_Catholicism_ (VIII): Salvation Through the Church

Is it possible for God to save persons who have never heard the proclamation of the Gospel and who have never been baptized? I remember when, as a high school student, I read the impeccably orthodox CS Lewis answer this question in the affirmative, I was scandalized. Only Later did I come to realize that, here and elsewhere, Lewis was consistent with ancient and historical precedent in his thinking. For, as de Lubac shows, the fathers of the church also answered in the affirmative:

“[The Son can be] the salvation of those who are … outside the way.” …  “The invisible presence of the Logos has spread everywhere. Through him, everything is under the influence of the redemptive economy, and the Son of God … has traced the sign of the cross on everything.” – St. Ireneaus

“The divine Sun of Justice shines on all and for all.” – Sts. Cyprian, Hilary, and Ambrose.

“Grace is diffused everywhere, and there is no soul that cannot feel its attraction.” – St. John Chrysostom

“Christ is so powerful that, although invisible because of his divinity, he is present to every person and extends over the whole universe.” – Origen

With Origen here, Sts. Jerome and Cyril of Alexandria “refuse to assert that any man is born without Christ.”

St. Augustine taught that “divine mercy was always at work among all peoples, and even the pagans have had their hidden saints and their prophets.”

This, then, poses a problem (217-222). Given all theses quotations from the church fathers why does the church still teach in her doctrine that she is necessary for salvation? In other words, given the consensus among catholic theologians today that God can and perhaps does save individual human persons who are outside of the reach of the church, in what sense, then, is the church (and her continual expansion) necessary? If so, in what sense?

De Lubac provides us with his solution, as always, relying on the Fathers, as follows:
1.    The human race is one: members get their life from the body. (222-226)
2.    While individual persons outside the cultural expansion of the church might somehow attain salvation, nevertheless other religions always fall short, and hence are ultimately not successful: while “the precise situation [of individual souls] in relation to the Kingdom is never known save to God alone, nevertheless the “objective systems” of other religions do show us that “there is something missing from every religious invention that is not a following of Christ.:” Budhist charity is not Christian charity, and Hindy mysticism is not the mysticism of St. John of the Cross.
3. Our (human persons) cooperation is necessary in (our) redemption (just like in creation). (226-227)
4. Like any other organism, to grow is of the very nature of the church. (227ff)

De Lubac concludes by discussing “the obligation to enter the Church and the responsibilities of the Christian.”

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St. Benedict: “No easy entrance.”

No easy entrance, that is, into the monastic life and community.

“But Matt,” you respond, “You aren’t a monk, and you never will be.” True in one sense, but this is where the wonderful writing of James Finley comes in. In his book Christian Meditation, the most helpful and mind-blowing book I have read on the life of Christian contemplation, he describes the possibility of living in a “monestary without walls.”

Discussing St. Benedict, Finley writes,

St. Benedict knows, better than we, that struggles lie ahead. It is out of this understanding that he says, “Let not an easy entrance be granted to all who seek to enter.” This seemingly less than cordial treatment is actually an act of love on St. Benedict’s part. It is as if he is saying, Look, I owe it to you to give you a small taste of what you are in for. The difficulty you are experiencing in arriving at the gate is but a preview of coming attractions. What lies just inside the gate is not a lifetime of getting what you want when you want it. It is, rather, a lifetime of learning how to wait, with respectful, quiet persistence, in the midst of ongoing delays and difficulties, interspersed with unexpected and sometimes unmanageable graces and blessings.

St. Benedict knows, well, too, that all difficulties, at all stages of the journey, are themselves the very stuff the journey is made of. Patience with one’s slow beginnings and false starts is itself a good beginning in learning to realize that, in the end, everything is right on schedule. Learning to be patient with yourself in your slow and inept efforts has within it the potential of an experiential knowledge of God’s infinite patience with us as we spend our lives fumbling around at the entrance into the depths of the life we are living. It is our growing trust in the loving patience of God that sustains and supports us as we make our way into a meditative way of life.

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Goodbye, Edinburgh; Hello, Canterbury.

About nine months ago, I wrote a document (intended for various official and unofficial audiences) explaining my reasons for leaving the South Texas Presbytery of the PCA and pursuing Holy Orders in the Anglican tradition, in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

This list included three sets of reasons: theological reasons, “local / institutional / missional reasons” (having to do with the PCA churches here in Austin, and their missional outreach to the city), and “personal / providential / vocational reasons” (having to do with where Bouquet and I are personally in life, career, etc.).

Below I am pasting the theological reasons from this document. It seems that there is now, several months after demitting my ordination in the PCA (in my former presbytery), enough emotional distance between my Presbyterian brothers and me that it is not unwise to do this at this time.

The only caveat I would add is that, in addition to these reasons below, an additional “watershed issue” leading to my move was the nature of the church’s connection to the apostles. Beyond the standard PCA view that the church is apostolic simply in the sense that her doctrine is (hopefully) apostolic, I believe that the church is also apostolic in the sense that we have a living, organic connection to the apostles through the liturgy / sacraments and through the historic episcopate.

The current crises in the PCA have helped to clarify my views. I now realize that I am not comfortable in American Presbyterianism, which sees the principle of unity in the church as the system of doctrine known as the Westminster Standards.

Note: much of this conviction has grown out of reading Schmemann, Ziziuolas, and de Lubac, or rather the Fathers through de Lubac (and discussing them with others, I might add). And not just reading them, but reading them in the light of the current controversies in the PCA having to do with “the Federal Vision” and “the New Perspective on Paul.”

A. Liturgy / full sacramentality.

  1. We worship god through the material stuff of creation. (Adam in garden.)
  2. Thus, worship is radically embodied & participatory.
  3. Baptism is way more mysteriously important than our tradition seems to think.
  4. Liturgy is primary theology, which means that our theology is based not only on the Bible, but also on the liturgy. But American Presbyterianism cannot embrace this.

B. Ecclesiology.

  1. The church is an extension of the incarnation in and to this world.
  2. The church is a family, and therefore not bound by ideology / correct doctrine beyond the level of the creeds (see below: this makes me a non-confessional Christian).
  3. Bishops versus courts.
  • a. If the church is a family, then it makes sense that a person (like a father … or a divine Father) is what constitutes the church and holds it together. (Zizioulas)
  • b. If the church is unified primarily by doctrinal agreement, however, then it does make sense that it should be governed by “courts.”

C. All of this can be thought of as catholicity, as opposed to confessionalism.

  1. Catholicity does not downplay doctrine, but it does prioritize creedal doctrine.
  2. Confessionalism elevates sectarian doctrines, held by only one branch of the church, to the role of ecclesial boundary marker. I now know that I cannot embrace this.

D. All of this makes me a historic Anglican. As of right now, the Episcopal Church is the best expression of historic Anglicanism, given that:

  1. It is in communion with Canterbury;
  2. The Windsor Report provides a path forward for orthodox Christians within TEC. Note: Bp. Don Wimberly, bishop of TX, strongly supports the Windsor approach.
  3. My bishop is orthodox, and beyond this is even committed to the Windsor Process.
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_Catholicism_ (VII): Doctrines of Evasion & the Role of Time

I am picking up de Lubac’s Catholicism again, attempting to summarize and comment on it. In this section of the book (the first couple of sections of Chapter V, “Christianity and History”), he  shows how the essence of the Faith is inescapably intertwined not just with the corporate solidarity of humanity (see previous posts) but also with history and time.

Every time, de Lubac writes, a religion emerges which rises above the level of nationality and transcends the senses, what we find is that it is an “individualist doctrine of escape.” (137) This is true for Antique Greek systems (de Lubac provides relevent quotations to this effect from Plotinus and his disciple Porphory), for Hinduism, and for Buddism.

Only Christianity (but also with its relatives Judaism and Islam?), argues de Lubac, posits “a certain ontological density and fecundity” of temporal / historical development. In other words, just as time has a definite origin, so also it has a definite end, and all historical events — supremely the Incarnation — are preparation for the end of time. What is this end? It is nothing other than caelum novum, terra nova, a new heaven and a new earth to contain our new human bodies in which change (and its necessary condition, time) will be no more.

For the other posts in this series see:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI.

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St. Basil on Tradition

St. Basil of Caesaria writes:

“Of the dogmas which are preserved in the church, there are some which we have from Scripture, others we have received from the tradition of the Apostles, and both have the same force; nor will anybody contradict them who has any experience of the laws of the church.”

As Richard Traverse Smith points out, though, Basil is referring “to practices or teaching which is embodied within practices, rather than to formal doctrines” (all of the latter of which are contained in Scripture alone). To quote Basil again:

“For if we go about rejecting the unwritten customs as of slight importance, we shall unawares do injury to the vital parts of the Gospel itself, or rather, reduce the preaching of it to a mere name (italics mine). For instance (to mention in the first place what comes first and is most common) who has taught us by writing to sign with the cross those who place their hope in Christ? What Scripture has taught us to turn to the east in the prayers? The words of invocation, when the bread of the Eucharist and cup of blessing are consecrated, which of the saints has left to us in writing? For we are not content with those words which the Apostles and the Evangelists record, but, both before and after, we use others and consider them to possess great importance to the mystery; and these we have received by unwritten teaching. And we bless both the water of baptism and the oil of unction, and even the way a person in baptized. Out of what Scripture? Is it not on account of the silent mystical tradition? The very anointing with oil itself, what written record has taught? And whence received we the custom that man should be thrice immersed? And the rest of the ceremonies in baptism, as the renouncing of the devil and his angels, whence have we….? For this cause we all look to the east in our prayers, but few of us know that in doing so we seek our native land Paradise, which the Lord planted in Eden, toward the sun-rising. And we pray standing on the first day of the week, not only because, being risen together with Christ, we should seek those things which are above, but because that day appears to be a type of the world for which we hope.” – On the Holy Spirit xxvii, 66.

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The Purpose of Liturgy

“Liturgy exists not to educate, but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught.” — Aidan Kavanagh

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