Category Archives: Theology

doctrine and theology

This comes from a discussion over the weekend. Thought I’d share and expand it a bit.

Doctrine: lex orandi lex credendi

Theology: fides quaerens intellectum

1.) The doctrine of the Church, sans fundamentalist conspiratorial notions and colonialist revisionist history, is the product of the lack of full understanding by the early church but one we were led into because of our limited revelation of the full revelation of God, Jesus Christ (the unique Son of God). Thus, we prayed and we worked and we lived and we thought — and through this our understanding was open to God’s will which became manifest in creeds and canon.

Once this doctrine was settled – and it is – then we sought to understand it. This is theology. Theology is the meditation upon the mystery of the doctrine of the Church. This is where we get such notions as justification, eschatology, Arminianism.

English: Icon of Jesus Christ
English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Further, having these understandings right within us prevents from legalism, or the notion we can be saved or we can save via our own works. This heretical notion, only prescribed via the cute but sad phrase of “orthopraxy over orthodoxy” is found in many forms of fundamentalism where the historic doctrines and mysteries of the church have been related with subjective trends. Indeed, I see only a matter of difference of believe systems between progressive Christianity and my previous oneness-holiness cult. Both rejected orthodoxy, the authority of Tradition, the instead focused on their own subjective understanding and formulation of God, history, and reality while enforcing the “salvation by works.”

In Jude, the system of beliefs given to the Apostles is called “the faith once delivered.” Christians should understand that while it was “once delivered” it was not “fully delivered.”  In other words, we have license within Scripture to see Tradition as the work of the Church, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.” (Ephesians 4.13–16) Likewise, Tradition maintains that maturity once it is attained. 

This is where theology comes into play. Theology is the reflection of doctrine. Theology is taking statements like “Jesus is Lord” and seeking to understand what that means now. Jesus is Lord, against Caesar. Against Empire. Jesus is Lord against ourselves. None of these things countermands the original and developed notions of “Jesus is Lord” (i.e., the unique Son of God), but makes it applicable to us. Likewise, we take the notion of “forgiveness of sins” and dig deep into that to understand better what sin is. Is sin a legal and moral code? Is it our unjust actions against ourselves and our neighbors? Or, perhaps, it is simply counteracting God’s will so that we are sinners when we are opposed to God’s desire for us and the kingdom.

Simply, theology changes, sometimes radically, while doctrine is polished.

Here are the words of St. Vincent of Lerins

Chapter XXIII, “On the Development of Doctrine in the Church”

[54] “But some one will say perhaps, ‘Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church?’  Certainly; all possible progress.  For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it?  Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith.  For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alternation, that it be transformed into something else.  The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

[55] The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same.  There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same.  An infant’s limbs are small, a young man’s large, yet the infant and the young man are the same.  Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which mature age has given birth, these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children.  This, then, is undoubtedly a true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant.  Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.

[56] In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterated, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.

[57]   For example: Our forefathers in the old time sowed wheat in the Church’s field.  It would be most unmeet and iniquitous if we, their descendants, instead of the genuine truth of wheat, should reap the counterfeit error of tares.  This rather should be the result, there should be no discrepancy between the first and the last.  From doctrine which was sown as wheat, we should reap, in the increase, doctrine of the same kind-wheat also; so that when in process of time any of the original seed is developed, and now flourishes under cultivation, no change may ensure in the character of the plant.  There may supervene shape, form, variation in outward appearance, but the nature of each kind must remain the same.  God forbid that those rose-beds of Catholic interpretation should be converted into thorns and thistles.  God forbid that in that spiritual paradise from plants of cinnamon and balsam darnel and wolfsbane should of a sudden shoot forth.

Therefore, whatever has been sown by the fidelity of the Fathers in this husbandry of God’s Church, the same ought to be cultivated and taken care of by the industry of their children, the same ought to flourish and ripen, the same ought to advance an go forth to perfection.  For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes one, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but no that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated.  They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, their integrity, their characteristic properties.

[59] But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, does not appropriate what is another’s, but while dealing faithfully and judiciously with ancient doctrine, keeps this one object carefully in view, if  there be anything which antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary, to fashion and polish it, if anything already reduced to shape and developed, to consolidate and strengthen it, if any already ratified and defined to keep and guard it.  Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practiced negligently should thenceforward be practiced with double solicitude?  This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils this, and nothing else, she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by Tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name.

 

Another #QOTD – orthodox is… Freedom

After all, orthodoxy, just as much as the biblical stories it derives from, tells the wild story of the God-man in all its messiness. In fact, orthodoxy is a protection against the all too neat rationalizations of heresy, which take what they deem to be the palatable parts of either the Bible or doctrine and blow them out of proportion to the exclusion of everything else. We all too frequently ignore how much orthodoxy’s function is to remove these fences so that theologians with different temperaments—Aquinas and Bonventure, Rahner and von Balthasar, Anscombe and Day—can run the fields freely;

you can find it Here

Trent’s Catechism on the Descent into Hell

Descent into Hell, icon from the Ferapontov Mo...
Descent into Hell, icon from the Ferapontov Monastery Tempera on wood, 312x105x4, State Russian Museum, Sankt Petersburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is of an interest to me lately. This is from the poorly understood Council of Trent:

QUESTION V

Nothing was taken from the Dignity of Christ by his Descent into Hell

But, although Christ descended into hell, his supreme power was nought diminished; nor was the splendour of his holiness denied by any blemish. Nay, this fact served rather to prove most clearly, that whatever had been proclaimed touching his holiness was true; and that, as he had previously declared by so many miracles, he was truly the Son of God. This we shall easily understand, if we compare the causes why Christ, and why other men, have descended into those places. They all descended as captives; but He, free and victorious amongst the dead, descended to subdue those demons by whom, in consequence of sin, they were held in captivity. All others who descended, some did endure the most acute torments, others, though exempt from other pain, yet deprived of the sight of God, were tortured with suspense by the hope deferred of the blessed glory which they expected; whereas Christ the Lord descended, not to suffer aught, but to liberate from the miserable wearisomeness of that captivity the holy and the just, and to impart to them the fruit of his passion. By his descent into hell, therefore, no diminution was made from his supreme dignity and power.1

  1. Theodore Alois Buckley, The Catechism of the Council of Trent (London: George Routledge and Co., 1852), 62–63.

How I explain Triduum to my kids (Um, Jesus V. Thor)

Maundy Thursday, Good/Holy Friday, Great and Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil, and Easter/Pascha/Resurrection Sunday.

I’ll spare you the details of YWHW coming to Adam, Moses, etc… and skip to the Jesus bit. I’m skipping to evolution in understanding of the tribal God to the cosmic God and going directly to Jesus.

At the needed time, The Holy Trinity said to itself that it was time to fulfill the promise to Abraham — to bring the whole world inline with God the Father, rescuing Gentiles from the oppressive gods. Yes, I explained immanent and transcendent. So, God the Son was sent as the Son of God to teach us as the example of what God expected us to be.

English: Icon of Jesus Christ
“YWHW or the Highway? Really, Joel?” English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christ then, and not in the (penal) sacrificial sense, died on the cross because he was sick and tired of the other gods having dominion on God’s creation. He spent all day Saturday battling the various other gods and goddess (a la Justin Martyr) — including Thor, which I dramatically reenacted — for control of the living and then on Saturday evening, descended to the abode of the dead to rescue the captives there. There, he was challenged to “prove it” that he was really the Son of God, the Son of the Most High. So he did, when he resurrected himself on the Third Day.

Stuff it, Orcus.

I did a lot of hand motions and play battles. I still think I’d like to see a Christus Victor movie of Jesus v. Thor.

But, then we get to the why? We spoke of the other gods of Thor, Iris, greed, jealousy, anger and how Jesus’s death freed us from these powers so that we can be in line with God’s will. Then, I used the demonstration of God’s will and our will and how sin is how will flowing erratically against God’s will. Jesus is the magnet that draws our will into alignment with God’s.

Anyway, Dr David Watson probably has a better post on atonement than I do. But mine included Jesus v. Thor and reenactments of their fight scene. I’ll let you decide which is better.

the progressive fundamentalist

In the thick of the street festival, some demo...
In the thick of the street festival, some demonstrators used the occasion to get their message out. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, because of a shared post on FB and my recent post on Rob Bell (1 that was critical v. the dozens or so that are supportive), I have encountered what can only be called progressive fundamentalism. Do not get me wrong. Not all of those who disagreed with me can be labeled as such, nor do I want to make a sweeping generalization, but in these examples and in my continued defense of orthodox Christianity (doctrines, creeds, councils, etc…), the progressive fundamentalist will regularly rear its head. As a former fundamentalist of the opposite side, it is pretty easy to spot one. The behaviors are the same, almost exactly so.

It is neither logical nor fair to label everyone who is different than I a “fundamentalist.” Indeed, this term is often debated. Does it refer to the early 20th century movement? Yes, but when I do so, I usually try to capitalize the “f” (Fundamentalist). However, it can and should refer to those who have adopted an unquestionable stance. Like the Fundamentalists who drew a line around historical inquiry into Christianity, these modern-day fundamentalists draw lines around certain things as well. Granted, for them, the line is drawn rather tightly around specific axioms of individual experience and belief. While we often look to conservatives to be the bastions of immovability, progressives have their fair share of individuals who simply require intellectual inquiry.

Unmovable and unquestionable are two different things, to be sure. For example, I have a high Christology (which is connected to my orthodox stances). This is unmovable because what makes up orthodox Christianity begins with a high Christology. Yet, this belief (in the divine sonship of the Second Person of the Trinity) is questionable given new data regarding such things as Second Temple Judaism and the like. I welcome questions because, frankly, a faith without questions is stupid. And it keeps me less judgmental because I’m usually okay with most things, even Gnostics (Gary!).

The one thing I usually lack the strength to overcome is fundamentalism. Why? because fundamentalism is a harmful system.

Progressive fundamentalism is a real thing. These PFs tightly define a set of specific believes, albeit even if it is a “this is what we cannot allow” and require others to follow it. As I wrote previously, even progressives build walls to keep people in.

Because I want to use others sources to help flesh out fundamentalism as a label (before adding “progressive”), I want to turn to a recent post highlighting a growing trend of fundamentalism in the Orthodox Church, a system I once thought impenetrable to fundamentalistic thinking.

Dr. George E. Demacopoulos writes,

Like other fundamentalist movements, Orthodox fundamentalism reduces all theological teaching to a subset of theological axioms and then measures the worthiness of others according to them.  Typically, this manifests itself in accusations that individuals, institutions, or entire branches of the Orthodox Church fail to meet the self-prescribed standard for Orthodox teaching.

We can see this easily applied to both the conservative (not merely Westboro types, but the Ken Hams, Mike Huckabees, and Robert Jeffresses of the world) and the progressive sides of Christianity (for instance, those who think we cannot dare challenge Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and current attitudes towards justice, peace, and inclusion). Each side has a litmus test established, usually on individual preference, to insure that the axioms of the “faith” are followed and in this litmus test, they deem all others unworthy, if not sinful/heretical/evil — or, ironically, fundamentalist.1 Equally so, they are legalistic. If you step out of line, you will know about and you will be shamed into compliance.

If you read Demacopoulos’s post, you will see more connections between what he describes as an Orthodox fundamentalist and what you might see demonstrated by both the left and the right (especially in Protestant circles). For instance, the regular use of misrepresentations of history and act to achieve their goals. In reality, Jesus wasn’t about inclusion (unless it was about Gentiles into Israel’s covenant). He excluded (abusers, sinners who refused to heed the call, and those who hated others). Further, Jesus did have social justice aims (what the ancients called a “leveler”). Eunuch doesn’t mean what you want it to mean. Yet, often times these facts are chucked in order to make a point. They create this fanciful notion of the idyllic Christian message — either to the welfare line or to hell.

Demacopoulos goes on. “The insidious danger of Orthodox fundamentalists is that they obfuscate the difference between tradition and fundamentalism.  By repurposing the tradition as a political weapon, the ideologue deceives those who are not inclined to question the credibility of their religious leaders.” If you remove “Orthodox” and replace it with conservative, progressive — or, better, just the word “ALL”, it becomes truer.

Fundamentalists, as he writes, are reductionists. They (both conservatives and progressives) remove Tradition so that their interpretation remains unchallenged. They create a basic set of unquestionable doctrines or tenets of belief required to be “right.” They remove points of departure and unity so that the walls remain high — to keep people in. Then they go heresy hunting.

Both sides, both extremes, include more fundamentalists than they care to admit. They share similar behaviors, and similar worldviews. Indeed, they inhabit the same system of abusive, control, and manipulation. Neither side allows questioning and if it happens, such action is met with abusive behavior and shunning.

There is no way to stop it — it develops naturally in every system. The best we can do is to recognize it and attempt to provide a buffer against it — without becoming fundamentalists ourselves.

  1. The term “fundamentalist” is often thrown around by progressives as a way to stop conservation and is used as a wall to keep people in. After all, the one thing you cannot tolerate as a progressive is a fundamentalist.