Monthly Archives: October 2012

Justin Martyr describes Sunday “church services” circa 150 A.D.

From FIRST APOLOGY: CHAPTER LXVII — WEEKLY WORSHIP OF THE CHRISTIANS:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. (Roberts-Donaldson translation)

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Justin Martyr describes the Eucharist circa 150 A.D.

From FIRST APOLOGY: CHAPTER LXVI — OF THE EUCHARIST:

And this food is called among us Eukaristia [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. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn. (Roberts-Donaldson translation)

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He took, blessed, broke, and gave…

In the upper room, before His crucifixion, with his apostles;

Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22:19, NABRE)

On the road to Emmaus, after His crucifixion, with two disciples, one of which was Cleopas (who was not in the upper room):

And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him… (Luke 24:30-31a, NABRE)

The Apostle Paul (who was not in the upper room or on the road to Emmaus):

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24, NABRE)

Why would we not want, if possible, the Eucharist every day?

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Catholic Social Teaching: Subsidiarity

Perhaps because of recent politics, I have become interested in the Catholic Church’s idea of subsidiarity. Below are some videos that explain the idea and, to some degree, broader Catholic social teaching.

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How could they fail to dig where they think they may find water?

From The Wellspring of Worship by Jean Corbon, trans. by M. J. O’Connell, (pages 21-22). First published as Liturgie de Source, 1980:

Men thirst and look for water wherever they think they will find it. As they wander without any horizon in sight and no way of escape, they dig a well each time they pitch their tent. The wonderful thing is that the history of their salvation always begins with the digging of a well. “We find the patriarchs constantly digging wells.”¹ We ourselves are these patriarchs, traversing a promised land as strangers in our own inheritance.  Beside their wells they also build altars to their gods; their religion, their ideology, their money, their power. Men are thirsty:  How could they fail to dig where they think they may find water?

Even the denials that spring up from our atheistic unconsciousness betray our nostalgia. “They say that they thirst not; they say that this is not a well, that this is not water. They say that this is not a well of water as they have imagined it to be, and they say there is no water.”² But these same men, so sure of themselves, cannot but continue to be still expectant, for to stop thirsting would mean they were already sunk in the sleep of death.

Nor does he sleep who placed in the human soul both the thirst and the expectation. Indeed, he is the first to thirst and to set out in search of us, to the point of joining us beside our pathetic wells. “Start with these wells, traverse the Scriptures in search of wells, and reach the Gospels. There you will find the well beside which our Savior was resting, wearied by his journey, when a Samaritan woman came to draw water from it.”³

It is beside the well that he waits for us.


¹Origen, Homilies on Genesis 13.
²Paul Claudel, The Humiliation of the Father, act II, sc. 2, in Three Plays, trans. J. Heard (Boston, 1945), 185.
³Origen, Homilies on Numbers 12.

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the only real Church…

The following is from page 76 of Henri de Lubac’s Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, first published in 1947 as Catholicisme: les aspects sociaux du dogme.

But the Church, the only real Church, the Church which is the Body of Christ, is not merely that strongly hierarchical and disciplined society whose divine origin has to be maintained, whose organization has to be upheld against all denial and revolt. That is an incomplete notion and but a partial cure for the separatist, individualist tendency of the notion to which it is opposed; a partial cure because it works only from without by way of authority, instead of effective union. If Christ is the sacrament of God, the Church is for us the sacrament of Christ; she represents him, in the full and ancient meaning of the term; she really makes him present. She not only carries on his work, but she is his very continuation, in a sense far more real than that in which it can be said that any human institution is its founder’s continuation. The highly developed exterior organization that wins our admiration is but an expression, in accordance with the needs of this present life, of the interior unity of a living entity, so that the Catholic is not only subject to a power but is a member of a body as well, and his legal dependence on this power is to the end that he may have part in the life of that body. His submission in consequence is not an abdication, his orthodoxy is not mere conformity, but fidelity. It is his duty not merely to obey her orders or show deference to her counsels, but to share in a life, to enjoy a spiritual union. Turpis est omnis pars universo suo non congruents. (Shameful is every part not in conformity with its whole. ~ Augustine, Confessions)

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Is the Church visible or invisible?

I don’t really have an answer, just some questions…

Before I begin… There is an apparent tension between right belief and the heart of a believer. We are likely to go too far in one direction or the other. Some will argue for right belief, emphasizing doctrine and parsing the nuances to the very last, questionable particular, weaving systems, and planting their flag. Others will quickly tire of such wranglings. They will say “just believe” and “look to Jesus.” Both camps have their adherents and their qualities. The trouble is that they should be in the same camp, sitting around the same fire, living into the challenge and the promise which is the good news. Wrangling with love is good. Repentance is better. Looking to Jesus is powerful and good. Knowing which Jesus, and consequently which gospel, is also important. Trusting in God is required. And that trust will manifest itself, in part, sometimes in parsing the nuances and sometimes in just believing, but hopefully always in self-emptying love.

With this in mind, I am curious whether there is one, right church, one true church, one place where both planting the flag of doctrine and looking to Jesus flourish. In other words, when we say the creed, is it in fact true there is one, holy, catholic and apostolic church? (And many do not say the creed.) I ask this, and I wrangle a bit, for the purpose of just believing. To swim in muddy waters is less restful than in clear. To climb through mists is sometimes the path to the brilliant light above the clouds. And I wonder why I was placed in a tradition of disunity. Perhaps it is so I can struggle a bit as I desire to find the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

As tradition would have it, we tend to think there are two basic possibilities, two types of churches: the visible and the invisible. Which is it? Or which is it mostly?

The Church is invisible: The Church is made up of all believers regardless of where they are or what church they attend (or don’t attend). If this is true, then…

  • No visible “expression” of the Church is particularly important apart from personal tastes, though some visible expressions may provide a clearer picture of whether one is a true believer than others.
  • Any particular church that claims to be the “True Church” is necessarily too narrow minded, inherently wrong, and hasn’t got with the (modern Christian) spirit of the age.
  • This begs the question: Does it matter which visible expression of the Church one joins? Answer: No, as long as one remains a believer.
    • What is a “believer”? In Protestantism and modern Evangelicalism this is debatable and unresolved (in fact unresolvable and unknowable) in light of deep disunity of the Church. An honest believer must live with the tension that he cannot know if he has faith apart from his convictions and emotions, which are always suspect. Or one can deny that tension and “go with the flow” and be okay with a loosely defined, emotional faith.
  • One is left with:
    1. picking a particular church and hunkering down
    2. be a church “consumer” by picking different churches along the way as dictated by one’s momentary needs and whims (much like picking restaurants)
    3. shunning all churches and resolving to be a non-religious Christian (I just love Jesus and hate religion)
    4. and regardless of the above choices, there is no way of knowing if one is saved, of resolving doctrinal issues, or of really knowing who else is really a Christian. So avoid thinking about all that.
  • Also: It is inevitable that divisions will arise due to the desire/need to know who is “in” and who is “out”. In other words, though the Church is invisible (in this scenario) one looks at the outward to judge the inward. Thus, for some a Baptist is a true believer, a Methodist is of questionable faith, and Catholic is surely hellbound.

The Church is visible but fragmented:  Like the Corinthian church with all its divisions and disunity, the larger, universal Church is also visibly fragmented, but it is still the Church. If this is true, then…

  • No visible “expression” of the Church is particularly important apart from personal tastes, but being visibly a Christian is still important (arguably). Though, perhaps, some visible expressions of the Church are closer to the True Church than others.
  • One is left with:
    1. It probably does not matter which church one attends
    2. perhaps it is sad that the Church is fragmented, but maybe this is a blessing because one can choose which church suits one best, like flavors of ice cream
    3. perhaps what Jesus and the apostles said about the Church being “one” was a lie, and thus deeply problematic
  • This perspective is probably just a derivation of the invisible church idea above, only there is more emphasis placed on the visible expressions of what is invisible. Thus it comes with all the same issues as the invisible church.

The Church is visible and unified: Christ established a Church for the world to see, and the Holy Spirit has maintained it through the ages, and it is both one and visible; a church which is the True Church and which is the measure of all the others. If this is true, then…

  • This begs the question, in light of all the disunity of visible Christianity, which church is the True Church?
  • Historically, the most likely candidate (in my opinion) is the Catholic Church as the True Church. The second most likely candidate is the Orthodox Church. By implication and definition it cannot be Protestant.
  • Is it true, then, that if one calls on the name of Christ, and yet is not a member of the one visible Church, are still not truly Christian and, perhaps, is damned to hell?
    • This would seem too harsh
    • but perhaps such a Christian is “missing out” on something
  • The stakes may be high. Our modern American culture takes a very light view of faith, leaving it to one’s whims. And more, encourages one to consider inconsequential which church one attends. But, perhaps, it matters. Perhaps one’s life is in the balance. Perhaps a personal relationship with Jesus is more than the intersection of one’s emotions and imagination.

Protestant theologian R. C. Sproul says: “Before we attend a church, we should know that it is a legitimate church.” I would agree, but what is a legitimate church? Sproul goes on to say:

Some religious bodies claim to be Christian that, in my judgment and in the judgment of many Christians, are not Christian churches or are apostate bodies. Even attending their services may be a sin. We can’t expect a church to be perfect. But does it hold to the essentials of the faith? Does it practice a basic, sound belief in the deity of Christ and aspects of Christ that we find outlined in the New Testament?

This may be true, but we still have the nagging issue of Sproul’s personal judgement, or yours and mine, and questions of what are the essentials of the faith, what is right practice, what is sound belief? Sproul has spent most of his life answering these questions, and he says he is in standing with the judgement of many Christians, but many Christians don’t prove one way or the other that a particular church is legitimate. If that were true then Sproul would have to concede the Catholics got him beat (for there are many more of them than those in Sproul’s neck of the woods), and I doubt he’s going there. This is the dilemma with which I’ve been struggling.

Of course I agree with Sproul wholeheartedly that we must make wise judgements about the churches we attend and join. My concern is that the great disunity of the visible church, especially among Protestants, calls into question the Protestant position assumed by Sproul above. We still don’t have a clear answer, and the clarity needed around doctrine and practice is constantly debatable. That is probably why most Christians end up being largely unconcerned about doctrine or practice, but cling to a vague, warm and fuzzy faith, and seek churches filled with people like themselves. Sproul seeks to solve this issue by placing an emphasis on the “invisible” church. I think this is a rabbit hole, and a necessary position if one insists on remaining Protestant.

The Catholic church, on the other hand, claims that it is the true Church of Christ. In July 2007 the Vatican released a short article titled: Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church. In that article was this question/answer:

QUESTION

What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?

RESPONSE

Christ “established here on earth” only one Church and instituted it as a “visible and spiritual community”, that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. “This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him”.

In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.

It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. Nevertheless, the word “subsists” can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe… in the “one” Church); and this “one” Church subsists in the Catholic Church.

Protestants would disagree with the above Catholic position. But are Protestants right? The witness of disunity within the mess we call Protestantism—a problematic name since it almost implies coherence—seems to say no. Perhaps Protestantism, with all that is good about it, is still more like a spiritual disease (dis-ease) looking for a cure. As long as it is insistent in remaining where it is, Protestantism must inevitably slide into blasé emotionalism, depthless ecumenism, and justifying a landscape dotted with little flags of doctrine and practice. This has been my world for more than 45 years.

But what ought a Protestant to do if, when putting Protestant and Catholic side-by-side, concludes that the Catholic church (with all is obvious flaws) is the visible Church established by Christ? Is not the proper action to become Catholic? Or, at least, to search for a way to enter that unity?

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