as a historical presence. God has, through his church instituted by Christ (“and I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven”) been given, in the words of the Bard, “a local habitation and a name.” An address if you will. As a result, the state must be subordinate to the church. However, as formulated in Unam Sanctum, the “Two Swords” are not to be conflated. Rather, “it belongs to the spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and pass judgment if it has not been good.” This means that the Spiritual power only rules the Temporal power mediately, as opposed to immediately, as it does within the church. What this usually means in practice is subordination on questions of “faith and morals.” This makes the church/state relationship complimentary rather than either 1) merged, such as in Islam or a theocracy or 2) alienated, as in modern liberal “wall of separation” thinking.
Apostolic succession also avoids what I believe are the weaknesses in the approach of reformer’s view. For because of the two radically different loves of the heavenly and earthly cities, the two cities seem destined to be always at war to some degree. Jesus seems to accept this state of affairs when he advises to “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s,” and speaks of his Kingdom as “not of this world.” History certainly bears this out as well. As such, while the invisible church, which will be the bride of Christ at the Great Wedding, is not simply to be identified with the visible church in this world, there is however an inseparable link through apostolic succession. This gives God’s church an anchor and sticking point, if you will, which no totalitarian regime, or soft despotism of consumer degradation- indeed, not even the gates of hell- can prevail against. In short, it seems to me that the idea of making the Magistrate a Christian, while admirable, and perhaps possible and hoped for, is not to be relied on or expected.
As with many of my posts, this is hopefully an elaborate ploy to entice Peter Escalante to write in public, but I will take the first opportunity to offer a response.
Mary here offers the classic Roman Catholic position. This is most welcome in the face of too many modern RCs who wish to evade the teaching of their own church through various “developments.” Mary lays it out for us: “the state must be subordinate to the church.” The Reformers all rejected this position out of hand, and I continue to do so today.
1) What precisely constitutes “the church”? Mary begins with what seems to be the inescapable concept of the institutional church, the one with an address. She also says that the invisible church is linked to the visible church through apostolic succession. Thus we’ve got an additional question to field as well. 2) What is apostolic succession, and is it a valid theory? 3) Mary also concludes with the question, “[Do] you think that modern democratic liberalism is inherently the regime most compatible with Christianity?”
We’ll handle these one at a time in individual posts. To the first question:
1) a) Since the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:20-21) and the true mother church is the Jerusalem that is above (Gal. 4:26), we can confidently say that the Reformation doctrines of the invisible church and the spiritual kingdom are not simply Hellenistic accouterments or proto-Enlightenment errors, but instead authentic attempts to consistently read the New Testament.
b) God’s local habitation is within each and every believer (John 7:38, Acts 17:24-28). He is not restricted to institutional boundaries, nor merely the clergy.
c) The State (not really the best nomenclature, but we’ll use it for now as a shorthand for the civic magistracy) is given holy titles throughout the Scripture. The term “son of God” itself is a name for kingship, Cyrus is called the Lord’s anointed, and Paul says that the civil powers are God’s ministers unto righteousness who must be obeyed because of conscience’s sake (Romans 13:1-7).
In many points of Church history, notably 4th cent. Byzantium and 16th cent. England, the monarch/emperor was considered a special diaconal office within the church. We do not see the apostles attempting to subordinate their magistrates to themselves, but rather the reverse, and finally, Jesus says that there is a difference in jurisdiction between the two powers, with each possessing their appropriate and distinct claims.
d) In fact, Jesus does not rule his kingdom with force (Matt. 26:55), thus it seems impossible that his successors would later do so. If his kingdom were a coercive kingdom, then his followers would fight accordingly, but as it is, they do not (John 18:36).
e) This view is that of the Reformation, but also that of the earliest of the Church fathers. The Letter to Diognetus states:
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
Justin Martyr adds:
And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid.
And more than all other men are we your helpers and allies in promoting peace.
Finally we have Augustine:
This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace. It therefore is so far from rescinding and abolishing these diversities, that it even preserves and adopts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced.
It is interesting that in that passage from Augustine, taken from City of God 19.17, the contrast is between earthly and heavenly with Augustine adding at the end that the earthly is not by faith. The heavenly city is grasped only by faith, and the Christians attain their distinctive peace only by faith. This is essentially the same Pauline theology that would be so staunchly advanced by Calvin and others.
f) Lastly it is not at all clear to me that an Unam Sanctam political theory differs from an Islamic one. Peter can help me out here, but it is my understanding that Boniface was himself influenced by Islamic jurisprudence. Furthermore, something like the Ayatollah’s newer political theology in Iran is very close to medieval Rome, with its vicar of the Imam who rules on earth.
Are we sure that we aren’t too quickly dismissing Islam only because it is one of “the other guys”? On the level of principles, it doesn’t seem to be that far removed.
This should be enough for one installment, and so we’ll leave it to the comments for further conversation. The specific question of apostolic succession will be taken up in a later post as will be that of modern democratic liberalism.