This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

On the Great Schism, the Reformation, and Other Church Divisions

I have studied Church History (and history in general) for many years as a personal interest, and in doing so I have come across a number of things that have revolutionized commonly-held versions of "history" of all sorts that we are often told.  I wanted to just share a few observations today, because they are some things that have been on my mind and I needed to talk about. 

First, let me say that I was chrismated in the Maronite Rite of the Roman Catholic Church back on Easter of 2000, and that being the case, I want to say that I view the Roman Catholic tradition as a valid expression of Christianity, and Rome is an integral part of the Church.  I am no longer in the Roman Catholic Church, being part of the Continuing Anglo-Catholic movement instead, but I still value much that our Roman brethren have to offer.  They have also produced some tremendously gifted scholars, such as Scott Hahn, that I reference extensively for my own research. Rome is still Christian, is still part of the whole Church, and as such she deserves proper respect and appreciation for her contributions to the Christian tradition as a whole. I said that because what I am about to say in no way invalidates Rome's position as part of Christianity, but it shows that all of us are still human and are prone to error, and that is why I felt the conviction to address this.

Although the Roman Catholics are an integral part of the Church, and many of them are fine Christian people, Rome as a whole has made some mistakes over the centuries, namely in some of its more distinctive teachings which are not in concord with the teachings of the Church as a whole.  For one thing, there is Papal primacy and infallibility.   This was the issue that caused the Christian East and the Western Church to split back in AD 1054, and it was largely due unfortunately to a misunderstanding of the office of the Bishop of Rome.  The Church, as I have read and understood it, was founded to be governed by a collegiality of bishops, without any having primacy over the others.   Rome violated that early on when all of a sudden the "Primacy of Peter" issue, based on a faulty interpretation of Matthew 16:18, which was when Jesus said to Peter, "Thou art Peter (in Greek petra, a feminine noun denoting a large slab of rock, as opposed to the masculine word lithos, which is used to refer to anything from a pebble to a bolder) and upon this rock I will build My Church."  Jesus said that to Peter after the famous confession Peter proclaimed a couple of verses earlier that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah (v. 16).   Theodore of Mopsuestia, in one of his writings, notes that this petra was the same faith and confession Peter made that would be the foundation of the Church - Jesus is God the Son, and that also is concurrent with John 1:1 as well.   Peter's role in this was that he would be given a leadership in the Church as an Apostle, but one of many, and the confession he spoke (which was from God himself, if one looks in verse 17) would be the discerning key of true faith and belief (Manlio Simonetti, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. 1b - Matthew 14-28 {Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002}. pp. 45-46).  I see here a direct correlation between this verse and a parable of Jesus spoken in Matthew 7:24, which says that those who hear and believe (or do, as the Duahy-Rheims translates it) will be likened unto a man who built his house on a foundation of a solid rock.  It is not enough to accept Jesus, in other words, as merely a historical figure who existed, but rather belief in what He said and who He is constitutes building upon the petra, thus having a sound foundation of faith.   The basis of all Holy Tradition of the Church is in the personage of Jesus Christ, who is its Head, its Lord, and its Founder.  Peter was the first to acknowledge that with insight from the Holy Spirit, and thus his confession codifies the fundamental reason for Jesus coming to earth - as God in the flesh to save mankind.  Therefore, the rock it speaks of in Matthew 16:18 is not a person, and definitely is not the Papal office, but rather the ultimate wellspring from which the doctrine of the Church rests - the personage of Christ as God the Son and Savior of those who will believe in Him.  This by no means diminishes Peter's Apostolic authority though - he was instrumental in the founding and establishment of three of the major Churches of Christianity; Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome.  Where our Roman Catholic brethren err though is by saying that this makes the "See of St. Peter" the ultimate head of the Church, which it does not.  The ultimate authority of the Church and her witness are in the belief that Jesus is God the Son, come into the world to save mankind from their sins.  That is how the rest of the Church has viewed this for centuries, and that fact is the true rock of foundation for our faith as Christians. 

Another area that has gotten Rome into some trouble is this idea of purgatory.  Purgatory is, in Roman Catholic dogma, an intermediate place for cleansing of the righteous dead before they enter the Kingdom.  However, in some Roman Catholic writings, purgatory looks an awful lot like hell, and its temporary state has been even taken to extremes by some mystics who have evolved a universalistic understanding of soteriology.  There is, interesting enough, some Scriptural support for this, as in Luke 16:19 there is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, which described a place called "Abraham's Bosom" where Jesus eventually preached to the righteous dead and brought them into heaven.  Purgatory evolved out of this, but those who evolved a doctrine of purgatory from this idea failed to realize that Jesus did away with that once He died and was resurrected, therefore conquering death and the grave.  Any idea of purgatory ends with that, and the Roman Catholic version of this is not consistent with what the rest of the Church believes, although it has produced some bizarre variations among both Protestants and Orthodox.  On one extreme, for instance, you have late Orthodox theologian Fr. Seraphim Rose, who taught what is called the "Tollhouse Doctrine," which essentially says that even the righteous dead can be snatched as their souls ascend by demons at these specific places in the heavens called "tollhouses," and dragged into hell.   This is rightly called by Orthodox priest Fr. Michael Azkoul a form of neo-Gnosticism.   The best refutation of such heresy comes from the Church Fathers themselves, in this case the great St. John Chrysostom, who wrote in his Homily on Lazarus the following: "For if while the soul dwells in the body the devil cannot bring violence about it, clearly when it departs from the body, he likewise has no power over it." (Michael Azkoul, A Bad Penny: The Toll-Houses Again {Dewdney, BC: Synaxis Press, n.d} p. 1).  This would also refute purgatory as the Roman Catholics understand it as well.  The other extreme is this recent rise by "Emerging Church" proponents such as Rob Bell, in his controversial book Love Wins, which espouses a form of universalism that suggests hell itself is temporary and eventually everyone (including Satan and the demons) will be saved by Christ, due to the fact the overwhelming love of God will ultimately destroy hell.  However, Bell and his kind (including Carlton Pearson, the ex-Pentecostal minister who about 10 years ago began teaching something similar called the "Gospel of Inclusion") fail to realize that this contradicts orthodox views of hell, sin, and salvation by essentially taking away the need for a Savior, and ultimately erasing God-given free will.  For one thing, Bell forgets (or ignores) to realize that God is not the one that sends people to hell - fallen humanity has condemned itself there, and only belief in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins will save us - the Blood of Jesus is very important, but it must be accepted to be effective by us as individuals.  It is indeed offered to all, and Jesus loves all mankind and did die for all mankind, but mankind has to accept and believe what Jesus did on the Cross to find salvation.  Secondly, hell is eternal, and the Church has always taught that it was originally created for Satan and the fallen angels who will be doomed to spend eternity there once Jesus comes back, but humanity chose to believe Satan's lies and also by default inherited the curse of eternal damnation, which can only be broken by the shed Blood of Jesus for our sins.  The nullification of free will by Bell and others like him is due in large part to Calvinistic influence, but there is also a root of the same error that Roman Catholics often use to justify purgatory's existence.   Bottom line is, the Church as a whole has never taught purgatory's existence, and as a result the potential exists for heresy by those who do accept it. 

There are also some Marian doctrines that Rome introduced which do not reflect the consensual tradition of the Church as a whole, and those have caused a huge stink in particular with Evangelical Fundamentalists.  The Church has historically accepted four important Marian doctrines as orthodox, and those are the following:

1. Mary as the Theotokos, or God-Bearer
2. Mary as Ever-Virgin
3. Mary's bodily Assumption (or Dormition) into heaven upon her repose
4. Mary as part of the Church Expectant, and a prayer partner to those of the Church Militant but not more so than other Saints of the Church.

Roman Catholics correctly believe those along with the rest of the Christian Church (including many of the Reformers - more on that momentarily), and this is not the issue.  The main problem with Roman Catholic views of Mary are the two additional doctrines that they have added as official dogma.   The first of these is the Immaculate Conception, dogmatically defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854.  What this teaches is that Mary, like Jesus, was conceived without sin and some more extreme traditionalists would even maintain she didn't have a natural conception.  This is not accepted by the rest of the Church, and only one Immaculate Conception - that of Jesus Himself - ever occurred.  This almost deifies Mary, and of course this unorthodox viewpoint on the part of the Roman Catholics has caused a lot of issues for them with Fundamentalist Protestants, who use it as a platform to invalidate everything about the Roman Catholic Church, and by default others of us who are not Roman Catholic but still have a sacramental/liturgical Christian faith.  A second Marian doctrinal innovation added by our Roman brethren was the idea of Mary as Mediatrix.  This is a dramatic expansion of the orthodox teaching of Mary's intercessory prayer gifting, in that she is often viewed as aiding in the redemptive process (she is thus also called Co-Redemptrix as well as Mediatrix).   This is not a view that is accepted by the Church at large, in that only Jesus alone can redeem fallen humanity.  The saints and others can intercede for salvation, just like people living in churches do here, but they have no role in the redemptive process.  While Roman Catholics do rightly see Jesus as the only mediator between God and the human race, these particular views of Mary can be problematic.  It would do our Roman Catholic friends well to better define what they are saying, and to have a greater and more clearer affirmation of Jesus as the only Way to God for fallen humanity.

Now, I want to talk about the Reformers.  I wanted to say that much of what the Reformers addressed had little to do with orthodox teachings of the Church - many of the Reformers were actually very orthodox in their views of the correct Marian doctrines, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and other things  - but rather what they correctly saw as abuses on the part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.   The same could be said as well of the Eastern Churches - they were not contesting orthodoxy when they parted ways with the West in 1054, but rather abuses and extravagant claims that Rome made but wasn't entitled to.   Therefore, I say this with extreme love for my Roman Catholic brothers, but it is also going to be some strong medicine to swallow - many of the divisions in Christianity over the past thousand years - in particular the Great Schism and the Reformation - are solely the responsibility of Rome herself.  Had Rome not allowed for abuses, overextension of its authority, and bad politics, the Church may still be organically one today.  Also, the Reformers didn't depart the Catholic faith - many of the extremes of the Fundamentalists today cannot be contributed to the Reformers, but rather to some things their followers began to embrace that began to remove them from a lot of the orthodox teaching of the Church.   Fundamentalists and Emergents are both the result of this, although they appear to be on different spectrums.  Therefore, it is ultimately up to Rome to somehow clarify and redeem itself in order to bring its own teachings back into conformity regarding those areas it has strayed from historic Church teaching, and if it does so, perhaps the Fundamentalists and Emergents will begin to be won back to the Church.  Many Fundamentalists though are actually sincere in their belief, and I have no doubt they are Christian.  And, many Fundamentalists share the same concerns with what is going on in the world now that we as traditional liturgical/sacramental Christians do, but they are gun-shy about seeing it because they wrongly associate the rest of us with the excesses of Roman Catholic distinctives.  We are both Remnant people, but old biases, memories of abuses past, and other issues continue to blind us seeing that.  However, fortunately Jesus Himself knows who is faithful to His teachings, and ultimately when He comes back for His Church He will bring those of us of the Remnant together as one people in Him.  May our prayer be that we prepare ourselves for that in the interim.