Friday, February 29, 2008

Reading Saint Cyprian... [2 UPDATES]

This is why this blog was started! Tonight the real & ecumenical Old Books Club met and discussed yet another Patristics author: Cyprian of Carthage. A great discussion, which I love. Here's what I thought after our meeting...

Really interesting discussion tonight. I still don't get how the Orthodox Church,
which I do indeed love and respect, insists that Cyprian is arguing for a de-centralized
(no pope as head) Church. I think recently the Orthodox Church did recognize
the primacy of Peter over the other Apostles though; they argue that Andrew
was however the 'first to be sent', and claim descendency from his episcopal line. [please correct me if I'm off here.]

To recap a really interesting issue: Tim had some really valid concerns about the 'legal' language
in Cyprian's writing. He felt that it gave a 'legalistic' character to the structure
of the Church.

As I thought about it on the drive home, some questions came to my mind:
1) is the 'legal' language bad? (we discussed this a bit at the OBC meeting)
2) is 'legal' language bad because it is Roman, and therefore pagan?
3) what if the 'legal' language was from the Jews; is it still bad? We are
fulfilled Jews, ya know!
4) related to the above question, are individuals outside the Church, such as
Roman pagans or Greek philosophers such as Plato, doomed to have a
pointless existence? Do their greatest ideas become completely bankrupt
for the Christian simply on the basis of their being 'pagan'?
I think this has come up other times, especially concerns of David, that the
Catholic or Orthodox churches - and the men we are reading - are 'too Greek'.
Could this question be at the heart of the 'legal' language issue? Paganism:
creeping its philosophy or law or structure into the Church?

Matt and I are both in a course together on Ecclesiology (theology of the
'churchiness' of the Church, as I love calling it.). In a text we recently read by the Dominican
Catholic theologian Henri DeLubac (early-mid 20th century), we read these
very interesting remarks:

"...the Fathers [like Cyprian, Augustine, John Chrysostom etc.] allow the pagan
world something of the light of Christ they generally set this light in a prophetic
relationship with the full light of the Gospel, and that they see the Church that is
to come in the lives both of the holy people of the Gentile world as well
as of the righteous under the Old Law. So, for Irenaeus, it must be said without
exception of all the saints who lived before the time of the Gospel that, in a
sense, 'they heralded Christ's coming and obeyed his Law.' According to Clement
of Alexandria: 'Just as God sent prophets to the Jews, so did he raise up
in the midst of Greece the most virtuous of her sons and set them as prophets
amid their nation.'
" (chapter on "Salvation through the Church")

and elsewhere...

"We must not be astonished, but we must draw the necessary inference
and so find the key to our problem. For since a necessary function in the history
of our salvation was fulfilled by so great a mass of 'unbelievers'
- not indeed in
that they were in formal error or in a state of degradation, but in that there is to
be found in their beliefs and consciences a certain groping after the truth, its painful
preparation or its partial anticipation, discoveries of the natural reason and tentative
solutions- so these unbelievers have an inevitable place in our humanity, a humanity
such as the fall and the promise of a Redeemer have made it.
" (same chapter)

In other places, DeLubac considers humanity or Adam prior to the fall like a china-doll, and
who at the fall "crashed into a million pieces" creating a humanity of divided individualism.
Reconsidering the pagans, aren't we all from the shattered 'body' of humanity
that God originally intended to be one? Don't we all (new and old
pagans too), created in the image of God, come from the same Father in Heaven?
DeLubac is suggesting strongly that even though they did not have Revelation, the
'pagans' still contributed to the development of the Body of Christ, the Church,
and if nothing else clearly such things as natural law, governing all humanity by
our unified origins in the Logos- the Word or Law in the flesh, Christ.

If we buy what DeLubac says, is 'legalistic' Roman language therefore outside
of the Church? Is borrowing from the great developments of a foreign body of people
(people created by God) so terrible? Is it impossible to imagine that God perhaps
intended it to be this way, or at least is ok with 'law' coming from pagan Rome?

The Church is indeed catholic (Greek word meaning universal), not because of
the Catholic Church or numbers of members or locations on earth, but because it was
(as DeLubac argues) from the beginning intended for all of humanity- to the very last one.
God wants us all, and he gives us the Church as an invitation to accept or reject Him.

What say you?


I sense that Protestants are not keen on giving the 'pagans'
kudos for what they've contributed to human ingenuity and thought,
let alone a reluctance to even afford them Salvation.

Could it be that the Church's use of 'legal' Roman language
-or even juridical Roman law in its structure- is an example
of the fact that the Church is indeed where all the peoples
of the earth are being called back together by God?

Could it be, in fact, a really positive thing?

Also, I find it quite legalistic to simply write-off all things
pagan. I also think its legalistic to think that we only have
to go to God for forgiveness in our personal prayer life.

There is a legalism in being abhorred by any and all legalism!

Christianity is based on paradox- a little of this and a little of
that totally contradictory idea.
Virgin-birth, One God-3 Persons, Man-God, Predestination-Freewill...
There aren't many churches that are comfortable with all
of these paradoxes!


David responded:

I don’t have much time to respond as I am going out of town for the week. But here are a couple of thoughts. Tim is not the first to be concerned that the Catholic church was modeled off the Roman Empire. In fact this is a common topic amongst “emergent church” folks. On the idea of penance, Nate likened it to making up to our wives when we have done something wrong. But isn’t a part of the “good news’ that God is not like our wives? We are told that he washes our sins away and removes them as far as the east is from the west. I think we are also told that no matter what sin will remain a problem. It seems to me that repentance is a frame of mind amongst other things where we constantly look to God for his grace and forgiveness. No amount of penance will win God’s trust or make up for our sin. So I still need help understanding the Cyprian point of view.

I do enjoy the reading and discussion. May it help us all to lead better lives!

I responded:

Thanks for the reply, David.

Indeed, I do see strong suspicion from protestants (in general) about Catholicism or Orthodoxy adopting things from the Greco-Roman world; however, I see this as a bi-product of a narrow view of salvation. For instance, some Christians believe that they 'are saved' simply by being a member of a 'faith alone' church; there is also a large strain in this country of believing in America as manifest destiny- that the USA was ordained by God and that other countries, ethnicities, or non-Christians (even people of different denominations) are not saved. We've also come across the term 'judaizers' in our discussions in the past; this is also problematic to me in that it fails to acknowledge that Christianity is simply another name for 'fulfilled Judaism'. The Jews are thus seen as the greatest enemies of Christ because they had the Revelation, but denied the Messiah.
And so I guess my point was that I see (even in a simple objection to 'legal' Roman language) a rejection of the universality of God's saving action for all peoples: jews, gentiles, everyone (yesterday, today, & tomorrow).

Regarding Penance (or the sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation, if you like),
I would cite the Compendium of the Roman Catechism regarding David's point about God totally wiping away our sins by the cross & resurrection. (These are straight from the text)

Why is there a sacrament of Reconciliation after Baptism? (Baptism understood as giving the sanctifying grace of the cross, wiping away Original Sin and incorporating the recipient into God's people)
Since the new life of grace received in Baptism does not abolish the weakness of human nature nor the inclination to sin, Christ instituted this sacrament (Jn 20:23; 2 Cor 5:17-20; James 5:13-16; Mt 18:18 as a few examples) for the conversion of the baptized who have been separated from Him and His Body by sin.

*In other words, the Cross earns us back the gift of eternal life; this is given via Baptism. We can, however, sin after we are baptized which would then require us to repent and repair the damage done to the Body- the Church.

Do the baptized have need of conversion?
The call of Christ to conversion continues to resound in the lives of the baptized. Conversion is a continuing obligation for the whole Church. She is holy but includes sinners in her midst.

*Basically, Penance or Reconciliation is about conversion or growing in the 'life of Christ.' It calls on the believer, both spiritually and in actuality to change their ways.

What are the effects of this sacrament?
The effects of the sacrament of Penance are: reconciliation with God and therefore the forgiveness of sins; reconcilation with the Church; recovery, if it has been lost, of the state of grace; remission of the eternal punishment merited by mortal (very serious) sins, and remission, at least in part, of the temporal punishment which is the consequence of sin; peace, serenity of conscience and spiritual consolation; and an increase of spiritual strength for Christian living.

*Something often overlooked is the fact that at the sacrament, the person gives up the burden of the sin. It has been 'let out of the closet' as they say. This is why so many people, I think, are in psycological therapy these days- they need to talk to someone about the hurt (either from themselves, or even others). Sin hurts the Body of believers; to confess eliminates the weight of burden and liberates the individual!

Great discussion! Indeed, I agree with David: let us hope and pray that these readings make us better men in Christ.

take care,

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