Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mistakes & Troubles of the True Church

Theologians often talk about the marks of the True Church (unity, sanctity, catholicity, and apostolicity), however in re-reading the Scriptures, I've found a via negativa to answer this question that is actually quite meaningful.

Rather than simply look for positives, what are the negative attributes that Holy Writ ascribes to the True Church.

1. St. Paul asks the rhetorical question in Romans "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (6:1). That's a question people should ask if you're preaching the Word rightly. Would anyone ask that of Aquinas or even Augustine? Obviously not. In Augustinian and Thomist soteriology, grace is lost the second one willfully sins. There is no room for sin and grace together, an utter repudiation of simul iust et peccator.

2. Do philosophers think your message is stupid? In Acts 17, St. Paul was mocked and called a babbler for his preaching. His message he called "foolishness" to those who were perishing and the Greeks (1 Cor 1). Is your Gospel foolish or is it sophistical and philosophically brilliant?

3. Beware false teachers and false Christs. CONSTANTLY throughout the New Testament Christ and the Apostles are warning about false teachers. If they asserted the indefectibility of the Church (Matt. 16) it was perhaps the most limitted type one could imagine (think Noah, or St. Athanasius). Otherwise, why would they warn so often about it?

4. Winston Churchill once said having enemies was a good quality because it means you stand for something. Christ said his true disciples would be hated by the world. This probably doesn't help anyone, as each Christian group is hated by any number of the other Christian groups let alone the world hating all Christians. Nonetheless hatred seems to be a mark of the true church.

Perhaps another useful ecclesiological tool would be to see the marks of a false church in the Bible.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Calvinistic St. Cyril

"Even Simon Magus once came to the Laver : he was baptized, but was not enlightened; and though he dipped his body in water, he enlightened not his heart with the Spirit: his body went down and came up, but his soul was not buried with Christ, nor raised with Him." - St. Cyril's Prologue to the Catechetical Lectures

It seems here that St. Cyril is teaching the same thing that John Calvin and St. Augustine taught, that baptized unelect are only baptized into God's wrath and not into salvation.

This is opposed to the Lutheran & Roman Catholic doctrine that the sacraments work objectively not subjectively.

The other day a worried Lutheran seminarian read aloud to me from St. Augustine's City of God, where the gracious doctor said that the prayers of the reprobate are not heard by God, which seems to contradict the scriptural promises of Jesus.

More and more I'm seeing the 'consensus' of the fathers to be a mix of great insights and average mistakes. Everything from pre-millenialism, to pelagianism (a lot of this), to Calvinism are common.

My new modus operandi for patristics is that of Pope St. Gregory the Great who told young St. Augustine of Canterbury: "For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things" - or reworded in this case: 'doctrine is not to be accepted for the sake of the fathers, but the fathers for the sake of good doctrine'.

Thank God we have the divine Scriptures which St. Cyril calls, "the Constitution" of the Church (Prologue to The Catechetical Lectures, 4).