I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Catholicity of the Church: A Hebrew Catholic Reflection

The main theme underlying all of the readings I have chosen is the catholicity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ which manifests as the universal sacrament of salvation. The first reading I have chosen is Reading 15 “Many Models, One Church” by Joseph A. Komonchak. Komonchak discusses the concepts of “diversity in unity”[1] and “fullness in unity”[2]. He refers to Cardinal Avery Dulles five models of the church.[3] He then discusses Yves Congar’s approach to Catholicity.[4]

            Central to the understanding of the Catholicity of the Church in this article is the quote in Lumen Gentium (#13) “In virtue of this catholicity, the individual parts and to the whole church so that the whole and its individual parts are enriched because all are communicating with one another and working to achieve a fullness in unity”.[5] Komonchak believes that true Catholicity means to be committed to ‘diversity in unity’ which he sees is an expression of the Vatican II concept of ‘fullness of unity’.[6]

            Komonchak also refers to the teaching of Pope John Paul II, in regards to Lumen Gentium #13, that the Catholic Church is a communion of diverse local churches with one another. These diverse local churches enrich and challenge one another. John Paul saw his own role as the successor of Peter as a ministry to serve this enriching ‘diversity in unity’.[7]

            Pope John Paul II perceived that this restoration of the ‘fullness of unity’ could not be complete without the contribution, reunion and spirituality of the Eastern Orthodox churches.  In 'Orientale Lumen' he expresses his ardent desire for a "full manifestation of the Church's catholicity to be restored to the world" in the context of the reunion of the Eastern Orthodox Churches.[8] In his encyclical ‘Ut Unam Sint’ he writes:
 “In this perspective an expression which I have frequently employed finds its deepest meaning: the Church must breathe with her two lungs! In the first millennium of the history of Christianity, this expression refers primarily to the relationship between Byzantium and Rome…the vision of the full communion to be sought is that of unity in legitimate diversity.”[9]
The Second Vatican II was also concerned with this ‘fullness of unity’ in regards to reconciliation of the Eastern and Western Churches. In ‘Unitatis Redintegratio’ it states,
“The very rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches should be known, venerated, preserved and cherished by all. They must recognize that this is of supreme importance for the faithful preservation of the fullness of Christian tradition, and for bringing about reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians.”[10]

            The Russian theologian, philosopher and writer Vladimir Soloviev also wrote of the importance of the reconciliation of the Eastern and Western Church especially in regards to his own faith tradition, the Russian Orthodox Church. He also stressed the need for the Petrine Ministry for the full functioning of the Church.[11] Soloviev also stresses that this full reunion of East and West can only come about through the ethno-religious community of the Jews or Judaism.   He believes that it is the Jews in both the Western and Eastern Churches that will bring about this fullness.[12] If the Eastern and Western Churches are the lungs of the Mystical Body of Christ then Judaism is the heart that pumps blood to the lungs. Besides the lungs and heart there are many other diverse but important parts of this Mystical Body.

             The understanding that the church is not uniform but has ‘diversity through unity’ is very important. Too many Western Catholics whether liberal, modernist, neo-orthodox, orthodox, traditional, conservative, Latin traditionalists etc. see the Church and it’s spirituality as uniform or they desire the Church to be uniform and are displeased with its rich diversity. I like the image of the Church as a rich and tasty banquet made up of different dishes from which one can partake and enjoy. However if we take all these dishes and put them in one giant bowl, one ends up with a horrid and tasteless mess which we call uniformity.  

            The unity of the church is preserved through the Petrine Ministry and the infallible magisterial teachings of faith and morals. However while remaining within the bounds of these teachings (always interpreted with the priority of love and mercy) and in loving union with Peter’s successor there is immense room for great diversity in customs, rituals, spiritualities, philosophical approaches, charisms, devotions, dress, music, dance, artistic representations, institutions, evangelistic methodologies and theologies.  Uniformities whether to the right or the left in my opinion deform the mystical Body of Christ and its witness in the world.

            The second reading I have chosen is reading 6 “Redefining the term Sacrament” by George S. Worgul in his book “From Magic to Metaphor: A Validation of Christian Sacraments”. Worgul mentions that in the traditional Baltimore Catechism a sacrament is described as “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace”. He then proposed his own definition of Sacraments as “symbols arising from the ministry of Christ and continued in and through the Church; which when received in faith, are encounters with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.[13] He notes that the Baltimore Catechism uses the term sign while he prefers symbol.[14] Worgul notes that all symbols are signs but that symbol in his opinion is more potent than other signs.[15]  I would agree that the almost judicial understanding of sacrament in the Western Church needs further development and theological reflection more in accord with the Eastern Church’s understanding of ‘mysterion’ (mysteries). However, Worgul’s suggestions, for symbols and a changed meaning of ‘instituted’, seem to me to be heading in a direction outside the parameters allowed for Catholic theological development. His changes would turn sacraments into sacramentals. Sacraments are instituted by Christ, sacramentals (such as the Rosary) are instituted by the Church.[16]

            The Catholic Church has never taught that the sacraments are symbols and for a very good reason. The sacraments are signs (not symbols) that have an outer face which may involve certain symbols being used in its celebration. For example in the celebration of the sacrament of baptism the water, candles, white clothing, oil etc have symbolic meanings but the sacrament itself is not a symbol. The inner face of the sacrament is divine Grace.

            The church itself is considered as the universal sacrament of salvation.[17] This also is not a symbol but a sign which is accompanied by many symbols. The church however is only this universal Sacrament of salvation because she is the Mystical Body of Christ[18] which contains the seven sacraments. Without the sacraments the church becomes merely another human institution not the Mystical Body of Christ. This does not mean that divine grace is limited to the outward face of the seven sacraments or indeed the human and legal boundaries of the Catholic Church as an institution.  Potentially, the Catholic Church as the Mystical Body of Christ encompasses all humanity as this universal sacrament of salvation.

            The third reading I have chosen is reading 16 is from “Sign and Promise: A Theology of the Church for a Changing World” by John Thornhill. This is a rather interesting article that emphasises the importance of understanding the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ and the Universal Sacrament of Salvation rather than a judicial and administrative society or organisation. Thornhill surveys the understanding of the Church by theologians, throughout the centuries of the Church’s history.

            For me the most interesting part of the article is the mention of Christ as the primordial sacrament. The French Jewish philosopher Levinas refers to primordial as immemorial past. This leads one back to the ‘beginning’ (bereshit) in Genesis. In a sense the written story of Genesis One is a kind of primordial sacramental sign that points to the mystery of the concept of the Hidden Primordial Messiah and his Kneset (Assembly/ Gathering)[19]. This “Gathering of waters” in Genesis 1 is pointing to the Church as the Mystical Body of the Messiah. The hidden Terumah (priestly lifted offering of first (reshit) tithes[20]) of Genesis 1,[21] points to the sacrificial offering (Terumah and Korban) of the Messiah, which is the New Covenant Sacrifice.

            Another emphasis that I found fascinating was Thornhill’s stress on ‘the others’[22] which would resonate well with the ideas of Emmanuel Levinas on ‘alterity’.[23] Thornhill while appreciating a lot of the modern rethinking feels that it may have become too in-ward looking. This new orientation is often missing a concern for mission and evangelisation which is focused on the other.[24] Christian theology using certain elements of Levinas’ post–modernist philosophy on ‘alterity’ (otherness) as a paradigm may be helpful in balancing this focus.[25]
The obsession of some rigidly ‘orthodox’ Catholics with the judicial, institutional and administrative aspects of Catholicism almost deifies the Code of Canon Law into a Biblical text. They forget that the last canon states that the salvation of souls is the supreme law of the church and thus all the preceding church laws should be interpreted in the light of this supreme law.[26] Thornhill’s writings encourage us to refocus on Christ and the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ rather than an over-emphasis on the judicial, institutional and administrative aspect of its organisation.  

            The fourth reading I have chosen is reading 11 “An Ecclesiological Presupposition” which is from “Priesthood: A History of Ordained Ministry in the Roman Catholic Church” by Kenan B. Osborne.  Osborne’s main argument or point is that one’s ecclesiological presuppositions affect how one’s views the development of ministry in the Church. He lists two main groupings of Catholic theologians. Firstly there are those who believe that Jesus established the Church and its ministries and structures in detail during his life and secondly those who believe that the Church and its ministries and structures arose after the Resurrection under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.[27]

            The point he makes about one presuppositions is very important. However, it is not only one’s ecclesiological presuppositions that influence one’s understanding of the ministries and structures of the Church but also one’s Christological and Biblical presuppositions.  Edward Schillebeeckx, for example, doesn’t believe in the historical reality of the Resurrection or the resurrection experiences of the apostles or of Paul[28] and as a result would not fit in either of Osborne’s two groupings.

            There is a need for a grouping between the two groups that believes that Jesus in seed form (the mustard seed of the parable) did establish his Church (Messianic Community) with its new sacrifice and new priesthood within the People of Israel. After the Resurrection, guided by the Holy Spirit and this new priesthood, these seedlings developed and grew into the more fully fledged structures and ministries of the Church. These structures and ministries, while maintaining their original purpose, changed and developed exteriorly and culturally depending on the historical and cultural developments of the times. Our understanding through the centuries grew deeper and richer so that today we understand the mystery of the Church in a deeper way that does not deny the understandings of the past but enriches them.

            At times unfortunately people in the Church lose the insights and riches of the past and the believers of the new generations need to renew these riches before they can enrich them further with deeper and new insights. The Church especially needs to renew itself regularly in its Jewish and Biblical roots as well as in the teachings of the apostolic fathers, the great mystics, doctors and saints of both the Western and Eastern Churches.  

[1] Joseph A Komonchak, “Many Models, One Church”, Church (Spring 1993), 201.
[2] Joseph A Komonchak, “Many Models, One Church”, 204.
[3] Joseph A Komonchak, “Many Models, One Church”, 201.
[4] Joseph A Komonchak, “Many Models, One Church”, 203.
[5] Joseph A Komonchak, “Many Models, One Church”, 204.
[6] Joseph A Komonchak, “Many Models, One Church”, 204.
[7] Joseph A Komonchak, “Many Models, One Church”, 204.
[8] Orientale Lumen 1
[9] Ut Unam Sint 54
[10] Unitatis Redintegratio 15
[11] Father Ray Ryland, “A Russian Who Challenged Orthodoxy to Reconcile With Rome”,
[12] Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, Doubly Chosen: Jewish Identity, the Soviet Intelligentsia, and the Russian Orthodox Church (USA: University of Wisconsin Press,2004).
[13] George A Worgul, From Magic to Metaphor: A Validation of Christian Sacraments (USA, Paulist Press, 1980), 123.
[14] George A Worgul, From Magic to Metaphor: A Validation of Christian Sacraments, 123.
[15] George A Worgul, From Magic to Metaphor: A Validation of Christian Sacraments, 123.
[16] Baltimore Catechism 1061 and Catechism of the Catholic Church 1677 
[17]  Lumen Gentium 48.
[18] Lumen Gentium 8. .
[19] Kneset in Aramaic, Mikveh in Hebrew and congregationesque in Latin.
[20] See Nachmanides (Ramban)’s commentary on the Torah.
[21] Hidden in the first ‘well’ of the text by counting from the tav of Be-reshit, 26 letters 4 times.
[22] John Thornhill,  Sign and Promise: A Theology of the Church for a Changing World (Australia: Harpers Collins, 1988), 48.
[23] Emmanuel Levinas, Alterity and Transcendence (USA: Columbia University Press, 1999).
[24] John Thornhill  Sign and Promise: A Theology of the Church for a Changing World, 67-68.
[25] See Glenn Morrison, Theology of Alterity: Levinas, von Balthasar & Trinitarian Praxis (USA; Duquesne University Press, 2013).
[26] Code of Canon Law 1752
[27] Kenan B Osborne, Priesthood: A History of Ordained Ministry in the Roman Catholic Church, (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 123-124.
[28] Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (London: Collins, 1979), 378-379.

Baltimore Catechism  
Catechism of the Catholic Church                
Code of Canon Law 
Lumen Gentium.   
Orientale Lumen 
Unitatis Redintegratio 
Ut Unam Sint   
Komonchak, Joseph A. “Many Models, One Church”, Church (Spring1993), 201-204.
Kornblatt, Judith Deutsch. Doubly Chosen: Jewish Identity, the Soviet Intelligentsia, and the Russian Orthodox Church USA: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.
Levinas, Emmanuel. Alterity and Transcendence USA: Columbia University Press, 1999.
Morrison, Glenn. Theology of Alterity: Levinas, von Balthasar & Trinitarian Praxis USA; Duquesne University Press, 2013.
Osborne, Kenan B. Priesthood: A History of Ordained Ministry in the Roman Catholic Church, New York: Paulist Press, 1988.
Ryland, Ray. “A Russian Who Challenged Orthodoxy to Reconcile With Rome”
Schillebeeckx, Edward. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology London: Collins, 1979.
Thornhill, John.  Sign and Promise: A Theology of the Church for a Changing World (Australia: Harpers Collins, 1988).
Worgul, George A. From Magic to Metaphor: A Validation of Christian Sacraments USA, Paulist Press, 1980.

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