Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Byzantine Catholic Reflection on the CDF Document on the Doctrine of the Church

As noted previously in this blog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document entitled “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church” addresses questions related to what “Church” means for Catholics, particularly in light of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The document states that although other Christian groups may share in some of the "marks" of the Church, the Catholic Church alone is the one True Church of Jesus Christ.

Critics see this as an affront to non-Catholics and reflecting an attitude incompatible with twenty-first century understandings of God, religion and culture. Byzantine Catholics agree that the Church is at odds with modern society but also see a more fundamental disagreement.

It should come as no surprise that Catholics, who affirm belief in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” inspired, governed and guided by God, believe that this one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. However, the document actually asserts that while the Catholic Church possesses all the graces bestowed by Christ on His Church in their entirety other groups may possess some of them at least partially. Therefore, the word “subsist” indicates an identity that is intrinsic but not exclusive in that some of the qualities may be found in another communion or body.

The True Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, but those qualities, that when present in their totality constitute this subsistential identity, may also be found, more or less individually, in other churches and communions. Thus Catholics can affirm that the Catholic Church alone is the Church Christ founded and continues to inspire while also affirming that the Orthodox Churches and Protestant communions are not totally devoid of Grace.

This view, which is quite moderate and balanced, should offend no one. And in reality, the offence is not what the Church believes about herself, nor that she proclaims it per se, but what such a belief entails -- namely, that there are absolute truths.

It is the claim to affirm an absolute truth that offends. The assertion that a truth is absolute flies in the face of modern sensibilities. Secular society seeks to 'level the playing field' of ideas. All truths are relative and ultimately there is no place for theological, philosophical or ethical absolutes. Thus, real belief in God, divine revelation and Jesus Christ are sins against that 'marketplace of ideas' where no idea can claim more assent than another. This is an essential axiom and virtue of "political correctness".

Being politically correct, however, is a virtue too often bought at the price of integrity, and the Church is unwilling to pay that price when salvation is at stake. It would be hypocritical to claim belief in Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church and to equally accept a false equality of all religions or a pseudo-equivalence of all moralities.

The Church confronts the world with eternal Truth in Jesus Christ and the secularist world recoils, steeped as it is in the belief that only relative truths ensure 'progress and enlightenment'. The encounter with eternal Truth compels society to recognize that “this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil”. (John 3.19) The recognition of evil, in turn, requires a reevaluation of goals, methods and means.

The secular relativism of modern society is a path with no destination. Rather than enhancing our existence, it demeans and degrades humanity to the base level of sensate hedonism, which ultimately ends in nihilistic despair and death. Christ comes that we may "have life and have it abundantly". (John 10.10) The so-called 'lust for life' is proved to be a thirst that finds no refreshment until it is quenched by the Living Water of Jesus Christ. (cf. John 7.37-39).

It is no surprise then that many who cling to secularist relativism are scandalized and would much prefer the Church to be more compromising. But the Church must be true to herself, even if it offends. Jesus demands total allegiance (John 14.6) and promises to be with His Church until the end of time. (Matthew 16.18; 28.20) The Church has a duty to maintain that apostolic tradition. (II Thessalonians 2.15) It must proclaim the truth of the Gospel.

The Vatican document reveals that the Church is indeed out of step with modern sensibilities, yet she owes no apology for her beliefs any more than Jews, Muslims, Protestants, or Atheists owe the Church an apology for their own beliefs. The Church challenges humanity to grow in the image and likeness of the One who created us. This challenge, and the Truth it reflects, is truly Good News for the world. It is a cause for thanksgiving.

Byzantine Catholics in particular will joyfully continue to observe and proclaim the Faith that has sustained us for two thousand years, even at the risk of offending modern sensibilities. Our worship will not bow to the fads of secular fashion. We will continue to affirm the Faith of the apostles, the Faith of the fathers, the Faith of the orthodox, and the Faith that has established the universe!

The Holy See has issued a very thorough commentary on the document here.

This is an expanded version of a submission to the local newspaper. If the newsprint version appears, I'll include a link here.


Young fogey emeritus said...

It is the claim to affirm an absolute truth that offends. The assertion that a truth is absolute flies in the face of modern sensibilities.

Spot-on, Father.

But as a good friend pointed out, the other side does believe in absolutes, which sometimes really are true: what if 'my truth' is it's good to beat homosexuals to death with a baseball bat?

'B-b-but that's different!'


The Byzantine Rambler said...

Truth is never solely "mine" or "ours". Revealed Truth in the area of ethics confirms that we ought to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is an extension of the truth that humanity is created in the image and likeness of God. Life is a gift from the God who is Love and therefore is inherently good. This being so, the taking of a human life is a terrible sin and, indeed, a crime against nature.

Actions and behaviors that contribute to the degradation or outright denial of human personhood are inherently wrong. Thus, we affirm the person, condemn the particular action or behavior that is contrary to the good of the person, and yet also exclude approval of ‘corrective actions’ on the part of others that would bring physical harm to the person in question.

Murder is the most radical and concrete denial of human personhood; it treats the victim as a thing whose life can be ended at the willful discretion of another. This is never justifiable.

Joe said...


As an Orthodox Christian I am not offended in the least. How could Rome say otherwise? In fact, I believe the same things, just replace "Catholic" with Orthodox in the document.

I realize that there are a variety of opinions among Orthodox theologians, but what makes most sense to me is that the Orthodox Church is the one true church of Christ in the fullest sense of the term. Rome and the Churches in communion with her are true particular Churches, but they lack all of the marks that would make them the fulness of Christ's Church. Just my two cents. I believe that this is what Metropolitan Kirill is saying however.