Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Joseph Ratzinger, leader of a prominent anti-war church, has issued a statement that his is the only true church, and all other non-Apostolic denominations are mere ecclesial communities which do not have the "means of salvation." The document states that "Christ 'established here on earth' only one Church." Other sects "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" since they lack apostolic succession, directly linking their bishops to the biblical apostles, and for this reason their priestly ordinations cannot be counted as valid.

Ratzinger's position is not new; it has been held by occupants of his office for quite some number of years now. His position is also not unique: there are some several other religious bodies which maintain that they alone possess truth in its absolute sense.

I mean the Pope, of course, and the Catholics. The Roman Catholics. They think they're all that, I guess. But who doesn't. Still, feelings have been hurt. The Calvinists issued a plaintive little objection: "It makes us question the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church takes its dialogues with the Reformed family and other families of the church. It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity."

Well, maybe it does make them question.

The Orthodox churches got a bit of a break. They get to be "churches," since they have apostolic succession. That's nice. And they enjoy "many elements of sanctification and of truth." That's nice too. But it's this pope thing, that they don't see him as the head of it all, it's just a problem -- a defect, a "wound" that harms them.

Well, maybe it does harm them.

The Pope's solution calls for not only openness of dialogue, "but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith." Indeed, that would be his solution. Be Catholic. We have to commend his openness. It's refreshing. It's a good thing. No dagger hidden behind his back. No secret compartment in a ring poised to poison the toasting wine. Integrity.

There is no possibility for compromise. The various schisms cannot be healed. Cannot be. Can't. Per the Pope's solution, the division can be remedied only by adopting the traditional Roman Catholic catechism, with all that stuff about Mary and the saints and the rosary and confession and celibate priests -- and the primacy of the Pope.

Well. You will have gleaned from my tone that I don't take all of this entirely seriously. It's okay with me if the Pope and most of his followers don't think I'm Christian, or saved. My salvation, if I have it, wouldn't depend on the opinion of the Pope. The Pope did not die for my sins. That he defines the word "church" in the very narrowest of senses troubles me not in the least. I use a different definition.

"Church" derives from a Greek root meaning "lord," and is not used in the modern sense anywhere in the Bible, so is thus irrelevant for doctrinal insight. The relevant word is ekklesia -- "I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my ekklesia" -- my assembly (Mt 16:18). I'll keep it as simple as I can.

There's a pun here. The Bible has puns. In the koine Greek of the New Testament, "Peter" is petros, a little stone, and "rock" is petra, a boulder. Words do have meaning. But so do languages. Jesus wasn't speaking Greek. He was speaking Aramaic, which makes it "I tell you that you are Cephus, and on this Cephus I will build my assembly." Here's why all this matters: Catholic doctrine interprets this passage as meaning that the Church was to be built on Peter, as the first Pope. If that's true, it's true. Protestant doctrine reads it as: 'you are a small little stone, but on the huge massive boulder [of the confession of faith which Peter had just uttered, that Jesus was the Christ] I will build...' Sorry. I wanted to keep it simple.

The Catholics like the fact that Aramaic doesn't make a distinction between Cephas/cephas -- it allows for a Pope. The Protestants like the fact that the Greek does distinguish between little Peter and gigantic petra. How are we to know which fact is to be favored? Good old John, gotta love him, tells us the meaning of Cephus that Jesus intended. When JC changed Simon's name, he said (Jn 1:42) -- "'Thou art Simon the son of Jonah: thou shalt be called Cephas,' which is by interpretation, A stone." A stone. Petros. Peter. A little piece of stone.

So do Protestants feel free to built their churches not on the authority of a little man, a pope, but rather on the confession of the central article of faith in the Christian religion -- the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. The relevant idea isn't found in Mt 16:18, about a future bureaucracy, but three and two verses before: Jesus asks, "Who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answers, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

But there is disagreement. The Pope maintains that Protestant assemblies aren't the Church, or their churches aren't the Assembly, or something. Protestants seem to be a little bothered by that. So?

Religious violence is the bloodiest. It is impossible to read the New Testament and come away proud of the history of the past several thousand years as it applies to the actions of the Secular Church. There's only one religious war that Jesus looked forward to, and he said he'd be at the head of that army. What are we to learn from this? I think it's that we can allow people to believe wrong things. You like Mary? Great. I like her too. She's the most blessed of all women. You want to worship her? Go ahead. I think you're wrong to do it, but I'm the guy who bought a Yugo. Maybe I'm wrong. You think I'm wrong because I don't recite my sins to a priest in a box? I take confession to mean something else. Am I steeped in my sin? Could be. How would that be your business? Because you care about me? Then pray for me. Don't burn down my village. And I won't burn down yours.

But we're dealing with people, which means we're dealing with morons. I do not care which religion a moron follows. Morons will make every true thing into a lie. Of course there is religious violence. The only difference between religious violence and political violence is that for some reason atheists get all self-righteous about the former, while justifying the latter, their own. But whether the ideology is about God or about dialectical materialism or about the master race or about global warming, violence has no place in it. Violence should only be about self-defense.

My, I am getting a little preachy.



akfox said...

Catholics don't worship Mary or any other saint. While it is true that we pray to them, it is only to ask for their favor to intercede with God. The word "pray" simply means ask, and "the prayer of a righteous man availeth much". Who is more righteous than the saints? Of course we can (and often do) pray directly to God (in the name of Jesus).

Jack H said...

I see my prose might have been murky. Just as you distinguish between meanings of the word "pray," I also understand the distinct meanings of the word "worship." The sort of adoration that is not uncommon in some Roman Catholic circles of a mere human seems entirely inappropriate to me. If it has the appearance of worship, with kneeling and candles and supplications and praise, but it is not, somehow, true worship, because of a distinction made in one's own mind if not behaviour, so be it. I'm not the judge of anyone’s conscience. I would not ever break fellowship or condemn a Roman Catholic for such a practice. Not my business, how someone reaches out to God.

Likewise with praying to the saints. There is one Mediator between God and men -- the man, Christ Jesus. To pray to saints means there is more than one mediator. I'm sure there are subtleties here that I may be missing -- ancient doctrinal dogmas and traditions that are not in my heritage. That's fine too. If it is an error, it's not a damning one. If it's not an error, then I'm just missing out on another way to get God's attention. We can smile at each other's beliefs, and tolerate them, and perhaps even respect the sincerity and earnestness with which they are held. It troubles me only slightly, this idea of talking to the dead. A little necromantic, in it’s seeming, but maybe that observation is rude.

In so far as it is possible, live in peace with all men. That was, after all, my point.