Tuesday, April 25, 2006

On a Positive Note

The National has an excellent piece on the late Jane Jacobs, a person I'd heard of but didn't know much about prior to her death. She seems to have been a profound thinker and a gentle person. It seems I'll have to get around to reading her seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Fit of Pique

I'm watching The National, which is currently engaged in an extended hatchet job on the Conservative government over the question of media coverage of military honours for the fallen. We have numerous quotes from opponents to the policy, self-righteous outrage and superficial claims of Americanism. No hint of the general approval of the policy by the men in uniform, nor of the fact that media coverage is still permitted of the departure ceremony in Afghanistan.
Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say, as with a voice of thunder, "Come!" And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another; and he was given a great sword. When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and its rider had a balance in his hand; and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not harm oil and wine!" When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him.
I just watched Serenity, a movie well worth watching. What was striking to me about it was how well the Alliance (the bad guys) mirrors the Roman Empire, especially in its essential aspects as revealed to St. John.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Passing of an Age

Muriel Spark, the last living member of the Catholic Literary Revival of the past century, has passed away. Joseph Bottom reflects on her writing over at First Things. May she rest in peace.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


I'm afraid I've taken a little while to note a great honour bestowed upon me. Through the good offices of Bernard Brandt of A (little) Light From The East, I have been named to the Order of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Check out the Rite Of Investiture- Liturgy at its finest. If Fr. Justin is still reading, he might find my post which occasioned its bestowal of interest. I am in highly esteemed company- and I hope my recent adventure in apologetics has not made me a disgrace to the Order.

On a side note, I regret I've been doing precious little decline of modernity chronicling recently. Thankfully, it looks like the Pope is picking up the slack.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Navigating the Debate

Where it Started- Mostly about the exegetical approach we ought to take with Petrine passages in the NT.

Taken note of at Spruce Island- the comments are important.

My first response on the exegesis of Mt. 16:18.

Fr. Justin points to Patristic interpretations of Mt. 16:18 who don't agree with me. (I'm mildly outraged the Church Fathers have such gumption.)

I respond again on Mt. 16:18; we can derive many meanings from a single passage.

Fr. Justin replies again, broadening the debate. Some interesting thoughts on the nature of ecumenical dialogue in the comments.

Matthew Davidson (who looked at a draft of my initial argument, and gave helpful suggestions- thanks!) notes Zizoulas' thoughts on Primacy. An all-Matthew comments box (who is that mysterious guy with poor grammar?) on the differing meanings given to primacy in the East & West.

David Pasivirta reflects on the debate and the Canucks and I dive in with a comment on why we ought to argue.

I finally reply on a few different issues- interpreting Scripture with the Fathers, Patristics Western-Style, and some thoughts on the History of the Papacy.
A Few Mixed Thoughts

Sola Scriptura?

Peter Chattaway (incidentally, through whose movie blog I first stumbled upon the online St. Herman's community) questions whether my "reliance on scripture, and not on the interpretation of said scripture provided to us by the Early Church, [is] somewhat eerily like the Protestant principle of sola scriptura?" I got in trouble earlier for using the word Protestant, so I suppose there's an element of fair turnaround at play here. But permit me a vigorous defence.

Well, my first post was largely about an exegetical insight I had (it was present in a less fully expressed sense at the time I was becoming Catholic). The discussion has largely rotated around the interpretation of a single passage- and I have a firmer grasp of exegesis than of the Church Fathers. I grew up Protestant, and I'll have been Catholic for two years come the Easter Vigil. Naturally I responded to Fr. Justin's initial critiques from a perspective I was familiar with. Moreover, I didn't think it necessary to contest the interpretations quoted. However, I won't cavil at elevating Scripture above the Church Fathers. Scripture is inspired. The interpretations of the Church Fathers, however persuasive, are not. They are an authority, but not authoritative. (The Ecumenical Councils are of course, another matter. As is the "ordinary magisterium." (I don't know if Orthodoxy shares the understanding of the ordinary magisterium, or whether there's an equivalent- Fr. Justin?))

The Fathers

Lest my protests fail to calm Peter's concern, I fortunately have a little Patristics up my sleeve. In his latest response, Fr. Justin writes that his Augustine and Origen quotes "both explicitly make the point in their exegesis of Matthew 16:18 that our Lord was not saying that Peter himself is the source of the unity and infallibility of the Church." Firstly, who claims that Peter is the source of infallibility of the Church? Sure, one source, but hardly the only source- we've the Ecumenical Councils and the Ordinary Magisterium. Even so, and perhaps I'm just being dense, but I just don't see that in the quote from Augustine. One key quote from the Origen Fr. Justin cites appears to be "But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles?" I read Origen as rejecting the idea that the meaning I've argued for is the only meaning to Mt. 16:18, a point I've already readily admitted. Moreover, Origen elsewhere is supportive of a pretty robust Petrine pre-eminence, even though it's an admittedly odd passage:
...indeed, if we were to attend carefully to the evangelical writings, we would also find here, and in relation to those things which seem to be common to Peter and those who have thrice admonished the brethren, a great difference and a pre-eminence in the things said to Peter, compared with the second class. For it is no small difference that Peter received the keys not of one heaven but of more, and in order that whatsoever things he binds on the earth may be bound not in one heaven but in them all, as compared with the many who bind on earth and loose on earth, so that these things are bound and loosed not in the heavens, as in the case of Peter, but in one only; for they do not reach so high a stage, with power as Peter to bind and loose in all the heavens.
Nor is the Catholic interpretation absent from the Church Fathers. Tertullian writes "[T]he Lord said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build my Church, I have given you the keys of the kingdom of heaven [and] whatever you shall have bound or loosed on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven’ . . . Upon you, he says, I will build my Church; and I will give to you the keys, not to the Church" (Modesty 21:9–10 [A.D. 220]). I should note that a high view of the place of the bishop of Rome as successor to Peter is not difficult to come across, even among the Eastern Fathers.

History & The Papacy

David Pasivirta's initial response led me to want to offer some thoughts on the effect of historical circumstances on the development of understanding and practice of the Petrine ministry. Firstly, a great deal of doctrine took time to be fully expressed, and if we look at the Church Fathers, we see increasing articulation of the role of Peter and the Petrine See. Historical circumstances had a great deal to do with it as well- a small Church, often under persecution is likely to be more horizontal in structure. Similarly, the difficulty in communication in the ancient world, aggravated as the Church grew made a strong exercise of the Petrine Office difficult. The basic means of electing bishops in the ancient Church(at least for much of the West- I don't know about the East) similarly strengthened the local Churches and made them less dependent on Rome.

The decline of persecution and the need for a central voice in dealing with a Roman Empire that while Christian, had its own interests at stake reversed some of these tendencies. The division of the Roman Empire into East and West, combined with the tendency to require strong voices drew the bishops of Rome and Constantinople increasingly apart, pulled by the political forces both had allowed to get too close.

The Great Schism resulted in an unbalanced Church in the West- Rome's was no longer counterbalanced by the authority, antiquity and stature of the Patriarchates of the East. At the same time, the Latin Church was struggling to prevent subjugation to the State- first the remains of the Roman Empire, then later separate Kingdoms- which resulted in greater centralization. The investiture controversy was important in this. The rise of Islam further strengthened the power of the Pope, as his efforts were key in rallying support across Western Europe for the Crusades- a role which continued as late as 1683, and the Siege of Vienna.

These very brief thoughts are merely to suggest that a great deal of the dynamics of ecclesiastical structure and operation through history can be seen as adaptations to the particular circumstances and challenges of various ages. Some of them are admirable adaptations, some far less edifying. While it doesn't address the doctrinal question, I hope it makes the great leap between Rome in the early Church and its later expression more comprehensible.

For a reference post to the entire debate go here.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Not about Orthodoxy!

But there'll be something later. For now, a few interesting things over the wires: The Wall Street Journal has two important articles up: Paul Rusesabagina (Hotel Rwanda) writes on the greatest tragedy of our times- and a tragic indictement of Western liberal indifference, the Darfur Genocide. He proposes the creation of a 10,000 strong rapid reaction force under UN auspices to guard against genocide- I'd add that this is the sort of thing Canada can and should undertake, UN or not. Our past Liberal government was fond of emphasizing "human security" in our foreign affairs. But it was all talk- and we didn't even see the Liberals lead the way in proposing intervention to end the Darfur genocide. At the same time they allowed our military to decline into irrelevance, eliminating our capacity to intervene effectively ourselves.

Ross Douthat (who participated in the Crunchy Con blog) says we should embrace the "Theocon" label, and makes an interesting claim: "contemporary "theoconservatism" is best understood as an heir to America's long line of Christ-haunted reform movements--the abolitionists and the populists, the progressives and the suffragettes, the civil-rights crusaders and even the antiwar activist of the middle 1960s, among whom Richard John Neuhaus (now the "theocon in chief" to his enemies, but then a man of the religious left) cut his teeth." I'm not sure I agree with all that he suggests, but the general direction is sound.

Amy Welborn has been posted a fair bit on the Gospel of Judas nonsense, pointing to lots more discussion. Some of it isn't exactly encouraging.

And Stephen Harper managed one of the all-time great Question Period answers in his first QP as PM- Don Martin describes it thus:
The Prime Minister stood accused of seducing former Liberal minister David Emerson to cross the floor and join his Cabinet. "Mr. Speaker," he responded, "I do not think I have ever been accused of seducing anyone, even my wife." He paused to see if he was in trouble before his spouse nodded. "And I see there's some agreement in the gallery." It brought down the House.
More on Matthew 16:18

I suspect that I'm officially out of my depth- debating an Orthodox priest with Origen at his fingertips. I'll happily admit to being completely unaware of the patristic roots of the interpretation in question- I hadn't encountered it anywhere except from Protestant sources, and they rarely quote John Cassian. Secondly, I'd like to note that the original case I made referred to a number of NT passages, and so I hope readers will not get lost in the detailed questions of exegesis over this particular passage.

To the merits of Fr. Justin's case- well, I don't want to dispute the idea that the faith Peter confesses is important to understanding the passage. Indeed, it is very clear that Peter's confession occasions Christ's statement. And in a very common-sense way, the faith of Peter undergirds any and all things Peter might do as Christ builds the Church. So the Church Fathers are entirely right in their interpretations- I never said otherwise. The issue I took was with Fr. Justin's claim that we need to shift the focus of the interpretation from Peter to his confession of faith. On what I hope are sound exegetical principles, I believe that Peter rather than his confession is the immediate subject of "this rock on which I will build my Church." I would add, in addition to my earlier comments, that Jesus' statement in Matthew 16:19 ("I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.") would be an awkward shift in direction if petra (the rock) refered to Peter's confession.

The interpretation of Scripture often is not an either/or proposition, and I think this passage illustrates that. Fr. Justin also refers to the interpretation where Peter is really a representative for all the apostles in this passage. Again, I'm not sure I disagree with the interpretation- who claims that Christ in Mt. 16:18 intends to build His Church solely on Peter? A still broader interpretation would be that Peter is a model for all believers in this passage- and does not Christ use all believers in building his Church? But these broader meanings by no means exclude the specific interpretation- that Peter is paradigmatically the rock on which the Church is built. And this interpretation recommends itself not only on standard exegetical principles, but also because the specific, enduring interpretation is the one we prefer when approaching other NT passages relating to the structure of the Church- which I explored in greater depth in my first post on this subject.

I'm hoping to get around to posting on a few other topics which have been raised, but it may take a little while.

For a reference post to the entire debate go here.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Reply

My post below on the role of Peter has provoked some discussion at Spruce Island, for which I am thankful. Both David Pasivirta and Fr. Justin offered substantive critiques, which I hope to give some answer to here.

Fr. Justin finds unfair my statement "the passages which show the particular role of Peter are given no effect in the Church in Orthodox interpretation." He's right- but the significance of Peter in the passages is minimized, if not wholly eliminated in a manner entirely inconsistent with the way we approach Scriptural passages about the Apostles as a whole or the Sacraments. And I'm afraid that the interpretation Fr. Justin offers for Mt. 16:18 is poor not only for being incongrous with how we approach other New Testament passages, but on a more basic exegetical level. According to Fr. Justin: "This is, in fact, where I believe the problem lies with the Roman interpretation of Christ's remark ("upon this rock, I will build my Church..."): the focus is shifted from Peter's confession to Peter himself."

This interpretation is predicated on the suggestion that the rock (petra) which Christ founds his Church is not precisely the same as Peter (Petros). Protestant interpreters often attempt to draw a distinction between the two words, using questionable semantic differences derived from Attic Greek (the NT is in Koine Greek)- but overlooks the fact that the two words are grammatically necessary since they are gendered nouns. Moreover Aramaic, in which Jesus presumably spoke uses only one word for rock: Kephas.

David notes the seeming disjunct between the scriptural description of Peter and the current role of the papacy, and offers some intriguing thoughts about the use of history as an interpretive lens for Scripture. I'll write a separate post about the intersection of historical circumstances and the role of the Petrine Office, but here I'll just say a few things about David's reflections on Scripture:
Scripture took a long time to be canonized, and the lives of the saints and the history of the church show us infinite examples of interpretations of the scripture through experience. living life, undulating back and forth, breathing the Spirit, many people writing it all down.

We can't use the scriptures in a vacuum, as if the rest of history is not an interpretive lens to help us see it through.
While I agree with the sentiment that we can't read the Scriptures in a vacuum, I don't see the relevance of the time in which it took for the Canon to be fixed. Of course we should read Scripture with the mind of the Church. But where the mind of the Church is divided on a particular, we must apply the broader principles (still with the mind of the Church), which is what I have hoped to do.

For a reference post to the entire debate go here.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Searching for Peter

It has been a vicarious delight to silently hover over the happenings of the online denizens of St. Herman's Orthodox Church and their brethren on the Island and elsewhere, to hear news of the work of God in their midst and their joy in discovering and living the Orthodox faith.

Why, therefore, do I feel no call to such a vigorous fellowship? Why, recognizing that both Orthodoxy and Catholicism have preserved the sacraments for twenty centuries, did I enter one and not the other?

Certainly, some typical concerns played a major role. A desire for unity drove my search for the Church of the Apostles- the hierarchical structure of Catholicism seems to provide a more visibly evident unity. The oft-repeated concern about caesaropapism had an effect. And the national structure of much of Orthodoxy seemed to me to restrict Orthodoxy's emphasis on missions & evangelism. Whether fair or not, these concerns caused me to look on Catholicism as more plausible; though there are undoubtedly historical and other considerations which cause others to look on Catholicism as similarly implausible. The current liturgical aimlessness and mediocrity in Catholicism is one such.

But I did not join the "more likely" Church. I confessed all that the Catholic Church teaches. And what was decisive for me was the way we read Scripture- as Apostolic Christians, both Catholics and Orthodox see in passages like John 20:22-23 a clear reference to sacramental confession: "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'"

Likewise, we read about the Anointing of the Sick: "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." (James 5:14). Both the Gospel of John ("For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.") and Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians ("For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself") clearly testify to the reality of the Real Presence. Just as we see the sacraments testified to in Scripture, sacraments that remain in the Church, so too do we discern the structure of the Church from scripture- unlike Protestants, we recognize that episkopos, presbyteros and diaconos denote three separate priestly offices. We recognize in the Apostles the first bishops. And we see in the Council of Jerusalem at least the model for the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. In short, Apostolic Christians see in the New Testament writings indications of the sacraments given to the Church and evidence of the divine structure of the Church.

Yet the passages which show the particular role of Peter are given no effect in the Church in Orthodox interpretation. Jesus renames Simon (echoes of Abraham) and says "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church." Of course, Peter is given the threefold questioning and commissioning in John 21. Moreover, Peter speaks for the Apostles both on Pentecost and at the Council of Jerusalem, confirming his role among the Apostles. The Apostles are even referred to by Luke as "Peter and the Eleven." And thus the difficulty arises: by what principle can we retain the scriptural witness to the sacraments and to the apostolic governance of the Church into the present day, and refuse to do so for the role of Peter?

John Paul II was fond of saying that the Church must breathe with both lungs, East & West. There is no doubt the Petrine office has been abused at times in the past, and perhaps in part due to the Great Schism, has probably taken on an inappropriate weight in the Latin Church. In John Paul II's Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, he showed his willingness to accept a new operation of the primatial role (para. 95). Benedict XVI once wrote that "Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium." Christ himself prayed for the unity of the Church, and we cannot ignore His word to us. But Christ does not desire a unity of homogeneity or a unity of indifference. We must confront our differences with an attitude of humility- a principle which I hope I have not egregiously violated here.

New Update: For a reference post to the entire debate go here.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Over in Alberta...

Ralph Klein has been given only 55% approval at the PC convention- not a personal rebuff, but a clear sign the party wants to find a new leader and move forward with a rejuvenated agenda.

Even more intriguing, Preston Manning is airing leadership feelers. He would be incredibly good, not only for the province of Alberta, but for Canada as a whole. He is an incredibly gracious, intelligent and endearing man, whom I had the great privilege to meet earlier this year.