Thursday, December 14, 2006

More on "catholicity"

John of the Cross

Father Alan writes below:
"catholicity" is sort of a term with a definition - unlike "emerging" - not quite up for debate I don't think. It's about being a universal Christian - one who accepts the whole Church, the whole Faith. That's what I think of, and generally, that's what it means.

Now, for Protestants who have never seen anything past 500 years ago as far as the Church and its teaching goes, that may well mean catholicity means a lot of dipping back into what came before. That might look like some Protestants are just "gussying up" to some. And it may be the case for some of them.

I do think, though, that there is something else going on, and a good bit of it in some circles of the "emerging church." People are actually beginning to see some things in some arenas, which have been hidden or "lost" for a long time. And that is a good thing. If it's just about playing dress-up, then it won't go very far, but it's not all about that everywhere we see Catholic-y stuff going on in non-Catholic churches.

So, we're not talking about "C"atholicity - which might mean, trying to be like Catholics. We're talking about catholicity, which seems to be about honestly trying to tap into the Truth of the whole Church - not just trying to imitate externals that may be attractive.

Now, there is the matter of some in the Roman Catholic arena who will say that it's impossible to BE catholic without being Catholic. I would say, I agree that it's not possible to be catholic without recognizing the Roman Catholic Church and the rich Truth contained within its borders. But I obviously wouldn't think that saying there's only one ecclesiastical "place" one can be catholic is altogether accurate.
This is what I hope the move to "catholicity" is all about - not changing around our aesthetics, but learning to drink deeply of the deeper and wider Christian stream rather than picking a particular sectarian tradition or even confining oneself to the Roman Catholic Church (which I don't mean in a negative sense). I think of something a chaplain friend told me once (I wonder who said it?), that "all theology done in schism is heretical." Kind of like, "only the whole Church can know the whole Truth." I believe that, and that's why I appreciate it when I know that Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox read and appreciate (and criticize!) one another's writings and dialog with one another.

It's also one of the major reasons I identify with Anglicanism: I believe that stance is kind of built in. Not the mainline, "liberal Christian" version, and not really the straight-up evangelical version. But it's in there. (But that's a whole 'nother discussion...!)

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Anonymous said...

You said "straight-up" and "evangelical" in the same sentence... haha! j/m j/m

I'm glad that this has been elaborated on. I'm honestly tired of people asking me if I'm now RC simply because I can have a discussion about theology and quote saints along with modern "evangelical" ministers. Anyways, Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike, are you a Roman Catholic? ;) :P

Anonymous said...

I should note that my comments on the post below were more of a cri de coeur (or some French phrase), having been a pre-emergent catholic ;-) for sometime who has recently has wondered about whether my own claim to catholicism has been illusory.

Perhaps I should write a longer post on the topic myself outlining my own difficulties at this juncture. As it is, right now is crunch time with Advent, Christmas, and a major funeral at my parish this weekend.

I will note that a year and a half ago I explained myself as you see below, which I think was an attempt at living into catholicity:

"I perceive a desire for a form of catholic Christianity which longs to receive the insights of a variety of strands of the Great Tradition, whether found in Barth or Von Balthasar, Maximus the Confessor or Augustine, C.S. Lewis or Flannery O’Connor, or… well the list could continue for some time. (And we all have read large quantities of Newbigin and now Tom Wright.) We are synthetic rather than purely analytical and are wary of any absolute system that will insist that a John Wesley or a John Owen can simply be disregarded. We have drunk enough F.D. Maurice to expect that the final correlation of all these voices will be eschatological, and therefore can live with some tensions in our theological outlook.

Nevertheless, we are also wary of a boundary-less comprehensiveness as exhibited by the theological left and seek a conciliar based scriptural and creedal discernment of the limits of ecclesial teaching and practice.

We believe in the call to the concrete and historical unity of the Church and apostolic orders. We are embarrassed that we used to subscribe to the Branch theory and suspect that either Rome or Orthodoxy is the real embodiment of that historical unity, but also believe that a robust Great Tradition Anglicanism may just be Balaam’s Ass, reminding Rome or Constantinople (as well as the Protestants) of a generous catholic orthodoxy that is their deep inheritance.

We have made common cause with our Anglo-catholic and Evangelical/Renewed friends in Anglicanism, but find either direction left to its own to lead into a theological cul-de-sac."

Today I find that I am challenging myself in two directions:

1) Even though I have chosen more of the catholic tradition to practice, is not the emphasis still upon what I have chosen? And do I not just discard what I don't find congenial, labeling such items as adiaphora?

2) Can an idea or a movement be truly catholic, or might it not be that the true wholeness of the catholic faith can only be borne by an identifiable community of the faith throughout time, which can save catholicity from the abstraction of being an idea, or from the chronic limitations of being mere movement.

(Of course, I the second point needs much more fleshing out.)

Anonymous said...

Kyle, I am beginning to understand you at last. I like this vision of catholicity - looking at the whole body rather than just the parts. Richard's comments regarding the practical implementation of it and how to decide which elements to keep and practice are also very good.

Anonymous said...

I miss you. =D

Kyle said...

Mike, why would you quote an evangelical minister? :-P

Richard, I think those are the important questions, and of course you would know. Being a post-modern latecomer to the faith myself, I haven't known and then rejected Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism, but have rather known and rejected a certain kind of Protestantism. I find myself in a "cultural" place at the beginning of the 21st century, post-protestant and post-Christendom, expected to choose. That's an uncomfortable place to be, and it's even more difficult when I have sympathies for all sides, but remain incredulous at some of their claims.

I would say in response to the second question, that just as we beg the Lord to be present in his sacraments according to his promise - and isn't that really what it comes down to? - and beg him to make us holy and make us new, if we're going to be true to that, aren't we all just in the place of begging him to make us catholics? Or not?

Thanks, Simon, I'm glad.

We'll talk sometime, Rob.

Anonymous said...

Quick response to your rejoinder:

1) You are right about the expectation to choose. In fact I remember an article in the New Republic some years ago when they ran a story on the omnipresence of choice in modernity titled "The Tyrranny of Choice."

But I wonder if the difference between "catholicity" and being Catholic is that the first is catholicity as Home Town Buffet, picking and choosing what we want and what we don't. I want a heaping helping of eucharist and, of course, some centering prayer, but really want to avoid the buffet table with the teaching authority of the church, and only go to the Tradition table where it doesn't impinge upon my lifestyle.

To be Catholic is to hear Mom say, you can choose to come home or not, but if you do, you eat what I put on the table, young man!

More and more as I reflect upon the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the documents of Vatican II that the Catholic faith is to be received as the etymology of the word implies: "according to the whole" kat' holos.

2) Interesting, epiclesis as the basis of ecclesiology. Doesn't Zizioulas expend some ink in this direction. I'd like to hear more about this and give it time for rumination.

You could also be seen in a Barthian light of church as event, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Dang it Kyle. You got me to pull my Zizioulas off the shelf and begin wading through a few chapters.

You always get me thinking.

Anonymous said...


Well written.... as a big C Roman Catholic I would echo what G.K> Chesterton said. The house of the RC Church looks awefully small from the outside, but once you get inside you'd be surprised how roomy it is.

If you don't believe me, just come join in on one of the (all too infrequent) discussions between "peace and justice" Catholics and "perpetual adoration" Catholics. Unfortunately most of that discussion actually goes on inside my own head since (probably like the ECUSA) the two groups hardly ever say a word (at least a civil one) to each other.