“Too catholic to be Catholic?” A Response to Peter Leithart

May 24th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Dr. Peter J. Leithart, fellow at New St. Andrews College and pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho, recently posted an article at his blog that has caught the attention of many who participate in the ongoing Protestant-Catholic dialog. Last year Leithart faced disciplinary charges before the PCA for his Federal Vision theology, though he was subsequently acquitted. His writing in journals such as First Things and Touchstone have earned him a reputation as an ecumenical figure — a dirty word in some Reformed circles where it’s taken as a synonym for compromise. His recent article, titled “Too catholic to be Catholic,” is a response to this criticism, and to the assertion by some that his ecumenical attitude helped them down the road to conversion away from Protestantism, and toward either Orthodoxy or Catholicism. In this article he seeks to explain why he remains Protestant, and why he thinks Protestants should remain Protestant.

“Too catholic to be Catholic”

Leithart begins his explanation by expressing his desire for church unity, and laments the divisions that separate Christians. He says that our response to such divisions “should be deep mourning and repentance.” And Catholics can agree that these divisions ought to provoke us to sorrow, to self-examination for any way in which we contribute to their perpetuation, and to a commitment never to abandon the effort to be instruments of Catholic-Protestant reconciliation, through our prayers and our effort to engage in good faith dialogue. So far, so good.

His defense against the charge of leading others away from Protestantism — and his own stated reason for remaining Protestant despite his respect for many in the Apostolic Churches — is his “reformed catholicity,” a term he does not directly or explicitly define. His reformed catholicity, he claims, is not in conflict with his long-standing desire for unity among Christians. On the contrary, claims Leithart, he is “too catholic to be Catholic.”

Before explaining what he means by that, he makes clear to his audience that he does indeed hold to the distinctly Protestant objections to Orthodoxy and Catholicism, listing some Catholic teachings with which he disagrees. But he says those are not the “primary driving reasons that keep me Protestant.” What he means by “I’m too catholic to become Catholic” is made clearer by his explanation that becoming Catholic would require him to do or believe four things.

1. It would require him to start going to a “Eucharistic table” where his Protestant friends are not “welcome.”

2. It would require him to believe that Protestants are “living a sub-Christian existence” by their lack of apostolic succession.

3. It would require accepting that he is not presently ordained.

4. It would require him to believe that Protestants are “separated brethren.”

Becoming Catholic would require him to believe that Protestantism as such is wrong about the relation of apostolic succession to the Eucharist, and the visibility and identity of the Catholic Church as the Church Christ founded. It would require him to believe that Protestants as such by not being in full communion with the Catholic Church are deprived of certain gifts Christ established in His Church. And Leithart does not believe those things. He is more catholic than Catholics, in his opinion, because he considers all Christians, or at least all baptized Christians, or at least all Trinitarian baptized Christians, or at least all baptized Trinitarian Chalcedonian Nicene Creed-affirming Christians, to be fully incorporated into the Church. And therefore what belongs to ‘catholicity,’ for Leithart, are only the beliefs and practices all those Christians have in common. This turns out to be a smaller set of doctrines than taught by the Catholic Church. Hence, what he means by claiming to be “too catholic to be Catholic” amounts to this: he believes that the essentials of the faith are nothing more than what all baptized Trinitarian Chalcedonian Nicene Creed-affirming Christians have in common.

Boundaries of the Table

For Dr. Leithart, it seems that the question fundamentally centers around table fellowship. Because Protestants are not permitted to receive from the altars of the Catholic Church or the Orthodox Churches, those tables are deemed “less catholic” than his own table where he openly states that Catholics and Orthodox are welcome to partake.1

However, closed communion is and has always been the catholic practice, the universal practice of the Church universal. St. Justin Martyr (d. AD 165) explained that before receiving the Eucharist, a person not only needed to be baptized, but also had to assent to the Catholic teaching. He writes:

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. …

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. ( First Apology, 65, 66)

The early Church would not even allow Catholics in open mortal sin to receive the Eucharist, let alone allow heretics to do so.2 A fortiori, heretics were excluded, until they repented of their heresy. Even the early Protestants fenced the table from Protestants of other traditions. The practice of an open communion table is a relatively recent phenomenon arising in Protestant revivalism and Evangelicalism. It is Leithart’s ‘open-communion’ practice, therefore, that is not catholic, because it has never been the practice of the universal Church.

Why does the Catholic Church not allow Protestants to receive the Eucharist? The Eucharist is not offered to non-Catholics because the Eucharist is a sign of our Catholic unity (CCC 1323, 1325, 1398). St. Paul teaches this when he writes, “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor 10:17) If we were to extend the Eucharist to those who are in heresy or schism from us, we would in that respect make the Eucharist into a lie. As Pope John Paul II wrote:

Precisely because the Church’s unity, which the Eucharist brings about through the Lord’s sacrifice and by communion in his body and blood, absolutely requires full communion in the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments and ecclesiastical governance, it is not possible to celebrate together the same Eucharistic liturgy until those bonds are fully re-established. Any such concelebration would not be a valid means, and might well prove instead to be an obstacle, to the attainment of full communion, by weakening the sense of how far we remain from this goal and by introducing or exacerbating ambiguities with regard to one or another truth of the faith. The path towards full unity can only be undertaken in truth. In this area, the prohibitions of Church law leave no room for uncertainty, in fidelity to the moral norm laid down by the Second Vatican Council. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 44)

For the Eucharist rightly to signify our true and full union in Christ’s Body, the Church ordinarily offers the Eucharist only to those in full communion with her, not to those remaining in heresy or schism from her. Even the exception provided in canon law allowing Protestants to receive the Eucharist when there is grave necessity requires that the Protestant manifests “Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments.” In other words, the Protestant in such a case must believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the sacraments.3 As the Holy Spirit by St. Paul admonishes, we are to “discern the body” (1 Cor 11:29), lest we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves. So because Protestants [typically] do not discern the Real Presence (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) of Christ in the Eucharist, the Church has an obligation to protect them from sinning in receiving the Eucharist without discerning what it actually is. Finally, because the Church has definitively decreed certain things about the Eucharist (cf. Trent, Session 13), it is necessary to believe and not to deny those things, in order for us to be in unity regarding the Eucharist, having “one faith,” so that our participation in the Eucharist is a true sign of our unity in the “one faith” of the Church. What Leithart proposes, in calling for the Catholic Church to allow Protestants to receive the Eucharist, is a call to repudiate the meaning of the Eucharist, by allowing those who publicly reject or deny the Real Presence and the Catholic teaching regarding the Eucharist, to partake with us.

Leithart appeals to St. Paul’s account in the epistle to the Galatians of St. Peter withdrawing from eating with the Christian Gentiles in Antioch, as a reason why the Catholic Church should not close the Eucharist to Protestants. He writes:

Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome? How is that different from Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentiles?

Leithart’s objection here presupposes that the Gentile Christians of Antioch were ecclesially related to the Jewish Christians, the way Protestants are ecclesially related to Catholics. But that presupposition is precisely the ecclesial question in dispute, since Leithart treats as a ‘branch’ what in Catholic ecclesiology is nothing less than a schism from the Church.4 Leithart believes that Catholics and Protestants are merely different branches of the same tree. But the Catholic Church teaches that Christ founded a visible catholic Church, and that not only is it possible to be in schism from that visible catholic Church, but that Protestants are in fact in schism from that visible catholic Church, by refusing submission to the successor of St. Peter and all the bishops in communion with him.5 The Gentile believers in Antioch, by contrast, were fully incorporated into the Church, not refusing submission to St. Peter and the other Apostles.

Regarding Leithart’s objection to the Catholic practice of closed communion, Katie Plato, a former Baptist who recently became Catholic, says this:

Why would Dr. Leithart and other Protestants who are offended at the exclusive nature of the Catholic Mass want to participate? They don’t believe in the Sacrifice of the Mass or the Real Presence. When the Eucharist is offered in Mass, why cry foul at not being able to participate in something you don’t believe in? The blog post appealed to the emotion of feeling excluded, but the debate truly lies in the nature of the Eucharist; and Catholics and Protestants have very different ideas. Christianity, by nature, is exclusive. Dr. Leithart would agree. Not everyone should be able to participate in the Eucharist, one has to ascribe to a certain set of beliefs, something Dr. Leithart’s denomination practices as well. Most denominations have some sort of criteria for partaking in the Lord’s Supper. Dr. Leithart makes it sound like the Catholic Church stands alone and is mean and unjust for “denying access to the table of my Lord.” Phrases such as “sub-Christian,” used in this context, incite emotion and give the impression that this is what the Catholic Church teaches, which is unfair rhetoric. The debate should not lie in who is excluding whom (because we all do it), but rather in what the Eucharist is.

In Mass, it is not just the table of my Lord, but the Body of my Lord. Catholics have offered the Sacrifice of the Mass for over 2000 years, since Jesus Christ instituted it at the Last Supper. It is the same now as it was back in the time of the apostles and early Church Fathers. Ignatius of Antioch, disciple of the Apostle John, states: “They hold aloof from the Eucharist and from services of prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which, in His goodness, the Father raised from the dead. Therefore, those who argue against the gift of God will die in their disputes.” The burden of proof does not lie with the Catholic, but with the Protestant, who 1500 years later, adopted a new definition of the Eucharist. It is unfair of Dr. Leithart to accuse Catholics of “distancing themselves from other Christians,” and then claim to be “more Catholic.” He is using novel definitions of both the words “Catholic” and “Eucharist,” and is trying to make them mean something different than they have traditionally meant. (“Schism and the Eucharist.”)

Dr. Leithart’s claim to greater catholicity in his policy of open communion ignores the fact that for Catholic or Orthodox Christians to partake of the Eucharist in his community would be a grave sin for them. He is openly inviting Catholics and Orthodox to disobey their own pastors and renounce fundamental tenets of their faith for his own vision of greater catholicity. This would in theory be a just call if he believed and taught that his denomination is the one true Church that Christ Himself founded and apart from which no one can be saved. But he doesn’t claim that. He believes the Presbyterian Church in America, of which he is a member, and the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) in which he serves, are simply two of many branches of a visibly divided catholic Church, each branch teaching error to some varying degree.

In that environment, how can he call for other Christians to forsake their camp for his? The Catholic Church can call all Christians and all men to partake at her altar and forsake all others precisely and only because she makes the audacious claim that she is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded, not a branch of a once visible but now divided Church.

In fact, for the ancient Church, the very purpose of orthodoxy was the protection of the Sacred Mysteries. Who could and could not receive at the Lord’s table was determined by who did and did not confess the faith once delivered by the Apostles. When doctrinal controversies broke out, what was at stake was who was and was not the Church. For example, when the Arians were declared heretics, there was no practice of intercommunion because of some greater vision of catholicity with them. Far from it! They were excommunicated, that is, they quite literally could not receive Holy Communion. So today, to receive communion in the Catholic Church, one cannot be a confessing heretic. To do so would be a grave sin.

One must wonder, if Dr. Leithart is willing to commune persons he refers to as liturgical idolaters, those who muzzle the grace of God, those who distract from the one true Mediator, Jesus Christ, what would he do with an Arian? What do the boundaries of orthodoxy mean if not the boundaries of table fellowship? But this is precisely the problem that the heretical minister has found himself in since the beginning – if he claims a closed table for himself he will find it so small as to make an unconvincing argument for his being the, or a part of the, universal Church. So he opens wide the doors to all and sundry “in good standing with a local church.” That way his position looks catholic. But despite the appearances of universality due to the number of people to whom he opens the table, that table is not one, is not holy and is not Apostolic since it has departed from the Church and the altar Christ founded.

The question of whose table is the table of the Lord must be answered by objective, authoritative and non-arbitrary standards for what is catholic and what is not. But Leithart does not provide that standard. His co-pastor at Trinity Reformed Church, Toby Sumpter, argues elsewhere that the table is Jesus’ table and any human limitations on it are man-made and pharisaical because only Jesus can make the rules about His table. But this argument works only if one does not stop to ask what is the principled standard for catholicity such that it is not contrary to catholicity to exclude Arians, Sabellians, Nestorians, or Monophysites from the Eucharist, but it is contrary to catholicity to exclude Protestants. It only works if one does not stop to ask what if Jesus did set up rules for His table and those rules are the rules enforced by the Catholic Church today. The argument Leithart puts forward here is formally identical to what a liberal Presbyterian female pastor might make to admit a practicing homosexual couple to the Lord’s table. It construes the Church’s rules regarding the table as too restricting, by disregarding the authority by which those rules are made, and replacing them with its own opinion regarding who should be allowed to the table.

Ad hoc catholicity

Leithart’s claim to be “too catholic to be Catholic” because his table is open to more people presupposes the truth of the Protestant rejection of both apostolic succession and the essential visible unity of the Church Christ founded. If apostolic succession is essential both for ordination and for the Eucharist, and if the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded and established with a divinely authorized magisterium, then Leithart should believe and do the four things he lists. Only if apostolic succession is unnecessary for the Eucharist, and the Catholic Church is not the Church Christ founded, are those four things good reasons not to be Catholic. So what Leithart means, in part, by “I’m too catholic to be Catholic,” is that he is too Protestant to be Catholic; he is not providing any objective criterion or evidence showing that the Catholic Church lacks ‘catholicity.’ But he is using the term ‘catholicity’ as if he is appealing to an objective standard to critique the Catholic Church, not as though he is merely saying that he doesn’t agree with certain Catholic doctrines. The astute reader must see through the rhetoric.


Peter Leithart

Any heretic could excise genuinely catholic doctrines, and then claim that only the remaining doctrines are truly catholic, and that by teaching the other doctrines the Catholic Church is going beyond ‘catholicity.’ Because anyone can co-opt the term ‘catholicity’ for himself, and reject any particular doctrine by claiming that he is “too catholic” for that particular doctrine, the appeal to ‘catholicity’ as a basis for not being Catholic requires an objective, authoritative and non-arbitrary standard for what is catholic and what is not. Otherwise, if one appeals to ‘catholicity’ as defined by which doctrines one accepts or rejects, one is engaged only in self-serving rhetoric. But Leithart does not provide that standard for ‘catholicity.’ He never provides that standard because he cannot do so; without a magisterium there is no non-arbitrary way of objectively determining what is catholic and what is not, what is orthodox and what is not, which Church decisions are binding, and which are not, which elements of Tradition are authoritative, and which are not, who is in the Church and who is not.6 The one objecting to Catholic catholicity has to substitute himself for the magisterium, and use his own stipulated definition of ‘catholicity,’ hoping that no one notices. But informed people do. See Orthodox priest Fr. Andrew Damick’s reply to Leithart titled “Too catholic to be Catholic: Communion with Idolators?,” and see Missouri Synod Lutheran Chris Jones’ reply to Leithart here.7

Leithart arbitrarily excludes certain doctrines and practices that belong to the fullness of the Catholic faith, such as communion of saints, apostolic succession, distinction of bishop and presbyter, justification by infusion of agape, Eucharist as sacrifice, veneration of icons, etc. He treats all these as non-catholic accretions, rather than as catholic beliefs or authentic catholic developments, and in doing so he implicitly presupposes ecclesial deism.8 But he provides no evidence that these are not catholic doctrines. Regarding the four things he would have to do to become Catholic, Leithart claims that believing that Reformed persons are in error in these four respects is incompatible with catholicity. But for Leithart, believing that Catholics are in error on these four points is perfectly compatible with catholicity. As noted above, “I’m too catholic to be Catholic” turns out to mean “I’m too Protestant to be Catholic,” and that’s no reason to be Protestant, or Catholic.

If Leithart were in fact a heretic denying actual catholic doctrines taught by the holy Catholic Church Christ founded, everything would look exactly as it in fact does. So Leithart’s claim that apostolic succession, communion of saints, veneration of icons, adoring the Host, etc. are not “catholic” is no reason to believe that they are not catholic, because it provides no reason to believe his paradigm (i.e. that all these are accretions) over the Catholic paradigm, according to which by denying Catholic distinctives Leithart is denying genuinely catholic doctrines. Leithart provides no principled basis for determining which beliefs and practices are or are not ‘catholic.’ The reader is left needing to choose between Leithart’s opinion regarding which doctrines and practices are ‘catholic,’ and the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding which doctrines and practices are catholic.

Ordination and Separated Brethren

Just as with access to the Eucharistic table, it is unacceptable to Dr. Leithart that ordinations performed by sincere Christians should be invalid. But this objection seems largely personal. He cannot imagine his ordination to be invalid or that he may never have presided over a valid Eucharist. But the question should not be whether it is imaginable or conceivable that one’s ordination is invalid, but rather what is the authoritative basis for determining objectively and without special pleading whether one’s ordination is valid or invalid?

What difference does that make, exactly?

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Catholic Church is right and Leithart is wrong: how would he know? What would be different? Leithart seems to be using his own [fallen] reason to infer from his personal experience that the presence among his fellow Protestants of genuine faith in Christ, implies that they do not need to believe any uniquely Catholic doctrines in order to participate in the Eucharist, and that therefore these Catholic distinctives are superfluous. He infers that Protestants cannot be “separated brethren” because they truly have faith in Christ. If, however, separated brethren can truly have faith in Christ, then it does not follow that Protestants are not “separated brethren,” and that belief in the Catholic distinctives is unnecessary for legitimate participation in the Eucharist. In other words, if “separated brethren” can and do truly have faith in Christ, but more than faith in Christ is needed for rightly receiving the Eucharist, then the presence of faith in Christ among Protestants is no evidence at all that Protestants should be admitted as such to the Catholic Eucharist.

Similarly, how would he know if he were not validly ordained? Does he think he that invalidly ordained people feel the absence of ordination when they attempt to consecrate the bread and wine? In other words, does he think an invalid ordination is self-evident to one who is invalidly ordained? If not, then what are the objective and ‘catholic’ criteria for distinguishing a valid ordination from an invalid one? Again, Leithart’s argument regarding his ordination is formally equivalent to that of a liberal female Presbyterian who says, “I’m more catholic than Catholics, because they won’t recognize my ordination.”9 When he denies that Protestantism is less than complete Christianity, he seems to be using his personal experience with other Protestants to infer by way of human reason that no more grace is available within the Catholic Church than when separated from her, and that therefore Protestants do not need to return to the Catholic Church, because they are not missing any grace by remaining separate. This experiential criterion of doctrine is a form of rationalism, because it treats human reason, rather than the divine authority of the revelation of Christ mediated to us through the Church, as the final arbiter regarding what is orthodox and what is heretical.

Finally, when he says: “Why should I distance myself from other Christians like that? I’m too catholic to do that,” the answer should be this: “When one discovers that other Christians with whom one is presently associated are in heresy or schism from the Church, one should leave that heresy or schism. Doing so has as a foreseen but unintended consequence that one distances oneself from those Christians in that respect. In this situation, distancing oneself from an ecclesial community that is in heresy or schism is the way to embrace the greater good of being in full communion with the Church that Christ founded.”

Sectarianism and Contracted Catholicity

Leithart views the Catholic practice of closed communion to be sectarian, writing:

“But when I attend Mass and am denied access to the table of my Lord Jesus together with my Catholic brothers, I can’t help wondering what really is the difference between Catholics and the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans or the Continental Reformed who practice closed communion. Size and history apart, how is Catholicism different from a gigantic sect?”

Wisconsin Synod Lutherans and the Continental Reformed who practice closed communion are not the Church Christ founded. There’s the difference. The Church Christ founded cannot be a sect, that is, a schism from the Church. Leithart does not give any explicit reason for opposing closed-communion; he merely compares the Catholic Church’s practice to that of these two other Protestant denominations. But his reason is easily discernible. What is offensive and off-putting, from the point of view of Protestants like Leithart who hold a ‘branch’ ecclesiology in which persons of many different faith traditions belong to one invisible ‘body,’ is a refusal by one branch to recognize that we’re all branches, and thus to allow communion between the members of the various branches. That is why he opposes the closed communion practices of Wisconsin Synod Lutherans and the Continental Reformed. Their understanding of themselves as branches of a larger whole does not fit well, all other things being equal, with their refusal to commune with the other branches of that one invisible whole. In this way Leithart’s objection to the Catholic practice of closed communion presupposes that the Catholic Church is a mere branch, like Wisconsin Synod Lutherans or the Continental Reformed. But that’s not what the Catholic Church believes and teaches about herself. So Leithart’s objection to the Catholic practice of closed communion presupposes a Protestant ecclesiology that he imposes on the Catholic Church, and in that respect presupposes precisely what is in question between the two paradigms.

He writes:

“To become Catholic I would [have] to contract my ecclesial world. I would have to become less catholic – less catholic than Jesus is.”

When one goes from believing only in an invisible catholic Church, to believing that Christ founded a visible Church, and embracing that Church, one has to contract one’s ecclesiology just as going from Docetism to Chalcedonian Christology requires a contraction in one’s Christology, acknowledging that this Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary at the time of the census when Quirinius was governor of Syria, is the Son of God. But, becoming Catholic does not require becoming “less catholic than Jesus is.” To be Catholic does not require denying that non-Catholic Christians can have faith in Christ. If the Catholic Church is who she claims to be, and Catholic ecclesiology is correct, then becoming Catholic requires becoming just as catholic as Jesus is, which means being in full communion with the Church Jesus founded and not in communion with any sect founded by mere men.

Leithart is here pitting the visibility of the Church against its catholicity, as if the two are mutually exclusive. He claims that to become Catholic, and embrace the notion that Christ founded a Church with essential visible unity, he would have to “become less catholic.” But ‘catholicity’ has no meaning apart from the visibility of the Church, because apart from visibility, ‘catholicity’ can mean anything. For the catholicity of the Church to have any principled content, the Church must be visible, and it must be visibly one, so that there is an objective and authoritative standard for what is and is not catholic. Protestant ecclesiology does not have a visible catholic Church, and therefore cannot provide such a standard for catholicity.10 Pitting visibility against catholicity is part of the error of gnosticism, that grace cannot come through visible sacraments whose power comes through the physical laying on of hands, that the Church Christ founded cannot be an essentially visible Church, and that Christ cannot have a visible material body delimited in space and time. If Christ can be truly incarnate and yet the Savior of the whole world, then He can be the Head of a visible Body that is also catholic. Just as the incarnate visibility of Christ does not detract from the universality of His salvific will and work, so the essential visibility of His Body the Church, does not detract or diminish her catholicity.

Leithart seems to think that valid baptism and confession of the Creed is sufficient for full communion. But baptism is not in itself sufficient for full communion, for persons who have attained the age of reason.11 We are not just “one baptism,” but also “one faith,” and “one Body.” A baptized schismatic does not have a right to Eucharistic fellowship until he has forsaken his schism, and returned to full communion. Similarly, a validly baptized heretic does not have a right to Eucharistic fellowship until he has forsaken his heresy and embraced the whole Catholic faith. Because Leithart’s communion at Trinity Reformed Church is open to Catholics and Orthodox, his communion can signify unity of faith only if what belongs to the faith is limited to what Trinity Reformed Church, Catholics, and Orthodox all have in common, everything else being adiaphora. But such a notion undermines the justification for Protestant separation, as Carl Trueman points out. If, on the other hand, Leithart thinks that the canons of Session 6 of the Council of Trent are heretical, then his communion does not signify having “one faith,” since he opens it to orthodox Catholics whom he believes to be heretics.

The Contradiction of Pleading for Communion in what one Condemns as Idolatrous

One difficulty with Leithart’s position is the contradiction between opposing the Catholic Church’s practice of closed communion, while at the same time referring to Catholics as liturgical idolaters who worship a piece of bread. This has been perhaps the most common criticism of Leithart’s article since it was published. Leithart has issued a follow-up post titled “Israel, Idolatry, and Separated Brothers,” to explain this apparent contradiction. There he writes:

[S]ince Vatican II the Catholic church has acknowledged that while the church subsists in Catholicism, “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure” (Lumen Gentium, 8) and has famously recognized that some outside the Catholic church are “brothers,” albeit separated ones.

From the perspective of 1-2 Kings, this is altogether too sanguine a view of the state of the church. In the history of Israel, the line that divides the northern kingdom of Israel from the southern kingdom of Judah is a line that divides brothers, a line that divides two covenant nations, a line that runs right through the middle of Israel herself. At the beginning of the history of the divided kingdom, Yahweh warns Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, not to attack the northern kingdom and force them back into the Davidic orbit, and in that warning describes Israel as Judah’s “brothers” (1 Kings 12:24). The prophets pick up on similar familial language: Ezekiel describes Jerusalem and Samaria, capital cities of northern and south, as twin sisters (Ezekiel 23). More remarkably, toward the end of the Northern kingdom, after a long history of calf worship and worse, Yahweh holds back from finally destroying Israel because of the promises He made to the patriarchs: ”Yahweh was gracious to them and had compassion on them and turned to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (2 Kings 13:23).

Sectarianism is a comfort. If my church is the only church, then there’s no tragic division within Christendom, no rent in the fabric, to tearing of Christ’s body. 1-2 Kings gives us no such comfort: Christ has been divided in our divisions.

In this follow-up post, Leithart’s interpretation of the Old Testament and his application of that interpretation to the Church implicitly presuppose that what was true under the Old Covenant, must remain the case under the New Covenant. Since the people of God under the Old Covenant could be divided, therefore, according to this presupposition, the Church of the New Covenant must also be divisible. By way of such an assumption one could argue against the Eucharistic sacrifice, on the basis of Old Testament animal sacrifices, or against baptism, on the basis of Old Testament circumcision. This presupposition does not take into consideration that the New Covenant is a new and better covenant. “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Heb 7:22), “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.” (Heb 8:6) When Jesus came, He established His Church, and it is better than the order established under the Old Covenant. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth, and the Spirit has come to dwell within her, and shall never be removed from her, because the bond of union between Christ and His Church is indissoluble, as is the hypostatic union. St. Cyprian, the third century bishop of Carthage taught that the Church’s visible unity cannot be divided:

This sacrament of unity, this bond of a concord inseparably cohering, is set forth where in the Gospel the coat of the Lord Jesus Christ is not at all divided nor cut, but is received as an entire garment, and is possessed as an uninjured and undivided robe by those who cast lots concerning Christ’s garment, who should rather put on Christ. Holy Scripture speaks, saying, “But of the coat, because it was not sewed, but woven from the top throughout, they said one to another, Let us not rend it, but cast lots whose it shall be.” (John 19:23-24) That coat bore with it an unity that came down from the top, that is, that came from heaven and the Father, which was not to be at all rent by the receiver and the possessor, but without separation we obtain a whole and substantial entireness. He cannot possess the garment of Christ who parts and divides the Church of Christ. On the other hand, again, when at Solomon’s death his kingdom and people were divided, Abijah the prophet, meeting Jeroboam the king in the field, divided his garment into twelve sections, saying, “Take you ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and I will give ten sceptres unto you; and two sceptres shall be unto him for my servant David’s sake, and for Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen to place my name there.” (1 Kings 11:31) As the twelve tribes of Israel were divided, the prophet Abijah rent his garment. But because Christ’s people cannot be rent, His robe, woven and united throughout, is not divided by those who possess it; undivided, united, connected, it shows the coherent concord of our people who put on Christ. By the sacrament and sign of His garment, He has declared the unity of the Church. (De catholicae ecclesiae unitate, 7)

By contrast, Leithart’s notion that since the people of the Old Covenant could be divided, therefore the Church can be divided presupposes that the New Covenant is no better than the Old. Of course Leithart would explicitly and sincerely deny that the New Covenant is no greater than the Old, but he does not seem to realize that his argument depends on that presupposition. And that presupposition implicit in Leithart’s theology, is the error of the Judaizers. St. Paul condemns this error strongly in his letter to the Galatians. In the Old Covenant, the law was written on stone, but in the New, it is written on the heart. And this New Covenant people is the Church, the “pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim 3:15), the family of God, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the New Jerusalem. Greater is He who is in this Temple, than he who is in the world, and hence the enemy cannot prevail against the Church, “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.” The Spirit who indwells this people is leading them into all truth. Christ has promised never to leave them or forsake them.

The fundamental problem with the error of the Judaizers described in St. Paul’s letter is that it implicitly denied the incarnation of Christ. It clung to the Old Covenant, because of its implicit assumption that no one greater had come along, and hence no better covenant had been made. Likewise, a notion that the Church, which is Christ’s Mystical Body, could fall into heresy and apostasy (or even extinction) for almost fifteen hundred years, or be divided, implies that the person whose body this community was said to be, was a mere man, not the Son of the living God. In this way, this presupposition is the ecclesial equivalent of returning to the necessity of circumcision. What Leithart needs to provide here, in order to ground his argument and address this problem, is objective criteria for determining what the apostolic faith is and is not, and what is his authority to bind others to his definition. He needs to explain on what basis he presumes that the Church formed by the Precious Blood of the New Covenant, could shatter in the same manner as Old Testament Israel.

Of course Leithart explicitly affirms the incarnation and the Creed. His ecclesiology, however, implicitly denies the incarnation, not by recognizing continuity between the Old Covenant people of God and the Church Christ founded by His blood of the New Covenant, and not by noting shared characteristics between both, such as twelve tribes and twelve Apostles, but by presupposing that what was true of the Old Covenant people must be true of the Body of Christ formed from the sacraments signified by the blood and water that flowed from the Second Adam’s side.

In disagreeing with the theology underlying Leithart’s exegesis, we are not denying the rhetorical brilliance of his reading of the Book of Kings vis-a-vis the Church. By means of this reading, Leithart has, on his own theological terms, justified his (partial) embrace of Catholics and Orthodox as genuine brothers who are tragically engaged in what he sees as liturgical idolatry. It would be churlish for Catholics not to at least appreciate his attempt (and the attempts of others) to find biblical and theological grounds for embracing us as fellow Christians.

However, as we have already noted, there is a glaring problem with Leithart’s theological terms; namely, he maintains, contrary to Scripture, that “Christ has been divided in our divisions” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13). And the reason that Leithart takes this position is that he fails to appreciate (relative to the matter at hand) that the Church is not simply an extension of or replacement for Israel under the Old Covenant. The Church is related to Israel by virtue of being the mystical Body of the Christ of Israel, in whom all of God’s promises are “yes.” But it is not simply to Israel that we look in order to understand the nature of the mystical Body. Rather, we look to Israel in (and through) Christ.

Israel is a type of the Church, but the Church does not simply recapitulate Israel. The Church, as the Body of Christ, fulfills (not completely, but truly) God’s promises to Israel. By virtue of the Incarnation, The Church’s sacraments are not merely New Covenant versions of Old Covenant rites,12 and ecclesial divisions are not ontologically equivalent repetitions of the political and cultic divisions between the Northern and Southern kingdoms. Christ’s physical Body was broken for us, but his mystical Body is not divided by us in our divisions. Rather, our divisions are overcome in that Body, which is the Church. But this would not be possible if the Church herself were divided, on the principle that nothing can give what it does not have (in this case, unity).

But the Church does have unity, because there is one King and Head, and therefore one Kingdom and Body. Furthermore, the Son of David has already cast down the high places (including Israel’s own Temple) and established one altar and one sacrifice in which people in all nations participate until his coming again (cf. Malachi 1:11; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Christ is the antitype of David and Josiah, and He is greater than these. Our Lord reigns in the Church through those to whom He gave charge over the Church, especially the one to whom He gave the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:16-19; cf. Isaiah 22:20-25). On Leithart’s reading, the keys and the kingdom have once more been divided, which implies that Christ is no greater than David. And therein lies Leithart’s theological error. David died and did not rise again, and so could not provide for the continuing unity of his kingdom. But Christ died and rose again, to die no more. His Body remains unbroken.

The implication of orthodox Christology, which is the lens by which we come to better understand biblical typology, is that Church divisions, where they result in an enduring break of communion, are always schisms from the Church, not divisions of the Church. Christ is not divided–he has one Body. Christ is not a polygamist–he has one Bride. In the confusion resulting from schism, the task of everyone who names the name of Christ is to discern which of the various communions is the mystical Body of Christ, the one Church that He founded.13

The reason for raising these objections to Leithart’s inclusive vision of a shattered Church is not to be anti-ecumenical, but to avoid the false ecumenism latent in Leithart’s ecclesiology, according to which a future united Church, insofar as it is not a body that currently exists, would be discontinuous with the Church that Our Lord established and promised to preserve throughout the ages. It is with and in this Church, not some nebulous future Church, that we are all called to communion.14

Finally, regarding Leithart’s claim about sectarianism, if one defines ‘sectarianism’ as the claim that the visible body to which one belongs is the Church Christ founded, then assuming that ‘sectarianism’ [so defined] is always wrong presupposes either that Christ never founded a visible catholic Church or that, having done so, at some point He allowed it to fall out of existence. But if Christ founded a visible catholic Church, and the gates of hell shall never prevail against it, then there is until Christ returns only one case in which ‘sectarianism’ [so defined] is right, because the ‘sect’ in question is no sect at all, but the very Church Christ founded. Because Leithart conceives of ‘catholicity’ as the denial of ‘sectarianism,’ according to the definition of ‘sectarianims’ just provided, he must conclude that the Catholic Church is both sectarian and not ‘catholic.’ But all this presupposes that either Christ never founded a visible catholic Church, or that if He did, the gates of hell prevailed against it some time ago. And that’s not a safe assumption.

The Church of the Future

In the last paragraph of his article, Leithart writes:

We can’t see the future; we can’t know how God is going to put back the fragmented pieces of His church. We can trust and hope that He is and will, but all we have access to are the configurations of the past and present. It’s tempting to imagine that the future of the church will be an extension of some present tradition – Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist, whatever. But the future never is a simple extension of the past and present (how can it be, with the massive surge in Christianity in the global South?). So I remain contentedly and firmly in my reformed catholicity, but I remain also eager and impatient for the church to come. Of that church we know nothing except that it will be like nothing we know.

According to Leithart we can’t see the future, but somehow we can know that before Christ’s return God will put back the pieces of His “fragmented” Church. We cannot see the future, but we should be “eager and impatient” for this future. We cannot know how God is going to put back the “fragmented pieces of His church,” but somehow we can know that the reunited ‘Church’ will not be “an extension of some present tradition.” We cannot see the future, but we can know that the future is never an extension of the past and present. We “know nothing” of the Church of the future, except that “it will be like nothing we know.” How Leithart knows that the future Church will not only not be the same institution Christ founded, but will also be “like nothing we know,” he does not say. He merely asserts it to be true, as if he is a prophet who need not substantiate his claims. You have to tip your hat to someone who can [almost] get away with claiming in the very same paragraph that we cannot see the future, while telling us all about forthcoming events in the future. His only evidence for his claim about the future is “the massive surge in Christianity in the global South.” He seems not to realize that this massive surge is fully compatible with the Catholic Church being the very same institution Christ founded two-thousand years ago, and remaining so until Christ returns.

In his follow-up article, Leithart provides a clue to the basis of his prognostications regarding the future of the Church, when he writes:

Josiah’s reign gives us a vision of the church’s future devoutly to be wished: Brothers separated for centuries sharing one table; a divided people guilty of multiple idolatries restored to fellowship with God and with one another. If the history of Israel figures the history of the divided church, Josiah’s reign gives hope that the rending of the corporate body of Jesus is not permanent, and that like the rending of Jesus on the cross it will in time be followed by a glorious corporate resurrection.

All this, of course, presupposes that the historical trajectory of the Church must follow the historical trajectory of Israel. And that presupposition is not itself theologically neutral. As explained above, insofar as such a presupposition carries with it the assumption that the New Covenant Church must be divisible because the Old Covenant people were, it is an implicit denial of the incarnation.

True Catholicity Stands with Christ and His Vice-Regent

As is nearly always the case, the reason the term “catholic” is arbitrary in Leithart’s explanation of his position is that Protestant ecclesiology operates without reference to the visible principle of unity that Christ established in His Church: the Pope of Rome. When one is restored to full communion with the successor of St. Peter there is no need to speculate or fret over where the boundaries of catholicity lie or who is being too stingy or not strict enough with their catholicity.

To be catholic enough is to be Catholic. To be less than Catholic is to be out of touch with the Universal Church, which is to say, not catholic at all. From a Catholic point of view, the ‘reformed catholicity’ Leithart proposes is in part the very cause of the divisions and fragments he laments, by making each man his own arbiter regarding what is orthodox, and what is not. Behind the false ecumenism of an arbitrarily ‘expanded catholicity’ is the same dispute over ecclesiology at the heart of the Protestant-Catholic separation that occurred in the sixteenth century: Did Christ found an essentially unified visible catholic Church with a principle of unity in the unity of her hierarchy, in the unity of her faith, and in the unity of her sacraments? If so, then ‘catholicity’ is defined by and flows from this Church, in which case it is impossible to be more ‘catholic’ than her.

  1. See his congregation’s statement titled “On Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Reformed Catholicity.” []
  2. As St. Ambrose says, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine;” that is to say, that partaking of the holy Communion is not to be allowed to those polluted with impurity.” Concerning Repentance, Book II, chapter 9. []
  3. See Canon 844, §4. []
  4. See “Branches or Schisms?” []
  5. ‘Schism’ is defined in both canon law and the Catholic Catechism as “the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” CCC 2089. []
  6. This was one of the problems with John Armstrong’s position, as Devin Rose pointed out. And this was also the same problem with the position advanced by Christianity Today‘s managing editor Mark Galli. []
  7. Update: See also Orthodox convert Adam Saverian’s “Too Catholic to be Catholic, or Not Catholic At All?.” []
  8. See “Ecclesial Deism.” []
  9. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman did not allow concern about his Anglican orders to be a stumbling block in his conversion. If his orders were valid, then he didn’t have to worry. If the Catholic Church was right, and his Anglican orders were invalid, then he had nothing to lose. []
  10. See “Why Protestantism has no visible catholic Church.” For the meaning of ‘catholicity’ as understood and defined within the visible Church, see comment #21 in “A Reflection on PCA Pastor Terry Johnson’s ‘Our Collapsing Ecclesiology.'” []
  11. See “Baptism, Schism, Full Communion, Salvation.” []
  12. See the post “Sacramentalism” for further elaboration of this point. []
  13. However, the case could be made, from a Catholic point of view, that the situation of the Northern Kingdom of Israel is analogous to the situation of the Orthodox Churches in relation to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church (short of Christ being divided). As the Northern tribes of Israel are true tribes, the Orthodox Churches are true Churches. []
  14. See “Ecclesial Unity and Outdoing Christ: A Dilemma for the Ecumenism of Non-Return.” []
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  1. “If we were to extend the Eucharist to those who are in heresy or schism from us, we would in that respect make the Eucharist into a lie.”

    Do you not offer the Eucharist to the Orthodox who, I believe, are in schism with the RCC? I’m sure there is a nuance here with valid/invalid sacraments that I do not fully understand. This stuck out to me. Could you explain, please?

    John

  2. Thank you… I am a protestant (having no idea what was protested) because that’s where I learned about our Savior. Several years ago, discouraged with “Christian radio”; the music and advertisements for miracle jelly and other rather pathetic sap – and trendy teaching – though some great teachers too (Swindoll, JV McGee, etc)…. Anyway I stumbled upon a Catholic radio station and a show called Catholic answers. What I heard was the Catholic church explained, not the recycled rumors of worshiping Mary, worshiping idols, cannibalism (Eucharist). I still listen and try to correct these misunderstandings when confronted with them… I’m on a slow road to the Catholic Church and I’m confident that God is greater than our forms of worship. I feel like a double agent. I don’t know if the Catholic church has great Bible teaching – I’ve heard some good stuff. Where they do trump the protestants is in the sacraments; we have nothing to compare with these tools. And they’re good. The Rosary is an amazing meditation… Hint to the protestants; it’s not “Hail Mary” as in praise Mary, but reciting the angel Gabriel’s announcement of the eternal invisible God entering humanity in what could never be imagined. How many times is enough to think about that?? Anyhow it’s a lonely journey but worthy I think..

  3. […] worth reading is this response by a Roman […]

  4. I respect the honesty of his objections, but his objections could be equally extended to Christianity itself

    1. It would require him to start going to a “Eucharistic table” where his Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and atheist friends are not “welcome.”
    2. It would require him to believe that Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists are “living a sub-Christian existence” by their lack of apostolic character (as Protestants understand it in the Nicene Creed, not Catholics or Orthodox).
    3. It would require accepting that Jew Rabbis, Muslim Imam, Hindu Brahmins, and atheist leaders are not presently ordained.
    4. It would require him to believe that Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists are “unsaved” or at least “at serious risk of damnation due to their ignorance of their saviour”.

    Ultimately, what counts is truth not feeling. He himself would recognize that and would likely refute every one of the above 4 objections. He is not a universalist.

    So there are truth claims behind his objections. Since he calls Catholics and Orthodox Christians, he must believe Catholicism/Orthodoxy = Christianity + (a bunch of unnecessary additions). So he’s *not* “too catholic to be Catholic”. He just believes Catholics are Protestants that “unnecessarily complicate the simple gospel of Jesus”. Or more simply: “Mere Christianity” equals “Full Christianity”.

    This objection has been dealt with in this forum many times before, so no more needs be said.

  5. While I agree with many of your points, I feel it is important that one of your presuppositions be challenged. The presupposition and premise in question, which is used as the basis for most of your position is the following: “Jesus Christ founded the Roman Catholic Church”.

    In fact, this premise is an error. Jesus Christ did in fact found a Catholic church, and that church did eventually reach Rome in the middle 1st Century. The problem is that the current structure of the Roman church looks nothing like the church that Jesus founded. Until around AD 500, and indeed until the Papacy of St. Gregory the Great, it is difficult to make a case for the primacy of the Roman See in anything other than Roman-redacted history. The other Christian Sees held sway and often overruled one another on matters of doctrine and faith.

    The term “Pope” or, “Father”, and more properly “The Father” was not reserved exclusively for the Bishop of Rome, and in fact was a title shared by at least (there could be more) 5 great Christian Sees. Rome interestingly enough, being the odd man out in terms of language, was often left out of theological discussions altogether. One example was the original creed of the 1st Council of Nicaea, which was not translated into Latin for almost 200 years.

    It is an accident of history that the ‘primal’ See of Christianity emerge from the prime seat of secular power after the decline of that same secular power. Rome was the Westernmost, and best defended, city in all of Christianity, so it makes sense that Rome, while now a minor secular power, should still have the security to operate as a spiritual one.

    Thus, over the course of the last 1500 years, these other 4 Sees, having been destroyed by Muslim and other invaders, allowed the West, in typical Roman arrogance, to retroactively claim a primacy that never existed.

    My central point is this, Jesus did not found the Roman Catholic Church exclusively. Jesus founded a church of which the current Roman Hierarchy is a child of, one that has retroactively claimed a primacy that never existed. The reason I bring it up is that in these Protestant/Roman debates, this fact is usually conveniently omitted by those of the Roman opinion. I am simply attempting to bring attention to the fact that that that are other options for Protestants to return to the Truth and Tradition of the Church than going into the Roman fold, something Rome conveniently wants everyone in the West to forget.

  6. Leithart writes “Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome? How is that different from Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentiles?”

    Would Leithart give “communion” to a person who openly professes heresy? If so, then he has some serious Theological problems, if not, then why does he critique Catholics for withholding communion from Protestants when the Catholic view is that Protestants are in schism and hold to a number of heresies? If he thinks that Catholics are wrong in saying Protestants hold to a number of heresies, then how do we know he is right? Who determines what is heretical? Leithart must answer these questions before he can make a cogent critique of Catholicism.

  7. Dr. Leithart’s objections to being barred from communion echo those of Reformed author John H. Armstrong in a recent blog post:
    http://johnharmstrong.typepad.com/john_h_armstrong_/2012/03/a-catholic-reflection-on-your-church-is-too-small-a-brief-reply-to-a-gracious-former-atheist-i-love-.html

    Is the longing for open communion expressed by these men indicative of a trend in Reformed circles? Armstrong seems genuinely bewildered that the Catholic Church will accept his baptism as valid and yet bar him from communion.

  8. Dear William,

    Thank you for commenting. May God bless you on the road, and hasten you where needed.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  9. Mr. Leithart and all Protestants lack a principled basis and are very sparing with support from the Church fathers. Question: why accept the creeds and the Trinity, which were defined by the Church, and then reject the authority of said Church to make creeds and doctrines!? Why reject the title theotokos when it was defined at Ephesus in 431, almost within the same generation as the creeds and NT canon? Where is the principled basis?

    Lastly, dwell upon the seven letters from Ignatius, the student of the apostle John. Ask yourself, why is he almost obsessed with the need to obey the bishop? The rule of private judgment seems to be explicitly denounced here.

  10. Hello.

    Very good and thorough article Mr Yonke. Excepting the standard EO disagreements with some of it… ;)

  11. Matthew, (re: #5),

    Welcome to Called To Communion. If you haven’t done so already, I recommend reading some of the books in “The Papacy and the Magisterium” section of our Suggested Reading page, especially Studies on the Early Papacy, by Dom John Chapman, Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: AD 96 – 454, by E. Giles, and The Early Papacy To the Synod of Chalcedon in 451, by Adrian Fortescue.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  12. Matthew (#5)

    It is an accident of history that the ‘primal’ See of Christianity emerge from the prime seat of secular power after the decline of that same secular power.

    I think this is true – except that it seems to me that given what could be taken as a prophecy, in Matthew 16:13-19, and backed up by the analogous Petrine passages in Luke 22 (I think it is) and John 20 (again, just typing from memory), couldn’t that ‘accident’ be seen as, in fact, a providential act of God?

    To be sure, all things that happen are God’s providences, one way or another – but it seems to me that precisely the combination of what look like prophecies in the New Testament are then matched by these accidents of history – which then look like fulfilments.

    So, at least, I concluded, when I became a Catholic.

    jj

  13. For those who are interested, Jim Jordan has an interesting post here on the same Federal Vision idea.

    jj

  14. Peter Leithart made a similar argument here at firstthings.com:

    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2012/06/one-lord-one-table

    Needless to say, I don’t find him persuasive.

  15. Thanks Fr. Bryan. Here’s why Leithart’s First Things argument is not sound, and thus his article is not persuasive. In his article “One Lord, One Baptism,” Leithart says that he does not see how excluding Protestants from the Eucharist passes the Pauline test. That’s because he (apparently) construes the Pauline test in a minimalistic way, as only “faith in Jesus.” He writes:

    “Faith in Jesus was now the sole badge of membership, faith ritualized by baptism. …. For Paul, Christians should share meals with any and all who confess faith in Jesus.”

    But St. Paul was not teaching that only faith in Jesus was necessary for coming to the Eucharistic table, as if there is, and ever shall be, only one particular Christian dogma (e.g. “Jesus is Lord”). The faith that must be believed to receive the Eucharist is the “one faith” of the Church, defined and expressed in all the Church’s dogmas.

    Leithart does recognize this in some manner, when he says,

    “Catholics will say that they don’t add anything to Paul’s requirements. They exclude Protestants from the Mass because Protestantism is (at best) an inadequate expression of the apostolic faith; for Catholics, a credible confession of Jesus must include a confession of certain truths about the Church.”

    In addition to faith in Jesus, it is not just “certain truths about the Church” that must be believed, but all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God, including the dogma that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of our Lord. And this is a part of the “one faith” of the Church that Protestants deny.

    Leithart also raises a second objection. Catholics (and Orthodox) consider our Protestant friends to be Christians. At restaurants we eat with Protestants as fellow (though separated) brothers and sisters in Christ. But we do not allow Protestants to eat with us when we receive the Eucharist. That seems inconsistent to Leithart. Moreover, he claims, since we believe that Jesus “shows up” at the Eucharist, and since Jesus wants all Christians to join Him at His table, therefore (implies Leithart) the Catholic Church is opposing Jesus in not allowing Protestants to receive the Catholic Eucharist.

    The answer to Leithart’s objection is already in his article, where he writes:

    “Jesus and Paul both teach that impenitent sinners and heretics should be excluded from the Church and from the table of communion.”

    From the Catholic point of view, to deny a Catholic dogma puts one in nothing less than a condition of material heresy. Protestants are our brothers and sisters through their valid baptism, but are in material heresy on account of their rejection of certain (not all) Catholic dogmas, and this, along with their not recognizing and submitting to the Catholic magisterium, makes them *separated* brethren. Because of their material heresy, therefore according to Leithart’s own statement that Jesus and Paul both teach that heretics should be excluded from the table of communion, Protestants must be excluded from the Eucharist.

    Yes, Jesus wants all Christians to come to His table, but this doesn’t mean that Jesus wants the Catholic Church to allow persons who do not share the “one faith” of the Church to receive the Eucharist. Rather, Jesus wants those in material heresy to accept the entirety of the Catholic faith, and be received into full communion with the Church He founded, so that they too may receive the Eucharist with us.

    Leithart writes,

    It is common in every branch of the church for some believers to exclude other believers from the Lord’s table.

    This ‘branch ecclesiology’ is a significant part of what underlies the disagreement, because Leithart is approaching the entire question from the assumption that Reformed and Lutheran and Baptist (etc.) denominations are merely different branches of the tree which is the Church. From a Catholic point of view they are schisms from the Church. (See “Branches or Schisms?” and “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”) This should provoke the following question in the mind of persons like Leithart, who maintain a branch ecclesiology: Why is it that not only aren’t there any more schisms from the Church, but that schism from the Church is not even theoretically possible now, as it was in the third century with the Novatians, and in the fourth century in the case of the Donatists (see “St. Optatus on Schism and the Bishop of Rome.”) Were St. Cyprian and St. Optatus and St. Augustine wrong to believe in the possibility (and actuality) of schism from the Church, or are we [branch theorists] wrong in holding an ecclesiology in which schism from the Church is impossible, except, as Horton does, by redefining schism as heresy?

  16. It seems that the Catholic Church does us the courtesy of defining its terms consistently. From this, though, comes the comprehensive complexity of Catholicism, and the meaning behind excluding non-Catholics from the Eucharist.

  17. Fr. Bryan and Bryan,

    If I may share a story I personally witnessed. Three years ago in my classroom at our school, our Bishop was present for his annual visit to the school. His Excellency visits all the theology classes and it is his custom to have the students ask any question they want concerning the faith and its practice. Our school, being located in the “buckle of the Bible Belt” has many Protestant students. One such student, let’s say “Pat” asked the Bishop, “I have gone to this school my whole life and I have never been able to receive Communion. I am a Christian (Baptist) and I do not think that is right. How come you Catholics do not let us Protestants take Communion?” The Bishop, a gentle but very to the point man, responded, “That is a very fair and excellent question. Thank you. Before I answer, may I ask you a question?” Pat said, “sure.” The Bishop asked, “When we Catholics come to Communion we really believe that what looks like bread to you and me is really Jesus. And before we receive Communion, you may have noticed that we bow or genuflect. Do you know why we do that?” The student answered, “respect.” The Bishop replied, “well, yes, respect, but more than that. You see we do that because we are giving worship and adoration to what looks like bread, but we believe is really Jesus. So you see, we Catholics worship what looks like bread. Would you worship the Eucharist, even though it still looks like bread?” The student looked at the Bishop and said, “well no, I would not worship it.” The Bishop said, “well we do. So my question you is then, why would you want to receive Communion, if you could not bring yourself to worship what we ourselves would and do worship?”

    If Peter Leithart really understood, and my sense is that he most certainly knows in a cognitive sense what Catholics teach about the Eucharist, what Catholics not only “teach” about the Eucharist but experience in the presence of this most glorious Sacrament, namely, that what looks like bread is really Him, the One who was Incarnate in womb of the Virgin, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was raised and is now the risen and ascended Lord, he would change his tune. Either what we Catholics experience in the Eucharist is the grossest of idolatry or the most solemn and life-giving event we can encounter in our lives. Our bodies, in receiving the Eucharist, become like a second heaven. Was it not the great St. Augustine who said in reference to the Eucharist, “we not only do not sin by adoring, but we sin by not adoring.”

  18. Tom –

    Thanks for the story of the bishop. I’ve found the “Why would you want to” question is very helpful in dealing with these matters. For example, “When you receive communion, you are making a statement with your body that you are “in communion” of heart and mind with the Church and that you accept all the Catholic Church teaches to be true. You are saying that you accept the Church’s understanding of human nature and the divine nature, including its moral teachings. Do you really believe EVERYTHING the Church teaches? Because if you do, we can put you in RCIA today. But if you don’t, why would you want to receive communion?”

    Typically, people are much more hesitant to receive communion after this type of statement.

    And I might have found something to preach about during Corpus Christi next week!

  19. Bryan Cross nicely gets to the heart of issue. He says:
    “This should provoke the following question in the mind of persons like Leithart, who maintain a branch ecclesiology: Why is it that not only aren’t there any more schisms from the Church, but that schism from the Church is not even theoretically possible now, as it was in the third century with the Novatians, and in the fourth century in the case of the Donatists?”

    Not to speak for Leithart, whom I don’t know, but as one who agrees with him on this issue, I suspect that he would say schism from the church is still theoretically possible (Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, etc). The ecumenical creeds, particularly the creed of Nicaea-Constantinople, provides the touchstone of orthodoxy. (This would allow all western Protestants to “side” with the Catholic church over the split of 1054, yet maintain that the splits of the Reformation were of a different order than outright schism, since the fundamentals of the creed were not at issue.) The branch ecclesiology is not completely relative; it is just insisting that the tree is bigger than you think.

  20. David (#19),

    I could be wrong, but I think you may be confusing schism and heresy. As a Protestant, you can say that Mormons are heretical because they deny the correct doctrine of the Trinity, etc. But how would you charge them with schism? Schism from what?

    Burton

  21. Hello David,

    Would you mind saying what you think Bryan means by schism? You say the same word, but it seems that you are referring to a test of orthodoxy as determined by adherence to the creeds you deem ecumenical. But the Fathers defined various movements as schismatic not due to orthodoxy but because such movements had separated from the communion of the Church catholic. This is why Augustine distinguishes between heresy on the one hand and schism on the other in de fide et symbolo 10.21:

    And so we believe in a Church which is holy but which is also Catholic. For heretics and schismatics also give the name of churches to their assemblies. But heretics, because of their erroneous doctrines about God, do harm to the faith [BHT – this seems to fit your examples of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc], while schismatics, through their malicious divisiveness, abandon fraternal charity, despite believing what we believe. (trans. Campbell)

    Schismatics could, in principle, give an orthodox profession. But heresy is not giving an orthodox profession. Thus heresy and schism are distinct, even if one eventually leads to the other. Would you say otherwise?

    As for your claim about branch ecclesiology, Bryan wrote about that in a post here. On what side of the trilemma would you say that you fall?

    pax,
    Barrett

  22. Hello Barrett and Burton,

    Thanks for the corrections and the link to that interesting article by Bryan Cross. I can accept that distinction between heresy and schism.

    Bryan Cross’s article largely assumes that the doctrine of the “invisible church” is characteristic of all Protestantism. In fact, the continental Reformed have a strong tradition of opposing this doctrine; it is consistently cited as one of the key differences between Presbyterians (who subscribe to the Westminster standards) and the continental Reformed (who subscribe to the TFU).

    There is no doubt in my mind that the continental Reformed tradition would take option (3) of Brian’s trilemma in the post to which you referred (“In the Orthodox-Catholic schism, the Church continued with the Pope, the Orthodox being in schism from the Church”). It would then assert that through the Reformation period the Church continued with the Reformed (“Calvinist”) churches and that the Catholic church was in schism from the true communion, up to the present day. (This is why there are churches in the continental Reformed tradition that practice closed communion.)

    I would also opt for option 3 of the trilemma, with the proviso that in the Reformation the situation gets very complicated. In the Reformation era I would probably be happy to identify the “true” continuance of Christ’s church as the Lutheran church in Germany, the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, the Anglican church in England, and possibly the Catholic church in certain districts. Schisms back then were as much political as they were religious; with no hard distinction between church and state, it seems the wisest course would be to recognize the way the emergence of northern Europe created new political fault lines that were reflected in ecclesiastical divisions. (The allegiance to a “Roman” church is as much a political decision as it is a religious one, inextricably entangled with the supremacy of the Roman empire through late antiquity.) But this is all very tentative…my ecclesiology is always in transition. :)

  23. A short follow-up:

    In the quotation Barrett supplies, Augustine claims that schismatics “abandon fraternal charity.” That is, they hold themselves outside of communion with the Catholic church. Obviously the Donatists did this and would not accept communion at a Catholic church as legitimate. The (hypothetical) situation to which Leithart refers, however, is one in which a Protestant does not “abandon fraternal charity,” but does seek to share in communion with Catholic believers by partaking in the eucharist together. What is the appropriate response by the Catholic church when a Protestant seeks communion with it? Is it not forgiveness and acceptance? See what Augustine says here (Of Faith and the Creed): “But heretics, in holding false opinions regarding God, do injury to the faith itself; while schismatics, on the other hand, in wicked separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may believe just what we believe. Wherefore neither do the heretics belong to the Church catholic, which loves God; nor do the schismatics form a part of the same, inasmuch as it loves the neighbor, and consequently readily forgives the neighbor’s sins, because it prays that forgiveness may be extended to itself by Him who has reconciled us to Himself, doing away with all past things, and calling us to a new life.”

    You see, in the Donatist controversy it was the Donatists who, out of pride, were refusing communion with the church. I don’t think the same applies to Leithart’s hypothetical Protestant.

  24. David –

    The (hypothetical) situation to which Leithart refers, however, is one in which a Protestant does not “abandon fraternal charity,” but does seek to share in communion with Catholic believers by partaking in the eucharist together.

    I’m happy that Peter Leithart and others are seeking communion with us Catholics and want to partake in the Eucharist with us. I want to share communion with them as well. But, when we do receive communion together I want it to reflect an actual communion of mind and heart. We don’t have that now, unfortunately. I hope one day that we do, but until then sharing the Eucharist together would only slow the process of entering into communion with each other down.

  25. Father Bryan,

    I’m happy that Peter Leithart and others are seeking communion with us Catholics and want to partake in the Eucharist with us. I want to share communion with them as well. But, when we do receive communion together I want it to reflect an actual communion of mind and heart. We don’t have that now, unfortunately. I hope one day that we do, but until then sharing the Eucharist together would only slow the process of entering into communion with each other down.

    I will quote from Tom Wright, The Meal Jesus Gave Us, 81-82:

    Another plea to end with. From the first generation of the Church, eating together was a sign of the breaking down of boundaries between Christians of different groups: Jew and Greek (Galatians 2), rich and poor (1 Cor 11), and so on. This was a sign of God’s saving justice going out into all the world. When this caused difficulties, Paul was adamant, in the name of the Jesus who had included everyone at his table, that unity there was not negotiable. “We, who are many, are one bread, one body–for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17). Sharing Communion together between Christians of different denominations ought not to be the goal at the end of a long process of unity negotiations. It ought to be the means, the thing we already do, that will create a context in which we will be able to understand and respect one another, and grow towards a richer unity. I know not everybody will agree with this. But I’m pretty sure St. Paul would have done.

    To which I say, “Amen.” Father Bryan, you don’t think we now have an “actual communion of mind and heart.” I believe that all truly regenerated Christians do have an “actual communion of mind and heart” with one another. That is why I also reject the consequence you draw, namely, that to prematurely celebrate communion together would hinder true fellowship. I think it would speed the process of coming into mutual fellowship in the visible church (and I fully agree that this is desirable and necessary).

  26. David, do you and Leithart believe that the priest makes really and truly present the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ when he consecrates the bread and wine at Mass?

  27. Hello David,

    Thank you for the reply. Unfortunately, I didn’t see in your reply an answer to either of my questions. If we are to continue in dialogue about whether schism exists or is just a synonym for heresy, and, if so, overcome those divisions, it would be best to engage a real back-and-forth. So I’ll ask again: Do you agree that there is a difference between heresy and schism along the lines given by St Augustine and the other Fathers, or not?

    pax,
    Barrett

  28. David,

    I just now saw your earlier comment (#22), which was not approved before your second one (#23) for some reason. Please disregard my previous comment, which is moot in light of your first comment. I will reply to your first comment shortly–thanks for taking the time to read and write here.

    pax,
    Barrett

  29. David (#22)
    Pardon my ignorance but what is the TFU??

    jj

  30. Brian asks:

    David, do you and Leithart believe that the priest makes really and truly present the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ when he consecrates the bread and wine at Mass?

    You know, it’s interesting, I come from a Calvinist tradition, and once had a great conversation with a Dominican on sacramental theology. He argued that Calvin’s doctrine of real presence (which is fairly robust) is much more compatible with Catholicism than Lutheran sacramental theology. While I wouldn’t be qualified to judge whether that’s the case, I’m inclined to think there is greater agreement between our traditions than one would guess; we both have a doctrine of real presence but spell that out in what are essentially different philosophical languages of nature/grace.

    That said, the short answer to your question is no, I don’t believe that. But, (1) I’m convinced that many Catholics don’t believe that either (in fact many are baffled when you explain to them what the church actually teaches), yet this is no barrier to their participation; (2) I don’t think particular construals of sacramental theology (which, let’s be honest, are driven more by philosophy than exegesis) ought to be set up as litmus tests for whether one is to be identified as a member of the body of Christ; (3) to do so, in my mind, elevates a thoroughly Aristotelian worldview to the status of infallible dogma, which is problematic.

    So, while I’d be happy to discuss sacramental theology, my contention is that one’s sacramental theology ought to be irrelevant to their participation in Communion. (Interestingly, I often have a similar argument with Protestants, many of whom seem to think that a particular theology of justification is absolutely required for salvation.)

  31. John,

    The TFU are the Three Forms of Unity, the doctrinal standards of churches in the Continental Reformed tradition (Dutch). The confessions are the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort. (The latter of these is less important than the other two as it is focused on spelling out a Calvinist doctrine of election.) The TFU are not as expansive as the better-known Westminster standards, and don’t explicitly teach doctrines such as the covenant of works or the invisible/visible church. So in churches that subscribe to them there (may) be greater diversity in what is considered Reformed doctrine.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Forms_of_Unity

  32. David (#31)
    OK, thanks. The TFU was what the Reformed Church subscribed to that I was part of until I became a Catholic – I just didn’t know the term. We also accepted the Westminster Confession as a secondary standard.

    jj

  33. Dear David,

    Thanks for your reply, especially #22. I would now like to know how one identifies a schism, if you’re willing. On the one hand, you say that the Orthodox went into schism in 1054 and that those aligned with the papacy remained in the Church. On the other hand, you want to say that various visible communions of Christians in the sixteenth century were all a part of the “‘true’ continuance” of the Church of Christ. Would you mind elaborating how you know that these communions, though not visibly united and most of which were not in communion with the bishop of Rome, were not in schism from the Church?

    pax,
    Barrett

  34. Dear Barrett,

    I’m honestly not sure how to answer that question. I have read most of the above lengthy blog post (not all, it is rather long), and I find its continued assertions that only Catholicism provides an “objective” standard of catholicity to be more than a little strange. (It only appears “objective” to one who already is Catholic.) I’ll try to answer your question, if you’ll answer mine: Why do you say that the Orthodox went into schism in 1054? What is the ground or basis of the claim?

  35. David –

    Thanks for the discussion. I shouldn’t even be here right now, since I have a lot of pastoral work to prepare for this weekend, but want to offer just a thought or two. I’m sure it won’t be satisfactory, but if anyone else here wants to pick up my line of reasoning (or start there own) I’m sure they will be able to help.

    I appreciate Dr. Wright’s opinion on the subject, but I don’t agree that this will work in practice. This isn’t really a theological opinion but my own observations of human nature. In my experience, it seems that interdenominational communion slows down authentic ecumenism. If you want an analogy (perhaps crude) I think anyone who thinks that interdenominational communion will speed up the process of ecumenism will be just as misinformed as the woman who shacks up with her boyfriend hoping that it will speed up the engagement and marriage process. On one hand, I can see how the woman would think this. “If we just act like we’re married he’ll realize it isn’t too difficult and he’ll ask me to marry him!” But, sadly, it usually winds up slowing the process down a lot and many of these women wind up waiting a lot longer for marriage. Interdenominational “table fellowship” as well as cohabitation both slow down the urgency for their respective forms of communion.

    I think there is an important distinction to keep in mind when we sort this out. You actually begin to hit on it:

    That said, the short answer to your question is no, I don’t believe that. But, (1) I’m convinced that many Catholics don’t believe that either (in fact many are baffled when you explain to them what the church actually teaches), yet this is no barrier to their participation;

    I think you might be conflating two realities. On the one hand, Catholics who are obstinate in their disagreement with the doctrine of the Real Presence and Catholics who do not understand the doctrine as well as others. A person who is obstinate does have a barrier. They should not receive communion. A person who simply does not understand the doctrine yet is striving for communion with the Church is still able to receive. Based on my own observations from my own pastoral work as a priest many, many more Catholics are in the second camp than the first. In fact, I can’t say I know anyone in my parish who says, “I refuse to believe in the real presence (or the Trinity or any other doctrine).” It is much more common that they don’t understand the doctrine, but they accept it because the Church teaches it. Do any of us understand the mysteries we celebrate completely?

  36. David (re:#30),

    If a Catholic does not believe that the Eucharist is what the Catholic Church teaches that it is, then logically, at the very least, that person should not be partaking of the Eucharist. To be faithfully Catholic is to affirm and believe all of what the Church officially teaches. This is part of the reason that the Church forbids Protestants from partaking of the Eucharist. The Church teaches that the Eucharist is the literal body and blood of Christ. Most Protestants disagree with this teaching, and even those Protestants who agree with it still reject the Church’s teaching authority in *other* areas. Taking Communion in the Catholic Church is a statement of being in full communion *with* the Church. Given that Protestants are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, it would actually be disrespectful to them and to their convictions for priests to act as if this were not the case by offering them the Eucharist.

    For Catholics, when a Catholic comes forward to receive the Eucharist, and the priest says, “Body of Christ,” both the doctrine of transubstantiation *and* the overall teaching authority of the Church are being affirmed. When the Catholic responds with “Amen,” he or she is affirming both a belief that the Eucharist is what the Church teaches, and the Church’s authority to teach, period.

    It is a sad fact that many professing Catholics do partake of the Eucharist without actually believing that it is what the Church teaches, but this is not the ideal situation at all. Priests obviously cannot see into each Catholic’s heart, at the moment just before reception, in order to discern where he or she stands on the Eucharist– so in most cases, it is offered.

    However, in the case of Protestants, offering them the Eucharist would be, objectively speaking, to mock (whether wittingly or unwittingly) both what the Church teaches, and what Protestants *believe* about the Church’s *teaching authority*. Such objective mockery would not help at all in furthering true unity between Protestants and Catholics.

  37. Father Bryan and Chris,

    I appreciate your perspectives. I understand the analogy Father Bryan gives and the desire you both have for full visible communion. On the other hand, I appreciate Wright’s point. Perhaps Christians of all denominations should now be eating together as an eschatological sign to the world, a sign of our true and deep unity in Christ–a sign that Christ is not in fact divided. I don’t agree that this would be “objective mockery,” as Chris states, but my reasons for this have already been stated above, i.e. I don’t think particular construals of sacramental theology (or, for that matter, full agreement with the Catholic church) ought to determine one’s ability to receive communion. Here the Catholic church seems out of step with our Lord’s teaching, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3:8)

    Blessings,

    Dave

  38. David –

    Thanks for that response. In your post you come off as someone I could benefit from quite a bit. I hope you’ll stick around so I can learn more from you and, hopefully, work towards the visible communion a lot of us hope for.

  39. Dear David (#34),

    Hey, I’m not trying to catch you out in an “ho ho!” sort of way (like the “Heffalump” finding Piglet and Pooh in the trap), and I hope you don’t read me that way. It just seemed reasonable that if you were willing to say that the Orthodox were in schism but that various communities in 16th century Europe were not, that you would have a principled way of sorting that out. And I wanted to know your standard. If you don’t have one, that’s cool with me, because sometimes I don’t know why I say things and then I need to go think about it some more. Part of the task of ecumenical dialogue, as we understand it, is to get to the deeper, often unarticulated reasons for disagreement between the Reformed and Catholics.

    I do disagree with you when you say:

    I have read most of the above lengthy blog post (not all, it is rather long), and I find its continued assertions that only Catholicism provides an “objective” standard of catholicity to be more than a little strange. (It only appears “objective” to one who already is Catholic.)

    First, please forgive the “brevity” of the post, if it is so. The authors here have been writing for years and sometimes assume knowledge of prior posts and articles. A response to Dr. Leithart cannot rehearse every prior post, but we can point you to the more substantive ones underlying the assertions. Still, I don’t think it is fair in dialogue to say what you’ve said. If the Catholic Church’s standard of catholicity only appears “objective” to Catholics, then no one here would have become Catholic. Anybody could say that about the claims of anyone else, and it doesn’t really advance the conversation. (“That only seems true to you because you already believe it!”) It is a handy thing to say, I suppose, but it doesn’t actually refute the claim in question. Ditto for whether the post’s assertions seem “more than a little strange.” Is there a claim in the post you think is wrong and have a reason for that?

    You also asked:

    I’ll try to answer your question, if you’ll answer mine: Why do you say that the Orthodox went into schism in 1054? What is the ground or basis of the claim?

    Ok, sure. Schism is just the negation of the unity of the Church, as constituted visibly by her shared governance, sacraments, and faith. Schism is two things, an act of sin and a state effected by the act. The sin is to willfully separate oneself from the communion of the Church, as constituted by the submissions of the members to their head, whether the local bishop or the bishop of Rome. Thus, schism classically included raising a Eucharistic altar apart from the local bishop. The effect of schism is to be in such a separated state or community, independent of the question of whether one committed the sin or not. (Thus the Church views Protestants as separated, even though modern Protestants are not personally responsible for starting their schisms.)

    The Orthodox went into schism because they separated from the college of bishops and the people of God in communion with the bishop of Rome. And thus, notwithstanding the great progress in relations and hope for full reconciliation between Rome and the Churches of the East, we have separate bishops to whom we are in submission. I doubt it happened exactly in 1054 with papal legate Humbert’s excommunication of Michael as is so commonly claimed, but over the following century or so; see Nichols, Rome and the Eastern Churches, ch. 8.

    I second Fr. Bryan’s reasons and hope that you’ll stick around!

    pax,
    Barrett

  40. David (re:#37),

    Thank you for your reply, brother. You wrote:

    Perhaps Christians of all denominations should now be eating together as an eschatological sign to the world, a sign of our true and deep unity in Christ–a sign that Christ is not in fact divided. I don’t agree that this would be “objective mockery,” as Chris states, but my reasons for this have already been stated above, i.e. I don’t think particular construals of sacramental theology (or, for that matter, full agreement with the Catholic church) ought to determine one’s ability to receive communion. Here the Catholic church seems out of step with our Lord’s teaching, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3:8)

    I want to pose a serious, respectful question for you, as one Christian brother to another– do you think that what what we, as Christians, believe the Eucharist objectively *is* is is a matter of any great importance?

    As you know, the Catholic Church officially teaches that the Eucharist is the literal body and blood of Our Lord. (The early Christians in the Roman Empire believed this too, which is why they were accused of cannibalism by the pagan Romans.) By contrast, Baptists believe that the bread and wine (or grape juice!) simply remain bread and wine (or grape juice!). Catholics believe that they should worshipfully adore the Eucharist, because they believe the the Eucharist to be Our Lord Himself. Baptists, and most other Protestants, believe that Eucharistic Adoration is idolatry.

    Would it truly be a sign of Christian unity for people of such radically differing views to take the Eucharist, when they cannot even agree on what the Eucharist *is*? Is it true Christian unity, around the Lord’s Table, if one group of Christians (i.e. Catholics) believes that they are receiving Our Lord Himself in the Eucharist, and that the Eucharist should be worshipfully adored, and other Christians (i.e. non-Catholics being theoretically allowed to receive the Eucharist in Catholic parishes) believe that the Catholics are engaging in idolatry?

  41. Chris,

    I think I’ve offered tentative thoughts in answer to your question in #30 (see points 2 and 3). Basically, to your question, “do you think that what what we, as Christians, believe the Eucharist objectively *is* is a matter of any great importance?,” my answer is, not particularly.

    Though I will note the very common error in Presbyterian circles, which is to assume that their theology of communion is much closer to a Baptist’s than to a Catholic’s. If you read Calvin, you see the reverse is the the truth. A Calvinist doctrine of communion affirms real presence, the bread and wine are “true spiritual food” and “true spiritual drink,” the sacrament is a means of grace whereby Christ is genuinely imparted to his people, but of course by faith, and not by a literal change in substance. The whole conceptual framework for a Calvinist doctrine of the sacraments is very different than the Baptists (which is also why Calvin retained infant baptism).

    Dave

  42. A follow-up to Chris, who asked:

    “Would it truly be a sign of Christian unity for people of such radically differing views to take the Eucharist, when they cannot even agree on what the Eucharist *is*?”

    It would be a tremendous sign of Christian unity for us to acknowledge that our various individual view-points and interpretations, which will always be at variance, are not as important as the deep unity in Christ and the Spirit that binds us. It would a sign of the epistemological and interpretive humility that Catholics are always asking us Protestants to adopt. :)

    Dave

  43. Hi David,

    You stated:

    It would be a tremendous sign of Christian unity for us to acknowledge that our various individual view-points and interpretations, which will always be at variance, are not as important as the deep unity in Christ and the Spirit that binds us. It would a sign of the epistemological and interpretive humility that Catholics are always asking us Protestants to adopt. :)

    As the Eucharist is a sign of our communion with Jesus, how can there be any common union when we don’t even agree on what the common union is? Is He there in any substantial way or is He not there? If one believes the communion is only a symbol and another believes it is actually Jesus Himself , body, blood soul and divinity then one would be committing blasphemy while the other commits idolatry. I don’t see a common union there. Better to discover what the Eucharist is before we go that far don’t you think?

    Blessings
    NHU

  44. David, the Church cannot give the Precious Body and Blood of Christ to those who do not believe that, in the Eucharist, they would be really and truly eating the body and drinking the blood of the Son of Man. Otherwise, that would be sacrilegious, and it is very cavalier of you to suggest that we should just set that concern aside for the sake of “unity.” But what kind of “unity” would that be, anyway? You say that that our various individual view-points and interpretations are not as important as the deep unity you say we have in Christ and through the Spirit. But don’t you see, for the Catholic, our various “view-points” and “interpretations” are nothing less than the certain and unchanging truths revealed by God through his Holy Church. Setting them aside or pretending to be “epistemically humble” about them would be the very opposite of unity or at least any unity that matters to the Christian seeking to be obedient to God.

  45. Dear Barrett,

    Don’t worry, I wasn’t assuming you were trying to trap me or anything. I was just unsure how to answer and wanted to see what understanding of schism you were operating with before moving forward.

    First, please forgive the “brevity” of the post, if it is so. The authors here have been writing for years and sometimes assume knowledge of prior posts and articles. A response to Dr. Leithart cannot rehearse every prior post, but we can point you to the more substantive ones underlying the assertions. Still, I don’t think it is fair in dialogue to say what you’ve said. If the Catholic Church’s standard of catholicity only appears “objective” to Catholics, then no one here would have become Catholic. Anybody could say that about the claims of anyone else, and it doesn’t really advance the conversation. (“That only seems true to you because you already believe it!”) It is a handy thing to say, I suppose, but it doesn’t actually refute the claim in question. Ditto for whether the post’s assertions seem “more than a little strange.” Is there a claim in the post you think is wrong and have a reason for that?

    Actually, I was trying to say I think the post is rather long, not short! But that’s besides the point. I’m having a hard time seeing how what I said was unfair. If a Catholic asserts: “only we have an objective standard of catholicity!” it is relevant (and fair) for a Protestant to counter: “but that in itself is a subjective statement.” You’re right, however, that it doesn’t advance the conversation meaningfully, and it is better to investigate together whether the claim to possess “objective truth” is in fact, objectively true. Unfortunately I don’t have time to engage the post on this level right now.

    Thanks for giving me your analysis of the Orthodox schism. I don’t opt for option (3) above for any of the reasons you gave. The reason I side with the Western church is because I confess a Nicene creed with the filioque; I believe the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. If I believed that the Spirit proceeded from the Father only, I would certainly side with the Orthodox. So this is a “Protestant” approach to schisms. What role do you see the filoque playing in the schism? It was interesting that you didn’t refer to it.

    You also asked:

    On the one hand, you say that the Orthodox went into schism in 1054 and that those aligned with the papacy remained in the Church. On the other hand, you want to say that various visible communions of Christians in the sixteenth century were all a part of the “‘true’ continuance” of the Church of Christ. Would you mind elaborating how you know that these communions, though not visibly united and most of which were not in communion with the bishop of Rome, were not in schism from the Church?

    How do I know? “Know” is a strong word, too strong for me. Ecclesiology is fraught with ambiguity. My sense is, as I said above, that the political situation in the sixteenth century played a major role in the schism, so that is a major factor to take into account. Exegetically and doctrinally, I mostly favor the Protestant emphases (e.g., I am no fan of indulgences). That said, I understand the question of legitimacy is important; I would say it was the single greatest question on the minds of the Reformers. (Hence their rhetoric against Rome was so fierce.) Ultimately, I would not want to specify which church in the sixteenth century and following continued on as the “church Jesus founded,” because 1) I don’t think that’s possible; 2) I think that hermeneutic of history finds an “us vs. them” in every church split, which I don’t think is helpful; 3) I think God is bigger than any institution; 4) resting faith on history is always precarious, as the Enlightenment has shown.

  46. I did not read through all the responses, since they seemed a bit discursive; forgive me if this is redundant. I think there is a blatant desire to misunderstand Pastor Leithart’s view of Eucharistic fellowship. He does not practice “open communion” in the sense that every hobo and Muslim buddy you bring to Church with you may partake. The partaker must be baptized and not ex-communicated from another church. So no, orthodox Jews may not partake at Leithart’s table, nor may denounced heretics.

    Christian charity and a desire to rightly understand brothers’ words are often absent in these articles’ comment threads. Pastor Leithart is baptized in the name of the Trinity, which means your Pope acknowledges Christ’s claim on him. You might view Protestants as the prodigals, but please, do not be the bitter older brother who pouts when the Father rejoices.

  47. re #45 David,

    Faith is a gift. It is a gift that can carry us beyond what we want or are willing to believe. In John 6, Jesus makes a startling statement, which is met with astonishment, then anger, then departure. He is talking about needing His Body and His Blood to be eaten and drank if one is to have Life. Many of His hearers carped, then departed. They did not believe Him. They did not see Him, in Paul’s words, as “Christ our Passover,” in all the senses of that brilliant theme.

    When the scoffers had departed, Jesus turned to the apostles and asked them if they were departing as well. It was Simon who spoke for the apostles. He said, “Lord, who should we go to? You have the words of eternal life and we believe, we know You are the holy One of God.” I would note that Peter did not try to explain what Jesus had said, rather Peter accepted it and expressed faith in Jesus.

    Those who did not believe left. Those who did (and do) believe, not surprisingly, stand with Simon Peter.

    I once took the “symbol / remembrance” position, and discovered that I was with those who had complained and left. I did not want to leave, I wanted to stay. I was wrong and He was (and is) right. Now I am with Peter and I am in the right place. I looked back at the friends I lost and was sorry to lose them. I looked back at the comfort I had with the practices we used in the place I was at. I wouldn’t trade places for a moment. It is Jesus Who has the words of eternal life, and that is Who I sought and what I was looking and listening for.

    It is my own keen hope for you that someone who writes or speaks to you is given the words you need to read or hear for such a momentous decision. It is not light. It is hard and has costs, but then so does remaining where one is at, noting that those costs are different.

    Cordially,

    dt

  48. HSJ,

    I can assure you that we at CTC do not think of ourselves as the “bitter older brother who pouts when the Father rejoices.” The fact is that there are fundamental differences between what Pastor Leithart proposes as to what the Eucharist is and what the Church established by Jesus Christ proposes as to what the Eucharist is. For us to engage in open communion would publicly declare something that does not correspond to reality, namely, we are not in full communion with each other. For example, Pastor Leithart, to my knowledge, does not believe that when he offers the Eucharist that he is making present the once for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ (and if he did believe that, he would know that he lacks the ordination necessary to confect the Eucharist). He does not, to my knowledge, believe that the offering of the Eucharist and Calvary are the one and the same sacrifice, the only difference being the manner of offering (CCC 1367). To my knowledge, Pastor Leithart does not believe that the Eucharist becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. That being said, as you can see these are deeply fundamental differences, and to have open communion would be dishonest. I can say that when I am privileged to be present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I often yearn to see my separated brethren join us and share with us in this great mystery in which we become contemporaries with Jesus Christ, that they would come to recognize this great gift given by Jesus Christ and entrusted to His Church. For us to have open communion would not bridge the differences between us but in the words of the late Father Richard John Neuhaus, “It would not be the resolution of our differences but pretending that our very important differences make no difference. We would end up communing together, but nothing would be changed; everyone would then go on in their separate ways.” Let us pray on this Feast of Corpus Christi for all Christians to recognize this most glorious gift bequeathed to us by Christ, namely the gift of Himself in the Most Holy Eucharist, and may we ask for the prayers of the great St. Juliana, who was used by our Lord to bring this great Feast to the Church.

  49. HSJ,

    First off, there are two claims made which you really need to back up or substantiate in at least some way. The two statements I have in mind are:
    1. “there is a blatant desire to misunderstand Pastor Leithart’s view of Eucharistic fellowship.”
    2. “Christian charity and a desire to rightly understand brothers’ words are often absent in these articles’ comment threads.”

    I for one do not find either of these claims to be accurate, and, since you provide no evidence to support your claims, it is difficult to understand how you expect commenters here to modify their behavior. Is it possible you could give at least one example supporting each of these claims? If indeed Christian charity is “often” absent, and if indeed the desire to misunderstand is “blatant”, it ought not to be too difficult for you to come up with at least one example which would substantiate these claims, and it would go a long way towards helping those who comment regularly to understand how what they say is coming across, whereas simply making claims without providing any examples really doesn’t help anyone.

    Does this make sense?

    Secondly (if I might drill a bit deeper into your comment) I think one reason you may get the impression you seem to have developed concerning those who comment regularly here at C2C, is that you may be misunderstanding the points being made by those who (for example) took issue with Pastor Leithart’s position. Far from a “blatant desire to misunderstand” there is here a desire to understand completely the implications of such a position – particularly those which perhaps Pastor Leithart himself does not yet recognize. This means sometimes there may have to be a working out of these implications, even a “reductio ad absurdum”. But it is crucial to recognize that the goal here is to find the truth, and not to simply say something pleasant at all costs – particularly at the cost of obscuring the truth. This, I have observed, is a general statement true of most of the discourse on this site. In terms of the specific issue under discussion on this thread, there is a necessity of fully teasing out the double-standard/question-begging which is implicit in the position taken by Pastor Leithart. This will probably not sit well with those who hold a similar position, and there is every reason to be as gentle as possible in pointing out the flaws in a fellow Christians’ argument to be sure, however, to avoid pointing those flaws out is not truly charitable – particularly when there is as much at stake as there is with the question at hand!

    If I might drill a little deeper by way of explaining what I mean by “a certain double standard/question-begging aspect” I would point out that you yourself say:

    “The partaker must be baptized and not ex-communicated from another church.”

    and yet, who is it that decides what counts as “another church” when it comes to determining fitness to receive the Sacrament? Evidently not the Catholic Church! The Catholic Church, the only Church founded by Christ, excommunicated Luther, and other “reformers” of his age, and even though we are to understand that the anathemas of Trent no longer accrue to those who have through no fault of their own been born into (in one way or another) the ecclesial communities of our separated protestant bretheren, nevertheless, the fact is that they are still in effect objectively excommunicate – e.g. unable to receive the Sacrament – at least until they acknowledge the Church that Christ founded and the doctrine she teaches concerning the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence, in Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, of our Blessed Lord in the consecrated species.

    So it really ISN’T true after all that “the partaker must not be ex-communicated from another church” IF that other church happens to be the Catholic Church, the only Church founded by Christ. And thus the double standard/question-begging aspect to which I refer: If that one Church can be ignored when it pronounces on the worthiness of a communicant to receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Blessed Lord, then there is an inherent double standard/question-begging character at work here in the argument being offered, though it may be difficult for a protestant to acknowledge this.

    Certainly we all need to be reminded to speak the truth in love, and to use as much gentleness as possible in our efforts to help a prodigal return home, and because of this, it is good that you too can feel free to comment here, even if what you say may not be to everyone’s liking. However, if you truly want to help those who comment here regularly to do better, then you need to provide some specific examples of the kind of comments to which you are objecting, and, you also need to make sure that you sufficiently understand the comments to which you are objecting, so that the examples you provide will really be examples of the point you are trying to make, and not simply comments which perhaps are using a “reductio ad absurdum” to uncover a flaw in the argument under discussion.

    Yours’ for a better, more fruitful dialogue here at C2C!

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff H.

  50. Hello again, David (#45),

    Thanks for your reply. You said:

    If a Catholic asserts: “only we have an objective standard of catholicity!” it is relevant (and fair) for a Protestant to counter: “but that in itself is a subjective statement.” You’re right, however, that it doesn’t advance the conversation meaningfully, and it is better to investigate together whether the claim to possess “objective truth” is in fact, objectively true. Unfortunately I don’t have time to engage the post on this level right now.

    The unfairness comes from an equivocation in “subjective.” You are right that “we have an objective standard of catholicity” is a subjective statement, if you are making a comment about a subject believing or saying something. There is another sense to “subjective” which implies, if not states outright, that the content of the statement propounded is not objective. Now, the standard for determining Catholic unity (and its opposite, schism) is being in communion with the local bishop, who himself is in communion with the college of bishops with the pope at its head. This is an objective standard, for one can easily figure out whether a person or community fulfills that criterion. Whether that standard is the correct one to use to determine who is in schism is another question, surely. Nonetheless, the Catholic standard is not subjective in the second sense, even if you only hear it from Catholics (subjective in first sense). Maybe we are not really in disagreement here.

    The reason I side with the Western church is because I confess a Nicene creed with the filioque; I believe the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. If I believed that the Spirit proceeded from the Father only, I would certainly side with the Orthodox. So this is a “Protestant” approach to schisms.

    The filioque, as you surely know, is an addition to the Creed of Nicea, yet you were saying that the ecumenical creeds [the ones, at least, which you accept] are the standard of heresy-schism. Do the Orthodox not hold to the ecumenical councils to which you hold? If so, why are they in schism at all? Or are you simply saying that the ecumenical councils are right, except when your favored exegesis says they are not (or importantly incomplete), and that your interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures is ultimately the standard for determining which communities are in schism? That position just puts the onus on the individual to know the essentials of the faith prior to judging where the true church(es) may be found, assuming the ultimacy of individual private judgment in living the Christian life. The Orthodox will just turn around on you, anyway, and ask why you don’t hold to all the ecumenical councils, which in their case include the first seven.

    I am not sure how to understand your admission, that using the filioque as the criterion for determining schism, as anything other than that your concept of schism is reducible to heresy (“this is a ‘Protestant’ approach to schisms.”). Am I right in that? One would then identify which branch in a split is the Church by one’s understanding of the orthodoxy of that branch. But this is not the concept of schism defined by the Fathers (setting up a community and Eucharist apart from the local bishop in union with the college of bishops with the bishop of Rome at the head), as made clear above in #21 and the other posts on schism we have in the site’s index (e.g., St Optatus on Schism, St Cyprian on the Church’s Unity.).

    The Fathers understood that the unity of the Church had to include visible unity, a unity constituted by Christians living the life of faith together under the authority of the bishop in communion with the Church catholic with Rome at its head, in sacramental (esp. Eucharistic) fellowship, and holding to the same faith. When a group departed from the local bishop or from the college of bishops and set up their own Eucharistic community, even if they had a validly ordained bishop with them, this group would break from the visible unity of the Church and enter into schism. Hence by this standard the Catholic knows that the Donatists, Novatians, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and the Protestants setting up their own communities entered in schism, rather than forming new “branches” of the Church. I recommend reading some of the articles above on schism in the Church Fathers when you have time. If you find that the Catholic standard has some serious problems, I would like to hear your arguments and talk with you about them.

    I understand that you are advocating an “open communion” position (or at least a communion more open than the Catholics, Orthodox, MS Lutherans, continental Reformed, etc.). Yet without a way of knowing who is within the unified boundaries of the Church, as the Catholic way of determining who is in schism would provide, how do you know where to put the boundaries on admitting folks to the table (and for criticizing others who set it more narrowly than you would)?

    How do I know [which branches are schisms in the sixteenth century]? “Know” is a strong word, too strong for me. Ecclesiology is fraught with ambiguity. […] Ultimately, I would not want to specify which church in the sixteenth century and following continued on as the “church Jesus founded,” because 1) I don’t think that’s possible; 2) I think that hermeneutic of history finds an “us vs. them” in every church split, which I don’t think is helpful; 3) I think God is bigger than any institution; 4) resting faith on history is always precarious, as the Enlightenment has shown.

    David, do you have any argument for the position that it is not possible to know where the Church of Christ is after the sixteenth century?

    Ok, have a nice day, and God bless,
    Barrett

  51. Dear Barrett,

    I am not sure how to understand your admission, that using the filioque as the criterion for determining schism, as anything other than that your concept of schism is reducible to heresy (“this is a ‘Protestant’ approach to schisms.”). Am I right in that? One would then identify which branch in a split is the Church by one’s understanding of the orthodoxy of that branch. But this is not the concept of schism defined by the Fathers (setting up a community and Eucharist apart from the local bishop in union with the college of bishops with the bishop of Rome at the head), as made clear above in #21 and the other posts on schism we have in the site’s index (e.g., St Optatus on Schism, St Cyprian on the Church’s Unity.).

    Thanks for the link to those resources. I am new to this website and have not had time to read all your material. I will try to get to it at some point.

    About the filioque: as a Protestant, the version of the Nicene creed I confess contains this (added) clause. This implies that I would side with the Catholics in that division. As you point out, simply agreeing with Rome on this doctrinal point does not mean the Orthodox are in schism, since they hold to the same ecumenical councils (and more). Upon reflection, I might have to qualify my agreement with option (3) of the trilemma above. Rather than saying “the Orthodox are in schism, the true Church continues with Rome” I reject a hermeneutic of history where one has to identify an “us vs. them” in every schism. I do agree with option (3) insofar as I do believe the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

    This obviously raises the question of heresy and schism. While previously I accepted the neat and tidy distinction between the two (articulated by Augustine), I am now wondering, upon further reflection, whether the relationship is not more complex than it appears. The most clear-cut case of pure schism that has nothing to do with heresy would appear to be the Donatists. But even the Donatists had certain beliefs or doctrines that drove them to separate; they did not believe that lapsed and restored priests could legitimately administer the sacrament. And, to be fair to the Donatists, there are many passages in the NT that suggest they might have been right (1 John 5, the warnings of Hebrews, etc). And every other case is similar: there is a point of doctrine that causes the schism. That is why heresies are named after the names of their promulgators (Arians, Nestorians) or their distinctive beliefs (and so the unforgettable Monophysites have come down through history!). Can you point me to any schism in the history of the church that is a pure schism according to the definition you cite (union with the college of bishops, under Rome) and has nothing to do with doctrinal issues?

    You also asked:

    David, do you have any argument for the position that it is not possible to know where the Church of Christ is after the sixteenth century?

    Ok. Allow me to repent of my agnosticism, or at least explain it.

    My position is that the Catholic church in the sixteenth century, though it had many true believers, had become a false church. They persecuted true believers and burned them at the stake for their allegiance to the Word of God. They burned Bibles translated into the vernacular language of the people (e.g. Tyndale’s) out of fear that interpretation would be put into the hands of the common man. They promulgated all sorts of doctrines which are utterly false and pernicious: 1) veneration of the saints; 2) justification as transformative/ontological; 3) purgatory (tied to a medieval angst); 4) inspiration of the Vulgate (!); 5) indulgences (basically, in my view, a laicized version of simony), and I could go on. Protestants are right to reject all these, and, insofar as Catholicism has only persisted or deepened its errors (Mariology), Protestants are right to rebuke them.

    That said, I also understand that the Catholic has also undergone the reformation. Though during the period of the Reformation the church was governed by false shepherds that devoured the sheep (Ezekiel 34), this is no longer the case. I think there has been substantial progress on Catholic-Protestant dialogue, and I think doctrines such as justification could be formulated in a way amenable to both sides. Massive outstanding issues would be 1) Mary and the saints; 2) infallibility of pope. Overall, were we to transplant Luther and Calvin to the 21st century and ask them to give their analysis of the ecclesiastical situation today, I am not sure what they would say. Would they separate or be excommunicated from a Rome that has reformed as much as the Catholic church has? Hard to say. I suspect the two issues I pointed to would be stumbling blocks, as well as the fact that they have been anathemized.

    So the pertinent question is not: where was the church of Christ in the sixteenth century? Obviously some aspects of the church of Christ were beating up on other believers. It is hard to know. The pertinent question is: where is the church of Christ today? As an ecumenically minded Protestant I rejoice at the evangelical Catholicism I see as the fruit of Vatican II. I rejoice that Catholic biblical scholars are serious interpreters of the Greek and Hebrew scriptures (thanks to the influence of Protestantism) and have made many fine contributions to the disciplines of OT and NT. I rejoice that Catholic lay people are able to read the Bible in their own languages and are not censured for it. This is what Protestants were fighting for; this is what the Reformation was about!

    Barrett, you also stated in your post:

    Or are you simply saying that the ecumenical councils are right, except when your favored exegesis says they are not (or importantly incomplete), and that your interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures is ultimately the standard for determining which communities are in schism? That position just puts the onus on the individual to know the essentials of the faith prior to judging where the true church(es) may be found, assuming the ultimacy of individual private judgment in living the Christian life.

    I understand that individual judgment/exegesis is going to be a major topic of conversation in Protestant/Catholic dialogue. My view is, bemoaning the rise of individual judgment is sort of like wishing the printing press was never invented (way to go, Gutenberg). The fact is, there are going to be benefits and drawbacks to every major cultural shift. The Reformation was spurred on by an era in which people began to exercise independent critical thought. This was great for 5 centuries or so, until modernity hit its mid-life crisis and began to criticize criticism itself. In our post-Derrida philosophical climate, it is understandable to me that people are rejecting the paradigm of “individual critical thought” and turning to “ecclesiastical authority.” But you can’t turn back the clock. Just look at the unbelievable and tremendous gains we have in the field of biblical studies, even in the last two centuries. It is no fluke that historical criticism, the basis for all serious interrogation of the scriptural texts, was a largely Protestant project until Dei Verbum. I welcome Catholic integration into this incredible field, which still bears the marks of the influence of “Protestantism” (studying scripture in the original language, for one—obviously a Renaissance but also a Reformation emphasis). For example, the view that justification in Paul is forensic and not transformative was the view of the Reformers. That this would be the judgment of all serious Pauline scholars today (Protestant and Catholic) is indisputable. We have made real gains in biblical interpretation due to the responsibility being placed on the individual scholar reading Scripture, and we can’t deny that.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  52. Dear Barrett,

    My response was long, but it seems I still forgot to answer one of your questions.

    I understand that you are advocating an “open communion” position (or at least a communion more open than the Catholics, Orthodox, MS Lutherans, continental Reformed, etc.). Yet without a way of knowing who is within the unified boundaries of the Church, as the Catholic way of determining who is in schism would provide, how do you know where to put the boundaries on admitting folks to the table (and for criticizing others who set it more narrowly than you would)?

    Why can’t adherence to the ecumenical creeds, particularly the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, be an objective standard of orthodoxy and therefore also function as an objective boundary line to determine schism? Let’s stipulate that the filioque is debated and that both versions of the Creed are acceptable, though one is incomplete. This line allows members of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant communions to be “in,” and rules out Monophysites and Mormons. It is objective and ecumenical and would be my standard for admission to communion. It also provides the basis for criticizing narrower definitions. What right do Catholics have for rejecting Nicene and Chalcedonian believers from the table?

  53. David,

    What sort of principle do you see operating in your proposal for doctrinal criteria for admission to communion that prevents it from being ad hoc? Why couldn’t someone just as easily say, “What right to Chalcedonian believers have for rejecting Nicene, Constantinopolitan, and Ephesine believers from the table?” Or, moving the other direction, why is Chalcedon the cut-off point?

    best,
    John

  54. John,

    Well, why not? These are the creeds that all Christians confess; they alone are genuinely catholic in the universal sense of the term.

  55. John,

    Realizing that 54 is not going to satisfy; let me add comment 55: I am aware that my argument is circular and ad hoc.

    Dave

  56. David (#54)

    Well, why not? These are the creeds that all Christians confess; they alone are genuinely catholic in the universal sense of the term.

    Alas, this won’t do. It simply defines ‘Christian’ as ‘one who confesses these creeds.’ It is possible that even a majority of non-Catholic, non-Orthodox Christians deny that they confess any creed whatever, except the Bible. And amongst Eastern groups, there are Monophysites and Nestorians who do not confess Chalcedon. For the matter of that, my Jehovah’s witness and Mormon friends call themselves Christians – and certainly do not confess or even agree with these creeds. What am I to do about them?

    jj

  57. What am I to do about them?

    Exclude them from the table.

  58. On what grounds?

    Jj

  59. Rejection of the ecumenical creeds.

  60. David, (re: #57),

    Devin Rose pointed out the ad hoc nature of a similar position (see the “Unity” section) in this article.

    If you are aware that your position is ad hoc, why aren’t you retracting everything and immediately stepping back to figure out a principled position?

    I’m trying to figure out whether or not having an ad hoc position is a defeater in your mind. Because if it is not, then the problem is not fundamentally at the level of theology, but at the level of first principles, and we would have to examine together why ad hoc positions are not reasonable, all other things being equal.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  61. I’m trying to figure out whether or not having an ad hoc position is a defeater in your mind. Because if it is not, then the problem is not fundamentally at the level of theology, but at the level of first principles, and we would have to examine together why ad hoc positions are not reasonable, all other things being equal.

    That is a discussion I’d like to have. We have two definitions of schism. One is that it is lack of union with the college of bishops, under the bishop of Rome. The other is that it is lack of adherence to the ecumenical creeds. Can you explain, philosophically, why the first is not ad hoc and the second is? I would appreciate it.

  62. David (#61)
    The problem, David, is that calling this particular set of creeds ‘ecumenical’ is what is ad hoc. Indeed, to say that who is and who is not in union is a creedal matter is, again, ad hoc. The Federal Vision folk say that it is baptism that creates unity – and then go on to their own ‘ad-hockery’ by requiring the baptism to be Trinitarian.

    jj

  63. David, (re: #61)

    I take it from your comment #61 that we are at least agreed that an ad hoc definition or position is to be rejected. The question you then ask is why the Catholic definition of schism is not ad hoc, and “adherence to the ecumenical creeds” is ad hoc.

    What makes a position ad hoc is that without any basis, it is selected as true from among many other possible positions for which there is equal or greater evidence for their truth. So if from the twelve Apostles, for example, I selected the Apostle Matthew as the one to whom the other Apostles had to remain in communion in order not to be in schism from the Church in the event of a schism among the Twelve, that would be ad hoc because there are many options other than St. Matthew, and there is no basis or ground for believing that St. Matthew is the Apostle whom Christ intended to serve as the Church’s material principium unitatis by which schism from the Church is to be defined.

    That’s not the case, however, with the Apostle Peter. There is ample evidence that Christ gave him a unique authority and role in relation to the other Apostles. I can’t make that case in a combox, but the case is laid out in readily accessible books such as Butler, Dahlgren and Hess’s Jesus, Peter and the Keys, and Steven Ray’s Upon this Rock. And the Tradition also provides a great deal of evidence for the primacy of St. Peter and his successors. The disagreement between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox regarding the role of the pope is not over whether St. Peter was given the primacy, but the nature and manner of the administration of that primacy. (See “Kallistos Ware: Orthodox & Catholic Union.”)

    Not only that, but of the three apostolic seats of St. Peter (Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch) the seat of St. Peter at Rome was universally recognized as not only having the first place (see the canons of Nicea), but also being the locus of the perpetual continuation of that unique Petrine role, where he both poured out his blood, and was buried. (See “The Chair of St. Peter,” and the works by Chapman, Giles, Fortescue and Guarducci in the Papacy section of our Suggested Reading page for a fuller testimony of the Tradition on this subject.) Because the evidence for the primacy of the Apostle Peter in relation to the other Apostles, and for the primacy of his seat in Rome overwhelming exceeds evidence for a primacy of any other seat and any other Apostle, it is not ad hoc to believe that by giving to St. Peter the keys of the Kingdom, and commanding him to strengthen his brothers and exhorting him to feed His sheep, Christ was also establishing a unique office by which His Church would be taught and governed and preserved in unity, and therefore by which unity with the Church and schism from the Church would be defined, especially when we see in the Church Fathers a frequent reference to St. Peter’s seat as serving precisely that function. (See the links Barrett provided in comment #50 above, concerning the teaching of St. Cyprian and St. Optatus regarding the role of the bishop of Rome in relation to the unity of the Church, and the Petrine basis for that role.)

    You pointed out that the belief of the Donatists was at least slightly different from that of the Catholic Church. And that’s true. The Novatians also had a more rigorous position regarding post-baptismal forgiveness than did the Catholic Church. But that does not mean that schism from the Church reduces to heresy. As St. Jerome said,

    Between heresy and schism there is this difference, that heresy perverts dogma, while schism, by rebellion against the bishop, separates from the Church. Nevertheless there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church. (In Ep. ad Tit., iii, 10)

    And see the similar excerpt from St. Augustine in “Michael Horton on Schism as Heresy.”

    No Church Father reduced schism to heresy, because they all recognized that the Church’s unity was more than unity of faith, but also included unity of communion with the bishop, and each bishop’s communion with the other bishops of the Catholic Church. The fact that there is no schism from the Church that does not at least very shortly thereafter “trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church” does not mean that schism from the Church just is heresy. They are distinct precisely because the Church Christ founded is not merely the set of all persons believing the “one faith.” That would make the Church invisible, and only her [embodied] members visible. (See “Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church”.”) But the Church Christ founded is visible, with a visible hierarchy, and that is why schism from the Church is distinct from, even if always followed by, heresy. See “Christ Founded a Visible Church.” That’s why claiming that one believes in a visible [catholic, as opposed to merely local] Church, while defining schism as heresy, is to embrace an incoherent position. Defining schism as heresy entails a denial of the visibility of the universal Church.

    Why then is “adherence to the ecumenical creeds” ad hoc as a definition of ‘schism’? Devin answered this well in his review of Your Church is Too Small, where he wrote:

    The Nicene Creed was formulated at the first two ecumenical councils: Nicaea in the year 325 and Constantinople in 381. But taking only the first two councils and these two Creeds as the criteria for orthodoxy raises the following questions: Why do we stop with those? Why not also accept the third and fourth ecumenical councils? As it is, the Nestorians and Monophysites could affirm the first two councils. We would need a principled reason for making the decisions of these first two councils and no others the standard for orthodoxy.

    There is no good reason to take the first and second ecumenical councils as authoritative while not taking the third or fourth or fifth or sixth as authoritative. Doing so exemplifies perfectly the definition of ad hoc provided above. So for this reason limiting orthodoxy to the first two councils is ad hoc. Not only that, but the denial of the essential visible unity of the Church is a Protestant novelty. When the previous 1,500 years maintained a visible Church ecclesiology in which schism from the Church is distinct from (even if always followed by heresy), it is ad hoc to stipulate one’s own definition of schism, a definition never held in all of Church history, and contradicting the previous understanding of ‘schism.’ The faith is something received, not something stipulated. And therefore our definition of ‘schism’ must be something we receive from the Church and Tradition, not something we stipulate or construct.

    Moreover, the Church has never believed that heresy consisted only in denial of one or more articles of the ecumenical creeds. Pelagianism, for example, is a heresy even though it is not ruled out by the ecumenical creeds. And there are many other examples of heresies recognized by the universal Church as heresies, but which are not ruled out by the ecumenical creeds. So, not only is it ad hoc to define ‘schism’ as heresy, for the reason explained above, but it is also ad hoc to reduce heresy only to a denial of one or more articles of the ecumenical creeds, since the same ecclesial authority by which the ecumenical creeds were formulated and approved, is the same ecclesial authority by which these other heresies (not ruled out by the ecumenical creeds) were condemned as heretical. And picking and choosing from what that ecclesial authority decided, is arbitrary. So it is ad hoc to pick arbitrarily a definition of ‘schism’ contrary to that held during the previous 1,500 years, among all the other possible definitions of ‘schism’ one could stipulate, and to do so by selecting an arbitrary set of dogmas among all the dogmas defended as such by the same ecclesial authority through which the ecumenical creeds were promulgated as normative.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  64. Yo Dave,

    You have your hands full with the ad hoc issue which John S, JTJ, and Bryan have posed to you. This is one question I wanted to pose to you, anyway, and relates to the issue of private judgment (to which I am sure we will return). Since I am about to be unavailable for several days for a family reason, I am going to step back and let you and the other guys here talk. I’ll jump back in whenever I am available again. I respect your comments at #51 and #52, and would like to take up some of the additional issues you raise there. Some of them have already been taken up by others. Bryan has explained why heresy and schism are often present together, though they are distinct sins and states. That quote from St. Jerome was what came to my mind upon reading your reply. That there is a distinction is why heresy is a sin against the theological virtue of faith and schism a sin against the theological virtue of charity in Catholic moral theology.

    Other points that you raise are worth clarifying, such as your insinuation that an indulgence is ex suo genere simony, that the Council of Trent declared the Vulgate inspired, and that Catholic beliefs about justification, veneration of the saints and the Blessed Virgin, and the infallibility of the pope were medieval concoctions need to be addressed. On the issue of the Vulgate and Trent, see my post here on that topic, as well as my comments here, here, here, and here on that thread. Since it is clear that reading Sacred Scripture is dear to your heart, and rightly so, we can talk about the role of critical methods of study in the relationship between Catholics and Protestants later.

    For now, let us all agree,
    Down with the “ad-hockery”!

    pax,
    Barrett

  65. David,

    Also, on the distinction between heresy and schism, see the quotation from St. Isidore, bishop of Seville (570-636) in comment #714 of the “How John Calvin Made me Catholic” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  66. Bryan–

    The criterion Isadore uses is often useless: the Lutherans in Europe are called the Evangelical Church (Luther himself loudly rebuked those who used his name on their churches); most cults and sects have names for themselves which do not invoke the names of their founders; it is the opposition that characterizes them as followers of a particular ne’er-do-well, in order to demonize them. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Children of God–I’d be hard put to come up with a sect called by its founder’s name. Cambellites, Finneyites, Lefebvrists–these are not the names they call themselves. Sure, there are Wesleyans and Lutherans, but they are merely exceptions to the rule.

    What do you call Diotrephes, who pushed orthodox believers out of the church? Is that schismatic?

    And what do you call groups who take over the organizational structure of another group? Pat Buchanan absconded with the Reform Party in the 2000 presidential campaign, and the FEC upheld his legitimacy. The party has yet to be able to pick up the pieces.

    Or groups that have no ideological continuity with their organizers? The YWCA’s new motto is “eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.” They have basically morphed into an anti-Christian (or at the least, thoroughly secular) group.

    All the best,

    –Eirik

    “I am keenly aware of the tensions within the Church right now and allegations of the oppression of those whose allegiance is with Rome. My eyes are wide open to the conflicts within the Church, but I don’t think you can call it schism. Cardinal Newman wrote that when he was received into the Catholic Church it was like coming into safe harbour after years on the stormy sea. My experience is the opposite. I was in safe harbour in the Lutheran Church and, in entering the Catholic Church, have embarked on a very stormy sea.” –Richard John Neuhaus

  67. Bryan #63,

    Thanks for the detailed reply. I guess I would have to push back on a couple things.

    A key feature in Devin’s argument against Armstrong is that both accept that the church Christ founded had visible unity from the apostolic age, that is to say, from the NT itself. As Devin says,

    And so he chooses criteria that (rightly) begin with the founding of the Church by Christ and the sending of the Apostles and continue to the first two ecumenical councils and the Creeds. But why it should stop there requires a principled reason. Armstrong does not offer one, and of course an arbitrary stipulation by Armstrong cannot be the basis for a unity to be pursued by all Christians.

    I would affirm this, to a point. I certainly would not go so far as to say there was visible unity with Petrine supremacy acknowledged in the lifetime of the historical Peter. This just goes way beyond the evidence. Paul himself consistently stakes his apostolic claim on the revelation given him on the Damascus road. He is happy to have the “right hand of fellowship” from the pillars (Peter, James, and John, note well), but he certainly does not operate according to any principle of Petrine supremacy.

    James also was quite a powerful figure, perhaps Peter’s equal. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that James 2 is written to counteract what are thought to be the baleful effects of Paul’s gospel (“not by faith alone”). This, of course, does not mean that James meant to attack Paul himself (Paul is aware in Romans 3:8, 6:1 that there are those who are abusing his teaching). Nevertheless it does suggest that this tidy picture of visible unity is much more complex than it appears.

    I would also say that if the church was unified under the apostle Peter, Paul could hardly rebuke the Corinthians who said “I follow Cephas” (I Cor 1:12). In fact the whole argument of 1 Cor 1-3 makes no sense on the assumption of Peter’s supremacy. To paraphrase Paul, was Peter crucified for you? The conclusion of his argument is as follows: “So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[c] or the world or life or death or the present or the future —all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (1 Cor 3:21-22) That would be my reply to Catholics as well: no more boasting about human leaders, including Peter!

    Finally, such an appeal to Peter and the apostolic succession runs the risk of grounding faith on history. If it could be demonstrated that the succession had failed, would we stop believing in Christ?

    I realize that you’ve given me a lot of literature to peruse. I am new to this site and haven’t had time. If these objections are handled in the books you refer to, I apologize. I am simply trying to think through what my ecclesiology is, given my desire to be a consistent ecumenical Protestant. Does Devin’s argument against Armstrong lose force if the church has not, in fact, always been unified under Peter?

    Thanks,

    Dave

  68. Barrett,

    Thanks for the links. I am very interested in pursuing some of the other points I raised in 51, not only my obvious weak points such as the ad hoc and circular character of some of my argumentation. (I do sense that those who comment here know where Protestants are vulnerable, which is fair, and to be expected.) So take your time, but I am looking forward to dealing with the issues of 1) false teachings of Catholicism and 2) the rise of individual judgment/critical thinking (my remark about the printing press is of course tongue-in-cheek, but only partially so), 3) the role of critical scholarship today.

    Dave

  69. David (#67)

    Finally, such an appeal to Peter and the apostolic succession runs the risk of grounding faith on history. If it could be demonstrated that the succession had failed, would we stop believing in Christ?

    It does, however, seem to me that at some point we must find historical foundations. If it were to be proven that Christ did not rise, it would certainly strike at the roots of faith, would it not? Something like Buddhism is ahistorical, because it is basically philosophy.

    The question of revelation itself is always something that comes out of history. So it seems to me that the Petrine primacy is, indeed, something that shows its primary reality by the growth in history – like the acorn showing what it was by becoming an oak.

    jj

  70. David, (re: #67),

    I cannot lay out all the evidence for Petrine primacy in a combox. Hence the book references. But I do not need to make a knock-down case for Petrine primacy, in order to answer your question regarding why the Catholic definition of schism is not ad hoc while “adherence to the ecumenical creeds” is an ad hoc definition of schism. All I need to show is that there is good evidence (found in the books I cited) both from Scripture and Tradition showing that Christ singled out Peter uniquely by giving him the keys and thereby making him the steward of His House, and that through this role uniquely given to Peter among the Apostles, the Catholic definition of schism is not ad hoc.

    Finally, such an appeal to Peter and the apostolic succession runs the risk of grounding faith on history. If it could be demonstrated that the succession had failed, would we stop believing in Christ?

    That’s similar to saying that believing that Jesus rose from the dead runs the risk of grounding faith on an event having actually occurred in history, and that if it could be truly demonstrated that the resurrection did not occur, would we stop believing in Christ? And the answer is yes and no, in different respects. Yes to the conditional: *if* it could be truly demonstrated that Christ did not rise from the dead, then yes, our faith would be in vain. But, in another sense the answer is no, because of the impossibility of the truth of the protasis of the conditional, given that Christ was in fact raised. Because Christ did rise from the dead, it cannot be truly demonstrated that He did not rise from the dead. And the same goes for the relation of faith and apostolic succession, in a parallel manner. You may be interested in the podcast Tim Troutman and I did on faith and reason, in which I explained the two senses of falsification in relation to Christ’s resurrection.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  71. Dear Bryan and John,

    I realize my short question about the relationship of faith to history was not helpful. Obviously the faith is historical; the key events we confess in the creed are all historical and their historicity is of paramount importance. I would say that Peter’s primacy is of a different order altogether both in terms of evidence and in terms of importance. The evidence, pre-70, seems minimal at best.

    I realize you do not need to make a knockdown for Peter’s primacy to show your view of schism is not ad hoc. I accept everything you say, Bryan, on this score. But Devin’s criticism of Armstrong’s view as ad hoc depended on imputing to him a “Catholic” view (i.e., the church was visibly united under Peter and this continued down through the first two or three ecumenical councils, but then Armstrong suddenly has an arbitrary cut off point when he stops believing in the visible unity of the church). If, however, the church was not always, from the time of the apostles, visibly united under Peter, then there must be some other reason to accept the ecumenical creeds as the standards of orthodoxy which does not commit one to a specific historical process with an arbitrary cut off point.

    What I am trying to say is that there could be a way of asserting that the ecumenical creeds are the standards of orthodoxy that is not ad hoc. The argument just needs to be approached in a different way, perhaps by analyzing proto-creedal statements in Scripture (1 Cor 15, etc) and their development, and making the argument that these statements have always served as a “rule of faith,” i.e., the unquestioned standard of Christian orthodoxy. The fact that they have always been accepted by the Church confirms their centrality but does not guarantee it.

    By the way, as I stated above somewhere above, I do not believe in the “invisible church” of much Presbyterianism (but neither does Leithart). You seem to suggest, Bryan (back in 63) that Protestantism is bound to have an invisible church, but this is not the case. (See what I said above re: the continental Reformed.)

  72. David, (re: #71)

    The pre-70 evidence for anything having to do with Christianity, except those NT books composed by that time, is minimal at best. So, the low level of pre-70 extra-Scriptural evidence for Petrine primacy isn’t significant one way or the other.

    I think Devin’s criticism does not depend on Armstrong holding a Catholic understanding of Petrine primacy in the first few centuries. The paragraph I quoted in comment #63 above (from Devin’s criticism) could easily have been written by an Orthodox Christian. Catholics and Orthodox agree on the identity of the first seven ecumenical councils. But stipulating that, say, the first two ecumenical councils are normative, while rejecting the rest or treating the rest as optional, is ad hoc, because nothing about the councils themselves distinguishes the authority of the first two from that of the rest. Armstrong’s view is that the Church of the first millennium was visibly one, and I agree with him, and I assume that you also agree with him on that point, even if you and I perhaps presently disagree regarding the definition of schism from the visibly one Church.

    What I am trying to say is that there could be a way of asserting that the ecumenical creeds are the standards of orthodoxy that is not ad hoc.

    Ok, that shifts the basis for the authority of the ecumenical creeds to Tradition, and away from councils and the authority of the magisterium. But I think this move doesn’t escape the ad hoc problem, because the Tradition is broader than just the ecumenical creeds, and so selecting out the creeds from the rest of Tradition and making them the sufficient standard of full communion, is no less ad hoc. Although I agree with you that some similar precursors to the ecumenical creeds served as the rule of faith (to be stated by the Catechumens at their baptism, before the congregation) in the first few centuries, the Church never in practice treated such a rule of faith as the sufficient test of orthodoxy, and assent to that rule of faith as sufficient for full communion. Otherwise the ecumenical councils would have been unnecessary, since, for example, the Arians were quite willing to affirm these precursor rules of faith, since their own position was not ruled out by them through the inclusion of the term homoousious. So were Montanus and his followers at the end of the second century. And so were Praxeas and Sabellius and the other modalists in the third century. So was Paul of Samosata, who was in fact a bishop of the Church at Antioch. So were Novatus and Novatian, and their followers.

    So it would be ad hoc to select the ecumenical creeds rather than the precursor rules of faith, since, without recourse to magisterial authority, nothing makes the ecumenical creeds more authoritative than the precursors. The very argument you are making, for a wider, less exclusive rule of orthodoxy, could have been made by all those characters I just mentioned, as a justification for rejecting both the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

    By the way, as I stated above somewhere above, I do not believe in the “invisible church” of much Presbyterianism (but neither does Leithart). You seem to suggest, Bryan (back in 63) that Protestantism is bound to have an invisible church, but this is not the case. (See what I said above re: the continental Reformed.)

    I don’t just suggest it; I made an argument for it; see the link in footnote 10 above. But let’s not speak in the abstract. Which Protestant denominations presently compose the visible catholic Church Christ founded?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  73. Bryan,

    So it would be ad hoc to select the ecumenical creeds rather than the precursor rules of faith, since, without recourse to magisterial authority, nothing makes the ecumenical creeds more authoritative than the precursors. The very argument you are making, for a wider, less exclusive rule of orthodoxy, could have been made by all those characters I just mentioned, as a justification for rejecting both the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

    What makes them authoritative is that they are true. There is truth, and there is power. I’m not saying truth and power don’t go together at some points (they converge in Christ our head), but it is not magisterial authority that gives the creeds authority. It is the fact that they are true.

    I agree that various heretics could claim to abide by the rule of faith and protest Nicea etc as too exclusive. But they are wrong objectively, not because they don’t adhere to magisterial authority.

    Visible/invisible church: I had a glance at your argument. Seems interesting and very philosophical. Of course that fact alone does not count against it, but I get nervous when being pulled in a Platonist or Aristotelian or nominalist or whateverist direction on the vexed question of the One and the Many becomes critically important for doctrines of the faith. This doesn’t count against your argument, which I have not read in full. It is just that, in principle, I am wary of tethering the faith too closely to any one particular philosophical system (after all, the Lord has given us Augustine the great Platonist and Aquinas the great Aristotelian and Calvin the great nominalist) :).

    To answer your question: identifying the visible church with a “denomination” is already a problem, since “denominations” are invisible (I can’t see the RCC or the CRC or the PCA). What is “visible” are local churches where Christ is preached. I realize that you would say you can see the RCC when looking upon the visage of Benedict XVI. Fair enough. That I reject the very concept of denominations as visible then goes back to Peter’s primacy, etc. But that does not mean I reject a visible church. (See articles 27, 28, 29 of the Belgic Confession.) The visible church is the local church, which is also part of the catholic church, which is made up of visible local churches all over the world. There is really nothing “invisible” about this.

    The pre-70 evidence for anything having to do with Christianity, except those NT books composed by that time, is minimal at best. So, the low level of pre-70 extra-Scriptural evidence for Petrine primacy isn’t significant one way or the other.

    Well, more was composed by that time than you might think. The undisputed epistles of Paul certainly, probably the gospel of Mark, perhaps Aramaic proto-Matthew (Q?), perhaps Hebrews and James.

    The low level of evidence is significant, since after 70, Peter is dead. If you really want to claim that Christ founded a church with Peter as the head you do need to deal with evidence from Peter’s life.

    I would say that there is also positive evidence against this claim. Particularly it hardly seems that the epistle to the Galatians could have been written if Paul was aware of Peter’s primacy. How does Paul dare to report his rebuke of Peter? Note what Paul does NOT say, that Peter changed his mind and subsequently agreed with Paul. It is very likely that Peter and Paul reconciled later on, but in the heat of the moment it seems Paul probably lost the showdown at Antioch and was writing Galatians precisely to prevent this defeat from carrying over into “his” churches. What Paul does not say is that he lost the showdown and therefore he is going to accede to Petrine primacy and allow Jews and Gentiles to keep separate tables.

    Of course, this is not inconsistent with the view that Paul later in life accepted Peter’s primacy. But it is interesting that one of earliest Christian canonical documents we have emerges from a dispute with Peter (and, even more so, James) and nowhere acknowledges that Peter’s headship or infallibility is a serious item of consideration in the debate.

    But, I still haven’t read the books you cite. Just food for thought from a student of the NT.

  74. David, (re: #73)

    I had written:

    So it would be ad hoc to select the ecumenical creeds rather than the precursor rules of faith, since, without recourse to magisterial authority, nothing makes the ecumenical creeds more authoritative than the precursors.

    You then wrote:

    What makes them [i.e. the ecumenical creeds] authoritative is that they are true.

    This brings us back to what Barrett said in #50:

    Or are you simply saying that the ecumenical councils are right, except when your favored exegesis says they are not (or importantly incomplete), and that your interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures is ultimately the standard for determining which communities are in schism? That position just puts the onus on the individual to know the essentials of the faith prior to judging where the true church(es) may be found, assuming the ultimacy of individual private judgment in living the Christian life.

    The standard for schism from the Church seemingly turns out to be what you, by your own exegesis of Scripture, decide is necessary and sufficient for all Christians to believe in order to be in the Church. It just so happens that what you have decided coincides with the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds.

    Yes, I know you claim that your list of essentials is “objective,” but how would you demonstrate its objectivity? That is, if it were not objective, but were instead subjective, what would be different, and how would we know? If we take a thousand newly converted Christians who have never been exposed to the creeds, but have only been told that Jesus died for their sins, have sincerely believed this message, and have been baptized, and we put them in a room with Bibles (and no other books or internet access), and ask them to come up with the list of the essentials which delineate who is in schism and who is not, and gave them ten years (or longer), do you really think they would come up with all the articles, and only the articles, of the ecumenical creeds?

    Robert Reymond and Mark Driscoll reject “eternal generation” in the Nicene Creed — see Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, and see Driscoll’s Doctrine: What Christians Believe (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2010). John Piper and Wayne Grudem want to remove “He descended to the dead” from the Apostles’ Creed. If the articles of the ecumenical creeds are objectively true, why do seeming otherwise intelligent and Christ-loving pastors and theologians not see it? Just bad exegesis? These guys aren’t stuck in that room without access to exegetical arguments and Church history; they have all that and are still rejecting these lines in the creeds.

    Moreover, it seems to me that it is not “truth” that is serving as your criterion for schism, because surely you agree that Chalcedonian Christology is true, and yet Nestorians and Monophysites could affirm the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. So, by stipulating only the ecumenical creeds as essential, you seem to be making Chalcedonian Christology optional, even though you believe Chalcedonian Christology to be true. And therefore, it cannot just be that a doctrine is true, that makes it essential, unless you either want to deny the truth of Chalcedonian Christology, or tack on to the ecumenical creeds a requirement of affirming Chalcedonian Christology.

    I do not believe that the thousand new Christians isolated in the room with Bibles would come up with all and only the articles of the ecumenical creeds. So it seems to me that your position regarding schism is still ad hoc, since you have no unique interpretive authority among all Christians, including those who interpret Scripture in such a way as to leave more or less latitude than yourself regarding what is essential and therefore what constitutes schism from the Church.

    I am wary of tethering the faith too closely to any one particular philosophical system

    Too late; you already have and utilize one, since doing so is unavoidable. And your situation is the more dangerous, since you are (seemingly) unaware of the philosophical system you do hold and use. And a person cannot be critically reflective regarding what he does not even realize he believes and uses.

    To answer your question: identifying the visible church with a “denomination” is already a problem, since “denominations” are invisible (I can’t see the RCC or the CRC or the PCA). What is “visible” are local churches where Christ is preached. I realize that you would say you can see the RCC when looking upon the visage of Benedict XVI. Fair enough. That I reject the very concept of denominations as visible then goes back to Peter’s primacy, etc. But that does not mean I reject a visible church. (See articles 27, 28, 29 of the Belgic Confession.) The visible church is the local church, which is also part of the catholic church, which is made up of visible local churches all over the world.

    So you think denominations are invisible, but you think the catholic Church “made up” of visible local churches, is visible. Here’s the question then: If there were no visible catholic Church, but only visible local churches (and the people who belong to these visible local churches), what would be visibly different in comparison to the present situation? This question is an Emperor’s New Clothes test. It is easy to claim to believe in a visible catholic Church. But if everything would look exactly the same if there were no such thing, then in one’s ecclesiology the term [i.e. “visible catholic Church”] has no actual referent, or has a referent defined by criteria quite different from that specified by one’s ecclesiology.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  75. David (#71)
    Yeah, sorry, didn’t mean to jump on that ‘history’ bit – but I guess I did :-)

    FWIW, my view – which is pretty much what Newman thought – is that Petrine primacy is not an important argument in favour of being a Catholic. It does seem to me that if the Catholic Church is what it claims, then Petrine primacy must be true, almost as a corollary. But my understanding of the reason why one ought to be a Catholic is because – reading the New Testament as history (and here we get into those historical underpinnings), it is clear that Jesus – Whose divinity I am convinced of fundamentally for C. S. Lewis’s “Liar, Lunatic, Lord trilemma” – established an authoritative, infallible, hierarchical organisationally unified body called the Church – and that salvation essentially required union with that Body. And I could see no possible candidate for the present representative of that body other than the Catholic Church. This is, pretty much, both Newman’s argument in the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and Knox’s in The Belief of Catholics.

    Petrine Primacy seems to me, indeed, to be a historical development within the Church – a development, to be sure, from the undoubted actual primacy of Peter in the Apostolic College, and prophesied, it seems to me, in the three great Petrine passages: Matthew 16:13-19, Luke 22:31-32, John 21:15-19. None of these, of course, makes evident that Petrine primacy is the idea of the prophecies – until history has developed their consequences. But I think that is true of all the prophecies of Scripture. They are not, contrary to a certain fundamentalist mind-set, “pre-written history.” You can only understand them when they are fulfilled.

    Long gabble, I fear, but my point is that I think history is fundamental to the whole business of being a Christian and of being a Catholic. History is fundamental, yet never compelling. Faith is required. The clearest evident fulfilment of prophecy can always be explained in other ways. At some point an act of faith must be made – just as in accepting Jesus’s own Divinity.

    At bottom it seems to me that the Federal Vision idea (of Leithart, and of James B. Jordan whom I love and admire) is wishful thinking. That the Church is in some sense a federation of particular churches is perfectly true; that such a federation as has been proposed has any non-arbitrary principle of unity seems to me implausible. That is the function of Petrine primacy: the principle of unity, based on prophecy and the experience of the early church as it developed through history.

    jj

  76. JJ,

    Thanks so much for helping move this dialogue along. I love your stuff, but I have a small quibble that I nevertheless feel is important.

    I have to disagree when you say: “FWIW, my view – which is pretty much what Newman thought – is that Petrine primacy is not an important argument in favour of being a Catholic.”

    In the introduction to Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, the climax comes when the voice of Newman’s conscience accuses him of the fact that he has no right to believe in the Eucharist on historical grounds without also believing in papal authority, because there is more evidence for the papacy in antiquity than for the Eucharist. This is the climax of his introduction to the whole work, the crux around which he describes his mind shifting.

    Furthermore, I will say this. I don’t have a problem when people say: history doesn’t make me Catholic, but philosophy does. But I do have a problem when people say: history supports doctrines x y and z, but I believe in the papacy due to philosophy. The fact is, by my reading of the fathers, as well as Newman’s, there’s a lot more evidence for the papacy in antiquity than there is for most of the other important issues.

    There’s more evidence for the papacy in antiquity than there is for the Protestant canon.
    There’s more evidence for the papacy in antiquity than there is for the Catholic canon.
    There’s more evidence for the papacy in antiquity than there is for the Protestant view of the Eucharist.
    There’s more evidence for the papacy in antiquity than there is for the Catholic view of the Eucharist.
    There’s more evidence for the papacy in antiquity than there is for the authority of Ecumenical councils.
    There’s more evidence for the papacy in antiquity than there is for several of the moral teachings we hold dear.

    If philosophy is what does it for us, then so be it. But we have to be consistent: we can’t, e.g., take the Eucharist on history without taking the papacy on history along with it.

    I bring this up because the study of history and the study of data in general is not any more subjective than the study of philosophy or theology is. There are laws to follow when assembling and examining historical data, and when you follow those laws, the hierarchy of which doctrines are more or less proved by history is relatively clear. I won’t say that there is more evidence for the papacy in antiquity than there is for baptismal regeneration (another issue the Reformed should consider more carefully), or for the three-fold hierarchy of bishop priest and deacon, but the papal evidence is right up there in the list.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  77. K. Doran (#76)
    Absolutely agree with you – I am sure I have just expressed myself poorly. What I meant – and I don’t know which of Newman’s writings it is in to refer to – but that in my understanding, Newman didn’t become a Catholic by what I think of as a Protestant process: I believe this doctrine is true (say the papacy); I believe another doctrine to be true (say the Eucharist); etc, etc – and then I discover that the Catholic Church believes these things – it must be the true Church. I know well the statements you quote above (though forget where they are from). But I thought he had somewhere said that it wasn’t because he believed in the Papacy that he became a Catholic. He became a Catholic because he believed that Christ intended there to be one Church – one not merely notionally or with ‘branches’ but one in the Catholic sense – and that the Catholic Church was that Church. I may be wrong, but that’s my understanding: Newman believed in the Church.

    And I absolutely agree – you cannot philosophise your way to the Papacy, nor to anything else that is a matter of revelation. Nor, for the matter of that, can you simply prove it from history. The evidence, in my opinion, for the Papacy as the will of God and as a fulfilment of the passages I mentioned is overwhelming. My only point about philosophy was to say that the Papacy, for which there is abundant evidence both in Scripture and in history, is not something that should surprise us. Ronald Knox does a good job of explaining why he thinks that the monarchical system is what one would expect if God intended an authoritative and infallible Church.

    And yet, as is evident, it fails to overwhelm many! This is because the Papacy, as a Divine ordinance, is a matter of revelation. You can study the Papacy as an actual historical fact – but none of it will come up to a Divine reality. Similarly, you can study Jesus’s life as a historical fact. You may come to believe in His miracles as historical occurrences. But you must make an act of faith. Faith is, certainly, a gift of God. It is nonetheless an act. The mind can take you only so far. The will must embrace the truth. We are not forced.

    jj

  78. Dear Bryan,

    Your latest response doesn’t helpfully advance the conversation because you have not read what I said very carefully.

    The standard for schism from the Church seemingly turns out to be what you, by your own exegesis of Scripture, decide is necessary and sufficient for all Christians to believe in order to be in the Church. It just so happens that what you have decided coincides with the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds.

    I looked above through my comments and did not find any place where I claimed I could derive the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds from exegesis! So I’m not sure who you’re responding to here. (Unless you’re saying: the only two options are an infallible magisterium with interpretive authority, or the complete authority of private judgment, which would seem to pose the dilemma rather starkly, don’t you think?)

    Yes, I know you claim that your list of essentials is “objective,” but how would you demonstrate its objectivity? That is, if it were not objective, but were instead subjective, what would be different, and how would we know? If we take a thousand newly converted Christians who have never been exposed to the creeds, but have only been told that Jesus died for their sins, have sincerely believed this message, and have been baptized, and we put them in a room with Bibles (and no other books or internet access), and ask them to come up with the list of the essentials which delineate who is in schism and who is not, and gave them ten years (or longer), do you really think they would come up with all the articles, and only the articles, of the ecumenical creeds?

    The scenario is not helpful or conducive to thinking through these problems. Of course they would not come up with the creeds; why would they articulate in 10 years what took the Spirit-guided church centuries? Also, the creeds were formulated in a very different philosophical climate than today’s (we have our Arians but our response to them is very different and the stakes are perceived differently). They can’t be abstractly removed from their Greek context.

    Previously, I said,

    I am wary of tethering the faith too closely to any one particular philosophical system.

    To which you replied:

    Too late; you already have and utilize one, since doing so is unavoidable. And your situation is the more dangerous, since you are (seemingly) unaware of the philosophical system you do hold and use. And a person cannot be critically reflective regarding what he does not even realize he believes and uses.

    Again, where did I say I did not have or utilize philosophical conceptions? And do you really think, based on our conversation so far, that I am not critically reflective about my presuppositions? You are responding to what you think I said, rather than what I said. What you think I said, apparently, was that I do not have a philosophical system. What I actually said was that I am wary of construing articles of faith in such a way that they depend too heavily on one particular philosophical system. There is a difference.

    Here’s the question then: If there were no visible catholic Church, but only visible local churches (and the people who belong to these visible local churches), what would be visibly different in comparison to the present situation?

    If there were no visible catholic church, there would be no visible local churches. There would be no Christians. So everything would be visibly different. But in fact there is a visible Catholic church. (Does your “two senses of falsification” re: Christ’s resurrection work here?) And there will always be one.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  79. Hi JJ,

    I completely agree on all counts. At some point one has to believe that the Church ought to exist, one has to identify where it is by its authoritative tone, and one has to believe that the Church is telling us the truth in precisely those areas we don’t understand or see differently. If we just believe in the Church because it happens to agree with us, we’re setting ourselves up for failure the next time temptation comes along.

    During the process of coming to believe in the Church, I was struck by her authoritative tone as a guardian of divine revelation long before I understood her teachings to be correct. I was actually surprised later when I found out how much historical evidence there is for her teachings. And a little disappointed that Protestant (and liberal Catholic) historians had hid this fact from me.

    This also relates to the question of absolute versus relative proof. I think that the historical proofs for Christianity and Catholicism have a relative or comparative character: If we believe in X on the evidence, then we need to believe in Y on the evidence as well to avoid being ad hoc. This is a point that we should all perhaps emphasize more in our dialogues with the reformed. Since there is more evidence in antiquity for the papacy than for the Protestant canon, if they are going to believe in one based on the evidence they need to believe in the other too. Not coincidentally, it was this kind of comparative thinking that provoked Newman’s conscience during his years as a decidedly anti-Roman tracterian. In the battle between his conscience and his reason on one side, and his prejudices and desire for safety on the other, his conscience and reason won out. Which, incidentally, made him a relatively happier man than he was or would have been otherwise. There’s that “relative” again: protestants point out that he was treated badly sometimes as a Catholic, and that every day wasn’t full of peace for him. But he was a pretty darn happy guy, especially in comparison to what he was before he converted or would have been had he disobeyed his conscience and given into a desire to satisfy personal bigotry or personal safety. Sometimes it’s all about the relative. Christ doesn’t promise us perfect earthly happiness on becoming Catholic. But, all in all, He actually does tend to make one much happier than we would be lost and alone in the world outside.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  80. JJ #75,

    Thanks for that comment. I can appreciate and respect your position.

  81. David, (re: #78)

    The other possible explanation, besides failing to read closely what you wrote, is that I’m referring to what necessarily follows from what you did write. So, when you say that what makes the ecumenical creeds authoritative is not magisterial authority, but that what makes them authoritative is that they are true, the determination that they are true rests on your judgment that they are true, based not on someone else’s interpretation of Scripture, but on your interpretation of Scripture. And your claim that this truth is objective is an example of painting the target around the already-embedded arrow, if all (or most all) other groups of Christians do not, by independent study of the Scriptures, arrive at all and only the same list of articles of faith found in the ecumenical creeds. Every heretic can refer to his interpretation as “objective.” So it is not enough merely to assert that one’s own interpretation is objective; it must stand the empirical test if it claims to be objective. Hence I offered a hypothetical test.

    You reject the test, because, you say, “why would they articulate in 10 years what took the Spirit-guided church centuries?” The same Spirit-guided Church that anathematized Nestorianism, Monophysitism, monothelitism, and iconoclasm in the subsequent ecumenical councils? That declared Mary ever-virgin in the Fifth Council? That Spirit-guided Church? Again, it seems that when the Church says something that agrees with your exegesis (i.e. the ecumenical creeds), then you deem it is Spirit-guided, but when it says something contrary to, or insufficiently supported by, your exegesis of Scripture, then you judge it to be not Spirit-guided. That seems to be annexing the Holy Spirit to your own exegesis, and that seems to be precisely the ad hoc special pleading you’re trying to avoid.

    You claim that the evidence for the articles in the creeds is objective, but when I propose a test to verify this, you say that the results would not be the same, because arriving at the articles of the creed required the guidance of the Spirit. Of course I agree that it required the guidance of the Spirit, which is precisely why I submit to the normativity of the subsequent ecumenical councils, whereas you propose making such submission optional, on the basis of your own interpretation of Scripture. Again, in that case, ultimately, you are making the results of your own exegesis the standard for schism, and then annexing the Spirit to the results that happen to coincide with your interpretation of Scripture, to pad them with divine authority.

    Unless you’re saying: the only two options are an infallible magisterium with interpretive authority, or the complete authority of private judgment

    See “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority,” and feel free to present the third option to this dilemma.

    Regarding the wariness of tethering faith to a particular philosophical system, I understand your concern, and my reply was too terse. Here’s what I mean. When I present an argument, and someone replies by saying that he doesn’t want to tie faith to any particular philosophical system, he is implying that he is, in fact, successfully keeping his philosophy out of faith, or that his faith is not tethered to his philosophy. But, of course, he is not. We all have a philosophy, whether we are aware of it or not, and it influences everything we do, including our theologizing. Even the notion that faith shouldn’t be tethered to a particular philosophy is itself a particular philosophy. So the better response, in my opinion, is to show why my argument fails, rather than suggesting that one avoids all that philosophy stuff, and does theology in a philosophy-free environment, because there is no such thing. You are relying on and utilizing a particular philosophical system, whether you realize it or not, whether it has a name or not.

    If there were no visible catholic church, there would be no visible local churches. There would be no Christians. So everything would be visibly different. But in fact there is a visible Catholic church.

    In that case what you are calling the “visible catholic Church,” corresponds to the “Panapple” in my example at “Why Protestantism his no “visible catholic Church”.” It is not an actual entity, but is a name for what is in actuality a mere plurality, considered as a whole.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  82. Dear Bryan,

    The other possible explanation, besides failing to read closely what you wrote, is that I’m referring to what necessarily follows from what you did write.

    What necessarily follows? Only “necessarily” according to your construal of the options, which seems vastly too polarized to me. Between black and white are many many shades of grey. I am ok with ambiguity which I guess is a profound difference between us. If one extreme option is

    a) the Spirit-guided church is infallible in its exegesis and interpretation of Scriptures

    and the other is

    b) the individual’s private judgment is infallible in his or her exegesis and interpretation of the Scriptures,

    it would seem that in between these extremes there are potential shades of grey to be explored, no? Or, to uncritically adopt a Hegelian framework, sometimes the Spirit moves from thesis to antithesis and on to synthesis? A great Catholic biblical scholar, J. Blenkinsopp, has argued for exactly this kind of dynamic in the formation of the canon. In his view, law and prophecy are in tension throughout the formation of the Hebrew scriptures, because prophets come along and have a fresh word from God which challenges the power structures and institutions, but the institutional response often incorporates the prophetic critique and generates an ongoing tradition of Judeo-Christian thought that is intensely self-critical.

    What I see in your project is basically siding with the institution and so subordinating prophecy to that institutional framework (as Deuteronomy did with prophecy). What I see in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus, and the Protestant reformers however is the rhetoric of prophecy; i.e. they all call what they regard as a corrupted institution back to its true tradition. The rhetoric of prophecy is generally not anti-traditional (and individualistic, as you imply) but usually seeks to be deeply traditional.

    These are just some tentative thoughts and I see you’ve given me more reading material. I will look at your argument for rejecting ambiguity/shades of grey later when I have more time.

    When I present an argument, and someone replies by saying that he doesn’t want to tie faith to any particular philosophical system, he is implying that he is, in fact, successfully keeping his philosophy out of faith, or that his faith is not tethered to his philosophy. But, of course, he is not. We all have a philosophy, whether we are aware of it or not, and it influences everything we do, including our theologizing. Even the notion that faith shouldn’t be tethered to a particular philosophy is itself a particular philosophy. So the better response, in my opinion, is to show why my argument fails, rather than suggesting that one avoids all that philosophy stuff, and does theology in a philosophy-free environment, because there is no such thing. You are relying on and utilizing a particular philosophical system, whether you realize it or not, whether it has a name or not.

    I absolutely agree with everything you are saying here. I did specify, twice, in my original comment, that my observation does not count against your argument, and that to really engage with you, I would have to read and fully criticize it on its terms. But I do confess to having a certain postmodern malaise with philosophy. When I see so many comments that we must all agree on what the Eucharist *is* before we can eat together, I tend to think, really? Do we need to have high level protracted debates about nature and grace (which is where sacramental theology always leads) before we can acknowledge that we are one in Christ? If so, there’s a problem right there (and again, that observation does not count against any particular philosophical construal of sacramental theology).

    On the visible church:

    It is not an actual entity, but is a name for what is in actuality a mere plurality, considered as a whole.

    I really like this. I like the “panapple.” Great analogy. Now you are thinking eschatologically, with Paul in Ephesians! The church’s true reality is not a matter of visible/invisible but historical/eschatological. (And by eschatological, I don’t mean “not present”).

  83. To briefly expand on my final comment, in case it is very unclear:

    I am saying the visible catholic Church IS the “panapple,” precisely because the church is not the same sort of thing as an ordinary apple. The church is not an ordinary thing — that does not mean it is invisible. If it is a different type of thing, we need to explore how it can be both many visible local churches where Christ is preached and one holy catholic and apostolic church. A biblical way of thinking about this is not visible/invisible but historical/eschatological; the church’s true reality is in heaven, in Christ; Christ’s headship is what guarantees the reality of the visible catholic church, despite its apparent historical plurality.

  84. Once more on the catholic Church:

    I agree with St. Ignatius, “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic Church.”

  85. David,

    Thanks for your reply. I have some thoughts about what you said, especially the ecclesiology at the end of your comment, but I think I’m going to hold off, and allow a little more time for reflection, because I’ve pointed you to a number of other articles. And I’m relying on those articles, rather than laying out those arguments here in a combox. But I know that reading them and reflecting on them carefully would require considerable time. And whenever I comment, I know I’m creating a kind of unintended but inevitable pressure to respond right away, which perhaps is an obstacle to having a more reflective dialogue following a fuller digestion of each other’s positions. So, I’m going to take a break, and perhaps we can discuss this again in the near future. Thanks for remaining open, cordial and patient with me!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  86. Dear Bryan,

    You are right that commenting on blogs tends to unduly spiral out of control. Time for digestion and reflection is a good thing at this point. I will try to read your article on sola scriptura this weekend. Blessings,

    Dave

  87. Hi Dave,

    You just quoted my favorite saint, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr! Thanks for adding him to the discussion. Here is the full text of that paragraph from his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans written around 107 AD, with the sentence that you quoted from in italics:

    See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

    If you agree with Saint Ignatius, you are already here!

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  88. K. Doran,

    Ignatius’ teaching is not really that far from the sentiment of the Pastoral epistles, which makes me wonder why it makes most Protestants uncomfortable? I agree with submission to the bishop, presbytery, and deacons.

    Dave

  89. David (#83)
    Very clear – and certainly what I thought when I was a Protestant – what, in fact, James B. Jordan told me when I told him I was going to become a Catholic. He said I was trying to immanentise the eschaton.

    And he was absolutely right – if, in fact:

    1) Christ did not intend something like the Catholic Church – with far more visible organisational unity, and with authority – to exist during the time between His first and second coming; and…

    2) … if, in fact, such a Church is what, in fact, the eschatological image presents us with.

    Regarding 1) above, it is a question of what, in fact, Christ intended. I concluded that He did intend something like the Catholic Church, and that I must be a member.

    Regarding the second, I think there is a little more depth to be plumbed. For I do not, in fact, think that the Church on earth – the Church militant – even in what I think is its proper form, namely the Catholic Church is at all like what the New Jerusalem is presented to us as. In reality, it seems to me that our little Reformed Church here in Pukekohe, New Zealand – the one I moved to Pukekohe to help start – was rather more in the line of attempting to build the New Jerusalem. It was supposed, you see, to be a Church of the holy. By that I mean that the less-than-holy were – not formally, but practically – shut out. I think this is a quite understandable temptation. We ought, indeed, all to be holy. But the Church of the between-times we see in the New Testament is the Church of the wheat and tares, of the good and bad fish, of every sort of bird nesting in its branches.

    Which – God help us! – is the sometimes awful reality of the Catholic Church throughout history – and a primary argument against its being the true Church. Join that Church that has not only Mother Teresa in it, but the very irregular neighbour of mine living in sin??!!

    The Catholic Church ought, must, does strive for the eschaton – but it seems to me that the mere existence of a Church that is able to exercise authority – and there are few of those left around that even pretend to do so – that has genuine definitions of the conditions of unity even if many do not correspond – that such a Church is not itself attempting to immanentise the eschaton.

    As a footnote, I would say that even the Catholic Church agrees with you – that there are marks of grace in ecclesial bodies that are not strictly speaking Churches. There is, however, such a thing as the locus of the fulness of grace. That locus, we believe, is to be found in the Catholic Church.

    jj

  90. Dear John,

    Thanks for that response. I am mulling whether I would say the Catholic church is trying to “immanentise the eschaton,” as Jordan puts it. In some ways I would say their failure is exactly the opposite; it is a failure to bring the eschatological church into present reality. After all, most Catholics would acknowledge that Protestants and Orthodox are a part of the eschatological church (are saved by Christ and will be included in the renewal of all things at the resurrection of the dead). But the church is always called to make this eschatological church a present reality. My position is that by forbidding Protestants from the table Catholics place an obstacle in the way of this. (I know, understand, and respect the other position, however; which is that there can only be communion after all our issues are solved. I just disagree with it.)

    On your comments here and above:

    1) If I ever would become Catholic it would be for exactly the reason you did; i.e., because I believed in the Church and not because I believed in purgatory, indulgences, transubstantiation, Marian devotion, etc.

    2) Regarding your remark, “I concluded that He did intend something like the Catholic Church, and that I must be a member,” I completely agree. I have concluded the same thing. The question is our understanding of the phrase “something like,” which for me is wide enough to incorporate Protestant and Orthodox communions. :)

  91. David (#90)
    Thanks for that, David! I find what you said there quite interesting – I mean about the ways in which we ought to be seeking here and now that finality which is promised – the New Jerusalem. The ‘catch phrase’ that I have seen in Catholic writings is that we are in statu viatoris – we are ‘on the way.’ A fascinating – and, to my mind, superb – writer is Josef Pieper, who, in the English translation of three pamphlets of his, called Faith, Hope, and Love, he talks, in the section on hope, about two ways of living in despair: the classic ‘giving up’ – thinking that one can never achieve felicity; and the opposite, which is, perhaps, a characteristic fact of our time: presumption – praesumtio – the Latin etymology being ‘beforehand-possessing’ or something like that. It is this latter that, I suppose, Jordan meant by ‘immanentising the eschaton.’

    Anyway, thanks so much for your reply. It gives me considerable food for thought – about the tension between just not worrying about who you consider a Christian – the extreme latitudinarian idea – and the perfectionist extreme on the other hand.

    To relate this to the post under discussion, I wonder whether the Federal Vision thing isn’t – as some of its detractors have argued – a bit too latitudinarian.

    And Jordan is very much on the FV side :-)

    jj

  92. Fr. Damick has written a second article replying to Peter Leithart’s “Too catholic to be Catholic.” It is titled “Ecclesiological Darwinism: Reformed Catholicity’s Denial of the Foundation of the Reformation.” It is an insightful critique of Leithart’s ecclesiology.

  93. For starters what St. Justin Martyr (d. AD 165) calls Catholic is no longer Catholic after 1054 AD. By the end of the fourth crusade we might wonder of it will ever be Catholic again by St. Justin Martyr’s standards. So the Council of Trent (for example), Session 6 (1547) cannot be canonical because The Church on earth has ceased to be Catholic.

    This sends us scrambling for a valid definition of Catholicity (Universality) and Orthodoxy, and the only answer that I can find to this question is Hebrews 12:22-29: for me, this is the only acceptable definition of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church.

    As far as legal validity is concerned, that issue is settled by the Peace of Westphalia. We might hope that The Church might listen to her monarchs as she once listened to Constantine, who, rather than usurping and dominating her, pleaded with her.

    The tree illustration is much used in this article. One frequent common Orthodox use of the tree is to cut off all branches of the tree except one, the Orthodox branch. This is both arrogant and absurd. As I baptized Christian, I cannot visualize the body of Christ with the See of Peter and Paul amputated from it, nor will my patron, Augustine permit me to do so. By the same token the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t have an historic traditional leg to stand on either. The RC claim is equally arrogant and absurd.

    True Catholicity was dealt a severe blow in 1054 from which it never recovered. Hence, real Canonicity must be terminated with Chalcedon, until the sins of 1054 can be fully confessed, absolved, and reconciled. Mortal sins were committed in 1054, which have never been fully confessed, absolved, and reconciled. Interestingly, we commonly preach that no one can enter the Kingdom of God’s forgiveness with an unforgiving heart: yet, here we are.

    As with Augustine, I must argue strenuously against the policies of Novatian and Donatus as being anti-Catholic, but in this article it would appear that the Orthodox and RC churches have taken up the role of Donatism by being excessively exclusivist. Catholicity and Donatism are mutually exclusive ideas. By the way, Augustine’s letters claim that he never excommunicated a single person. If Orthodox and RCs saw eye to eye on this matter, we might be forced to rethink the tree illustration.

    The Reformation does little to pour oil on this disaster. In attempting to correct some obvious errors, The Church received further damage. Again, grievous mortal sins were committed on both sides. Five hundred years later, these sins remain un-confessed, un-absolved, and un-reconciled. None of the three major sides can bring themselves to say, “Maybe, I was wrong. Maybe, I spoke too harshly. Maybe, I was unfair.” Instead of reconciliation, we have an uneasy truce. Instead or reality, everyone retreats into their isolated shells and tries to relive the arguments of the sixteenth century, and this is still both arrogant and absurd.

    Meanwhile, corruption and lethargy are eating all our churches from within. Our children are running away from The Church in droves. Year after year our witness achieves a new record low, and Christianity is in danger of being driven off the face of the earth. “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith in the earth?” Right now the answer to that question appears to be, “No.”

    I am not unsympathetic to many of the objections raised by Dr. Yonke. Neither am I entirely sympathetic to Dr. Liethart’s claims. Even so, both of them have done some serious thinking. Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that we are following the Holy Ghost very faithfully. I firmly believe that we should all be thoroughly ashamed.

    As with family disputes, a lot passes for apologies, which are not real apologies. Yet, the family finds the way to forgive and forget and stay together. Five hundred years is way too long to postpone reconciliation. There is something dreadfully wrong with us.

  94. We are compelled to agree absolutely with St. Cyprian (c. 200-258), De catholicae ecclesiae unitate, 7. His analysis of Hebrews 12:22-29 and related Scriptures is flawless. However, once again, the Catholic Church of 258 is not at all the same as the Catholic Church after 1054. Neither the Catholic Church nor the Orthodox Church after 1054 has any historic possible claim to be the exclusive heir of the Catholic Church of 258.

    That which is unbreakable, remains unbroken; yet, we have broken it. We have taken the Shroud of Turin and disrespectfully smashed it to the ground, and dashed it into a million pieces; yet it remains unbroken. Why, because God is not thwarted by our sin. Although, this is a great mystery, it is necessarily true.

    The discussion returns to the instance of Jeroboam and Rehoboam, to Israel and Judah: but this is largely irrelevant. The discussion fails to mention that Jeroboam’s sins of arrogance and greed cause the horrible split. The parallel would be found in the arrogance of the greater churches. Also omitted is the fact that Rehoboam in his arrogance and power lust immediately turns to national level idolatry. Exactly, which of these sins should we be emulating, and what would that prove. What this instance proves is God’s marvelous patience with His children even when they sin. The division of Judah should never and could never take place. There was only one monarchical covenant, the Davidic covenant. There was only one covenantal law, the Law of Moses, the Mosaic Covenant. It is impossible that these ever be divided, and yet, here we are. In spite of this disaster, the New Covenant promises and delivers the complete restoration of Unity: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. It would appear, in a mystery, that we also have accomplished the wickedly impossible, and we should not be proud of what any of us have done. The real question that arises from Jeroboam and Rehoboam is not the justification of Protestantism. The real question is, Was the Roman Catholic church as cruel and harsh as Jeroboam in its actions in 1054 and in 1517? and its reverse, Were the Orthodox and the Protestant churches guilty of falling into idolatry, not long later. I think the answer to that has to be, “Yes.”

    Churches do fall into sin. This is true of all churches, not just a few. Churches are as in need of repentance, as are individuals; and confession, absolution, forgiveness, and restoration as well. The failures of the RC church are manifold, but in reality no greater or worse that the Orthodox or Protestants. We all have a great deal of which to be ashamed. In fairness the RC church has done much, perhaps more that any other, to demonstrate genuine humility and repentance, which is why it is so attractive to me.

    Nevertheless, we have broken that which is unbreakable, and I, for one, believe that the Holy Ghost would have us work harder to put The Church on earth back together, not by compromise, but by prayerfully finding the path of obedience that Christ has set before us. We are just not going to get there if all three major parties continue to stand around insisting, “I’m absolutely and completely right, I’ve got exclusive authority, and you other two are therefore heterodox and wrong.” I’m very excited about the Irish bishop and priest, who washed the feet of the innocent victims.

    We have dragged our feet now for five centuries. I think that St. Cyprian would demand that we get after sincere obedience.

  95. My second comment: the one beginning, “We are compelled to agree absolutely with St. Cyprian ….” Reverses the names of Jeroboam and Rehoboam throughout. Everywhere you see Jeroboam, please read Rehoboam instead. Everywhere you see Rehoboam, please read Jeroboam instead. I apologize for causing you any inconvenience, or for misleading you.

  96. How is this a ‘Catholic’ response, Bryan?! “The early Church would not even allow Catholics in open mortal sin to receive the Eucharist”? – No, it wasn’t the ‘early Church’ alone – it has always been the case, to this very day: the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 2, Section 2, Ch. 1, Art. 3 The Sacrament of Eucharist, 1322 “The holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation.” so (CCC, 1415) “Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance”, by which one undergoes “reconciliation with God and with the Church.” (CCC, 1497). What the early Church did was to require “a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation” for committing “particularly grave sins” (CCC, 1447). You have not reconciled with God and with the Church, you’re not “going to the Eucharistic table.” End of story. (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm)

  97. Annie (re: #96),

    First, Matt Yonke is the author of the article. Second, logic too is part of the Catholic intellectual tradition. Just because it is true that “The early Church would not even allow Catholics in open mortal sin to receive the Eucharist” it does not follow that the Church today rejects this practice. True propositions about the early Church do not entail contrary propositions about the present Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  98. In “Confessionalization and Division” Peter Leithart responds to a review of his book The End of Protestantism.

  99. Leithart’s “Reply To Carl Trueman” is a reply to Trueman’s response to Leithart’s book.

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