This makes me wild… Andrew Hamilton on the CDF Clarifications

I am truly thinking of writing a book at some stage outlining, clarifying and defending the Catholic Church’s understanding of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. I have spent a very, very long time thinking all these things through, from a point of deep skepticism at times, until I feel that I can comprehend what is going on in the “mind of the Church” (all part of my project of “sentire cum ecclesia”). I don’t pretend that I have understood it all yet, however, everytime something comes up that is clearly a part of the magisterial teaching and yet does not fit the model that I had built up in my own mind, my first presumption is that it my model of ecumenism/interfaith relations that is wanting, not the teaching of the magisterium.

It will come as no surprise to you, gentle reader, that there are many Catholics who do not use this method. This can be seen in the reaction to the recent CDF Clarifications on The Doctrine on the Church. Stephen Crittendon, on the Religion Report, didn’t even bother to seek to speak to a Catholic theologian on the matter of the document, and reported that the document was trumpeting “We are the Champions”–and he played an extract from the Queen hit to rub it in. Thanks, Stephen, you’re a real help. (If you can’t hear my voice dripping with sarcasm in that last comment, you’re not listening.)

For a Catholic comment, we go to Andrew Hamilton at Eureka Street, in an article “Ecumenical Roads no longer lead to Rome”. Here again we find the common failure to attempt to “think with the Church”, and the all too common attitude that the teaching of the Church is “lacking”. Implication? Fr Andrew thinks he could have done it better, that he understands this better than those people in their ivory towers there in the Vatican.

He concludes:

In attentive conversation it is possible to say honestly that in Catholic understanding, only the Catholic Church embodies structurally the fullness of church and ministry. But to imply that other churches are not really churches, and that their ministry is not really Christian ministry, would fail to attend to the way in which Christians, including Catholics, commonly use words. The implication of the claim is gratuitously offensive. We should presume that the offence was not intended. But if it is to be avoided, a different kind of attention is needed.

Yes indeedy, there is the problem, folks: the way that “Christians, including Catholics, commonly use [these] words”, that is words like “Catholic”, “Church”, “Christian”, “Ministry”, “Apostolic” etc. If Fr Andrew was paying attention, he would have realised that the way we “use words” was precisely what the Clarification was about. It was intended to clarify the precise meaning of words in the Catholic lexicon.

In fact, this is how I see the problem with most of the commentary on the document:

1) The commentator disputes the meaning of the word “Church” as clarified by the authors of the document
2) The commentator decides to continue reading the document using his own defintion of the word “Church”
3) This of course gives meanings to the statements of the document which are not those intended by the authors
4) The commentator condemns the document for saying what its authors never actually said.

It is axiomatic when interpreting any document that you must seek to understand the meaning of words in their own context. Imagine reading a dictionary definition of the word “cat”. Eg. “A cat is a small feline carnivorous mammal. They make good household pets”. But hold on a minute, since I believe that a cat is in fact a kind of small elephant, this defintion is obviously wrong in asserting that it would make a good household pet.

Back to Fr Andrew’s piece. He himself gets it all hopelessly wrong when he says that the Second Vatican Council taught that

the Church of Christ subsists in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Council asserted no such thing. It asserted that

The sole Church of Christ … subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him

. The Catholic Church does not equal the “Roman” Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is that thing of which we speak in the Creed, the Una Sancta Catholic et Apostolica, it is not the Western Latin Church, much less is it a denomination. The Una Catholica is a communion of Churches which, the council insisted, have communion with the See of Peter as an essential mark of their belonging to that communion.

Nor is this a matter of “structures”, as Fr Andrew tries to make out. That suggests to the modern mind that document is insisting upon some human, earthly, political characteristic as essential to the Church. The document does not talk about structures, but about communion, which is a spiritual reality, which grows out of the common Christian heritage of God’s word and sacraments.

Moreover, it is simply being mischievous to suggest that the document says that the ministry of those not in full communion with the Catholic Church is “not really Christian ministry”. The document says nothing about whether or not a group or its members are “Christian”–it is talking about the proper application of the word “Church” in Catholic theology.

Let’s be quite clear. The document does not state that “only Roman Catholics are Christian”, and it expressly states that “the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church”.

That, I think, is not a miserly statement. It is certainly more generous toward the Orthodox than they are towards us, and it is much more generous than the attitude of those Protestants who believe that Catholics “are not Christian, although there may be true Christians among them.”

Broken communion–which is what currently exists among Christians and what the ecumenical movement is seeking to overcome–is a two way street. Those not in full communion with the Holy See are not so because the nasty old Pope doesn’t want to be in communion with them. Our separated brothers and sisters are separated from us because they judge us or our doctrine not to be truly Christian.

Fr Andrew Hamilton is right: Ecumenical roads do not “lead to Rome”. There is only one ecumenical road and it leads to Christ. Nevertheless, Catholic ecclesiology–and in fact ecumenical logic–asserts that you can’t walk this ecumenical road without seeking to walk it alongside of and in communion with the Bishop of Rome.

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11 Responses to This makes me wild… Andrew Hamilton on the CDF Clarifications

  1. Past Elder says:

    For maybe the second or third time I am in the unaccustomed position of agreeing with you.

    I take absolutely no offence from the Clarification. In fact I find it refreshing in its integrity. Other confessional types in the Lutheran blogosphere have said the same.

    The fact is, confessional Lutheranism does not believe that certain things are part of the deposit of faith from the Apostles which churches in communion with Rome do. And it isn’t even about who has them and who doesn’t — we do not believe these things even exist, properly speaking, meaning exist by the institution of Christ, which distinguishes dialogue with us from say the Anglican Communion.

    Which is not to say we cannot agree in charity on that about which we do agree. But that is not only not served, it is frustrated and falsified, by downplaying our real differences or sweeping them under the carpet altogether. In other words, Fr Andrew et al in their efforts actually work against the very thing they seek to serve.

    And if I were to take offence, even if mindful that the offence is unintentional, it would rather be at arguments such as his which state or imply that things which are an essential part of bot just his but my faith understanding not shared by all don’t really mean that much either.

    On a related note, one of the great barriers to dialogue is the idea that words mean what people think they mean, and if they actually mean something different then we change them. A linguist would clean that up into more academic language, but that’s the idea. Which seems so enlightened but is absolute nonsense. That’s a lot of what both growing up and becoming educated is — modifying or replacing a faulty understanding with a more accurate one. A society which refuses to do so can hardly expect its members to do so. Borrowing your example: if by “cat” I mean a small elephant, and so do a lot of people, then what — OK then, “cat” means small elephant and henceforward the word shall not be applied to small feline carnivorous animals and all small elephants shall be called cats, or a “clarification” if you will that cat actually refers to small feline carnivorous animals, not small elephants. I’m sure all the latter day Occamists just go nuts at that, from the politically correct crowd to the ivory tower, as meanwhile we slowing descend into a social schizophrenia where everyone speak their own language rather than leave their own little worlds to attempt communication with others based on common shared meanings.

    So yes, part of what I confess holds that part of what you confess in not truly Christian (I’ll leave the idea what you confess is not what you think you confess — the whole is it still Catholic thing — for another time!) and for that matter, vice versa. Any dialogue that does not acknowledge is frankly dishonest. I am grateful for the honesty Benedict shows. And you.

    Now, if ecumenical logic asserts we can’t walk this road without seeking to walk it alongside of and in communion with the “Bishop of Rome”, it’s going to be a short walk! And that’s OK. Sooner or later, somebody’s gonna hafta change. That’s honest too. You made a change. So did I. It wasn’t the same change, but each of them proceeded from the desire to follow the institution of Christ. I think the liberal elements of both churches — or church and ecclesial communions :) — are doing the same actually, yet in a way just like that they find at fault in their churches, we are right and you are wrong, except of course they can’t just say so.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Let’s be quite clear. The document does not state that “only Roman Catholics are Christian”, and it expressly states that “the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church”.

    That, I think, is not a miserly statement. It is certainly more generous toward the Orthodox than they are towards us, and it is much more generous than the attitude of those Protestants who believe that Catholics “are not Christian, although there may be true Christians among them.”

    EDWARDS writes…
    I basically agree. As a Lutheran married to a Catholic, I have experienced welcome and love in most Catholic parishes, as well as an appreciation for how much of our faith is shared. But think a little more about the hypothetical Protestants mentioned above. Supposing they issued a document in which they made it quite clear that the true definition of “Christian” is one who has had a charismatic, “born-again” experience, followed by a “believer’s baptism.” “By this Scriptural definition,” they might write, “most Catholics cannot be considered Christians in the strict sense.” Suppose the document went on to acknowledge that Catholics seem very sincere in their love of Jesus, and it is commendable that Scripture is read at every Mass. Suppose further that it expressed appreciation for Catholic contributions to pro-life efforts, and expressed hope that through such collaboration, they might be led to be born again and experience believer’s baptism, “so that we might recognize them as fully Christian according to the true definition of the word.” Are you telling me you wouldn’t be just a wee bit offended by such a document?

    Pax et bonum,
    Jon Edwards

  3. Schütz says:

    Yes, Edwards, I am telling you I would not be offended by such a document, because I must agree with their conclusion that I am “not fully Christian” if “fully Christian” means what they say it means. So the dialogue must be about the meaning of the word “Christian”, not about the application of any given meaning we might choose. And we can have such a dialogue, on the basis of Scripture, and the way the Church has used the word Christian throughout its history. I would attempt to show that their definition of “Christian” is a novelty, much like it would be a novelty to define “cat” as a “small elephant”, or to define “Church” as “a denomination” or “any bunch of Christians”. (Here Past Elder has got it right: we can’t do the Mad Hatter thing of using words to mean whatever we want them to say).

    I am also married to a Lutheran, and my children are baptised members of the Lutheran Church of Australia. I know that the LCA is not a true particular Church–that’s why I ceased to be a pastor in it–but I would balk at any statement that tried to say my wife and children are not true Christians. Such a statement would indeed offend me. But the Clarification does not say this. It is quite clear that my Lutheran family and friends are not only true Christains, but by virtue of their baptism they are truly members of the One True Church of Christ (ie. the Una Catholica). The pain of the situation is that they are not in full communion with that Church as it visibly subsists here on earth.

  4. Past Elder says:

    I suppose, having been declared right about something, I should leave well enough alone. Nonetheless —

    I also think we need to stop being a culture of victims and feelings. If someone makes a statement, should my first reaction be “Does this offend me?” or “Is it true?”. If the statement is not true, then I can address why I hold it is not true. If the statement offends me, then I can ask why is that — sometimes things are offensive because they are blatantly untrue, in which case I can address why I hold it is not true, which will take care of why I find it offensive. And sometimes things offend me because they point to a truth I don’t want to see or admit and so feel defensive. In which case I can examine myself to see what is my, not their, problem.

    In any event the issue is not my feelings about it, but is it true, and once one knows where that issue is, the rest takes care of itself.

    Mad Hatter syndrome and Only Feelings Are Real go hand in hand.

  5. Schütz says:

    Once again, I will declare your ponderings “right”, PE. Do you want to try for a hat trick? (That’s a cricketing term for getting three men out on three balls).

  6. Past Elder says:

    I would but I don’t think I have anything more to say on the subject.

    We have hat tricks too — in hockey, three goals in a game by the same player. I like cricket, and respect it as the ancestor of baseball, which on the surface is a sport but is actually a path to the mind of God at recreation and a participation in the eternal mysteries, especially with a ball park brat or two and a Summer breeze, the hand of God.

    Instead though, here’s a couple of questions for you. Years ago when I roomed with Crocodile Dundee in grad school, he used to talk about something called Australian Rules Football. Is there still such a thing? The other question — on Pastor Weedon’s blog, I mentioned Rabbi Hertz’ Pentateuch and Haftorahs as to this day one of my two primary study sources for Scripture — have you ever seen it? It’s magnificent. (Believe it or not, the other primary study source is the first Jerusalem Bible, the textus receptus of the historical critical crowd of my college years!)

  7. Andrew says:

    Past Elder, I heartily agree with your reflection on baseball. This is certainly a hat trick. You couldn’t be more right.

  8. Past Elder says:

    Hey Andrew, I see by your profile you are a Texican — so I hope you don’t reverse the hat trick when I say I am a member of Red Sox Nation living in the Diaspora (which for our Aussie friends, means a Boston Red Sox fan who doesn’t live in or around Boston).

    My first real allegiance was the Minnesota Twins, when as a kid the old Senators franchise was bought and relocated there. Here in Omaha, we have the Royals affiliate of the KC Royals, my other “home” team.

    What a great day — not only to find there are 25 year old teachers on the planet, but ones that understand the true nature of baseball too.

    Good brother Schuetz, if you ever wanted to see interfaith dialogue at high output you should have seen Boston the year that three major religious observances all fell on the same day: Good Friday, Passover, and opening day of Red Sox home baseball season. Since absolutely everyone observes one of them, and most two, the town about went into fits getting all three to come off without time conflicts!

  9. Past Elder says:

    I meant Latin teachers, not just teachers. Sorry.

  10. Andrew says:

    Past Elder, the hat trick is still good. In fact, I’m a life-long, long-suffering Cubs fan, so I’ve always felt a connection with Red Sox fans.

  11. Past Elder says:

    Guess what Andrew, I’m a native Chicagoan. West Side. The family moved to Minnesota when I was three though. But if I understand the local lore from my dad, I would be then a Cubbie by birthright. So I hope the Cubs curse is lifted soon! What a day when ours was in St Louis — I’m not sure if being LCMS makes me a Cardinals fan by spiritual adoption, but I do have great respect for the team, and it was a great thing to have played such an excellent sports team, especially after having overcome the Evil Empire (which for our Aussie friends, is the New York Yankees) to get there.

    Here in Omaha, some look to the Chicago teams as their “home” team in all sports, some to Kansas City, and some to Denver/Colorado. And of course there’s Big Red, a phenomenon all unto itself, but it’s not baseball.

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