Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Catholic faith
Paradosis via Stumble on Water
Communion as inclusion and exclusion
Quotations from Eastern Orthodox Metropolitan John (Zizioulas). The Blessed Sacrament is saving medicine but one of the things an Orthodox priest for example promises to do is ‘guard the chalice’. This is the Catholic answer to liberal Episcopalians for example whose answer to disputes over faith and morals besides ‘Never mind the teaching of the church Catholic and historic — obey me!’ (perversion of the apostolic ministry) is ‘Let’s show our love and unity (wallpaper over our real differences) by having Communion’.

To this I would simply add that sin is also an act of exclusion. When I sin, that sin is not the breaking of a law by which God and I must come to terms – rather it is also a breaking of community that includes my brothers and sisters in Christ (and really the whole of creation). Schism and heresy, by definition, are sins never repented of.
So keep the flame of grace lit in the lampada of your soul, keep on you the wedding-garment of sanctifying grace.

Recently had a conversation with an Eastern Orthodox priest in which he questioned whether the Western Catholic understanding of the state of grace was fair, meaning that objectively if one is in mortal sin one’s prayers and good works lack any grace or merit. I said that I think that’s a distortion of the Western position (rather like Calvin’s view of double predestination that if you’re damned you’re damned from the start and no prayer or good work will help you) because subjective guilt even from moment to moment is hard for us to judge, and afterwards I thought that this question reminded me of what a former friend called the great non-issue that started the Protestant heresies, faith vs works. The Catholic position as I understand it is that good works can be used by God to prepare you to be saved/have sanctifying (saving) grace restored to you*, which I think is the understanding that RC and Lutheran theologians recently came to. Again, it was a non-issue.

Believe that you are saved by faith; act as if you were saved by works.
- Reginald Cardinal Pole

Works prepare you for saving grace and heal psychic and spiritual damage to keep you in the state of grace** — not the Protestant accusation ‘You Catholics think you earn your way into heaven’ or ‘That’s works-righteousness!’.

Prevent*** us, O Lord, we beseech thee, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour and further us with thy continual help that all our prayer and work may be begun, continued and ended in thee.
*Once saved, always saved (OSAS) is bollocks. Contra Calvin we have free will.

**The Orthodox for example describe ascesis — fasting, etc. — as primarily therapeutic, not something that adds to Christ’s saving work, which of course is impossible. I think that the common Catholic position is that such opens you up to receive the benefit of that one saving work. The commonly known Western understanding that it satisfies divine justice/an angry God is valid but not the only explanation, and mistaught or misunderstood it can give the impression of just what the Protestants accuse us of. Another old friend, RC apologist Mark Bonocore, once described my explanation given here as translating teaching on temporal punishment and indulgences into Easternese.

***Literally ‘go before’; direct.

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