Saturday, May 21, 2011

What Makes the Catholic Church 'Catholic'?

Is it her people, her leadership, her beliefs?  The term catholic usually means universal, so one would think it's her 1 billion plus people spread throughout the world. 

However, I recently pointed out that an overwhelming majority of Catholics use birth control.  (link)  Does this mean the Catholic Church is OK with birth control?  Matthew Bellisario responded by pointing me to an earlier post he had written where he claimed all Christians up till the 1930's rejected birth control. 

All Christians up until the 1930s interpreted this text as referring to Onan's punishment of death [Genesis 38 7:9] by his act of “coitus interruptus.” (link)

I responded by quoting Jovinianus' alternative explanation in the 4th century (link).

Matthew then made an interesting move; backing away from his claim of 'all Christians' to 'every Christian group'. 

every Christian group before the 1930 interpreted this passage the way I am interpreting it. (link)

So what is a church group?  Given that 1) the Catholic church group rejects birth control and 2) most Catholics use birth control, one might think a church group is not really about her people, but rather her leadership. Rome's leadership is so small a group compared to the whole Catholic church that they are statistically insignificant - and in this case they don't represent most Catholics. 

Recently Matthew Bellisario added another wrinkle, by posted that Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox are united in Christ due to their common belief of the real presence in the mass. (link) So there's a connection between the East and West that transcends leadership differences; since the East does not recognize the Pope as their leader.  So if it's not her people or her leadership, what makes the Catholic church 'Catholic'?

I think Matthew's move here undermines a fundamental principle of Roman Catholicism - namely the epistemic priority of the Church over doctrine.  Indeed, for a Catholic to know some doctrine is true, they must first know it's approved by the Church.  In some cases knowing the Church teaches something is sufficient to know it's true, without further inquiry.  This is of course contrary the the scriptural model of 'search the scriptures' or teach then baptize, but it's also at odds with Matthew's finding unity across Church boundaries, which seems to invite people to examine doctrine first, then look for the Church.  How could Rome stand up doctrines such as the assumption of Mary based on the evidence rather than her authority?
Of course, the right answer here is that the catholic church is all those who are assembled to Christ by the call of the Gospel. (Hebrews 12:22-24) Other than that, the bible simply speaks of individual, local congregations as churches.

11 comments:

Jnorm said...

How did Saint Ignatius understand the word way back in 110A.D.?

Also how did the signers of Constantinople 1 in 381 A.D. understand the word?

Godismyjudge said...

Jnorm,

I think Ignatius understood it as the people of God spread throughout the world. As for the fathers understanding that truth has epistemic priority over the church:


Chrysostom "A Gentile comes and says, I wish to become a Christian, but I know not to whom to join myself. There are among you many contentions, seditions and tumults, I know not what dogma to select, what to prefer. Individuals say, I speak the truth, I know not which to believe, since I am ignorant of the Scriptures, and they cover over both the same, indeed this is much for us. For if we should say we believe reasons, deservedly would you be disturbed; but since we receive the Scriptures, these are simple and true, it would be easy for you to judge—if anyone agrees with them, he is a Christian, if anyone fights against them, he is far from this rule" ("Homily 33," Acts of the Apostles [NPNF1,11:210-11; PG 60.243-44]).

"Where faith is, there is the church; where faith is not, there the church is not" (Chrysostom, "Homilia sexta," Opus imperfectum: eruditi commentarii in evangelium Matthaei [PG 56.673]).

"When heresy, which is the army of Antichrist, obtains, there is no proof of the church, except only by the Scriptures" (Chrysostom, "Homilia 49*," Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum [PG 56.908-9]).


Jerome "The church does not consist in walls, but in the truth of doctrines. The church is there, where true faith is. But fifteen or twenty years before, all these walls of the churches here held heretics. The church, however, was there, where true faith was" (Breviarium in Psalmos [PL 26.1296] on Ps. 133).

Ambrose: "The faith there­fore of a church especially is commanded to be sought, in which if Christ is a dweller, it is undoubtedly to be chosen, but if the people are faithless or a heretical teacher deforms the dwelling, the communion of heretics is to be avoided, it is to be considered a synagogue to be shunned" (Expositions in LMcam 6.68 [PL 15.1772] on Lk. 9:5).

Augustine: "Let us not hear, I say this, you say that; but let us hear, the Lord says this. There are indeed Dominical books, in whose authority we both agree, we both believe, we both observe. There let us seek the church; there let us decide our cause" (Contra Donatistas: De Unitate Ecclesiae 3.5 [PL 43.394]).

"To salvation itself and eternal life no one comes, except him who has the Head, Christ. No one, however, could have the Head, Christ, except him who was in his body, which is the church, which we ought to recognize as the head itself in the sacred canonical Scriptures; not to seek it in the various rumors and opinions of men, and in their deeds and words. Let them demonstrate their church if they can, not in the discourses and rumors of Africans, not in the councils of their bishops, not in the writings of any disputants, not in deceitful signs and wonders. But in the prescription of the law, in the predictions of the prophets, in the singing of Psalms, in the words of the shepherd himself, in the preaching of the evangelists, i.e., in all the canonical authorities of the sacred books" (ibid,, 18* .47 [PL 43.427-28]).

"In the Scriptures we have learned Christ, in the Scriptures we have learned the church, we have these Scriptures in common, why shall we not retain both Christ and the church in them?" (Letter 105, "To the Donatists" [FC 18:206; PL 33.401]).

God be with you,
Dan

Jnorm said...

The word Catholic has two meanings. It's primary meaning is fullness or wholeness. It's secondary meaning is worldwide. I believe Saint Ignatius was using it in reference to fullness/wholeness and not necessarily worldwide. Although the word can mean both things.


Thanks for the quotes!

Jnorm said...

Dan,

Scripture calls the Church the foundation of the truth. Also when Saint John Chrysostom talks about Scripture in that way he is not looking at Scripture as being something that is naked from the rule of Faith of the Church. What I mean by rule of Faith is the interpretive grid.

Also back in those days most Schismatics were very similar to the Orthodox Churches. And in a good number of cases some of the heretical groups were as well. They would of looked similar and most of their beliefs would of been the same. Most of the beliefs of the Arians back then would of been the same as the Orthoox mainstream Christians.

However, the same wouldn't be the case today. The differences among the groups today in both belief and practice is way too great.

Jnorm said...

I forgot to tell you what was meant by the word Catholic by those who used the term in the creed around the year 381 A.D.

They didn't have the view of churches all over the world. It was more strict than that. They would of had the view of all the churches around the world in communion with them. That would of been their context.

Godismyjudge said...

Jnorm,

Regarding your comments on Christostom, I don’t really have a problem with that. My concern is mainly with the Pope’s being able to infallibly teach doctrine.

Regarding differences then an now… Are you sure you’re not overstating that a bit? Is the difference between the EoC and Southern Baptists really bigger than the difference between Arians and the early church? After all, the Arians thought Christ was a creature. To me, that’s an absolutely huge difference.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

"I believe Saint Ignatius was using it in reference to fullness/wholeness and not necessarily worldwide."

Could be, I woudn't argue that.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

"They didn't have the view of churches all over the world. It was more strict than that. They would of had the view of all the churches around the world in communion with them. That would of been their context."

Maybe. I haven't seem much evidence that they would have thought of communion as the dividing line.

God be with you,
Dan

Jnorm said...

Dan,

If you look at the way all Ancient Churches worship (Rome included) then you will see that they are more similar than different. The ancient Arian heretics would of had a similar style of worship. The worship style of modern Jehovah Witnesses is totally foreign and has no relation to the ancient Arians. The only thing they have in common with the ancient Arians is their view about Jesus, and that only with the radical Arians.....not the moderate Arians. The ancient Arians believed in Baptismal Regeneration just like the Nicene Party, In most other areas they believed the same and worshiped the same as the Nicene party.

Over time the radical Arians started to see that their new beliefs were inconsistent with their worship practice and so they started to change their style of worship. However, most Ancient Arians in the East were moderate Arians and when they saw what the radicals were believing and doing that is when they started to side with the Nicene party. Eventually they came back into communion.

You see, most of what the moderate Arians believed was still the same as the Nicene party. Also most of what they practiced was still the same as the Nicene Party. And so it was easier for them to come back in communion.

It would of been harder for the radical Arians to come back in communion for they started to change their worship according to their new Arian ideas. But even they would of been alot closer in worship style than most modern Baptists.

In regards to the doctrine of the Trinity the Baptists (those who adhere to the Eternal Generation of the Son doctrine, not those who reject it) would be closer to the Ancient Churches than the radical Arians would of been.

Of course the doctrine of the Trinity is way way more important than the other issues I mentioned. I just wanted to point out that even the Arians looked and worshiped like the Nicene party. Well they did at first.....eventually they (the radical Arians) would change.

So in worship style I would say no, but in Trinitarian doctrine I would say yes.

Jnorm said...

Dan,

Read the canons of the councils as well as what the early christians had to say about communion in general. You will see that their context of that statement in the creed was a lot more strict than what most may think.

Godismyjudge said...

Jnorm,

"So in worship style I would say no, but in Trinitarian doctrine I would say yes."

Fair enough.

"Read the canons of the councils as well as what the early christians had to say about communion in general."

I will have to take a second look at the canons.

God be with you,
Dan