Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reflexive Catholicism

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors. (St Vincent of Lerins: Commonitorium, chapter 2)
Fr Chadwick has been ruminating on the Vincentian Canon which I've quoted above. St Vincent was writing between the third and fourth Oecumenical Councils at a time when the Monophysite controversy was raging before it was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. He writes in order to help the Church find a way of detecting heresy citing the great Heretics,  Novatian, Sabellius, Donatus, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, and Nestorius, all of whom were denounced by the first three Oecumenical Councils. 

Of course, the great phrase defining "Catholic" as "quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus" is probably not as easy to apply when Church Fathers or Schools of Theology disagree. The Alexandrian School ultimately produced Arius, and Apollinaris was linked to the School of Antioch. The two schools of themselves were quite orthodox and produced a tension from which our view of the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ was revealed and clarified somewhat; yet they produced extremists whose work required the Councils to resolve.

I can only leave intellectual theology to my betters such as Fr Chadwick and his readers. My question is somewhat more pernickity. St Vincent produces a general statement, and general statements have to apply generally. That's the trouble with Universals.

If one says "Only physical evidence determines the truth" then where is the physical evidence which will determine the truth of that statement? If there's no such thing as absolute truth, then is the statement "there is no absolute truth" an absolute truth or not?

So, the question is, does the Vincentian Canon satisfy the Vincentian Canon? Can we say that "Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors." has been believed everywhere, always, by all?

If we can, then we have a self-consistent definition of Catholicism. If not, then the Vincentian Canon possesses no evidence to be part of the Catholic Faith. If Arianism fails the Vincentian Canon, then we can legitimately doubt that Arianism is Catholic. So what if the Vincentian Canon fails the Vincentian Canon?

Fortunately, it seems from the Commonitorium that St Vincent is setting up the basis upon which the Orthodox Churches understand the Faith. What can be considered more truly Universal than an Oecumenical Council? After all, the whole point is for the Bishops from all around the world to gather together in order to find consensus on matters of Faith in order to preserve the Faith and promulgate it into all territories. Thus in an Oecumenical Council, we have quod ubique in the gathering of the world's bishops, the quod semper in their intention to find and preserve the "faith which was once delivered unto the saints" in a consensus giving us the quod ubique. Thus we see that it is very much the raison d'etre of the Oecumenical Council to produce the Vincentian Canon. If the Councils are thus Catholic, so is the Vincentian Canon and thus it can be regarded as a proper universal statement.

This might be an exercise in raising futility or tautology to a high art for some folk; however, it does actually demonstrate the reliability of St Vincent's definition of "Catholic" as something the Early Church understood before it was thus phrased and as something accepted afterwards. We can accept this definition in good Faith. It means that any Church that accepts the doctrine of the Seven Oecumenical Councils of the Undivded Church is truly Catholic in principle. From the Eighth Council (the fourth in Constantinople) we see the beginnings of the schism which came to a head in 1054.

It also means that we can rule out the weaker definitions that have been promulgated since then. I've already said that the Catholic Church is not a church for anyone but for everyone. "Catholic" cannot mean "all-inclusive" because that would mean that it could include atheists and other religions which rather defeats the central tenets of Christianity. That's certainly not to say that non-Christians are irredeemable. Indeed, if the prayers of the Church at Mass are answered then the possibility does exist. For, at the offering of the Chalice we prayer that it may ascend as a sweet-smelling savour for our salvation and for that of the whole world. 

This does actually bring out another aspect of the Catholic Church that is indeed universal. It should harbour the love of God for all of God's Creation. Time and again do we see the Church fail to do just that and inso failing, it fails to do what Our Lord demanded to be done always, everywhere and by all. That is just the fallibility of Man. The Church may indeed teach infallibly even if it is a case of "whatsoever they bid you observe , that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not." 

One must remember that St Ignatius of Antioch said in his letter to the Church in Smyrna. "wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church" (ὥσπερ ὅπου ἂν ῇ Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, ἐκεῖ ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία.) We also have the famous ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Thus the Catholic Church cannot exist where no love is. Without love, it really is all men dressing up in silly clothes and speaking old-fashioned words with no consideration for the meaning. 

If we really do mean that we are catholic with either a C or a c, then we really need to be changing ourselves to become conveyors of the love of God into our communities. We are the ones that have to be for everyone, holding the Catholic Faith in our hearts as well as our minds so that all people can know Christ in us whoever we are, Jew or Greek, bond or free, male or female. One certainly does not have to be a Catholic Priest for that, for this is all our calling as Christians.

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