Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The modernist paperclip and the use of correction fluid

A recent comment from a liberal "Protestant" blog criticizing those who defend traditional Church doctrine:
"[Jesus] was a man of his time, rooted in eschatological Judaism, proclaiming what he took to Adonai's imminent judgment on the world."
Here we see an old heresy re-emerging, namely that of Nestorianism. I have to be very careful here because there are Oriental Catholic Churches who recognize Nestorius as a saint. I believe that it has been a subject of debate whether Nestorius indeed was a Nestorian; certainly the Oriental Churches do actually proclaim the Catholic Faith as has been revealed in dialogue with them.

Let us then be clear what the Nestorian heresy is. Our Lord has two natures, that of being human and that of being God. According to the proto-Nestorian Theodore of Mopsuestia, these natures were joined together externally like a marriage of natures. I rather like Archbishop Haverland's idea that, in this heresy, the two natures of Christ were paper-clipped together. For the true Nestorian, Mary could never be the mother of God, she was just mother to the human nature of Jesus.

Actually, the heresy is not too hard to refute. The very first chapter of St John's Gospel talks about the Divine Logos - the Word - which becomes flesh and dwells among us. The joining of human and divine nature is internal to the Person of Our Lord as flesh is to bone, only more so. That flesh-bone analogy breaks down when we consider Divine simplicity. Our Lord's human nature is indivisibly linked to His divine nature.

That is what the Catholic Faith says. Anyone who denies it cannot be Catholic and contradicts Holy Scripture itself.

Mary is the mother of Jesus; Jesus is God; therefore Mary is the Mother of God. The logic is as simple as it can be.

The way that Nestorianism creeps into our time comes about from statements like we see above. The idea is that Our Lord was a man of His time and therefore what He says is only ever appropriate in the context of that time.

Why is this Nestorian?

Our Lord's visible ministry is bounded by time according to human nature, yet that ministry was to the whole world. By His death, He saves His people in one great sacrifice for sin at one point in time. Yet, that one perfect sacrifice pervades all time, so that we in our day may participate in that sacrifice which took place in His day. His day of salvation remains our day of salvation, and that day is today - it always will be today.

Likewise, Our Lord teaches His people. He teaches them of what sin is and what death is, and what the Kingdom of God is, and Who He is, and what He has come to do. Is this the teaching of a man of his time? No. He is speaking of things of Eternity. He is speaking from Who He is - human and divine, not one thing or the other, but Divine words on a Human tongue. How does He know the will of God? Because He possesses that knowledge in His divine nature. If He is speaking divine truth then, then He is speaking the same  divine truth now. Divine truth is Eternal or it is not divine.

To say then that Our Lord's teaching is only of His time therefore falls under the charge of Nestorianism. It says that some things that Our Lord speaks are human in origin, and other things are Divine in origin. But these things have one single origin - Our Lord and He is indivisibly Divine and Human.

Of course, one might say, "When Our Lord says, 'I thirst!' that must be human in origin, because God cannot thirst." That is perfectly true. Our Lord is inferior to God in His human nature but equal to God in His Divine nature. There are things that the human nature can do that the divine nature cannot, and vice versa; that's what distinguishes them. However, teaching the Will and Commandments of God requires knowledge of the Will and Commandments of God. Our Lord says, quite clearly:
Jesus answered them, and said , My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. (St John vii.16)
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.(St Johnxiv.23-24)
Thus, what Jesus says is not of a man's time but of God's Time, i.e. Eternity. His teaching is absolute and not to be contradicted or superseded by the fashions of the time or the prevalent philosophy.

Of course, the liberal "Protestants" who post on the blog also say things like:
If the Bible has to be taken literally, then Adam and Eve had no ancestors, science and evolution are wrong, and God desired the slaughter of the children in Canaan when it was ethnically cleansed.

All the direction of history teaches us that the bible has to be contextualised and interpreted.

Interpreted in the context of the primary command to love.

Scriptural dogmatism, and idolising holy text as God's direct dictation or automatic handwriting is potentially harmful whether it is the dogmatists of the Bible or the dogmatists of the Qur'an.

The bible was written by fallible human beings, writing from within the culture, prejudices, and assumptions of their own time. It is wonderful and it is profound.

But it requires the exercise of our own consciences in each age, as we search for the ways of love and faithfulness.
And saying this they belie themselves as no Protestant. Obviously, they have no idea about the senses of Biblical interpretation, and certainly categorically disbelieve in the Bible as theologically inerrant. How then does such an individual know that God is love? How does such an individual know that Jesus taught us to love our enemies? How does such an individual know that the central issues that he or she believes are only applicable to 1st Century AD and to none other? All they can rely on is teaching that fits their own choosing and a God that does justice to that. Such a person cannot know that they can be saved, because they do not know whether they have to repent or even how to repent. That is actually quite terrifying! On what do they base their faith? A pick-and-choose approach to Holy Scripture? Judicious use of correction fluid in the Bible to make it conform to modern thought? This makes the attributes of God arbitrary and relative and a relative God is no god at all!

Of course, this individual is right that we have to think critically about what we believe. We do need to rely upon our conscience, but we must inform that conscience and keep it subject to the Rule of Faith rather than the Rule of Whim.

Either we believe that Our Lord speaks to us through Scripture, Tradition AND Reason together, or we must face the fact that we are walking only in the light of our own experience of the world.

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