18 August 2010

Discerning where the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus subsists

It is important at this juncture to state plainly the main purpose of this site: help people make their way to the fullness of the knowledge and love of God by becoming members of Jesus Christ in his mystical body which is the Catholic Church. This is the one Universal Church in which subsists the fullness of Christ's body united with its Head, the Church that receives from Christ "the fullness of the means of salvation" which He has willed:

1. correct and complete confession of faith,

2. full sacramental life, and

3. ordained ministry in apostolic succession (which is a prerequisite for 2).

Additionally, this Catholic Church, by enjoying continued divine assistance including infallible magisterial authority, does not suffer from the problems of ecclesiastical deism and definition of the scriptural canon that affect Protestantism.

Let's place ourselves for a moment in the shoes of the people making that journey. They see a menu of "sets of particular Churches in communion with one another" that might in principle be "the" one Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ: RC, EO, OO, in order of decreasing size. Then they start to narrow the menu by making these initial steps:

- Regarding OO, it is necessary to examine the historical context of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. This is because the discernment of whether the Catholic Church subsists in the RC, EO or OO candidates cannot possibly be done by using principles specific to any of the candidates. Therefore the following facts must be checked:

- Second (“Robber” for RCs and EOs) Council of Ephesus in 449: 130 attendants. Council of Chalcedon in 451: at least 370 attendants, who in their overwhelming majority signed its confession of faith.

- Was the high number of diophysite attendants in Chalcedon due to the diophysite side having embarked on a massive consecration of bishops during the run-up to the Council in order to tilt the vote to their favor? No.

- Were many of those signing the diophysite position pressed in any way by the emperor so as to render their vote invalid? No.

Therefore the OO option is discarded.

Thus those comprising the target audience of this site have to choose between the RC and EO options. The choice is not trivial because the issues of doctrinal disagreement between RCs and EOs (mainly Filioque, Papal Primacy and those related to Palamism) are serious enough that, as a consequence, the technical position of each side is that the other side is in material heresy in a number of matters (even when members of a particular side may choose not to use the h-word for reasons of charity or courtesy). As a result, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus subsists in only one of the two sides. Notably, each side has a completely different view on the consequences of this objective reality on the status of the other side regarding possession of the means of salvation listed above. Thus:

- RCs believe that EOs lack 1 but have 2 and 3.

- most EOs believe that RCs lack 1, 2 and 3.

Let's review the issues of doctrinal disagreement and their status to appreciate their seriousness:

- The Lateran IV Ecumenical Council (1215) defined the dogma of Absolute Divine Simplicity (ADS), which was confirmed by the Vatican I Ecumenical Council in its Constitution "Dei Filius" (1870). The teachings of EO St Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), which were adopted by the EO Churches in three councils held in Constantinople (1341, 1347 and 1351), are against that dogma.

- Pope Benedict XII in his Constitution "Benedictus Deus" (1336) defined the dogma of Beatific Vision whereby saints in Heaven see the divine essence, which was confirmed by the Ecumenical Council of Florence (1439). The teachings of EO St Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), which were adopted by the EO Churches in three councils held in Constantinople (1341, 1347 and 1351), are against that dogma.

- The Ecumenical Councils of Lyon II (1274) and Florence (1439) defined dogmatically, quoting from the latter, "that the holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son, and has his essence and his subsistent being from the Father together with the Son, and proceeds from both eternally as from one principle and a single spiration", doctrine commonly designated as Filioque. EOs do not accept that dogma, with some EOs denying it outright and other EOs considering it just a theologumenon.

- The Ecumenical Council of Florence (1439) defined the dogma of papal primacy, which was confirmed by the Vatican I Ecumenical Council in its Constitution "Pastor Aeternus" (1870), which added the definition of papal infallibility. Both dogmas are denied by EOs.

To discern in which side the One Church founded by Jesus subsists, the primary path is to check which of the two doctrinal positions is supported or refuted by the 73 books of the Bible (72 if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) that both sides recognize as inspired. Here is a summary of the results of the checks I made in previous posts:

Filioque: RC position supported by Jn 17:26 and Rev 22:1.

Papal Primacy: RC position strongly supported by Mt 16:17-19 and additionally by Jn 21:15-17.

Teachings of EO St Gregory Palamas:

O1. "God is being and not being." Against Ex 3:14 and Wis 13:1. Strongly against Jn 4:24.

O2. Divine essence-energies distinction.

O3. Deification (theosis) through divine energies only. Strongly against Jn 17:26.

O4. Saints in Heaven see only the divine energies. Strongly against 1 Cor 13:12 and 1 Jn 3:2. Against Mt 5:8.

Therefore the biblical texts overwhelmingly support the RC position in almost all the points of disagreement, and are neutral in the rest.

The secondary path to confirm which side is the One Church founded by Jesus is to examine the Ecumenical Councils of Lyon II and Florence, which were attended by Eastern bishops who in their overwhelming majority (in Florence all the Eastern bishops but one) approved the decrees defining the doctrine of Filioque. Regarding those Councils, there are two possibilities:

a. That at least one of those Councils was indisputably Ecumenical (and not just "RC" Ecumenical, which of course for RCs are truly Ecumenical), meaning by that that the positive vote of the majority of Eastern bishops was valid. In this case, the fact that both Councils are accepted by RCs and rejected by EOs would independently confirm that the One Universal Church founded by Jesus subsists in the RC Church.

b. That in both Councils most of the Eastern bishops did not act freely and in right conscience, but were pressed and/or bribed in a way that rendered their vote invalid. To note, this latter possibility would not prevent both Councils from being "RC" Ecumenical, neither would it affect the conclusion from the examination of biblical passages that the One Universal Church founded by Jesus subsists in the RC Church. It would just not provide additional independent confirmation for that conclusion.

It should be noted that, independently of the final result of the discernment, since there is only one Universal Church founded by Jesus, and from the serious doctrinal disagreements between the RC and EO sides it is clear that the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus subsists in only one of the two sides, then only one of the two sides can be properly called "Church" as a whole, and the proper term for the totality of particular Churches comprising the other side is "the XX Churches".

Thus the proper terms for the sides as a whole are either

a. "the RC Church" and "the EO Churches", or

b. "the RC Churches" and "the EO Church".

If my plain stating of this fact sounds uncharitable to some ears, I strongly suggest reading the "Note on the expression "Sister Churches"" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dated June 30, 2000 and signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The core points are 9 to 12. It's at:



It might be useful to have a formal description of the framework involved in this discernement. Let us call System any of the options among which we are discerning, so that:

System = {Sources, Entities, Corpus, Rules}

Thus, a System is comprised of (the examples of Sources and Entities are from the RC Church):

- Sources of Divine Revelation = {Scripture, Tradition}

- Authoritative Entities = {Ecumenical Council, Pope}

- Corpus: definitions by Entities of the content of the divine revelation in the Sources, including the identification of the Sources

- Rules: Subset of Corpus defining Entities, how they work, and particularly how they define the Corpus.

The one divinely-founded System must exhibit several levels of logical consistency:

1. Instrumental: capacity for identifying infallibly and dynamically (i.e. at any time as needed) the content of the divine revelation in the Sources (and the Sources themselves), and for transmitting that content trans-historically and geographically.

2. Historical: abidance by Rules.

3. Internal: absence of contradiction between definitions in Corpus and content of Sources, and between definitions in Corpus themselves.

4. External: absence of contradiction between definitions in Corpus and physical laws or historical facts.

5. Extraordinary: confirmation by occasional targeted breakings of physical laws (miracles).

I posit that all five levels of logical consistency are relevant in principle to discern between Systems, although in some practical cases the evidence from looking at one of the levels might be strong enough to dispense with the need to look at the others. Thus I discarded the OO option above on the basis of just historical consistency, by looking at historical context for the Council of Chalcedon. The importance of external consistency can be appreciated by imagining the consequences to any System that had defined geocentrism as dogma. (By the way, the RC Church never did so, even when its authorities prohibited for a long time the publication of books supporting that theory and, as is well known, gave Galileo a hard time.)

Thus, the main levels for discerning between the RC and EO options are:

- instrumental: superbly covered in Ray Stamper's comments #88 and #89 to this article), and

- internal: covered in my previous posts and summarized above.

As I said above, in order for the EO Churches to exhibit historical consistency, it is critical for them to claim that in Lyon II (1274) and Florence (1439) the third point in the examination above of the Council of Chalcedon applied to the Eastern bishops, who were either pressed by the Emperor in the first case and practically bribed by the Pope, in the context of the Ottoman threat, in the second. Sure enough that claim does not cause the RC Church to exhibit historical inconsistency, because the Western bishops were under no pressure.

Finally, regarding extraordinary consistency, either the RC Church has received ample confirmation at this level, or many RC Saints had very serious mental problems or were pathological liars, or the RC Church has been forsaken by God as playground for the dark side. (BTW, I am talking only about RC Church-approved miracles like Lourdes. I perceive Medjugorje as a purely human phenomenon in the very best case.)

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