- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

‘Fundamentalism’ & ‘Dialogue’

Two of the most dodgy words in contemporary religious discourse are “fundamentalism” and “dialogue”. They don’t mean what they seem to mean; in fact, they are often used as a way to gain power.

To explain what I mean, consider that Marquette University, a Jesuit university, is holding a “Pride Prom” this weekend. When some outside the university angrily questioned what a Catholic university is doing sponsoring an LGBT dance, a university spokesman responded:

Notice the rhetoric here. Stolarski is justifying a Catholic university holding a dance for LGBT people by claiming that the university is actually being faithful to Catholic teaching by so doing. It’s like something from the Ministry of Truth. But that’s Catholic higher education for you in a lot of places today. You’ll recall the recent incident at which an orthodox Catholic undergraduate at the Dominican-run Providence College was made into a pariah [1]for publicly agreeing with what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage and sexuality.

How does a religious institution — a college, a church, and so forth — get to this point? It often starts with “dialogue”. Who could be against dialogue? Just talking about things, right?

The problem is that there’s dialogue, and then there’s dialogue. By this time, within churches, orthodox/conservative people should have learned that calls for “dialogue” are almost always a strategic move by heterodox/liberal people to establish a beachhead from which to dislodge and defeat orthodoxy.

It works like this:

Progressives propose a dialogue about the role of LGBTs in the church. That’s fine. It’s an important topic. But what is really being proposed is not a talk about “how can LGBTs live faithful to church teaching in this culture, and how can the rest of the church help them do so while integrating them more closely into the life of the church?” That would be an important talk to have, challenging to everybody, and faithful to church teaching. 

But again, that’s not what’s being proposed. The end game, from the progressive side, is to achieve the goal of having the progressive position normalized within the church or church organization — and ultimately to have it replace the orthodox belief. The game is over the first time the parties sit down together if the dialogue is framed in such a way that the orthodox belief is up for debate. To enter into dialogue with others in the church on those terms is to surrender in principle what cannot be surrendered.

The battle is mostly won at that point by progressives. It’s just a matter of time before their view becomes the new orthodoxy. Once they have power, they make their view the new orthodoxy, on the grounds that justice requires it. As Richard John Neuhaus once observed, wherever orthodoxy is optional, it will sooner or later be proscribed.

If someone undertook to do a history of how orthodox Catholic teaching about homosexuality became heterodoxy at the ostensibly Catholic Marquette and Providence College, they would surely find that it began years, even decades earlier, with calls for “dialogue.” Eventually you end up hosting Pride Proms and demonizing those Catholics who disagree.

In the Orthodox Church, there are a couple of Orthodox grad students agitating for the acceptance and normalization of homosexuality within the Orthodox Church. Their website’s name is — surprise! — Orthodoxy in Dialogue [2]. To be clear, dialogue is no bad thing in and of itself. But in this case, the “dialogue” sought is not one that helps LGBT Orthodox live faithfully by church teaching, and helping non-LGBT Orthodox help them to do so with charity. The only acceptable end result of this “dialogue” will be to marginalize the orthodox Orthodox within Orthodox institutions, and to stigmatize them. By pursuing “dialogue” framed this way, they co-opt the orthodox into their own displacement and diminishment.

Sometimes the progressives let their masks slip. This happened recently on Orthodoxy In Dialogue when the site published a cri de coeur (“I Will Not Be Silenced”) by a gay European man who labels himself “Orthodox Provocateur”. This week, OID’s editors confessed: “We Made A Mistake”. [3] Excerpt:

On February 10 we published Nik Jovčić-Sas’ “Orthodox Provocateur: I Will Not Be Silenced [4]” in good faith. Mr. Jovčić-Sas is a young Serbian Orthodox man living in the UK who devotes considerable time, effort, and resources to LGBTQ activism in some of the historically Orthodox countries of Eastern Europe. He often partners in this endeavour with Moldovan seminarian Ion Andronache, a husband and father of three small children.

In an editorial note at the end of his article we explained our decision to publish in this way:

With the publication of this article Orthodoxy in Dialogue recognizes the need for a complementary two-pronged approach to questions of sexual and gender diversity in human life: the theological effort to understand its place in the divine image and likeness, and the activist effort to ensure that all of God’s children enjoy the safety to thrive in private and public life.

Today we were dismayed to find the author’s Facebook page, Orthodox Provocateur [5], promoting the so-called “Orthodox Calendar.” This annual production combines homoerotic soft porn with Orthodox icons, clerical vestments, liturgical objects, the interior of churches, etc.

In no way does Orthodoxy in Dialogue wish to be associated, directly or indirectly, with the perpetuation of this sort of blasphemy. Our position is to explore possibilities for the sanctification of same-sex love, not to promote the carnality of same-sex desire or to conflate sexual desire in its fallenness with sacred images.

Accordingly we have removed the content from Mr. Jovčić-Sas’ article.

Go to that Facebook page, and you’ll see images that can only be described as demonic. It’s where this stuff inevitably goes if you give it space within the church. I saw it over and over when I was writing about the Catholic sex abuse scandal. Remember “St. Sebastian’s Angels”?  [6] Because so many of the “arguments” in this “dialogue” are not arguments at all, but rather emotivist appeals, like this gay OID editor’s impassioned apologia for his transgender son [7]. Excerpt:

Do I have all the theological answers? Ha, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. My own “transition” as the father of a transgender child is a never-ending journey of heart and soul in which I sometimes feel that I haven’t even taken the first step. Much less do I feel equipped to expatiate theologically or philosophically on why some persons simply must transition in order to go on living.

Let the full force of that sink in: In order to go on living.

But I do know this. Our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ, during His earthly life, reserved His condemnation for the following: the “moral” who judged others; the religiously self-righteous; those who thanked God for making them better than other people (you know what you can do with your “There, but for the grace of God…”); those who turned prayer and worship into a capitalist venture; and those who ignored the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the foreigner, the lonely, the convict, the sick. In short, everyone whom the religious establishment deems “non-normative” comes to us as He Himself in disguise.

Beloved Masters, Fathers, monastics, brothers, sisters, theologians, and religious thinkers in the Orthodox Church: Until you have met my son face to face, looked into his eyes as through a window into his heart and soul, witnessed his love for the least of Christ’s brethren, listened—truly listened—to the story of his life, his need to be loved and welcomed by you, his reasons for transitioning to save his own life, you have nothing of value, or legitimacy, or authenticity, to say to him.

That is extremely manipulative language — but in a culture where emotivism has replaced rationality, it’s highly effective. The problem here is that if emotivism is the standard (“Do I have all the theological answers? Ha, I wouldn’t even know where to begin”), the only barrier to accepting anything is disgust. There would have been a time when the idea that Marquette would have sponsored a dance for LGBT students would have struck many Catholics involved in the dialogue as shocking, even disgusting. It no longer does. There would have been a time when laying a gay rights rainbow flag over an altar in a Catholic Church would have shocked and disgusted Catholics. Maybe it still does, but it happens here and there (for example [8]). The Orthodoxy In Dialogue people may have been genuinely shocked and disgusted by what Orthodox Provocateur posted — I cannot know their minds — but it is certainly the case that OID having promoted the words and thoughts of this freak hurts the credibility of OID with the kind of unsuspecting conservatives and moderates they hope to draw into “dialogue”.

Mark my words: if OID gains traction within Orthodox institutions, and among Orthodox elites, it is simply a matter of time before the blasphemy of Orthodox Provocateur becomes if not mainstreamed, then moved within the category of the tolerable. All the necessary emotivist cant will be deployed to justify it. “Dialogue” is a tactic to move the Overton window [9]— the frame of tolerable discourse — to the progressive side. Eventually those who profess what the Orthodox Church teaches to be true will be demonized as heretics, as the Providence College undergraduate discovered.

Let me be clear: there is an important dialogue to be had within the Orthodox Church about LGBT issues. But if actual moral-theological orthodoxy is up for debate, the dialogue is a trap, period. Orthodoxy In Dialogue said last fall that it has taken an editorial position to publish frequently about homosexuality [10], arguing for its normalization and affirmation within the Orthodox Church. It says:

Orthodoxy in Dialogue promotes true dialogue, not an echo chamber.Dialogue presupposes that the voice of the Church and the mind of Christ can be truly discerned over time only when many voices have the freedom to express themselves without fear. Endless charges and counter-charges of heresy, apostasy, “liberalism,” “conservatism,” and equally endless calls for the excommunication of anyone and everyone who disagrees with us on any topic whatever—these serve no purpose but to tear to shreds the seamless garment of love that characterizes Christ’s true disciples, His Church and Body and Bride.

Thus we welcome articles that take positions opposite from the ones that we have already published. We have proactively solicited submissions from authors who we know disagree with our articles. Yet only one has graciously responded to our overtures; with him we are in the process of working on a joint project to be published in November or December. We invite others to follow suit.

I don’t know why others haven’t taken them up on the invitation, but I know why I wouldn’t: because to join this “dialogue” is to participate in a process that will ultimately attempt to legitimize heterodoxy, plain and simple. Theological truth on a subject that both Scripture and the Church fathers have spoken very clearly about will not be determined through some sort of Hegelian dialectic. Again, the right dialogue to have is on how all Orthodox Christians, gays and straight, can live out the Church’s authentic teaching, and help each other to live it out in charity. Anything else is a potential trap. If you don’t see how this process has worked to destabilize Mainline Protestant churches, and the Catholic Church, you’re blind.

I suppose that makes me a “fundamentalist.” Some Orthodox liberal recently denounced me as a former Evangelical, even though I have never been Evangelical. They have this mindset that any Orthodox convert who doesn’t believe in embracing the LGBT agenda within the Church simply has to be some sort of fundagelical yokel who can’t leave his hickish morality behind. The word “fundamentalist” has almost no stable meaning in common discourse, other than to designate religious people that one do not like. You’ll remember this week’s post in which we looked at sociologist George Yancey’s 2011 survey data, in which he polled philosophy professors to ask which category of person they would be unwilling to hire. Here’s what he found:

Who is a “fundamentalist”? I doubt many, if any, of these surveyed profs could tell you what a Christian fundamentalist [11] is, historically speaking. It’s one of those scare words that people like to use to marginalize and delegitimize conservative Christians they don’t like (the movement conservative version of this is to designate wobbly right-wingers as “RINOs”).

In the discourse of the respectable, nobody likes fundamentalists. If you can label their position as “fundamentalist,” then you don’t have to take them seriously. Within American Orthodoxy, one often sees liberal Orthodox who wish to take the church in a more modernist direction denouncing as “fundamentalist” other Orthodox who oppose them. It’s a slur that is often tied to criticizing Evangelical converts to Orthodoxy — as if their theological orthodoxy on sexuality is somehow foreign to Orthodoxy, even though they affirm what the Orthodox Church teaches!

So, there’s an academic Orthodox conference coming up:

It will be interesting to read the papers this conference produces. In my limited experience in international Orthodoxy, it is true that there are some monks, bishops, and others, who have an extremely rigid interpretation of Orthodoxy, one that you might call fundamentalist, though again, I think the term has been so corrupted by political usage that it’s meaningless. The thing to watch out for is precisely that: the use of the term not to advance understanding, but rather to obscure it by labeling anti-modernist views within Orthodoxy as “fundamentalist”.

In an e-mail this morning, an Orthodox philosopher pointed to the Yancey findings and said:

These are facts worth bearing in mind when people sling around the term fundamentalist. It’s not just a derogatory term (like, say, stupid or backwards) — it’s a weapon that’s highly effective in stigmatizing people, especially in academic and professional settings.

There’s a very sophisticated game being played here. And quite a few honest, faithful Orthodox people are setting themselves up to be played. This fight has been late coming to the Orthodox Church, but it’s here, and those who wish for the Church to be faithful to what it knows to be true had better wise up to the tactics and the strategy of the progressives, and learn from the bitter experience of the small-o orthodox within Protestant churches and the Catholic Church. Some of us converts came into Orthodoxy not from Evangelicalism, but from more established churches that have been hollowed out to some degree by progressivism. We have seen this all before. We know how it ends.

Ask yourself: when has one of these “dialogues” ever resulted in church progressives abandoning their positions and agreeing with the orthodox? And ask yourself: where are the churches whose abandonment of orthodox teaching on sexuality has led to flourishing?

It has never happened. They don’t exist.

UPDATE: The declining Episcopal church is tightening the screws on conservative dissenters [12], who at one point in the antediluvian age were invited to “dialogue.” This stuff only goes one way. A reader writes:

You Orthodox are so ’Nineties when it comes to Dialogue.

We conservative Anglicans were dialogued [13] out of the Episcopal Church. Now the Archbishop of Canterbury has moved on to indaba [14] and “good disagreement [15].”

The end result is the same:

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

Reader REM writes:

Let me perhaps help to give a what I understand to be a traditional (I hesitate to say fundamentalist because it is such a loaded term, even though that is how it will be characterized by many) outline of an Orthodox take on the Faith. It might make RD’s take on dialogue more comprehensible to some.

1. All knowledge of God comes through God’s revelation of Himself to us. We do not figure it out; it is given to us. (As Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory once said, no philosopher or theologian would have come up with the doctrine of the Trinity– a Cross for the human mind if there ever was one–on his own. All they do is reflect on the Mystery which has been divinely revealed.)

2. The Church is composed of those persons who embrace this revealed Truth AS Truth, and who attempt to incarnate that Truth in their own lives. As such, they voluntarily place themselves in obedience to that Truth.

3. None of those persons in the Church are perfect. They all fall short of the mark in one way or another. Therefore the Christian life is a constant struggle. When we fall, it is our obligation to get up again, repent, and set out upon the struggle again. The Church offers spiritual remedies for these maladies in its role as a spiritual hospital, in its pastoral work. As any good therapy, it is personalized for the particular person, but the goal is the same for all: spiritual health.

4. If we find ourselves in disagreement with the teaching of the Faith our default position should be that I must be wrong and the Church must be right, and then try to clear up the (our) confusion and eventually accept once again the Faith as delivered.

5. If we insist that we are right and the Church is wrong on the disagreement, it is our duty to follow our conscience. In doing so we leave the Church, and we will be answerable to God for our action at the Judgment. He will be the final judge. But as it is an article of the Faith that the Church is the Pillar and Bulwark of Truth, we are far more likely to be wrong than the entire Church throughout history.

From all this, it should be clear that a dialogue where one side expects the Church to change its long-held beliefs on the basis of the latest fashion is out of the question for a believing Orthodox Christian. Since obedience to the Faith is incumbent upon all the Church’s members, seeking to change the faith is an act of rebellion which puts one outside the bounds of the Church.

We understand that the Truth of the Faith concerning articles of belief and basic morality is eternal and unchanging, because God is eternal and unchanging. How that Faith is transmitted to people at any particular time and place will vary with circumstances. How that Faith will be lived by each person will be personal as well. But it will inevitably be lived out as spiritual warfare with our own passions, lusts and sinful desires. If that struggle is to be successful, it must be carried out without quarter, without compromise with our fallenness. How the clergy and the faithful help each other in those personal struggles is pastoral and personal, and is often surprisingly tolerant as long as we each embrace our struggle and work out our salvation in fear and trembling. It is only when a person throws in the towel and instead insists that the Church accept those passions, lusts and desires as good and beneficial that there can be no “dialogue.”

Sorry for the long post, and I know many will not understand or agree. But do at least try to see what our framework of thought is, and why we think as we do.

130 Comments (Open | Close)

130 Comments To "‘Fundamentalism’ & ‘Dialogue’"

#1 Comment By TA On April 15, 2018 @ 2:51 pm

@REM

“1. All knowledge of God comes through God’s revelation of Himself to us. We do not figure it out; it is given to us.”

This is a nice sentiment, but bears no relation to reality. The Trinity is a core tenet of Christianity, yet it is never mentioned by Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc. — let alone anywhere in the Old Testament.

The Trinity was “figured out” by the early church with much, shall we say, dialog between competing factions over a couple hundred years until it was codified into things like the Nicene Creed.

Positing “God revealed it, full stop”, ignores that God revealed different bits and pieces to a bunch of different people who then needed to “figure out” what underlying truth was revealed.

#2 Comment By Greg On April 15, 2018 @ 3:09 pm

“…Pity you. I will pray for you, though, that you may repent of your disbelief…”

We cannot day these things. Do you read our prayers or the teaching of the saints? Let me recommend the chapter on the recollections of Zosima in Brothers Karamazov. “There is only one means of salvation, then take yourself and make yourself responsible for all men’s sins, that is the truth, you know, friends, for as soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and for all men, you will see at once that it is really so, and that you are to blame for everyone and for all things. But throwing your own indolence and impotence on others you will end by sharing the pride of Satan and murmuring against God.”

#3 Comment By Oakinhouston On April 15, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

“but it is set doctrine that marriage, but not necessarily ever sex act, must be open to the procreation of children. This would seen to be an effective and realistic firewall against the acceptance of any sort of church sanctioned gay marriage”

If this was enforced, then the infertile would not be allowed to marry. But we make a space for them, because it is not good for Man to be alone.

#4 Comment By Ryan W On April 15, 2018 @ 4:18 pm

“The Orthodox Church has never dialogued, or entered into a dialogue, and doing so is completely antithetical to it. At the most, the Church clearly states what it believes, and continues discussing the matter until those within the Church are sure that their interlocutors understand what the Church teaches. At that point, it’s either full acceptance of Orthodoxy or the end of discussions. See: Patriarch Jerimias II and the Lutherans.”

This is putting it too strongly. It assumes a view where who is and isn’t The Church is immediately clear and obvious, and those on the inside always fully understand what the faith implies. But that’s not the way the Trinitarian and Christological disputes of the first millenium were resolved. It took time for the supporters of Nicea to recognize that some of the reservations about the council were legitimate and needed to be addressed. Same thing for the aftermath of the Council of Ephesus. Ironically, it was the people who insisted the most loudly that the Church already had everything 100% clear and didn’t need “dialogue” who found themselves outside of the Church (as the so-called “hyper-Niceans” and “Monophysites”). The upshot is that, even though the whole truth without remainder is contained in the Church’s tradition, a specific generation always need to have the humility to admit that they may not fully understand it or exactly how it applies to the questions of the day. But dialogue intended to clarify and illuminate the content of tradition is an entirely different matter from dialogue that takes a position above the tradition and presumes the authority to judge it. It’s true enough that the “dialogue” we hear about these days has no value and is actually quite harmful. But there are other kinds of dialogue, that have been crucial in Church history. The dialogues that the Cappadocian fathers engaged in, or the dialogue between St. Cyril and John of Antioch, shouldn’t be smeared by association with the “dialogues” of our day.

#5 Comment By Ryan W On April 15, 2018 @ 4:29 pm

“Rowan Williams said that once a church accepts the legitimacy of contraception there’s no reasonable way it can maintain an “absolute” prohibition on homosexuality. He is correct.”

This claim is not only false but downright silly. Even on the principles of the Catholic catechism, it’s false. Although the Catechism absolutely opposes contraception, it states that marriage (and sex as a part of marriage) serves more than one end. Therefore it’s possible to make distinctions between heterosexuality and homosexuality on bases other than procreation. The Catechism decides to make the distinction partly (only partly) on the basis of procreation, but there’s no logical necessity for it to do so. Saying that there’s an absolute “if and only if” relationship between teaching on contraception and homosexuality is arguing by assertion. Furthermore, even if there were a necessary connection, the two premises

1. Sex outside of a committed and permanent marriage is always wrong
2. Marriage must involve an openness to new life\

exclude homosexual relations without outright condemning contraception (but only its use to avoid children entirely). There’s a world of options that Williams’ statement glibly skates over.

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 15, 2018 @ 6:30 pm

If I were going to write a PR defense of this Pride Prom, it will go something like this:

Although as devout Roman Catholics we believe that homosexual acts are a grave sin, we also think it is important to recognize that even within our academic community there are some who have found personal happiness in an intimate same-sex bond, and we want to provide them some space to celebrate, while warning them that they might want to consider the implications of their present happiness for their immortal souls.

And all of the Christian traditions have down a poor job articulating a positive case for inclusion of homosexually-inclined people in a faithful to church teaching context. Stories have repeatly come out of gay teachers and others, even though they were keeping to church teaching wrt celibacy etc, being fired simply for being gay.

That’s an important distinction. Its not true that no Christian or Christian sect has ever done a reasonably good job of ministering to homosexually-inclined people. In fact, what makes the LGBTQWERTY crowd so incensed about Rosaria Butterfield is that one orthodox Presbyterian minister did it rather well. But the opposite is also quite common — rejecting people for “being gay” despite their desire and even track record of adhering to church teachings.

Alright, but the homosexuals among the Christian community need a spiritual discipline that would help them to maintain chastity within an “ACTIVE life,” period. Since that means a life that is fully affectional and emotionally fulfilling, it has to be in relationship with OTHERS. Do you actually think that the Church isn’t failing in providing them a ministry that helps them to do that?

Fair point.

Could you direct me to the scripture commanding that ‘gays shalt not dance’?

Could you explain how that question is relevant to this discussion?

Choice is not the point. Choice does not make something moral.

Not going to copy everything Seven Sleepers said, but this was a very insightful observation. I might add, just because I think the police should stay out of a woman’s decision about early-stage abortions, doesn’t ipso facto mean that terminating a pregnancy is a moral choice, or the most moral option.

#7 Comment By Robert B Lewis On April 15, 2018 @ 7:28 pm

‘…We all have burdens in life that don’t have “special” ministries.’

This is patently absurd. I don’t know what Church sjb belongs to, but the Catholic Church has ministries for firefighters, the unemployed and fishermen, for goodness sake. Spiritual disciplines and blessings are TAILORED for where people find themselves in life, and what their circumstances are. My local Catholic church has a group for unmarried men and another for unmarried women. Would the roof fall in if there were one for gay men, or if there were a “gay men’s choir” in a Catholic diocese? Do you “conservatives” actually believe that ANY consorting together of gay folk mean that they are “having sex”? If that IS what you believe, then I am sure that you actually DO deserve the title of “homophobe”!

#8 Comment By Chris On April 15, 2018 @ 10:23 pm

Rod. You seem to be implying that the Orthodox Church has to approach homosexuality differently than all other forms of amartia o missing the mark. Homosexuality from an Orthodox theological perspective is just another way in which human beings exhibit a fallen nature. It’s no different than premarital sex divorce cheating on your spouse lying etc …. Reading your blog posts one might think that homosexuality is some sort of extra bad super dastardly hyper sin that is a violation of the moral structure keeping the universe running. Remember Animal House when the frat boys were on double super secret probation. Theologically homosexuality is no different than any other form of amartia. It is a misdirection of energies to use Orthodox theological terminology. The Orthodox Church must approach this in the same way it approaches all other forms of amartia with the sacraments and calls to repentance. A legion of men wearing Prada and Versace carrying rainbow flag wont be marching around the solea ever. It just baffles me as to what on Earth you think the Orthodox Church should be doing. Our theoogical stance is crystal clear and can not be changed. I agree with another poster though that the only dialogue should be a call to the sacramental life.

#9 Comment By Sheila On April 15, 2018 @ 10:28 pm

“..given people actually following its commandments compliments rather than concrete support”

THIS. In Catholic Church this is particularly true of single women who are saving their virginity for marriage. And in a similar way towards couples that have 5+ children. The fact that the modern world is not structured to accommodate/reward such choices doesn’t seem to a practical concern for most pastors and bishops.

#10 Comment By John Spragge On April 15, 2018 @ 11:18 pm

Quoting REM:
“If we find ourselves in disagreement with the teaching of the Faith our default position should be that I must be wrong and the Church must be right, and then try to clear up the (our) confusion and eventually accept once again the Faith as delivered.”

But my church does accept and affirm same-sex relationships. Saying the church has to be right just removes the problem a step, because right from the start (Paul and Apollos) church leaders have differed on the details of the faith.

#11 Comment By William Tighe On April 16, 2018 @ 8:22 am

“But my church does accept and affirm same-sex relationships. Saying the church has to be right just removes the problem a step, because right from the start (Paul and Apollos) church leaders have differed on the details of the faith.”

Rod Dreher is welcome to correct me if I am mistaken, but as an Orthodox Christian when he refers to “the Church” he means the Orthodox Church (or communion of churches) and its claim to be not “a church” or “a denomination” (one of many manifestations of Martin Luther’s “invisible Church”) but in fact the visible “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” faith in which is professed in the “Nicene” Creed – just as a Catholic would profess the same in regard to those churches in communion with the See of Rome.

If John Spragge’s “my church” is merely a Protestant denomination his response is beside the point, since no Protestant denominations, or traditions, make the same sort of claims for themselves – although many orthodox confessional Lutherans make a slightly different analogous claim – as do the Catholics and the Orthodox – and the Oriental Orthodox (and, indeed, the Mormons).

#12 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 16, 2018 @ 11:05 am

William Tighe’s observations are logically sound, but presume that some claim to be the visible “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” is in fact True. I noticed an announcement a few years ago of the ordination of a woman as the new Episcopal chaplain at a well known (and expensive) senior living center. It said she would be ordained into the “sacred order of priests of God’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Protestants deny that such a thing exists, although recognizing that above all the human understandings and misunderstandings there is a “holy catholic church” encompassing all Christians, whatever their denominations or pretensions.

Although Margaret Thatcher was indulging in tunnel vision bluster when she intoned that “there is no such thing as society,” in a sense there is no such thing as “the teaching of the Faith.” There is the teaching of learned predecessors who interpreted the Faith, and there is the congregation of the Faithful, but if I am sincerely convinced that Athanasius was wrong, there is a finite possibility that he was. Ultimately we all have to fall back on Thomas Merton’s modest prayer “I think that the desire to please you does please you.” Now, if someone’s desire has a different motivation than to please God, that is another question.

Reading your blog posts one might think that homosexuality is some sort of extra bad super dastardly hyper sin that is a violation of the moral structure keeping the universe running.

This comes more from the culture of the world than from the church(es). There are cultural trends that treat homosexuality in exactly that manner. Sometimes that creeps into the practice and rhetoric of religious bodies.

#13 Comment By TruthTeller On April 16, 2018 @ 11:32 am

“How does a religious institution — a college, a church, and so forth — get to this point? It often starts with “dialogue”. Who could be against dialogue? Just talking about things, right?”

This is also the reason Dawkins et al. won’t waste their time on “debates” that are framed in a way that evolution is questionable. Because they understand that’s all the organisers are fishing for: to promote the idea that the other side’s view is in doubt, and they don’t care what could be said for it.

#14 Comment By William tighe On April 16, 2018 @ 12:36 pm

“William Tighe’s observations are logically sound, but presume that some claim to be the visible ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ is in fact True. I noticed an announcement a few years ago of the ordination of a woman as the new Episcopal chaplain at a well known (and expensive) senior living center. It said she would be ordained into the ‘sacred order of priests of God’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’.”

This puts me in mind of the statement (I can’t remember the source for it) of the devout and broad-mindedly liberal Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple (1881-1944; abp. 1942-1944): “I believe in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, but I also believe that it no longer exists;” in other words, like some other high-church Anglicans from the 17th century onward, he believed that “the Church” was a visible but divisible institution, or communion, that had existed in the early Christian centuries, but which subsequently (from the fifth century onwards) had become divided into various “branches.”

As to Siarlys Jenkins’ initial sentence, “William Tighe’s observations are logically sound, but presume that some claim to be the visible ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ is in fact True,” all I can say is that with the exception of some, if not all, of the gnostic sects or schools, who rejected the very idea of a “Church,” every splinter group from the Marcionites through the Novatianists through the Donatists through the Arians, and so on down the centuries, both believed that there was indeed “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” and that they were it (as did their Catolic/Orthodox opponents). They all believed in its existence, in other words, but disagreed on its identity. It wasn’t until Martin Luther that the idea that “the Church” is invisible was first formulated and asserted. The idea may be implicit in the ecclesiological thinking of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus (who in ecclesiology was Wycliffe’s copy) but they never formulated it, and although in Luther it is founded on some “Augustinian” ideas, St. Augustine “church idea” was very visible and very identifiable.

#15 Comment By Michael Dooley On April 16, 2018 @ 2:01 pm

“If this was enforced, then the infertile would not be allowed to marry. But we make a space for them, because it is not good for Man to be alone.”

The fact is very very few couples know they are infertile before they marry. That they discover years after they are unable to have children does not retroactively invalidate the sacrament of marriage. They entered into marriage in the good faith of openness to new life.

#16 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 16, 2018 @ 3:54 pm

“It wasn’t until Martin Luther that the idea that ‘the Church’ is invisible was first formulated and asserted.”

That belies a remarkable unfamiliarity with scripture – as well as human nature. Jesus’ own words speak of a minority, not a majority, as being known to Him, and that many who preached in His name would nevertheless be people He would disown as those who never knew Him. The parable of the sower also describes the state of souls exposed to the Gospel with not all truly faithful. We ourselves cannot possibly know the true state of another’s soul, except in the most extreme cases of either instance. We all realize that it won’t be on the basis of names found in church membership lists and genealogies of the infant baptized, and that some of those outside formal membership are known as His.

#17 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 16, 2018 @ 4:00 pm

“[NFR: I personally know a few good individual Jesuits, but mostly when I see the word ‘Jesuit,’ I take it to mean ‘post-Christian’ — RD]”

It’s been post-Christian for a long time, even before Dostoyevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” in Brothers Karamazov but that was an accurate summation.

#18 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 16, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

The other favorite euphemism is “discernment,” in addition to “dialogue.”

Here’s how that’s playing out in the L.A. Diocese, and how there really is no dialogue allowed with those who call for dialogue:

[16]

#19 Comment By Brendan from OZ On April 16, 2018 @ 7:37 pm

“This is a nice sentiment, but bears no relation to reality. The Trinity is a core tenet of Christianity, yet it is never mentioned by Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc. — let alone anywhere in the Old Testament.

The Trinity was “figured out” by the early church with much, shall we say, dialog between competing factions over a couple hundred years until it was codified into things like the Nicene Creed.”

For those looking for the Trinity in the NT, Gordon Fee’s excellent works “Pauline Christology” and “God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul” show just how Trinitarian the NT as a whole always was. Fee is Protestant, FYI.

The Creed came from the implicit, not explicit, scriptures. The concept of the Spirit as “Dunamis” (potential, power – dunamis and kinesis as energia) is also all through the NT and Church Fathers. Barnes’ “The Power of God: Dunamis in Grogory of Nyssa’s Trinitarian Theology” explores these ideas quite thoroughly, as do other works.

There are numerous other works showing how the Trinity is entirely scriptural. I forget the attribution, but a common sentiment seems to be “Nicea, or something like it, was inevitable due to scripture.”

#20 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 16, 2018 @ 8:56 pm

with the exception of some, if not all, of the gnostic sects or schools, who rejected the very idea of a “Church,” every splinter group from the Marcionites through the Novatianists through the Donatists through the Arians, and so on down the centuries, both believed that there was indeed “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” and that they were it (as did their Catolic/Orthodox opponents).

Well, of course. And who are we going to believe?

#21 Comment By Brendan from Oz On April 17, 2018 @ 12:41 am

And here I thought the concept of the invisible church was St Augustine’s refutation of the Donatists, and insisted upon in the Reformation (the Catholic Church was very visible then).

It is not a matter of minority or majority, more a Platonist notion of the invisible being more real than the visible. Based upon scripture of course, esp Matthew.

#22 Comment By Rob G On April 17, 2018 @ 7:17 am

To summarize what Dr. Tighe is saying, while the patristic writers certainly granted that there was an invisible aspect to the Church, the idea of a fundamentally invisible Church originates with the Reformation. As far as I can tell there was no one of note in the early Church, east or west, who did not believe that what J.I. Packer has called the “sacramental structure” was part and parcel of the Church properly understood.

#23 Comment By William Tighe On April 17, 2018 @ 7:50 am

“And here I thought the concept of the invisible church was St Augustine’s refutation of the Donatists …”

No, the concept of “the invisible church” was first formulated by Martin Luther, and then taken up by other Reformers and their followers. It may be a notion implicit in, say, the views of John Wycliffe and his (in this respect) disciple Jan Hus, but they never formulated or expressed it. Augustine was entirely different. He was a strong predestinarian (“single” rather than “double”) and not at all a Solafidean (he believed that to those whom God predestined to salvation he also gave the grace to perform meritorious works).

For Augustine the predestined were invisible, and once “the number of the elect” was complete and the world and time had come to an end the elect would constitute the true and eternal Church. HOWEVER, her below, in time, “the Church” was that visible body sacramentally united by the communion of its bishops, of whom he was one, called “the Catholic Church.” Read closely, Augustine’s statement that there were “many inside” the Church who would be damned and “many outside” who would be saved is neither “liberal” nor a foreshadowing of an “invisible church” ecclesiology. It simply meant for him (a) their were many hypocritical or unrepentantly sinful or secretly unbelieving people who would be damned and (b) that at ant point in time there were people “outside” who would be saved – but by this Augustine clearly means, and means only, that such people would become members before their deaths of that “Catholic Church” (or communion) of which he was a bishop. That’s all that Augustine means, no more and no less.

Furthermore, Augustine’s refutation(s) of the Donatists has nothing to do with the question of the visibility/invisibility of “the Church.” It concerns the identity of the Church or, rather, which one of two very visible bodies was, exclusively, “the Church:” the Donatist Church (confined to North Africa) or the Catholic Church. It is in Augustine’s anti-Donatist apologetics that the sense of the word “Catholic” begins to shift to (primarily) “universal” (in space and, especially, time) and away from the original sense of kath’holon or kata ten holon from St. Ignatius of Antioch onwards, meaning “wholeness” or “fulness,” i.e., that body which possessed and safeguarded the fullness of the Christian faith.

On Luther’s formulation of the “invisible church” conceit, see Richard Rex’s The Making of Martin Luther Ch. 7 (esp. pp. 135-142).

#24 Comment By William Tighe On April 17, 2018 @ 10:01 am

POSTSCRIPT

Whenever I write in haste I mess up.

First, this: “(a) their were many hypocritical or unrepentantly sinful or secretly unbelieving people who would be damned and …” should read: “(a) THERE were many hypocritical or unrepentantly sinful or secretly unbelieving people WITHIN THE CHURCH who would be damned and … ”

Secondly, on Augustine, his ecclesiology, and the Donatists I would recommend Geoffrey Grimshaw Willis, Saint Augustine and the Donatist Controversy (SPCK, 1950; Wipf & Stock, 2005) and B. C. Butler, The Idea of the Church (Darton, Longman & Todd, 1962). Willis (1914-1982) was a scholarly Church of England clergyman whose twin interests were St. Augustine and the Early Roman Liturgy; (Dom Christopher) Butler (1902-1986) was an Anglican clerical convert to Rome who became Abbot of Downside and an auxiliary bishop of the Westminster archdiocese. Both books are worth reading; Butler’s has a more polemical edge than Willis’, although both are equally scholarly. On pp. 113-117 and 123-125 Willis suggests that Augustine was the first Church Father who hints or suggests that a schism does not necessarily separate an individual or group FROM the Church, but can produce a division WITHIN the Church, such that sacramentally-separated bodies can both, or all, be “the Church.” Butler takes issue with Willis’ suggestion in his book’s Ch. 7, “Augustine’s Consistency,” pp. 105-122 (and esp. 110-115). I think that Butler has the better of the argument, although much can be said on both sides.

#25 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 17, 2018 @ 1:23 pm

Willis suggests that Augustine was the first Church Father who hints or suggests that a schism does not necessarily separate an individual or group FROM the Church, but can produce a division WITHIN the Church, such that sacramentally-separated bodies can both, or all, be “the Church.”

Whether Augustine believed that or not, it makes great sense to me. A lot of unpleasantness and distraction could have been avoided.

#26 Comment By John Spragge On April 17, 2018 @ 5:20 pm

My church is a national church, one which can trace its line of clergy in unbroken Apostolic succession. We certainly use the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, and affirm “one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

The problem of argument from church authority remains: when churches and traditions teach and affirm different things, we have to go back to the scripture.

#27 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 17, 2018 @ 10:43 pm

“On Luther’s formulation of the ‘invisible church’ conceit”

It’s very conceited to pretend the Roman papacy’s membership list as the only true church which all will rejoin in order to be saved. Hopefully the papists who genuinely belong to Christ will also reconsider their arrogance and join as equals the larger body of Christians.

As for Augustine, it’s not enough to quote him as an authority without examining his reasoning. He could be mistaken, and was, in the matter of the efficacy of forced conversions by the sword on pain of death. His later reversal in favor of what he once opposed, was because he said those converted claimed to be glad they had done so. However, if they didn’t say that, would they have been allowed to keep living?

#28 Comment By Rob G On April 18, 2018 @ 7:16 am

“The problem of argument from church authority remains: when churches and traditions teach and affirm different things, we have to go back to the scripture.”

Whose interpretation?

#29 Comment By Patrick On April 18, 2018 @ 11:50 am

Debate is not automatically framed in terms of the other side’s end goal. Everyone knows this.

It seems like what you’re really trying to express is that you see nothing about the status quo that you’re willing to change in such a way that progressives would like, and you see refusing to discuss the issue with them as your best tactical move for avoiding such changes.

But you can’t come out and say that because you’re concerned that you will come across as violating norms of favoring civil debate and compromise. So you have to frame “debate” like its some sort of underhanded attack, even though the only tools being used are words and moral suasion- both of which are fair game and not underhanded at all. Christianity wouldn’t be much without these!

The thing is. If your position really is what I think it is, that the status quo is closer to your beliefs and values than anything you think you could obtain via discourse, then what you’re really doing by framing matters in the way that you’ve chosen is being too fearful to make an unambiguous stand for your faith.

#30 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 18, 2018 @ 8:48 pm

we have to go back to the scripture.”

Whose interpretation?

That’s why we still have many denominations.