I hope to get into the discussion once it gets going (and while I realize how necessary moderated comments are anymore for most public blogs, I have to say the one thing I dislike about Rod's new blog is the whole moderated comments situation; true, comments seem to get approved reasonably quickly, but there's enough of a lag that the more conversational style of Rod's older blogs is sometimes missing). But in the meantime, I wanted to take a look at a section of the post that I honestly found rather stunning (and this excerpt itself is a bit long, I'm afraid):
I bring this up not to argue about Catholicism vs. Orthodoxy, but to illuminate how subjective considerations inevitably affect the choices we make. If you are reading this in a small town in Nevada, the mother of three children and without a spiritual home, and the nearest Orthodox church is 500 miles away, I would question whether or not you should even investigate Eastern Orthodoxy. I say that because I truly and deeply believe that to be redeemed is not to hold the correct ideas, but to submit to the Holy Spirit, and to be changed from within, to become more Christ-like. It’s hard to do that alone, and even harder to help your kids do that alone. What does it avail you to unite with the truest form of Christianity (as I believe Orthodoxy to be) if you will be all alone in the practice of it? You may be called to do this, but I would wonder if your growth in holiness would proceed more within the Baptist church (if a good one was close to you) or within the Orthodox church, which does not exist in a manifest form near you? As I see it, it’s better to know Jesus imperfectly than to not know Him at all. How you unite yourself to a Baptist (or Catholic, or Presbyterian) church when you believe that the Orthodox Church contains the fullness of truth is a difficult problem.
Anyway, this is what I was trying to get at with the “subjectivity” of religious truth — and why I am a lot more open to the view that religion is what people do, not the ideas in their head. Again, I deny that it’s an “either/or” — it’s really a “both/and”. My point is simply that religious claims belong to an order of truth that can only be truly known not by being affirmed in one’s mind, but also must be inwardly appropriated with enough passion to make them change one’s life. This is what Bellah means when he says if you want to know what people believe, look at what they do, not what they say they believe.
There is Scriptural validation for that position. This is also what Thomas Merton was getting at when he said that he thought wrongly that he was truly converted to Catholicism because his intellect was converted. He learned later that until and unless the will is converted, all conversions will be precarious. That’s an important insight, and it speaks directly to the “truth is subjectivity” point.
What’s more, Jesus did not set out a religious system. He gave us a narrative to show us how to behave. He was Truth Incarnate. To unite yourself to Truth required an act of subjective will. You had to love Him. You still do. Rationality, and religious systems, are only true and good if they point to Him, and open the doors to Him. The Church is not an end, but only a means to an end. If you believe in the Orthodox faith, you will agree that the Orthodox way is the way Christ intended to Him, the most efficacious way. If you believe in the Catholic faith, then likewise. And so forth. To believe this is not to deny that people can’t find their way to unity with God through other forms of the Christian faith, and under certain conditions, in other faiths. But it is to recognize, as I think we must, that even forms of the faith that know the way to the Truth imperfectly nevertheless have some connection to it, which is to say, to Him. [Emphasis in original--E.M.]
Why do I find this stunning? Because after discussing orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and in the midst of making a somewhat valid initially if ultimately (I truly believe) misleading point about the role of the subjective in the ability of the believer to grasp and encounter religious truth, Rod makes the amazing statement: "What’s more, Jesus did not set out a religious system. He gave us a narrative to show us how to behave."
Neither Rod's Church, the Orthodox, nor my Catholic Church, teach or believe that Jesus did not set out a religious system--that is, that He did not found a Church. Now, perhaps I'm misunderstanding Rod, or his phrase is unclear; but what does "set out a religious system" mean if it does not mean "found a Church?"
Belief that Christ is God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and (as Rod says) Truth Incarnate means that we believe that He knew exactly what He was doing when He selected the Apostles, told them at the Last Supper to "Do this in remembrance of Me," gave them the great commission to make disciples of all men, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so on. It also means we believe, for those of us who are Catholic, that Jesus saw fully what the infant Church would make of such things as Apostolic succession and that Gospel phrase, "Thou art Peter, and on this Rock I will build My Church." It's not really possible for those of us who belong to the Catholic Church to see these words as merely parts of a narrative about how we are to behave without reducing them to such minimal importance that Christ might as well not have said them at all.
I realize that Protestants don't see things this way. But (if my Protestant readers will be patient with me for a moment) their view, generally, of what the Church is was formed in an essentially negative way. With the Catholic Church fully present in their lives, the early Protestants decided that their notion of Christ's church was, in a very true sense, whatever the Catholic Church was not. Protestant ecclesiology was, I think, in an important way, meant as a negation of Catholic ecclesiology in its earliest formation. So if the Catholic Church said that Christ meant to found a visible Church to which Christians were meant to unite themselves not merely spiritually but sacramentally and actually (as in, accepting Church discipline about such various things as fasting and Sunday Mass attendance), the Protestants in negating those concepts eventually came to see the Christian church as more an invisible and spiritual community of those who had accepted Jesus Christ and His Word.
I know I'm being extraordinarily general here; I don't mean for this post to get into the many various differences in the way different Protestant denominations have developed a theology of the church, but only to point out that Rod's words I cited above, while not particularly startling if voiced by a Protestant, are absolutely shocking when spoken by someone who was Catholic for a decade and is now Orthodox--again, unless I'm completely misunderstanding what he means.
Why? Well, to look at how the Catholic Church sees this, take a look at this portion of Archbishop Dolan's address to the USCCB from just four days ago:
You and I believe with all our heart and soul that Christ and His Church are one.
That truth has been passed on to us from our predecessors, the apostles, especially St. Paul, who learned that equation on the Road to Damascus, who teaches so tenderly that the Church is the bride of Christ, that the Church is the body of Christ, that Christ and His Church are one.
That truth has been defended by bishops before us, sometimes and yet even today, at the cost of “dungeon, fire, and sword.”
That truth — that He, Christ, and she, His Church, are one — moistens our eyes and puts a lump in our throat as we whisper with De Lubac, “For what would I ever know of Him, without her?”
The whole thing is worth reading, but I want to point to one more section:
Perhaps, brethren, our most pressing pastoral challenge today is to reclaim that truth, to restore the luster, the credibility, the beauty of the Church “ever ancient, ever new,” renewing her as the face of Jesus, just as He is the face of God. Maybe our most urgent pastoral priority is to lead our people to see, meet, hear and embrace anew Jesus in and through His Church.Jesus and His Church are one. It does matter, then; it matters terribly what Church one belongs to. That doesn't mean that I don't fully respect my Protestant Christian brothers and sisters wherever they are on the journey of faith; it doesn't mean dragging out erroneous ideas of what extra ecclesiam nullam salus meant; it doesn't mean that it's my job as a lay person to hurl condemnations and anathemas at every non-Catholic Christian. But it does mean that, were I the fictional woman in Nevada Rod is talking about in the excerpt above, I would be risking my eternal soul to be convinced that the Catholic Church was the Church founded by Christ for the salvation of men and yet choose to remain outside of her (even if the nearest Catholic parish really were hundreds of miles away). To join the Baptist church instead, even if only for the Bible study and spiritual fellowship, would smack of religious indifferentism, and would likely lead one away from the Catholic Church in the long run.
Because, as the chilling statistics we cannot ignore tell us, fewer and fewer of our beloved people -- to say nothing about those outside the household of the faith -- are convinced that Jesus and His Church are one. As Father Ronald Rolheiser wonders, we may be living in a post-ecclesial era, as people seem to prefera King but not the kingdom,So they drift from her, get mad at the Church, grow lax, join another, or just give it all up.
a shepherd with no flock,
to believe without belonging,
a spiritual family with God as my father, as long as I’m
the only child,
“spirituality” without religion
faith without the faithful
Christ without His Church.
If this does not cause us pastors to shudder, I do not know what will.
It matters, because Christ and His Church are one. If you seek to follow the King but demand to remain outside His kingdom, in what sense do you really seek to know Him--let alone to love Him and serve Him?