Why is “Catholic” a Gloss for “Creation”? (or why “sacramental” needs a moratorium)

This is from a comment response to a post here (with slight editing so as to make my writing look better than it is).

The divide is not between some generic “catholic” Church (which oddly includes magisterial Protestants) versus the more modern “Baptist”, but rather the older one of nature and grace. Modern evangelicalism looks a lot more like medieval Romanism in this regard than many would care to admit. The classic Protestant position admits that nature is already a reflection of the divine and possesses its own integrity. This is also why it is no surprise to find great works of techne among even the non-believers and pagans (see for instance, the sons of Cain in Gen. 4:20-22). Continue reading

Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 3)

Our conversation has been going on for some while now, and it would probably be helpful to review what has been said and what remains to be said.  Everything began with the C/A review of David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms.  We received mostly positive feedback overall, though Darryl Hart did fire a few snipes.  We responded here, and the comments took off.  Dr. Hart argued that the “two kingdoms” are not different in quality, one spiritual in kind and the other earthly and temporal, but rather that both are temporal and physical yet having different zones, goals, and means.  He even maintained that church officers were spiritual rulers in the kingdom of God.  Church discipline is then a coercive force in the kingdom, and the church is indeed an alternative city, though it should nonetheless mind its own business.  In this case, that means that it does not have any particular voice in the common public sphere.

While this conversation was in full swing, we had our own sort of apparition of Mary.  “Mary Campion” appeared in the comments offering particularly clear articulations of both positions, yet later revealed herself to be Michael Hickman and offered the Roman Catholic counter.  Michael suggested that the Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession was the necessary safeguard to allow the Church a voice in the public sector without being dominated by the State.  We have already devoted two posts to interacting with this.  The first sought to define “the Church” and thus show why it should be considered qualitatively spiritual.  Our view is that the Church is not a worldly-temporal entity and thus is in no real “competition” with the State.  The State is designed to deal with bodies, as it guides temporal matters in various ways according to prudence.  The Church, though always embodied, is designed to deal with hearts.  Once the visible and invisible distinctions are made in regard to the Church, we concluded that invisible Church is properly the spiritual kingdom of God and is always guided by the Holy Spirit, while the visible Church exists in the temporal kingdom and lives according to law.

Secondly we sought to discuss apostolic succession in particular, though there ended up being little interaction with my particular biblical observations or criticisms of the Roman doctrine.  What seemed to come out, through much coaxing, was that apostolic succession is the necessary means to identify the Church (the successor of Peter), and that this Church is itself a temporal and spatial power which must direct the political kingdoms of the world.  Not settling for a general advisory role, this view also claims that the magisterium (the Pope) is the one class of humanity able to properly interpret and use the natural law, and in the event that the civil magistrates should come to disagree with the magisterium, they would need to submit to his will or face civil as well as spiritual sanctions.

What makes apostolic succession relevant and appealing to this discussion is that it seeks to guarantee that there will be a protected interpreter of nature and reason capable of ruling those who have lost this ability.  It clearly identifies “the Church,” and it attempts to provide a true “new city” and “new humanity” in the form of the clergy.  It offers an enduring apostolic office and even a vicarious Jesus Christ for the world to see and follow.  It provides clarity and singularity of direction.

The Protestant position is that through the agency of the Holy Spirit and the role of faith, each Christian has received Jesus Christ in full, and each is a successor to the apostles, both in doctrine and in baptism.  “The Church” is quite simply “the people,” and the people are presumed competent self-governors, capable of recognizing and enacting the principles of civic order on the one hand, and the principles of Christian confession and charity on the other.  Neither the magistracy nor the ministry has the whole competence of the Christian people by delegation, but rather by representation.

Thus we come back to our original dispute about the nature of the Church and the relationship between the spiritual kingdom and the temporal kingdom. Continue reading

Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 2)

As our conversation continues, we have witnessed a transformation in the accidents of Mary Campion.  Though her substance is still the same, she is now Michael, and so it seems that I should shift the names accordingly.  We have now, in my opinion, gotten to the bottom of the disagreements in defining the church.  The Protestant view is that the essence of the Church is the Word, found in the preaching and sacraments, as well as embodied in the people of God by the immediate action of the Holy Spirit.  This allows for a distinction in terms, with “the visible Church” typically referring to the Church as institution, complete with polity and laws, and the “invisible Church” referring to all believers wherever they may be.  For Protestants, the “Church” and the “State” (better termed the “Commonwealth”) can inhabit the same space and time without displacing or doing violence to one another.  There is no need for a hierarchical arrangement because the two entities are different in quality, jurisdiction, and telos.

Our second question then was, “What is apostolic succession, and is it a valid theory?”  Michael suggests that Apostolic Succession (hereafter AS) is the key to a harmonious society, and he also points (rightly) to Unam Sanctam’s claim that the civic arena must be subordinate to the Church.  Unam Sanctam, however, goes further and says that princes must be in submission to the clergy:

Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered  for  the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

Unam Sanctam goes on to say that the spiritual powers may not be judged by the temporal powers.  When you combine this with the particular view of “spirituality of the Church” that Thomas Becket posthumously won over King Henry and the Investiture Contest’s Dictatus Papae (which states that the Pope alone can call general councils, that the Pope cannot be judged by anyone, and that the Pope can remove the magistrate’s authority over his subjects), you get a clear picture of the Roman position.

AS then enters into the picture as a proof of who the “spiritual rulers” are and from where they get their commission.  AS is also a sort of lynch-pin argument for Roman Catholic apologists in defining the Church.  It often serves the function for Roman Catholics what sola fide does for traditional Protestants.  I also know from personal experience that AS can be the single decisive issue in Protestant conversions to Roman Catholicism.  I’ve seen it on more than one occasion.  But I have a few concerns about AS, some of which seem to be significant enough to warrant its dismissal from consideration.

1) What exactly is meant by “Apostolic Succession”? Continue reading

Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 1)

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), Continue reading

N T Wright on Protestantism’s Advantages Over Rome

When asked to respond to the neo-Catholic converts who are claiming him as inspiration for their decision, N T Wright pleasantly defends Protestantism.  He writes:

“Sacramental, transformational, communal, eschatological”? If you gave me that list and said “Where in the Christian world would you find that?” I could easily and truthfully answer:

  • (i) in the best of the Reformed tradition — spend a couple of days at Calvin College, or read Jamie Smith’s new book, and you’ll see;
  • (ii) in much of the best of the charismatic movement, once it’s shed its low-church prejudices and discovered how much God loves bodies;
  • (iii) in the best of… dare I say it… Anglicanism… ;
  • (iv) in some bits (not all) of the Emerging Church movement . . .

Trent said both much more and much less than this.

  • Sacramental, yes, but in a muddled way with an unhelpful ontology;
  • Transformational, yes, but far too dependent on unbiblical techniques and practices;
  • Communal, yes, but don’t let the laity (or the women) get any fancy ideas about God working new things through them;
  • Eschatological? Eschatology in the biblical sense didn’t loom large, and indeed that was a key element in the Reformers’ protest: the once-for-allness of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as producing, not a new system for doing the same stuff over and over, but a new world.

Trent, and much subsequent RC theology, has had a habit of never spring-cleaning, so you just live in a house with more and more clutter building up, lots of right answers to wrong questions (e.g. transsubstantiation) which then get in the way when you want to get something actually done.

In particular, Trent gave the wrong answer, at a deep level, to the nature/grace question, which is what’s at the root of the Marian dogmas and devotions which, despite contrary claims, are in my view neither sacramental, transformational, communal nor eschatological. Nor biblical.

He also gives a pretty brilliant line about Rome’s view of authority:

Rome is a big, splendid, dusty old ocean liner, with lots of grand cabins, and, at present, quite a fine captain and some excellent officers — but also quite a few rooms in need of repair. Yes, it may take you places, but it’s slow and you might get seasick from time to time. And the navigators have been told that they must never acknowledge when they’ve been going in the wrong direction . . .

Now this is basically what my friends have been saying for some time now.  If you wanted liturgy, you wouldn’t have gotten much in old Rome.  It was fairly exclusive to the clergy and rather dead (Catherine Pickstock’s hypothesis that “mumbling” was an attempt by the finite to express the infinite through apophatic ecstasy to the contrary…).  If you wanted sacraments, again, you probably wouldn’t have gotten much of it in old Rome.  If you wanted tradition, you would have only gotten it as mediated by the magisterium.

The Reformation was about all of these things.  And yes, there was something to the nature/grace opposition as well.  Rome’s view of “holiness,” as well as their political theory betrays their commitment to grace superseding nature.  The Prots were all over that from the start.

The new Catholicism is simply trying to pass Protestant teachings off as its own.  You know, like Scott Hahn does.

Now we just need to get Bishop Wright straight on philosophy and the medievals…