30 January 2012

Church of the Open Wound

A COLLEAGUE recently brought my attention to this portion of J├╝rgen Moltmann's The Trinity and the Kingdom (p. 49):

God and suffering belong together, just as in this life the cry for God and the suffering experienced in pain belong together. The question about God and the question about suffering are a joint, a common question. And they only find a common answer. Either that, or neither of them finds a satisfactory answer at all. No one can answer the theodicy question in this world, and no one can get rid of it. Life in this world means living with this open question, and seeking the future in which the desire for God will be fulfilled, suffering will be overcome, and what has been lost will be restored.

The question of theodicy is not a speculative question; it is a critical one. It is the all-embracing eschatological question. It is not purely theoretical, for it cannot be answered with any new theory about the existing world. It is a practical question which will only be answered through experience of the new world in which ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’. It is not really a question at all, in the sense of something we can ask or not ask, like other questions. It is the open wound of life in this world. It is the real task of faith and theology to make it possible for us to survive, to go on living, with this open wound.

The person who believes will not rest content with any slickly explanatory answer to the theodicy question. And he will also resist any attempts to soften the question down. The more a person believes, the more deeply he experiences pain over the suffering in the world, and the more passionately he asks about God and the new creation.
Moltmann's underpinning panentheistic doctrine of God notwithstanding, let's focus on two themes that arise as he writes of theodicy and the so-called "problem of evil":
  1. The question of God and suffering is an "all-embracing eschatological question," because it can "only be answered through experience" of the new heavens and earth. Right now, it is, in fact, not really question at all. It just is; it simply hangs here all heavy and stifling, just like an . . . 
  2. . . . "open wound." Theodicy is the open wound of life in this world. It can't be answered sufficiently this side of the eschaton: "Life in this world means living with this open question."
It seems to me that the reality of a fragmented church in a world that has witnessed the ascension of God's Christ also falls under the "question" of theodicy. And it is a great evil too easily dismissed by Protestants in general (Carl Trueman and others like him being exceptions)—and by evangelicals in particular (leading to a kind of gnostic ecclesiology, as the folks over at Called to Communion often note).

Just a few short centuries ago, we Protestants were, of course, Roman Catholic. And our forebears—of the first generation, at least—from the start had their eyes on reforming their Mother, the church of Rome. In this, I'm reminded of Stanley Hauerwas' 1995 Reformation Sunday homily:
Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.
To put it as Trueman did in the hyperlinked article above, "Protestants need a positive reason not to be Catholic."

At any rate, my Roman Catholic friends would deny the possibly of real body fragmentation, that is, of members of the body being severed from the body. No doubt, they do think people can be separated from the body, but they're not taking a part of the body, so to speak, with them.

I, along with everybody who isn't Roman Catholic (and perhaps Eastern Orthodox), demur.

The notion of a "perpetual divine protection of the unity and orthodoxy of the church through the apostolic succession of the bishops, by virtue of its being a continuation of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, in his mystical body" makes little sense in light of the realities of the church's history, which continue to surround us ("St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church"). It's not the latter points with which I have problems (apostolic succession; the church being a continuation of the life and ministry of Christ); it's the former—the "perpetual divine protection of the unity and orthodoxy of the Church." That conflates the truth with the proclamation, or participation in, the truth (ousia vs. metousia). Scripture, tradition, and reason demand otherwise. And "the person who believes will not rest content with any slickly explanatory answer" that attempts to justify God's ways in this matter.

Thus, the disunity of the church catholic is an open wound. Put another way, I think Roman Catholics (helped by none other than John Calvin, who took his cue from Cyprian & Cyril!) are right to demand that the ontological connection between Christ and his church by the power of the Spirit be upheld, but I think they're wrong that her being necessarily leads to an infallible act. Again: the church's union and communion with Christ in ontological relation doesn't by its very nature procure infallibility. The words of Jesus and his apostles regarding the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, like the prophetic utterances of old, are to be construed as goadings toward righteousness—toward that oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity—not as absolute promises or blueprints of infallibility that will simply unfurl throughout the course of history.

Let me try to put it more plainly: I think that the church is to be one in this time between the times. One, not just in will and purpose, but one physically and ontologically—in a collegial episcopate (in contradistinction to the universal jurisdictional claims of the Roman pontiff). I think this is what God wants. But I also think that we have failed miserably in this regard, that the body has indeed fragmented, that toes have left their feet, that wrists have left their arms and have caused whole hands to suffer the same.

In other words, the church—both catholic and local, invisible and visible, one and many—suffers from an open wound. I therefore think God would have us continually aching for reattachment, of having broken hearts at the church's division, or else we're left with being an end in ourselves, that is, anathema.

But whence the credo? How can we pray, "I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church," if it doesn't quite exist?

With hope.

It may be that this open-wound ecclesiology can only be resolved in "the future in which the desire for God will be fulfilled, suffering will be overcome, and what has been lost will be restored," but ignoring the charge to be one (or worse, to theologically justify fragmentations) is fatalistic at best and heresy at worst.

1 comments:

Principium Unitatis said...

Chris,

I completely agree with you regarding the error of ignoring the charge to be one, or theologically justifying fragmentations. But there some other claims you made with which I disagree.

You seem to think that the fact of "schism from" the Church is incompatible with the divine protection of the Church's unity. But that would only follow if the Church were less united after a "schism from" the Church than before. However, from a Catholic point of view, the Church itself loses no unity when a member or group of members leaves the Church. The Church retains its three bonds of unity: unity of one faith, unity of sacraments, and unity of government. The persons who separate themselves from the Church through schism lose unity with the Church, because they lose participation in the Church's divine unity. The Church herself, however, loses no unity. That unity remains in her, and if these persons were to be restored to full communion with her, they would enjoy again a participation in that divine unity, not because Christ would have to bring more unity down from heaven, but because it was there continually in the Church, and enjoyed by all those in full communion with the Church. So in this way, the "perpetual divine protection of the unity and orthodoxy of the church" is fully compatible with the realities of the church's history.

You wrote, "That conflates the truth with the proclamation, or participation in, the truth (ousia vs. metousia). Scripture, tradition, and reason demand otherwise."

The divine protection of the unity and orthodoxy of the Church does not conflate the truth with the proclamation of the truth. They are distinct, and nothing about the divine protection of the unity and orthodoxy of the Church requires that truth and its proclamation be conflated. The Church is the pillar and bulwark of truth; it is where the truth has been divinely deposited, and is therefore that to which the nations stream in order to find the divinely revealed truth. Neither Scripture nor tradition nor reason demand otherwise.

When you say, "I therefore think God would have us continually aching for reattachment," I completely agree. But it has to be a recognition of re-attachment to the existing unity, otherwise we face a dilemma I've described in "Ecclesial Unity and Outdoing Christ: A Dilemma for the Ecumenism of Non-Return."

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/11/ecclesial-unity-and-outdoing-christ-a-dilemma-for-the-ecumenism-of-non-return/

Finally, you say, "But whence the credo? How can we pray, "I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church," if it doesn't quite exist? With hope." The problem is that nobody in the first millennium and a half thought that way, as if the entity described in the Creed, with her four marks (for locating her), was only a future hope, and not a present reality. The Church and her sacraments (summed in the following line: "and in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins") are present; Christ already founded a Church located by those four marks. To interpret this line of the Creed (i.e. I believe in one, holy, ...) as an affirmation of a future hope, and not as referring to a present reality, is to deny this line of the Creed, because it has never meant that, nor does it mean that. In order to affirm the Nicene Creed, you must believe that the one, holy and catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded, present exists.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

 
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