Sunday, December 26, 2004

Dear Elliot

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"If you listen to your heart, you will know a lot of people 'love' you."

I am loved. We are loved. You are loved. It's Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Where is Christmas?

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Fear not, for I bring tidings of good news for all mankind!

First, it's Christmas! Second, I've decided to post my latest sermon (mutatis mutandis) from our outreach English service at Banner Church, the Shelter. I preached at the Shelter (cf. Psalm 91:1-2) nearly every single Sunday last year, but have cut back to about 1.43 sermons per month this year (doctor's orders, dontchaknow). I was antsy about this sermon, not only because it is "a little deep" for a bilingual outreach service (as my translator told me afterward!), but also because it's themes were painfully close to my heart. Christmas has been a bit of a dark season for me this year; and it ain't the first time. I'm jubilant to tell you, however, that Christ's light is, once again this year, breaking in upon my darkness. And I am just as happy to tell you I found His light exactly where I describe it in this sermon: outside my fullness, in the shadows, and, yes indeed, with Mary.

I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new life in Christ! Adoring Him in (and in front of) the Eucharist has been miraculously "eucatastrophic" for me.

The Shelter
19 December 2004
Elliot Bougis

Where is Christmas?

Luke 2:1-19; Isaiah 11:1-6; Hebrews 13:10-14

Luke 2:1-19

[1] In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. [2] This was the first enrollment, when Quirin'i-us was governor of Syria. [3] And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. [4] And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, [5] to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

[6] And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. [7] And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

[8] And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. [9] And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. [10] And the angel said to them,

"Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; [11] for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. [12] And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."

[13] And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

[14] "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"

[15] When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." [16] And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. [17] And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; [18] and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

[19] But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Every year we ask similar questions: “What is Christmas?” “What is ‘the reason for the season.’?” “What does Christmas mean?” “In fact, WHY is Christmas?”

We ask these questions so we can “do” Christmas the right way. As I hope we all know, Jesus is “the reason for the season”, and unless we focus on Jesus each Christmas, we really aren’t “doing” Christmas the right way. Asking about the “what” and the “why” of Christmas is a good thing. But another important question we often overlook is, “WHERE is Christmas?”

This past week in my classes at Viator, I have been teaching about animals and geography. I’ve asked my students, “Why are we studying these two ideas together? Why not animals and plants? Or animals and humans? Or why not geography and history?”

We study animals with geography because geography and biology – life and location – go hand in hand. If you really study geography, you must also learn what lives in a certain place. And, if you know biology, you probably know where different species live. Knowing where a thing IS tells us a lot about its purpose or meaning. Books and libraries. Feet and shoes. Money and wallets. Bullets and guns. Location and meaning go together like hand and glove.

The same goes for us. What’s one of the first questions we ask when we meet new people? “Where are you from?” “你是哪國人?” As we say in English, “Home is where the heart is.” Asking WHAT a person is, or WHY she is doing something, usually requires asking WHERE she is or where she has been.

My point is that asking WHAT Christmas is today also requires asking WHERE Christmas comes from. We all know Christ was born in Bethlehem at Christmas – but we must also ask where Christmas was, so to speak, born in Christ. Where was the first Christmas?

The first Christmas was with Mary and Joseph in an animal pen with their baby – the Savior. Because the house was full of other people, Mary and Joseph had to sleep with the animals in a manger. Whether that was downstairs inside or literally outside the house is beside the point. The point is that at his birth, Christ the King was forced outside the central, comfortable life of the house. The point is that the first Christmas was below the vision of the emperors and rulers of the day. It was, in fact, springing up like a baby root of righteousness to overturn a whole empire of sin. Just as Isaiah prophesied (11:1-6):

[1] There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
[2] And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
[3] And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
[4] but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
[5] Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist,
and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.
[6] The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

Where is Christmas? Where does the little Christ child lead us each Christmas? Christmas is STILL with Mary and Joseph outside the inn, and it is still outside the full, comfortable lives of most people. We may not like it or understand it, but God, “in the fullness of time,” planted his root of salvation at the lowest, darkest point on earth. Mary and Joseph had been traveling for many miles. They were exhausted. And then they found themselves, the parents of the Messiah, sleeping with animals. What a disappointing Christmas!

I can just imagine the shepherds’ reaction to the angelic vision:

ANGELS: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people.”

SHEPHERDS: “Okay, good – no fear is good. Great joy for everyone is nice too.”

A: “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

S: “Yes, yes! The Messiah, at last!”

A: “And this will be a sign for you…”

S: “Yes, yes, tell us! We want to see his glory!”

A: “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

S: [PAUSE, GAPING JAW] “Um, I’m sorry, could you repeat that? Is this some kind of weird angel-joke?”

Christ came to us in a way few politicians or celebrities would choose. As G.K. Chesterton said, “Christ was not only born on the level of the world, but even lower than the world” (_The Everlasting Man_).

The first Christmas – when a cosmic king was born as a beggar baby – is as bizarre as the Cross – when total victory was won by total defeat. Even in His birth, Jesus denied Himself. His life began and ended in weakness. His birth, in fact, was really just the first step He took towards the Cross. At Christmas we don’t celebrate the birth of our Savior; we celebrate the birth of our CRUCIFIED Savior.

Like it or not, we never lose this “crucified” feeling at Christmas. No matter how many lights we put up, no matter how much turkey we eat, no matter how many gifts we get, no matter how much commercial hype we hear, no matter how many Santas we hug, many people find the Christmas holidays one of the most confusing, draining and depressing times of the year. It’s cold. It’s busy. For at least two weeks, we obsess about what gifts to buy (and, of course, what to ask for). Even then, some poor (可憐的) people don’t even get gifts. At Christmas, another year of our lives, full of the usual failures and disappointments, slips away forever. Bing Crosby may be “dreaming of a white Christmas,” but the sad fact is, most people experience a very dark Christmas.

But why? Why is there so much darkness in this season of light? Christmas is and always will be a dark time full of light because every Christmas imitates the first Christmas. Where is Christmas? It is in our world, the valley of darkness, the house of sin, the home of Golgotha. At Christmas, Christ was not merely born under the power of the Roman Empire. He was born under the satanic powers of darkness.

When King Herod massacred all those babies to exterminate the Messiah, he was actually serving the powers of darkness. When Caesar Augustus decreed a census that tore Mary and Joseph from their home and put them on the run, he was actually just a pawn in the hands of the prince of darkness, trying desperately to terrorize Jesus the Messiah from the first moments of His life. The birth of Christ was an act of war by God against the armies of sin and death.

And every Christmas we re-enter this cosmic battle. Every Christmas carol is a battle song. At every Christmas the powers of darkness use the power of consumerism and anxiety and family feuds to exterminate the light of Christ in our starving, broken world.

And yet–! And yet, this dark, broken world of ours is exactly the world into which Christ CHOSE to be born! Christ chose to enter the darkness with us two thousand years ago and He wants to enter our darkness NOW! We must not fear the darkness and emptiness of Christmas time. We must face them with the light of Christ our crucified baby King. We must look OUTSIDE the inn. We must humbly step OUTSIDE the fullness of our own lives and look OUTSIDE for the needy and the lonely and the scared in the manger. As Hebrews 13:10-14 says,

[10] We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. [11] For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. [12] So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. [13] Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. [14] For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.

We must make room in our hearts, or we cannot receive Mary and her son, the Lord Jesus. Just like the shepherds, we must FIND Mary and Joseph outside the hustle and bustle with their son, the Savior. We must “ponder these things” with Mary as she adored her son, her Savior. Only there, with the shepherds, with Joseph, with Mary, with Christ, in the shadows, outside the inn – only there will we find Christmas.

Jesus was born in the shadow of the empire of man; but he brought the light of God’s love into it. Jesus was born under the boot of the powers of darkness; but He rose again so that someday every knee shall bow at His feet. The first Christmas was in the dirt and darkness of the manger; but it became the light and life of the Resurrection. The best Christmas gift has already come to us in Bethlehem, in a manger, without glory. And He will come to us again, someday – this time on the clouds, with glory.

[19] But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

A tidy blog is a happy blog

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As I said, I'm staying away from blogging for a season. But that doesn't mean my readers are. Ther has been an ongoing discussion in the combox of my previous post, which I felt was a little untidy, and far too ungainly, for one post. So I have decided to move a series of comments in that thread to a full post here.

In this thread, one of the problems is that Tom R is arguing two different lines. First, he began by challenging my rejection of Mathison's theory of councils/creeds (ie., as helpful but, in the final analysis, fallible summaries of faith). My contention was that this fallibist “faith” undermines the entire point of creedal Christianity. My point is that Mathison obliterates the basis for credence in *past* Church dogma. So far, nothing he has said addresses *this* problem. So I ask him (and Mathison): if the creeds are human and fallible, why do we keep them (aside from the sentimental reason that we, for now, each and all, believe they agree with our interpretation of Scripture)?

The second line of thought that Tom quickly followed -- which clouds the discussion of the first point -- concerns the status of *future* dogmatics. First, for some inexplicable reason, I find the question presumptuous. Why should we trust the Church tomorrow even if we trusted it yesterday? Suffice it to say that even to ask such a question betrays a deep (even if unconscious) suspicion of God’s order for the Church. The Church is not a set of doctrines; it is a body of believers under the leadership of real people, as they worship the same God according to the same truths. To squint suspiciously at the Church of tomorrow is to implicitly squint with distrust at the Church – and its concrete leaders -- of yesterday and today.

Second, Tom plays his hand too strongly by saying, with Luther, councils might err. This is a non-starter (what they call in advanced academics a "No duh" proposition). Councils can and do err. But infallible councils do not err. The question then becomes, of course, what constitutes a valid council. Protestantism claims the orthodox faith is the teaching of Scripture, but this is a truism; why else did the Reformers insists on the creeds? Apart from the understanding of Scripture in and by the Church, the “teaching of Scripture” is a wax nose. Orthodoxy is inclined to say conciliarity rests on broad ecclesial acceptance: what the faithful and the episcopacy of all ages, as a whole, accept is the orthodox faith. Alas, I find this outlook -- call it "hyper-Vincentianism"? -- naïve. Catholicism has its own (qualified, intricate and interlocking) answer: orthodoxy consists in the truths accepted by the faithful of all ages WHICH agree with the councils AS those conciliar doctrines are approved BY the episcopacy IN UNION WITH the bishop of Rome. Orthodoxy is, thus, a convergent rather than a mechanistically emergent phenomenon. There must be both a (materially sufficient) *pattern* of orthodoxy and a (formally sufficient) principle of discerning orthodoxy today.[1]

But hey, let’s be honest: at these theological heights, I’m at a loss. I cannot even begin to explain the “psychology” and “theory of action” of infallibility. I have no rock-solid answers. So, rather than rambling on and scuttling myself on the shoals of ignorant claims, I’ll pose a few questions and propose a few analogies.

First question: how does the inspiration of Scripture preserve the freely and authentically human authorship of the Bible, while papal/ecclesial infallibility does not?

First analogy: the work of the Spirit in inspiration is analogous to the work of the Spirit in infallibility.

Second question: Granting that inspiration is technically different from infallibility (cf. James Akin’s discussion of this in “Inspiration, Tradition, and Scripture"), I wonder how Tom can defend the action of the Holy Spirit in teaching a lone regenerate Christian the truth of the Bible without also accepting the possibility of that same Holy Spirit guiding the bishops to the truth over and with the laity.

Second analogy: the indefectibility of the Church is analogous to the irrevocability of regeneration in Reformed theology. You know the drill: Christians, only so-called, can and do fall away, but no true, regenerate Christian can or does fall away. But what’s good for the Calvinist, personal goose (ex hypothesi) is good for the Catholic, ecclesial gander. Apply the same kind of “non-falsifiability” to dogma as you (Tom?) do to personal salvation and see what we get.

Well, at this point, I’m sure I’ve butchered every strain of ecclesiology known to man. So, as I continue to learn (theology, German, Chinese, history, philosophy and science), I leave you with a couple leads. First, read Greg Krehbiel’s article, "Bible, Tradition, Church and Pope". Second, read James O’Connor’s _The Gift of Infallibility_ and Richard Gaillardetz’s _By What Authority?_. Ta ta!

[1] Speaking of mechanism, I think Tom is playing the advocatus diabli a little too strongly. Why *don’t* bishops and the pope just toss coins? I don’t know; but that’s the thing about mystery. It’s not as mechanistic as we might like.

Friday, December 3, 2004


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Alas, I'm back only long enough to report I won't be back until Chinese New Year. (I've also given up browsing until then.) My life offline is going well. Dane (my dog) is a handful (literally). My German and Chinese are improving slowly but surely. I recently finished Keith Mathison's _The Shape of Sola Scriptura_ and Roald Dahl's _Skin_. (Take a guess which I found more interesting and better written.) My update photos for the SAIBAT (Second Annual Beard-A-Thon) are available on my earlier blog. You have been warned.

I enjoyed Mathison's book but am still largely unconvinced. [This review may be incoherent and redundant at times. It’s late, I'm tired and I just wanted to get this “on paper.”] His book is thorough, impressively well researched and surprisingly non-polemical. The style is, however, painfully repetitive at times.

My basic objection is that sola scriptura does to the creeds what solo scriptura does to the Bible. Also, while Mathison does a good job of highlighting the coinherence of the regula fidei and the Scriptures in the early Church, he ignores the importance of sacramental succession of bishops as the third leg of the pillar of truth in the post-apostolic and ante-Nicene Church. Admitting the mechanism by which the Church guarded its regula fidei and the Scriptures seriously compromises his argument, an argument that basically relies on the (shoot me: semi-gnostic) assumption that the regula fidei can just be extracted from the patristic period by "serious" historical research and exploited by Reformeds who have no connection to the concrete sacramental lines of succession in which that regula fidei germinated and blossomed.

Perhaps my largest disappointment was with his attempts to "pinpoint" the Church based on the "common" primary dogmatic consensus across the many secondary denominational lines. His approach is, despite all his nuanced claims, very naive and simplistic. In effect, Mathison made the most commonly agreed upon tenets of Christianity the criterion for the whole truth of Christianity. But this quickly implodes because the points of "essential" agreement allow points of dissension to count just as strongly against otherwise settled doctrines. Any tenet we use to find a confessional unity, across time or space (and thus legitimize an allegedly Christian group) backfires by giving that Christian voice a footing to disqualify the consensus of tenets they reject.

For example, if Trinitarian baptism, the salvific crucifixion of Christ and the acceptance of the Bible are "essential" Christian beliefs, then Mormons are Christians. Yet, if they are Christians by these criteria -- and insofar as they also claim the title "Christian" -- their other heresies only nullify the "common" consensus of all Christians across time. The seat their agreement on essentials gives Mormons at the table of Christianity only allows them to undermine the consensus of otherwise. As a second example, if we use the same criteria, the rejection of Nicea by Arians and Chalcedon by Oriental Orthodox (both of which are otherwise ardently and deeply Christian groups) disqualifies the divinity of Christ and his hypostatic union as "universally accepted" doctrines. Of course, if we place those doctrines among the so to speak "essential essentials," then the necessity of baptism (as the sacrament of regeneration) is itself jettisoned as the tie that binds, say, Protestants and Catholics. At every turn, giving a slice of the Christian pie to a "fringe" group only takes slices away from the "mainline" groups. Mathison criticizes Orthodox and Catholics for being unable to explain the exact mark of an ecumenical council or an infallible papal decree, respectively, but he himself never gets around to explaining what the essential mark of confessional consensus is.

He criticizes the Orthodox for their "wait and see" approach to the validity of an allegedly ecumenical council, but he himself never explains why all generations haven't so far merely missed the boat and that the truth is yet to emerge. This immediately leads us to think "God betrayed his Church," but this does not follow, by Mathison's own logic. God totally committed his revelation to the Church and he most certainly will keep his promise to guide them into all truth. He just has his own timing for it. And it happens, sadly, we have yet to see the exact crystallization of the kerygma in the future "truly true" creeds. All our current creeds may LOOK correct and true because they are so universally accepted, but they are not infallible and could very well be rejected.

Further, I completely reject Mathison's denial of the infallibility of the early councils. His basic error is trying so hard to protect the inherent inerrancy of God's Word that he sacrifices the contingent but irrevocably infallibility of his Church. Mathison spills pages and page of ink insisting on the necessity of the creeds (as the crystallization of the early regula fidei to guide the Church under Scripture), but he seems to miss (or evade) the fact that treating them as fallible decrees about the (ex hypothesi) infallible deposit of faith immediately makes them reformable and revocable. The irrevocability of the creeds that Mathison swears upon demands their infallibility. The whole point of the regula fidei is, according to Mathison, to guide and balance our interpretation of Scripture. In turn, the whole point of the creeds is to guide and balance our knowledge of the regula fidei. But if the creeds are not infallible, then they really are just opinions and we quickly slide back into solo scriptura. For, if the creeds protect the regula fidei and the regula fidei protects our understanding of Scripture, then the latter surely cannot stand if the former falls.

A final objection I have is to Mathison's often startlingly facile treatment of papal history and the development of doctrine generally. First of all, he totally misrepresents the case of Pope Sixtus IV (1585-90), who never in fact promulgated his bull on the Vulgate. Second, he, like most critics, ignores the fact that Honorius's condemnation by the Sixth Ecumenical Council was received by the subsequent pope, Leo II (?), with the revised clarification that Honorius was guilty of failing to teach the truth, NOT for actually promulgating error. This papal revision was accepted by the Church as the standing canon of that council.

Third, one of Mathison's biggest points is that when the idea of papal infallibility was first introduced (by radical Franciscans in the 12th century), the then-pope rejected it as a novel heresy. Has Mathison never heard of the reception of "homoousios"? This too was rejected by numerous bishops and theologians as a novel, unbiblical concept, even though the Church ultimately decided it was true. Thus a clear innovation clarified and preserved a deeper, more subtle truth held from the very beginning. The irony is that this innovation was rejected by the very people that worshipped according to its truth! "We don't believe in the 'homoousios', we believe Jesus is God! Oh, wait, I see. We do believe in the 'homoousios'!" Why should it be any different in the case of the papacy? "I'm the pope, I don't believe in papal infallibility! Oh, wait. I see. I do believe in papal infallibility!" Must we expect every pope to be aware of every facet of his apostolate? No. We may as well expect every Christian to be aware of every facet of his own faith in Christ.

Thus, Mathison is amazingly arbitrary about legitimate doctrinal development. He admits the canon developed into its present form and that other features of the Church "emerged over time," so clearly the Church can “evolve” new and more precise normative boundaries (what I'll call "structures of authority"). What is Mathison’s criterion for discerning such developments? That silly consensus idea again? Even the canon is up for grabs if we take seriously the rejection of Revelation, i.a., by various early Christian groups. Worse, what are we to make of the more than one billion Christians that do accept the papacy as Christian revelation? Does that stunning consensus count for nothing?

It's a truism to say the early Church said to follow the Scriptures; the key is what that meant for concrete communities in terms of the CANON of the Scriptures. And the painful reality is that "the Scriptures" meant very different things for different canonical communites for centuries. Likewise, it's a truism to say the early Church was trinitarian. Before Nicea, Ephesus, Constantinople and Chalcedon, however, that brute trinitarianism meant very different things for different eucharistic communities. Mathison's chest-beating reliance on the "earliest" early tradition (Tradition I) over against Rome's reliance on Tradition II (ca. fourth century) sounds disturbingly like Mormons' and Jehovah's Witnesses chest-beating return to the pre-Nicene (ie., pre-Constantinize, pre-paganized) Church.

Moreover, it all looks a little silly when Mathison clings in one breath to the earliest (and thus less clearly articulated) views of tradition when he in the next breath clings to the later (and thsu more exactly articulated) views of the Trinity. It's just as much a truism to say the early Church said to follow the apostolic tradition. The key is what that meant over the course of many centuries. Strangely, Mathison accepts the later development of the canon and the Trinity, but rejects the later development of the idea of tradition. A peculiar and telling inconsistency, one that places the burden of proof on Mathison to explain why the basic flow of orthodoxy is toward progressive expansion and precision, while his view of tradition is static, vague and atavistic. Why should I accept the development of primitive Trinitarianism along later Nicene lines but reject the development of tradition along later partim-partim lines? Why did the Church, as a matter of plain fact, grow to accept a full-blown monarchial tripartite episcopacy but not grow in the same spirit of truth into Tradition II?

I repeat: my basic objection is that sola scriptura does to the creeds what solo scriptura does to the Bible.

Having said all that, I should make it clear Mathison’s book gave me many good pauses about key issues. More grist for the conversion mill! Sleep time! Bye till January or so!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

I must descrease that he might increase

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And my blog must decrease that I might increase.

I'll be actively non-blogging (or passively de-blogging) for an unspecified period of time. This is part of a more basic withdrawal from the Internet (with its Scylla of porn and Charybdis of trivialities). My blog is one of the main reasons I use the Internet, so if I avoid blogging I have that much less reason to waste time online. There's just too much reading and sleeping -- and way too much prayer -- that I've been neglecting offline.

I'll also admit it: I feel more secure, “more better,” when I'm connected. But that dependence bothers me, so I'm fighting back. The digital monkey must get off my back.

Okay, I've spoken my peace. Go on now, you can laugh. I know, I know, this is a silly, drastic Luddite reflex of cutting of my nose to spite my face. Be that as it may, it's one way I can get a grip on my life, or maybe a get a grip off my life, so I'm for it.

Prayers and comments are welcome as always. I’ll see you.

How much is that doggy in the blog?

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This my dog, Dane (not Great Dane, just Dane). I love him.

Yes, he really is that small.

Currently reading...

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_Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church_ by John D. Zizioulas

I first heard about this great book when I read Clark Carlton’s _The Way_ in February 2003. That was a decent book, but would have had a bigger impact on me a year or two earlier.[1] It took some work (like anything good) but I finally got a copy of Zizioulas's very (and rightly) influential book. It was on my bookshelf for weeks, but then one night I just grabbed it and read sixty or so pages of it in one sitting. Despite all the hype -- Carlton said he had to read the first two chapters twice before he understood what Zizioulas was talking about -- this book wasn't as head-crushing as I'd expected. It was nice to know I've read just enough theology not to be shaking my head ALL the time (as I once did).

Of course, this is not to say Zizioulas's book isn't challenging or superb. It is both of those things. He is an excellent communicator of very hard ideas and his scholarship is incredible. He is not immune from it, but he does at least keep “intellectualese” to a minimum. Also, although I technically "got" most of what he said, I need to re-read the first two or three chapters. This is a big deal. If you didn't know, I rarely if ever re-read anything unless I'm referencing it. But Zizioulas covers so much ground and says so much in so few words that I need to re-read him just to see the implications of it all. It's like good poetry: any literate person can "get" it on the verbal level; but it takes patience and a special ear to really hear the deeper, hidden resonances.

I would summarize the book (viz., its main theses) with the following series of connected propositions:

The Church is truth at work in human existence. Truth is (indestructible) life. Life is communion. Communion is love. Love is a person. The person of love is God the Father. The Father is truth. Truth is the basis of the Church. Rinse, wash, repeat.

In fact, the whole book is so full of information and interesting ideas that I might even want to read the whole thing again. It's a veritable catechism of patristics, Trinitarianism, classical metaphysics, ecclesiology and sacramentology. One of the most pronounced effects of the book has been to raise my interest (ignorant but eager!) in St. Maximus the Confessor. Anyone John Zizioulas calls "one of the greatest and most creative geniuses in history" I am certain to give at least a little coffee time to.

Ironically, perhaps because of its breadth and depth, the book's actually been a frustrating experience for me in some ways. Zizioulas achieves such a deep and far-reaching resourcement (esp. of the patristic and biblical), that I'm left shaking my head on almost everything I thought I "knew" about Catholic theology, let alone Orthodox theology. I feel like I'm back to square one, like everything "sure" is up for grabs.[2] It’s late so I won't elaborate on that complaint. It's not even a complaint, though, since, after reading and hearing so much on my journey towards “Cathodoxy” (props to Tom R), it’s nice to feel the foreignness and holy mystery of journey like I did in the early days. Any contemptuous familiarity I had is dead and gone! The game is still afoot, my friends! Make no mistake: I really am learning my Christian heritage all over again for the first time.

Wow, I’m glad I took time to write this. The more I flip back through this book, the more I realize I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Incidentally, as the SVS webpage explains, _Being as Communion_ is part of the CONTEMPORARY GREEK THEOLOGIANS SERIES. Other books included in the series are: _Hymn of Entry_ by Archimandrite Vasileios, _The Deification of Man_ by Georgios I. Mantzaridis, _Deification in Christ_ by Panayiotis Nellas, and _The Freedom of Morality_ by Christos Yannaras. I intend to get every title in the series, especially the last two titles.

[1] More memorable and helpful for my current phase of conversion was Carlton’s book about Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, _The Truth_.

[2] I once heard a great aphorism: If you want to make God smile, tell Him what you know. If you want to make Him laugh, tell Him your plans.

Beards! Books! Beer! Hoorah!

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(In no particular order of enjoyment...)

Erick "DJ Skullfog" Banks has punched it in and the Second Annual International Beard-A-Thon (IBAT2) is underway! I'm saddened to see Devin "Least Likely to Leave Your Kids Alone With" Kaun is not in the running, but I can tell I've got my work "cut" out for me with all these new virile competitors. No matter. I've already dispatched my elite hit squad of Norelco Ninjas to observe and, if necessary, shear the most aggressive competitors. Team Taiwan is not intimidated and will not be outbearded. (You have been warned.)

A small hope: in order to maximize the "international" factor of the IBAT, I say Erick grows for Team Mexico. Mexico's in his blood... even if facial hair isn't.

Well, I still need to get my charity sponsor. Hmmm.... For now, I'll leave you with my start-up and recent two-week photos:

with new Webbed Foot Feature!

with new Optimal Repulsion Feature!

with new Lower Lip Drool Guard!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

A new me?

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Dave Armstrong recently gave me a new nick, the Cogitator, which I think I'll adopt. So, without further ado...

Welcome to The Cogitator's FCA Palace!

Where volume *is* accuracy and the only thing more common than diarrhea of the keyborad is constipation of the mind!

I'm feeling very...collegial today, how about you?

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A reader recently commented on my kinder, succinter statement of a question I have about papal supremacy:

Perhaps I've missed something but, though you've frequently referred to St. Peter as embodying the necessary existence of an infallible "mouth," how do Ecumenical Councils fit into the picture in your view? How does the collegiality of the Apostles fit this view?

I've never quite understood how an infallible Pope fits in with infallible Ecumenical Councils (which both Catholics and Orthodox acknowledge).

As for the pope and collegiality, this is how I see it from the gutter: The Apostles spoke together, which is to say the Apostles spoke and acted together WITH Peter AS their mouthpiece and chief. Likewise, the bishops speak together, which is to say the bishops speak and act WITH the pope as their mouthpiece and chief. Did Peter need to ratify every Apostolic action? I don’t believe so. But did every Apostolic action or proclamation need to pass through Peter (even if in a providentially mystical way)? I’m inclined to say yes. Did Peter need to vet every Apostolic utterance? Hardly. But could any Apostolic teaching have transgressed Peter’s authentic teaching and leadership? I’m inclined to say no. (Alas, we’re batting counterfactuals around.)

Consider also what Peter is in the NT. He is, by the Father’s illuminating grace, the confessor par excellence of Christ’s Messianic divinity. He is the herald, by the power of the Holy Spirit, par excellence of the gospel of Christ. As such, we (all Christians) partake of that Petrine function to some degree. If all can be little Christs, I see no reason why everyone cannot also be little Peters – if both claims are properly understood.

For example, what sensible Orthodox or Catholic has the slightest qualms about calling a priest “Father” even though she knows there is only one TRUE Father in Heaven? Part of being human, and especially being a Christian, means understanding the same words in very different ways. Obviously, there is only one Christ; but who would deny all believers become Him by baptism and theosis, and that bishops in particular actualize His unique but communicable grace? So, obviously there is only one Peter; but why deny we all have a share in his witness, and that the pope in particular actualizes His unique but communicable authority as the vicarious herald of Christ?

So there is, biblically and patristically, a range of meaning for the rock of the Church. Neat-o. I admit this. Why should I waste time bickering with William Webster or Eric Svendsen or James White about patristic ambiguities? Why expect every single quote about Peter to be an ironclad, airtight, hyper-precise declaration of papal supremacy? Indeed, I see no conflict between believing the rock of Matthew 16 was *simultaneously* Peter, his confession of Christ and Christ working IN Peter by the economy of the Spirit in union with the Father. Peter the Rock was inseparable from his faith, and the rock of Peter’s faith was inseparable from Christ the Rock. In the same way are his successors inseparable from his person, his faith and his Lord. Peter carried the weight of the Gospel WITH the Apostles – which necessarily means PETER carried the weight.

By analogy, the pope in every age need not carry each and every single doctrine on his own two shoulders. But his shoulders MUST in some way be helping carry that weight (whether ex cathedra without a council or “passively” with an ecumenical council). Conciliar infallibility (with even the most basic papal cooperation) is a sufficient but not necessary condition for proclaiming true dogmas. Whereas, papal infallibility (usually and ideally with broad episcopal support) is BOTH necessary and in itself sufficient to proclaim dogmas. That is, as I say, how I see collegiality and the papacy relate to each other.

Next we need to consider the Church’s Marian and Petrine dimensions. In the baldest terms, Mary is the vessel of grace and Peter is the chief confessor of Christ’s good news. Mary is the model for Christians of fully embracing the pneumatological dimensions of redemption. Peter, on the other hand, is the model for Christians fully embracing Christological dimensions of that same redemption. Apart from Mary’s “Fiat” at the Annunciation and her “Do all he tells you” at Cana, I wonder with aching dread what would have become of the Incarnation as the full in-breaking of the Holy Spirit. And, apart from Peter’s “You are” at Caesarea Philippi and his “Repent!” at Pentecost, I wonder just as anxiously what would have become of the Church’s understanding of Christ as the vicar of God.

Both Mary and Peter are, by God’s providence, hugely significant figures in the ordo salutis and the Kingdom of God. Mary and Peter both mark key turning points in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Luke’s Gospel and Acts. Now, Mary obviously has her enduring and co-redemptive role in Orthodoxy and Catholicism. But why does Peter have a similarly enduring and “vicarious” role only in Catholicism?

I suspect the willingness by the Orthodox Church to embrace the Marian dimensions of ecclesial life while effectively avoiding the Petrine dimensions stems from its much-discussed emphasis on pneumatology. Where pneumatology flourishes, the Church’s Marian dimensions also expand. Where Christology flourishes, the Church’s Petrine dimensions swell. So, say what you will about the Western Church’s supposed “Christomonism” and its supposedly anemic pneumatology, but only in that very Western, that very Roman, Church do I see Marian and Petrine, pneumatological and Christological, energies *all* vigorously at work.

A similar point can be made about the Eastern Fathers I cited a few days ago. One reader (on another blog) said I must show how those alarmingly papalist quotes CANNOT mesh with Orthodox ecclesiology. But, as I replied, I am not at all sure why the burden of proof is on me to show how the Eastern Fathers' papalism CANNOT mesh with contemporary Orthodox ecclesiology. It’s *extremely* hard to prove a negative. The burden of proof seems to be on the person claiming such papalist rhetoric CAN be reconciled with contemporary Orthodox ecclesiology (or, better, vice versa). For me, it's a simple question: who still talks about Rome like the Eastern Fathers I cited (let alone the Western Fathers? Who still embraces and explores the peculiar importance of Rome in the whole Tradition? Who in their right mind today would say what those Eastern Fathers said? As far as I can see, only Catholics. And that's very telling.

Now, having said all this, we need to give ecumenical conciliar infallibility a closer look. For me, one of the most difficult aspects of conciliar infallibility – as the authentic one voice of the ecumenical (ie., universal) Church – is the rejection of even very early councils by some old and august sees (eg., the Oriental Orthodox, Coptics, etc.). The idea of “ecumenical” councils as the Church’s criterion for truth, I admit, does *sound* a lot more reasonable and humane and democratic and, heck, more “Trinitarian” (unity in diversity, etc.). But we must be honest that even the most humane attempts to hear and respect ALL the bishops so everyone can defer to everyone else for the sake of unity is a very naïve way to look at the councils. It’s sad to say, but this side of the eschaton, collegiality has its limits. That’s what anathemas are for; to demarcate the boundaries of the true faith and, sorry to say, to tell others they’re outside that line.

My point? Remember, the question is how allegedly infallible papal declarations can be authentic expressions of the Church’s one true voice if there is episcopal or lay dissent? How can the part be greater than the whole? My reader asks how papal infallibility meshes with ecumenical conciliar infallibility as if this were an *exceptionally* problematic idea. But a more basic question, logically and historically, and one just as problematic, is how ecumenical conciliar infallibility meshes with allegedly infallible *but not ecumenical* conciliar decrees. The councils were not democratic picnics; the truth was not and is not a majority vote. Not every bishop at every council has had equal influence. Some tracts of the episcopal collegial filed were mercilessly razed and salted, sometimes by the minority of bishops, for the protection of orthodoxy. But how can councils apparently BASED ON the full and harmonic testimony of the whole episcopacy “pull rank” on dissenters? How can the parts trump the whole? It seems like trying to lift a ladder your standing on.

Of course, once you admit it is possible for councils to be infallible *even despite massive episcopal dissent*, it is only a difference of degree, *not of principle*, admitting the possibility of a bishop speaking infallibly despite numerically greater opposition. There was some decisive mechanism at work – in the hands of the Spirit, of course – in all authentic infallible councils. What is this mechanism? Orthodox and Protestants, however, are strangely silent about this mechanism. By contrast, Catholics believe the crucial mechanism was and still is the bishop of Rome in sacramental collegial union with his fellow bishops. So allow me to reverse the questions and ask, “How do infallible councils fit in with an infallible ecumenical CHURCH?” How can councils be an authentic expression of the one true voice of the Church if there is episcopal and lay dissent? I don’t know; but I have a strong suspicion the answer to THAT question goes a long way towards vindicating and clarifying the personal (papal) dimensions of infallibility in a Church of PERSONS.

My train of thought has derailed, so let me close by clarifying my manner of communicating. I have a strong distaste for padded language, like “I feel” or “It seems to me” or “I think”. How redundant. What I write IS how I feel and think and how things do seem to me, even if an undetectably tentative way. I state things as “strongly” as I do in order to be clear stay on point. I don’t want anyone to get the impressions I’m bullying just because I avoid “I feel” language in my writing.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Let me make this simple

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I recently posted a couple riddles about the episcopacy, Orthodoxy and Catholicism. I think I made things too complicated (as I'm prone to do), especially about the second riddle. So, let me restate my question as succinctly as I can:

If the acknowledged headship of Peter -- as the Coryphaeus, the Mouth, the Chief, the Keyholder -- of the Apostles did not detract from or negate the authority of the original Apostles, how can or does the Pope's authority, *as Peter's successor*, detract from or negate the authority of local bishops?

It's crucial to keep the Pope in the Church. He's not some bizarre action figure stapled onto Christian history and tradition. We can't talk about him or his role *outside of the Church*. And the Church is infallible. In my eyes, the Pope's "personal infallibility" (already a skewed formulation of papal infallibility) is but the concrete, incarnational consequence of an infallible Church that speaks for God. The Church is the Body of Christ; and every body has a mouth -- especially an infallible one.

Protestants claim the Bible is infallible, which is true. But how is the Bible infallible *in concrete life*? All Orthodox, Catholics and honest classical Protestants admit the Bible is infallible *only as declared by and from the Church*. A problem, however, arises when we agree with Orthodox and Catholics that *the Church also is infallible*. But again, in conrete human terms, how? How is the Church infallible? The Church is infallible as She speaks the truth of God *with one voice, as one Body*. It just so happens that speaking with one voice means a person with one voice speaking. Such is life. I find it very helpful to stop calling the Pope "the Pope /gasp!/" and instead regard him as but the logical result of an infallible *speaking* Church. As Nemwman said, ecclesial infallibility is a consequence of biblical inspiration. Likewise, papal infallibility is a consequence of ecclesial infallibility.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Bowel-quivering prooftexts, anyone?

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Tim Enloe had this to say about my recent posting of Eastern patristic quotes about the bishop of Rome:

I don't care to discuss the issue on the level of "bowel-quivering" lists of prooftexts, Elliot. And I only got as far as your reduction of my post to "merely" rhetoric, "just...different and unfortunately unreliable modes of expression" to see that you truly do not understand the point.

I reply:


Where to begin?

First, I did not call your post mere rhetoric. I took issue with your reflex of waving many (non-Enloe-approved Ref Cath things) things away as rhetoric. Once again, I seem to have struck a deep nerve with you, this time about one of your favorite topics: rhetoric.

Second, I admit you did not deny all substance in material affirming Roman supremacy. But I am very uneasy with your casual dismissal of the BULK of such affirmations as rhetorical excesses we cannot, unfortunately, rely on TODAY. By calling some forms of rhetoric “unreliable” I mean they are unreliable for conveying a discernible meaning outside their immediate, visceral context. Hortatory effectiveness is not the same as catechetical reliability.

You said:

"...many times the grandiose authority claims made by Roman bishops and their supporters are fundamentally wrapped up with the fact that the speakers are deliberately attempting to model conventions of classical rhetoric for the purpose of moving their hearers to some sort of action, usually a moral one."

But how about when these many deliberate attempts to achieve a result are made TOWARD the bishop of Rome by numerous Eastern Fathers? To say all they did without actually believing it is pure dissimulation, as if the pope were some kind of ecclesial dog constantly being called by competing masters.

If contemporary papal sovereignty – which so clearly borrows from the language and meaning of much of what I've cited – was so abhorrent to the early Church, how could these Fathers even imagine stirring a bishop to such heights? Were they simply out of their minds? Was there some inside joke in the whole Christian East? (“Oh, we just love getting that silly ol’ pope all hot and bothered as the ‘ruler of the whole world’ and the ‘foundation of the Church’!) Was this all a prank played on the Romans and the West for the amusement of later Christians?

For God's sake (literally), what effect were they trying to produce, Tim? I can think of only two. 1) To make the bishop of Rome act BEYOND his authority as primus inter pares or 2) to call him to FULFILL it as the Head of the Apostles. If the former, then the whole Tradition is a messy joke, as the Fathers themselves laid the foundation for the “hubris” of the See you so ardently criticize. If the latter, then the Tradition is clearly Papal. Why did no one object to the rhetorical excesses as pushing the ecclesial envelope? Why did everyone, instead, act in accordance with what all that high falutin’ language meant?

This dilemma gets at heart of my larger dilemma as a disoriented Christian. I have come to respect and defer to the Tradition as the authoritative voice of God IN the life of the Church. But then I hear such mind-numbingly ROMAN CATHOLIC things in that Church Tradition. How can I be blamed that God built His holy Tradition on men that so readily and consistently and explicitly "trained" the bishop of Rome to claim all he does?

Truth be told, Tim, strange as it may sound, I hope you’re basically right about the use of rhetoric as a manipulative device. Because, assuming the Fathers I cited were just trying – disingenuously – to woo the popes with fansee werds, the question still remains why they were trying to woo THE POPES. Why such hyperbolic adulation for THAT See at the expense of others? This is a dilemma for you. If the patristic and medieval rhetoric was more than rhetoric (ie., straightforward appeals to the Head of the Church), then you must face that feature of the catholic Tradition. If, however, the rhetoric is mere rhetoric meant to win the support of Rome, you must answer WHY the support of ROME was so important. To quote Newman,

"I doubt very much whether the point of the Infallibility of the Pope was understood at that time –the time of Cyprian’s dispute with Pope Stephen – EBB]; but then I also doubt whether the Infallibility of a General Council was at that time understood either, for no General Council as yet had been. The subject was what Vincentius calls ‘obscurely held.’ The Popes acted as if they were infallible in doctrine – with a very high hand, peremptorily, magisterially, fiercely. But when we come to the analysis of such conduct, I think they had as vague ideas on the subject as many of the early Fathers had upon portions of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. They acted in a way which needed infallibility as its explanation.
(W. Ward, _The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman_ (London: Longmans, Green and CO., 1912), vol. 2, pp. 378-79, as cited in S. Jaki, _The Keys of the Kingdom_, p. 188)

I'm curious to know what your explanation of proto-papism is, especially considering how much it was rhetorically inflated by the Fathers.

You said:

"It's not that there's no "intellectual" content in what's being said, but it is that what's being said cannot be reduced to intellectual content, as if it's somehow "just" a statement of "simple" and unadorned "divine truth", "obvious" on its face. Furthermore, it is demonstrably the case that around the same time as Gregory VII began to rise to power, the discipline of classical rhetoric had been seriously recovered and begun to be practiced, led most strongly by the monks at Monte Cassino. This is no made up objection to certain types of naive presentations of historical matters like 'papal primacy'."

I agree it's not a made-up objection, but it's totally off base since I cited numerous Fathers "being all papal" WELL before Gregory VII (1073-1085). What frustrates me so much about your replies here is that while you claim there is some real meaning "behind" or "beneath" the rhetorical flourishes of, say, these numerous Eastern Fathers, you make no effort to engage what that meaning IS. Tim, you write so regally from Moscow as if you are somehow above and beyond the effects of Eastern papal rhetoric. But it seems to me you're so inoculated against rhetoric that you simply ignore the stripped down impact of what the Tradition says. You’re so immersed in the canonical quagmires of the high medieval era that you seem unwilling to listen to the Tradition BEFORE that period.

Frankly, who cares for the moment whether the Orthodox would say I’ve “misinterpreted” the Fathers. (At any rate, what interpretations did I make? I read and posted what the Fathers say.) How convenient it must be to say (as another commenter on another blog did) "one set of prooftexts deserves another," when OTHERWISE those silly little sets of prooftexts would simply BE the record of Tradition. Let me grapple with the Orthodox objections to being Catholic, Tim; that’s too easy an out for you. The issue is for you, as a Reformed Catholic, to listen to the Tradition prior to Calvin and Ockham and Gregory VII, and honestly face what God says through it. You play the rhetoric card vigorously in your blog rounds and I've very mildly called you on it.

You’re much smarter and better educated than me, Tim, so I’m sure you’ll get the joke the Fathers are telling about Rome. But it breaks my heart to imagine you reflexively deflecting a simple presentation of the Eastern Tradition about the pope just because you’re recovering from your many e-pologetic battles. I must be a complete moron to "fall for" the rhetoric of the Fathers. But thank God he calls the morons of the world.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Riddle me this

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I recently expressed my quandary about ecclesial primacy in contemporary Eastern Orthodoxy. One commenter in particular, Chris Jones, replied at length, which I appreciate. I did however find many of his claims dissatisfying, which is what I'd like to address in this post. I'd first like to express a grave concern that I think Mr. Jones almost scandalously evades. Then I'd like to pose two riddles, or conundra, in regard to some ecclesiological points Mr. Jones made. Finally, I’d like to close with a link to several quotes from the Eastern Christian tradition that support the supreme primacy of Petrine Rome.

First, Mr. Jones's nonchalant attitude towards contraception is deeply troubling. Not only is this an extremely important issue for me as I consider my connubial life in Christ, but it’s all an undeniably important feature of the early Church’s witness. Documentation of that fact would be almost insultingly redundant. The early Church was the anti-contraceptive Church. So, for Mr. Jones to brush contraception off as a merely pastoral issue is as tragic as it is glib.

Questions like this are dealt with between an individual Orthodox and his or her father confessor. ... There is simply no need for a definitive "pronouncement" on this question. ... Frankly, I just don't see contraception as that important an issue. It's a pastoral matter, not a doctrinal one. If the Church doesn't have a discernible consensus on it that really doesn't bother me. ... The Bible doesn't explicitly have a whole lot to say about contraception. It has a good deal to say about sexuality in general and its role within the overall purpose of marriage; but any specific teaching about contraception is the result of inference from the general principles laid out in the Bible. And those inferences are best done in the context of pastoral care rather than "in the abstract."

If I may be blunt: who is Mr. Jones to decide the importance of contraception in the deposit of faith? How arbitrary can he get? Who is he to delineate so casually between mere pastoral issues and clearly dogmatic ones? Why should a modernist, Protestant nonchalance about contraception count as the voice of the Church?

Alas, here we are again at the typical Protestant impasse of solo Scriptura. The Bible is relatively quiet about c-o–t-r-a-c-e-p-t-i-o-n? Well shucks, the Bible doesn’t have much to say about the specifics of the “liturgy” or “ordination” or “monothelitic” “hypostatic union” of Christ or “abortion” or the biblical “canon” or the “theotokos” or “phyletism”, either. In fact, it’s sad to say but the Bible is often MUCH more silent or vague on MANY issues I think we’d all prefer to understand better. Mr. Jones says contraception is merely derived from the clearer, basic principles espoused in the Bible. Well, so are the precise dogmas of Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, etc! All these definitive statements were once just as contested as contraception is (well, outside of Rome).

Even allowing for his, if I’m not mistaken, newly embraced Lutheranism, I think Mr. Jones would agree the proper place of Scripture is IN the Church, to be interpreted BY the Church. I also doubt he’s willing to jettison the clear voice of the patristic tradition on this matter. I’m simply amazed Mr. Jones can so easily ignore the vast amount of opposition in the Christian tradition to contraception, even among the leading Reformers. Of course, treating the Bible as your own will do that to you.

Enough. Now I'd like to pose a couple riddles (not meant for Mr. Jones exclusively or even particularly) about two well-known controversies in the discussion of Roman supremacy. The first is a biblical and theological query, the second a more strictly theological question.

Prolegomena to RIDDLE #1:

Countless Orthodox and Protestants cite Galatians 2 as biblical proof of (at least) two major strikes against Roman supremacy. First, this chapter is claimed to show Paul viewed Peter as a mere co-laborer in Christ, hardly the Prince of the Apostles. Second, and more importantly, this passage is supposed to show that, since Peter was able to err, and did in fact err, then his successors are similarly fallible. So much for papistic presumptions.

Although these objections have been met for centuries, let’s assume they are valid for, you know, the sake of a good riddle. Protestants, almost totally following the allegorical (and thus patristically atypical) excesses of Origen and Augustine, see Peter as the type for ALL Christians. Hence, they are perfectly comfortable granting the fallibility of Peter, since doing so only shows the biblical basis for admitting their own fallibility as mere “Peters after Peter.” Orthodox believers, by contrast, are not comfortable limiting Peter’s biblical type to individual believers. In addition, but perhaps not necessarily in opposition, to Protestant Petrology, Orthodox see Peter as the type for all BISHOPS. And, much like Protestants, they are willing to grant the fallibility of each and every bishop, again as mere Peters after Peter.[1]

But here’s where it gets interesting. For, due in particular to the work of Fr. Nicholas Afanassief (O, who can bear spelling Anglicized Russian names!), a common motif in contemporary Orthodox theology is that each local church is in fact THE Catholic Church. As long as the faithful are gathered under their bishop at the Eucharist, each local church is the full (or catholic) Church. Remember, each bishop is understood as Peter and therefore each Church AS THE CHURCH, in the Eucharist, is founded on that Rock. Rome’s Petrine chrism is, therefore, extraneous to the sufficiently Petrine stability of each parish. The holy and infallible catholic (i.e., complete) Church itself is established on the Rock of Peter, even though the totality of all such churches is not built on the Roman Rock. The global unity of the Church is a nice but, strictly speaking, unnecessary aspect of catholicity.

This so-called “eucharistic ecclesiology” is based very much on the heterogonous ecclesiology of Cyprian (especially his _De unitate ecclesiae_)[2] in his heated feud with Pope Stephen about the re-baptism of heretics. In order to win his case, Cyprian was at great pains to undermine the pope’s PECULIAR Petrine power as a common power for all bishops. In this way, he could circumvent Stephen’s opposition as the voice of one bishop among many, one pesky Peter among the equal Apostles.

But here’s the problem. If the Church lives as a mystically full microcosm of the “whole Church” in each church, each church must be infallible and indefectible. The cardinal marks of the Church – unity, holiness, apostolicity and catholicity – must exist in each local church, otherwise that church is ipso facto not the CATHOLIC Church. And yet, two other essential marks of the Church are its infallibility and indefectibility (or its indefectible infallibility). You cannot simultaneously claim 1) the WHOLE Church is indefectibly infallible, 2) that each Church is THE Church and 3) that each Church is defectible and fallible. Each local church – like every human – must possess the essential fullness of the whole Church – or of humanity in se – or it is not THE CHURCH. Hence, if each local Peter is fallible, but each local church possesses all the marks of the whole Church, then the whole Church is fallible.[3]

RIDDLE #1: If the gates of Hell would never overcome the Rock of Peter, and if each local Church is headed by Peter, how can hells of apostasy overcome a single church without also overcoming the whole Church?

Fortunately, the second riddle is a little easier to present. Mr. Jones claims the ultimate doctrinal authority does not rest in any single bishop or patriarch, let alone in the clergy exclusively. Rather, he says, it is the power and duty of all Christians, lay and ordained, to uphold the truth infallibly. As Mr. Jones says,

When a person is catechized in the Orthodox Church in preparation for baptism and chrismation, the Apostolic Tradition is imparted to him. That is the purpose of catechesis. Once that catechesis is complete and the person is baptized and chrismated, it becomes his responsibility to keep, guard, and pass on that Apostolic Tradition - the Catholic faith in its fulness - without either adding anything or taking anything away.

That responsibility to guard the deposit belongs to the whole Church and also to every Christian individually. It cannot be delegated to any priest, bishop, patriarch, or pope. While it is the office of the bishop to teach the faith and govern his local Church, it is not his responsibility alone to keep the Apostolic Tradition. All of his faithful as well as all of his brother bishops and their faithful are also charged with this responsibility.

Sounds good. No bishop babysitters. No top-down passivity. We are all members of a royal priesthood. We are all living stones in the Church. We are all collegial and equal members of the People of God.

But here’s the tough question. How can each Christian have a legitimate and equal spirirutal authority if it derives from the episcopacy? Mr. Jones says all Orthodox Christians receive and possess the fullness of the Tradition. But he ignores a crucial detail, to wit, the MEANS of this reception. Where or how do Orthodox Christians get this Apostolic fullness? From baptism and chrismation and catechesis BY THE CLERGY established OVER them by Christ. That is, each Christian’s apostolic authority DERIVES FROM and DEPENDS ON the antecedent and sacramentally superior authority of his priest and/or bishop.

Now consider the Roman Catholic Church. The RCC claims each bishop receives his authority FROM CHRIST BY VIRTUE OF his union with the head of the episcopacy, Peter-in-Rome. Each bishop under the pope is a legitimate and authoritative successor of the Apostles, but the pope is to them what Peter was to the Apostles. At this point, however, Orthodox critics say this “papocracy” negates the validity of each bishop, rendering them mere emissaries or functionaries of the Pope, not of Christ. And yet, paradoxically, only moments before we saw how each Christian’s apostolic duties are not nullified by their episcopal origin.

RIDDLE #2: How can a Christian have a valid spiritual authority in Christ if it depends on a bishop, while each bishop cannot have a valid episcopal authority even if it depends on the pope?

Let me close with the link to the many quotes about papal supremacy: here they are.

[1 What I find so electrifying is that the Catholic Church can and does admit the full range of the patristic understanding of Peter: Peter is the layman, the bishop and the pope. Mysterious as it may be, none of them are said to conflict.

[2] “Episcopus unus est, cuius a singulis in soldium pars tenetur.” Strangely enough, the same proponents of this Cyrpian Petrology all too easily ignore his living witness of relying on Rome when the chips were down.

[3] Two handy deliverances from this dilemma for Catholicism are 1) the very guarded acceptance of such “eucharistic ecclesiology” and 2) the derivative infallibility of each local bishop by virtue of his organic union with the ultimate infallibility of the Pope. The original college of the Apostles was obviously and indisputably headed by Peter. Peter, in turn, was obviously and indisputably headed by Christ. Hence, the Apostles were headed by Christ IN the headship of Peter. I am at a loss to explain how that clear structure is not an essential feature of the deposit of faith. It is, by extension, beyond me to see what crucial difference (gradually or suddenly) came to exist between that primal collegial structure and the current episcopacy FROM WHICH IT DERIVED.

Good sex is so hard to find these days

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This is worth dragging out of a combox.

A reader objects to the Catholic position against contraception as an intrinsic evil by saying,

If so then all the celibate monks and priesthood are an expression of this intrinsic evil as any move to positively reject that can be seen as an offence against God.

I reply:

Celibacy is no more contraceptive than holding your breath or being a carpenter. Masturbation, on the other hand, is contraception with two hands; the pill is but masturbation with four hands. Contraception is the prevention or perversion of the intrinsic telos of any coital/connubial act. Celibacy is not a connubial, much less coital, act and is therefore not contraceptive. Celibacy allows for the full expression and enjoyment of all the moral-spiritual goods/gifts of each sexual act a celibate person enters into: which is to say none. You may as well charge a fasting Christian with bulimia; both accusations are equally absurd. Fasting respects the nutritive value of every bit of food -- none -- whereas bulimia rejects and quite literally rverses the telos and benefit of eating. Contraception is sexual bulimia (or maybr the reverse is the greater truth).

Also, to head you off at the pass, reader, neither is NFP contraceptive, since it allows for the full fecund potential of each and every coital act. It merely respects the fact that God has implanted seasons of in- or semi-fertility in women. NFP is 100% potentially procreative, (or, if I may neologize, "procreatable"), even if it is not always actually procreative. Contraception, by contrast, violates all the fecund potential and therefore defies the created order of God. NFP allows a man to give himself FULLY -- fertility and all -- to his wife, while contraception short limits the total self-giving that sex is meant to be.

I refer you to my own thoughts on these matters, if you really want a more rigorous explanation.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Dude, I was there...

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and this is how it all went down. Check it.

First, this dude named Elliot, skinny dude with a funky beard, he asks, "If the ‘true’ Reformed doctrine of, say, the Eucharist is actually much more realist than we’ve ever known, and in fact virtually transubstantial, ... then why won’t Ref Caths admit Rome (by God’s grace) upheld the orthodox position and stop muddying the waters?”

Then this guy called the Pontificator steps in and asks, "Why should we care what Calvin believed about the Eucharist?"

And then, oh man, this Reformed Catholic dude named Paul jumps in to defend the REFORMED aspect of Reformed Catholicism. "To answer the question once and for all: we couldn’t be very good Calvinists if we didn’t ask ourselves, 'What does Calvin think about this?' Hope that clears everthing up."

Yeah, pretty crazy, huh? But, dude, it gets way better, cuz then the Pontificator dude says, "But Paul, why would anyone want to be a Calvinist if he is trying to be a Reformed Catholic? Isn’t the whole point of invoking the word catholic to critically subject the Reformed tradition to the entire Tradition of the Church?"

Pretty dope, huh? But the best, man, the cherry on top of it all, was when that crazy Elliot dude jumps back in with a reassuring explanation of it all. Peace filled the horizon, Bambi's mom never got shot and ambidextrous spreading knives covered the earth.

"Silly Pontificator, it’s simple. We can’t be good Christians unless we are good Calvinists. We can’t be good Calvinists unless we listen to and follow Calvin. We can’t listen to and follow Calvin unless we are good Reformed Catholics. We can’t be good Reformed Catholics unless we interpret Calvin through and beneath the whole catholic tradition. We can’t understand the whole catholic tradition unless we interpret it through and under Calvin. Wait a second, you might be right; this is all a bit off. What am I missing? What link in the chain is missing to make this all more than ecumenical sophistry?"

I'll never forget that night, man. Never. The day the Calvinist praise music died. Oh wait.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

All roads lead to... well?

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Where do all roads lead?

The Eastern Orthodox Church claims to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that Christ established. This is an extensive as well as intensive claim. Extensively, Orthodoxy claims to be the breadth, the whole canvas, of the true Church across both history and geography. Intensively, Orthodoxy claims to be the heart or pure mystical body from which any peripheral Christian activity stems and in which all Christian truth subsists. The Roman Catholic Church and claims very much the same for itself (cf. CCC 811 ff.).

A major difference in their claims, however, is the Roman Pope. Catholics can and should listen with special attention to the See of Rome on all matters, but can also rely on their local bishop for most daily matters of faith. Most of the time, and for most issues, the collegiality of all the bishops worldwide suffices to guard the faithful. However, when things become really dicey, when a crisis of faith looms especially large, Rome is the final stop. RCism does not claim Rome is the sole possessor of truth. It merely claims that, in the heat of battle between heresy and orthodoxy, Rome is the one sure harbor for truth if all other sees fall.

I'm not interested for the moment in judging the merit of this claim. Rather, I wonder what the equivalent harbor for Orthodox Christians is. The most obvious answer is the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Indeed, although it's a false caricature, many people think of this patriarch as "the Orthodox Pope" and that city as the Orthodox Rome. Constantinople seems like a good contender for the "last man standing" in contemporary Orthodoxy, but I think most informed Orthodox would reject such "popish" assurance in Constantinople. Church history is rife with ancient episcopal sees, no matter how ancient or honorable, careening into heresy and there is no reason Constantinople is exempt from this ecclesial law of sin (cf. Romans 7). The frailty, as it were, of each see apart from the indefectible infallibility of the WHOLE Church is, in fact, the basis for Orthodoxy's violent resistance to Rome's supremacy. How dare the lone hand of Rome set itself over the whole Body of Christ? Orthodox deny the whole Church should submit to the decrees of Rome. Of course, the same denial can and should be held against Constantinople, or any other see. After all, why should (let alone why must) a Russian Orthodox submit to the whims of a Mediterranean patriarch over against his own Muscovite patriarch?

I witnessed a very interesting discussion on an Orthodox blog about the current shabbiness of Orthodox missions. The blogger asked why Moscow is not doing more to evangelize Africa. A commenter replied that Moscow has no reason, not to mention very little collegial right, to intrude on the Alexandrian patriarchate over Africa. The commenter makes a very good point. Alexandria is Alexandria; Moscow is not; so, with all due respect, back off.

But then I began wondering why Moscow, ex hypothesi, could not intervene with full authority to rebuke and restore Alexandria from a scourge of heresy? If Moscow must be more or less hands off about Alexandria's missions, how could the former be any more hands on about preserving the latter, or anyone else, from heresy? It's one thing to have practical problems evangelizing. It's another to deny the deity of Christ or the resurrection of Christ.

These are easy cases, however. What if a bishop, call him Harrius, is advancing novel and extremely nuanced claims about very controversial matters in the Tradition? And what if there is not a clear canon or dogma already "on the books" to address his subtle maneuverings? What if his heresy truly was an open question? What if, to keep it simple, half the Eastern sees were against him and half for him? In that hairy case, what Eastern see COULD intervene in a supreme manner without infringing on the collegial autonomy of each bishop, no matter how heretical he APPEARS to be? Who has final say?

Forget the larger Church scene for the moment. Let's get personal. My basic question is this: when it really comes down to it, what see of the Eastern Church MUST a man, such as myself, listen to in order to be saved from all heresy? Who MUST each and every Orthodox believer listen to in that great day of heresy? Who has final say?

I know the correct answer is “God the Holy Spirit.” Yes indeed, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate authority in the Church. I accept that awesome truth; but I need to know a little (or a lot!) better what that truth means in the all too concrete world God has placed me in. How, exactly, does the Holy Spirit speak? All I can muster is the following chain of revelation – and then I short-circuit.

The Holy Spirit speaks (to the world and to Christians) in the human conscience.
The Holy Spirit speaks in the Bible over the conscience.
The Holy Spirit speaks in the Bible with and in Tradition (BiT) over the conscience.
The Holy Spirit speaks in the BiT in a local church over the conscience.
The Holy Spirit speaks in the BiT in a local church within the whole global and mystical Church.

And then? What happens when the whole Church is rent asunder with divisions and heresy? What happens when the local church is divided into factions? What happens when the BiT is up for grabs by every theologian, bishop, layman, apologist and skeptic? What happens when the conscience is clouded and wounded by sin? Who speaks for God when all do? Who has final say? Try as I might to "see the big picture," I regret that the Orthodox answer, of a global consensus (a la Vincent of Lerins), or of a mystical Eucharistic wholeness in each church (a la Afanassiev), strikes me as an elegant but ultimately useless abstraction.

I mean all of this very sincerely and very humbly. I am looking for my Lord and Savior, the Truth. I eagerly invite any and all Orthodox readers (or anyone else) to shed some light on my plight.

The doorway into orthodoxy

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[I just posted this over at Dave Armstrong's blog, but thought it might enjoy stretching its legs here at FCA.]

My persistent confusion in these Reformed Catholicism discussions is this:

If the "true" Reformed doctrine of, say, the Eucharist is actually much more realist than we’ve ever known, and in fact virtually transubstantial (as Dr Owen admitted to me on another blog), then why won't Ref Caths admit Rome (by God's grace) upheld the orthodox position and stop muddying the waters? It’s clear what objections Rome (and Constantinople) still (rightly) has against the Reformed view of the Eucharist: no worship, no propitiation or expiation, no sacramental endurance (of Christ in the elements). These are real lacunae in the Reformed view that Rome has every right to hold out on.

But what major issues on the Reformed side still prevent Refs from acceding to the Roman (and effectively Eastern Orthodox) view? Worship of Christ? Nope. Christ’s actual and efficacious presence in (or by) the elements demands it. The epiclesis versus the exact words of institution? Nope. That’s a rabbit hole and over exaggerated between many EOs and RCs. A propitiatory offering? Nope. When God sees the crucified Christ interceding for sinners as He is lifted up by them, either at Calvary or in the Mass, God is propitiated and our sins expiated.

Or maybe the true obstacle is that all too “technical” concept of transubstantiation? But even this is a non sequitur, since it's not the case -- and never was the aim of the Tridentine Fathers -- that transubstantiation EXHAUSTS the dogmatic dimensions of the Eucharist. As the Pontificator has expressed so often so well, transubstantiation merely guards the bare essentials for any orthodox understanding of the Eucharist. Transubstantiation is the doorway into the house of orthodox Eucharistic worship; it is not the house itself. Transubstantiation allows for all that the magisterial Reformed theory of the Eucharist may express, but ALSO demands more than they can grant in accordance with the WHOLE catholic tradition.

Rome is either wrong about the Eucharist or she’s right. If the former’s true, then there’s every reasons to excoriate the Mass as vituperatively as the Reformers (apparently!) did. If the latter’s true, however, it’s sheer perfidy to seek an “alternate” or “reformed” orthodox theory of the Eucharist from the SAME tradition Rome and the East have so clearly shown to declare what the Reformers rejected, namely Christ’s actual, living, substantial, enduring, hypostatically incarnate, propitiatory and venerable Body and Blood. I prefer not to ride Calvin’s magic sacramental carpet woven of threads from obscure passages in Tertullian or Cyprian or Augustine. I’d rather side with the vast testimony not only of the majority of what the majority of the Fathers said, but also, perhaps more importantly, with the countless believers who worshipped Christ in the Eucharist as transubstantiation and the Catholic Mass and the Orthodox Liturgy demand.

Deutsche Hausaufgabe

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Had my first class tonight with Pheong ("Fong"), my Taiwanese-born, half-Vietnamese Austrian German tutor. (Inhale!) It was nice to converse almost 90 minutes straight in German. My German is, sad to say, rusty ("eingerostet"), but I definitely got by, and the next 23 lessons should do wonders.

My assignment for next week is to translate into English the following news article from Der Spiegel Online. For the beneift of any sickos that read FCA, I'll post the article and my tentative first draft translation paragraph by paragraph. Double asterisks indicate squeaky spots in need of some linguistic oil.

Here we go (Los geht's!):

SPIEGEL ONLINE - 10. November 2004, 00:17

US-Minister Ashcroft und Evans zurückgetreten

U.S. leaders Ashcroft and Evans step down

Nur wenige Tage nach der US-Wahl beginnen die Umbauten im Kabinett Bush. Der erzkonservative Justizminister John Ashcroft und Handelsminister Donald Evans haben ihren Rücktritt eingereicht. Ihr Abgang gilt als Auftakt zu einer groß angelegten Personal-Rochade in der Mannschaft des Präsidenten.

Only days after the U.S. election, renovations of Bush’s cabinet are underway. The archconservative Attorney General, John Ashcroft, and the trade minister**, Donald Evans, have submitted** their resignations. Their step back** is a sign** of a long delayed** personal-rochade** in the president’s team**.

Washington - "Der Präsident hat die Rücktrittsgesuche angenommen", sagte Sprecher Scott McClellan. Der Abgang Ashcrofts, 62, war von vielen Beobachtern erwartet worden, er war einer der umstrittensten Funktionsträger in der Regierung von US-Präsident Bush.

Washington – “The President has accepted the pleas** for resignation,” Speaker Scott McClellan said. Many observers had anticipated the resignation** of Ashcroft, 62, one of the most disputed members** of U.S. President Bush’s government.

Seinen Anhängern galt der Minister als unermüdlicher Kämpfer gegen den Terrorismus. Für die oppositionellen Demokraten war er dagegen ein Symbol der konservativen Revolution, ein Mann ohne Respekt vor Bürgerrechten und Verfassung. Während seiner Amtszeit war er unter anderem für die Bundespolizei FBI zuständig und immer wieder unter Druck geraten. Unter anderem hatten Kritiker der Polizeibehörde vorgeworfen, wichtige Warnsignale vor den Terroranschlägen des 11. September nicht beachtet zu haben. Mitarbeiter hatten Ashcroft bereits seit einiger Zeit als "erschöpft" beschrieben, Gesundheitsprobleme zwangen den Minister zu Krankenhausaufenthalten.

To his supporters, the attorney general was** an untiring warrior** against terrorism. Democrats, by contrast, opposed him as a symbol of the conservative revolution, a man without any respect for civil rights and constitution**. During his time in office, he was among other things responsible** for the FBI’s federal police and repeatedly under pressure. Among other things** critics accused the police forces of having ignored important warning signs before the terrorist attack on September 11. Ashcroft’s staff** had described him for some time as “exhausted.” Health problems forced him to hospital stays.**

Bush brauche bei den Verhandlungen mit den Demokraten über die kontroversen Gesetze zur inneren Sicherheit keinen Polarisierer und "Terminator", sondern einen Vermittler, schreibt die Zeitschrift "U.S News&World Report". Aussichtsreichster Nachfolger sei Ashcrofts früherer Vize Larry Thompson, der als erster Schwarzer dieses Regierungsamt übernehmen könnte.

The news magazine “U.S. News&World Report” said Bush needed a mediator, rather than a polarizer and „terminator“, to discuss the controversial domestic security laws with Democrats. The most likely/ hopeful** replacement is Ashcroft’s former vice attorney general, Larry Thompson, who could be the first black person to receive** this government position.

Ashcroft hat seine Entscheidung in einem fünfseitigen handschriftlichen Brief begründet. In dem Schreiben betonte der konservative Politiker, dass die Amerikaner vor Kriminalität und Terror erfolgreich geschützt worden seien. Nun sei es an der Zeit, eine "neue Führung und frische Inspiration" im Justizministerium zu installieren. Auch Handelsminister Donald Evans hat seinen Rücktritt eingereicht. Der Mann aus Texas ist einer der engsten Freunde von Präsident Bush und galt als möglicher Nachfolger von Finanzminister John Snow, falls dieser demnächst abtreten sollte. In einem Abschiedsbrief schrieb Evans, es sei Zeit für ihn, "nach Hause zurückzukehren".

Ashcroft declared** his decision in a five-page handwritten letter. The conservative politician emphasized that Americans have been successfully protected from criminality and terror. Now is the time to install a “new leadership and fresh inspiration” in the attorney general’s office**. Trade minister** Donalad Evans also submitted his resignation. Evans, from Texas, is one of the closest friends of President Bush and stands** succeed finance minister**, John Snow, should Snow resign. In a farewell letter Evans wrote it is time for him to “return home.”

Als unsicher gilt auch die Zukunft von Heimatschutzminister Tom Ridge, Außenminister Colin Powell und Verteidigungsminister Donald Rumsfeld. Die Rücktritte von Ashcroft und Evans erfolgten einen Tag nachdem Präsident Bush von seinem Wochenenddomizil Camp David nach Washington zurückgekehrt war. Während seines Aufenthalts dort wollte Bush über mögliche Kabinettsumbildungen nachdenken.

Also uncertain are the futures of Homeland Security Chief**, Tom Ridge, foreign minister**, Colin Powell, and defense minister, Donald Rumsfeld. The resignations of Ashcroft and Evans came a day after President Bush had returned to Washington from his weekend retreat**, Camp David. During his time stay, Bush wanted to consider possible cabinet changes**.

Und das ist das.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Augustine (more or less) Day by Day - November 10 - Warming the Cold One

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"Hence, you who are fervent in spirit, be enkindled with the fire of love. Let your lives glow with the praises of God and irreproachable morals. One person is hot, another cold. Let the one who is hot warm the cold."

-- Sermon 234, 3

Prayer. Glory to our Lord and to his mercy and to his truth! Out of his mercy he did not fail to make us blessed, nor did he hide from us his truth. The Truth, clad in flesh, came to us and healed through his flesh the inner eye of our heart, that afterward we might be able to see him face to face.

-- Commentary on Psalm 56, 17

November 10

Christian Heritage - November 10 - Take Pride in the Title of Christian

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"If with faith and religious feeling you take pride in the title of Christian, value the grace of this reconciliation at its true worth. Once you were cast off, driven from paradise, dying in weary exile. Reduced to dust and ashes, you have no further hope of life; but now through the incarnation of the Word you have the power to return from afar to your Creator, to recognize your Father, to be freed from slavery, and raised from the status of a stranger to that of a child. You were born with a nature liable to decay, but now you can be reborn through the Spirit of God and obtain by grace what you lacked by nature. You need have no doubt that if you keep the terms of your engagement in the heavenly army, you will receive the victor's crown in the triumphant camp of the eternal King. You will rise again with the just to enter into the fellowship of the kingdom of heaven."

Leo the Great, Sermo 11 in nativitate Domini 5: SC 22, 88-90

True assurance of salvation consists in the assurance of BEING saved AS you attain salvation.

It has arrived! Tradedat!

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I finally got a copy of Cdl. Yves Congar's magnum opus, _Tradition and Traditions_. I'm pleased with my copy, a nice, new hardcover editon from Basilica. It's printed on a clean, thick grade of paper with substantial margins. (Hey, I'm a book geek. By Thor's anvil, I even wrote an article on bookbinding!) It's chockful of untranslated Latin and Greek, oh boy! Sacred bliss, now it can stand on my bookshelf among the *other* countless unread magna operis [Latin buffs?]! One day, one day. ("I'll get you, Hey Steve, if it's the last thing I dooooooo!")

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Gearing up

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In the next few days, I intend to email several people, which have expressed willingness in dialoguing with me, some questions about the "pros and cons" (hideous turn of phrase, but there it is) of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, particularly as each sees the other. I know a handful of Orthodox folks and some Catholics that I want to dig into the big issues with.

While I'm drafting that letter, I implore you, O kind and wise readers, to suggest any good Q's you think I should ask. As in, what are the big hurdles for Orthodoxy and Catholicism, respectively? What are the strong cases each has "over" the other? The follwong are the skeltons of what I plant to send:

+ the differences between Trinitarian simplicity vs. Trinitarian relations (and their importance for other issues)

+ caesaropapism vs. papism

+ tollhouses vs. purgatory

+ baptism, confirmation and paedocommunion

+ confession (to a priest or bishop) and penance

+ original sin: how does the (Augustinian) penal view nullify the (Orthodox) existential/corruption view? If Mary was subject to original sin (in the latter snese), was Christ, then, also subject to it?

+ a primacy of honor without a primacy of power -- really? how so?

+ the warning of falling away given to the church of ROME (cf. Romans 11)...

+ the deuterocanonicals -- inspired or not?

+ how or why should Marian dogmas be kept apart from the total, binding kerygma?

+ where is the infallible "mouth" of the infallible Church?

PLEASE leave your objections, questions or suggestions here.

Thanks and good night! (Does this post make any sense?)

Second Annual International Beard-A-Thon (2004)!!!

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I doubt many of you readers know about last year's Beard-A-Thon. (If you followed the link, you now know, even if you still don't care to.)

Well, it's that glorious time of year again. I, Elliot "Gulag Fry Cook" Bougis[1], last shaved at 1 AM on 1 November. I will not shave again, except for some licit and minimal throat edging, until January 1, 2005.[2] Due to laziness, fatigue and sloppiness on my part, I will not be able to submit an initial photo, but I do plan to post the two-week, one-month and two-month-finale shots. I'm debating submitting a one-week start-up shot, resubmitting last year's first pic[3], or using my DigiMe portrait[4] to dramatic ironic effect.

Now it's time for Erick "The Mexican Broom" Banks[5], that slacker youth, to get this year's event online. He's trying to make it a charitable pledge effort, which is cool. (Won't you be my Beard Pledge?) ATTN READERS: Any good ideas about what charity I could drive for? I have every hope of taking Fullest Beard again this year, but expect another serious run for my whiskers by Devin "Deep Follicle" Kaun[6].


[2] Yes, I have a visible adam's apple, so I'm not disqualified by the Ancient Canons of Hirsute Maledom{TM}.





The Kingdom of Dog, the Kingdom of God

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As has been the case for the past few weeks, I've been doing so much living I haven't had much time to reflect on it by writing. What of all this living? First, last week was very invigorating, until Friday. I had been full of energy all week, but began unraveling (or raveling) Thursday night. I stayed up much too late Thursday night catching up on the election and went to bed kicking myself. (Yes, the next morning I was sore.) Despite all the sleep I got Tuesday and Wednesday nights last week and Friday and Saturday nights this weekend, I have been oppressed by a constant low-grade fatigue with a nagging sore throat. I've avoided the gym so as not to "over do it" in my "weakened state," but have decided to go the other way tomorrow and smoke out my unhealthful torpor with exercise (my usual method). I’ve also been busy with a few teaching assignments on the burner, but managed to put them off until Sunday night and tonight.

Happily, Fr. Ramon was able to stop by Saturday afternoon. We had a very good talk, as usual. He called me a "classic example" of someone guided predominantly by my intellect. The brain is marvelous, but it is a marvelous machine. It must be put in the service of the whole person being put in the service of God. As any regular readers should have noticed, very much of my RCIA process has been a pastoral and emotional "inner pilgrimage." This inner regress is vital to my theological progress, since I can never really give my self to God in His Church unless I can actually give ALL of my self – emotions, intellect and body – to Him. This inward journey to God involves peaks of self-awareness and valleys of utter confusion, prairies of acceptance and deserts of shame. It also involves the subjugation of my mind to a rightful position in the tripartite balance of healthy personhood. In English, I've been learning to listen to my emotions and imaginative hopes as valid means, or modes, of knowing God, even at the expense of my rational hemming and hawing.

The most bizarre epiphany I've had on the journey is that I am afraid of, or at least very skeptical of, happiness. No joke: I fear happiness. This is not to say I don't like happiness as an intensive sensation brought about by particular events or things. It is to say that I fear making happiness a pervasive, sustained feature of my life. I evade accepting happiness, even construed most highly as spiritual joy, as a real blessing from God. The easy way to look at it is that I'm all too stoical. I need to lighten up; not take myself so seriously; learn to smile at the smiling, not analyze them. At a deeper level it means I am petrified about the lived, incarnational, rooted and concrete rhythms of enjoying life as a continual encounter with God in Christ. I studiously, albeit not always so consciously, avoid acknowledging my needs as a mere mortal; and then even when I acknowledge my needs, I just as carefully avoid taking paths that would fulfill those needs. This is, to put it mildly, a problem. To live is to live in Christ and to live in Christ is to live as Christ. He is the Resurrection and the Life because was first the Loss and the Death. Christ did not fear happiness; He loved it so much, in fact, that He died on the Cross to attain it for Himself and us. I, on the other hand, fear happiness so much that I take up a thousand smaller crosses to avoid that one life- and joy-giving Cross of Christ. Hence, my problem.

But this weekend I took a step toward solving it. Friday night as I walked to the English Corner, I saw a tiny black and white puppy in the window. I of course asked how much that doggy in the window is. Expensive. Move on, I told myself, even though the scent of sheer, transcendent and literally gratuitous happiness kept clutching me. I rejected the puppy as a silly extravagance and tried to get on with getting on. Then, that evening, I had a crippling experience exactly about my fear of happiness and forgot about the little dog for the night.

The next morning I mentioned the little dog to a very good friend of mine and expressed how much I'd wanted to buy him. "Don't do it," she told me, knowing me better than I'd like to admit, "you'll regret it. He'll take away from you Internet and reading time." Eureka! Life comes by giving; giving means giving up; and caring for another life means giving up your own. The dog was an adorable cross of Christ and I knew I needed to take him up, daily. My time with Fr. Ramon a few hours later only reinforced this principle. I need a concrete living expression of God’s goodness as well as a living, concrete outlet for my egocentric energy. I need to empty myself, of intellectualism and navel-gazing, even if only on a puppy for the time being.

So, immediately after Fr. Ramon left Saturday, I ran to embrace God’s gift, the happiness of emptiness. I withdrew some cash, returned to that dog shop and bought my new little friend, Dane, without a second thought. (His full name is Lesser Dane.) He’s a miniscule and outrageously cute two-month old Chihuahua puppy. I’ll have pictures up insh’allah as soon as my other blog server lets me post them.

That’s right. I, Elliot Bougis, bought an expensive (!) two-month old Chihuahua puppy. Because he makes me happy. Because he makes my friends happy too. Because he is one of the countless good things in God’s good creation and deserves to be enjoyed for that reason alone. Because he forces a structure of giving into my life. Because I have to wake up and go to bed (i.e., get offline!) a little earlier to feed him. Because I have to “waste” time giving him love.

I’ve never been much of a pet person, but owning this dog is not about being a pet person; it’s about being a disciple of Christ. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but buying and owning Dane is an act of faith. I needed something to take care of. I needed more life in my life. I needed to empty myself on something that only understands taking. Little Dane is a strange symbol of myself these days, of what I’m learning to do: grow down. He is a puppy and he merits the Kingdom of Dog for that very reason; I am a wizened young man and foreclose the Kingdom of God to myself for that very reason. God opened His Kingdom for humankind by becoming a baby; I believe He can open it for me by giving me a puppy.

Dane has led me to some deep thoughts – among other things, about the accepting and rejecting goodness as doing the same to God Himself, about the flaws of most teleological and intelligent design apologetics, and about God’s various angels – but those words will find their place here at FCA in due time. Dane has eaten and peed. He’s now sleeping. I’ve completed most of my teaching tasks. You’re now reading. It’s time for me to sleep. I must decrease that He may increase in me and in the world; and I must decrease that He may increase me in Him. Christ is now reigning. The Kingdom of God awaits me, a puppy.