The End of Catholicity II

{You can read the first part of this here, along with the links to the other posts this alludes to}

Martin Luther was a bit underwhelmed by St. James’ epistle, calling it an epistle of straw, and that because he could not fit it, quite obviously, into a canon of theology that gave pride of place to his own reading of Romans. That Luther’s doctrine of sola fide became his hypothesis (in the original sense of the word), can be seen in his disputation with Johann Eck at Leipzig in 1519. Luther was not supposed to even speak that day, as he had already been put under the ban, though not yet excommunicate. This didn’t stop the Catholic clergy of the Dominican convent in Leipzig, when Luther entered their abbey, from removing the reserved sacrament from off their altars so that it would not be exposed to so notorious a heretic. Ironically, in that convent Johan Tetzel (the monk against whom Luther had posted his 95 theses) lay dying. Luther communicated to him, asking his forgiveness, and informing the late indulgence hawker that he was not to blame for the whole controversy. No, Luther was not to speak at Leipzig. The real debate, as it had been planned all along since Luther first met Eck the previous year in Augsburg, was to be between Eck and Luther’s colleague, Andreas Karlstadt. Karlstadt had cast some rather noxious aspersions at Eck, and Luther had assured the Ingolstadt theologian that Karlstadt would happily debate him, and that Karlstadt was not really that bad a fellow (Luther would change his tune by 1522). But Karlstadt’s cart had lost its wheel on the road into Leipzig, sending Karlstadt to the ground to be buried by all the books that he, Luther, and Melanchthon were bringing to Leipzig for the purpose of the disputation. Some of those books, most of them actually, weighed about fifteen pounds. Clearly Karlstadt was not himself when he took the dais against Eck, and as anyone from the universities of Europe would tell you, even the best at their best were challenged by Eck.

Eventually Eck got his desire when he was able to bait Luther into the ring. There Eck scored two points against Luther, and both important. The first was when Luther admitted that the Church as the Church when sitting in council could err. Luther faulted the Council of Constance for condemning Hus’s notion, taken from Wyclif, that the church is made up of the elect only, and that they are known but to God (this was something Luther ambiguously held later, as is evident in his treatment of baptism in his The Babylonian Captivity of the Church). When Luther made this assertion, the Catholic duke of Albertine Saxony, George, is reported to have said loud enough for all to hear “A plague on this.” The second admission wrung from Luther, and the one pertinent here, was when Eck pressed Luther on the question of prayers for the dead. For if Luther’s doctrine of justification and alien righteousness were true, then what need was there for prayers for the departed? If Luther had ever thought about this question before this moment, I have not found, and I have found no one who has found, any evidence for it. Eck had caught him, it seemed. Luther responded that there were no need for prayers for the departed. Eck then retorted “What then do you do with Maccabees?” Luther: “I reject Maccabees as scripture.” The rejection of Maccabees as scripture is but accidental to the point I am making. It is instead that Luther’s hypothesis, sola fide, had become his new canon. It should not surprise us then that he rid his New Testament of James, nor that he inserted the word “allein” into Romans 3:28: since he had expelled James’ epistle, he had no place left in the New Testament (to be a bit provocative here) where the words “justification” and “by faith alone” appeared, St. James epistle being the only place in the whole Bible where those words are used together. Instead it is that Luther now had a new canon by which the Faith is defined, a new hypothesis which determines the rest of the faith.

Luther’s stratagem would not have surprised the Church Fathers, even though they would have found his hypothesis askew, for they as well had an hypothesis. Now first, it needs noting that by the word hypothesis is not meant a supposition, or as in modern science, a plausible concept in need of verification. Instead to the classical thinkers an hypothesis was the first principle, that axiom on which all subsequent thought stood. It goes without proof, for if there are proofs for it, then those proofs are the hypothesis. We here much, especially since the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, about paradigms, those axioms on which the whole edifice of one’s world (and here let us say, on which the universe’s physics) is constructed, that is, until such time when there are so many contradictions from the facts that the edifice collapses and a new paradigm emerges. The paradigm allows for the interpretation and the integration of what is and is not accepted as data. Kuhn was looking largely at the scientistic world essentially beginning from Copernicus (though he does talk as well about atomic physics), but Kuhn’s basic thesis has existed throughout the whole house of intellect. For the Fathers the hypothesis was simple: ultimate reality had intelligibly linked our world to His, or to be more theologically precise: God Himself, who informs our very existence, had fully and ultimately revealed Himself to us in the express icon of Himself, namely His Word, His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Further, this is revealed to us by the Spirit (“no one can call Jesus Lord”; “God sends forth his Spirit in our hearts crying Abba, Father”). That Christ fully reveals God is the center of salvation (“That they may know Thee, the only true God”) and thus the center of History. All knowledge of God prior to Christ is partial and incomplete; true as far as it goes, but deficient of what we have in Christ.

Christ is given to us by the Father, indeed handed over immediately to the disciples: “That which we have seen with our eyes, which our hands have handled . . .” and they in turn give Christ to us, they grant unto us what was deposited to them, as St. Paul said to Timothy, “O my son Timothy, guard the deposit of Faith (I Tim. 6:20)” What Paul handed over to Timothy, Timothy is then instructed to pass on to faithful men suitable for the ministry. They likewise will pass it on to others. What has happened here? It is this. For the Orthodox and the Catholics, there is but one sacrament, the Sacrament of the Father, namely our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why, since through Him all things exist, the world is as well sacramental, a gift from God, and a gift for our life. Thus the Sacrament of the Father is given to us for the life of the world. The verbs for giving over in Greek is paradidomi, in Latin, transdo or trado. It is from the Latin that we get the noun traditio, that which was handed over to us. In the early Church, however, the word was not used as often as the words canon (kanon), or regula, by which were meant standards, or we may even think of as Creeds (such as Jesus is Lord, or, Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, or, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God). These were the summations of the hypothesis that formed the basis for theological dialogue, and even for measuring what was and was not scripture (Why isn’t the Gospel of Thomas in our Bible? Have you read it? What in it is explicitly “unscriptural” about it?).

Now, I have never met an Evangelical worth his salt that will not say that Jesus is Lord (maybe I have met some that aren’t worth their salt, but that is another matter). But this is not the first axiom for an Evangelical, but instead that the Bible is the Word of God, and that it is the Bible that gives us Christ and the Church, and not the other way round. This shift in hypotheses carries with it a whole new vision of what the Church is, and is one of the reasons why Evangelicals see the Orthodox and Catholics as so foreign and remote, why they recoil when they hear the words “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!” I will not say that Evangelicals are not Christians, indeed as an Orthodox I am forbidden to do so. But it is clear that Evangelicals begin their theology from a wholly different vantage point, one separated from Patristic theology which began with the Trinitarian revelation in the revelation of the first Man, namely our God, the one Lord Jesus Christ. In this case, we should not be so surprised that things on the Tiber or in the Greek, Syrian and Slavic East look so markedly different.

And now to the denouement: since the fullest revelation of God came in the ultimate revelation of what it is to be human, i.e., in the first real man, we cannot not think of our Lord Jesus Christ as human, we cannot not think of him as a man. We must think of Him not only as the true icon of the Father, but the true icon of humanity, and this in the One Person of the Mediator (and, it should be noted that icon is not mere symbol or sign, like the icons on the desktop of our PCs). And so, we cannot not make images of Him. And the third post will begin somewhere around there.

About Gary Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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16 Responses to The End of Catholicity II

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  2. David Fraser says:

    Wonderful exposition until you get to what is the “hypothesis” for “evangelicals” (which evangelicals do you have in mind?). Let’s not debate what the confusions often found in the pews think. Or both our sides would be swiftly in trouble. Nor do I pretend to speak for all evangelicals since they are a diverse lot and there is no Metropolitan, Pope or Primate to dictate some sort of final decision.

    To take some examples of how this works: the great Reformed theologian, Karl Barth, clearly takes God’s revelation in Jesus Christ as THE first principle from which all else flows. Scripture only has meaning and only speaks the one Word: Jesus Christ.

    In my Church, to talk of first principles or axioms (without going back to the Apostles and Nicene creeds that also start in the same place — with God…not the Bible!)

    Scots Confession starts: “We confess and acknowledge one God alone, to whom alone we must cleave…”(Chapt 1) Only later does it come to Scripture – “We believe and confess the Scriptures of God sufficient to instruct and make perfect the man of God, so do we affirm and avow their authority to be from God, and not to depend on men or angels.” (Chapt 19)

    The Heidelberg Catechism begins: “Q1. What is your only comfort, in life and in death? A. That I belong– body and soul, in life and death — not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…”

    The Barmen Declaration confesses as its first evangelical truth: “Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.”

    The Presbyterian Confession of 1967 starts with: “In Jesus Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.” Part I Section A #1 is “Jesus Christ”.

    The Presbyterian Brief Statement of Faith from 1983 begins “In life and death we belong to God through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit…” Only later in lines 58-61 does it get to Scripture: “The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles rules our faith and life in Christ through Scriptures, engages us through the Word proclaimed…” (note the Capitalization of Word — the Word is Christ attested to in Scripture).

    To be sure the Second Helvetic Confession and the Westminster Confession both start (in good modern fashion with epistemology). Both start with articles on Scripture and Canon. So those may count against my thesis! But if you read even them, you will see the written word is never separated from the Spirit of God (e.g., “We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem for the Holy Scripture….yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.” (Westminster Confession, Chapt. 1.5)

    The most widely used recent “evangelical” confessional statement is the Lausanne Covenant which starts with:
    1. THE PURPOSE OF GOD: We affirm our belief in the one-eternal God, Creator and Lord of the world, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who governs all things according to the purpose of his will. He has been calling out from the world a people for himself, and sending his people back into the world to be his servants and his witnesses, for the extension of his kingdom, the building up of Christ’s body, and the glory of his name….

    Its Second (not first!) paragraph is:
    2. THE AUTHORITY AND POWER OF THE BIBLE: We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. We also affirm the power of God’s word to accomplish his purpose of salvation. The message of the Bible is addressed to all men and women. For God’s revelation in Christ and in Scripture is unchangeable. Through it the Holy Spirit still speaks today. He illumines the minds of God’s people in every culture to perceive its truth freshly through their own eyes and thus discloses to the whole Church ever more of the many-colored wisdom of God.

    Notice it starts with God, not with Scripture. In attesting “revelation” it speaks of revelation “in Christ and in Scripture” — two points, not one.

    What I intend to point out is the inaccuracy of saying that evangelical’s first axiom is Scripture. It is Jesus Christ and remains so. The dispute I believe we have with Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism is over the relationship between Scripture AS tradition and later Church traditions.

    We evangelicals do not reject Church tradition or Patristic tradition (one only has to read Calvin carefully or even Barth for that matter). Even the Second Helvetic Confession states: “Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises concerning sacred matters so far as they agree with the Scriptures; but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to Scriptures. Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to accept what is in agreement or to reject what is in disagreement….. And in the same order also we place the decrees and canons of councils.” (Chapt. II)

    So I suggest we frame the difference we have a bit differently than this post has.

  3. Cyril says:

    I have to run out for the afternoon, David, so just one question: what is the source of your Theology? Yes, all those things you point out are true, but I am not speaking about what is the ordo theologiae, which is a different question altogether. What is your first axiom? For the Reformers they ran to scripture, but it was a scripture that spoke first sola fide. Van Til would say that our fist presupposition is God, but then later alters it to “the self-authenticating Christ of Scripture.” Got to run, thanks as always for your comments.

  4. PJ says:

    “but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to Scriptures”

    Modestly dissent?

  5. David Fraser says:

    First axiom is God revealed in Jesus Christ.

  6. David Fraser says:

    I suspect “modestly dissent” in the Second Helvetic Confession is an acknowledgment that none of our decisions or interpretations is beyond correction by the Spirit of God and by wiser counsel from other members of the body of Christ. When we dissent, we do so not with intransigence or with finality. All of our confessions, creeds, and dissents are subject to better light. We may have read Scripture inadequately (and need a Priscilla to take us further as Apollos did) and we may have read the holy Greek and Latin fathers inaccurately or unfairly. So we are always open to better construal of either side of this dialog and, with the Bereans, will search the Scriptures to see if they are so (Acts 17:10-12) and we are wrong in that dissent.

  7. Cyril says:

    David, my time today to respond is constrained by a house guest, but shall try to hit the main point of your first long statement above. First principle in the way I am using it has to do with the rule of Faith, and for the Orthodox this involves not merely that God’s ultimate and definitive revelation of Himself is in His Incarnate Word, but that the life and illumination is also and necessarily visible, concrete, and one. Christ as before all things, and in whom all things consist, is present in the Church by the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all Truth “for He shall take of mine.” The relationship then, between the Economy of salvation and revelation are only logically separable, Scripture, the written record of this left us by Christ through the Apostles, is only part of Revelation of God, and exists within the whole complex of what Christ has handed over to us from the Father through the Spirit. This is why understanding the Scriptures is always within the context and confines of Christ’s body. More anon.

  8. David Fraser says:

    I think I follow most of the argument and find myself in agreement with much of the content (e.g., there is only “one Sacrament” — one faith, one baptism, one Lord –to all of this a resounding yes!). I do think the more I listen, the more I see large swatches of common ground (certainly the Apostles and the original Nicene Creeds — but even more beyond them).

    As to the visibility of the one Church, empirically at least, if we say “what do I see,” 1054 seems to put paid to that notion initially. In addition to the 14 autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox churches in communion with each other there are others who claim the name and tradition or orthodoxy but are not fully or at times even partially in communion with those 14. The Orthodox seem to be afflicted with the same issue of division. Is this different from the empirically observed divisions of other Christian traditions? Here’s the list I was able to find beyond those 14 (I won’t bring up the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox communions):

    Orthodox Church in America
    Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church
    Old Calendarists
    Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece, so-called “Matthewites”
    Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece, so-called “Florinites”
    Orthodox Church of Greece (Holy Synod in Resistance), so-called “Cyprianites”
    Old Calendar Romanian Orthodox Church
    Old Calendar Bulgarian Orthodox Church
    Russian Orthodox Church in America
    Traditional Paschal Crucession by Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church.
    Old Believers
    Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church (Belokrinitskaya Hierarchy)
    Lipovan Orthodox Old-Rite Church (Belokrinitskaya Hierarchy)
    Russian Old-Orthodox Church (Novozybkovskaya Hierarchy)
    Pomorian Old-Orthodox Church (Pomortsy)
    Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
    Bulgarian Alternative Synod
    Holy Orthodox Church in North America
    Macedonian Orthodox Church
    Montenegrin Orthodox Church
    Orthodox Church in Italy
    Russian True Orthodox Church
    Turkish Orthodox Church
    Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate)
    Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
    Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church Canonical
    Croatian Orthodox Church

    One, visibly? Am I missing something? Ir the criteria of “oneness” is “visible” and empirical, then I don’t see the case being made (not even for the Roman Catholics).

  9. Pingback: The End of Catholicity II & III « Energetic Procession

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  11. Chris Jones says:

    Mr Fraser,

    There is far less than meets the eye in your list of divided “Orthodox” jurisdictions. Putting the Orthodox Church in America to one side for a moment (and returning to it shortly), none of the jurisdictions you list is Orthodox, whatever they may claim. They bear the same relation to the Orthodox Church today that the Donatists or the Novationists did anciently. That is, they are substantially the same as the Orthodox Church in doctrine, but they are objectively in schism and thus cannot be regarded as Orthodox. You can no more advance them as an example of Orthodox disunity than you could do the same with respect to the Donatists in fifth-century North Africa.

    The case of the OCA is rather different. The dispute over the OCA is not whether they are Orthodox nor whether they are in communion with the rest of the Orthodox Church; the dispute is only about the OCA’s canonical status. The OCA is in communion with the Church of Constantinople and all of the other Churches which do not accept its autocephaly. OCA faithful are welcome to receive communion in any other canonical Orthodox Church, and Orthodox from other jurisdictions are welcome at the altar of the OCA even if their home jurisdiction rejects the OCA’s autocephaly.

    Orthodox Churches (like the Ecumenical Patriarchate) which reject the autocephaly of the OCA do not regard the OCA as “not Orthodox”; as far as they are concerned, the OCA is still an autonomous Church under the Moscow Patriarchate. It is true that they do not commemorate the Metropolitan of the OCA in their diptychs; but they do commemorate the Patriarch of Moscow, and as far as they are concerned that commemoration indicates their recognition of both the MP and the OCA as legitimately Orthodox.

  12. David Fraser says:

    Here’s what I’m responding to:

    “One of the chief things that both Orthodox and Roman Catholics do hold in common is that the Church is visibly one. Which of us it is, that we debate. What we do not hold is that the Church is multiple, with endless iterations flowing from every new opinion that claims to take warrant from Holy Scripture. In fact, this is also not what most of the Reformers thought either. The breach begins not with the Lutherans, but with the Reformed,…” (From the first Blog on this subject).

    We Reformed don’t hold that the Church is multiple. We hold there is One Shepherd, One Flock, but other “sheep” not of the same sheep pen (John 10:16). One flock but many folds.

    I’m not sure I follow your argument. Is it: there are numbers of formal, organized denominations among the Reformed or Lutherans or Baptists — empirically documentable. Disunity of this sort is ipso facto proof of not being the true Church. But that is different from the fact that disagreements along different theological and liturgical lines have led to a variety of communions equally claiming to be Orthodox — embodied in formal, organized, empirically documentable bodies of practice and worship. I don’t see how the two differ other than: they differ from us, therefore they are wrong. If “visibly one” is the criteria….

    I don’t get how your argument differs about your off shoots from the arguments deployed by many Protestant or even Anglican communions. The theological content differs but not the logic.

    Sounds like rationalizations. Other communions are accused of not being the “Church” because they are not visibly singular (as the RC and the Orthodox communions claim to be). Those other communions also point out the “deficiencies” of those no longer or not yet in their formal, organizational, visible communion, ipso facto not the “Church.” The logic seems: “not us, not the Church.” But that is precisely what many of the disunited groups in the Orthodox stream and others of the 7 major Christian traditions also claim about themselves. But when this is pointed out that the RCs and the Orthodox also have offshoots — then that VISIBLE disunity is dismissed by using the same arguments those other communions use to dismiss their obvious visible disunity —

    Well it seems like the kettle calling the pot….

  13. Cyril says:

    As best I can understand what you are saying, this is apples and oranges: Protestants don’t see the lack of unity as a factor in what is the one church, but because both Catholics and Orthodox see the Eucharistic community under the guidance of the bishop as the nexus of the Church, unity is essential. This is Augustine’s argument against the Donatists, that the mark of the Church is not purity of doctrine and life, even though these are necessary for the bene esse of the Church; but unity in love, which occurs only within the structures of the catholic Church. Unity around the bishop and the Eucharistic community is primary, and from this flows right doctrine (the rule of prayer is the rule of belief). We know that Christ is God for we have from the beginning worshiped him as God within the Eucharistic communities of the one Church, commented both St. Athanasius and St. Ambrose.

    I have an internet acquaintance who says because he doesn’t know whether Orthodoxy or Catholicism is “Mrs. Jesus” this means he doesn’t have to choose, and that that schism validates all others. I have always thought this more like “Since i am not sure whether Rachel or Leah is my wife I am going to run off with Tamar.”

    These offshoots of Orthodoxy (and some of them are offshoots only by saying so, they have never had any formal ties with the Orthodox in any way) are ones who left, like the Gnostikoi in second-century Rome. Are we supposed to think the Marcion of Valentinus have equal claim to the Church just on their say-so? The difference is we hold visible unity as essential; for Protestants, it is essential to hold visible unity as not only completely optional, but completely not even part of the question de rigeur.

  14. David Fraser says:

    Thanks for the additional comments. Helps me understand where Orthodoxy locates and frames the logic of this argument. That is part of the conversation that needs the sort of clarification you give. The Protestants do not frame the issue the same way — and so we do tend to talk about apples and oranges because we are not in agreement as to what the issue really is. But we can at least listen respectfully to how each frames it and comes to conclusions.

    I still have to say I’m not sure how “visible” unity works. The “visible” part is problematic, given the schisms that have visibly and actually happened for whatever good, better or worse reasons. It is not always clear who is the ” has-left” and who is the “stayed-there” group. The Protestant claim, if I understand it right, is not that they “left” the Western Church, but that the RC constructions, additions, perversions of practices meant the formally united RC communion had already left the “apostolic” Church, no longer adhering to true traditions. So here is the same problem: who left and who stayed? Who has the “right” to claim continuity whenever any schism of any size occurs?

    Then (as you pointed out) the RC Church also sees the Orthodox as having “left” the true Church in 1054 (and vice versa) and broken visible unity! This is the debate you and the RCs have over who preserved the visible unity and has it in the present. The “unity” part then becomes dependent on the quality of the arguments, not about visibility, but about what are the “true traditions” that is the mark of the true Church. Perhaps none of these things can be pulled apart and that is what makes this a difficult discussion — and one that includes more than “is there visible unity” and is “visible” unity an essential mark of Catholicity? What do we mean by Catholicity? Is it organizational connection via recognized bishops? Or is there something deeper and perhaps less formal.

    I would not argue Marcion has an equal claim to the Church just on their say-so but neither do I suppose contemporary RC or Orthodox [or Protestant] communions have a claim on the Church just on their say-so — and least of all because they have some sort of empirical, organizational connectedness. It seems part of our difference is whether we construe the Church in structural terms (which is what you seem to underline) or functional terms (which is where I sit).

    I have to think more about your construction of Protestants as holding visible unity as optional or even irrelevant. It does not feel to me that it is quite on the mark. I think most of us Reformed Catholics hold visible unity as very important (but not the most important mark of the true Church) — but do not see that unity as embodied in a hierarchy of formally organized bishoprics (a structual definition of the Church) but rather in less formal rather than formal, denominationally demarked organizational boundaries. It is an organism, not an organization in the end. Maybe a shorthand (from a Protestant frame) is: the RC’s abandoned the “apostolic” [I would say Holy too, reading the history of the bishops and popes! but that is another conversation, especially today with child abuse] elements of the One, Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church — and the Protestants seriously marred the “One” element. So perhaps we are both mortally wounded if those 4 are marks of the “true” Church. Can’t speak to the shadow side of the Orthodox yet. Have a lot of reading still to do.

    Here’s an image for this: we put the “wine” in “wineskins” because we must operate in this world, in civic communities that make that essential (and those “wineskins” are very different today than they were in 100 A.D.). But we try not to confuse the “wineskins” with the “wine.”

  15. Ben says:

    Sorry to get in on this discussion so late, but I’d like to add a comment despite my lack of familiarity with most of these issues. It seems to me, David, that the essential sticking point between your view and that of the Orthodox and Catholics is that you view the Church hierarchy as a receptacle, a “wineskin” which is simply the modifiable means of containing the “wine”, by which I take you to mean the Christian faith or something, and the Orthodox/Catholic problem is that they have confused the receptacle for that which is being contained – the impermanent and ultimately less significant for that which is truly significant. I think I’m just reiterating what was obvious in your posts above so I can understand. Correct me if I have misinterpreted.

    I don’t hesitate to say that I’m an amateur at these matters, but from my meager knowledge of the Bible and Christian history, I have to say that I don’t think it’s a reasonable or defensible position that the Church structure – the community structure which is the vehicle by which the faith is passed down – is as insignificant in form as you believe. You pit the organism against the organization, but we believe that like any organism, there is necessarily organization. The difference between us isn’t that the Church isn’t an organism, but whether the Church is an organism that has necessary “parts” and “hierarchies” and “orders” (speaking roughly here) that must be maintained and cohere for its proper functioning, or if it is an organism that can somehow exist while being chopped into pieces, with each piece still retaining the possibility of being fully part of the living Church organism. I believe that we haven’t confused the wineskin for the wine – in fact the metaphor doesn’t quite fit. A better one, which reflects the historical Church in my view, is that of body and soul – both are created and determined by God as necessary to the whole and proper functioning of the person, and neither can be relegated to even slight insignificance with regard to the life of the person. In fact, the body and its structure is actually necessary for the implementation of all its faculties in union with the soul. The Church body can even be deformed and wounded at times, but it will never cease to operate in a consistent way as long as it is alive. When I look back in Church history, I don’t see a bunch of disassembled parts each claiming to be a part of the same body until the Reformation.

    Thanks for reading.

  16. Theodore says:

    Just a quick remark : when Luther said that the epistle of St. James is an “epistle of straw”, he meant “relatively to other books in the Bible”. when it is about the revelation of God’s grace through Scripture. This was in no case an absolute stance against the epistle.

    “If I had to do without one or the other-either the works or preaching of Christ-I would rather do without his works than his preaching. For the works do not help me, but His words give life, as He Himself says. Now John writes very little about the works of Christ, but very much about His preaching. The other Evangelists write much of His works and little of His preaching. Therefore, John’s Gospel is the one, tender, true chief Gospel far, far to be preferred to the other three and placed high above them. So, too, the epistles of St. Paul and St. Peter far surpass the other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.

    In a word, St. John’s Gospel and his first Epistle, St. Paul’s Epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first Epistle are the books that show you Christ and that teach you all that is necessary and good for you to know, even though you never see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore, St. James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to them; for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel in it.”

    -Luther, Works of Martin Luther-The Philadelphia Edition, trans. C.M. Jacobs, vol. 6: Preface to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982), pp. 439-444. As cited in Bercot, David W., Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up, (Scroll Publishing, 1989). P.112.

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