Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Pontificatorial build-up

[I'm at the library -- free Internet! -- and I wanted to get this on-blog before I go. I'd prefer to edit it, but time is not on my side right now. The original thread can be found here.

The brouhaha started when Fr. Al, Papal Ponty, said, "The pope hypostatizes the skandalon that is the Catholic Church...." and then Michael Liccione replied with, "You have summed it up marvelously: ... he is 'the rock on which so many stumble.' I am reminded of nothing so much as 1 Corinthians 1: 23-24."[1]

Then Michael Patrick replied with pious idignation, "The frightening words come out. In addition to Peter re-incarnate the Pope is “the rock on which so many stumble”. Having Peter’s place isn’t enough? ... THE SCANDAL IS THAT GOD DIED.... I am out of words. May the Lord have mercy."

Later, Charles Ashworth said, "I don’t have the book {JP II's *Crossing the Threshold of Hope* -- EBB} and don’t know if I ever will get a chance to read it. But this bit [about the divine scandal of the pope -- EBB] seems curiously anachronistic. Where is the evidence that anyone in the first five centuries or so was scandalized by the papacy?" Then I joined in with the following.]

Michael P:

I can "feel" your reflexive indignation at Michael L's words -- but I also think it was just that: reflexive revulsion rather than a reflective response (not to mention probably also a source of renewed gratitude for having "escaped" the Roman Man-God system of your early days). Alas, I agree with Michael L and believe you have falsely dichotmized and rejected what he (and the Catholic Church) is getting at. Michael L can, obviously, speak for himself (and has in fact done so), but I would simply like to add on to what Fr. Newman more or less said: it was CHRIST HIMSELF who so scandalously intertwined his minstry with that of his Apostles. "As I have been sent so I send you." "Whoever receives or rejects you, receives or rejects me." "Whatsoever you bind or loose..." Etc. Michael L was, as a Catholic, working from uncotestably biblical grounds: Christ Jesus chose to blur the lines between himself and his Apostles in His post-resurrection Kingdom and that blurring carries over to our holiness, our intercession, our mercy, AND our scandals.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is referring to the "aorist" historical events of Christ's passion which *now* divinely substantiate *and model* his own ministry. Far from dichomtoizing his stumbling-blockiness and the Lord's, Paul is demonstrating the divine basis and energy for his own scandlizing blockiness. Paul was called to bear the marks of Christ and to speak with the voice of God (cf. Gal 6 and 2 Cor 5) -- which obviously made him a stumbling (and persecuted) block to the world just like Jesus (see the book of Acts!). Indeed, all Xians are called to be united with Christ's suffering, which necessarily means we will be persecuted more and more as we become skandaloi to the world.

In the same vein, need I remind you it was Ignatius of Antioch who said the bishop was to be honored and obeyed AS God, AS the LORD Jesus Christ (cf. Letter to Magnesians 2, 6, 13; Letter to Trallians 2, 3, 7)? Obviously, neither he nor I nor Michael L nor the Church would say the bishop or the Pope really ARE "numerically identical" to the Father or Jesus, but -- well, there really is something scandalous in how incarnated God made the Church. Does not the East agree the priest is an alter Christus, or is that just a Western misconception? We can hardly presume to separate Christ from his crucified scandalizing power (hence Peter's rebuke in Matthew 16). Why then should we insist a priest, bishop or pope's alter-Christus-ness is bereft of the same Chrstilike scandalizing power?

Now, to augment Michael L's original comment a bit, what it comes down to for me, among numerous other issues, is this: since we agree Jesus is "actualized" (or "hypostasized" or "punctualized") in the bishop of a local church - in some way or other! -- how can this same "maximal actualization" fail to obtain for the Church as a whole, historical-present reality? I believe Peter's local coryphaeic headship can and must carry over to the whole Church. Since Peter is realized in each church at each Eucharist, I am a Catholic largely because I believe he is also present in the Church for the whole Churhc worshipping in Eucharistic unity. And when it comes down to it, that's pretty much all the Church is getting at with the truth of the papacy: God ordained a head for the whole Church just as wisely and concretely as he does so for each local church. If eucharistic ecclesiology (a la Affanasieff, Zizioulas, et al.) does not vitiate Christ's unique transcendent authority in each local church, I simply fail to see how Catholic ecclesiology vitiates it for the whole Church.

Charles Ashworth:

Was anyone scandalized by the dogma of homoousios before 325? (Or pick some other early dogma, if you like.) No; but did that irruption of scandal signal the dogma was a novel perversion of the faith? Such was the claim of the Arians. I apply the same kind of thinking to the papacy and therefore think your well-meaning concern about the increase of papal controversy is mostly wihtout traction. I take it for granted the "development of scandal" (a la Palamite, #21 ;)) is historically and theologically coterminous with the development of doctrine -- and yet find the former to be as unhelpful as I find the latter to be helpful for discerning the Tradition.

More specifically, I think the Catholic Church's *total and enduring* attitude towards the papacy more authentic and more Traditional than the EOC's. Any Church that can, did and still does venerate Hormisdas, Leo the Great and Gregory the Great AS WELL AS the medieval popes AND the modern popes is, by my lights, simply less schizophrenic, simply more one, simply more catholic. By contrast, any Church that (at least techincally...) still enshrines those early popes in its liturgy and canons YET execrates their predecessors -- who carried on the papalist foundation Horm, Leo, Greg et al. had laid -- seems less consistent, less one, less catholic. Leo the Great is an Orhtodox saint yes -- but quite frankly where is his remarkable papalism in the EOC today? It's just not there -- but it is in the Catholic Church. Hence, I'm a Catholic, not an Orthodox. (I refer you to two pieces on my blog about these ideas: and the lengthier ).


I see a great irony, a sort of strategic crisis, among the Orthodox I've dialogued with. Fr. Al wrote in an earlier post that one of the salient differences for him (and presumably for the world) between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is that the former clearly, repeatedly, and offensively speaks as if it really were the voice of God here and now. His claim was met with a good bit of ridicule and skepticism by EOs (and maybe some Prots, I forget) in that thread. Why? Because according to them the EOC is just as offensive and demanding and uncompromising as the RCC as the Apostles as God.

But here's the funny thing. On the one hand, numerous EOs insist the EOC speaks with the same scandalizing air of authority as the RCC. On the other hand, numerous EOs, here and in print, denounce the RCC's totalitarian, monistic, juridical, "mechanistic" authority as inimical to the true collegial, pluralistic, organic, pneumatic authority of the orthodox Church. (I have not fabricated any of these words; they come straight from various dialgoues, essays and books I've read.) Fr. Jordan Bajis, for example, argues that the EOC does not need and therefore does not have any singular "structure" of authority, since such a contrivance is a humanistic, rationalistic Western corruption of the Eastern, truly Xian authority of the SPIRIT in and through the Church (a la Khomiakov). But then come along the monks of Athos, or various patriarchates, and denounce anything in sight as if with the very authority of God.

Perhaps you can sense my confusion. Does the EOC speak with same living, dogmatizing, anathematizing, hierarchical authority as the RCC -- or does it not? Which is it? If it's the former, then I think we should lay off on the "totalitarian thundering" canards about Rome. If it's the latter, though, I think we need to grant Fr. Al's basic point: apart from WHAT each Churhc says on X Y or Z, a crucial heuristic element is facing HOW each Church says it. Like the Apostles or like the WCC?

Now, I should point out that in saying this, I haven't relied on the "typical Catholic cheap shot" of saying the EOC speaks with "no unanimity" or that its autocephalism is actually just "chaotic" polycephalism. That issue is its own barrels of poo, and I think it can't just be dismissed. But, at present, the question I'm posing (honestly, humbly, for EO readers) is: what distinguishes the East's presumed air of authority from the West's (as Fr. Al highlighted it)?

I realize saying any or all of may just harden lines and may sound like I'm saying to EOs that "your Church sucks" and "you guys lie about the Tradition" but that's not my aim. I believe there is a difference between material and formal heresy and so I am not saying every Orthodox believer really truly is a deceitful, nefarious, schizophrenic schismatic.

[1] To be fair, Michael L's literally scandalous words need to be read in the larger context of what elese he said in the same comment, to wit:

How does the Church relevantly recapitulate the scandal and stumbling block of the Cross? Some would say “by martyrdom,” and in a sense they would be right. But of course there are several forms of martyrdom that all Christians approve (at least in principle) and even the world occasionally admires: persecution and death for upholding the Faith, loving self-sacrifice and self-conquest in daily life. Such are not terribly controversial, and hence are not scandals and stumbling blocks in the relevant sense. What remains a scandal and stumbling block for Christian and non-Christian alike is an inescapable fact about the Church herself, clear right from her birth: that God has committed the sacred mysteries, and thus the authority to teach in his name about them, to sinful men. ...

To borrow a term coined by one of my teachers, the late mythologist Theodor Gaster, such [the divisiveness of the papacy -- EBB] is where the scandal of the Church is “punctualized,” i.e. concentrated at a single point. On the Catholic account, the Petrine charism of the bishops, each of whom is “a” vicar of Christ, is anchored and sustained by being maximally embodied in a single person who exercises Petrine jurisdiction even over bishops. That is one pole of the spiritual polarity that defines the “hierarchy,” the “sacred order” of the Catholic Church; the other is the the Marian charism of the faithful, anchored and sustained by a single person, the Theotokos herself, who maximally embodies it and thus acts efficaciously as Mother of the Church as well as of God the Son, of which the Church is the Mystical Body. That is why the Catholic doctrines of Mary and the Papacy are the most widely reviled of all the Church’s doctrines. Many people just cannot abide the idea that something essential to the structure of the Church is maximally embodied in visible, specific individuals who thus possess an authority no other Christian does.

Hear hear!

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