I was going to begin this post with Christ as the Icon of the invisible God, the express image of the Father; and that the law came through Moses, but grace and truth through Christ. The ultimate end of catholicity (that is, the goal) is unity with our One Lord Jesus Christ. When I started this series I used the title to draw attention to certain things about Peter Leithart’s blogpost which showed that whatever he meant by catholic, it was not what anyone else had meant by catholic, at least for the first 1800 years or so of the Church’s existence. Whether Dr. Leithart is grouping his way toward catholicity I can’t say, but the telos of catholicity, and not its demise, is nothing that Leithart is expounding. He has since gone on to assert all sorts of caveats: the Orthodox are like the Northern tribes, the Orthodox are children who haven’t grown up to a better understanding of the faith, the Orthodox practice idolatry of a different sort than your run of the mill pagan, but it is still idolatry; John Paul II is the greatest Christian of the twentieth century, but Leithart will have communion with anti-sacramentals before having it with him; de Lubac, Congar, and Schmemann were prophets he loves, but who are unheeded by their communions, and also partakers of their sins, whereas he (Leithart) knows better than they.
We are supposed to believe that this is catholic? I wish to be charitable, but as Chris Jones alluded to earlier with a comment B la Bill Tighe, this is nonsense on stilts. The Reformers not have identified with this. Catholicity is not massaging reality to make it fit your idea of the truth, but is assenting to what the Church has taught, believed, and practiced. I have seldom had the opportunity to cite what was once formulated as one of the Laws of the Pontificator, may his beard be ever long (a former Episcopal priest who eventually left and has now ended as Orthodox) that where Orthodoxy and Catholicism agree, Protestantism is wrong. This may be a nice shorthand, and something certainly to be argued, but on this issue it is not merely the Orthodox and Catholic who are in agreement here, but also Calvin and Luther with the Orthodox and Catholics against Leithart: devotion and discipline are inextricably bound to the table. Let us take Calvin as our guide here, with whom I am far better acquainted.
Many on Dr. Leithart’s camp (e.g., James B. Jordan) make great noise about Calvin wanting communion every week at every altar (ahem, I mean, table). This is true. But Calvin was willing to live without this. What he wasn’t willing to live without was the Book of Discipline. This is what brought about his expulsion from Geneva in 1538 when he and Farel would not back down on their demands, and it was the very thing that brought about his confrontation with the Perrins in the 1550s, and with this clash his ultimate triumph following the Servetus affair (a rather messy moment in Genevan political and ecclesiological life that played no small part in Calvin’s ultimate triumph over his political opponents). For Calvin discipline and devotion were the prerequisites of communion. Now this is something that Leithart would confess, but how seriously can we take his concurrence with Calvin, when any Baptist who denies the reality of sacramental grace could walk into Dr. Leithart’s church tomorrow and communicate. He is barred, or at least that was the practice some ten years ago, by his own larger communion, the PCA, from not admitting them. Calvin never would have stood for this. Is Dr. Leithart now more catholic than Calvin, than Luther? He can maintain all he wants that he is following in Calvin’s train, but Calvin’s train, to mix metaphors, pulled out of his station a long time ago. Ultimately Leithart’s Eucharistic ecclesiology, whatever it is he thinks is happening on the altar, is not Calvin’s.
The reason the Orthodox, the Catholics, and the Lutherans practice closed communion has nothing to do with who is and isn’t a Christian, but whether those in communion with us are just that: in communion ecclesiogically (episcopally for the Orthodox and Catholics, confessionally for the Lutherans). Speaking as an Orthodox, if you don’t recognize the spiritual oversight and authority of the bishop, how can we commune with you? As St. Ignatius of Antioch noted, the bishop is to be honored as the Father. But were we to admit Dr. Leithart to our table, we would not be following what St. Ignatius, and indeed the whole of our Tradition, has taught us, and it would be we who are the schismatics. Ultimately Dr. Leithart has asked us to slight both our Tradition and its rule of prayer, that is, we are united together in one Eucharist with our bishop, and through him with the bishops and Orthodox in the One Christ throughout the world. Why would we ever want to leave that?