Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Notes from my CCU presentation

At the recent meeting of the Catholic Clerical Union at another Episcopal parish in Arlington, I was asked to begin a series of presentations on the objects of the CCU. Here are my notes.

The Objects of the Catholic Clerical Union
Section 1. The Affirmation & proclamation of the Catholic doctrine concerning the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ as contained in Holy Scripture and expressed in the Creeds and in the decisions of the seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church.

1 Timothy 4:16-17
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Keep doing this, for by doing so, you save both yourself and those who listen to you.”

Galatians 1:6-9
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be anathema! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be anathema!”

I began with a review of the consideration of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea and the description of the persons of the Godhead in the article on the Trinity at the "Seeker's Center" on the Episcopal Church's website, as analyzed in this previous post of mine.

I also distributed these notes on the doctrine of the person of Christ as affirmed in the ecumenical councils:

Jesus Christ . . . “God the Son,” the “incarnate Word”
One person . . . Two natures . . Two wills

1. First Council of Nicaea (325); repudiated Arianism (which considered Jesus an exalted creature) and adopted the Nicene Creed which said that Jesus is homo-ousios (or “consubstantial”) with the Father.

2. First Council of Constantinople (381); revised the Nicene Creed into present form and prohibited any further alteration of the Creed apart from an Ecumenical Council. It defined the Holy Spirit as a full and co-equal person in the Godhead, condemning the Macedonians (or “Pneumatomachi”) who denied the full divinity of the Holy Ghost.

3. Council of Ephesus (431); repudiated Nestorianism (which overly distinguished the natures of Christ) and defended the title of the Virgin Mary as the Theotokos (or “Mother of God”). [Not recognized by the Assyrian Church of the East.]

4. Council of Chalcedon (451); repudiated the Eutychian doctrine of monophysitism (the human nature subsumed in the one divine nature of Jesus) and delineated the two natures of Christ, human and divine. [Not recognized by the Oriental Orthodox Communion.]
"Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance (homoousios) with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer (Theotokos); one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us."

5. Second Council of Constantinople (553); reaffirmed decisions and doctrines explicated by previous Councils, condemned new Arian, Nestorian, and Monophysite writings.

6. Third Council of Constantinople (680–681); repudiated Monothelitism, affirmed that Christ had both human and divine wills.

7. Second Council of Nicaea (787); restoration of the veneration of icons and end of the first iconoclasm. It practically condemned gnosticism and defended the full humanity in the person of Jesus Christ—the Word became matter and sanctified it.

There is a tendency to distort the gospel whenever it is received into a particular culture. It is understood through a particular cultural outlook, and doctrines can take on new meaning when adaptation becomes reinterpretation. To characterize the religious outlook of American culture, I turned to Harold Bloom's book, The American Religion: The Emergence of a Post-Christian Nation. Bloom described American religion as bearing the marks of independence, "enthusiasm," a gnostic philosophy, and an arrogance assurance of being loved by God. As he notes on pg 49:

"President Eisenhower is notorious for remarking that the United States was and had to be a religious nation, and that he didn't care what religion it had, as long as it had one. I take a sadder view; we are, alas, the most religious of countries, and only varieties of the American Religion finally will flourish among us, whether its devotees call it Mormonism, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, or whatever-you-will. And the American Religion, for its two centuries of existence, seems to me irretrievably Gnostic. It is a knowing, by and of an uncreated self, or self-within-the-self, and the knowledge leads to freedom, a dangerous and doom-eager freedom: from nature, time, history, community, other selves."

I then presented the following points for consideration and discussion (which was lively and thoughtful):

What I am about here today is to rally us anew to the basics of the historic faith—faith in a person named Jesus, a person whom we know. And we know people not just by their names, but also by their attributes. To understand Jesus, we need to understand his attributes.

** Modern heresies are not really modern. As they say, “there are no new heresies” because there are no new dogmas, and heresies are denials or distortions of dogmas.

**Heresies are not mutually exclusive and often overlap in an illogical manner. Without true understanding, confusion abounds. One may retreat from the full divinity of Christ in one situation and yet retreat from his full humanity in another, without examining the tension between the two. It is cognitive dissonance on a theological level.

**Heresies are often attached to culture and ours is Gnosticism, which is concerned with an interior knowing (e.g. "Do you know Christ as your personal Savior?" "Do you know you'd go to heaven if you died today?") and considers spirit to be better than matter. Thus, American religion has a tendency to underplay the humanity of Christ.

**Changes in faith and order like the ordination of women and the sanction of homosexual behavior (two sacramental equivocations of sex) are gnostic because they spring from a lack of appreciation of the full humanity of Christ. For example, an all male priesthood cannot adequately represent Christ, you must have male and female, which means Jesus is the either the embodiment of the perfection of androgyny or in his maleness is not fully human.

**Not all changes in faith and order necessarily indicate heresy by those who advocate them, because such changes are often driven by politics or culture rather than theology. Thus you may have those who affirm the historic doctrine about Christ, but also affirm innovations that may be inconsistent with that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Revelation 2:18-29

"And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: 'The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'